October 1st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
When researchers at the University of Las Vegas tested mercury levels in canned tuna, they were in for a rude awakening.
Of the 300 samples tested, representing three top national brands (unnamed):
- 55% exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for mercury levels ( 0.5 parts per million, or ppm).
- 5% of the samples exceeded 1.0 ppm.
Read More:Canned Tuna Fails Mercury Test
June 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The oil industry, whose image couldn’t be worse in the wake of the BP spill, was less than thrilled that Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to handcuff the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was defeated.
Predictably, Big Oil’s spokesmouth employed the usual Freddy Kruegeresque scare tactics.
“Massive and rapidly imposed restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions would harm the American economy and hit every American in his or her wallet,” warned Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. “If EPA’s aggressive campaign to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is successful, it will add billions of dollars to the cost of doing business in the United States, raise the cost of energy and other products for American families, wipe out the jobs of millions of American workers and simply shift greenhouse gas emissions from the United States to other nations without any increase in environmental protection.”
Can I come out from under the bed now?
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), a true friend of the environment, quickly shot down Drevna’s sky-is-falling scenario, saying the Murkowski crowd has made false economic claims.
“Quite the opposite, it is [the Murkowski] resolution that will hurt our economy by causing the American people to forfeit a third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are projected to come from last year’s historic agreement between the Obama Administration, the states, and the nation’s automakers and autoworkers,” he said.
“Much of what the special interests, and Big Oil and their lobbyists, have been saying in favor of this resolution is steeped not in science, but in politics and mistruths,” Leahy added.
Rebecca Rasch, communications manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, got it right when she noted that the Murkowski resolution would have nullified “EPA’s finding of scientific fact that greenhouse gases cause harmful global warming—a finding that forms the legal basis for any further steps EPA can take to address carbon pollution.”
Supporting the bill, Rasch added, would have been “a vote against the strong scientific consensus that climate change is a real threat we must avoid.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Read More:Oil Industry Resorts to Scare Tactics
June 14th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
My environmental hero of the week is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who actually cares about the ramifications of climate change and the quality of the air we breathe.
Before the June 10 defeat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to enforce the Clean Air Act, Leahy employed an apt “punt, pass and kick” football analogy to chastise the “drill, baby, drill” crowd.
Murkowski’s resolution, he explained, “would punt away constructive action to begin addressing the many threats that each and every American faces from climate change, and the threats we face every day to our national security. It would pass on the opportunities to foster cleaner air and water for us, and for the generations that will follow us. And it would kick away the progress already negotiated by the Obama administration and key industries, such as our automobile and truck manufacturers, to usher in new products that would pollute less while creating good American jobs—jobs that cannot be sent overseas.
“Many on the other side of the aisle have been adamant in trying to wish these problems away and to forfeit the economic opportunities at our fingertips to lead the world in these new energy technologies,” Leahy added. “Powerful corporate interests are more than glad to contribute to these efforts to stalemate any progress.”
Passage of Murkowski’s resolution would have signaled that we’re “content to keep relying on the outdated, dirty and inefficient energy technologies of the past, and to let every other industrialized nation leap in front of us in developing and selling these new technologies,” Leahy said.
There’s no doubt that greenhouse gases are a “clear and present health and economic threat to the American people,” he added, noting that Murkowski’s resolution would give Congress permission to “undermine America’s ability to clean our air and our waters.”
Leahy wants the EPA to remain focused on protecting the American people, “whether it is arsenic in our drinking water, smog in the air, mercury in the fish we eat or greenhouse gases.”
He’s also calling on Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation.
Read More:Vermont Senator Stands Up to Anti-Environmentalists
June 12th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Hmm. Where have I heard this before?
A Republican legislator from Alaska, who happens to be female, wants to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The only surprise?
I’m not talking about Sarah Palin, who’s consistently two dogs short of a full sled.
From somewhere within the bowels of Bizarro World, Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a resolution Jan. 21 to tie the EPA’s hands.
“The Clean Air Act was written by Congress to regulate criteria pollutants, not greenhouse gases,” she said, apparently splitting hairs over the specific particles in our crappy air.
OK, let’s see if we can connect the dots: Murkowski, ranking Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, received $433,989 from the oil and gas industry between 2002 and 2010, as well as $473,563 from the electricity industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Her five top contributors this year included:
- Exxon Mobil (oil company)
- Constellation Energy (natural gas/electricity provider)
- Van Ness Feldman (law firm representing energy/transportation industry)
Do I detect a pattern here?
“You betcha,” as Palin might say.
Now, for the Good News
Murkowski’s resolution was defeated Thursday by a vote of 53–47.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson estimated its passage would increase our dependence on oil by 455 million barrels.
But some Republican lawmakers, like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, will continue to fight “the Obama EPA’s job-killing, global warming agenda.”
FYI: Over the last 5 years, Inhofe has received $564,700 from the oil and gas industry, as well as $398,390 from electric utilities. His top 20 contributors over the last 5 years include Koch Industries (petroleum refining), Murray Energy, Devon Energy, OGE Energy, Anadarko Petroleum—and the far-from-green list goes on.
