Archive for the ‘The Environment’ Category

Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

For Immediate release:

Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust
to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

When: Monday, November 25 at 1:00 P.M.
Where: The Liberty Bell Memorial near the back steps of the Capitol Building.

“Blasting mountaintops to mine for coal has been controversial in Appalachia since the 1970′s when it was first introduced. We believe it has never been legal or regulated. It destroys the streams that are the headwaters for our nations great rivers. The communities that live here have fought in every war since the American Revolution yet they are being dishonorably displaced and even their cemeteries are being desecrated, blasted, and buried in toxic mining spoils. Most importantly, new studies have shown that breathing the blasting dust can be fatal. It is past time to end the blasting,” said Mike Roselle, director of Climate Ground Zero
“If this does not stop, and stop soon, our next actions will be on the blasting sites.

At present, two million pounds of explosives are detonated every day, save Sunday, in Appalachia.

No one should have to live under this,” said James McGuinness, one of the protesters with Climate Ground Zero.

End Mountain Top Removal

End Mountain Top Removal

Additional background information available at climategroundzero.org
Contact: Mike Roselle Climate Ground Zero cell: 205 999 8391

cell: 304 854 7788 (office)

 

Coal Ash Ponds will Leak and Kill our Fresh Water!

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View Duke Energy well contamination in a larger map

Illegal discharges of toxic heavy metals also have been detected seeping from the ash-laden ponds into the nearby French Broad River.

For environmentalists following the issue, those are reasons enough for state regulators to take immediate steps to address the pollution.

That’s also why they are dismayed with a proposed settlement of a lawsuit against Duke by the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

The consent decree announced last week calls for more testing of problems already well-documented and little in the way of stopping the contamination, said Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper with the Asheville-based environmental group Western North Carolina Alliance.

“It’s basically a way to drag this out as long as possible,” Carson said. “This is definitely a deal to study this almost indefinitely, when what we know is there are violations of the Clean Water Act and state groundwater standards.

“And everyone knows where it’s coming from. It’s coming from the unlined hole in the ground that’s full of toxic coal ash.”

State officials contend that while the proposed settlement outlines a series of steps to assess the contamination at the Lake Julian plant and Duke’s Riverbend facility in Gaston County, it also requires the utility to develop plans for addressing the problem.

“You have to determine the extent of the contamination before you know what it is you have to do to clean it up,” said Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We’re doing our due diligence to do just that. We have to act within the guidelines set forth by state law, and that’s what we’ve done.”

New attention on old problem

North Carolina has 14 plants that burn coal to heat water, creating steam that turns turbines to produce electricity. About 10 percent of what is burned becomes ash — a black, powdery material that is sluiced into holding ponds.

The Asheville plant has two ponds. One built in 1964 covers 45 acres, and the other constructed in 1982 is 46 acres.

At spots, the ash is 60 feet deep, and together the lagoons can hold some 450 million gallons.

The issue of coal ash grabbed the nation’s attention in 2008 when an ash pond at Kingston Power Plant in Tennessee ruptured, inundating homes downhill with some 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash slurry.

Despite the age of Duke’s coal ash ponds near the French Broad, the state first required groundwater testing three years ago. Those tests found levels of contamination well above state health standards with toxic heavy metals associated with coal ash.

Carson also collected samples from seeps and springs flowing into the French Broad next to the plant that tested positive for many of the same toxic substances. Such unpermitted discharges violate the federal Clean Water Act.

In addition, a study by the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment released last year found that the facility discharges arsenic, selenium, cadmium and thallium in concentrations above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“There really is no question about the contamination,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville. “We have no doubt there is enough confirmation of the contamination to require action.

“They are kicking the can down the road when it comes to fixing the source.”

Frustrated by a lack movement on the state’s part, the law center, representing several environmental organizations, in January filed notice of intent to sue Duke Energy over violations of the Clean Water Act.

That was followed in March with the filing of the state’s suit in Wake County Superior Court against the utility.

The complaint contends continued operation of the plant in violation of groundwater standards “without assessing the problem and taking corrective action poses a serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state.”

