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Yep, it’s 2013 in California- a state usually thought of as one of the most progressive in the country, yet there are plans (the temporary permits have already been issued) to build a brand new coal plant in California’s Central Valley.

For the non-Californians out there, the Central Valley is a much different place than the well-known cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Image from Angela Fardo

California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country, a severe lack of water and is often referred to as  America’s Bread Basket.  This facility would further exacerbate the troubling trend in air pollution, it’s expected to use at least 4,600 gallons of water every minute and farmers are outraged at the potential toxic emissions, which could cover their livelihood with mercury.  And when we’re talking about “one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world” we’re not just talking about putting a few family farmers out of business.

So obviously, residents in California’s Central Valley are pretty concerned about about the proposed facility, for obvious reasons, primarily because it’s just a terrible idea.

Not only is coal a major contributor to climate change, the entire life-cycle of coal power drastically increases particulate pollution within the communities living near these dirty coal operations.  It’s estimated that 24,000 people die prematurely, each year, from pollution associated with coal fired power plants.

Image from Coal-is-Dirty.com

The majority of environmental groups have launched mega-campaigns to lower our nation’s dependence on such a dirty energy source, and the battle against coal power has been around for decades.

So- how did we miss this?!

The short answer it that it’s not being referred to as a coal plant.

The Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) plant is slated for construction in Kern County, California and has even cleared the initial hurdles, receiving a draft air permit from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD).  The idea is that this plant will accept petroleum coke and coal, 300+ truckloads daily, and turn it into hydrogen fuel.  Ta-da, you have a brand new clean energy plant in California!

Isn’t this the same business practice that Stringer Bell used to sell drugs on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire, or more applicable the same strategy used by oil companies to market tar sands crude as ‘clean energy’?  It’s simple, if your product has a bad reputation in the public market, change the name.

And, coal has one of the worst reputations.

But- stay tuned for the long answer…………..

This is a guest blog written by April Lane, a Bucket Brigade leader on the front lines in Arkansas.

oil spill 302On Friday March 29, 2013 an Exxon Mobile Pipeline ruptured sending oil some experts compare closely to tar sands oil through a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark. The pipeline blew at approximately 2 p.m. and was discovered by area residents soon after. The subdivision that sits right off of I-40, one of the busiest interstates in the state, never knew the pipeline was even there and it is just now being marked.This subdivision also sits just a creek and railroad track away from the Mayflower school. As the wave of oil made it through the subdivision it found a drainage ditch and then it hit the creek that runs down the side of the railroad tracks.  It ran to a pipe that goes under the interstate and comes out on the other side into Lake Conway and a wildlife habitat.  

Estimates are now saying that at least 10,000 barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil were lost in the incident. On Saturday, March 30th crews arrived from out of state to begin the clean-up. It was then that we learned that the pipe had leaked from 2 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning at approximately 3 a.m. oil spill 367The efforts were led by the county and state agencies at first and they had a lot of trouble getting the blockade to hold to keep the oil contained. Residents were evacuated but not everyone chose to leave. A few residents decided to stay and still reside inside the “hot zone.” Local teams have been working around the clock at the various places throughout this junction in town that this oil has popped out at.  But once you have walked the streets and surveyed the area in its entirety you can’t help but ponder, “how will they ever get it all cleaned up?” oil spill 379
Sunday, March 31st new wildlife effects were discovered surrounding the Lake. Ducks were found covered in oil. Some made it through but many did not and the window to helping the one’s that can be saved is closing rapidly. The total amount of wildlife that has been affected is still unknown and numbers continue to rise. More alarming than the loss of wildlife is that local residents have already begun to notice the effects. The first resident we approached on Saturday was one of the effected residents who chose to evacuate but only after her son began having wheezing, diarrhea and nausea from the fumes. Many residents outside of the hot zone in the surrounding neighborhoods that run next to where the spill occurred are experiencing symptoms. They describe the odor as being so strong that you can “cut it with a knife” and following the spill on Friday they began having a metallic like taste on their tongue and severe headaches followed by nausea. All of their questions have been left unanswered and the only answer they have received is that the air is safe.  Monday and Tuesday followed with an increased influx of companies and out-of-state license plates. oil spill 339

