End Plastic Pollution | Earth Day Network

From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.

In response, Earth Day 2018 will focus on fundamentally changing human attitude and behavior about plastics and catalyzing a significant reduction in plastic pollution.

Our strategy to End Plastic Pollution will:

Lead and support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution
Educate and mobilize citizens across the globe to demand action from governments and corporations to control and diminish plastic pollution
Inform and activate citizens to take personal responsibility for the plastic pollution that each one of us generates by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics
Work with universities, school teachers and students to End Plastic Pollution
Work with other organizations and networks and make Earth Day 2018 a platform to End Plastic Pollution by developing resources that others can use and build partnerships.
Promote the work that cities and local governments are doing to tackle plastic pollution
Empower journalists across the globe to report on the problem and its emerging solutions.

Earth Day Network will leverage the platform of Earth Day, April 22, 2018 and the growing excitement around the 50thAnniversary of Earth Day in 2020. We will work with key constituencies and influencers to build a world of educated consumers of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastics.

We will engage and activate our global network of NGO’s and grassroots organizations, campus youth, mayors and other local elected leaders, faith leaders, artists and athletes, and primary and secondary students and teachers.

We will organize events in all continents of the world, build a global following and activate citizens to join our End Plastic Pollution advocacy campaigns.

In sum, we will use the power of Earth Day to elevate the issue of plastic pollution in the global agenda and inspire and demand effective action to reduce and control it.

Sign the End Plastic Pollution Petition

Make a pledge to reduce your use of plastic

Send your ideas or propose a partnership to plastic@earthday.org

https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/plastics-campaign/

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Climate-friendly burgers: fact or fiction?

By Nathanael Johnson on Apr 16, 2018

Here’s a crazy idea: What if your love of steak wasn’t a massive environmental problem but part of a solution instead? What if we could suck carbon out of the air and save the world simply by eating beef?

A new study suggests that all this is possible, but it comes with a whopper of a caveat.

Ranching advocates have long thought carbon-negative beef was possible. The hypothesis was that grasslands and grazing animals have an ancient relationship; they’ve evolved together and depend on each other for optimal health. But modern ranching methods severed that connection, so the thinking went. Allow cattle to graze in the manner of wild herds — very heavily in one area for short periods, and then giving that area time to regrow — and the ancient relationship could be restored. Grasses would grow lush and suck up lots of carbon dioxide, more than compensating for the greenhouse gases that the cattle produce.

The problem was, there wasn’t good science to support this hypothesis. There have been studies looking at carbon sequestration in grazed land, but those only worked when you trucked in tons of compost, which can be prohibitively expensive. Then, a couple of weeks ago we finally got our first study showing grass-fed beef can be carbon negative. Here it is. Let the beef bacchanal begin.

Actually, before you dump gravy over your head and skip off to join the celebrants, let’s look at that big caveat: The beef in this study took up twice as much land as conventional beef production.

About half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cutting down forests, and livestock are a primary culprit because they dominate 77 percent of agricultural land. And farms keep expanding to feed more meat-hungry people. There’s a danger that findings like this could give grass-fed beef a green halo, and allow people to feel virtuous for buying more double cheeseburgers. That would be a disaster. If everyone in the world started eating this kind of carbon-negative beef, we’d have to clear forests and wildlands to expand pasture, and that would wipe out any carbon savings.

Getting it right requires a balancing act. If we manage to slash our collective burger habit in half, while only buying beef raised the way described in this study, then voila, carbon-negative beef! That really could happen if good replacements — say, the Impossible Burger and good old mushrooms — help us drive down beef consumption. And that’s also assuming these practices work in a lot of different places. Remember, this is just one study (other terms and conditions apply, not valid in Veganistan).

There’s another way this might work: Conventional beef cattle spend two-thirds of their lives eating grass before they move to a feedlot and start eating grain. If ranchers around the world start applying the lessons of this study to that first two-thirds of a steer’s life, it could go a long way toward offsetting cattle emissions without taking up any more space. That’s a way we could tweak the system, and it wouldn’t require optimistic assumptions about how we’d keep people from clearing more farmland or convince everyone to eat less meat.

https://grist.org/science/climate-friendly-burgers-fact-or-fiction/

Fixing Farming our climate challenge. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

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https://jpratt27.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/fixing-farming-our-climate-challenge-auspol-qldpol-stopadani-climatechange/#like-12198

jpratt27.wordpress.com
Fixing Farming our climate challenge. #auspol #qldpol #StopAdani #ClimateChange
by John
9-11 minutes

Fixing farming our climate challenge

Rod Oram writes in this week’s column about farming’s massive climate change challenge and New Zealand’s special role in finding ways to reduce emissions.

“As a scientist I’ve never had so much reason to be nervous; and as a scientist I’ve never had so much reason to be hopeful.”

This was the essential message Johan Rockström, one of the world’s leading earth scientists, delivered this past week about climate change and our responses to it during his visit to New Zealand.

He entrusted a particular task to us: agriculture and food production globally present the greatest climate change challenge of all.

Their big adverse effects on the ecosystem are compounded by associated impacts through deforestation, agricultural monocultures, biodiversity loss and the declining health of soils and water.

It’s harder for farmers

All up agriculture broadly defined is the largest single source of greenhouse gases globally, says Rockström, who founded and leads the Stockholm Resilience Centre. But their technological and economic pathways to sustainability are far less clear than those for energy, transport and the built environment.

There are agricultural examples but we need much more innovation and ways to scale them up.

He believes New Zealand has a leading role to play globally in this agricultural transformation. On one hand, agriculture emissions are 49 percent of our total emissions, by far the highest proportion for a developed economy. On the other, our farmers and the scientists and businesses that support them, are among the most innovative in the world.

As an aside on that latter point, agricultural innovation is remarkably slow compared with all other industrial sectors. The average time from innovation to peak deployment of a new piece of agri-tech is 19.2 years here versus 52 years in the US. This insight was delivered recently to a symposium of Our Land and Water, one of our government’s 11 long-term National Science Challenges. Clearly, we have to innovate far faster.

Get moving now

But, Rockström stresses, the window of opportunity to address the totality of climate change is very small. Humankind is still generating a rising volume of emissions. If we are to stand any chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures to under 2 degrees C we have to start bending the curve down by 2020 then accelerate our emission reductions to a rate of about 6-7 percent a year.

While that might seem like a manageable rate, it will actually require transformational shifts in technology across all sectors of the economy. Pathways that are technologically practical and economically viable are increasingly clear in electricity and other sources of power, in transport and industrial processes.

For example, renewable electricity and other forms of energy, after growing by 5.5 per cent a year for the past 15 years, are starting to demonstrate exponential growth. A world free from fossil fuels is possible by 2045, Rockström says.

Earth scientist Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The ‘Moore’s law’ of climate change

If, though, humankind can reduce its emissions by 6 to 7 per cent a year, we would halve emissions every decade and achieve near-zero emissions by 2050.

This is the Global Carbon Law Rockström and colleagues are proposing, equivalent to Moore’s Law in computing. It is the latest development of the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

But maintaining that rate of reduction in carbon emissions over the next 30 years will take far more than just a complete switch to clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

We will also need to engineer carbon sinks, such as burning wood and other biofuels then capturing and storing the carbon emissions from them; and we will have to improve and monitor carefully the ecosystem health of land sinks such as forests and soil, and the ocean which currently absorbs a large proportion of the carbon emissions, and subsequent heat, generated by human activity.

If we do all that, “we have a 66 percent chance of staying under 2 degrees C,” Rockström says. But even that will cause ecosystem changes, moving us away from the Holocene, the geological epoch over the past 11,000 years which never saw temperature variations greater than plus or minus 1 degree C. This climate sweet spot was a “Garden of Eden”, Rockström says, in which humans have flourished.

Risks of feedback loops and tipping points

“We are already at 1.1 degree C. Even 1.5 degree C will be a challenge to adjust to.” Moreover, there are substantial risks that climate tipping points will trigger greater rises in temperature. Such feedback loops include forest dieback that would create savannahs that absorb far less carbon, and the loss of ice sheets, which not only raise sea levels but also reduce the white reflective surface of the planet, thereby increasing warming.

Responding to climate change will also take much more than science, technology change, targets and policies, he adds. All societies will need to progress a great deal so they have the capability to rise to the challenge of planetary stewardship.

For the first time we have a guide to that in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are applicable to all countries, developing and developed.

Usually, the 17 goals are presented in a matrix that doesn’t differentiate their priorities. Rockström’s Stockholm Resilience Centre, however, has arranged them with the four goals on the biosphere as the essential and critical base, with eight societal goals sitting above to help build healthy societies capable of rapid change, with four economic goals above, topped with the goal on partnerships for achieving the goals.

The Centre is renowned for its work identifying the nine biological-chemical-physical boundaries of the planet and measuring the extent human activity is overshooting them. So far, only climate change has a clearly defined target, which is based on zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 1.5-2 degrees C temperature goal. That was extremely hard for scientists to establish and for the United Nations to get some commitments to steps towards it by nations in the Paris climate agreement of 2015.

The next big phase of the Centre’s research is to work with other scientists to devise numerical measures of a “safe place” for humankind within some of the other planetary boundaries. Like the crystal clear signals temperature sends on climate change, these will focus people, politicians, policy makers, and all other participants in society on the urgent need to bring human activity back within the boundaries.

The biodiversity challenge

Their top priority is biodiversity. Their extremely difficult scientific task is to develop a measure that not just expresses the rapid loss of species but also the impairment these losses have on ecosystem health and resilience, and thus the ability of those systems to provide for human needs. Some major multinationals, highly conscious of their impact on natural resources, are among the leaders of the push for a biodiversity measure, Rockström says.