In addition to groundwater contamination, the lawsuit claims inspectors discovered seeps of materials making their way into the river. The chemicals include thallium, a highly toxic element associated with nerve damage, along with boron, selenium, iron and magnesium.

The proposed settlement includes a timeline of required actions to address violations or threatened violations of state statutes and rules for water quality protection. It also calls for an initial fine of $99,112.

Failure to comply with provisions of the order also would subject the utility to fines of $1,000 per day for the first 30 days and $5,000 per day thereafter for each violation.

Lawsuit a first

Erin Culbert, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the utility has complied with the conditions of all its permits and that water quality in the French Broad is good.

“We all share the same objectives in protecting water quality, which is reflected in this agreement,” she said. “Key provisions in the agreement call for more rigorous information gathering, monitoring and reporting of discharges to groundwater and surface waters.”

Gerken said the settlement is inadequate. The state already has the information it needs to force immediate action, he said.

“The state submitted a sworn statement saying there is contamination, and instead of taking action they are looking to study what they already know,” he said. “There are no firm deadlines in this agreement.

“There’s all of this study and analysis. Meanwhile, we have coal ash in unlined lagoons that we know is still contaminating groundwater. They are still dumping coal ash into these ponds.”

But Kritzer noted the lawsuit is the first in history filed by the state to address unpermitted discharges from coal ash ponds.

“The lawsuit talks specifically about the cleanup of the pollution,” he said. The settlement requires not only “a thorough assessment of the extent of the contamination, but a corrective action plan for how this problem will be addressed going forward.”

Gerken said he believes the state filed its lawsuit as a means to circumvent the Southern Environmental Law Center from lodging a complaint with the court.

“The notice we issued was for a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act,” he said. “The way the law works, if the state within 60 days files a lawsuit, we can’t file a second lawsuit on the same claims. Instead, we have to intervene in the state’s case.”

Gerken said his organization has filed a motion with the court to make it a party to the case, and a judge has yet to rule.

The public has until Aug. 14 to submit comments on the proposed settlement.

“We recognize this is a matter of great public interest,” Kritzer said. “We are striving to be as forthright and as transparent as possible.”

EPA proposed regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste in 2010, but no action has been taken.

According to the Duke University study, the burning of coal to generate electricity produces about 130 million tons of ash each year in the United States. It found that discharges from coal ash ponds “lack consistent monitoring and limit requirements that are relevant to composition of (ash) effluents.”

 

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Cancellation of Gas Leases and Drilling Plans in NE Pennsylvania

Unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurs near homes of some of fractivism’s most effective mobilizers.

Photo Credit: Pincasso/ Shutterstock.com

July 19, 2013  |

Certain powerful images really stick with you when you watch Gasland or Gasland 2. First is the shot of the tap water on fire. Equally powerful are the images of the film’s director Josh Fox on his porch strumming his banjo, in the woods on his property, walking by the local stream, and celebrating the pristine beauty of the nearby Delaware River. The film keeps returning to the land that Fox treasures, cluing us in on why he turned down a sizeable offer to lease for gas drilling, and what drove him forth with his camera on a fact-finding journey that culminated in the first Gasland, the film that ignited the fractivism movement.

The offer on the table in Fox’s corner of Wayne County, PA was part of the first incursion of fracking into the Northeastern U.S. The arrival of landsmen— the gas company representatives offering quick and easy money with no downside if people signed away the mineral rights to their land, had already been going on in the Western U.S. As it plays out road by road, town by town, and state by state, fracking baldly reveals the downsides of the myth of American individualism. Americans prize the right to do what they want on their property. But other people’s rights wind up violated when what Neighbor A chooses to do contaminates the water supply, impinges on the quality of life, or destroys the property value of Neighbor B.

And that cross point—one person’s rights to drill versus others’ rights to protect their homes, community and water supply is central to every community’s divide over fracking.  It’s science’s job to assess benefits versus risks. It’s government’s job to mediate my rights versus yours.  When science fails to study, when government fails to monitor, it’s neighbor against neighbor.  When millions of dollars spent on ad buys and lobbyists assure that marketing slogans like “energy independence” appear everywhere from Superbowl commercials to State of the Union talking points, then local battles erupt in places like Wayne County. Since 2007, when leasing began in Wayne County, Fox’s once idyllic rural community has been embattled. And so is a nation divided at a crossroads of energy choice and climate change.

