Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 13th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Why Is LA Toxic?
By Mark Ruffalo, Reader Supported News
Friday, 13 May 2016
With 840 miles of beautiful coastline and palm trees swaying in the breeze, “toxic” is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of California. Yet, in spite of its reputation as a progressive environmental state, California’s toxic affair with oil and gas has been hiding in plain sight.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest urban oil field. Though it is the second most populous city in the country, L.A. is still the wild, wild west when it comes to oil development. Active oil wells dot the cityscape, connected by a spider web of pipelines carrying oil, explosive fumes, and corrosive acids directly under homes. Worst of all, these oil wells have a devastating impact on Angelenos’ long-term health.
I went on a “toxic tour” of L.A. and witnessed what it looks like when extreme fossil fuel extraction collides with the places where people live, work, and play. Our reliance on fossil fuels puts real communities at risk across the city. Extreme oil extraction injects a toxic mixture of chemicals into the ground to stimulate oil wells in a manner similar to fracking, and the emissions can cause headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory ailments, inter-generational reproductive harm, and even cancer for surrounding neighbors.
Last year, the state of California mandated an independent scientific assessment of oil and gas development. They found that in areas of high population density — such as South Los Angeles — oil drilling poses elevated health risks because more people are exposed to toxic air contaminants. The 580,000 Angelenos living less than a quarter mile from an oil well are subjected to the dangers of neighborhood drilling every single day. L.A.’s oil problem is more than just a problem; it’s a crisis of human health and safety.
On that eye-opening tour, I met young Nalleli Cobo — a South L.A. teenager who has been fighting neighborhood drilling since she was sickened at age nine by the AllenCo Energy drill site across the street from her home. For years, she was in and out of hospitals trying to get answers to the long list of symptoms she experienced daily. On some days, Nalleli had to be carried to the car to go to the doctor because painful body spasms made it difficult to move.
After hundreds of community complaints, USEPA investigators finally conducted an inspection — only to fall ill immediately upon entering the drill site. Though they were temporarily forced to shut down, AllenCo is now working to reopen the drilling site this year.
Make no mistake about it, L.A.’s oil drilling is toxic.
Shockingly, Nalleli’s story isn’t unique. California is the third largest oil producing state in the nation and over 75% of the active oil wells in Los Angeles are within 2,000 feet of homes, schools, or hospitals, where they pose the gravest threat to human health.
Concrete walls may try to shield extreme extraction from neighbors’ eyes, but they are useless at protecting them from poisonous fumes. It’s common to see workers in hazmat suits monitoring rigs on one side of a wall, while families on the other side remain completely unprotected sitting around their dinner table.
That’s why Nalleli, fueled by her sense of duty to protect her neighbors and fellow Angelenos, wants to hold her elected leaders accountable for allowing the oil industry to pollute her community. As a member of the coalition called Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-L.A.), she has spoken at press conferences with Senator Barbara Boxer, organized health surveys to track symptoms in her community, and serves as a youth plaintiff in a lawsuit against the City of L.A. for violating her civil rights. Nalleli has even taken the fight to Pope Francis, asking him to urge the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to stop leasing their land to AllenCo Energy and other oil companies.
Fortunately, Nalleli is not alone in this fight. This Saturday, thousands of Californians will gather to support the communities on the front lines of neighborhood drilling at the March to Break Free from Fossil Fuels. They will gather at Los Angeles City Hall to call on Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson to put an end to urban oil drilling.
Confronting the mighty oil industry is not an easy task, but Mayor Garcetti and President Wesson need only follow the courageous lead of Nalleli and others in STAND-L.A. who have been fighting for years. L.A.’s elected leaders have the opportunity to send a clear signal to the rest of the nation with a victory in this climate battle. We must keep oil in the ground. Stand with Nalleli and families like hers on the front lines at this critical moment in history.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 2nd, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
BREAK FREE NORTHEAST – MAY 14, 2016
“The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C, essentially equaling the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators.”
Earth Flirts with a 1.5-Degree Celsius Global Warming Threshold, Climate Central, 4/20/16
This is an emergency. We need to act like it!
Buses from NYC and Brooklyn. Sign up now!
In Albany, on May 14th, as part of a global week of fossil fuel resistance, thousands of people will stand in the way of the fossil fuel industry in North America. Many of us will participate in direct action, and many more will come to rally and stand in solidarity. How you participate is up to you, but please be there. We need to demand a different world!
Representing a coalition from across the northeast, we will gather with frontline communities, including Ezra Prentice Homes, and others living in the oil train blast zone.
This act of mass civil disobedience against oil trains will also stand against fracked gas infrastructure and pipelines like AIM, and other fossil fuel projects like the Pilgrim Pipeline and Indian Point.
Gathering pipeline-fighters, power plant fighters and compression station resisters from across the region, we’ll join together to say it’s time to stop investing in the ways of the past.
Join to Break Free from Fossil Fuels in Albany on May 14th
SEE Map of Break Free actions around the world: breakfree2016.org
Break Free Albany Action Camp – Housing provided.
If you can go to the training camp in Troy there will be a civil disobedience training on Friday 5/13.
Or you can join us for a Break Free Training in NYC:
Non-violent Civil Disobedience Training
Saturday, May 7th
9am – 12:30pm
New York Society for Ethical Culture
Social Room, 2 W. 64th St.
New York, NY, 10025
Hosted by 350NYC and 350Brooklyn
This is an important moment: it is clearer than ever that we need a powerful movement able to make the changes needed. Throughout our history, few acts have been more powerful than conscientious civil disobedience. Break Free Northeast is an opportunity to put our bodies where our mouths are, and inspire a new wave of resistance.
We know the solution. Keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop funding climate change, and make an immediate and rapid transition to 100% Renewables Now.
Please join us is Albany on May 14th to Keep it in the Ground
The 350NYC Team
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 17th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
80 new coal power plants for Turkey?
from Bahad?r Do?utürk and 350.org
Find out why Turkey is joining Break Free.
This May, thousands of people from all over the world will join a global wave of resistance to keep coal oil and gas in the ground called Break Free from Fossil Fuels. The fossil fuel industry harms people all over the world, and we wanted to share with you some of those stories in the lead up to these actions. You can find out more and join an action near you here.
Right now the Turkish government is planning to build around 80 new coal power plants across the country. Four of those will be in my home of Alia?a.
Alia?a is already struggling with extensive pollution due to existing coal plants, and four new power plants will make the problem even worse. At a time when the world could be transitioning to clean energy, the government of Turkey is asking us to sacrifice even more of our health and our environment for this dirty industry.
Coal in Turkey already causes 2,876 premature deaths per year. Imagine the impact of adding 80 new coal power plants on top of the existing 21. And it’s not only the air we breathe; the ?zdemir coal plant in Alia?a currently produces 150 thousand tonnes of coal ash per year, which contaminates our food and our water. There are plans to add a second unit to this plant. This would mean 300,000 tonnes of coal ash per year, not to mention the irreversible damage to our climate.
We decided to join our forces as groups fighting against coal all over Turkey to stop every single new coal plant in our country. On the 15th of May, we are mobilising hundreds of people at the gates of the major ash pond in our area to clearly show that there’s no place for new coal infrastructure here, or anywhere.
We know that the impacts of these new power stations go well beyond Alia?a and Turkey. Coal is the world’s dirtiest power source and the source of carbon emissions and with global temperatures rising faster than anyone predicted the planet can not afford 80 new coal power plants. And we can not afford another coal plant in our town.
Will you stand with me and people all over the world as we fight to keep fossil fuels the only place they are safe: in the ground?
There has never been a better time to break free from fossil fuels.
People all over the world are planning bold actions of their own, which will keep fossil fuels in the ground and demand the transition to clean energy we know is possible.
Click here to find out more and to join an action near you: breakfree2016.org
Permalink | | Email This Article
Posted in Archives, Future Events, Reporting from Washington DC, Turkey, West Virginia
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 7th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
From the Union of Concerne Scientists
Questions to the Presidential Candidates
The next president will be leading a nation that is facing critical and complex challenges. That’s why we’re working with Science Debate to elevate discussion of science in the presidential election—and we want you to be a part of it.
Science Debate is crowd sourcing questions to submit to the candidates. We need candidates who are prepared to put forward proactive, evidence-based plans to address the most serious issues facing Americans today, including climate change, nuclear arms, food security, and energy and vehicle development.
For instance, here at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, we think that the candidates should address scientific integrity in government and fighting attacks on the scientific foundation of public protection laws such as the Clean Air Act.
Starting next week, I’ll join a Science Debate team that will narrow down the questions to send the presidential candidates. You can vote for the scientific integrity and public protections questions, or another that you think is best. You can also submit your own question.
In 2008 and 2012, we got all major party presidential candidates on record supporting strong scientific integrity standards in government, leading to President Obama’s pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” in policy making. Help us do it again.
Program Manager, Strategy and Innovation
Center for Science and Democracy
Union of Concerned Scientists
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 31st, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
The Two Parties Are (Still) Not The Same On Climate Change
March 30, 2016
by Bill Scher, of www.ourfuture.org
It may be that Hillary Clinton is not as progressive as Bernie Sanders. And it may be that Donald Trump holds some positions, such as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that hold sway with economic populist.
But when it comes to the climate, there’s no debate. Clinton and Sanders are on the side of addressing climate change, and the Republican candidates are on the side of doing nothing.
I’ve written before about the nuances that separate the two Democratic candidates’ position on climate: Sanders proposing more ambitious goals and Clinton offering a more politically pragmatic approach.
And I’ve written about how Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are outright climate science deniers, while John Kasich merely refuses to give up coal.
