There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
Setting aside the critically important fact that Keystone XL and the tar sands oil it would tap into would have devastating repercussions on our climate crisis, what the FEIS omits entirely are the serious health effects on the people along its proposed route from Canada to Texas. Every step of the way, from extraction to refining to waste removal, is a proven public health disaster.
"I'm concerned about the impact of tar sands on our people wherever they live," Boxer said.
Today, four voices that could speak to that joined Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to talk about their first-hand experiences with tar sands oil at each stage of the process of its production.
The tar sands originate and are mined largely in Alberta, Canada, the home of Dr. John O'Connor. In the Fort Chipewyan area that O'Connor serves, residents of this tiny town are 30 percent more likely to develop cancer -- specifically rare cancers like cholangiocarcinoma, a fatal bile duct cancer.
Disturbed by the drastically increasing cancer rates, O'Connor brought this information to the attention of authorities starting nearly a decade ago. Since then, he says, tar sands extraction has increased, and the authorities have done nothing.
"It's a public health crisis in this community," O'Connor said.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.
This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.
Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.
There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country. "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.
The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.
On a very snowy winter's day February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed a historic executive order: EO 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations."
The executive order directs, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations. The order mandates that each agency develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice (EJ). The order also directs promotion of nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment -- and that minority and low-income communities have access to public information and public participation.
The road to the environmental justice executive order has been a long and hard one for EJ communities and activists. The road is still uphill, with many tough and treacherous areas. Communities of color and low-income communities, urban and rural, have been sited for decades near toxic and noxious facilities and extractive processes.
It is commonly accepted that the EJ movement formally started in 1982 when black residents in Warren County, NC, lay down in road near where a carcinogen-laden landfill was about to be sited. This county, which was mostly African American already, had a number of such landfills, and the community had had enough. Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and workers inside industrial plants had long agitated for environmental justice, as well. The research and documentation started piling up that the government was acquiescing to disproportionate pollution in communities of color and low-income communities.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a great commentary on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this weekend.
Are you attending one of the more than 280 Keystone XL protest vigils tonight?
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
I've never been superstitious, but looking back on 2013 it's likely that oil company executives will be. In 2013 the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign made huge strides in blocking some of the most polluting and carbon-intensive sources of oil. I’m especially proud of our successes when I compare the size of our campaign to the industry we’re taking on. Big Oil counts their profits in billions. They have an all-star bench of power brokers -– from lobbyists and PR firms to former administration officials, members of Congress, and the Prime Minister of Canada. Very impressive. But in 2013 a ragtag group of citizens, community groups, and environmental organizations have changed the calculus on Alberta tar sands and fired up a national climate movement. This will go down as the year that oil executives reached for their rabbit's feet and wondered just where their luck went.
In 2013 Keystone XL took center stage as the test of our commitment to address climate disruption. We kicked off Lucky '13 with Forward on Climate, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Fifty thousand people joined us on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for a new kind of environmental action. Forward on Climate was an invitation to the president to match the strong words in his second inaugural address with decisive action on coal, fracking, protecting the arctic, and stopping the tar sands pipeline. It was a cold day, but we sent a burning message that Americans are ready to act on climate.
The Keystone XL fight will continue into 2014, and maybe even beyond. But in the five years since Keystone XL was first proposed, we've fought the project to a standstill and kept at least 200 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere. We’ve turned a rubber stamp from the State Department into a new climate test for this and ultimately all new oil projects.
As the president laid out in his historic climate speech this summer, he will not approve this pipeline if it "significantly exacerbates carbon pollution." And certainly it would. That's why people are speaking up against this pipeline like never before. In the spring we and our partners gathered 1.2 million comments from American citizens taking the State Department to task for its faulty environmental review. We joined hundreds of citizens in Grand Island, Nebraska, for the State Department public hearing -- and hundreds met the president, vice president, and secretary of state as they traveled to more than 40 events around the nation. At one of these events in North Carolina, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to our great volunteer Elaine Cooper and told her, "I'm with you, but I'm in the minority."