But over the last few weeks, that changed for Wayne County. Hess and Newfield, the two major gas companies leasing land there, decided to cancel their leases in Marcellus shale, and move out of Wayne and much of northeastern PA. The companies sent letters stating that they “have elected to release your lease, thus your lease will not be continued to the development phase,” terminating approximately 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

“I can’t believe it and I can’t stop crying,” Fox said, adding that he is deeply grateful for this “amazing victory.” “This proves that people passionate and organized can actually win sometimes. We won’t stop until we win everywhere.”

It’s no happenstance that the unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurred in a region that is home both to Josh Fox, fractivism’s heroic Pied Piper, and to the first fractivist organization founded in the Northeast U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)— making it a triumph both for Fox and for the dedicated grassroots effort by a community of neighbors that began in 2007.

Fox was inspired to film his investigation of fracking’s impacts on average citizens in 2008 after attending a local public event hosted by DCS co-founders Joe Levine, Jane Cyphers and Barbara Arrindell. The first Gasland film is dedicated to them. When faced with the shared threat of fracking, this trio pooled their skills to organize. Levine is an architect conversant with land use, zoning, and local ordinances and officials; Cyphers is an educator; and Arrindell has a background in science, which made it easy for her to grasp the geological complexities beneath the marketing phrases.

 

Welcome to Portage County, the Fracking Waste Disposal Capital of Ohio

A small part of Ohio has secured the ignominious honor of becoming the most successful frackwater dumping ground in the state.

Welcome to Portage County, Ohio, the biggest dumping ground for fracking waste in a state that is fast becoming the go-to destination for the byproducts of America’s latest energy boom.

As fracking—pumping a briny solution of water, lubricants, anti-bacterial agents, and a cocktail of other chemicals into underground shale formations at high pressure to fracture the rock and extract trapped natural gas—has expanded in the Midwest, so has the need for disposing of used fracking fluid. That fracking waste can be recycled or processed at wastewater treatment facilities, much like sewage. But most of the waste—630 billion gallons, each year—goes back into the ground, pumped into disposal wells, which are then capped and sealed. A bunch of it ends up underneath Portage County.

Nestled in the northeast corner of Ohio, about halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown, this 500-square-mile county pumped 2,358,371 million barrels—almost 75 million gallons—of fracking brine into 15 wells last year, driving enough liquid into the ground to fill a train of tanker cars that would stretch 37 miles. Most of the waste came from out of state.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, almost 58 percent of the waste injected into Ohio wells is trucked in—much of it from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. More than 200 disposal wells dot the state, which has looser regulations than its neighbors. The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Ohio injected just over 14 million barrels of fracking waste into disposal wells in 2012, and more than 8 million came from other states—an uptick of 19 percent from 2011. And despite Republican Gov. John Kasich saying he’s not thrilled about the amount of waste crossing state lines, federal commerce protections prevent the state from barring legal substances from being shipped in. Because Ohio regulates its own disposal wells, the waiting period to get approval to drill a new well is about five weeks, compared to upwards of eight months in Pennsylvania, where the feds are in charge. That might explain why Ohio has more than 20 times as many wells as its neighbor.

“People are concerned,” says Maureen Frederick, one of three county commissioners for Portage, “and rightly so.” According to Frederick, the county not only has no say over the wells, but it also doesn’t see so much as a cent of the revenue collected. Well permits cost $1,000, and the state charges $0.20 per barrel for out-of-state waste and $0.05 for in-state waste, meaning the state collected roughly $2 million for the 14 million barrels of frackwater that were pumped into the ground in 2012.

Portage, which is home to Kent State University, was mostly a farming community 25 years ago, and it has benefited from the growth of ancillary industries that come with fracking. But Frederick, who lives less than a mile from a disposal site, said she wasn’t aware of any economic boon that has followed the injection wells. Local realtors, on the other hand, were “observing the difficulty of people wanting to buy property, and those looking to sell being worried about their property values,” as residents’ concerns about groundwater contamination and earthquakes have grown.