With Trump you could never be completely sure if what he says yesterday will be consistent with what he says today. But he has been consistent for a long time about climate change: in 2013 and 2014 he declared global warming a “hoax.” He said in 2012, inaccurately of course, that, “wind farms are hurting the country” and “solar, as you know, hasn’t caught on because, I mean, a solar panel takes 32 years — it’s a 32-year payback.”
Now Trump and Cruz have filled out a survey for the fossil fuel-friendly American Energy Alliance in which they line up perfectly with right-wing orthodoxy on energy issues.
They oppose Obama’s Clean Power Plan to limit emissions from power plants. They oppose calculating the social cost of carbon emission when determining the cost of government regulations. They oppose subsidies for renewable energy. They oppose a carbon tax.
Sanders and Clinton have their differences, but their differences are over how best to combat climate change, not whether to do it at all.
Perhaps some day, we’ll have a Republican Party that accepts science so we can debate with their leaders the finer points of how to contain carbon emissions. But that day is not today.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 21st, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
From our friend Jay Hauben of Columbia University – Hi,
Many peoples get spirit from celebrating the changes of season. The Jewish people celebrate the start of a new year with the coming of fall and the harvest. Many people in Asia celebrate a new year with a Spring Festival just before the coming of spring and the time for planting. People in the Persian tradition celebrate the new year called Norooz at the Spring Equinox. This year Norooz falls on March 20.
Ronda and I send you warm greetings for Norooz and for the whole year to come. May all of us learn from nature a way of renewing our lives, seeing the light instead the dark and uniting with all that is good.
Norooz is celebrated as the start of a new year by 350 million or more people worldwide. It is an ancient Zoroastrian celebration and was spread by the first Persian Empire established by Cyrus The Great over 2,500 years ago, around 550 BC. A later Persian empire even included parts of what is now the western Xinjiang province in China. That area was within the Sassanid Empire’s borders, around 450 A.D. Even today people there still celebrate Norooz.
Last year, after I sent out my Norooz greeting, a Korean friend answered that people in Asia consider every human being part of great Nature as is every tree or bird or even the wind. He said they try not to conquer Nature rather keep intact as a part of our body. I heard from a friend in Japan that it is also a Japanese tradition to celebrate the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes. A friend in Norway told me that “Nowruz – is deeply indo-european, it is New (in Norwegian Ny), the word rooz or ruz has rich associations in the direction of (new/re) birth, flowering, (spring out), in slavic languages rodzenia, rust (birth, growth). We need some of that in the world now, the Arab Spring did not quite get as far as I had hoped.”
An Iranian friend wrote to me. “We spell it No Ruz (New Day) but the double “o” is OK too- When in Iran everything closes and people picnic everywhere for 13 days, even stopping by the side of a main highway and pitching a colorful tent. Iran is certainly a major player as the most stable country in the region and has always had the respect of its neighbors-well, most of them…”
A neighbor in Manhattan wrote, “I love nature [when it’s not violent] and do learn from it when i can. unfortunately, we city-folks are not immersed in it; the little i see is from my window: the birds, the sky, the amazing view of the snow-filled trees, and central park; we all must go there soon.”
A friend in China responded to my Norooz message, “How nice to learn about the Norooz and the Zoroastrian religion of so many people of the earth village. I like definitely as you said: the way of life seeing the light instead the dark and uniting with all that is good. But to our common misfortune, there are always the powers who see the world as a neighborhood to control and to fight with rather than to respect and live in peace.” A friend living in Thailand observed that “Nature is pure and simple, human politics is complicated and insane.” And wished me and Ronda Happy Norooz.
Also, one of my cousins wrote to me that he is “familiar with the fact that many civilizations celebrate the solar equinox, which was and still is the start of renewing (spring and planting), the new yearly start of fertility, both plant and animal alike.” He reminded me that Jewish people celebrate Passover at this time and Christians celebrate Easter. It shows me that we people everywhere are really more the same than different.
Last year Ronda and I attended the UN celebration of Norooz. It consisted of short speeches and videos from twelve nations: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The theme of all the speeches was that Norooz reconnects humans and nature every year. That we all should learn from nature to renew our lives. That Norooz transcends ethnicity and religion and geography. The spirit of Norooz is good neighborliness. Translated into international diplomacy that means respect for cultural diversity and national sovereignty. I found such statements valuable even though I agree with my friend in China that there are dominant nations who see the world as a neighborhood to control not to respect.
Ronda and I hope you are and can stay well and that Spring will make everyone’s life a bit easier and more pleasant.
Happy Norooz, Happy Easter! Happy Passover!
Hello from Ronda.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 20th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.
The New York Times – Environment
Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results
By JOHN SCHWARTZ – MARCH 19, 2016
READING, N.Y. — They came here to get arrested.
Nearly 60 protesters blocked the driveway of a storage plant for natural gas on March 7. Its owners want to expand the facility, which the opponents say would endanger nearby Seneca Lake. But their concerns were global, as well.
“There’s a climate emergency happening,” one of the protesters, Coby Schultz, said. “It’s a life-or-death struggle.”
The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.
Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.
Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called “Keystone-ization.”
As the climate evangelist Bill McKibben put it in a Twitter post after Paris negotiators agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”
Regulators almost always approve such projects, though often with modifications, said Donald F. Santa Jr., chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, the protests are having some impact. The engineering consultants Black and Veatch recently published a report that said the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”
Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast.
In Portland, Ore., where protesters conducted a “kayaktivist” blockade in July to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs from leaving port, the City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion of facilities for the storage and transportation of fossil fuels.
Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.
“When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” he said. “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.”
The movement extends well beyond the United States. In May, a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience, under an umbrella campaign called Break Free 2016, is scheduled around the world to urge governments and fossil fuel companies to “keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.”
This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”
The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.
Speaking to the crowd at Seneca Lake, Mr. McKibben, who had come from his home in Vermont, said, “Our job on behalf of the planet is to slow them down.”
He added, “If we can hold them off for two or three years, there’s no way any of this stuff can be built again.”
But the issues are not so clear cut. The protests aimed at natural gas pipelines, for example, may conflict with policies intended to fight climate change and pollution by reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels.
“The irony is this,” said Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, whose pipeline projects, including those in New York State, have come under attack. “The shift to additional natural gas use is a key contributor to helping the U.S. reduce energy-related emissions and improve air quality.”
Those who oppose natural gas pipelines say the science is on their side.
They note that methane, the chief component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short term, with more than 80 times the effect of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
The Obama administration is issuing regulations to reduce leaks, but environmental opposition to fracking, and events like the huge methane plume released at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood near Los Angeles, have helped embolden the movement.
Once new natural gas pipelines and plants are in place, opponents argue, they will operate for decades, blocking the shift to solar and wind power.
“It’s not a bridge to renewable energy — it’s a competitor,” said Patrick Robbins, co-director of the Sane Energy Project, which protests pipeline development and is based in New York.
Such logic does not convince Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Saying no to gas doesn’t miraculously lead to the substitution of wind and solar — it may lead to the continued operation of coal-fired plants,” he said, noting that when the price of natural gas is not competitive, owners take the plants, which are relatively cheap to build, out of service.
“There is enormous uncertainty about how quickly you can build out renewable energy systems, about what the cost will be and what the consequences will be for the electricity network,” Mr. Levi said.
Even some who believe that natural gas has a continuing role to play say that not every gas project makes sense.
N. Jonathan Peress, an expert on electricity and natural gas markets at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while companies push to add capacity, the long-term need might not materialize.
“There is a disconnect between the perception of the need for massive amounts of new pipeline capacity and the reality,” he said.
Market forces, regulatory assumptions and business habits favor the building of new pipelines even though an evolving electrical grid and patterns of power use suggest that the demand for gas will, in many cases, decrease.
Even now, only 6 percent of gas-fired plants run at greater than 80 percent of their capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and nearly half of such plants run at an average load factor of just 17 percent.
“The electricity grid is evolving in a way that strongly suggests what’s necessary today won’t be necessary in another 20 years, let alone 10 or 15,” Mr. Peress said.
Back at Seneca Lake, the protesters cheered when Schuyler County sheriff’s vans showed up. The group had protested before, and so the arrests had the friendly familiarity of a contra dance. As one deputy, A.W. Yessman, placed zip-tie cuffs on Catherine Rossiter, he asked jovially, “Is this three, or four?”
She beamed. “You remember me!”
Brad Bacon, a spokesman for the owner of the plant at Seneca Lake, Crestwood Equity Partners, acknowledged that it had become more burdensome to get approval to build energy infrastructure in the Northeast even though regulatory experts have tended not to be persuaded by the protesters’ environmental arguments.
The protesters, in turn, disagree with the regulators, and forcefully.
As he was being handcuffed, Mr. McKibben called the morning “a good scene.” The actions against fossil fuels, he said, will continue. “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” he said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 15th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Oregon Becomes First State in Nation to Sign Bill That Phases Out Coal, Ramps Up Renewables
By Ben Jervey, DeSmogBlog
15 March 2016
The Oregon legislature just put another nail in the coffin of the coal era.
On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed into law one of the most ambitious and sweeping pieces of energy legislation in the country’s history, one which will eradicate the use of coal for electricity generation entirely within two decades.
The pioneering law makes Oregon the first state in the nation to legislate a ban on coal for the electric supply, while also mandating that utilities provide half of their electricity from new renewable sources by 2040.
Add those new renewables to Oregon’s existing hydropower resources and, in less than 25 years, the state’s electric sector will be between 70 and 90 percent carbon-free, one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the country.
Currently, coal supplies roughly 30 percent of the state’s electricity.