While Rockström didn’t mention a particular role for New Zealand in that work, we have a lot to offer. Among developed countries, we are the most dependent on the natural environment for earning our living, most of our National Science Challenges are focused on ecosystems in whole or part and the relevant sciences are the ones we are best at commercialising.

Above all we are ambitious and innovative about ecosystems, witness our goal of being predator free by 2050 and the wave of science, research, development and creativity this is unleashing. The Cacophony Project is an impressive example but just one of a rapidly growing number.

Likewise, we have a burgeoning ecosystem of organisations in business and civil society focused on these enormous opportunities. Two examples are the Next Foundation (http://www.nextfoundation.org.nz/), which invests heavily in environmental programmes, and the Hillary Institute of International Leadership (http://www.hillaryinstitute.com/), based in Christchurch, which chooses each year a global leader in environmental issues.

Rockström is its 8th laureate and this award has brought him here to share his knowledge widely, including with the government, and to learn more about New Zealand. His biggest engagement was with the twice-a-year New Frontiers gathering of local and international experts on these intensely integrated issues of deep sustainability, which is run by the Edmund Hillary Fellowship.

“We are rolling in the right direction. We will decarbonise the world eventually – but are we moving fast enough?” He made it very clear to the New Frontiers audience that we are not.

But above all, he makes it abundantly clear that climate change is just one manifestation of humankind’s need for deep sustainability. We are the greatest driver of planetary change, greater than any natural force. Thus, this geological epoch is truly the Anthropocene.

Disclosure: I’m an Edmund Hillary Fellow, participated in New Frontiers, and was MC at the Our Land and Water symposium.

Press link for more: Newsroom.co.nz

 

Patagonia vs. Donald Trump | GQ

gq.com
Patagonia vs. Donald Trump | GQ
Rosecrans Baldwin

This is not your parents’ fleece-maker. We’re past the old jokes about Patagucci or Fratagonia. Sure, you still see a Synchilla vest on every venture capitalist in Palo Alto; not for nothing does the Jared Dunn character on Silicon Valley possess a Patagonia collection supreme. But the vest also crisscrosses popular culture: DeRay Mckesson, one of the faces of Black Lives Matter, wears Patagonia so often his vest has its own Twitter feed. A$AP Rocky shows up in Snap-T sweaters. Louis Vuitton cribbed its Classic Retro-X jacket for a mountaineering look. Universities from Oregon to Ole Miss are Patagonia-saturated, and meanwhile, vintage finds—the rarest featuring the original “big label” logo—fetch a premium on eBay.

The company’s HQ looks like a cross between a college campus and a recycling center. Solar panels everywhere. Wet suits drying on the roofs of cars—the five-acre spread is a short walk from the beach. The company has an on-site school where employees can enroll their kids through second grade, one of the reasons that Patagonia has near gender parity among employees. Many of its CEOs have been female, including the current one, Rose Marcario. Chouinard writes in his memoir–cum–business bible, Let My People Go Surfing, “I was brought up surrounded by women. I have ever since preferred that accommodation.”

Chouinard was born in Maine but formed in California. The son of a hardworking French-Canadian carpenter, he moved with his family to Burbank, just north of Los Angeles, in 1946, when Chouinard was 8; it was his mother’s idea, to improve his dad’s asthma. In California, Chouinard stood out, not in a good way. He was short, spoke French, and had a name like a girl. He hated school. High school history class was for practicing holding his breath, so he could free-dive deeper to catch wild lobster off Malibu. “I learned a long time ago that if you want to be a winner,” he told me, “you invent your own games.” So he ran away, to Griffith Park to hunt rabbits, the Los Angeles River to catch crawdads. It was a funny wilderness in the Valley—his favorite swimming hole was fed by a movie studio’s film-development lab. “Yeah, I used to swim in the outfall,” he said, cracking up.

Then he discovered climbing. In the 1950s, age 16, Chouinard drove to Wyoming and climbed Gannett Peak, the state’s highest mountain. Soon he met other young climbers, like Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, and migrated to Yosemite, where he lived off scraps—at one point, tins of cat food—and made first ascents up the granite walls. “In the ’60s, it was kind of the height of the fossil-fuel age,” he said. “You could get a part-time job anytime you felt like it. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. You could buy a used car for 20 bucks. Camping was free. It was pretty easygoing.”

Chouinard and his friends would transform rock climbing, helping to bring about the modern “clean” version, where you no longer hammer iron spikes into the cracks to aid your progress. This led to athletes like Caldwell, a Patagonia “climbing ambassador,” pulling off accomplishments no one thought possible—like the first free climb of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. Chouinard also met his wife of 47 years, Malinda, in Yosemite. At the time, she was a climber who worked as a weekend cabin maid. According to Chouinard, the moment that clinched it was a day they were hanging out and Malinda saw some women pull up and throw a beer can out the window. She told them to pick it up. They gave her the finger. Malinda went over, tore the license plate off their car with her bare hands, and turned it in to the rangers’ office. Chouinard was in love.

Patagonia got its start as Chouinard Equipment, selling the climbing gear that Yvon was making for his friends. The first apparel was equally functional, designed to resist rock: sturdy corduroy trousers, stiff rugby shirts like the ones Yvon brought back from a climbing trip in Scotland. When the clothing started to take off, they decided to separate the garments from the gear; they just needed a good name. As Chouinard explained: “To most people, especially then, Patagonia was a name like Timbuktu or Shangri-la—far-off, interesting, not quite on the map.”

These days, that “far-off” land is thriving. With Marcario at the company, revenue and profits have quadrupled. In addition to clothing, the company produces films, runs a food business, even has a venture-capital fund to invest in eco-friendly start-ups; one, Bureo, makes skateboards and sunglasses from former fishing nets. Along the way, Patagonia began donating 1 percent of its sales to environmental groups—$89 million as of April 2017—and led the garment industry in cleaning up its supply chains, demanding better practices from factories overseas. (Chouinard, his wife, and their two adult children remain the sole owners of Patagonia.)

https://www.gq.com/story/patagonia-versus-donald-trump?mbid=synd_digg

Analysis: 60 Million Acres of Monarch Habitat to Be Doused With Toxic Weed Killer | Global Justice Ecology Project

https://globaljusticeecology.org/analysis-60-million-acres-of-monarch-habitat-to-be-doused-with-toxic-weed-killer/#comments

Posted on March 2, 2018 by GJEP staff

PORTLAND, Ore.— Within the next two years, more than 60 million acres of monarch habitat will be sprayed with a pesticide that’s extremely harmful to milkweed, the only food for monarch caterpillars, according to a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Monarch populations have already fallen by 80 percent in the past two decades due to escalating pesticide use and other human activities. Now the Center’s report A Menace to Monarchs shows that the butterfly faces a dangerous new threat from accelerating use of the notoriously drift-prone and highly toxic weed killer dicamba across an area larger than the state of Minnesota.

“America’s monarchs are already in serious trouble, and this will push them into absolute crisis,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center. “It’s appalling that the EPA approved this spraying without bothering to consider the permanent damage it will do to these butterflies and their migration routes.”

Today’s report found that by 2019, use of dicamba will increase by nearly 100-fold on cotton and soybean fields within the monarch’s migratory habitat across the heart of the United States.

Other key findings include:

Accelerating harm: In addition to 61 million acres of monarch habitat being directly sprayed with dicamba, an additional 9 million acres could be harmed by drift of the pesticide.
Deadly timing: The timing and geographical distribution of dicamba use coincides precisely with the presence of monarch eggs and larva on milkweed.
Double trouble: Dicamba degrades monarch habitat both by harming flowering of plants that provide nectar for adults as they travel south for the winter and by harming milkweed that provides an essential resource for reproduction.
Greater menace to milkweed: Research has shown that just 1 percent of the minimum dicamba application rate is sufficient to reduce the size of milkweed by 50 percent, indicating it may have a greater impact on milkweed growth than the already widely used pesticide glyphosate.

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 approved new dicamba products for use on genetically engineered cotton and soybeans. In 2017 there were reports of at least 3.6 million acres of off-target, dicamba-induced damage to agricultural crops and an unknown amount of damage to native plants and habitats, including forests. The EPA has refused to take necessary action to address the harms caused by the chemical.

“There’s no question that use of dicamba across tens of millions of acres will deepen risks to our dangerously imperiled monarch populations,” said Donley. “When dicamba’s use on GE cotton and soybeans comes up for reapproval later this year, the only responsible thing for the EPA to do is allow that approval to expire.”

Background
For this analysis the Center examined monarch habitat and projected usage rates for dicamba, with a particular emphasis on examining the effects of increased use of dicamba in the coming years, which is expected to reach about 57 million pounds annually.

The decline in monarchs in recent decades has coincided with the surge in use of glyphosate, which is sprayed on crops genetically altered to survive being sprayed by the pesticide. Around 300 million pounds of glyphosate are sprayed in fields each year in the United States. The massive overuse of glyphosate triggered the large-scale decline of milkweed and the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant weeds across millions of acres. In response to the proliferation of resistant weeds, farmers have turned to dicamba — compounding the danger to monarchs and their habitat.

Via Center for Biological Diversity
Category: Climate Justice, Featured, Social Media News Tags: Butterfly, Center for Biological Diversity, monarch, Monarch Butterfly, neonic
Copyright © 2018 · All Rights Reserved · Global Justice Ecology Project

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As climate change worsens, king penguins will need to move — or they’ll die (Southern Ocean, Antarctica)

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Originally posted on The ocean update:
Photo by Céline Le Bohec / CNRS / IPEV / CSM February 26th, 2018 (Alessandra Potenza). If we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, then by the end of the century, 70 percent…

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We Could Solve World Hunger If We All Made One Simple Change – Here’s How (VIDEO) – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/solve-world-hunger-one-simple-change/?utm_source=Green+Monster+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=324931bd6d-NEWSLETTER_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bbf62ddf34-324931bd6d-106049477

Background Radiation Has Increased By 600 To 60,000 Percent Globally, State By State In USA – 0 Before Nuclear Age, 1 mSv In 1950 To Over 6 mSv Today; Physicist Dr. Paolo Scampa, Dr Busby Weigh In On Evidence, Data, Root Causes | A Green Road Journal

AGR Daily 60 Second News Bites

Every single nuclear plant, nuclear accident site, nuclear disposal site, medical radiation facility, uranium mines, nuclear fuel processing facilities, nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities and anything nuclear or fossil fuel related releases large quantities of radioactive heavy metal poisons into the air.