There are good reasons to worry. The dozen earthquakes that rattled Youngstown at the end of 2011 were thought at the time to have been caused by fracking. A new study connecting underground injection to earthquakes seems to confirm those suspicions, and there is growing evidence that the practice is linked to methane leaking into water supplies. (See the GIF below for more.) There are problems with the wells used to store the used fracking brine, too. The wells that this waste is pumped into—called Class II disposal wells—are subject to softer regulations than other disposal wells (there are six classes in all). The EPA estimates that the chance of a given injection well failing is around 1 in a million. But 680,000 injection wells—some 170,000 of them Class II—dot the country, containing about 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid.

Many of the wells in Ohio are repurposed oil and gas wells that are grandfathered in and exempt from current standards, and government regulators raised concerns about disposal wells contaminating groundwater as far back as the 1980s. At the time, the EPA knew of 23 cases nationwide where drinking water was contaminated by Class II wells. But a recent ProPublica investigation found another 25 cases of alleged contamination from Class II wells between 2008 and 2011 alone. In 1989, the Government Accountability Office, then called the General Accounting Office, filed a report that “says that we have some problems with Class II wells,” says Briana Mordick, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They actually wrote up proposed improvements to the regulations, but those regulations have never been updated.” Even perfectly sounds wells have leaked after waste was injected at higher pressure than the rock formations holding it could bear. In southern Ohio, waste from one well migrated up through 1,400 feet of rock.

The injection-well boom has led to rising community tensions. At an open house back in May, a mostly middle-aged crowd of about 50 people, many of them academics at Kent State, were surprised to be met with 14 armed Ohio Department of Natural Resources police officers and a police dog, according to the Portage County Record-Courier. An ODNR spokesman told the local paper that the show of force was in response to an earlier problem with protesters, but an octogenarian who attended the meeting told the Record-Courier he’d “never been to a public meeting so oversupplied with armed people.” There have also been recent problems with disposal. In February, Ben Lupo, who owns D&L Energy, an energy production and marketing company based in Youngstown, was indicted on charges of ordering more than 20,000 gallons of brine into the Mahoning River. The company had racked up 120 violations, but didn’t suffer serious consequences until an anonymous tip exposed the illegal dumping.

Two of the three members of the Portage County Commission have voiced their support for a recent bill that would ban injection wells, but even the bill’s sponsor doesn’t think it will get traction in the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives. “I abhor having the distinction of being the injection well capital of Ohio,” Frederick says. But there’s not much she can do about it.

Thomas Stackpole

Thomas Stackpole is an editorial fellow in Mother Jones’ Washington, DC, bureau. He has also written for The New Republic and MSN News. Email him tips at tstackpole [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can follow him @tom_stackpole.

 

 

This Is What Fracking Really Looks Like

By

Posted Friday, July 19, 2013, at 1:13 PM

Jodie Simons  demonstrates how her sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.

Jodie Simons demonstrates how her sink water, full of methane, lights on fire. Simons’ household’s water was pristine before gas drilling started, but now they’ve been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Photographer Nina Berman had just started focusing on climate and environmental issues when she read an article about fracking and its connection to the possible contamination of New York City’s drinking water. Berman resides in New York and knew very little about how the controversial process of drilling for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing worked and decided to head to Pennsylvania for Gov. Thomas Corbett’s inauguration in 2011.

“I knew there would be demonstrators (opposed to his support of natural gas drilling), and I wanted to learn what they were screaming about,” Berman said. After researching the issues, she then had to figure out how to document them in a visual way.

“It’s a very hard subject to photograph,” Berman explained. “You see a drill, and you don’t know what that means, and then it disappears. What does that mean? It took me a while to figure out how to approach it.”

To do that, she spent time in part of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, a hotbed of fracking controversy, producing a series titled “Fractured: The Shale Play.” Berman began calling activists, hoping to get a sense of the communities and knowing the people who feel they have been violated are those “interested in having their story told.”

Protesters against gas drilling and the technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) outside Pennsylvania's Department of Enviornmental Protection (DEP) office where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.