“Knowing how important it is to Oregonians to act on climate change, a wide range of stakeholders came to the table around Oregonians’ investments in coal and renewable energy,” said Gov. Kate Brown. “Working together, they found a path to best equip our state with the energy resource mix of the future. Now, Oregon will be less reliant on fossil fuels and shift our focus to clean energy. I’m proud to sign a bill that moves Oregon forward, together with the shared values of current and future generations.”
In Blue Oregon, Nick Abraham of Oil Check Northwest described this remarkable coalition of groups that came together to push for the law, an alliance that included ratepayer advocates, green groups and the utilities themselves.
“CUB believes that this a big victory for utility customers. Coal is a huge financial risk and we are mitigating this risk by moving away from coal and investing in clean energy instead,” said Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens’ Utility Board of Oregon, the ratepayer advocacy group.
Still, the legislation was fought tooth and nail by clean energy opponents in the state senate, particularly Republican Ted Ferrioli (who, according to Abraham, “takes tens of thousand from oil, gas and coal companies” every year). But, again, the utilities impacted by the law support the measure.
“Our company has been reducing reliance on coal generation and expanding our renewable energy portfolio for the past 10 years as market forces, regulation and evolving customer preference continue to drive change in the way electricity is generated and delivered,” stated Stefan Bird, president and CEO of Pacific Power. “This landmark legislation allows us to effectively manage Oregon’s transition to a clean energy future in a manner that protects customers from cost impacts, ensures grid reliability and allows us to meet all of our responsibilities to the communities we serve.”
This sentiment was echoed by Jim Piro, president and CEO of Portland General Electric, the state’s largest electric utility.
“The path forward was forged through a collaborative process where we all tried to balance stakeholder needs,” said Piro in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Public Utility Commission and all of our stakeholders to implement this policy in a way that benefits the environment, manages price impacts for our customers and ensures that the reliability of the electric grid is not compromised.”
Clean energy advocates who fought for passage of the bill are celebrating. “Oregon had a clear choice to make: do we want to power our homes with coal or with clean energy? Today it is clear we chose clean,” said Oregon Environmental Council Executive Director Andrea Durbin in a press release. “Kissing coal goodbye and doubling renewable energy will give Oregon some of the cleanest power? in the country, delivers clean energy for all Oregon families and re-establishes our state as a leader in green.”
It will also effectively clean up the grid in neighboring states. Because of how the utilities procure their power, the impacts of the law will be felt throughout the whole northwest, as Noah Long and Angus Duncan explain on NRDC’s Switchboard:
“Although one-third of Oregon’s electricity today comes from coal-fired plants, the only in-state facility was already slated to retire by 2020. However, the two affected utilities supply power to Oregon from coal facilities they own in Utah, Wyoming and Montana. By ending Oregon’s investments, the market for dirty energy will shrink—which should speed the retirement of those aging plants.
“At the same time, the law doubles the amount of energy from new renewable resources that Pacific Power and Portland General Electric must provide to their Oregon customers. Therefore, the utilities will be obliged to look first to wind, solar and other clean energy sources—and not new base-load natural gas turbines—to replace those aged coal plants.”
Many state and national clean energy advocates have upheld the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan as a precedent setting model for other states to follow.
“This landmark climate legislation puts Oregon on a bold new course,” said Kristen Sheeran, Oregon director of Climate Solutions. “Moving away from coal and oil toward clean, renewable electricity raises the bar for clean energy in other states.”
Indeed, no other state has yet legislated an end to coal-powered electricity. (Though Hawaii and Vermont do boast electric grids that already operate free of coal).
The renewable energy standards that the transition plan mandates put Oregon amongst the small handful of states that have renewable standards of 50 percent of more. Hawaii, again a leader, will require a full 100 percent by 2045; California and New York now both require 50 percent within 25 years; Massachusetts is demanding a 1 percent annual increase indefinitely, until it reaches the full electric portfolio.
Now, given the state’s mandate to scrap coal from its electric mix, if the “thin green line” of Cascadia activists can continue to block coal exports from the state’s ports, Oregon can effectively bid adieu to coal entirely.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 13th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Markets – NPR
The U.S. Is Pumping All This Oil, So Where Are The Benefits?
March 12, 2016 5:00 PM ET
The U.S. has joined Saudi Arabia and Russia as one of the world’s top oil producers. But the benefits that many forecasters predicted have not materialized.
In 2015 – Russia produced 10.3 millions of barrels of oil per day; Saudi Arabia 10.1 mb/d; and the US 9.4 mb/d.
The U.S. has ramped up oil production so dramatically that it’s joined Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s third largest producer.
Since this surge began in 2008, American production rocketed from 5 million barrels a day to nearly 10 million barrels a day at the high point last year.
More importantly, oil analysts confidently predicted that a tide of benefits would flow as freely as the oil now coming out of the ground.
First, the U.S. economy would get a boost that would include a renaissance in manufacturing. Second, the U.S. would be far less dependent on the vagaries of foreign energy producers. And third, America could shrink its footprint in the volatile Middle East.
Yet none of this has happened. Why not?
Forecast No. 1: An Economic Boost
The boom, fueled by shale oil fields in places like North Dakota, was supposed to turbo-charge the economy. Energy would be abundant and cheap. Consumers would have more money to spend on other stuff.
And that’s all true. You see it in places like convenience stores. When it costs drivers less to fill up the tank, they buy more soda. Good for Coke. Good for Pepsi.
But many forecasters failed to see the other side of the equation. More American companies and workers are now linked directly or indirectly to the oil industry, and they get hurt when prices go down.
“Actually, oil has become more important to the U.S. economy because of this almost doubling of U.S. oil production,” said Daniel Yergin, the author of best-selling books on the industry, including The Prize and The Quest.
Americans used to worry only about high oil prices, he noted. But now the country needs to consider what happens when prices go down.
“You have people working all across the United States that are in effect part of the supply chains. So when the oil price goes down, and companies cut spending, this reverberates in Illinois, Ohio and many other states,” said Yergin, who is vice chairman of the economics firm IHS.
The U.S. economy has grown steadily since the 2008-2009 recession. But that growth has been modest compared to previous recoveries. Since oil prices crashed in the summer of 2014, going from more than $100 a barrel to around $30 today, the economy has continued at roughly the same pace.
So what’s the overall impact of cheap oil? Yergin describes it as a “titter-totter.” Some gains here, some losses there, but overall, pretty neutral.
Forecast No. 2: Energy Independence
U.S. imports have dropped dramatically, but this really hasn’t set the U.S. free in the ways anticipated.
All this new American oil contributes to the current worldwide glut and the low prices. And neither the U.S. nor any other country wants to be the one that cuts back and sacrifices its own production for the greater good.
“Someone has to cry uncle,” says oil analyst Steve LeVine, who writes for Quartz and teaches at Georgetown University. “The conventional wisdom is that American shale oil producers will be the ones. And they are in trouble.”
The reason is cost. Saudi Arabia and other low-cost producers still make a profit when oil is $30 a barrel. Much of the U.S. production is relatively high-cost, and many companies are losing money at the current price.
Every day, world production of oil exceeds demand by more than 1 million barrels. Many countries are running low on places to store the excess.
In the U.S., that place is Cushing, Oklahoma, home of huge and rapidly filling storage tanks, LeVine says.
Some 500 million barrels of oil are in storage around the world, says LeVine.
“That’s the largest volume in storage since the Great Depression,” he notes, adding that some forecasters are predicting that if storage runs out, oil could go below $20 a barrel.
Forecast No. 3: U.S. Pulls Back In The Middle East
Forecasters also argued that more U.S. oil would mean a reduced American need to resolve conflicts in the Middle East. Oil was, after all, the main reason the U.S. was drawn into the region decades ago.
But here’s the catch: Cheap oil can destabilize Middle Eastern countries that depend almost entirely on oil revenue.
Consider Iraq. It’s desperately short of cash as it fights the Islamic State and tries to stay current on salaries to millions of government workers.
President Obama pledged to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has withdrawn the large contingents of U.S. large ground forces. Yet in Obama’s final year in office, the U.S. is still engaged in three regional wars — Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria — and dealing with instability throughout the region.
All the forecasts looked at the potential upside of more American oil, but never fully factored in the downside.
Greg Myre is the international editor of NPR.org. Follow him @gregmyre1.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 10th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
The stakes are high. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on 2016 Presidential Elections
- The Risk I Will Not Take.
March 7, 2016 5:00 PM EST
By Michael R. Bloomberg
Americans today face a profound challenge to preserve our common values and national promise.
Wage stagnation at home and our declining influence abroad have left Americans angry and frustrated. And yet Washington, D.C., offers nothing but gridlock and partisan finger-pointing.
Worse, the current presidential candidates are offering scapegoats instead of solutions, and they are promising results that they can’t possibly deliver. Rather than explaining how they will break the fever of partisanship that is crippling Washington, they are doubling down on dysfunction.
Over the course of American history, both parties have tended to nominate presidential candidates who stay close to and build from the center. But that tradition may be breaking down. Extremism is on the march, and unless we stop it, our problems at home and abroad will grow worse.
Many Americans are understandably dismayed by this, and I share their concerns. The leading Democratic candidates have attacked policies that spurred growth and opportunity under President Bill Clinton — support for trade, charter schools, deficit reduction and the financial sector. Meanwhile, the leading Republican candidates have attacked policies that spurred growth and opportunity under President Ronald Reagan, including immigration reform, compromise on taxes and entitlement reform, and support for bipartisan budgets. Both presidents were problem-solvers, not ideological purists. And both moved the country forward in important ways.
Over the last several months, many Americans have urged me to run for president as an independent, and some who don’t like the current candidates have said it is my patriotic duty to do so. I appreciate their appeals, and I have given the question serious consideration. The deadline to answer it is now, because of ballot access requirements.