Fukushima is just one example of many sites that are releasing huge amounts of radioactive poisons, despite being ‘shut down’ or not producing anything of value.

Because radioactive heavy metal poisons are invisible and not detectable to the senses, the public does not know or sense anything is going wrong. The public does not even know that it does not know anything.

The nuclear industry loves to keep everyone in the dark, because if the truth were known, the nuclear industry would be shut down today.

via Background Radiation Has Increased By 600 To 60,000 Percent Globally, State By State In USA – 0 Before Nuclear Age, 1 mSv…

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Welcome to the Age of Climate Migration

The Extinction Chronicles

Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana last August, causing $125 billion in damage, dumped more water out of the sky than any storm in U.S. history. By one calculation, roughly a million gallons fell for every person in Texas. The water rained down on a flat former bayou that had become a concrete and asphalt empire of more than 2.3 million people. Highways turned into rivers and shopping malls into lakes. As the water rose, people scrambled for safe refuge – into attics, onto rooftops and overpasses. A Texas game warden captured a nine-foot-long alligator in the dining room of a home near Lake Houston. Snakes swam into kitchens. A hawk flew into a taxicab and wouldn’t leave.

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The Water Will Come, rising seas, sinking cities. #auspol #StopAdani #ClimateChange

jpratt27

FEBRUARY 21, 2018

IN HIS URGENT NEW BOOK, Jeff Goodell takes readers on a tour of places likely to be swallowed up by the sea — among them Florida; New York City; Venice; Norfolk, Virginia; Rotterdam; Lagos; and the Marshall Islands.

The book tells the engrossing story of their likely demise, and how our inability to deal with climate change renders this tragedy increasingly inevitable.

Many other places, too, will be swallowed up if humans don’t stop spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And, alas, even if they do stop, there’s no telling when the sea will stop rising.

While keenly observing and poignantly describing rapidly changing coastal ecologies, Goodell also reports with empathy and acumen on his conversations with a mix of scientists, engineers, community workers, real estate agents, activists, and politicians.

At an event hosted by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2016, the theme of the…

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North Pole Region Predicted to Experience Another Instance of Above Freezing Temperatures as the Bering Sea Ice is Blasted Away

Take the time to stroll down through the comments additional information.

robertscribbler

Those previously rare instances of above freezing temperatures in the Arctic north during winter time are happening more and more often.

(February 20 NASA satellite imagery shows Bering Sea with mostly open water as highly atypical above freezing temperatures drive far north. Note that patches of open water extend well into the Chukchi Sea. Image source: NASA.)

Just Monday and Tuesday of this week, Cape Jessup, Greenland — a mere 400 miles away from the North Pole — experienced above freezing temperatures for two days in a row. This following a February 5 warm air invasion that drove above 32 F temperatures to within 150 miles of this furthest northerly point in our Hemisphere even as, by February 20th, a warm air invasion relentlessly melted the Bering Sea’s typically frozen surface (see image above).

Far Above Average Temperatures Over Our Pole

It’s not just a case of warming…

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Paying at the Pump | Grist

 

Texas’ environmental agency targets small business owners for minor record-keeping violations, while letting corporate polluters off easy.

By Naveena Sadasivam on Feb 21, 2018

This story was originally published by The Texas Observer and is reproduced here as part of a collaboration.

One day in April 2015, Nasser Farahnakian watched helplessly as the streets around his gas station in Corpus Christi flooded. That spring had seen a succession of severe thunderstorms in South Texas, smashing rainfall records and causing widespread flooding across this city of 300,000. As the waters rose around Farahnakian’s business, hundreds of gallons poured through a manhole into three underground storage tanks that hold gasoline and diesel. Underground, the grimy floodwaters mixed with the valuable fuel, rendering it unsellable. In late April, Farahnakian called a contractor to pump the water out of the tanks — the first of five times he would have to do so over the next month. Eventually the rains subsided and he figured the $8,000 expense was just part of being a gas station owner.

Four months later, an inspector with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) showed up for a scheduled inspection and asked to see an inventory of fuel, a routine request. The inspector pointed out that the records didn’t account for 800 gallons of fuel. Did it leak into the ground? Farahnakian tried explaining that the figures in the inventory records didn’t add up because the tanks had flooded and he’d hired a company to clean them out. He says he even showed the inspector the receipts from the contractor.

 

 

Watch the Grist mini-documentary on Texas regulators targeting gas-station owners.

It didn’t work. Farahnakian was shocked when he received a letter from TCEQ informing him that he was facing $59,000 in fines for recordkeeping violations — about two years’ worth of profits from gas sales at his store. Farahnakian was outraged. He’d done everything right. He hadn’t sold fuel mixed with water and had immediately cleaned the tanks. Automatic sensors in the tanks didn’t indicate a leak.

“We did everything to fix it,” Farahnakian said. “But the paper, the inventory, did not match.”

At age 26, Farahnakian had left Isfahan, the third-largest city in Iran, to get a Western education. It was 1976 and the country was on the verge of a political revolution. When he landed in Houston, he didn’t speak a lick of English and didn’t know anyone in the country. Farahnakian enrolled in language classes, secured a spot at a community college in Beeville and picked up odd jobs. He waited tables and washed dishes at a Mexican restaurant, making minimum wage, $2.30 an hour. At night, he drove a taxi, making $1 or $2 a trip.

When he was close to finishing his engineering degree, Farahnakian quit school. He found work at a bottling company, a job he hated, but one that allowed him to save money to fulfill his dream of owning his own business.

In 1988, after more than a decade in the country, Farahnakian was able to open a convenience store in Corpus Christi. As his business took off, he opened another store, then bought rental property and began leasing it out.

Eventually, in 2005, Farahnakian purchased land off Highway 44 and built his current gas station. The place has the comforting fluorescent glow of a familiar American institution. A sign outside reads “SUNRISE FOODS BEER ICE HOT DELI.” Inside, the store is conspicuously clean. The deli counter advertises breakfast tacos and “Chicken By The Pieces.”

 

As modest as it is, the store has helped make Farahnakian prosperous. “I never gonna go back working for somebody in my whole life,” he said. “If they give me million dollars, I don’t want to have a boss no more.”
Nasser Farahnakian, a gas station owner who was fined $59,000 by TCEQ for recordkeeping violations, at his convenience store in Corpus Christi. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

Sunrise Foods is located just down the road from the airport, and the nearest competitor is about 6 miles away. Along with rental income from other properties, Farahnakian and his wife are more than comfortable and now live in a posh part of Corpus Christi, in a 4,900-square-foot home made cozy with Persian rugs. “I’ve been working hard all my life and now I enjoy,” he said.

Still, the $59,000 fine stung. He could afford to pay it, but what about a less well-off gas station operator? “We’ve got volume, it’s OK,” he said. “But for a smaller gas station it’s kind of very rough. More [of] their profit goes toward TCEQ, which is very unfair.”

Unlike many other gas station owners, Farahnakian fought back. He hired a local attorney to contest the fines, and the case landed before a judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), an agency that holds trial-like proceedings for legal disputes. After eight months of wrangling, during which Farahnakian provided documentation that he’d cleaned up the tanks, TCEQ agreed to settle for $27,000. Farahnakian took the deal. He says he had already spent $15,000 in lawyer fees and a year of his time dealing with TCEQ. Still, he’s upset at what he sees as the mismatch between the infraction and the size of the fine.

“Why we have to pay $27,000 for one violation?” he asked. “Which world is like that? Which country is like that? And there is no leak.”

 

In April 2015, just as Farahnakian’s woes were about to begin, a Citgo refinery a few miles away was malfunctioning. Citgo personnel had discovered that a stack at the plant was emitting more hydrogen cyanide than its air permit allowed. For two months, as Citgo later reported to TCEQ, the plant released more than 50,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air. Exposure to the chemical at high levels can be toxic to human health. Two and a half years later, TCEQ is still deciding whether to punish the company at all, and is even considering a request from Citgo to simply amend its air permit to retroactively bless the pollution.

Citgo owns and operates two large refineries in Corpus Christi. Sitting at the edge of Nueces Bay, the 890-acre expanses of steel, towering stacks and massive storage tanks are feats of engineering. Every hour, they together churn through more than 6,500 barrels of crude oil, spitting out, among other products, gasoline that Farahnakian has purchased for his gas station. According to state data, they’re also some of the biggest polluters in Texas. Combined, the two refineries emit more than 3,800 tons of hazardous pollutants a year, spewing carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds — exposure to many of which has been correlated with lung and breast cancer — as well as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, which worsen respiratory illnesses in the young and elderly and contribute to haze in the region.

From 2012 to 2017, the plants released more pollution than allowed by their permits 66 times, including the April incident, according to public data. TCEQ fined the company in only four cases and initially issued just $82,400 in fines. In three of those cases, however, Citgo unleashed its legal department on TCEQ. In all four cases, TCEQ reduced fines because of “good faith” efforts and timely payments. Eventually, Citgo paid just $42,500 — a little more than a dollar per pound of pollution — for all four cases.

