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Author Topic: Fossil Fuels: Degraded Democracy and Profit Over Planet Pollution  (Read 19657 times)

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January 21, 2020

Court tosses youth climate case , fire smoke slows down coal production in Australia, & more

Court Throws Out Kids' Climate Suit: An appeals court Friday threw out a landmark case brought by a group of 21 young people charging the federal government with not taking sufficient action on climate change. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to dismiss the Juliana vs. United States suit, which was originally brought against the Obama administration in 2015, saying that "the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large" rather than decided in the courts. Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit backing the suit, has vowed to appeal the decision, with the Trust's lead lawyer Julia Olson telling the New York Times that the case is "far from over." (New York Times $, Washington Post $, Reuters, AP, Vox, Politico Pro $)

Fossil Fuels' Radioactive Problem: Oil and gas production releases certain radioactive waste products that have led to a slew of cancer cases in workers, according to a new investigation from Rolling Stone. The investigation lays out how runoff from oil and gas wells, known as brine, can contain high levels of radionuclide, which may be an understudied public health risk to workers and communities across the country. The industry claims that radioactivity in the waste is harmless, so workers continue to be unprotected and brine storage facilities largely unregulated. "If I had a beaker of that on my desk and accidentally dropped it on the floor, they would shut the place down," Yuri Gorby, a former radioactivity expert at the Department of Energy, told Rolling Stone about high levels of radioactivity found in brine from the Marcellus shale. "And if I dumped it down the sink, I could go to jail.” (Rolling Stone)

Taking A Peek At Upcoming Fossil Fuel Propaganda and Policy on Methane, Gas Bans, Coal and Protests

We hit the ground running this year, so today we’re going to do a bit of stock-taking about what 2020 is going to bring us from the 🦕👹🦖 fossil fuel industry.

Right now, the industry is not exactly in a happy place. Public polling from Yale shows that the “alarmed” portion of Americans is now the largest of the six segments at 31% of the population (compared to just 10% who are doubtful or dismissive of climate concerns). Last week, TIME’s Justin Worland published a piece based on an interview with Shell’s CEO, who’s feeling the pressure from climate activists and the realities of climate science. (Makes sense, given that last week Extinction Rebellion blockaded Shell offices.) The industry certainly has a problem with public perception, particularly but not solely among the youth, as protests from Harvard Law and Oxford, among others, show.   

Step one, then, for the fossil fuel industry is to make it harder for those pesky protestors to shine a spotlight on companies. As the Heartland Institute gratefully reminded us with a timely post last week, back in November of 2019 Wisconsin became the 17th state to criminalize protests with new stronger penalties including a $10,000 fine and six years in jail if protests trespass on energy company property. 

Step two is to pretend like the industry is doing something about pollution, to undercut calls for regulation. That’s the approach the American Gas Association and the Edison Electric Institute are taking for their new Natural Gas Sustainability Initiative, a draft of which E&E obtained. To address the fact that methane emissions are a powerful greenhouse gas, the initiative is completely voluntary, and only working on a reporting protocol. Drillers can choose to report how much they’re polluting, but won’t actually be pressured to do anything. 

But what about policies that are already being rolled out? To see how the industry is responding to the emerging trend of local municipalities banning natural gas use all together, check out this post from the oil industry’s Energy in Depth. It lays out the four narrative responses the industry will use to these local decisions. 

The first is an implicit admission that they’re a problem, in that they allege that gas bans won’t reduce emissions as much as efficiency measures or methane capture in landfills. (But obviously banning gas hardly means cities can’t also take efficiency measures or capture methane from garbage!) After that, cry crocodile tears for low-income populations by pointing out that electric heat can be more expensive than a natural gas furnace, that consumers appear to prefer gas to electric heat, and that gas is more efficient than electric.

None of this changes the simple fact that natural gas use is incompatible with fighting climate change. 

That’s why the industry is making last-ditch efforts to use their political sway to protect their business. The latest comes from Indiana, which introduced a bill last week to make it illegal to close down a coal plant unless the federal government (but NOT the EPA) gives a direct mandate to do so. The hypocrisy the party of free market worship and “not picking winners and losers” picking the losing coal industry to win legal protection from economic competition could not be more palpable. 

Even if it is eventually signed into law, eventually those plants will close. And when they do, surely the industry will be good neighbors and clean up the mess they left behind, right? 

Obviously not. In Ohio, a new analysis shows that while drilling companies are required to set aside either $5,000 to clean up a spent well, or $15,000 for all of their wells, the average cost of plugging one well is $110,000. Even worse, once the well is plugged, the companies get that money back, leaving the public to pay the rest. That is, if they even bother to clean it themselves. Ohio alone has a confirmed 900 orphaned wells, with potentially another 18,000 hiding away in homes or school gyms or farm fields or basements or anywhere else. When one considers what the costs would be if Ohio was representative of the whole country, it’d mean a price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Which of course begs a question the industry is desperate to keep the public from asking: How are we going to pay for that?

Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate:
For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them. Pr. 22:22-23


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