My parents taught me about the importance of giving back, and public service has been an important part of my life. After 12 years as mayor of New York City, I know the personal sacrifices that campaigns and elected office require, and I would gladly make them again in order to help the country I love.
I’ve always been drawn to impossible challenges, and none today is greater or more important than ending the partisan war in Washington and making government work for the American people — not lobbyists and campaign donors. Bringing about this change will require electing leaders who are more focused on getting results than winning re-election, who have experience building small businesses and creating jobs, who know how to balance budgets and manage large organizations, who aren’t beholden to special interests — and who are honest with the public at every turn. I’m flattered that some think I could provide this kind of leadership.
But when I look at the data, it’s clear to me that if I entered the race, I could not win. I believe I could win a number of diverse states — but not enough to win the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the presidency.
In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress. The fact is, even if I were to receive the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, victory would be highly unlikely, because most members of Congress would vote for their party’s nominee. Party loyalists in Congress — not the American people or the Electoral College — would determine the next president.
As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses, there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience.
I have known Mr. Trump casually for many years, and we have always been on friendly terms. I even agreed to appear on “The Apprentice” — twice. But he has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears. Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, appealed to our “better angels.” Trump appeals to our worst impulses.
Threatening to bar foreign Muslims from entering the country is a direct assault on two of the core values that gave rise to our nation: religious tolerance and the separation of church and state. Attacking and promising to deport millions of Mexicans, feigning ignorance of white supremacists, and threatening China and Japan with a trade war are all dangerously wrong, too. These moves would divide us at home and compromise our moral leadership around the world. The end result would be to embolden our enemies, threaten the security of our allies, and put our own men and women in uniform at greater risk.
Senator Cruz’s pandering on immigration may lack Trump’s rhetorical excess, but it is no less extreme. His refusal to oppose banning foreigners based on their religion may be less bombastic than Trump’s position, but it is no less divisive.
We cannot “make America great again” by turning our backs on the values that made us the world’s greatest nation in the first place. I love our country too much to play a role in electing a candidate who would weaken our unity and darken our future — and so I will not enter the race for president of the United States.
However, nor will I stay silent about the threat that partisan extremism poses to our nation. I am not ready to endorse any candidate, but I will continue urging all voters to reject divisive appeals and demanding that candidates offer intelligent, specific and realistic ideas for bridging divides, solving problems, and giving us the honest and capable government we deserve.
For most Americans, citizenship requires little more than paying taxes. But many have given their lives to defend our nation — and all of us have an obligation as voters to stand up on behalf of ideas and principles that, as Lincoln said, represent “the last best hope of earth.” I hope and pray I’m doing that.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley at bloomberg.net
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 24th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Carbon dioxide is invisible and odorless. Dawn Stover wonders: What if we could see carbon pollution in the air and water?
Seeing (pollution) is believing: ow.ly/YHEtd
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
jsinclaire at thebulletin.org
23 February 2016,
SEEING (POLLUTION) IS BELIEVING.
by Dawn Stover — stover.jpeg
of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. IT IS THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT!
Stover is a science writer based in the Pacific Northwest and is a contributing editor at the Bulletin.
The snow has melted along the roads in my rural community, revealing a surprising number of beer cans, plastic bottles, and other trash in the roadside ditches. This is a sparsely populated area, yet I drive past mile after mile of terrestrial flotsam and jetsam. Most of it, I suspect, is jetsam—the stuff that is deliberately thrown overboard.
It probably won’t be long before some disgusted (or enterprising) neighbors start tackling this mess. Most of the cans and bottles can be redeemed for a five-cent deposit or put into bags for free curbside recycling. The worst thing about this roadside pollution is also the best thing about it: We can see it. That makes it easy to clean up.
Imagine if carbon pollution was as recognizable as a Bud Light can. What if, every time you started up your car or boarded an airplane or sliced into a Porterhouse steak, a sour-smelling beer can was ejected from your vehicle or pocket? Pretty soon there would be cans lining every highway and tarmac, and coal-fired power plants would literally be buried under them. But even this foul onslaught of aluminum might be less damaging than the 40 billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (plus other greenhouse gases) that humans are dumping into Earth’s atmosphere and oceans every year, raising the temperature of our planet. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide is invisible and odorless, which makes it easier to ignore. If we were dumping 40 billion metric tons of aluminum into the air and sea annually—the equivalent of 2,800 trillion beverage cans—surely we would do something about that.
Air quality alert. One of the reasons China is getting serious about clean energy is that the air pollution in Beijing, Shanghai, and other Chinese cities has become intolerable at times. The visibility gets so poor that flights are sometimes canceled because of smog, and residents are frequently forced to don masks when venturing outdoors—where the air quality can be worse than an airport smoking lounge. The pollution sometimes reaches all the way to California.
“The air in Los Angeles used to be like Beijing,” a California-based colleague recently reminded me. Los Angeles still has some of the most contaminated air in the United States, but the situation has improved significantly since 1970—when President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Congress passed the first of several major amendments to the Clean Air Act, empowering the federal government to regulate air pollutants.
The EPA’s new Clean Power Plan—announced in 2015 but challenged in court by 27 states and currently on hold pending a judicial review—would do for carbon pollution what the Clean Air Act did for smog in an earlier era. This time around, though, many elected officials can’t see what the problem is. Literally.
Making the invisible visible. Instead of implementing a carbon tax or federal limits on power-plant emissions, maybe we just need to add a smelly dye to all fossil fuels—something like the red colorant that is added to fire retardants so that pilots can see where they have sprayed, or the rotten-egg-like chemical that is injected into natural gas so that homeowners can detect gas leaks before they become life-threatening. Instead of subjecting airlines to proposed new emissions limits, we’d simply see a hideous red contrail every time an airplane flew overhead. Standing on the beach, we’d see a red tide—the carbon dioxide absorbed by the North Atlantic alone has doubled in the past decade. And the smell of the recent enormous methane leak from a ruptured pipeline in southern California would pale in comparison to the collective stench emitted by fracking operations and thousands of fossil-fuel-burning power plants. On the plus side, we’d be able to see trees and other plants sucking up carbon, which might make us think twice about turning forests into pallets.
This is only a thought experiment, of course. We shouldn’t have to go to these lengths to realize that the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion are bad for our health. Most of us know better than to breathe from our car’s tailpipe or leave the garage door shut with the engine running. That’s how you kill yourself, after all. And yet we think nothing of dumping copious amounts of exhaust into the air that everyone breathes. It’s out of sight and out of mind.
Turning a blind eye. Although greenhouse gas emissions aren’t visible, their climate impacts are. It’s not hard to see melting glaciers, wilted crops, and storm surges—or to find photographs, charts, and other images showing how quickly our planet is changing. And yet, as President Barack Obama remarked during a press conference on February 16, “There’s not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change, that thinks it’s serious.” That’s a problem, said Obama, because other countries “count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense.”
How can Marco Rubio not see the impacts of rising sea level in Florida? How did Donald Trump miss the meaning of Hurricane Sandy, a bellwether for the type of extreme events that scientists say will become more common and more severe as global warming continues? Where was Ted Cruz when Texas was enduring devastating heat, drought, and wildfires—or the deadly floods that followed? All of the GOP candidates, including self-professed climate change “believer” John Kasich, are turning a blind eye to the decades of scientific research that place the blame squarely on human activities, and it’s possible that even a putrid red haze would not move them.
There will always be some people who are willfully ignorant and inconsiderate and lazy, who toss their trash out the window and leave it for others to pick up. The rest of us can stand around shaking our heads, or we can pull on our gloves and do something about this dreadful mess. Unfortunately, the past two centuries’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions is like a heap of discarded cans and bottles that are already hopelessly bent, broken, and ground into the mud. This carbon buildup will have consequences for Earth’s climate and sea level for tens of thousands of years to come.
That’s no excuse to put off spring cleaning, though. Climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales, but rapid and aggressive action would keep the worst impacts of global warming to a minimum. It’s more important than ever to make drastic reductions in carbon dumping, and get serious about reforestation and other cleanup measures. These are the Bud Light cans we can still get our hands on.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 19th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Thomas Piketty on the rise of Bernie Sanders: the US enters a new political era
From the Guardian after it appeared in Le Monde.
February 19 and February 14, 2016
How can we interpret the incredible success of the “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders in the US primaries?
The Vermont senator is now ahead of Hillary Clinton among Democratic-leaning voters below the age of 50, and it’s only thanks to the older generation that Clinton has managed to stay ahead in the polls
Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race. But it has now been demonstrated that another Sanders – possibly younger and less white – could one day soon win the US presidential elections and change the face of the country. In many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections.
Let’s glance back for an instant. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities. Partly to avoid any resemblance with Old Europe, seen then as extremely unequal and contrary to the American democratic spirit, in the inter-war years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 – for half a century – the rate for the highest US income (over $1m per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.
This policy in no way affected the strong growth of the post-war American economy, doubtless because there is not much point in paying super-managers $10m when $1m will do. The estate tax, which was equally progressive with rates applicable to the largest fortunes in the range of 70% to 80% for decades (the rate has almost never exceeded 30% to 40% in Germany or France), greatly reduced the concentration of American capital, without the destruction and wars which Europe had to face.
A mythical capitalism
In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage. In the late 1960s it was worth $10 an hour (in 2016 dollars), by far the highest of its time.
All this was carried through almost without unemployment, since both the level of productivity and the education system allowed it. This is also the time when the US finally put an end to the undemocratic legal racial discrimination still in place in the south, and launched new social policies.
