The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Mercury Pollution

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In a 5-4 ruling Monday, the Supreme Court found fault with the EPA’s regulation of toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants, claiming that the agency failed to prove the regulations “appropriate and necessary” because they did not initially take costs into consideration.

To Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the Court’s dissent, that reasoning failed to acknowledge all the other times the EPA took cost into consideration throughout the regulatory process.

As Kagan wrote:

That is a peculiarly blinkered way for a court to assess the lawfulness of an agency’s rulemaking. I agree with the majority — let there be no doubt about this — that EPA’s power plant regulation would be unreasonable if ‘[t]he Agency gave cost no thought at all.’ … But that is just not what happened here. Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants. And when making its initial ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that — knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emissions standards later on. That context matters.

When first deciding to regulate mercury pollution from power plants, Kagan noted that the EPA made its decision based on the fact “that power plants’ emissions pose a serious health problem, that solutions to the problem are available, and that the problem will remain unless action is taken.”

Kagan said the EPA didn’t consider costs in the first stage of the regulatory process because it knew that it would have a chance to consider costs later on.

“[T]he Agency, when making its ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, did not decline to consider costs as part of the regulatory process,” she wrote. “Rather, it declined to consider costs at a single stage of that process, knowing that they would come in later on.”

Later in the dissent, Kagan argued that it would be impossible for an agency to anticipate all the consequences of a particular regulation during the regulation’s very first stages:

Suppose you were in charge of designing a regulatory process. The subject matter — an industry’s emissions of hazardous material — was highly complex, involving multivarious factors demanding years of study. Would you necessarily try to do everything at once? Or might you try to break down this lengthy and complicated process into discrete stages? And might you consider different factors, in different ways, at each of those junctures? I think you might.

Moreover, Kagan argued, the EPA made a decision to regulate mercury emissions from power plants before it designed those emission standards, making it impossible to calculate potential costs associated with standards that hadn’t even been created yet.

“Simply put,” Kagan wrote, “calculating costs before starting to write a regulation would put the cart before the horse.”

In the majority opinion, Scalia compared the EPA to a potential car owner looking to purchase a Ferrari without thinking about the costs of the car. It was a metaphor that Kagan didn’t love:

The comparison is witty but wholly inapt. To begin with, emissions limits are not a luxury good: They are a safety measure, designed to curtail the significant health and environmental harms caused by power plants spewing hazardous pollutants. And more: EPA knows from past experience and expertise alike that it will have the opportunity to purchase that good in a cost effective way. A better analogy might be to a car owner who decides without first checking prices that it is “appropriate and necessary” to replace her worn-out brake-pads, aware from prior experience that she has ample time to comparison shop and bring that purchase within her budget.

When deciding to regulate mercury pollution from power plants, Kagan contined, the EPA did not ignore the question of cost. Instead, it chose to wait until it had a better idea of what the emission regulations would be to consider the cost that those regulations would incur.

“The majority arrives at a different conclusion only by disregarding most of EPA’s regulatory process,” Kagan wrote. “It insists that EPA must consider costs — when EPA did just that, over and over and over again.”

The majority’s decision, Kagan concluded, ignored the latitude given to the EPA by Congress about how to best account for costs and benefits when designing emissions regulations.

“And the result,” she wrote, “is a decision that deprives the American public of the pollution control measures that the responsible Agency, acting well within its delegated authority, found would save many, many lives.”

Half of Scots electricity usage is renewable, figures reveal

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Scottish data released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change shows that in the first three months of 2015, wind generated 4,452 Gigawatt hours (GWh), up 4.3% on the previous record quarter – enough electricity to power the equivalent of around 960,000 Scottish households for a year.

A total of 49.8% of all electricity used in 2014 came from renewables, while installed renewables electricity capacity rose by 9% over the year to March 2015 to 7,383 Megawatts (MW).

Energy minister Fergus Ewing said: “Scotland accounts for around a third of total UK renewables generation.