Read More:Senate Thwarts Effort to Weaken Clean Air Act
May 2nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The April 22 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up to be the worst environmental disaster in decades—a crisis Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says is a stark reminder of the “high human, environmental and economic costs associated with the extraction of fossil fuels.”
The spill occurred after an April 20 explosion on a BP rig, which killed 11 workers. The rig capsized and sank 2 days later, and oil began to seep into coastal waters.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 210,000 gallons of oil (5,000 barrels) are leaking into the Gulf each day, endangering marine life and Louisiana’s seafood industry. Oil may now drift toward the Atlantic Ocean.
“We are taking every possible step to protect the health of the residents and mitigate the environmental impacts of this spill,” says Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
Louisiana’s Way of Life Threatened
“This incident is not just about our coast,” says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “It is fundamentally about our way of life in Louisiana. Our shrimpers, our fishermen, the coasts that make Louisiana [a] sportsmen’s paradise—this all makes up Louisiana, and this is our way of life. We have to do absolutely everything we can to protect our land, our businesses and our communities.”
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has issued recreational and commercial fishery closures. Biologists are monitoring activities and conducting daily field assessments for signs of oiled areas and wildlife.
Because 2,500 sea turtles may be affected by the spill, scientists are also surveying and reporting on oil-tainted animals and other marine life.
Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, expects the spill to reach two wildlife areas: the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, designated as a wilderness area in 1903 by eco-conscious President Theodore Roosevelt. Both sites are critically important to numerous species, including the brown pelican (recently removed from the endangered species list).
“Crucial That We Address Our Dependence on Oil”
Sen. Leahy doesn’t mince words in his assessment of the disaster.
“The evidence is clear that we cannot drill or mine our way to long-term energy security,” he says.
“We need to adopt a comprehensive energy strategy that addresses the challenges of the 21st century and does not simply rely on the energy sources of the past,” he adds. “We need to be more creative and in ways that strengthen our economy, our security and our environment. Our long-term energy security depends on promoting energy efficiency and supporting domestic sources of clean, renewable power, such as biomass, solar and wind energy.
“Instead of focusing so much on securing more fossil fuels,” he concludes, “it is crucial that we address our dependence on oil, invest in renewable energy, and offer incentives for utility companies and others to use these clean, domestic forms of energy.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Over a Barrel: The Costs of U.S. Foreign Oil Dependence
Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory
Read More:BP Oil Spill: Worst Environmental Disaster in Decades?
April 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans, pickup trucks used for personal transportation and passenger vehicles emit about 60% of all mobile-source greenhouse gases—the nation’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
That’s why EDF President Fred Krupp believes the new standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy offer a “trifecta” of benefits:
- Less dependence on Middle Eastern oil
- Less pollution
- More savings at the gas pump
“Cleaner cars will deliver immediate results as the Senate finishes work on bipartisan climate and energy legislation,” he says.
What the Future Holds
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expect automobile manufacturers to meet the new standards by more widespread adoption of conventional technologies already in commercial use, such as more efficient engines, transmissions, tires, aerodynamics and materials, as well as improvements in air-conditioning systems.
And while the standards can be met with such technologies, EPA and NHTSA also predict some manufacturers will pursue more advanced fuel-saving technologies, including hybrid vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles.
“These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies,” confirms Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air.”
The Automakers’ Perspective
Even the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) seems to approve.
“We have long supported a single, national program that provides clear guidance for AIAM members to meet these important program goals, and these regulations harmonize the efforts of EPA and the Department of Transportation to do just that,” says Michael J. Stanton, the organization’s president and CEO.
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, agrees.
“America needs a roadmap to reduced dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, and only the federal government can play this role,” he says.
“A year ago, the auto industry faced a regulatory maze resulting from multiple sets of inconsistent fuel economy/greenhouse gas standards,” he adds. “NHTSA was promulgating new fuel economy standards required by Congress under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, while EPA was preparing greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act.
“Meanwhile, California and 13 other states were planning their own state-specific greenhouse gas standards. When our engineers struggle with changing or conflicting laws, it derails efforts to introduce new technologies with long-term research and development timeframes. The national program announced [Thursday] makes sense for consumers, for government policymakers and for automakers.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability
Read More:Even Automakers Approve of New Standards
April 4th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Following a major directive from the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday established historic new rules that set the nation’s first national greenhouse gas emissions standards.
The standards will significantly increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The rules could potentially save the average buyer of a 2016 model-year car $3,000 over the life of the vehicle and, nationally, will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil.
The new program will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 960 million metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, equivalent to taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030.
“This is a significant step toward cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand in hand,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By working together with industry and capitalizing on our capacity for innovation, we’ve developed a clean cars program that is a win for automakers and drivers, a win for innovators and entrepreneurs, and a win for our planet.”
Starting with 2012 models, the rules require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 5% a year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year, reaching an estimated 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model-year 2016.
Because credits for air-conditioning improvements can be used to meet EPA standards (but not NHTSA’s standards) , the EPA standards require that 2016 models must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. This is equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements—a 10-mpg increase over current standards.
“These are the first national standards ever to address climate change,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy. “Over the coming years, America will witness an amazing leap forward in vehicle technologies, delivering fuel efficiency that will save us money and protect the environment.”