All this change sparked a muscular opposition, particularly among the financial elites and the reactionary fringe of the white electorate. Humiliated in Vietnam, 1970s America was further concerned that the losers of the second world war (Germany and Japan in the lead) were catching up at top speed. The US also suffered from the oil crisis, inflation and under-indexation of tax schedules. Surfing the waves of all these frustrations, Reagan was elected in 1980 on a program aiming to restore a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past.
Bernie Sanders gives New Hampshire victory speech: ‘nothing short of the beginning of a political revolution’
The culmination of this new program was the tax reform of 1986, which ended half a century of a progressive tax system and lowered the rate applicable to the highest incomes to 28%.
Democrats never truly challenged this choice in the Clinton (1992-2000) and Obama (2008-2016) years, which stabilized the taxation rate at around 40% (two times lower than the average level for the period 1930 to 1980). This triggered an explosion of inequality coupled with incredibly high salaries for those who could get them, as well as a stagnation of revenues for most of America – all of which was accompanied by low growth (at a level still somewhat higher than Europe, mind you, as the old world was mired in other problems).
A progressive agenda
Reagan also decided to freeze the federal minimum wage level, which from 1980 was slowly but surely eroded by inflation (little more than $7 an hour in 2016, against nearly $11 in 1969). Again, this new political-ideological regime was barely mitigated by the Clinton and Obama years.
Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.
Live Trump tries to play down Pope spat, as Clinton talks immigration and Scalia – campaign live
Pope says on visit to Mexico that anyone who wants to build a border wall isn’t Christian, while Trump says pope will pray he’s president if Isis hits Vatican
Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.
Meanwhile, the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people. The judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics, which greatly complicates the task of candidates like Sanders.
However, new forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle. We are far from gloomy prophecies about the end of history.
This piece was first published in Le Monde on 14 Febrary 2016
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 11th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
THE NEW YORK TIMES Politics section:
Supreme Court’s Blow to Emissions Efforts May Imperil Paris Climate Accord.
By CORAL DAVENPORT February 10, 2016
Photo — A coal-fired power plant behind homes in Poca, W.V., in 2014. Credit Robert Galbraith/Reuters
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s surprise decision Tuesday to halt the carrying out of President Obama’s climate change regulation could weaken or even imperil the international global warming accord reached with great ceremony in Paris less than two months ago, climate diplomats say.
The Paris Agreement, the first accord to commit every country to combat climate change, had as a cornerstone Mr. Obama’s assurance that the United States would enact strong, legally sound policies to significantly cut carbon emissions.
The United States is the largest historical greenhouse gas polluter, although its annual emissions have been overtaken by China’s.
But in the capitals of India and China, the other two largest polluters, climate change policy experts said the court’s decision threw the United States’ commitment into question, and possibly New Delhi’s and Beijing’s.
Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Efforts to Regulate Coal EmissionsFEB. 9, 2016
With Coal Industry Under Pressure, Some See Long-Term DeclineDEC. 2, 2015
Climate Deal’s First Big Hurdle: The Draw of Cheap OilJAN. 25, 2016
2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record, Scientists SayJAN. 20, 2016
“If the U.S. Supreme Court actually declares the coal power plant rules stillborn, the chances of nurturing trust between countries would all but vanish,” said Navroz K. Dubash, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “This could be the proverbial string which causes Paris to unravel.”
Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change
The issue can be overwhelming. The science is complicated. We get it. This is your cheat sheet.
The court did not block the rule permanently, but halted it from being carried out in the states until legal challenges against it have been decided, a process that could take a year or more. Legal experts said the justices’ decision to stop work on the rule before any court had decided against it was unprecedented and signaled that the regulation might ultimately be overturned. That could set back the United States’ climate efforts for years, although there would still be a chance for Washington to meet its commitments by 2025.
“If the American clean energy plan is overturned, we’ll need to reassess whether the United States can meet its commitments,” said Zou Ji, the deputy director general of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, a government think tank in Beijing.
Mr. Zou, who was an adviser to the Chinese delegation at the Paris negotiations, said by telephone: “It had seemed that with the American commitments, it was possible to get on the right emissions path globally. But without those commitments, that could be a blow to confidence in low-carbon development. In China domestically, there is also resistance to low-carbon policies, and they would be able to say: ‘Look, the United States doesn’t keep its word. Why make so many demands on us?’ ”
Paris Climate Change Conference 2015
Complete coverage of the United Nations meeting in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, and efforts to reach an emissions deal.
Paris Climate Accord Is a Big, Big Deal
Silence on the Climate Pact From the Republican Candidates
The Paris Climate Pact Will Need Strong Follow-Up
Republicans on Campaign Trail Largely Ignore the Climate Deal
A Climate Deal, 6 Fateful Years in the Making
Inaction by the United States has long been the chief obstacle to meaningful global climate change agreements.
Mr. Obama sought to change that with aggressive but politically controversial Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. With those rules, Mr. Obama won agreements from China and India to enact pollution reduction plans and helped push other countries to sign on to the Paris measure.
The top priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India remains to provide cheap electricity to the 300 million Indians without power. If the United States reneges on its commitments, “it really would strengthen the hand of those who say Paris was ineffective and a bad deal for India,” Mr. Dubash said.
What the Supreme Court’s Decision to Halt Climate Regulation Means:
Answers to questions about the court’s decision to temporarily block the Obama administration’s effort to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Under Mr. Obama’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, the United States will cut its emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, largely through the E.P.A. regulations on power plants and a mix of rules reining in pollution from cars, buildings and other sources. All of those policies were set to be carried out briskly so they would be well underway by the time Mr. Obama left office.
White House officials insisted on Wednesday that the rule would eventually be upheld, and that given the timetable for litigation and for meeting the target, the United States could still achieve its Paris commitment.
A White House spokesman, Eric Schultz, pointed to other greenhouse gas reduction policies Mr. Obama had established to help meet the 2025 target, including a federal budget agreement late last year that included long-term extensions of tax credits for wind and solar power.
Still, the Supreme Court’s decision ensures that climate policy will not be set on Mr. Obama’s watch. A Federal District Court will hear oral arguments on the climate rule June 2 and is expected to issue its decision later this year, but an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but certain. If the justices agree to hear the case, a ruling is unlikely before June 2017.
If the rule is eventually overturned, the E.P.A. is still required by law to put forth a regulation controlling carbon dioxide emissions. That rule would be shaped by the next president and face its own legal gantlet, pushing action years into the future.
The White House and its supporters took hope from announcements that the governors of some states, including California, New York and Washington, would continue to work voluntarily to carry out the rule.
More Reporting on Climate Change
A Climate Deal, 6 Fateful Years in the Making Dec. 14, 2015
Climate Accord Is a Healing Step, if Not a Cure Dec. 13, 2015
The Marshall Islands Are Disappearing Dec. 02, 2015
Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change Nov. 28, 2015
Naomi Oreskes, a Lightning Rod in a Changing Climate June 16, 2015
The New Optimism of Al Gore March 17, 2015
But most states are expected to halt their compliance efforts. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had already been urging governors to refuse to comply with the plan. “These regulations are, in my view, likely illegal,” Mr. McConnell said Wednesday. “Yesterday’s Supreme Court order is just the latest sign of that. If nothing else, it shows we were right to let governors know their options.”
American policy experts said that the Supreme Court decision might be the first of many fractures in the deal.
“This pushback is not something that’s unique to the United States,” said John Sterman, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who attended the negotiations in Paris. “It’s happening all over the developed world.”
Poland and some other coal-reliant countries have resisted the European Union’s commitment under the agreement to more stringently reduce emissions across member states.
Already, some people close to the climate talks worry that the events in the United States could lead to a repeat of what happened after the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first major climate change treaty. Vice President Al Gore, a staunch environmentalist, negotiated the treaty with other world leaders, but the Senate voted against it. Then President George W. Bush pulled the United States out entirely.
The Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have pledged to continue and strengthen Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda, so a rule developed by their administrations would probably let the country meet its Paris goals.
But Republican contenders, including Donald J. Trump, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have questioned or denied the science of human-caused climate change and sharply criticized the climate change regulations and the Paris Agreement.
“The Supreme Court just clarified the stakes for the American people in the election when it comes to climate change,” said Nigel Purvis, the president of the Climate Advisers consulting group and a climate diplomat under Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush.
Ellen Barry contributed reporting from New Delhi, Chris Buckley from Beijing and Justin Gillis from New York.
You can follow The New York Times’s politics and Washington coverage on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the First Draft politics newsletter.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 23rd, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
2016 Elections, Climate Change, Climate Desk, Science, Top Stories
Attention GOP Presidential Candidates: Winter Does Not Disprove Global Warming -
Weather is not climate.
By Jeremy Schulman of Mother Jones
| Mon Jan. 26, 2015 1:24 PM EST
Update, 1/21/2016: With an epic blizzard expected to bury Washington, DC, this weekend, and an epic caucus night quickly approaching in Iowa, I decided to revisit this post. It remains true that winter storms and cold weather are in no way inconsistent with global warming. But I can no longer stand by my assertion that Donald Trump is “probably not going to run for president.” As Rick Perry would say: Oops.
Snow is falling across the Northeast, and millions of people are preparing for a massive blizzard. Due to the extreme winter conditions, my colleague at Climate Desk has issued the following advisory:
Tim McDonnell Verified account
PSA: Big snowstorm ? (IS NOT) proof global warming is a hoax.
It may seem obvious to you that the existence of extreme winter weather doesn’t negate the scientific fact that humans are warming the planet. But that’s probably because you aren’t a climate change denier who’s contemplating a run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Last year, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) weighed in on the issue. “It is really freezing in DC,” Cruz said during a speech on energy policy, according to Talking Points Memo. “I have to admit I was surprised. Al Gore told us this wouldn’t happen!” Cruz said the same thing a month earlier, according to Slate: “It’s cold!…Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen.”