Today, our Attorney General Dustin McDaniel toured the area and described the neighborhood where the spill originated as a scene out of the walking dead. I would say I think it is clear to everyone that has walked the streets and the various locations surrounding the lake that this is an event that not only will take months to clean up but will also have an impact on the town of Mayflower and the residents that will ripple outwards 
into the surrounding areas that will last much longer than anyone is currently addressing.  However, the after-school sports practice involving 8 to 10 children practicing outdoors directly across the railroad tracks from where the spill occurred clearly emphasizes that appropriate measures to limit exposure to area residents are not yet being enforced to the fullest as to limit panic and further public outcry demanding answers and action.

oil spill 301

 

Image from Garfield

I woke up, shuffled into the kitchen to get the coffee started, then continue my pre-coffee shuffling out front to get the newspaper.  AND, what is on the front page of the Oakland Tribune – “California Releases First Ever Fracking Regulations”.  Did the Holidays come early?  Should I ditch this coffee for a fresh made mimosa and call in sick? NOPE! Upon further reading, I see that the environmental groups are highly critical of these regulations and the oil industry claims this to be a good start.  Hmm, well this was not turning into being the sunny mimosa morning I had envisioned two paragraphs ago. Then, buried deep in the article it starts to make sense.  So, pour that coffee, because we’ve got a lot of work to do. Apparently, these new draft regulations come in response to the auction of mineral leases of 18,000 acres of land, known as the Monterey Shale formation.  These 18,000 acres include land in Monterey, Fresno and San Benito Counties, that was owned by the Federal Government as public land!  You better hit up those organic California wineries with your out of town relatives this year, because whatever remained of our Bay Area bubble has been broken.  Fracking is coming to the Bay Area of California.

Image from the India Times

The auction of the 18,000 acres of land occurred on Wednesday, 12/12/12.  Now, maybe I was too inundated by the articles about spikes in marriage certificates and the impending doom to catch this big new story.  But- a simple Google search shows that this got very little new coverage in the first place.  Well played oil & gas industry, well played. Media outlets- I would have expected more from you.  Now, we can tout the exciting revelation that California has drafted the first ever fracking regulations. So let’s examine those regulations, shall we? First, the regulations do nothing to regulate air pollution and we’ve seen severe cases of air pollution near facking sites. Next, the draft regulation calls for disclosure.  Yes, full public disclosure would be a ‘good first step’.  Residents, homeowners and parents have long been demanding the right to know, yet full public disclosure has been a bit of a political football in the past couple of years.  This seems great, right fellow Californians?  Let’s sing the praises of our new draft fracking regulations and rejoice in how progressive our state of California is.  NOPE, again.  Like I said, pour the coffee because we’ve got a lot of work to

Image from Sierraactivist.org

do. This call for disclosure is just another place for the oil and gas companies to plug in a loophole while creating a luminous (most likely toxic) smoke and mirror image.  The reality here is that, although companies need to disclose the chemicals that they are injecting into the ground, that database is not subject to public records laws.  AND, on top of that, companies can still claim “trade secrets” which would allow them to not have to disclose the names any of the chemicals, to this database that the public may or may not have access to anyway! Is this new draft regulation supposed to protect our health and safety or is it supposed to make us feel better

Image from Thad Roan – flickriver.com

about fracking in Monterey?

Either way, that’s one good dog and pony show.

So, make another pot of coffee.  We’re going to need it.

Photo: Chevron-weagree.com

Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on Tuesday night  in Richmond.

Almost 500 people packed the town’s Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge fire at the refinery on Monday night.

The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.

The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor lines and police.

The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the panel included:

Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager

Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services

Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)

Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director

Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator

Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Hearne expressed a sincere apology and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he described it as a “diesel like” substance.

Hearne was unwilling to provide information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron, formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.

Randy Sawyer was booed almost as much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered did not receive calls about the impending danger.

Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks, burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area emergency rooms.
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Imagine you inherit some family land back home, in the small rural community where the majority of your extended family still lives.  You move back, to raise your kids in the same way your family raised you.  But, now the same small rural community is home to a large chemical storage facility, which spews out noxious odors daily.  Your once healthy children are now getting constant nose bleeds and have developed respiratory problems.  Could that be related to the chemical plant?  It is right across the street from your home and the elementary school.

Many other children in the community are having similar health problems and families are sharing the same stories and concerns about the chemical plant.  So, you pick up an organizing effort that was started by your elders. You start talking to your neighbors, speaking out about these community issues and demanding to know what could be contaminating the air you and your family are breathing. You discover the warehouse does not have a permit. You think they should have an air quality permit.

Image from TannerFriedman.com

The chemical company does not like this. They say  it’s not their fault and even blames you for your children’s illnesses.  So, you go public.  You work to raise some awareness and seek justice for yourself, your family and the larger community.

Then, BAM!  The company hits you and your wife with a lawsuit.  The company that is poisoning your air and making your children sick is suing you.  It’s a defamation lawsuit, where the company is holding YOU accountable for damaging their reputation.  REALLY?

That’s Arturo Uribe’s story from Mesquite, New Mexico.  Helena Chemical Company took Arturo to court, painted a horrific picture of him, making him out to be an irresponsible father and threatening person towards employees of Helena Chemical Company.  Helena made it out to seem like they were the victim, saying they were scared of Arturo and that he was saying mean things about them.  The jury agreed and slapped Arturo with a $75,000 fine in punitive damages!

Now what?!?

Other community residents don’t want to say anything bad about Helena anymore.  People are scared to speak out, scared to question Helena and continue to tend to their children’s health problems in silence.  No one knows what to do anymore, but they all know they don’t want to be sued by Helena.

Additionally, Helena Chemical has been in violation, operating without an air permit for years and is now petitioning the New Mexico Environmental Department, claiming that they don’t need an air permit!

But Arturo found one more card to play.  He was working with the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) based in Albuquerque.  They helped him out with some organizing techniques and connected him with legislators on the state level.  SWOP reached out to Global Community Monitor (GCM) and started planning the launch of a Bucket Brigade in Mesquite, NM.

And that’s just what happened.

Two weeks ago, GCM flew down to Albuquerque, met with the SWOP team and made the three and a half hour trek to Mesquite to tour the community, train the residents on air pollution, citizen air monitoring, and officially launched a Bucket Brigade!  Community residents are now able to take their own air samples to determine what’s actually in the air that they are breathing.  They’ll be able to gather their own data and compare it to widely accepted health standards.  The Bucket Brigade will give them the scientific evidence to back up their anecdotal stories of air pollution and human health and teach them how to use the results as an organizing tool to get Environmental Justice in Mesquite, NM.

For Arturo and the other residents of Mesquite, that could switch the current legal dynamic.  Instead of using the law to silence those concerned about the health of their children, the law would be enforced on those violating pollution laws, allowing families in Mesquite to breathe a little easier.

Remember the national debate on the Keystone Pipeline?  The protests, the online petitions and the political mudslinging?  Well, get ready because a similar debate is brewing around hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking).  Although, President Obama did include natural gas development in his January State of the Union Address, Senate Republicans lack confidence in President Obama to move quickly and keep the fracking industry unregulated.  Prompting Senator Inhofe to introduce a bill, The Fresh Act, to “ensure that states – not the federal government – have the sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing within their state boundaries.”

So what’s the debate here?

Same as usual, Safety vs. Profit.

Energy companies repeatedly assure us that fracking is safe and poses no documented risks to human health.  Energy companies claim there is no confirmed evidence that it contaminates water wells or emits an alarming presence of volatile organic compounds that can elevate the risk of respiratory problems, reproductive issues and cancer.  There’s no direct connection, energy companies claim.  Therefore there is no need to regulate fracking under the Clean Air Act or Safe Drinking Water Act, despite the fact that these laws have regulated almost every other industry since the 1970’s!  AND, of course there’s no need to for the EPA or the public to know what chemicals are being injected into the soil, even if that soil is on their property.  Regulations like these would simply slow down our progress, and that’s “un-American”!