Our report, FAIL: How Keystone XL Flunks the Climate Test, lays out the evidence that tar sands expansion is not inevitable (as the State Department contended in its draft environmental review), and that Keystone XL is a climate disaster in the making. It turns out that people who know the truth about tar sands, and know the risks of this pipeline, are quick to join us in the minority. And like all causes on the just side of history, we won't remain the minority for long.
Keystone XL may take the year's the top billing, but we also made great progress fighting for stronger regulations for railroad transportation of tar sands and other dangerous crude oil. We challenged tar sands refinery expansions in Delaware and export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. And we set a new standard for tar sands pipelines, so all proposals to move dangerous crude will now face the same level of scrutiny that Keystone XL faces.
We also fought for solutions. In 2013 we launched our Future Fleet campaign to push some of the nation's largest oil consumers -- including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- to slash their use of oil, and to stop using fuel refined from toxic tar sands altogether. Our work as part of the Clean Cars Coalition convinced eight governors to make a joint commitment to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles like electric cars onto the road in their states by 2025. We co-organized events to promote electric vehicles in nearly 100 cities with more than 36,000 people attending, and conducted thousands of test rides on the third annual National Plug In Day. The EPA released its Fuel Economy Trends Report in December, showing the second-largest annual increase in fuel efficiency in the last 30 years, reaching an all-time high of 23.6 mpg. Since President Obama took office, fuel economy has increased 12 percent, thanks to the vehicle standards he has put in place after years of advocacy work by the Sierra Club and our allies.
I've never been one to knock on wood, avoid a sidewalk crack, or hang a horseshoe. There's nothing magical about the success of the beyond oil campaign in 2013. It's the result of a hardworking, determined team of staff and volunteers who are standing toe to toe with the biggest, most powerful industry in the world -- a team of people in every state, who represent every imaginable cross-section of America, but who share an unfailing belief that we must move our nation beyond oil. That's bad news for Big Oil, because we are a movement that's only just begun our fight. And as I look forward to 2014, I don't need a four-leaf clover to know that we can expect more success ahead.
Today Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune today sent a letter to the White House rejecting the notion that the Canadian government could do anything to mitigate the carbon pollution from the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, amid reports that the Harper Government was proposing a deal to the Obama administration.
Here's the text of the letter:
September 24, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
I applaud your commitment to fighting climate change. Your administration's new carbon pollution limits for power plants are a giant step in the right direction and demonstrate that America is ready to move forward on climate. In a year of record-breaking wildfires, floods, and other symptoms of a disrupted climate, your leadership on climate change is exactly what our country needs.
I am concerned that this progress may be undermined by a backdoor bilateral agreement on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would commit us to transporting the dirtiest of fossil fuels for decades to come. Several weeks ago, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly sent you a letter declaring his willingness to take any climate actions necessary to get a presidential approval of Keystone XL, the $7-billion pipeline that would pump Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. While this may seem like a generous offer, Canada simply cannot mitigate the carbon pollution from the pipeline; those emissions would simply be too big. Keystone XL would be directly responsible for the equivalent annual emissions of 51 coal-fired power plants or 37.7 million cars. As a point of comparison, Canada has about 26 million cars on the road.
Along with the pipeline's direct emissions, the pipeline would be responsible for decades of future emissions from tar sands. The Pembina Institute estimates that Keystone XL would increase tar sands development by 36 percent. The State Department estimates that tar sands oil could be 22 percent more carbon intensive than conventional crude used in the United States. And when the lost carbon sequestration potential of Canada's 1.2 billion acre boreal forest is also taken into consideration, the climate implications of the pipeline become staggering. The best way to "mitigate" tar sands development is to keep tar sands in the ground.