And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on his Fox News show, negated global warming as well after a major blizzard back in December 20, 2009.
Which brings us to a couple of Republicans who are probably not going to run for president but who have nevertheless generated headlines recently by suggesting they might. Here’s Donald Trump, during a cold snap last year:
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice
2 January 2014
And then there is a Facebook post of January 12, 2012, from former Gov. Sarah Palin, citing extremely cold winter temperatures in her home state of Alaska.
If you’re a regular Climate affectionado, you already know why all this is wrong. You understand the difference between individual weather events and long-term climate trends. You probably even know that according to the National Climate Assessment, winter precipitation is expected to increase in the northeastern United States as a result of climate change. But if you’re a Republican who wants to be president, please pay close attention to the following video:
to get his – lease look at – www.motherjones.com/environment/2…
also, if you want updates on the effects of the blizzard - CNN.com – BreakingNews at mail.cnn.com
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 21st, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
CONTEMPORARY “ART MEETS SCIENCE” EXPERIENCE
THURSDAY JAN 21, 07:00 PM at The Austria Cultural Forum building – New York City – 11 East 52nd St., NYC 10022
Jonáš Strouhal and Jakub Jansa will introduce “The Name of the Project is Project Itself”, an innovative project organized by the Czech Center NY, that incorporates installation and procedural performances created in response to the context of the environment.
The two artists will introduce the 12 artist/curator partnerships and discuss the work that will be happening throughout the year. They will use live demonstration and video to outline the elements of this fascinating endeavor.
Therefore, the launch of “The Name of the Project is Project Itself” at the Austrian Cultural Forum will give an extensive and entertaining overview of what to expect from this contemporary art experience throughout 2016.
ABOUT THE INITIATIVE
This is a yearlong initiative where artists from the Czech Republic work with curators from New York to present their unique projects that blend artistic and scientific approaches in the creation of their internationally acclaimed work at Czech Center NY. The works of the invited artists are not limited to the gallery space, instead the artists will be free to explore New York City and create their interventions directly at any given location. These events will take place at architecturally interesting open spaces, in gardens, courtyards, street corners, abandon buildings, garages, industrial spaces, train stations. The selected places are areas that visitors usually do not have access to, and their precise location will remain hidden from them. The only transmitted image of the installation will be placed in the gallery in the form of a video. Czech Center New York will transform its gallery into the entrance portal.
The first of “The Name of The Project is Project Itself” initiatives will occur on 26 January 2016 and is entitled “The Patient Constructed an Apparatus”. It features artist, Jonáš Strouhal and curator Ali Cashman (MA Art Business, Sotheby’s Institute of Art) who will introduce the event. He will project his mental process towards a landscape. An EEG sensor evaluates the level of his frustration. When abnormal values are reached, it activates instruments that manipulate the surrounding environment.
At the Lecture Demonstration on 28 January 2016 the audience can experience one of these Art and Science procedural performances called “First Scratch”. Jonáš motivates himself and other people to scratch or have their new possessions scratched. He utilizes various techniques and has altered 3 laptops, 12 mobile phones, 4 tablets and a parquet floor. Jonáš Strouhal oscillates between art and serious research in the fields of humanities and natural science. You can follow the hashtag #firstscratch.
“The Name of the Project is Project Itself” is a movement to explore fascinating spaces that can yield the maximum potential for these experiments to flourish. It is a contemporary vision where “Mind meets Hand”/ “Art meets Science” that culminates in a unique experience in the visual arts landscape of New York City.
For more Information visit www.czechcenter.com
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 17th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Investing Guide – CNNMONEY
Is it time to bail out the U.S. oil industry?
by Matt Egan @mattmegan5 January 14, 2016: 1:37 PM ET
America’s once-booming oil industry is suddenly in deep financial trouble.
The epic crash in oil prices has wiped out tens of thousands of jobs, caused dozens of bankruptcies and spooked global financial markets.
The fallout is already being felt in oil-rich states like Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, where home foreclosure rates are spiking and economic growth is slowing.
Now there are calls in at least some corners for the federal government to come to the rescue.
“It is time to send out an S.O.S., before it’s too late,” John Kilduff, founding partner of energy hedge fund Again Capital, wrote in a recent CNBC column. In the Kilduff dictionary, by the way, S.O.S. stands for “Save Our Shale” industry.
Related: Half of oil junk bonds could default
Kilduff fears Saudi Arabia’s strategy of flooding the world with oil to put pressure on high-cost producers in the U.S. will kill America’s shale business.
“While we are laughing our way to the gasoline pump now, we are heading back down the road to dependence on OPEC and foreign oil,” he wrote.
Greg Valliere, chief strategist at Horizon Investments, thinks an oil bailout could become the next big issue in Congress.
“If Washington can bail out big banks and the auto industry, why not a bailout for oil companies?” Valliere wrote in a client note on Thursday.
Sheila Hollis, an energy practice partner at the law firm Duane Morris, has also heard murmurings about an oil bailout. However, she doubts there’s the political will in Washington for one.
“It makes sense in theory, but they’d need some pretty impenetrable body armor to take this on,” she said.
Related: Falling oil means rising foreclosures in these states
To be sure, it’s early days for the idea of a federal rescue. A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute told CNNMoney he hadn’t heard of the idea before.
There don’t appear to be any imminent legislative proposals in Congress for a full-scale bailout. However, Senator Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Fred Upton plan to meet to discuss an energy package that could include modest proposals such as expediting the process for exporting natural gas and loosening environmental regulations, according to The Hill.
Kilduff, the hedge fund manager, is proposing bolder ideas that include:
-Paying oil producers to shut down production, thereby reducing some of the supply glut
-Financial assistance to preserve wells for when prices rebound
-Loan guarantees to keep the industry afloat
-Revamp the bankruptcy code to help struggling oil companies restructure
-Enable the federal government to buy land with drilled-but-uncompleted wells
Does the oil industry even want a bailout?
Buddy Clark, a 33-year veteran in the energy finance space, doubts these ideas would be game changers.
“The problem with most of these companies is they are overlevered. Adding federal money doesn’t help the equation,” said Clark, a partner at the Houston law firm Haynes and Boone.
He also doubts whether fiercely independent producers in places like Texas would even accept federal aid.
“No one really wants to get in bed with the federal government,” said Clark.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents thousands of independent producers, told CNNMoney it’s not interested in a bailout from Washington.
Related: $10 oil: Crazy idea or the real floor beneath the oil crash?
Federal aid would face backlash; Many Americans would staunchly oppose any federal aid for the oil industry.
“The Democrats would turn it into a bailout of ExxonMobil (XOM). It would be a political disaster,” said Joe McMonigle, former chief of staff of the Energy Department who is now a senior energy analyst at Potomac Research Group.
THEN ALSO ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS WOULD BE ENRAGED: Can President Obama would help oil producers he just referred to as “dirty energy” in his State of the Union address?
“It’s an outrageous proposal. We would oppose it, obviously,” said Athan Manuel, an official from the Sierra Club.
Related: Solar energy jobs double in 5 years
Job losses keep mounting
One idea that Kilduff proposed may generate more sympathy: give oil workers enhanced unemployment benefits or temporary government jobs as caretakers of the oilfields.
A stunning 130,000 energy jobs disappeared in 2015 as oil and natural gas companies slashed spending.
The pink slips will continue to fly as pain in the oil patch builds. Last year, 42 North American oil companies filed for bankruptcy, according to a list compiled by Haynes and Boone.
“The workers are going to suffer the most. Anything that can be done on their behalf would be great,” said Clark.
CNNMoney (New York) First published January 14, 2016: 1:37 PM ET
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 11th, 2016
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
In a letter to all IISD readers of the Clean Energy List, Ms. Victoria Healey, the Project Leader at US NREL writes:
A representative from the Clean Energy Solutions Center (Solutions Center), Ms. Victoria Healey, will attend the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) General Assembly and the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, from January 16-21, 2016. Under the joint IRENA and Solutions Center Renewable Energy Policy Advice Network (REPAN), Ms. Healey will be available to meet individually with government representatives, government affiliated practitioners, and policymakers seeking clean energy policy, program, regulation, and finance technical assistance. The REPAN was established to help developing countries to design and adopt clean energy policies and programs that support the deployment of clean energy technologies, and to identify design, and implement finance instruments that mobilize private and public sector capital, and formulate clean energy investment strategies. This support is provided free of charge. To schedule an appointment, please contact Victoria Healey at nrel.gov.
Consultations during the IRENA General Assembly will occur at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island in a location to be determined. During the WFES the 1-on-1 consultations will take place at the IRENA networking area located in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
About the Renewable Energy Policy Advice Network, the Clean Energy Finance Solutions Center, and the Clean Energy Solutions Center:
The Clean Energy Solutions Center and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) joined forces in 2013 to launch the Renewable Energy Policy Advice Network (REPAN)—a collaboration that leverages both organizations’ resources by coordinating a global network of experts and practitioners to help countries design and implement renewable energy policies and programs. To learn more visit cleanenergysolutions.org/expert/…
The Clean Energy Finance Solutions Center of NREL assists governments and practitioners with identifying appropriate finance mechanisms and designing and implementing policies to reduce risk and encourage private sector investment; helping to achieve the transition to clean energy at the speed and scale necessary to meet local development needs and address global challenges. The CEFSC is an expanded and dedicated resource that is part of the Clean Energy Solutions Center, a Clean Energy Ministerial initiative that helps governments design and adopt policies and programs that support deployment of clean energy technologies.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Project Leader for the Clean Energy Solutions Center
To learn more about how these initiatives can assist in meeting countries’ clean energy objectives, please visit cleanenergysolutions.org and finance.cleanenergysolutions.org…, and follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/CleanEnergySolu… and Twitter twitter.com/Clean_Energy_SC
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
Headaches and Nosebleeds Reported as Months-Long Methane Leak Continues in Los Angeles (VIDEO)
Over 1,000 families have chosen to relocate and the school district recently authorized the two local schools to move out of the area.