Read More:New Rules: Fuel Economy, Vehicle Emissions
March 31st, 2010 - Laura Klein
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it is launching a formal investigation into the impact of the chemical of Bisphenol-A on the environment and our water supply . BPA is a chemical plastic hardener that is found in the lining of canned foods, metal beverage cans, credit card receipts, water bottles and other consumer products.
The EPA states in its Action Plan Summary, “Because BPA is a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic, there are questions about its potential impact particularly on children’s health and the environment.”
In January, the FDA reversed its position on BPA, stating in a New York Times article, that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children,” and would join other federal health agencies in studying the chemical in both animals and humans.” In the Times article, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said, “We are for the first time saying we believe there is some concern about the substance’s safety, and we’ve closed the gap between N.I.H. and F.D.A.”
Results from past studies have indicated that BPA levels in humans and the environment are safe or too low for concern. However recent studies indicate otherwise. Last year the Environmental Working Group found the chemical in 9 out of 10 umbilical cord blood samples, proving that babies are being exposed to BPA before birth. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention discovered BPA in the urine of 93 percent of Americans over the age of six.
In a press release, Steve Owens, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said, “Both EPA and FDA and many other agencies are moving forward to fully assess the environmental and health impacts to ensure that the full range of BPA’s possible impacts are examined.”
Richard Wiles, EWG’s co-founder and senior vice president for policy and communications, states in a news release, “the rap sheet of serious health problems this chemical is associated with reads like the public health version of the FBI’s Most Wanted list, breast cancer, diabetes, infertility, neurological disorders, prostate cancer, early puberty, obesity and heart disease, to name just a few. EPA’s decision to put BPA under the microscope is yet another blow to the chemical industry and a good step forward for public health.”
The EPA also announced it will be creating a formal action plan for BPA. Its first step will be to add it to a list of “chemicals of concern.”
More reading on BPA:
Read More:EPA Launches Investigation Into BPA
March 13th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The Hip Hop Caucus, an organization that encourages urban youth to become active in elections, policymaking and service projects, recently traveled more than 2,000 miles, through nine states, to promote clean energy.
The Hip Hop Caucus’ Clean Energy Now! Bus Tour closed on the Capitol’s steps after hosting events at churches, nightclubs, job training centers and five college campuses, including three historically black colleges and universities. Organizers distributed energy efficiency kits to attendees.
“The clean energy choices we make today will have a profound impact on the environment of our young people and communities of color—the very people this tour is bringing together and the voices we need to hear,” said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We’re going out and meeting people where they live, work and learn, to talk about how we create clean energy jobs, protect our planet and break our dependence on foreign oil.”
The tour “helped amplify and unite the voices of young people, African Americans, the hip hop community and the faith community around the critical need for clean energy jobs now and a clean energy future for our country,” said Caucus President Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. “People around this country are hurting because our economy has failed them. Comprehensive clean energy policies will help our communities create a brighter future through solutions that will fight poverty and pollution at the same time.”
Studies show comprehensive clean energy and climate policies could create up to 1.9 million new entry-level, professional and entrepreneurial jobs nationwide.
Such policies would also save households up to $1,175 per year by 2020 through investments in building insulation and other efficiency improvements, while also reducing medical bills and protecting communities from environmental threats.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics-as-Usual
Photo: Tracy Russo/Flickr
Read More:Reaching Out to Communities of Color
December 11th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Several groups are lauding Monday’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, which officially concluded that human activity causes greenhouse gases that threaten our health and welfare.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, has long maintained that the impacts of climate change would be devastating to the health of world populations through increased famine, heat waves, disruption of the ocean food supply, flooding, disease encroachment, drought, population displacement, war and chronic illness from air pollution.
“As an organization, our goal is to protect public health through reduction of pollution and environmental factors contributing to illness,” say Executive Director Anna Gilmore Hall, RN. “We welcome the EPA statement as a powerful commitment of support to our climate change reduction efforts.”
“With this announcement, the EPA is taking an important step forward,” adds Josh Karliner, the HCWH’s international coordinator. “It is now up to the President to follow through by negotiating a strong and fair agreement in Copenhagen that leads to a binding accord to protect public health from climate change.”
HCWH has placed an advertisement in the New York Times to draw attention to the public health aspects of climate change, and the group has also helped launch an online Prescription for a Healthy Planet initiative. For more information on HCWH’s climate change program, click here.
The National Wildlife Association also hails the EPA decision.
“This action clears the way for serious measures to reduce the pollution that is accelerating global warming, and the timing couldn’t be better,” says Joe Mendelson, the organization’s global warming policy director. “The Obama administration’s action enforces the Clean Air Act and strengthens the President’s hand for the upcoming talks to forge a global deal to fight climate change.
“The announcement follows the recent diplomatic breakthrough with China and India, who both announced their willingness to take action to control pollution if the world acts. For the first time ever, the leaders of the world will gather with offers to act from China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters. I am optimistic that the talks will yield a workable plan to protect our children’s future.”
Read More:Groups Praise EPA Report on Greenhouse Gases