Yeah, we’ve all heard the rhetoric, but a lot of us have seen GASLAND too.  We watched the oil pouring out into the Gulf Coast for 87 days and although BP said Gulf Coast seafood is perfectly safe to eat, about 119 days after the spill, did you really believe them?  The fact is, the majority of us want stricter fracking regulations to ensure our own safety.

As part of the generation most impacted by the mass media.  I wonder, what if the Mayor of Amity Island took Martin Brody & Richard Dreyfuss’ advice and closed the beach down despite profits from the tourist  season?  Or, what if the Captain of the Titanic heeded the seven iceberg warnings by slowing down instead of being blinded by power and profit?  We’ve seen this scenario play out outside of Hollywood as well.  The Deep Water Horizon, Bhopal and countless other accidents have cost us lives when individuals in power compromise safety over profits.  Is the natural gas industry any different?  The top execs in the energy industry have an opportunity to make a lot of money here and we the people need to have oversight of the industry to protect our health and safety!

So let the oil and gas companies scream JOBS but we, the American people, value the health and safety of our families a little more.  President Obama needs to impose regulations on the natural gas  industry, close the Halliburton loophole and be sure not to let energy companies compromise our health over profits.  If fracking is not a risk to our air and water, it should have no problem adhering to the regulations within the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A new report issued by Global Community Monitor, GASSED! Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development, details the air sampling results, environmental and public health threats with living amid the natural gas boom.  During 2010-11, Global Community Monitor (GCM), responding to citizen odor and health complaints, launched a Bucket Brigade in northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado and western Colorado to document and measure air pollution from natural gas facilities. Through the course of this pilot study, residents, armed with their own air monitors, documented a potent mix of chemicals in nine air samples from different locations, many of them located near homes, playgrounds, schools and community centers.

The lab detected a total of 22 toxic chemicals in the air samples, including four known carcinogens, as well as toxins known to damage the nervous system and respiratory irritants.  The chemicals detected ranged from 3 to 3,000 times higher than what is considered safe by state and federal agencies.

 

These air samples confirm the observations, experiences and first-hand complaints of residents.
Odors and health effects that have been reported for years were consistent with exposure to the
chemicals found in the samples. These results underscore the need of regulatory agencies to take such complaints seriously, given the close proximity between the industry and its residential
neighbors.

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Last week, a national leader from across the globe visited Richmond, CA to show solidarity amongst fenceline communities.  Desmond D’sa, a South African native, living next to an industrial hub containing multiple petrochemical plants and two oil refineries, (one of which is the largest in the country), pointed out the vast similarities between his hometown of Durban, South Africa and the disproportionately effected fenceline community of North Richmond, CA.

Image from Richmond Confidential

At a community meeting in Richmond, hosted by International Development Exchange (IDEX), Desmond, the Director of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), told stories of corporate bullying, neglect and the corrupt government officials that idly stand by.  These stories rang true to the residents of Richmond who have seen many of the same corporate tactics.  After a toxic release in Richmond in 1991, West County Toxic Coalition wrote a letter to Chevron that included the same observation: “But when it comes to the company’s damage to human beings, who are your neighbors, you have ignored your responsibilities.”

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Thought we could get through this year’s Earth Day without an environmental disaster?  Me, too, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Late in the evening on April 19, 2011, an explosion occurred at a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  According to the Huffington Post, “The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.”

Anyone else feeling a flash-back to last year’s Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico?  The destruction has an eerily similar tone.
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When we send our kids to school, we realize that they may face some uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. What if the older kids pick on them? Is this school known for violence or gangs?  Is there a drug problem at the school? How do I know my child is safe?
However, the more we know about the risks at schools the safer our kids can be.  We can educate ourselves and talk with our kids about what to do in a dangerous situation. We can make changes in our community by getting involved.

US EPA selected Paulsboro High School for monitoring potential impacts of toxic air pollutants.

But, what about the dangers that can go unnoticed, the risks that you can’t see?

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