Protesters against gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing gather outside Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.Nina Berman/NOOR

Shale Gas drilling rig on dairy farm property

A shale gas-drilling rig on a dairy farmNina Berman/NOOR

Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere demonstrate how their sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.

Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere’s animals have became sick, and they now give bottled water to their horses. A methane vent rises from their property.Nina Berman/NOOR

“What struck me very personally as an outsider was how any kind of industrial activity feels like an enormous intrusion, almost like a creature from outer space; these drills at night are almost supernatural,” Berman said. “I looked for points where the industrial activity impacted these quiet rural landscapes, and I found at night was when things came alive, so I combined those pictures with more conventional documentary [style of ]subject-driven photography about people who were having serious health impacts.”

Fracking’s health impact, specifically its impact on water, is one of many controversies surrounding the process of drilling into rock in order to release gas.  While some argue it is an alternative to dependence on oil, the methods of drilling involving water, sand, and chemicals to break up the rock has also been argued as the culprit for contaminated water.

“Those of us who are used to clean water have no concept of what that feels like when your water coming from your well on your land is destroyed and you can’t do anything about it,” Berman said.

Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere home.  THey say their water was contaminated by gas drilling operations.   The DEP has taken several months and still has not made a determination.

Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere’s home. They say their water was contaminated by gas-drilling operations. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has not determined the source of the problem.Nina Berman/NOOR

NICK  DeREMER, 22,  Kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River.  He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration

Nick Deremer, 22, a kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River. He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration.Nina Berman/NOOR

Part of the way Berman is sharing her experience is through the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.” Started in November 2011, Berman and five other photographers documented how communities in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region have been affected by natural gas drilling.

With a nod to the Farm Security Administration’s program assigning photographers to document communities during the Great Depression or the Documerica project during the 1970s that looked at how environmental concerns were impacting Americans, the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project”  focused on the impact of fracking on the lives of Pennsylvanians. The exhibition is currently on view at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York through Aug. 18.

Berman said for now she has done as much as possible in Pennsylvania but would be interested in documenting areas around the country that have also been affected by fracking. Until then, she has been exhibiting and touring with the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project” and feels the impact has been positive.

“That is how I like to work in many ways, to be a part of bigger things,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack free in a memorial tribute to his wife Lucinda Hart Gonzalez who died of breast cancer.   Environmental activists from across the region attended to honor Lucinda and participate in the release of her ashes.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack-free in a memorial tribute to his wife, Lucinda Hart Gonzalez, who died of breast cancer. Environmental activists from across the region attended the gathering to honor Gonzalez and participate in the release of her ashes.Nina Berman/NOOR

Methane Flaring from gas drilling wells

Methane flaring from gas-drilling wellsNina Berman/NOOR

 

One Man’s Mission to Combat Pollution in Bejing China – Crazy Bad Air!

 

Sierra Club to Engage in Civil Disobedience for First Time in Organization’s History to Stop Tar Sands

If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to walk from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond to President Barack Obama’s White House. For the Sierra Club, that journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have remained committed to using every “lawful means” to achieve our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we are prepared to go further.

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision.

For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the U.S. might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.

As President Obama eloquently said during his inaugural address, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”

As citizens, for us to give up on stopping runaway global temperatures would be all the more tragic if it happened at the very moment when we are seeing both tremendous growth in clean energy and firsthand evidence of what extreme weather can do. Last year, record heat and drought across the nation wiped out half of our corn crop and 60 percent of our pasturelands. Wildfires in Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere burned nearly nine million acres. And superstorm Sandy brought devastation beyond anyone’s imagining to the Eastern Seaboard.

We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen—even though we know how to stop it—would be unconscionable. As the president said on Monday, “to do so would betray our children and future generations.” It couldn’t be simpler: Either we leave at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it. That’s our choice, if you can call it that.

The Sierra Club has refused to stand by. We’ve worked hard and brought all of our traditional tactics of lobbying, electoral work, litigation, grassroots organizing and public education to bear on this crisis. And we have had great success—stopping more than 170 coal plants from being built, securing the retirement of another 129 existing plants and helping grow a clean energy economy. But time is running out, and there is so much more to do. The stakes are enormous. At this point, we can’t afford to lose a single major battle. That’s why the Sierra Club’s board of directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience.