“Given the record amounts of power now coming from wind, and a healthy pipeline of wind projects with consent and in planning, the UK Government’s proposals will have a profound and disproportionate impact on Scotland.”

Mr Ewing met UK energy secretary Amber Rudd and she has accepted his invitation to meet those affected by the closure of the renewables obligation scheme a year early, with industry body Scottish Renewables warning up to £3bn of investment north of the border could be at risk.

He added: “Onshore wind is one of the most cost effective renewable energies, yet the UK Government’s perverse decision to end support puts this hard work and progress in jeopardy and the Scottish Government will continue to argue against it.”

Dr Sam Gardner, head of policy WWF Scotland, said: “It’s great to see Scotland’s renewable electricity sector making consistent progress year on year towards its 2020 target. Green electricity is helping to slash carbon emissions, increase energy security and deliver jobs and investment.

“It’s clear that Scotland’s on a journey to a clean energy future, we should embrace this transition and work to secure all its benefits.

“However, the recent UK Government announcement to cut support to onshore renewables earlier than planned is pulling the rug from underneath the industry at a crucial time, undermining confidence and putting future investment, and all the economic, environmental and health benefits this could bring, at risk.

“Independent engineering analysis for WWF Scotland shows that we can have an almost entirely renewable electricity system by 2030 that provides security of supply and allows Scotland to continue to play to its strengths and to be a net power exporter.

“However, the UK Government needs to restore confidence to a very nervous energy sector by providing a stable policy framework and a level playing field for onshore wind in competitive auctions.”

Fracking…truly an earth moving experience….

'Fracking zone. Be prepared for anything.'

‘Fracking zone. Be prepared for anything.’

To hunting, shooting and fishing, a rugged Oklahoman named Mark Crismon has added one more hobby: seismography. Festooned on the walls of his backyard shed are antlers and bushy tails that once belonged to deer he has killed over the years. But these days his mind is on earthquakes.

Mr Crismon’s wares are arranged around a laptop connected to a seismometer from a local university, which is buried 3ft under his garden. It carries a non-stop feed of wavy lines recording the amplitude of ground vibrations across the state. At least once an hour, a sudden burst of spikes signals a tremor that someone will have felt — each one representing an unexpected new threat to the US’s oil and gas revolution.

The energy market has been transformed by surging production of “tight” oil and gas, which horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) are freeing from shale and other rock formations. With US oil output close to 10m barrels a day — the all-time high it hit in 1970 — America has cut its dependence on Middle Eastern imports, created thousands of jobs and produced an oil glut that has helped to lower the global crude price.

But Mr Crismon — and scientists who have studied the issue — say it is not all good news. They blame the shale boom for triggering a spate of earthquakes that are shredding nerves and damaging homes. “It just tears everything. I got cracks everywhere,” says Mr Crismon, who compares the state to a war zone. “Instead of having bombs you got earthquakes.”

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Quakes were rare in Oklahoma until 2009. But last year the state had a record 584 with a magnitude of 3.0 or over — more than in the previous 30 years combined, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. This has pushed the state past California to become the most rattled part of the continental US. No-one has been killed, but the largest recent quake, a magnitude 5.6 jolt in the tiny town of Prague in 2011, injured two people and destroyed 14 homes. 

The shale boom has been helped by a drill-first-ask-questions-later approach permitted by some US states. But the quakes could mark a turning point. Bob Jackman, a petroleum geologist and former oil and gas operator, says they are a “warning flag” that carelessness will catch up with oil companies. “It’s a caution to the fossil fuel industry that you must weigh other considerations.”

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What no air conditioners ? Dear me those Indians!

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Ratna Devi is one of a dozen casual laborers working at a small construction site in the southern part of the Indian capital New Delhi, where her job is to help prepare a concrete mix. The work earns the 32-year-old a daily wage of 250 rupees or just under $4 — money that she uses to support her 7-year-old daughter. On Wednesday afternoon, as Devi went about her work on the site, her daughter fainted while playing nearby. The cause? A searing heatwave that has kept the maximum daytime temperature in the Indian capital above 100°F (40°C) for over a week now.