Farahnakian makes a few thousand dollars a month from selling sodas, beer and gas at his store; Citgo has annual revenues reportedly north of $40 billion. Farahnakian is a first-generation immigrant who isn’t fluent in English and is unfamiliar with the state’s regulatory system; Citgo has significant political and financial capital that it can use to fight TCEQ. Farahnakian was punished for recordkeeping violations and there is no evidence of gas leaking out of his tanks; Citgo admitted to pumping 50,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air. Yet Farahnakian’s penalty for a recordkeeping error was about the same as Citgo’s fine for releasing toxic air pollutants over five years.

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A Texas-themed welcome sign is painted on the side of a tank at one of Citgo’s Corpus Christi refineries. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

Farahnakian isn’t an exception. He’s one of hundreds of Texas gas station owners, often first-generation immigrants, who have been fined for missing or incorrect paperwork, even as big corporations receive lesser punishment for releasing dangerous pollutants. The Observer analyzed more than 300,000 rows of data related to TCEQ’s enforcement activity from 2009 to 2017 in an effort to assess the priorities of the nation’s fourth-largest environmental agency. The analysis found that TCEQ collected $24 million from tank operators, the vast majority of whom are gas station owners. That’s only slightly lower than the $30 million it collected from the thousands of industrial facilities — refineries, petrochemical plants, cement batch plants — across the state that violated their air permits.

The Observer’s analysis also found that the agency devotes considerable resources to policing gas stations. Cases against underground storage tank owners make up about 40 percent of TCEQ’s total enforcement workload, and 85 percent of the 4,200 cases against gas stations simply involved poor recordkeeping. In contrast, industrial polluters self-reported 500 million pounds of pollutants from 2011 to 2017. Yet TCEQ failed to levy fines against such violators 97 percent of the time during the same period, according to a 2017 report from two environmental groups critical of TCEQ. And when it did, the state came down much harder on small business owners: The Observer found that the average penalty for petroleum tank owners, $1,250, was double that of industrial air polluters, $580.

The disparity between TCEQ’s treatment of mom-and-pop operations versus large corporations is no accident. The regulatory apparatus seems built to favor those with money and power. The agency rarely punishes big polluters, often because they invoke a legal loophole that allows pollution associated with plant startup, shutdown or malfunctions. Even in the event of a fine, companies typically lawyer up, negotiating big reductions in penalties. As a result, environmental advocates and small business owners say there’s a fundamental unfairness at work with the way TCEQ treats its “customers,” as it refers to businesses it regulates.

“Fines should be tailored to their impact on the business,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas, which has criticized TCEQ for failing to hold air polluters accountable. “The fines should also reflect the seriousness of the violation. Whenever the public is being exposed to potentially harmful pollutants, penalties should be at their absolute highest. On both counts, TCEQ fails miserably.”

Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for TCEQ, provided the agency’s own analysis, which is mostly similar to the Observer’s findings. For example, TCEQ found that petroleum tank users made up 33 percent of the agency’s caseload, while the Observer calculated 40 percent. Morrow also took issue with the characterization of certain violations and defended the practice of using records to identify potential environmental hazards. She also said that leaking petroleum tanks pose health and environmental risks as well as “the potential for fire and explosion.”

“[R]ecordkeeping violations may not be simple ‘paperwork’ violations,” she said. “In many cases, the records required may be the only way a potential release can be identified and addressed before significant environmental harm is done.” She disputed the Observer’s finding that 85 percent of violations were related to recordkeeping and argued that those violations were misinterpreted. She also claimed that paperwork-related cases account for less than 1 percent of all violations cited in commission orders.

Morrow said the agency has been holding workshops to educate gas station owners about the regulatory requirements, adding that enforcement is “merely one tool” it uses to protect the environment. Still, she said “the sheer size” of the gas station industry “combined with high employee and ownership turnover … makes it difficult to reach everyone.”

Farahnakian, who has agreed to pay the $27,000 fine in 36 monthly payments of $750, is upset that TCEQ is making it more difficult to operate in an industry that is already challenging for small businesses.

“[TCEQ] try to get you out of this business,” he said. “Anybody can miss something, or water can get in the tanks. … But they get hard on us, not for them. For the foreigner, for the individual owner.”

The retail gasoline and convenience store business is one of slim margins, high turnover and uncertainty. Day-to-day fluctuations in gas prices, ever-changing regulations and high overhead costs all make it difficult to stay afloat in the industry. There’s even the apparently common problem of inattentive people driving off with the gas nozzle still stuck in the vehicle — a screwup that can cost the owner thousands of dollars. According to the Small Business Administration, about 48 percent of Texas’ small businesses are minority-owned. Though the agency doesn’t have demographic data by industry, experts told the Observer that a significant percentage of the 20,000 or so gas stations in Texas are owned and operated by immigrants, predominantly from Asia and the Middle East.

Scott Fisher, the senior vice president of policy and public affairs with the Texas Food and Fuel Association, an industry group that represents gas stations and convenience stores, said that in the 1970s and 1980s, the gas station business was likely attractive to immigrants because of the low barrier to entry. Loans were easy to secure and the down payments were typically smaller than what’s required today. Regulations were simple and easy to navigate; inspections were few.

“It looked like a pretty good way to get established and take care of your family,” Fisher said.

In the 1980s, however, it became increasingly clear that leaking petroleum tanks posed a major threat to groundwater, and pressure mounted on Congress to crack down. At the time, the EPA estimated that one-quarter of the approximately 2 million tanks in the country were leaking. Of particular concern was MTBE, a powerful octane booster and carcinogen that renders groundwater undrinkable even when present in tiny quantities.

Congress gave the EPA jurisdiction over underground tanks in 1984 and ordered the agency to step up its policing. But in the late 1990s, the EPA still had a major problem on its hands.

In 1998, researchers at the Department of Energy found traces of gasoline chemicals in groundwater at more than 13,000 California sites, and in 2001 and 2005, the Government Accountability Office published scathing reports on the lack of funding for cleanups. “Most states and EPA do not physically inspect all underground storage tanks frequently enough or have access to the most effective enforcement tools to ensure compliance with federal requirements,” the 2001 report noted.

In 2005, under mounting pressure from activists and lawmakers, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, an omnibus energy bill that increased funding to states for tank cleanups. Among the key provisions: States receiving federal assistance would have to conduct inspections of gas stations every three years.

Taking the federal money now meant putting gas station owners under much closer scrutiny. Unlike most states, Texas officials rebuffed the federal government, according to an EPA spokesperson. (Morrow said that TCEQ wasn’t aware of additional funding being declined.)
Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

But in 2009, as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus package, TCEQ was offered a windfall — $10.8 million over two years if it would conduct routine inspections. The agency farmed most of the work out to the University of Texas at Arlington through a $2.5 million contract. The effect was immediate and drastic. In 2009, the year before the contract went into effect, TCEQ conducted about 5,700 inspections and issued $3.5 million in fines. Four years later, in 2013, the number of inspections more than doubled to about 13,200, and fines increased to almost $5 million.

The increase in inspections “was the single biggest change from that law,” said Cliff Rothenstein, who headed EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks during the George W. Bush administration. Prior to the Energy Policy Act, most of the money was provided to clean up leaking tanks, he said, but after the law passed states received millions for inspections.

There’s little doubt that the program has succeeded in reducing pollution. In Texas, the number of documented spills and leaks from petroleum storage tanks has decreased from 354 per year in 2006 to 285 in 2016. “It’s a big achievement,” Rothenstein said.

Many gas station owners told the Observer they don’t object to fines in the event of a leak. They also conceded that the regulatory crackdown has prompted them to be more attentive to the records, and some have hired compliance firms to keep their books in order. But they also noted that TCEQ has discretion when it comes to how harshly it punishes polluters. They questioned why TCEQ doesn’t show the same zeal for deterrence when it comes to some of the biggest polluters in the state, often the very petrochemical companies — Citgo, Valero, Shell, Exxon —from which they must purchase gas.

Only 7 percent of the tanks inspected from 2009 to 2017 had a documented spill or leak at some point in their history. In fact, in TCEQ’s data, the Observer was able to identify only six cases where an inspector found evidence of contamination. In the vast majority of cases, TCEQ became aware of a leaking tank when an owner reported it to the agency.

The most common citation is for failing to maintain accurate inventories. Gas stations and other businesses with fueling stations, such as hospitals and car washes, are expected to maintain more than 40 sets of records at any given time. Some, like the gas inventories, need to be updated every day. Others have to be renewed monthly or yearly. In Farahnakian’s case, there was a discrepancy of 800 gallons of fuel, the result of the five times he had to have the tanks pumped dry. Official TCEQ forms provide a space for indicating when gasoline is delivered or sold, but not for when fuel is removed from the tank during a cleaning. Two inspectors told the Observer that they view “missing” gas as an indication that it might have leaked out of the tanks.

Under Texas regulations, Farahnakian was supposed to report the issue to TCEQ and hire a company to investigate the source of the errors. He says he didn’t do either because he didn’t know they were requirements. As a result, his initial fine grew under what is known in regulatory circles as “cascading violations.”

TCEQ dinged him $9,016 for not maintaining records for an automatic leak sensor in one of the tanks, $4,508 for failing to report the inventory discrepancy and $45,082 for not hiring an investigator to look into the discrepancy. It added up to $58,606. If TCEQ had penalized him for just the first violation, Farahnakian would have had to pay only the $9,016.

Farahnakian points out that he had installed probes in the tank to alert him if there were a leak.

“We find out, we have monitoring there,” Farahnakian said. “We press it and it says no leaks. … They don’t care about this. All they need is fine. Big fine.”

Morrow did not respond to questions about the violations at Farahnakian’s gas station. Instead, she said that the agency’s executive director “considers all available evidence when determining the violations, penalty and corrective actions to include in an enforcement action.”