In doing so, we’re issuing a challenge to President Obama, who spoke stirringly in his inaugural address about how America must lead the world on the transition to clean energy. Welcome as those words were, we need the president to match them with strong action and use the first 100 days of his second term to begin building a bold and lasting legacy of clean energy and climate stability.

That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, and other reckless fossil fuel projects from Northwest coal exports to Arctic drilling. It means following through on his pledge to double down again on clean energy, and cut carbon pollution from smokestacks across the country. And, perhaps most of all, it means standing up to the fossil fuel corporations that would drive us over the climate cliff without so much as a backward glance.

One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr., although it has its roots in the writings of Theodore Parker (an acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau): “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

I believe that, given sufficient time, our government would certainly follow the moral arc that leads to decisive action on this crisis. We have a democracy, and the tide of public opinion has shifted decisively. What’s more, I doubt that even the most ardent climate denier actually wants to destroy our world.

We have a clear understanding of the crisis. We have solutions. What we don’t have is time. We cannot afford to wait, and neither can President Obama.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

Coal Mine Safety Cover Up – Finally leads to arrests and convictions. Historic Moment!

Massey official sent to jail for cover-up

Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29
January 18, 2013 12:23 am
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was sentenced Thursday to 21 months in a federal prison for conspiring to cover up mine safety violations before the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., had faced up to five years in prison on a felony charge that he conspired to impede the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts at the mine between February 2008 and the fatal explosion on April 5, 2010. He pleaded guilty in March 2012 and cooperated with the investigation into the tragedy, the nation’s worst mine disaster in four decades.

Family and friends view the 48-foot-long granite Upper Big Branch Miners monument, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va, On the heels of a West Virginia coal mining death, families of the 29 men killed in the Upper Big Branch mine dedicated a memorial Friday to their fallen relatives and those injured in the April 2010 explosion.

Three separate investigations concluded the disaster was preventable but occurred because then-mine owner Massey Energy routinely circumvented numerous federally mandated safety requirements in order to reap higher profits.

May, the highest-ranking Massey official to be sentenced thus far, began working at Upper Big Branch as a foreman in February 2008 and became mine superintendent in October 2009. He admitted that he and others conspired to impede MSHA in administering and enforcing mine health and safety laws at Upper Big Branch mine.

May said he gave advance warning of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection. He admitted that when he knew inspections were imminent, he concealed health and safety violations such as poor airflow in the mine; piles of loose, combustible coal; and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions. Furthermore, he acknowledged that he ordered the falsification of a mine examination book and told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so it could run illegally.

Separate investigations by MSHA, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin concluded that the fatal blast occurred because Massey let highly explosive methane gas and coal dust accumulate inside Upper Big Branch, and that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited the combustible materials. Because water sprayers were broken and clogged, what should have been a mere flare-up erupted into a deadly inferno that ripped through miles of underground tunnels, killing the men.

In addition to imposing the prison sentence in Beckley, W.Va., U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger ordered May to pay a $20,000 fine and sentenced him to three years of supervised release. In sentencing May, she emphasized that his actions risked catastrophic consequences and that mine business interests cannot be put ahead of mine safety laws.

“With this sentence, Judge Berger took the opportunity to send a powerful message to this mine manager and other mine managers who would put profits over safety: If you violate mine laws and put miners at risk you will go to jail,” said Booth Goodwin II, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Several other officials have been charged in the investigation of the mine tragedy. The highest-ranking among them is David Hughart, former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group, who was charged in November with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede inspectors. Like May, he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the continuing criminal probe by the FBI and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.

The former security chief at the mine, Hughie Stover, was sentenced in February to three years in federal prison for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the fatal blast. Former mine foreman Thomas Harrah pleaded guilty in October 2011 to making false statements and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.
First Published January 18, 2013 12:01 am
 

Mining Companies Coverup Safety Violations— 29 Dead

Charges filed in W.Va. mine disaster
Massey ex-executive expected to enter guilty pleas to federal counts
Thursday, November 29, 2012
By Michael A. Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette
Shortly after the mine disaster, this temporary memorial to the victims went up along Route 3 in Whitesville, W.Va., with their names on lumps of coal.