By Hilary Lewis / Earthworks posted by Alternet
December 29, 2015
Have you ever seen methane? What about benzene? Or the chemical the gas company adds to make your stovetop gas stink, mercaptan? I asked residents at a Save Porter Ranch meeting in northwest Los Angeles if they had seen the pollution they knew was in their community, pouring down from the SoCal Gas storage facility on the hill behind town.
No one responded.
For months now, methane pollution has been billowing from the breached facility into their community. Families have reported bad odors resulting in headaches and nosebleeds. Over 1,000 families have already chosen to relocate and the school district recently authorized the two local schools to move out of the area. But no one had actually seen the pollution.
When an oil spill happens, you see it. At a coal fired power plant, you can often see the pollution blowing in the wind. But when a natural gas storage facility pollutes, what do you see?
Until now, you saw nothing. That’s because much oil and gas air pollution is normally invisible.
My colleague Pete Dronkers and I traveled to the community of Porter Ranch to show them the pollution they knew was there, but couldn’t see.
For Porter Ranch this was a critical step in gaining recognition for the problem. In Earthworks’ experience, showing someone pollution that is otherwise invisible makes it real, and helps catalyze much needed action. For many of the communities we serve, the polluter won’t admit there is pollution at all, so our videos are concrete evidence that something is wrong.
Earthworks uses a FLIR (Forward Looking InfraRed) Gasfinder 320 camera that is specially calibrated to expose otherwise invisible air pollution from oil and gas operations. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is one of about 20 gases it can detect. It also recognizes known carcinogens like benzene and other toxins like volatile organic compounds.
The camera is the same model that industry and government regulators use to detect leaks and other pollution associated with oil and gas. And Pete went through the three day training that FLIR recommends and state regulators also use to get certified to operate it. That, plus the $100,000 price tag, have kept this eye-opening technology out of the hands of the communities that need it most, until now.
What I saw in Porter Ranch was shocking. The black plume picked-up by the camera went on-and-on. But, unfortunately, I have seen it many times before.
Earthworks has filmed over 150 oil and gas facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and other parts of California. While the camera shows the presence of the group of pollutants it detects, we can be relatively certain in this situation that the pollution is mostly methane because it was leaking from a natural gas storage field.
In Porter Ranch, and across the country, air testing is used to figure out exactly what type and how much pollution is in the air. Tests are ongoing in Porter Ranch, and have already found elevated levels of benzene. But no matter the facility, in our experience, almost everything is leaking something.
This pollution must be stopped:
Methane is 86 times worse for climate change than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. This one leaking facility in Porter Ranch accounts for an estimated 25% of California’s daily methane emissions. Imagine if other storage facilities like this one (and there are many across the U.S.) burst, the climate impact would be catastrophic.
Natural gas and natural gas drilling operations (mostly hydraulic fracturing a.k.a fracking) often bring up ‘hitchhikers’ like benzene with the natural gas that drillers seek. These pollutants can be harmful to human health and have led to documented health impacts for people living near compressor stations, pipelines, fracking facilities, etc.
Making visible the normally invisible pollution from oil and gas development is a critical step in generating the political will to take meaningful action on potent climate and health pollutants. The new climate agreement signed in Paris will fall short if we do not address all sources of oil and gas methane pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that would help us meet our climate commitments by cutting oil and gas methane pollution. But EPA’s proposal doesn’t cover existing facilities, or storage fields like the one near Porter Ranch. Hopefully we will learn from SoCal Gas’ disastrous Porter Ranch experience. Without strong standards that require cutting oil and gas methane pollution from all sources, our climate and our communities will remain at risk.
Hilary Lewis the the Communications Manager at Earthworks. She is the founder of Composting Toilets International, which provides an affordable, safe and sustainable sanitation solution. She also served as an environmental policy researcher in the U.S. and Europe for ZAG International. Hilary has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and International Relations from Lehigh University.
Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on December 27th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)
A West Virginia Family Leaves Coal for Local Food and Wants to Help Others Do the Same.
Sunday, 27 December 2015 00:00 – By Laura Michele Diener, YES! Magazine | Op-Ed, Re-posted by Truthout.
The sound of a train whistle interrupts conversations every hour, on the hour, in the small town of Kimball, West Virginia. Linda McKinney and her son Joel were showing me the beds in their community garden when the rushing of the train overwhelmed the quiet sounds of crickets, stream, and rain. Linda and Joel were used to it and continued their conversation over the noise, shouting about how they should plant more marigolds, pulling berries off the vine for me to taste, and admiring a second crop of peppers that had sprung up overnight. The train roared along, carrying away some of the last coal processed in McDowell County.
“Coal is dying,” Joel told me. “Coal’s almost dead. Nobody wants to say it. It is what it is. On the international market, it’s dead for this area.”
He used to work for Norfolk Southern, the same railroad company that operates the train that just passed through. He has watched the number of trains loaded with locally mined coal decline, replaced with ones full of goods made elsewhere: cars, chemicals, and goods bound for Target. He grew up in a coal-mining family, the son and grandson of coal miners on both sides, and has watched as the industry’s decline decimated the place where he grew up. “This place is dying. I mean, it is. I’m from here, it’s sad to say it.”
Official numbers back up his words. As in the rest of the region, the total number of coal miners in McDowell County has declined since the heyday of the industry in the first half of the 20th century . That trend has continued in recent years, with the number of miners in the county falling from about 1,700 in 1990 to about 1,100 in 2014. There are many reasons for this: processes such as mountaintop-removal mining require fewer workers than underground mining, and the local coal industry faces competition from cheaper sources such as Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, as well as from natural gas drilling. Many of the county’s remaining jobs are low-paying ones in fast-food restaurants or the prison system.
Unemployment leads to poverty and alarming health trends. According to 2011 data, more than 46 percent of McDowell County residents were obese; the U.S. national average was 34 percent. The average life expectancy is one of the lowest in the nation at 64 for men and 72 for women; the national averages are 76 and 81. The county also leads the state in number of teen pregnancies and people on disability.
Despite these problems, McDowell suffers from a shortage of health care resources such as health professionals and addiction-treatment centers. Even sidewalks can be rare along the busy, winding roads, discouraging walking. Families get trapped in desperate cycles of disease, unemployment, and addiction
So what is left for residents? Many have left in search of employment. Others have succumbed to a sense of despondency. Local politicians blame President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for mine closures and advocate for a return to a coal-based economy through campaigns such as “Friends of Coal.” Others join the 14 percent of McDowell County citizens who are unemployed, hoping and waiting for the mines to reopen.
But Joel, Linda, and the rest of their family have a different answer. “Agriculture,” Linda responds, without missing a beat. “Everybody—I don’t care if there’s two people left in the county—they’ve got to eat.”
Her family is doing its best to get that transition started. At Five Loaves and Two Fishes, the food bank they run to serve McDowell County residents, the McKinney family maintains a traditional garden as well as five hydroponic towers. The produce they grow not only supplements the food they give out, but acts as an educational model to encourage people to start their own gardens and agribusinesses.
Food and Faith
Five Loaves is located in an old Save-A-Lot store building on the side of the main road running through Kimball. It has been a food bank since 2001, and in the care of the McKinneys since 2009, when they took it over from longtime friend, theReverend Albert “Bubby” Falvo.
Joel and his father Bob have converted the front area into a comfortable porch with rockers, benches, flowerpots, and stacks of pallets. While planning my first visit, I tried to get directions over the phone. Linda reassured me. “Honey, if you come into McDowell county, all roads lead to the food bank.”
“Miss Linda,” as her friends call her, is the heart, soul, and chef of Five Loaves. She works full time there, or rather, volunteers full time, as she works entirely for free. At 59, with flashing black eyes, she possesses a certain glamour, even when dressed in old jeans and surrounded by packing crates. She laughs loudly, with a resounding and joyous “Ha!” and a nudge to bring you into the joke.
Although Linda calls herself a “holler girl”—using the Appalachian slang term for a rural valley—and has always lived in McDowell County, she grew up in an Italian-speaking family. Having lost her mother as a little girl, she was raised by her nonna, or grandmother, who spoke no English but cooked meals for the entire holler. Nonna, who was born Maria Nicola, emigrated with her husband, Philip Pizzato, from the Italian city of Naples in 1913.
“Everybody thought they were going to get rich in the mines,” Linda says. The Pizzatos didn’t get rich, but Philip, whom the other miners called “Mr. Patches” since they couldn’t pronounce “Pizzato,” earned a steady living for his wife, six sons, and five daughters until he died in a car accident in 1947.
Linda’s entire manner expresses this dual heritage. She pronounces certain words with a melodious accent, slipped between the slow syllables of her southern twang: minestrone, basilico. “When I was little we would grow basil in a washtub, and Daddy would say, ‘Go out and get some basilico’—that’s what we called it.”
Linda learned to cook at her nonna’s side. “We didn’t have recipes. Nothing was measured out, but each day had its own purpose. Monday was bread baking day. Sunday, we made sauce, always red sauce, never white. … On Sundays, food stayed out all the time and we would just eat all day long.”