For mom-and-pop gas station owners, the fines can take a financial and emotional toll.

In 2015, a TCEQ inspector found that Jamal Jafari, a Palestinian American who owns a gas station in Fort Worth, hadn’t conducted a corrosion test and had left required leak detectors unplugged. Though the inspector didn’t find any signs of a leak or a spill, Jafari was still smacked with a $6,500 fine. It took such a toll on his finances that he says he would shut down the pumps if it wouldn’t affect sales in the convenience store.

Jafari’s family fled Palestine in 1976 when he was 6 years old; the family lived in a Jordanian refugee camp during his school years. His five sisters, brother and parents all slept in a 10-by-10-foot shack, he recalled. After high school, Jafari secured a visa to come to the United States. He took English classes in Chicago and enrolled at Harold Washington College. Later he moved to Texas to take classes to become a pilot. But he couldn’t afford the schooling and quit to take a job at a gas station.

Over the next five years, Jafari saved enough money to open his own gas station in Fort Worth. Jafari, who is Muslim, thinks immigrants like him are unfairly penalized, in part because they’re less likely to put up a fight.

“We [have] this feeling, they target us,” Jafari said. “‘We fine them, they cannot go to lawyer, some of them they don’t speak English and they scared.’ … I came to this country and I don’t know all the rules, just like [when an] American goes to my country, he don’t know all the rules.”

Jafari says he sells only about 30,000 gallons of gas a month at a profit of 5 cents a gallon — about $1,500 a month. After debit card fees, he typically makes less than a dollar per fill-up. Like most gas station owners, Jafari counts on customers coming into the store for other goods.

“I hope he buy soda pop, a cigarette, a bag of chips [and] I’ll make the difference,” Jafari said. “But the gas, nobody makes money on gas. They keep it just to keep the customer happy.”

TCEQ allowed Jafari to go on a payment plan — $540 a month for 12 months — but he struggled to scrounge together the funds. Sometimes he would skip a month or two and pay a lump sum once he’d saved up enough. He says he and his family — his wife and 10 children — had to cut back on groceries and skimp wherever they could.

“It put me in a hole,” he said. “It’s hardship on me, my family and everything.”

On a warm fall morning in South Texas, Gary is rushing from one gas station to the next in a white pickup truck with TCEQ’s blue-and-green logo on the side. One of more than 450 investigators employed by the agency, Gary expects to inspect three gas stations within an hour and a half this morning. He’s just wrapped up the third store — an HEB, where he spent 20 minutes — and is pulling into a Stripes he’d inspected earlier in the morning.

(I’ve changed Gary’s name because he fears he could lose his job by speaking to the media.)

Gary says he had an easy time with the inspections that morning because they were all corporate-owned gas stations. Employees from Stripes and HEB were present to answer any questions, and they had already emailed Gary the records he needed to review.

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“The corporate ones are the easy ones to write up, because they give us the documents and we can type it up as quickly as possible,” he said. “The mom-and-pops … it takes us a little bit longer to get everything.”

On any given day, Gary may be investigating a tire fire in the morning and responding to complaints from neighbors living next to a scrap metal plant in the afternoon. Because there are so many gas stations to inspect, TCEQ wants inspectors to fly through them, Gary says. He says he’s expected to take just five hours from start to finish, though he sometimes needs at least seven to do the job right. (Morrow disputed this timeframe, saying that investigators take 15 hours on average.)

TCEQ requires its inspectors to have reports approved within 60 days of the inspection, a deadline that Gary says inspectors often rush to meet. While he takes the time to help small business owners find records that satisfy the rules, other inspectors may not have the patience, he says.

“When [politicians] say you’re overburdening [businesses] with regulation, what they’re really saying is you’re overburdening the big corporate people,” said Gary. “You’re not really thinking of the mom-and-pops.”

Another hurdle for some small business owners is that many speak English as a second language. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, entities that receive federal funding are expected to provide equal access to services, regardless of race, color and national origin. Courts have generally interpreted the law to include providing language assistance to people whose primary language is not English.

TCEQ appears to have taken some steps to provide language assistance. Morrow, the TCEQ spokesperson, said that whenever agency staff run into communication barriers, they “rely on available internal or external resources,” including staff who “are fluent in a variety of languages,” Spanish speakers in the agency’s small business program, and the EnviroMentor program, where environmental professionals volunteer their time to assist small businesses.

Still, it’s unclear how often those services are used. Based on interviews with nine gas station owners and two inspectors, many gas station owners don’t know that the agency provides translation services. Take, for instance, Joginder Singh. He quit school after eighth grade in Hathur, a small farming community in rural Punjab, India, and as a young adult worked at a Nestle milk collection center. He was “struggling, struggling” to make money, he recalled, and told his father, “Don’t worry… one day I’m going to the other country.”
Joginder Singh at his gas station in Floresvllle. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

In 1998, at age 35, Singh got a visa to the United States and flew to Syracuse, New York. There he found work as a gas station attendant, but Singh didn’t speak a word of English, and his boss fired him, telling him he couldn’t employ someone who wasn’t able to communicate with customers. Eventually, Singh picked up a little bit of the language, moved to Fresno, California, and later came to Texas with his cousin in the hopes of owning and running gas stations with him.

One cold December morning, Singh walks me to a small, cramped office at the back of his gas station in Floresville, a small town southeast of San Antonio. He opens a gray filing cabinet filled with files marked “TCEQ #1” and “TCEQ #2.”

In 2016, a routine inspection landed Singh in trouble. A contractor with UT-Arlington inspected his gas station and found that Singh hadn’t tested the pipes leading from the underground tanks to the pumps. The inspector told him to get the leak test done in the next week. Singh followed the instructions and the test came back clean, but he was still slapped with a $5,800 fine. When Singh told a TCEQ staffer over the phone that he wanted to contest the case, he says he was threatened.

“He said, ‘If you go before the judge, judge from TCEQ, he no listen to you, he listen to me,’” Singh recalled. Discouraged, Singh didn’t bother to appeal. (Morrow did not respond to a request to comment on Singh’s allegation.)

Singh says no one ever bothered to inform him that he had a right to a translator at no cost. With a Hindi or Punjabi translator, he might’ve had a clearer understanding of the violations and how best to defend himself.

“They need to ask first time, ‘Hey Mr. Singh, hey Mr. Kumar, hey Mr. Benjamin, hey Mr. Lopez, you need interpreter?’” Singh said. “If they give me the translator between lawyer, any judge, whatever, I can more fighting myself. I can more fighting there.”

The contract between TCEQ and UT-Arlington spells out that the university must comply with the Civil Rights Act: “As a recipient of EPA financial assistance, you are required … to provide meaningful access to [Limited English Proficiency] individuals.” The university also “has an affirmative obligation” to “ensure that its actions do not involve discriminatory treatment.”

Marianne Engelman Lado, an environmental law professor at Yale University, said that the legal argument for translating the violation notices and enforcement documents is “pretty strong.” According to Engelman Lado, the EPA has determined in response to a Clinton-era executive order that agencies need to translate certain “vital” documents to the respondent’s primary language. TCEQ’s enforcement letters and orders fit that definition, she said.

In Singh’s case, despite the fact that he primarily speaks Punjabi and Hindi, TCEQ sent letters in English notifying him that he was in violation of state laws and owed the state money.

“I come from India and I don’t have education,” said Singh. “How I can read everything?”

In New York, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies offer medical information in 16 different languages, using translation software.

“Technology has become easier and easier and access to translation has become easier and easier,” Engelman Lado said. “So an organization or an agency with resources, they should be able to at least give out notice and then provide these vital documents in people’s languages.”

Morrow did not respond to specific questions about which documents TCEQ translates, but said broadly, “As a recipient of federal funding, the TCEQ must follow Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The system offers luxuries to large companies that are simply not available to Jafari, Singh and Farahnakian. First, TCEQ very rarely fines companies for violating their air pollution permits. For example, from 2005 to 2013, the agency declined to pursue fines in 152 cases against Exxon, or 63 percent of the company’s self-reported emissions events. In total the agency issued just $1.4 million in fines to Exxon, little more than mildly wagging its finger at the multinational behemoth.

But the extent to which the system is rigged in favor of Exxon came to light during a lawsuit that environmental groups filed against the company. Texas law allows air polluters to avoid penalties if the emissions occurred during plant startup or shutdown or because of a malfunction. However, during the trial, an Exxon official testified that the company reflexively uses that justification no matter the circumstances. The trial also showed that even when TCEQ fined Exxon, it allowed the company to dictate the terms. A top agency official testified that Exxon was allowed to write the first draft of a 2012 enforcement order and had significant input into the final version.

In 2017, the federal judge ruled against Exxon, finding that the company gained nearly $14.3 million in economic benefits by delaying projects that would’ve reduced emissions. Exxon was ordered to pay almost $20 million.

The Exxon judgment was a rare win. Refineries, petrochemical plants and other polluters under TCEQ’s purview still routinely claim that all excess emissions are related to startup, shutdown or malfunctions. Usually, the strategy works. In Citgo’s case, for instance, the company appealed three of the four times it exceeded its permit from 2012 to 2017. In all three cases, the company claimed the emissions were legal, successfully reduced the fine, and avoided admitting to any wrongdoing.
An oil refinery in Corpus Christi owned by Citgo. Tamir Kalifa/Texas Observer

In one 2012 incident, the Citgo West plant in Corpus Christi released more than 25,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide and more than 400 pounds of a slew of other chemicals, including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen oxides. The emissions went on for more than a day, but the company failed to report them within 24 hours as required. TCEQ fined Citgo $50,500. But the company then simply claimed it was an authorized emission and appealed the case to SOAH. Ultimately, TCEQ settled with Citgo for $13,100.