A former key executive of the company that owned the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed in an underground explosion in 2010 has been charged with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede federal mine inspectors.

David Hughart, 53, of Crab Orchard, W.Va., former president of Massey Energy Co.’s Green Valley Resource Group, was charged Wednesday in federal district court in Beckley, W.Va.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. Hughart, the highest-ranking official charged to date in an ongoing investigation, has agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with the investigation spurred by the Upper Big Branch tragedy, the nation’s worst mining disaster in four decades.

Mr. Hughart’s plea agreement may indicate prosecutors are targeting officials higher on the Massey executive chain, possibly including controversial former CEO Don Blankenship, whose critics said valued profits at the expense of safety. He retired at the close of 2010. His Washington, D.C., attorney was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Four investigations into the Upper Big Branch disaster concluded that poorly maintained machines used to cut into sandstone caused a spark that ignited methane gas. Broken water sprayers then failed to stop the fire, which set off a series of explosions fueled by coal dust.

Those investigations concluded that Massey systematically covered up problems at the mine through an elaborate scheme that included sanitized safety-inspection books and a system providing advance warnings of surprise inspections by federal mine safety officials.

The wide-ranging probe of Massey has found that the company’s actions that compromised safety weren’t confined to Upper Big Branch.

“Mine safety and health laws were routinely violated [at coal mines] owned by Massey in part because of a belief that consistently following [mine safety] laws would decrease coal production,” according to the information filed against Mr. Hughart.

Authorities accuse Mr. Hughart of working with “known and unknown” co-conspirators to ensure that miners underground at Massey-owned operations received advance warning about surprise federal inspections “on many occasions and various dates” between 2000 and March 2010. The advance warnings provided them the time to conceal violations that could have led to citations, fines and costly production shutdowns.

The United Mine Workers of America, which consistently has criticized Massey’s safety record, was quick to react to Mr. Hughart’s charges.

“We’ve been saying for years that Massey Energy was a company that put production first, with safety being an afterthought,” UMWA International president Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement. “We look forward to the U.S. Attorney continuing his investigation, with a special emphasis on all Massey officials, regardless of title, who formulated and implemented criminal behavior, like Mr. Hughart.”

In December, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials announced a $209.5 million settlement agreement with Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, which took over Massey and the mine in a June 2011 merger. The firm has since announced it will seal the mine.

The settlement prevented criminal charges against the company, but did not preclude charges against individual employees. Federal authorities said the firm is assisting in the investigation, in which three former Massey employees have been charged thus far.

Gary May, the former superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine, pleaded guilty in March to a federal fraud charge. Prosecutors said Mr. May manipulated the mine ventilation system during inspections to fool safety officials and disabled a methane monitor on a cutting machine a few months before the explosion.

In February, Hughie Elbert Stover, 60, the former security chief at Upper Big Branch mine, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the deadly explosion.

 

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

Read more: http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/12334/1280356-84.stm#ixzz2Dco70L79

 

Ever been to Utah? Tar Sands could destroy it.

Help Defuse Utah’s Tar-sands Carbon Bomb

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Utah is ground zero for Alberta-style tar-sands strip mining in the United States.

More than 140,000 acres of Utah’s eastern highlands are already open to tar-sands strip mining, and regulators have permitted mining on nearly 6,000 acres near the Book Cliffs; only a difficult court battle stands in the way of mining on the first of those lands.

Tar-sands mining would do tremendous damage, decimating wildlands, destroying sage grouse habitat and depleting and polluting Colorado River water needed by endangered fish — as well as millions of people. Once it begins, mining could set in motion a wildly inefficient cycle of energy and water use, igniting a carbon bomb that will further dry the Colorado River, melt the Arctic and acidify our oceans.

Please take a moment today to send Gov. Herbert a letter urging that he abandon his disastrous tar-sands mining plans.

 

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