Promises by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to reduce the emissions from Canada’s tar sands should be judged against its failure to live up to its climate commitments to date. The government of Canada has consistently missed its own targets to regulate its oil and gas sector and reduce national emissions, and has a history of weakening environmental regulations at the request of the pipeline industry. The Canadian government eliminated the budget for its National Roundtable on Energy and the Environment after it advocated a carbon tax. In addition, the government of Canada is silencing its scientists, as highlighted in last weekend's New York Times when the paper noted, "There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years....But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada." Even if mitigating carbon pollution from the tar sands pipeline were possible, the Harper administration has shown no signs that it would be willing to do it.
The fact is, tar sands are Canada's fastest-growing source of carbon pollution. In 2011, the Canadian government's own peer-reviewed reports forecasted that emissions from tar sands would be triple 2005 levels by 2030. The Canadian government’s promises to offset tar sands carbon pollution are nothing more than a rubber check written against an empty account. That check would bounce, just like all of the Harper government's other climate promises. The one thing climate scientists and energy experts say we can be sure of, is that the Keystone XL pipeline would deliver a massive new source of carbon pollution.
Mr. President, a national interest determination decision on the Keystone XL pipeline must not be premised on the government of Canada's mitigation promises. We urge you to reject the pipeline and continue to help build a clean energy future.
Tar sands—the world’s dirtiest oil—are one of the most climate-disrupting fuels that exist and have extreme consequences for water sources, animals, and human health. Recognizing the threat that tar sands pose to communities and the environment, the European Union (EU) is currently negotiating a new policy that would discourage use of the dirty fuel. The policy however, has come under attack by Big Oil and the Canadian and U.S. governments, which claim that the policy amounts to an "unfair trade barrier" that discriminates against those looking to export tar sands or diesel that contain fuel from tar sands.
The policy at hand—the European Union Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) —requires countries in the EU to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of transportation fuels by 6 percent by 2020. Fuel companies are expected to meet their pollution-reduction target by shifting toward low-carbon fuels. In order to measure progress toward the target, the European Commission (EC) has drafted a detailed set of rules that assigns a set of greenhouse gas “default values,” or estimates of the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions released during the life cycle (extraction, refinement, transportation, combustion) of different fuels. Based on the default values, suppliers looking to cut emissions in order to meet the target are encouraged to move away from fuel types with high greenhouse gas values.
Naturally, there are “winners” and “losers” in the EU’s greenhouse gas ranking system. Estimates show that the production of tar sands oil and its byproducts produces 22 percent more carbon emissions than average crude oils used in the U.S, making oil derived from tar sands one of the dirtiest fuel sources on the FQD list.
The FQD’s requirement to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels combined with its classification of dirty fuels—including tar sands—is exactly the type of policy needed to discourage use of climate-disrupting fuels. However, instead of recognizing the climate imperative of moving away from dirty fuels, U.S. industry and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) are beginning to fight back.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), American Petroleum Institute (API), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute (EI) are among the groups expressing strong opposition to the FQD on the basis that it would “discriminate against crudes and fuels derived from oil sands and oil shale.” In a joint statement, the companies stated that should this proposal be adopted in its current form, they “will give serious thought to requesting that the U.S. Government seek redress at the WTO.”
Moreover, in July 2013, during the first round of negotiations for the recently launched US-EU free trade agreement, the AFPM requested that the USTR include the fuel quality directive as a topic to be addressed in the negotiations.
The Office of the USTR seems to be listening to industry’s concerns. Last week, Inside US Trade reported that USTR Ambassador Michael Froman, addressing concerns of Members of Congress, stated that he shares the objections on the proposed amendments to the FQD and has raised them “repeatedly” with European Commissions officials, including in the context of the U.S.-EU free trade agreement negotiations.
Importantly, U.S. industry and the USTR aren’t the only ones displeased with the EU Directive. The government of Canada – one of the largest producers of oil-sands crude – has reacted strongly to the EU’s classification of oil-sands crude as a high polluter, and it has also hinted at the possibility of bringing a WTO lawsuit against the FQD. Canada is concerned that labeling tar sands as a high-polluting fuel will harm its exports of the dirty fuel.