“These guys have millions of dollars, literally, to spend on lawyers and lobbyists and will put up a fight, and, on the other hand, we know a gas station owner doesn’t have those resources,” said Metzger with Environment Texas. “Even if he or she wanted to go to SOAH or the courts, they likely don’t have the money or the time or the expertise to be able to mount any kind of real defense.”

Indeed, very few tank cases get appealed. From 2009 to 2017, only about 250 of the 4,200 underground storage tank cases — fewer than 6 percent — were appealed to SOAH, according to the Observer analysis. Jafari, the Fort Worth gas station owner, explained his decision not to appeal this way:

“If I request a hearing, I gotta go to Austin, I gotta hire a lawyer,” he said. “I’m taking a chance, maybe I win, maybe I lose. [If I lose], I have to pay the lawyer. So, excuse my language, we just say shut up and pay it and get it over with.”

What would a fairer system look like? Adrian Shelley, the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Texas, said that deciding how to prioritize industries is “a deep question in public health and environmental enforcement.” The Observer’s analysis raised a “social justice question” and showed that TCEQ’s priorities were “skewed,” he said.

“If they’re going after small business owners that don’t have a lobby to support their interests in the state, that’s unjust,” he said.

Metzger said TCEQ behaves like a schoolyard bully, picking on those who are least able to fight back. “TCEQ largely lets major corporations off the hook while disproportionately going after the smaller operators,” he said. “It’s not fair and it’s not very protective of public health for them to be going after the little guys and look the other way when the big polluters break the law.”

For Farahnakian and other gas station owners, the issue comes down to one of equity. The punishment should fit the crime.

“For big refinery, [a few thousand] is nothing,” he said. “It’s penny in the pocket. Why it’s like that? They should pay big fine and we should pay a small fine, compared to the money volume or business volume.”

Farahnakian is now semi-retired. Glaucoma has affected his eyesight and he walks haltingly. His daughter, Roya, takes care of the day-to-day operations at the gas station. “It’s her business now,” he beams.

Having been burned once, he’s more careful now about recordkeeping. He has hired a compliance company to keep track of the daily inventory records. While he doesn’t regret getting into the gas station business, he says the large fines have deterred him from opening another gas station, and he wouldn’t recommend that Roya open one, either.

“I told myself I’m not going to open no more gas station,” he said. “If they’re going to be hard on us like this, why you want to open a station? All this paper, all this records, all this things for what?”

Paying at the Pump

 

A Beacon in the Smog®

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Bees 🐝 So Many Kinds of Bees

After Years of War, Nature is Flourishing on These Tiny Islands | National Geographic

“Toxic Lake Bursts Into Flames” National Geographic

Toxic Chemicals Database – Chemical Free Life

https://chemical-free-life.org/2018/01/20/toxic-chemicals-database/

U.S. Wildlife Officials Propose Endangered Status For Florida Crayfish | WGCU News

 

unnamed.jpghttp://news.wgcu.org/post/us-wildlife-officials-propose-endangered-status-florida-crayfish

By Jessica Meszaros • Jan 3, 2018

The Panama City crayfish is listed on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website as a “Species of Special Concern.” Now the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service proposes it be a federally protected species.

Federal wildlife officials proposed Tuesday to protect a crayfish only found in Bay County under the Endangered Species Act.

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The Panama City crayfish is only about 2 inches long, it’s tan-colored and has red dots on its head. There are only 13 populations found in Bay County with less than 100 crustaceans in each habitat.

Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, says all the Panama City crayfish historically lived together in wetlands of the Pine Flatwood Forest, but then they were separated as the land was developed.

“The crayfish have been pushed into these little habitats like ditches and swells,” she says.

Curry says these crustaceans are important for multiple reasons. They create burrows that other species use, like insects and frogs. The crustaceans are also part of the food web— fish, birds and mammals eat them. And they’re herbivores that eat decaying vegetation in the water, essentially cleaning it.

“So protecting crayfish ultimately protects clean water for people,” says Curry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed classifying the crayfish as a protected endangered species. Curry says there will now be a public comment period, then scientists will weigh-in, and then she expects the Panama City crayfish to be federally protected in about a year.

UPDATE: The source for this story referred the the Panama City crayfish as a “fish,” but it’s actually a “crustacean.”

 

 

Republicans are using some very shaky math to justify drilling in the Arctic refuge | Grist

By Jackie Flynn Mogensen 

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Early Saturday morning, Senate Republicans narrowly passed a controversial tax bill which — aside from overwhelmingly benefiting the rich — will open up 1.5-million acres of the pristine, 20-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas drilling.

The fate of the ANWR has been a decades-long tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats, with the right seeing the massive oil reserves within the park as a source of revenue for Alaska and the country, and the left insisting on preserving the land, which supports hundreds of bird species, arctic foxes, caribou, and polar bears. First designated a “wildlife range” in 1960 and then later a refuge in 1980, the land is also home to the Native Alaskan Gwich’in tribe, which relies on the land for subsistence.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crowned jewels of our public lands,” Ana Unruh Cohen, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Mother Jones last week when the tax bill was still being considered. “Drilling there would totally mar this beautiful place.”

The ANWR measure was added to the tax bill late last month in an effort to secure the vote of Alaskan Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who had crossed party lines to oppose the Obamacare repeal in July and hadn’t yet committed to supporting the tax bill. The move worked; after the vote, Murkowski said in a statement that the bill’s passing was a “critical milestone in our efforts to secure Alaska’s future.”

Murkowski’s prediction, though, is an optimistic one. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that drilling in the ANWR would raise $1.1 billion for the federal government over the next 10 years and another 1.1 billion for Alaska over the same time period. This would, in theory, help offset the unprecedented cost of tax cuts proposed in the bill, which is estimated to add a whooping $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

But experts warn that the CBO’s estimates are off — by a lot. According to data prepared for the nonprofit Alaska Wilderness League by David Murphy, an assistant professor of environmental studies at St. Lawrence University, and analyzed by Bloomberg, the federal government is actually likely to raise less than a fifth of that 10-year goal, or about $145 million. This lower estimate is based on historic sales in the region; the average bid for drilling along Alaska’s North Slope since 2000 is $194 per acre. So, bids for ANWR land would need to be nearly seven times higher than that in order to match the $1.1 billion federal estimate.

The problem with the CBO estimate is that it’s based on the size of all recoverable oil reserves in the 1.5-million-acre section of the ANWR that would open for drilling (thought to contain between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels according to the United States Geological Survey). It also uses long-term oil prices of $70 per barrel (prices Tuesday were at about $57) and the estimated cost of production in the region. In a November report, the CBO says their estimates are “uncertain,” and “potential bidders might make assumptions that are different from CBO’s, including assumptions about long-term oil prices, production costs, the amount of oil and gas resources in ANWR, and alternative investment opportunities.” The CBO does not provide a margin of error in their calculations.

“[The CBO] doesn’t explain any uncertainty about this [$1.1 billion] number — and legislation is being drafted around it. This would never pass muster in an academic journal,” Murphy tells Mother Jones.

Findings from both the Audubon Society, a nonprofit conservation organization and the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, similarly diverge from CBO estimates, but predict that oil and gas drilling would yield even lower numbers than Murphy suggests, at just $37.5 million over the next decade. They hinge their estimates on the average bid per acre since 1999 in the much larger, neighboring National Petroleum Reserve (an area already allocated for oil and gas leasing), which is just $50 per acre.

“Opening the Arctic to drilling as part of this tax plan is simply shameful. The Arctic Refuge isn’t a bank — drilling there won’t pay for the tax cuts the Senate just passed,” National Audubon Society President and CEO David Yarnold said in a statement just after Saturday’s vote.

Throwing even more confusion into the situation, when the Trump administration released its 2018 fiscal budget report in May, it claimed said that drilling in the ANWR would raise a staggering $1.8 billion over the next 10 years, but didn’t provide reasoning for the estimate in the report.

Beyond this uncertainty on how much drilling would actually deliver into state and federal coffers, the bigger issue might be that it’s not even clear if oil companies still want and are willing to drill in the ANWR — a contentious and also costly site for oil extraction. Due to differences in how the oil is held in the ground, oil production in the Arctic costs, on average, $78 per barrel, while production in the lower 48 states ranges from $40-60 per barrel, according to Murphy’s analysis. Moreover, there is no existing oil extraction infrastructure located on the reserve, and building wells from scratch would cost, on average, more than $6 million per well, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That doesn’t even take into account the headache that environmentalists and natives-rights activists could create for oil companies, if not potentially costly litigation.

Of course, this not to say that oil drilling won’t occur there. “It’s a much smaller area [than the neighboring Petroleum Reserve] with a large amount of oil,” so drilling in the reserve would likely be fruitful, says Murphy. “Talk about throwing darts at a board … If it’s opened up, I’m sure companies will bid on it.” And drilling there could still be profitable for companies, despite the higher cost of drilling in the Arctic. Still, the Petroleum Reserve may prove to be a safer option for oil companies, which would have access to existing infrastructure and less pushback from advocacy groups that oppose drilling in the ANWR.

“We have a significant position now that’s close to where we have infrastructure and a long history of strong operating capability,” said Al Hirshberg, the executive vice president of production, drilling, and projects for ConocoPhillips, in a statement. The company leases about 70 percent of the Petroleum Reserve’s sold acreage, and recently discovered a store of 300-million barrels of oil in the reserve. The company tells Mother Jones they “would consider” operations in the ANWR, but it sees “tremendous potential” in the Petroleum Reserve and remains “focused on our projects and exploration plans there” — a statement similar to what the company shared with Bloomberg.

Finally, there’s still a lot of unleased land left in the Petroleum Reserve. According to the Bureau of Land Management, over half of the reserve was still available for leasing as of August 2017.