On Wednesday, the mercury topped out at 111.2°F (44°C). On Thursday, with temperatures hovering around 109.4°Fahrenheit (43°Celsius), Devi was back at work and her girl was once again playing near the site. For days now, authorities have been calling on people to avoid going out during the afternoon, when the heat wave is at its most extreme. 

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Construction workers like Devi, along with the homeless and the elderly, have been the hardest hit by the heatwave that so far has led to over 1,800 deaths, the vast majority of them concentrated in the southeastern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Together, those states account for over 1,750 deaths. Deaths have also been reported in Delhi and other states, including Gujarat and Odisha, where temperatures earlier this week peaked at a sweltering 116.6°F (47°C). The heat is so severe that, on Tuesday morning, a local newspaper in the capital carried on its front page a picture of a pedestrian crossing on a main thoroughfare that had been disfigured, with its white stripes curled up, as the asphalt melted.

Already, hospitals in Delhi are “overflowing with heatstroke victims,” Ajay Lekhi, the head of the city’s medical association, told the news agency Agence France-Presse. “Patients are complaining of severe headache and dizziness. They are also showing symptoms of delirium,” he said.

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In the west, reports of the increased severity of the Indian & now the Pakistani heatwaves have been greeted with cries of, why haven’t they installed air conditioners? Which kind of underscores the reliance of the developed world on machinery, which functions perfectly well in reasonable temperatures, but will pack up & malfunction in countries where severe heat becomes a commonplace occurrence.

Has India had heatwaves in the past? Of course, but what is concerning is the severity of this year’s heatwave. This could be the most lethal year for heatstroke in India’s history. With 1,700 deaths from heatstroke reported in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana alone so far this year, the death toll in those two states alone has already surpassed that of India last year. Overall this year the death toll stands at nearly three thousand. Hundreds of mainly poor people die at the height of summer every year in India, but this year’s figures are already nearly double the annual average.

“How do we cope up with the heat? We have to raise kids and so we have to work even though it’s hot. Otherwise what will our children eat?” said 38-year-old bricklayer Sunder in Gurgaon, a satellite town near Delhi. People across India have been plunging into rivers, staying in the shade and drinking lots of water to try to beat the heat. Scorched crops and dying wildlife were reported, with some animals succumbing to thirst.

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Dizzying temperatures have caused water shortages in thousands of Indian villages as a result thousands of water tankers were delivering supplies to more than 4,000 villages and hamlets facing acute water shortages in the central state of Maharashtra, state officials told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Cooling monsoon rains are expected in the south before gradually advancing north. However, forecasting service AccuWeather warned of prolonged drought conditions, with the monsoon likely to be disrupted by a more active typhoon season over the Pacific.

Is this a consequence of global warming? Some would say that actually it’s got to do with the shortage of air conditioners, but then what would we know?

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The ‘Society of Citizens Really Enraged When Encircled by Drilling’ Top 10! (part 4)

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Bonjour! Et enfin, we appear to have reached the final leg of our countdown! At number seven we have,

The heat is on. 

Natural gas is mostly methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas that traps 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. And because methane leaks during the fracking process, fracking may be worse than burning coal, mooting the claim that natural gas burns more cleanly than coal.

“When you frack, some of that gas leaks out into the atmosphere,” writes 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. “If enough of it leaks out before you can get it to a power plant and burn it, then it’s no better, in climate terms, than burning coal. If enough of it leaks, America’s substitution of gas for coal is in fact not slowing global warming.”

A recent international satellite study on North American fracking production led by the Institute of Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen in Germany found that “fugitive methane emissions” caused by the fracking process “may counter the benefit over coal with respect to climate change” and that “net climate benefit…is unlikely.”

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“Even small leaks in the natural gas production and delivery system can have a large climate impact—enough to gut the entire benefit of switching from coal-fired power to gas,” writes Joe Romm, the founding editor of the blog Climate Progress. “The climate will likely be ruined already well past most of our lifespans by the time natural gas has a net climate benefit.”

