Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The Pruitt Emails: E.P.A. Chief Was Arm in Arm With Industry

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The GOP, for whatever reason, was determined that Pruitt’s confirmation vote be held before his emails were released (which would have involved a wait of less than a week). Now we see why.

Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:

During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.

“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.

An Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. Many of the emails are copies of documents previously provided in 2014 to The New York Times, which examined Mr. Pruitt’s interaction with energy industry players that his office also helps regulate.

The companies provided him draft letters to send to federal regulators in an attempt to block federal regulations intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas wells, ozone air pollution, and chemicals used in fracking, the email correspondence shows.

They held secret meetings to discuss more comprehensive ways to combat the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, and the companies and organizations they funded repeatedly praised Mr. Pruitt and his staff for the assistance he provided in their campaign.

The correspondence points to the tension emerging as Mr. Pruitt is now charged with regulating many of the same companies with which he coordinated closely in his previous position. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major E.P.A. environmental rules, often in coordination with energy companies such as Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas producer, and American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility.

The emails show that his office corresponded with those companies in efforts to weaken federal environmental regulations — the same rules he will now oversee.

“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule,” wrote Roderick Hastie, a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utilities, including Southern Company, urging Mr. Pruitt’s office to file comments on a proposed E.P.A. rule related to so-called Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Emissions.

The most frequent correspondence was with Devon Energy, which has aggressively challenged rules proposed by the E.P.A. and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which controls drilling on federal lands — widespread in the west. In the 2014 election cycle, Devon was one of the top contributors to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Mr. Pruitt led for two years during that period.

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Pruitt’s office, William Whitsitt, then an executive vice president of Devon, referred to a letter his company had drafted for Mr. Pruitt to deliver, on Oklahoma state stationery, to Obama administration officials. Mr. Pruitt, meeting with White House officials, made the case that the rule, which would rein in planet-warming methane emissions, would be harmful to his state’s economy. His argument was taken directly from Mr. Whitsitt’s draft language.

“To follow up on my conversations with Attorney General Pruitt and you, I believe that a meeting — or perhaps more efficient, a conference call — with OIRA (the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis) on the BLM rule should be requested right away,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote. “The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call.”

The letter referred to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2017 at 11:00 am

Is the violence across North Africa and the Middle East caused by leaded gasoline?

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As Kevin Drum has noted in various posts and articles, there is strong and (to me) compelling evidence that children raised in a lead-polluted environment grow up to be violent adults, and the most pervasive form of lead pollution has been leaded gasoline. The US discontinued leaded gasoline around 1980 (there was a phase-in period when both leaded and unleaded gasoline were sold), and 20 years later, violent crime began a remarkable decline. This phenomenon—discontinuing leaded gasoline followed 20 years later by a significant decline in violent crime—has now been seen in any countries.

This chronology of leaded gasoline history (PDF) is quite interesting as it marks significant dates from the introduction of leaded gasoline in 1923. The PDF notes that Tetra-ethyl lead (TEL or “ethyl”) was the invention of Thomas Midgley, who was posthumously declared to be “responsible for more damage to Earth’s atmosphere than any other single organism that has ever lived.” (Walker 2007) Some of that is because Midgley was also responsible for the adoption of fluorocarbons as propellants for aerosol cans, and fluorocarbons turned out to be vastly destructive of the ozone layer, so those too were phased out.

In a post this morning (mainly on the new Trump aide Sebastian Gorka) has this interesting chart:

blog_middle_east_leaded_gasoline_phaseout_0

Drum’s post is worth reading for the information on Gorka.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2017 at 10:32 am

Violent Crime Peaked In Britain in 2006 Because….

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post at Mother Jones:

I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:

In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.

Here’s the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:

blog_iep_crime_britain

Note two things here. First, Britain’s violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?

Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1

This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in . . .

Continue reading.

Note this, later in his post:

Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 5:42 pm

Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis

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In the NY Times Michael Kimmelman has a grim report on the present and future of Mexico City as the climate continues changing:

On bad days, you can smell the stench from a mile away, drifting over a nowhere sprawl of highways and office parks.

When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries.

Only it didn’t, pretty much from the start. The canal was based on gravity. And Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, was sinking, collapsing in on itself.

It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.

It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse.

In the immense neighborhood of Iztapalapa — where nearly two million people live, many of them unable to count on water from their taps — a teenager was swallowed up where a crack in the brittle ground split open a street. Sidewalks resemble broken china, and 15 elementary schools have crumbled or caved in.

Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.

One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.

The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.

That’s what this series is about — how global cities tackle climate threats, or fail to. Around the world, extreme weather and water scarcity are accelerating repression, regional conflicts and violence. A Columbia University report found that where rainfall declines, “the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles the following year.” The Pentagon’s term for climate change is “threat multiplier.”

And nowhere does this apply more obviously than in cities. This is the first urban century in human history, the first time more people live in cities than don’t, with predictions that three-quarters of the global population will be urban by 2050. By that time, according to another study, there may be more than 700 million climate refugees on the move. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing: enlightening and frightening. As cities fail, where will their residents go?

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 12:57 pm

Coal companies are now free to pollute waterways as they will; public has no recourse

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It can get depressing. I do not see that polluting waterways improves the general welfare, though it surely improves the bottom line for coal companies.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2017 at 1:22 pm

Dakota Access Pipeline Approved a Week After Co-Owner’s Pipeline Spilled 600,000 Gallons of Oil in Texas

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oil-spill

Steve Horn writes at Desmog Blog:

On January 30, 600,000 gallons (14,285 barrels) of oil spewed out of Enbridge’s Seaway Pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas, the second spill since the pipeline opened for business in mid-2016.