It remains to be seen if the ANWR provision will remain in the tax bill once the Senate and the House finish reconciling their versions of the legislation. But even then, it is unlikely to be the cash cow Republicans are relying on. “Current presidential and congressional budget projections are unrealistic,” Murphy writes in his report. “It would be fiscally irresponsible to pursue this path on a budget justification.”

Republicans are using some very shaky math to justify drilling in the Arctic refuge

A Beacon in the Smog®

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International Environmental and Human Rights Group Wins Major Grant | Global Justice Ecology Project

African Oil Palm plantations in the Lacandon Jungle of Mexico to be used for biofuel. Orin Langelle/LangellePhoto.org (2013)
Buffalo-based Organization Awarded $90,000
Buffalo, NY–Global Justice Ecology Project, an award-winning international non-profit based in Buffalo announced today that it will receive a grant of $90,000 from the Ceres Trust. The grant was made in support of GJEP’s leading-edge work to protect forests, wildlife and communities from the unpredictable and potentially devastating impacts of genetically engineered trees–such as wildfires, loss of water, sickness and forced displacement. 

“We are thrilled to receive this important grant from Ceres Trust,” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director and co-founder of Global Justice Ecology Project. [5] “In this age of climate change and extreme weather, our work in defense of forests and forest-dependent communities is more critical than ever, and this grant will help us accomplish many important objectives. In 2018, it will help us strengthen our work with indigenous peoples in Brazil, Chile, the U.S. and elsewhere who are protecting their lands and forests from corporate destruction.”

GJEP is also co-organizing a national forest protection conference in 2018 to reignite a powerful, united movement to protect forests in the U.S. The conference will link protection of forests with efforts to stop fossil fuel extraction and oppose dangerous and destructive false solutions to climate change such as wood-based bioenergy.

Global Justice Ecology Project’s Social Justice Media Program [3] includes Langelle Photography, a program designed to use the power of photography to expose social and ecological injustice while providing an historical look at social movements, struggle and everyday life. One goal is inspiring people to become involved in social change efforts. It is directed by GJEP co-founder and long-time photojournalist Orin Langelle. 

“I have been involved in and documented movements for social change and ecological protection since 1972, and I understand how critical it is to preserve our history,” stated Langelle. “People today can learn important lessons from struggles that came before—what worked and what didn’t. Being firmly rooted in history is critical. I am grateful to Ceres Trust for understanding this work.”

In January 2017 Langelle won the Member’s Exhibition Award at CEPA (Contemporary Photography and Visual Arts Center) in Buffalo, which includes a solo exhibit there in January 2018. The exhibit will be called Portraits of Struggle and feature photos documenting people’s efforts to defend and protect lands, forests and human rights around the world.

Contact: Tess Ipolito, Media Coordinator, tess@globaljusticeecology.org +1.716.867.4080

Global Justice Ecology Project received the 2013 White Dove Award from the Rochester Committee on Latin America for “dedicated efforts to protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights and native forests, and to promote social, environmental and ecological justice in Latin America and beyond, including the use of concerned photography.”
 GJEP leads the effort to stop the commercial sale and large-scale planting of genetically engineered trees, and its co-founders launched the first campaign against GE trees in 2000. In July 2017 GJEP organized the collection of 284,000 public comments and 500 organizational sign ons to the USDA protesting the agency’s proposed approval of the first genetically engineered tree–a non-native eucalyptus–which would be sold by the millions for planting across seven Southern U.S. states, despite the tree’s notorious reputation for being invasive, explosively flammable, water depleting, and displacing endangered species.

As the coordinators of the global Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, in 2017 GJEP sent a team to Chile to investigate and document the aftermath of the worst wildfires in that country’s history–set off by a heat wave, and fueled by highly flammable plantations of eucalyptus and pine trees. They joined activists from around the world to discuss strategies to prevent the expansion of these plantations and the future use of GE trees in them helped mobilize a week of protests against a global industry conference in Chile on GE trees.
 GJEP’s Social Justice Media Program highlights the voices of activists and communities struggling to protect their lands, stop corporate destruction and stand up for justice. 
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Brazil and Land Rights: A Historical Struggle that Continues and Intensifies
‘Gene Drives’ Are Too Risky For Field Trials, Scientists Say
100 Scientists Urge NC Governor To Protect Forests From Pellet Industry

 https://amp.usatoday.com/amp/896235001

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Pollution Kills More People Than Anything Else! #StopAdani #COP23 #Qldvotes 

jpratt27

Dying from war, smoking, hunger & natural disasters turns out to be nothing compared to deaths from pollution, which kills nine million people a year.
The most comprehensive report to date on the health effects of environmental pollution shows that filthy air, contaminated water and other polluted parts of our environment kill more people worldwide each year than almost everything else combined – smoking, hunger, natural disasters, war, murder, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
It’s no wonder then that the number of contaminated water-related deaths in Puerto Rico is expected to climb into the thousands.
In addition to the human tragedy, this pollution costs us well over $4 trillion in annual losses, or 6% of global GDP.


According to the study, 9 million people every year, one in every six premature deaths, are caused by diseases from toxic exposures in the environment.

That’s 20 times more than all wars.

Dr. Philip…

View original post 1,311 more words

The Death of Insects — How It’s Happening and Why It Matters

Kirschner's Korner

New evidence based on the work of entomologists (people who study insects) and published in the journal Plos One reveals an alarming finding: Worldwide insect populations are rapidly declining. Specifically, researchers found more than a 75% decline in flying insects over a 27 year period.

Given how much our ecosystem depends on insects, this finding should trigger additional studies on insect biomass and global interventions to save insects. Bees, butterflies, and insects are primary vectors that pollinate flowers that make most of the plant life on earth grow. We need plants, trees, flowers, and fruits to grow to feed animals and people in order to live. Humans don’t survive without insects and other flying pollinators. Insects also serve as an important food source for other animals including fishes and birds.

Who is guilty of causing this insect Armageddon? According to experts, it’s likely caused by the usual suspects: climate change, the…

View original post 318 more words

Our Plastic Habit Is so Bad a Man Found a Fish Trapped in an Embedded Powerade Wrapper | One Green Planet

Our Plastic Habit Is so Bad a Man Found a Fish Trapped in an Embedded Powerade Wrapper
Aleksandra Pajda
October 31, 2017

In Alberta, Canada, a man recently made a discovery that shows just how directly our plastic waste affects wildlife. While fishing in the Saskatchewan River, Adam Turnbull came across a fish like no other he had ever seen – one that had grown with a plastic ring now embedded into its body. The piece of plastic turned out to be a Powerade wrapper. The sad series of images that Turnbull posted on Facebook is another reminder that our plastic waste never just “goes away.”
Turnbull started his post with a simple call: “Pick up your garbage.” 

“This is a Powerade wrapper which takes up no room in your pocket until you get to a garbage can,” he wrote.
Turnbull told UNILAD that, when he first saw the fish, he thought that it had been attacked and wounded by another fish. When he picked it out of the water, however, he noticed the wrapper – then grabbed a pair of scissors and carefully removed it.

In just a few days, his post has been shared more than 12,000 times.

Once freed from the plastic wrapper, the fish was released back into the water and “shot off like a rocket,” hopefully never to need human help again.

Plastic trash poses a serious threat to marine animals who are susceptible to ingesting and getting entangled in the debris. More and more often, we see the way animals are directly impacted by what we throw away – and this trend will not change as long as we do not change our habits when it comes to our plastic consumption. Every year, around 8.8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans. It has become so all-pervasive that now researchers find pieces of it even in such improbable remote places as the Arctic Ocean.
http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/man-finds-fish-with-embedded-plastic-wrapper/?utm_source=Green+Monster+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=01e0b57346-NEWSLETTER_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bbf62ddf34-01e0b57346-106049477 learn how to use less plastic in your everyday life, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!

All image source: Adam Turnbull/Facebook

Snarky bamboo TP company gives 50% of its profits to toilet, water, & sanitation projects : TreeHugger


https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/snarky-bamboo-toilet-paper-company-gives-50-its-profits-toilet-water-sanitation-projects.html

Victory! 50 Million Acres of Forest Finally Win Protection After 16-Year-Long Legal Battle | One Green Planet

Aleksandra Pajda
September 29, 2017

Woohoo! EarthJustice just won a 16-year-long battle to protect 50 million acres of forests from logging and road construction U.S. after a district court threw out an attack by the state of Alaska against the Roadless Rule that protects roadless areas of national forests.

The Roadless Rule was adopted towards the end of the Clinton administration and it prohibits most logging and road construction in roadless areas of national forests – which come up to about 50 million acres, that is about the size of Nebraska. The precious lands are some of the wildest places that still exist in America.

Although overwhelmingly popular among Americans and appreciated by the Forest Service, the rule soon became a problem to state political leaders with ties to the logging and timber industries, and they began attacking it even before Clinton left office. The new Bush administration failed to defend the rule. In that moment, Earthjustice stepped in.

“When we first started this, it never crossed my mind we would still be litigating the rule 16 years later,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo, one of the legal architects of the organization’s Roadless Rule strategy.

The main legal battles during this long and tasking period came from Idaho, Wyoming, and, Alaska, all of which challenged the rule. Each of the challenges was met with eager defense from Earthjustice. One case at a time, the organization began to win.

Just last week, the very final challenge to the rule was shot down when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the state of Alaska’s claims lacked merit. The state could appeal the decision or the President could try to reverse it – but, because of the wide support for the rule, its benefits, and previous successes in multiple courts, any attempts at getting rid of the protections will be faced with a serious legal and political battle.