While the future of the FQD and tar sands may be up in the air, one thing is clear. Our current model of free trade is once again interfering with sound climate policy. The Fuel Quality Directive is an important policy that could play a role in limiting use of tar sands in the EU and more broadly. The concerns of Canada, which produces tar sands; U.S. businesses, which refine tar sands; and the U.S. Trade Representative, whose mandate is to expand free trade, must not threaten this important policy. The expansion of trade must take a back seat to the need to address climate chaos, and governments must not be stripped of their ability to protect us and our planet.-Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program. Research by Quentin Karpilow
Video surfaced this week of a big nasty cloud of pet coke dust blowing off a huge pile of the petroleum by-product that sits along the edge of the Detroit River in Detroit.
The massive pile comes from the Marathon Oil Company's refining of tar sands at its Detroit refinery, and it's been getting a lot of attention over the past few months. The site and pile are owned by Koch Carbon -- yep, a Koch brothers operation.
Some testing shows that the dust isn't harmful to people, but there are critics of that testing:
Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center, said the new study results affirmed the state agency's results, but he still had concerns.
"Two of the toxic metals we detected, selenium and vanadium, are of concern in runoff and dust," he said. "MDEQ's conclusion of 'no significant public health risk' is overstated and mostly based on modeling, not actual environmental monitoring. I am still dissatisfied with the lack of on-the-ground data on air quality and particulate matter due to the un-permitted open storage of petroleum coke."
For Rhonda Anderson, Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Detroit, it's good to have people wanting action on the pet coke pile, but the real problem is bigger. "The attention should be on the Marathon refinery -- that's where the Enbridge pipeline is bringing the tar sands oil for refining here in Detroit," she said.
Rhonda says this massive pile of pet coke toxins is just the latest environmental injustice for those living in Detroit's 48217 zip code area, known as the "most polluted zip code in Michigan."
In May an explosion and fire at the Marathon Detroit Refinery caused an evacuation for some nearby residents -- but not those in 48217.
The people living in 48217 are suffering the health effects of living in this heavily industrialized zone, and Rhonda is working with a large coalition of residents trying to secure emergency evacuation plans from Marathon and obtain more public information about the toxins being emitted from the facility.
"What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground," said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit.
Meanwhile, the nearby River Rouge neighborhood residents continue to fight for better air quality as they live in the shadow of the DTE Energy coal plant.
You can help -- get involved with the Detroit Sierra Club and help the community stand up to the dirty fuel industry.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
By Michael Marx and Javier Sierra, Sierra Club
The Sierra Club, Texas Environmental Justice, and our partners at Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.) are using the July 19 Manchester Festival to release El Crudo Más Sucio del Planeta, the Spanish-language version of our Tar Sands: Dirtiest Oil on Earth video.
The festival is hosted by the Houston, Texas, neighborhood of Manchester and organized by Latino community activists, environmental justice advocates, and students to raise awareness of the dire consequences the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have for Latino communities in Texas and throughout the country.
The Keystone XL terminal is planned for Manchester, which is 95 percent Latino and the most polluted neighborhood in one of the country's most polluted cities. Manchester is already burdened with one of the country's most concentrated clusters of petrochemical facilities, and its residents suffer from high incidences of asthma, other respiratory diseases, and cancer.
The construction of the Keystone XL terminal in Manchester will add insult to injury in a barrio already disproportionally beset by environmental injustices. That's why the Sierra Club is cooperating with the Festival to highlight the launch of our Spanish-language Dirtiest Oil on Earth video -- to put the record straight on tar sands and the threat that the Keystone XL pipeline brings to all Americans.
The animation, created by Sierra Club Productions, illustrates the dangers of spills, destruction of natural areas, contamination of air and water supplies and political influence exerted by the oil industry to build pipeline projects designed to transport tar sands across the U.S. to reach foreign markets.
The Sierra Club is determined to stop the development of this dirty fuel and support Latino communities such as Manchester in their fight against Keystone XL and other dangerous oil schemes.
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