Seaway is half owned by Enbridge and serves as the final leg of a pipeline system DeSmog has called the “Keystone XLClone,” which carries mostly tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day down to the Gulf of Mexico. Enbridge is an equity co-owner of the Dakota Access pipeline, which received its final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 7 to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River and construction has resumed.

The alignment of Native American tribes, environmentalists, and others involved in the fight against Dakota Access have called themselves “water protectors,” rather than “activists,” out of concern that a pipeline spill could contaminate their drinking water source, the Missouri River.

“Just Spewing”

Brittany Clayton, who works at a nearby gas station in Blue Ridge, which is 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, was close to the scene of the spill when it occurred.

“You could just smell this oil smell. A customer walks in and says ‘nobody smoke.’ You could see it just spewing,” Clayton told KDFWTV, the local Fox News affiliate in the area. “It was just super huge. It was like a big cloud. The fire marshal said, ‘This is like a danger zone. You guys have to evacuate immediately.’ I was totally freaked out. I kept texting the boss man.”

Enbridge and co-owner Enterprise Products Partners said in press release that the spill had been contained and it resumed service on February 5.

“The incident … resulted in no fire or injuries and the pipeline has been shut down and isolated,” the companies said. “Seaway has mobilized personnel and equipment to the site and is working closely with emergency responders, law enforcement and regulatory authorities to conduct clean-up operations and develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Government Reaction

According to KDFW, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to do water and environmental testing in the coming days. TxDOT also told the local National Public Radio affiliate, KETRFM, that it would take “several weeks” to complete a full cleanup.

“It remains too early in the investigation to know where final blame lies for the accident,” wrote KETR, also noting that “it is also too early to tell how much the cleanup and loss of product will cost.” . . .

Continue reading.

The EPA will be doing a lot less under Pruitt.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2017 at 2:18 pm

Top Advisor Scorches Exxon’s Harassment of Environmentalists in Her Resignation Letter

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This is part of the corporate takeover of the U.S. government, as reflected by Trump’s choices for cabinet officers and other positions. Ben Adler reports in Motherboard:

One of ExxonMobil’s top independent ombudsmen resigned from her post this week with a scathing letter criticizing the company’s harassment of nonprofit environmental organizations.

The resignation of corporate social responsibility expert Sarah Labowitz—who had been on ExxonMobil’s External Citizenship Advisory Panel since 2014—comes as Exxon is pursuing an unusual lawsuit, alleging the state attorneys general from New York and Massachusetts have no right to investigate the company’s statements about climate science and questioning their consultations with environmental experts and advocates.

In a letter to the company obtained by Motherboard (embedded below), Labowitz said that she is, “particularly concerned about the company’s targeted attack on respected civil society organizations through the courts.”

“Many companies face criticism and critique, but few respond with the kind of vehemence and aggressive attack strategy that Exxon has executed over the last year,” Labowitz wrote to Ben Soraci, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation and general manager of ExxonMobil’s public and government affairs office. “I am disappointed that instead of examining its own record and seeking to restore a respected place for itself in the public debate, Exxon has chosen to turn up the temperature on civil society groups.”

The beef stems from reports published in late 2015 by InsideClimate News and the LA Times which revealed that Exxon had known for decades that burning fossil fuels causes climate change before admitting so publicly. The attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts are investigating whether Exxon’s public contradiction of its own internal climate science constitutes fraud. Exxon has sued to block them in a federal court in Texas, arguing that questioning climate science is protected speech under the First Amendment and that “the investigations’ true purpose” is “to suppress speech with which [the AGs] disagree.”

Last month, as part of making that case, Exxon subpoenaed records from a number of environmental organizations and experts to show that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey’s consultations with them were proof of the prosecutors’ “political bias.” At the time, InsideClimate News wrote that, “Exxon’s actions are especially remarkable as an example of a giant corporation going after advocacy organizations for their activities.”

ExxonMobil’s “External Citizenship Advisory Panel” was created in 2009 and is made up of five human rights, business, environmental, and government experts. The independent panel critiques the oil company’s impact on civil society, human rights, democratic governance, and the environment. Labowitz, the co-director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, believes Exxon’s approach is anti-democratic and threatens to have a chilling effect on environmental activism. Exxon has not yet removed Labowitz from the panel’s website.

“[Exxon] defines conspiracy as routine advocacy, like holding meetings with government officials,” Labowitz told me in a phone call. “That crosses a line. This is what you see in countries where the government tries to suppress human rights.”

Exxon filed this dubious lawsuit while Rex Tillerson, the newly-appointed Secretary of State, was still the company’s CEO, raising questions about Tillerson’s commitment to promoting human rights and civil society abroad. Critics question whether Tillerson can be trusted to advocate for protecting the health of non-governmental organizations abroad while his former company continues to harass them and tries to diminish their role at home.

Labowitz says she advocated internally for dropping the lawsuit before becoming convinced by the recent round of subpoenas that Exxon was “doubling down,” and she saw no other alternative but to resign from the unpaid advisory position.

“I think it is a strong signal that ExxonMobil lacks credibility on issues of corporate citizenship and that the company is operating way outside the norm of acceptable corporate conduct,” Kathy Mulvey, a climate accountability campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me. The Union of Concerned Scientists is one of the organizations named in Exxon’s New York and Massachusetts lawsuits.

“I work at a business school and I see companies that face criticism on human rights frequently,” Labowitz said. “Good corporate citizens examine the allegations, look at ways they can improve, and adopt a new way forward. That’s what Exxon should do.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2017 at 8:19 pm

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