“When you have this 16-year-long experience of consistently having the courts uphold the rule, it helps build a track record of success and popularity that will hopefully help carry us through any challenges and provide a solid foundation for the rule’s continued success,” said Waldo – and, hopefully, the recent win of the Roadless Rule will prove to be the very final one.
http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/million-acres-of-forest-finally-protected/

The Fight From Below Seen From Above: New Map Details Local Fossil Fuel Resistance | Global Justice Ecology Project

The Fight From Below Seen From Above: New Map Details Local Fossil Fuel Resistance

Posted on September 25, 2017 by GJEP staff
In an attempt to highlight and bolster the “groundswell of resistance” against fracking wells, pipelines, and other fossil fuel projects throughout the United States, a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday launched the Fossil Fuel Resistance Mapping Project, which details precisely where opposition to Big Oil is taking hold throughout the United States and how others can join in.

“People demand a safe and clean environment, and they will not rest until that is guaranteed for every community across the country.”
—Kelly Martin, Sierra Club

“From the Gulf Coast where people are recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the Pacific Northwest where wildfires are raging, many communities are leading fights against fossil fuel projects amidst life-altering climate impacts,” the coalition—which includes 350.org, Sierra Club, and Bold Alliance—said in a joint statement Thursday.

“These fights are not isolated events, but rather a groundswell of steadfast and widespread local resistance to fossil fuel projects across the continent in the absence of federal climate action,” the groups continue. “Grassroots leaders in these efforts are pushing back on the fossil fuel industry’s injustices, from environmental racism to violating Indigenous sovereignty.”

(Image credit: Fossil Fuel Resistance Project)
The groups hope that the map, which can be accessed on the coalition’s website, will serve as “a resource for people to find, start, or join a campaign in their community to resist fossil fuel projects, and for those involved in existing fights to connect with each other.”

They also believe the map will serve as a tool to raise awareness and concern about the risks those who live near oil refineries and pipelines face on a daily basis.

“With the climate-denying Trump administration putting the the health of Big Oil billionaires’ bottom lines before anyone else, the time to join your local fight to protect our air, water, and planet is right now.”

—Cherri Foytlin, Bold Louisiana “This map highlights what too many Americans are forced to grapple with everyday: a life, community, and clean water and air threatened by fossil fuel infrastructure,” Kelly Martin, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels project, said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve seen the movement to oppose these projects grow rapidly in recent years. People demand a safe and clean environment, and they will not rest until that is guaranteed for every community across the country.”

The new project comes as the Trump administration continues its efforts to empower the fossil fuel industry and roll back regulatory measures designed to protect the air and water—even in the aftermath of deadly hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, which have left millions exposed to dangerous pollutants.

Foytlin, executive director of Bold Louisiana, said that the Trump administration’s blatant and “reckless” contempt for the planet should serve as a potent motivator for people across the country to join the burgeoning opposition movement and fight back.

“The extractive industry is like a cancer, and our efforts to stop this industry’s expansion are holistically connected on many fronts—this map makes that clear,” Foytlin observed. “With the climate-denying Trump administration putting the the health of Big Oil billionaires’ bottom lines before anyone else, the time to join your local fight to protect our air, water, and planet is right now.

Originally published by Commondreams.org

Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Global Justice Ecology Project
http://globaljusticeecology.org/the-fight-from-below-seen-from-above-new-map-details-local-fossil-fuel-resistance/

Harvey triggered the release of more than a million pounds of toxic pollutants | Grist


Harvey triggered the release of more than a million pounds of toxic pollutants
By Emily Atkin on Aug 30, 2017

This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the number of chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial facilities. So when one of the worst storms in American history hit the heart of Texas’ petrochemical industry, it also triggered one of the biggest mass shutdowns the area has even seen. At least 25 plants have either shut down or experienced production issues due to Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented severe weather and flooding, according to industry publication ICIS. But those closures are not only disrupting markets; they’re also causing enormous releases of toxic pollutants that pose a threat to human health.
Take Chevron Phillips Chemical plant in Sweeny, Texas. When it shut down due to Hurricane Harvey, it released into the atmosphere more than 100,000 pounds of carbon monoxide; 22,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide, 32,000 pounds of ethylene, and 11,000 pounds of propane, according to a report the company submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A couple thousand pounds of 1,3-butadiene, benzene, and butane were released as well. All of these releases were far more than what was legally allowed.
Chevron reported similarly huge amounts of air pollution above legal limits due to the shutdown of its chemical plant in Cedar Bayou. 28,000 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen. 56,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide gases, which react to form smog and acid rain. From just one “miscellaneous” source at the facility, a combined 40,000 pounds of various chemicals were released — and that source had no legal authority to release anything at all.

Smaller emissions events were also submitted to TCEQ. In preparation for Harvey, the Equistar plant in Corpus Christi released 5,000 pounds of both carbon monoxide and ethylene. The shutdown of Chevron’s Pasadena Plastics Complex caused some excess releases, mostly of carbon monoxide and isobutane. Javelina Gas Processing facility went far above its relatively low pollution limits for its shutdown, reporting releases of 10,000 pounds of carbon monoxide and 4,000 pounds of butanes, among other things. One Pasadena refinery released a bit of particulate matter.

Between Aug. 23 — the day it became clear Harvey would threaten Texas — and Aug. 29, industrial plants reported 74 excess air pollution release events to TCEQ, or nearly 60 percent more than the previous week. Those releases have so far totaled more than 1 million pounds of emissions above legal limits, according to Air Alliance Houston, an environmental nonprofit that crunched the numbers.
This chart shows excess air pollutant emissions from the Chevron Phillips Chemical plant in Sweeny, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey. TCEQ

contaminants

The reason this is happening is simple: Petrochemical plant shutdowns are a major cause of abnormal emission events. The short-term impacts of these events can be “substantial,” according to a 2012 report from the Environmental Integrity Project, because “upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems.”

Air Alliance Houston’s Executive Director Bakeyah Nelson is concerned about how these shutdowns will affect nearby communities already suffering from Harvey. “The excess amount of air pollution puts communities in close proximity to these plants at risk, especially people with chronic health conditions,” she said. She also noted that communities closest to these sites in Houston — and in general — are disproportionately low-income and minority. Some residents have already been complaining of “unbearable” petrochemical-like smells.

But so far, TCEQ has not indicated these events have triggered health impacts. Its website offers no guidance for air pollution events from the storm, and TCEQ Media Relations Manager Andrea Miller told me the agency or local emergency officials would contact residents if an immediate health threat were to occur. What’s more, Miller said companies were probably reporting higher emissions that what actually occurred, “since underreporting can result in higher penalties.”

It’s unclear, however, how TCEQ would check many of the companies’ reports, since the agency turned off all its air quality monitors in the Houston area before Harvey hit. Miller confirmed as much on Monday, saying devices were either turned off or removed “to protect against damage or loss of these sensitive and expensive instruments.” Most of the plants impacted by Harvey are in the Houston area, as this ICIS map below shows.

oil-facilities-shut-down(2)

A map of industrial facilities in Texas that have either closed, reduced operations, or otherwise scaled back because of Hurricane Harvey. ICIS

None of this is to say that companies could have done much of anything this week to stop the release of these chemicals. Indeed, there is no way to avoid large releases of air pollutants when refineries and chemical plants shut down, and there was no way these companies could have avoided shutting down their facilities faced with such a destructive storm. In their reports to TCEQ, companies generally say they are operating within safety and good air pollution control practices. And fortunately, as one meteorologist pointed out to me on Twitter, the continued rainfall in Texas is likely improving the situation, preventing pollutants from remaining stagnant in the air as it destroys everything else.

The real problem lies in the sheer number of facilities having to shut down or decrease operations at the exact same time — meaning they’ll also all eventually have to start back up. And emissions-wise, starting back up is just as bad as shutting down. That’s evident in the TCEQ emissions reports; rebooting the Formosa Plastics plant two hours outside Houston will be an enormous emissions event. In Corpus Christi, the Flint Hills Resources plant reported releases of 15,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide — a particularly harmful chemical — for its start-up. Most of this, too, is unavoidable, said Neil Carman, the clean air program director at Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter. “Plants aren’t like cars or trucks where you just push a button and its starts,” he said. “These are huge refineries and petrochemical plants, so it takes a number of hours to heat up their units.”

When these plants restart, it’s less likely that the communities nearby will have the rain to save them. (And it seems a cruel irony to wish for rain that’s already caused so much damage.) But Nelson says the real problem is that the plants are allowed to operate so close to residential areas in the first place. Houston’s lack of zoning regulations have been front-and-center in discussions about why Harvey has been so terrible for the city, and that’s no different in the discussion about air pollution. “When the city gets back on its feet, it’s a good time to revisit the dialogue about where facilities are allowed to be located, and what precautionary measures can be taken in the future for communities in close proximity to these facilities,” Nelson said. Unfortunately, like so many other problems with Harvey, the discussion may come too late for the most vulnerable.

Harvey triggered the release of more than a million pounds of toxic pollutants

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Footage of Greek Oil Spill Shows Massive Scale of Damage

 

Seeking Shelter from the Storm

Flamingos shelter in Key West laundry room as Parrots seek refuge at Miami hotel window — boldcorsicanflame’s Blog A family staying at a Miami Marriott hotel found two parrots pressed right u…

Source: Seeking Shelter from the Storm

Petition · Bass Pro Shop: Urging 3 major Boat supply companies to donate their supplies for Texas Hurricane Harvey. · Change.org


https://www.change.org/p/bass-pro-shop-urging-3-major-boat-supply-companies-to-donate-their-supplies-for-texas-hurricane-harvey?source_location=update_footer&algorithm=promoted&grid_position=10&pt=AVBldGl0aW9uAB6BuAAAAAAAWaSiRIMlHhBlZjQ4MTA1MQ%3D%3D

Happy Honey Bee Day! – FIREPAW, Inc.


https://firepaw.org/2017/08/19/happy-honey-bee-day/