8. Quid pro quo?

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Finally, one of the more insidious side effects of fracking is less about the amount of chemicals flowing into the ground and more about the amount of money flowing into politicians’ campaign coffers from the fracking industry.

According to a 2013 report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), contributions from fracking trade groups and companies operating fracking wells to congressional candidates representing states and districts where fracking occurs rose by more than 230 percent between the 2004 and 2012 election cycles, from $2.1 million to $6.9 million. Remember this is in dollars & not pounds sterling….

That is nearly twice as much as the increase in contributions from the fracking industry to candidates from non-fracking districts during the same period, outpacing contributions from the entire oil and gas industry to all congressional candidates. Republican congressional candidates have received nearly 80 percent of fracking industry contributions.

“The fracking boom isn’t just good for the industry, but also for congressional candidates in fracking districts,” said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan.

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The candidate who has received the most in contributions from the fracking industry is Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). Barton received more than $500,000 between the 2004 and 2012 election cycles—over $100,000 more than any other candidate in the nation. It should come as no surprise that Barton sponsored the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempted fracking from federal oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

On April 21, Colorado and Wyoming filed a lawsuit challenging the new federal fracking regulations issued last month by the Bureau of Land Management for onshore drilling on tribal and public lands, claiming that the rule, which regulates underground injections in the fracking process, “exceeds the agency’s statutory jurisdiction.”

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“The debate over hydraulic fracturing is complicated enough without the federal government encroaching on states’ rights,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman, in a statement. “This lawsuit will demonstrate that BLM exceeds its powers when it invades the states’ regulatory authority in this area.”

Coffman, a Republican, is married to Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman (CO-8), also a Republican. Coffman and two other GOP representatives from the state, Scott Tipton (CO-3) and Doug Lamborn (CO-5), have sponsored a trio of bills—H.R. 4321, 4382 and 4383 (called the “3 Stooges” bills by environmentalists)—that would fast-track leasing and permitting for drilling and fracking on public lands. These three congressmen, each of whom have received more than $100,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, sit on the Natural Resources Committee and naturally oppose federal regulations on fracking. 

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The ‘Society of Citizens Really Enraged When Encircled by Drilling’ Top 10! (part 3)

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Welcome back to the ranks of the S.C.R.E.W.E.D! Well, we’re galloping along at the pace of a toxic waste build-up! At number five we have,

5. Bad for babies. 

The waste fluid left over from the fracking process is left in open-air pits to evaporate, which releases dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain and ground-level ozone.

Exposure to diesel particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide and volatile hydrocarbons can lead to a host of health problems, including asthma, headaches, high blood pressure, anemia, heart attacks and cancer.

It can also have a damaging effect on immune and reproductive systems, as well as fetal and child development. A 2014 study conducted by the Colorado Department of Environmental and Occupational Health found that mothers who live near fracking sites are 30 percent more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects.

Research from Cornell University indicates an increased prevalence of low birth weight and reduced APGAR scores in infants born to mothers living near fracking sites in Pennsylvania. And in Wyoming’s Sublette County, the fracking boom has been linked to dangerous spikes in ozone concentrations. A study led by the state’s Department of Health found that these ozone spikes are associated with increased outpatient clinic visits for respiratory problems.

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6. Killer Gas

A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that homes located in suburban and rural areas near fracking sites have an overall radon concentration 39 percent higher than those located in non-fracking urban areas. The study included almost 2 million radon readings taken between 1987 and 2013 done in over 860,000 buildings from every county, mostly homes.

A naturally occurring radioactive gas formed by the decay of uranium in rock, soil and water, radon—odorless, tasteless and invisible—moves through the ground and into the air, while some remains dissolved in groundwater where it can appear in water wells. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide, after smoking. The EPA estimates approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. are radon-related.

“Between 2005-2013, 7,469 unconventional wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. Basement radon concentrations fluctuated between 1987-2003, but began an upward trend from 2004-2012 in all county categories,” the researchers wrote.

