Tag Archives: Public Health

Federal spending deal falls short on environment

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Spending deal falls short on environment

By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015  |  Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.

But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.

Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.

The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.

In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.

Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.

Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:

• Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.

• Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.

• Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.

• Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.

• Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.

• Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.

There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.

But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.

 

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NY Times: Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris

Repost from the New York Times – Science
[Editor:  See also the Times’ Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris.  – RS]

What Does a Climate Deal Mean for the World?

Times staff, Dec. 12, 2015

A group of 195 nations reached a landmark climate agreement on Saturday. Here is what it means for the planet, business, politics and other areas.

An event at the United States’ pavilion during the Paris climate conference, known as COP21. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
The Planet

The planet is under threat from human emissions, and the Paris climate deal is, at best, a first step toward fixing the problem. Ice sheets are starting to melt, coastlines are flooding from rising seas, and some types of extreme weather are growing worse. Yet some of the consequences of an overheated planet might be avoided, or at least slowed, if the climate deal succeeds in reducing emissions. At the least, by requiring regular reviews, the deal lays a foundation for stronger action in the future. – JUSTIN GILLIS


Christiana Figueres, the United Nations climate chief, left; United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and President François Hollande of France, on Saturday after the Paris climate accord was adopted. Credit Christophe Petit Tesson/European Pressphoto Agency
Global Politics

Strange bedfellows emerged during the Paris negotiations, with industrial powerhouses such as the European Union joining with Pacific island nations and former adversaries, like China and the United States, swapping brinksmanship for bonds over joint action to cut fossil fuel emissions. The pact could leave more geopolitical shifts in its wake. It could further move the energy balance of power away from the developing world toward the industrialized countries, boost the economy in technology economies like the United States and Japan as they develop solutions for the generation and distribution of renewable energy, and create economic stars out of relatively poor countries with an abundance of sun and wind for renewable energy. On the other hand, major oil producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia, already weakened by the slide in the price of oil, could shed some power. – MELISSA EDDY


President Obama Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
American Politics

The Paris accord is a triumph for President Obama and Secretary of
State John Kerry, who both lobbied hard for it, but it has outraged
many Republicans who are skeptical of the extent of human-caused
climate change and believe the deal favors environmental ideology over economic reality. The environment has not typically played a major role in voters’ choices, and the issue will most likely be overshadowed in the current election cycle by fears of terrorism, though the drought in California and severe weather in many parts of the country have raised concerns for many Americans. The Republican-controlled Congress can do little to stop the deal, which is not considered a treaty under United States law, though Congress would need to sign off on any new money to help other countries adapt to climate change — an important aspect of the American commitment to the accord. – SEWELL CHAN


A worker inspected solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, China. Credit Carlos Barria/Reuters
Business

The ambitious targets included in Saturday’s deal for limiting the rise in global temperatures may help companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency by expanding their markets. Setting a high bar may also make the energy industry attractive for innovators and venture capitalists, increasing the chances of sweeping shifts in what has been a conservative business. The agreement may make life difficult for some of the incumbent companies like electric utilities and coal producers, whose product emits high levels of carbon dioxide. – STANLEY REED


Environmental activists and supporters at a rally in Los Angeles last week called for action on climate change. Credit Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
American Citizens

The average American most likely will not feel an immediate effect from the Paris deal. There will be greater emphasis on more efficient electrical products, homes and vehicles. Jobs could be created through the construction of a new energy infrastructure, the maintenance of solar fields and the development of new transportation systems that move away from dependence on the gas pump, as Secretary of State John Kerry has said. Or, as Republicans warn, Americans could see a loss in jobs and American economic competitiveness, as developing economies with less stringent targets are allowed to grow at American’s expense. The deal’s intended long-term effect: avoiding the catastrophic effects of climate change and leaving behind a healthier planet. – MELISSA EDDY

 

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Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

Repost from the Asbury Park Press

MEHRHOFF: Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

OPINION | Jessie Mehrhoff, November 12, 2015 11:21 a.m. EST
ThinkstockPhotos-495757792
(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It’s the fundamental connection between environmental degradation and human health that has me concerned about the prospect of Congress lifting the U.S. oil export ban, which will worsen climate change and threaten our communities with toxic spills.

The list of risks climate change poses to human health is long. Increased temperatures will spread tropical diseases to new latitudes. Heat waves will cause more deaths across the world. Warmer temperatures will lead to more health-threatening smog and decrease crop yields. Detailing these impacts and more in 2009, “The Lancet,” one of the world’s most respected medical journals, labeled climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

These aren’t just future consequences, to be experienced on the other side of the globe. In New Jersey, we still face the impacts of superstorm Sandy three years later. Climate scientists at Rutgers University predict even more extreme weather if climate change goes unchecked.

In addition to these consequences, the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report card has given Monmouth County an “F” for the number of high-ozone level days, and finds more than 56,000 people in the county suffer from asthma. Climate change is only going to make numbers such as this climb as our air quality worsens.

To avoid global warming’s most devastating health impacts, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to pollution-free, renewable energy. Lifting our decades-old ban on the export of U.S.-produced oil represents the opposite course.

If the oil companies have a larger distribution market for oil produced in the U.S., they will drill more — upward of another 3.3 million barrels per day for the next 20 years, by some General Accounting Office estimates. Even if only a fraction of all this extra oil is burned, global warming pollution could still increase 22 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of five average-sized coal power plants.

In addition to worsening climate change, there’s the public health threat of transporting additional oil across the country. While most crude oil is shipped around the U.S. by pipeline, shipments by rail have been increasing. To keep up with increased demand, oil trains have grown larger and tow more tanker cars than ever before.

Currently, trains carrying highly flammable crude oil travel through 11 of the 21 counties in New Jersey —Mercer, Middlesex, Gloucester, Somerset, Hunterdon, Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Union and Warren — en route to refineries. These oil trains are an accident waiting to happen, and have spurred trainings across the state where firefighters, police and other emergency responders have prepared courses of action in an oil derailment emergency.

The fear of oil train accidents — where toxic crude oil is spilled into our communities — is not hyperbole. Accidents have been on the rise, with more oil accidentally dumped into our environment in 2013 alone than during the previous three decades combined.

In 2015, we’ve already seen three major oil train accidents. In Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a rail oil spill led to evacuations and a governor-declared state of emergency. In Galena, Illinois, a spill threatened to pollute the Mississippi River. A spill in Heimdal, North Dakota, forced the evacuation of a town.

If we are to prevent these accidents from taking place in the 11 New Jersey counties through which these trains travel, we must work to reduce the amount of oil these trains carry. Transporting the increased oil we would produce domestically if the oil export ban were lifted could require enough trains to span the country from Los Angeles to Boston seven times over.

Increasing our nation’s crude oil drilling and transportation by lifting our decades’ old ban on exports leads to more risk, not less. And the inconvenient truth of lifting the oil export ban means more drilling, more global warming pollution, and more threats to public health.

There is a way around lifting the oil export ban in the first place. President Obama is against lifting the ban, and the measure only narrowly cleared a Senate committee earlier in the month. That’s why we need Sen. Cory Booker to join Sen. Bob Menendez in standing strong against the oil industry and to vote to keep the ban in place — for the sake of the environment and public health.

Jessie Mehrhoff is lead organizer with Environment New Jersey, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.
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