They made chicken cacciatore, homemade pasta (they hung the noodles on a pole over the bed), egg frittatas, and Italian wedding soup, all of which Linda remembers fondly. But she also snuck out to the neighbors’ place to try pinto beans and biscuits. Her recipes now are a mix of local and foreign, old world and new.
“She just wants to feed people,” her daughter Jina Belcher explained, and that was certainly true for me. Each time I visited, Linda fed me, cooking with fresh ingredients from the garden. Since I’m a vegetarian, she made me some standards: veggie dip with chips and carrots, chocolate mousse, and my favorite, kale salad with strawberries, of which she is especially proud. “When people tell me they don’t like kale, I say, ‘You ain’t tasted my kale.’”
Linda makes and gives out wholesome, healthy food because that’s what she was raised on and what she fed her own children—but also because she wants to reverse the health trends in McDowell County. She understands that obesity and poverty go hand in hand, as half the county is on some kind of public assistance and may not be able to afford fresh produce. But she believes that education and changes in lifestyle can help people get their hands on good food, even when they don’t have much money.
Every Wednesday of this summer, she held community cookouts in the gardens with an emphasis on healthy eating and fresh vegetables. Nearly 400 people attended regularly, Linda estimates. She also offers Zumba classes (she’s a certified instructor), vegetable planting parties, and cooking courses.
In addition to her passion for healthy eating, she finds herself motivated by her Christian faith, which was nurtured in riverbanks, mountain soil, and in the small Methodist church where she worshipped as a child. She is a certified Methodist lay pastor, which means she can preach but not perform communion or weddings. “I could go anywhere in any church and feel comfortable, except where there’s snakes,” she says, referring to a Pentecostal ritual where certain parishioners hold venomous snakes during worship as an expression of faith.
She shuddered and then broke into laughter. “I won’t go to no snake church.”
She finds her faith renewed each time she reaches her fingers into the dirt. “I totally believe that relationships are built at a table and in a garden. When you bring those two together, you have family.”
Betting on Agriculture
Unlike his mother, Joel McKinney does not like dirt, and he hates bugs. What attracts him is the challenge of invention. Full of restless energy, he rarely stands still. As we spoke, he paced around his hydroponic towers, lifting up vines and pulling off dead leaves with gestures alternately rough and tender.
“I’m a science nerd,” he told me more than once. He practices a form of urban agriculture usually pursued indoors, but does it outside so it’s visible to local people. The unusual sight of the five white plastic towers, each one more than eight feet tall and bursting with rainbow-colored vines, attracts curious passers-by. Which is exactly what Joel is hoping for—to get locals excited about the economic possibilities of growing. “Agriculture is the best possible future for McDowell County,” he insists.
This work has consumed all his time for the past year, since he quit his job as a signalman for Norfolk Southern. Soon after that, he received a veteran’s grant from West Virginia State’s agricultural program to start a greenhouse at the armory in Welch, the county seat. He devoted himself full-time to growing—moving into his parents’ basement, enrolling in Penn State’s online program for a degree in agriculture, and building and maintaining hydroponic towers on the armory grounds in Welch, as well as the ones at Five Loaves. To do all this, he has taken out around $30,000 in loans. “So in about two and a half years, if something don’t happen, life’s going to be hard,” he says. “But I’m pretty certain.”
While Linda is propelled by faith, it’s the prospect of a good living that motivates Joel. Although he says he will never charge for food at Five Loaves, he hopes his towers at the Welch armory will eventually turn a profit. He has already approached grocery retailers Wal-Mart and Kroger. Once he begins selling vegetables, he plans to roll the funds back into the community garden at Five Loaves to finance projects there, including a CSA program that will distribute groceries directly to local people, a permanent farmers market, a plant store with seedlings for sale, and most of all, educational programs. His goal is to provide a model for sustainable business that others in the region could learn from.
“This is kind of small-scale,” he acknowledges, “but I want to start here, learn the ropes, and then take it to the county level.”
Feeding the County
It was August 22, the third Saturday of the month. Welfare checks were running low, and the residents of McDowell County descended on Five Loaves for the food giveaway. Cars lined both sides of the road. Old men rested in their pickup trucks, while women with camp chairs chatted in the sun. The lively atmosphere of a town festival pervaded, with children racing around the porch, scrambling over the pallets, and running through the garden. The men smoked down by the river at the back of the garden. One man with a white beard gestured toward the tree tops, preaching to the smokers. “Who do you think created this blue sky?” he asked.
There was only enough food for 150 families, and it was first come, first served. So even though the giveaway began at noon, most of the people had already been there for hours to ensure they were included. Some had brought tents and camped out the night before. One family had waited since 2:30 in the morning.
The food had come from a variety of sources. Much of it arrived in trucks that come once a month from Operation Blessing’s Hunger Strike Force, a humanitarian organization founded by the minister and TV personality Pat Robertson. Five Loaves receives donations from the local Wal-Mart as well as from individual donors.
At noon, everyone lined up on the porch for their turn to receive a grocery cart, move through the warehouse grabbing products from the freezers and shelves, then back outside to sort through three big bins of produce. Volunteers, all with relatives waiting in the line, moved the people along and helped push the carts and load up cars.
Linda kept the line in order with an iron will. “You git off my porch with that cigarette!” She shouted, chasing a recalcitrant man. She sat at the head of the line for hours, joking with people and rising to hug them.
One man waited around all day to collect any unused scraps for his pigs. He hovered at Linda’s shoulder, never speaking, his blue eyes like pinpoints lost in a creviced face, a bandana tied on top of his battered fedora. Occasionally he carried a bag of lettuce or such to his truck. “That’s Mr. Chester,” Bob McKinney said, pointing him out to me—he knew almost everybody.
Unlike Linda, Bob stayed in the background, pushing carts and lifting boxes of food. A slim man with round glasses, he spoke in soft, measured tones.
We heard Linda’s voice rising above the crowd. Bob gestured over to her as she chattered away with the woman at the front of the line. “She’s a networker,” he said, smiling fondly. “Me, I’ll take care of the rest.”
The rest included all the maintenance, the electrical work on the building, and keeping the forklifts and freezers in good working order. Bob is an ordained Methodist minister, but had never been completely comfortable speaking in front of people. “I had felt a calling in the ministry,” he explained, “but it’s this kind of ministry.”
A mine-safety teacher, Bob is the only member of the family still actively employed in coal. Like his father before him, he has worked in the industry his whole life, either as a teacher or a safety inspector, but he also acknowledges that mining is no longer economically viable for southern West Virginia.
As a minister and then at the food bank, he has witnessed the toll the changing economy has taken on McDowell County. He pointed out a number of people in the line who had jobs, sometimes commuting outside the county, but still couldn’t make it through the month. Others were disabled from accidents in mines or on construction sites. As I looked at the crowd, I noticed that a good portion were elderly—women with white hair plaited around their heads, men in suspenders lounging against the wall beside their walkers.
Bob looked them over worriedly. “Politicians have the attitude—’Them people just here for a handout.’ ‘Get a job,’ they say. Get a job where? I say, ‘You give ‘em a job, I’ll stop giving ‘em food.’”
A World Beyond Coal
“My dad was a coal miner my entire life. That’s how I was raised. That’s how he fed us, so as far as that’s concerned, my heart is there.” Jina, Bob and Linda’s youngest child, is certainly her mother’s daughter. Her determination bursts through in her voice, even more so than Linda; she speaks quickly and articulately. She works full-time at a local bank in Welch and also takes care of all the finances for Five Loaves, which she sees as far more than a place to pick up food once a month.
Like her parents and brother, she sees the food bank as leading the way in economic alternatives to coal in McDowell County. The daughter and granddaughter of coal miners, she also dated one all through high school and eventually married him. But at Concord University, which she attended on a full scholarship as a recreation and tourism major, she learned about the effects of mountaintop-removal mining on the environment. She is also aware that opportunities for coal mining are waning in southern West Virginia.
“I do think it’s a dying industry, and I think that if we could get the passion of these ex-coal miners involved in a new agricultural business, that it could flourish.”
Some former coal miners have transitioned successfully, and Jina points to her husband, Justin “JD” Belcher, as an example. After 7 1/2 years at the same mine, he found himself laid off. But he took the opportunity to pursue videography, which had always been his passion. Entirely self-taught, he submitted a trial reel to a local car dealer and now works full time for the company as a video editor. He also runs his own wedding videography business, Unscripted Memories.
Justin has taken charge of public relations at Five Loaves and makes films for the food bank’s Facebook page. “When we look at our life two years ago when he was in the mines, yes, of course there was more money,” Jina says. “But now it’s stable and he’s doing what he loves.”
His transition, she believes, could be a model for the community.
All Roads in the County
Linda McKinney was right when she told me all roads in the county lead to the food bank. That might sound depressing, but there’s more to it than dependency. In McDowell County, the Five Loaves and Two Fishes food bank is the heart of the community, a place people go for education, fellowship, and vision.
“I love going out there early in the morning, walking into that garden,” Linda says. Her vision acknowledges the coal heritage of McDowell County, which brought her grandparents over on a boat from Italy in the hope of striking it rich, and kept them fed and clothed for generations. But it also looks beyond it to a future of self-sufficiency and small businesses fueled by cultivated fields bursting into bloom in the hollers.
In the future she wants to see, people will flock to the county she loves rather than flee from it. “This county’s been good to me. It’s been good to our family. It’s been good to my husband. Where else would I go? I wouldn’t do well. I’m too loud.” She laughed in her joyful manner, shaking her whole body.
“They can say, poor, poor West Virginia and poor, poor, McDowell County. I don’t do that. I’m gonna be the brightest little star I can in my little corner where God put me.”