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The ‘Society of Citizens Really Enraged When Encircled by Drilling’ Top 10! (part 2)

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Welcome back to the ranks of S.C.R.E.W.E.D! We’re still ploughing our way through the ‘fracked by Cuadrilla & Exxon’ top ten and at number 3 we have,

Shifting sands. 

In addition to all the water and toxic chemicals, fracking requires the use of fine sand, or frac sand, which has driven a silica sand mining boom in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which together have 164 active frac sand facilities with 20 more proposed. Both states are where most of the stuff is produced and where regulations are lax for air and water pollution monitoring. Northeastern Iowa has also become a primary source.

“Silica can impede breathing and cause respiratory irritation, cough, airway obstruction and poor lung function,” according to Environmental Working Group. “Chronic or long-term exposure can lead to lung inflammation, bronchitis and emphysema and produce a severe lung disease known as silicosis, a form of pulmonary fibrosis. Silica-related lung disease is incurable and can be fatal, killing hundreds of workers in the U.S. each year.”

“I could feel dust clinging to my face and gritty particles on my teeth,” said Victoria Trinko, a resident of Bloomer, Wisconsin. Within nine months of the construction of frac sand mine, about a half-mile from her home, she developed a sore throat and raspy voice and was eventually diagnosed with environment-caused asthma. She hasn’t opened her windows since 2012.

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Across the 33-county frac sand mining area that spans Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, nearly 60,000 people live less than half a mile from existing or proposed mines. And new danger zones will likely pop up around the nation: Due to the fracking boom, environmentalists and public health advocates warn that frac sand mines could spread to several states with untapped silica deposits, including Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

Bryan Shinn, the chief executive of sand mining company U.S. Silica Holdings said in September that due to the fracking boom, they “see a clear pathway to the volume of sand demand that’s out there doubling or tripling in the next four to five years.”

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4. Shake, Rattle Snake & Roll. 

On April 20, the U.S. Geological Survey released a long-awaited report that confirmed what many scientists have long speculated: the fracking process causes earthquakes. Specifically, over the last seven years, geologically stable regions of the U.S., including parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, have experienced movements in faults that have not moved in millions of years. Plus, it’s difficult or impossible to predict where future fracking-caused earthquakes will occur.

“They’re ancient faults,” said USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth. “We don’t always know where they are.”

Ellsworth led the USGS team that analyzed changes in earthquake occurrence rates in the central and eastern United States since 1970. They found that between 1973–2008, there was an average of 21 earthquakes of at least magnitude three. From 2009-2013, the region experienced 99 M3+ earthquakes per year. And the rate is still rising. In Oklahoma, there were 585 earthquakes in 2014—more than in the last 35 years combined.

“The increase in seismicity has been found to coincide with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells in several locations, including Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio,” the report states. “Much of this wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production and is routinely disposed of by injection into wells specifically designed and approved for this purpose.”

'Fracking zone. Be prepared for anything.'

‘Fracking zone. Be prepared for anything.’

For many years, Oklahoma’s government has been reluctant to concede the connection between fracking and earthquakes. In October of last year, during a gubernatorial election debate with state Rep. Joe Dorman, a Democrat, Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, declined to say whether or not she believed earthquakes were caused by fracking. Fallin was re-elected.

But the government has finally come around. The day after the USGS report was released, on April 21, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, a state agency, released a statement saying that is it “very likely that the majority of recent earthquakes, particularly those is central and north-central Oklahoma, are triggered by the injection of produced water in disposal wells.”

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The same day, the state’s energy and environment department launched a website that explains the finding along with an earthquake map and what the government is doing about it all. According to the site, “Oklahoma state agencies are not waiting to take action.” 

Now there is a split between the state’s governmental branches: Two days after the executive branch admitted that fracking causes earthquakes, the state’s lawmakers, evidently unmoved by the trembling ground, passed two bills, backed by the oil and gas industry, that limit the ability of local communities to decide if they want fracking in their backyards.