A Time for Reflection and Action

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The violence in our country last week has shocked us all.  Two African American men were killed by police officers, bringing the total of African American men in the US killed by the police since January 2015 to 175 (24 of those men were unarmed).  Women of color are at disproportionate risk of police violence as well. Then, the shooting of police officers by a lone gunman in Dallas compounded the horror.  We join Americans nationwide and President Obama in decrying these senseless killings and calling for a healing of divisions in the United States.

Green America is committed to a planet where all people are valued and treated equally. We are part of many movements and recognize that the sooner we build on our shared values and interconnectedness, the stronger we will all be. In the United States, advancement of social and environmental justice is tied to the success of movements that promote the rights of people of color, the LGBTQ community, and economically disadvantaged groups.  We support these groups in their calls for justice and equality.

The Black Lives Matters movement has created awareness of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and has highlighted the environmental justice issues facing people of color as well.  Black Lives Matter activists are bringing attention to the ways that institutional racism is still prevalent in the US, and the recent mass arrests of these activists nationwide is deeply troubling.  Social protest movements are at the heart of advancing civil rights in the US, and peaceful protests should be allowed to flourish and, as a nation, we would do well to listen to the protesters instead of shutting them down.

The message of Black Lives Matter, and many other social justice movements nationwide, is clear and urgent: we cannot solve the problems facing our country, including gun violence, climate change, and our broken food system, unless we address our nation’s social and economic inequalities head on.  Too many lives are lost in the US to violence and imprisonment.  Too many people don’t have access to healthy foods or economic opportunity.  All of our communities are threatened by climate change, and it is our poorest communities that are most impacted by the burning and extraction of fossil fuels.

We must all stand together with people who are disadvantaged and support equality and justice. We must work together to heal the divides in our society and recognize that we need to create solutions that lift up all Americans and allow everyone to realize their full potential.  At Green America, we continue to join with the thousands of organizations and millions of people nationwide to work towards a nation and a world where we can all live our lives in dignity, where all communities are healthy, and where we all have enough to meet our needs.

House budget bill would gut regulations on methane emissions

The House Appropriations Committee has recommended that action be taken on H.R. 5538, a bill that would prohibit federal agencies from regulating methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.

On June 21st, the House Appropriations Committee recommended that action be taken on H.R. 5538, also known as the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. If signed into law, the act would make funding appropriations for the EPA, Department of the Interior, and other agencies related to environmental regulation. While this is a budget bill, it includes a long list of anti-environmental riders that would drastically reduce the ability of the federal government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including prohibiting agencies from developing and implementing regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Methane is a hydrocarbon,greenhouse gas, and the primary component in natural gas. It is often found alongside petroleum sources, which means it can make its way into the atmosphere during the production, processing, and transport of natural gas and petroleum. According to the EPA, natural gas and petroleum systems account for33 percent of U.S. methane emissions (other major sources include agricultural practices, landfills, and coal mining). While methane is shorter-lived in the atmosphere than CO2, its warming effects are 87 times more powerful over a 20-year period.  Additionally, climate models predict that methane emissions can result in increases in stratospheric water vapor, which contributes significantly to climate change.

According to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, over a five-year period more than 375 billion cubic feet of natural gas was lost to flaring, venting, and leaks– enough to power 5.1 million U.S. homes for a year. Major players in the oil and gas industry report that only about 0.13 percent of natural gas produced in the U.S. is wasted, but a report by the Government Accountability Office shows that the amount of gas wasted could be up to 30 times higher. The EPA estimates that about 40 percent of lost natural gas could be captured economically and with existing technology. In terms of effects on climate, this is the equivalent of 16.5 million metric tons of CO2, or the annual emissions of more than three million cars.

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Methane emissions have fallen by 6% since 1990, but remain high enough to contribute significantly to climate change. Current annual emissions are around around 730 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. Source: EPA.gov

In addition to the climate change effects of methane emissions, these practices also lead to increased global and regional pollution. Venting, flaring, and leaking of natural gas give off a variety of dangerous pollutants, such as benzene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde, which have been linked to a variety of health effects including some cancers, respiratory diseases, birth defects, anemia, and neurological disorders. Gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are also released, contributing to the formation of acid rain. Acid rain can decrease soil health and acidify lakes and streams, damaging local ecosystems and croplands. It also accelerates the breakdown of building materials, increasing the costs of houses and infrastructure. Reduction of these pollutants has the potential to save lives and reduce healthcare costs in addition to cost-savings associated with ecosystem services preserved by mitigating climate change and reducing pollution.

Methane emissions from oil extraction present an additional problem: existing regulations allow companies operating on federal and tribal lands to waste a natural resource without paying royalties on the value of lost natural gas. This amounts to a loss of government revenue as well as an additional subsidy for oil companies that are not interested in investing in the infrastructure needed to capture natural gas at the extraction site.  Existing oil and gas subsidies already put an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and incentivize the extraction of oil and gas in lieu of more sustainable energy sources. A study by environmental group Friends of the Earth found that the Bureau of Land Management subsidized the flaring of $524 million worth of natural gas in the state of North Dakota alone, resulting in lost royalties of nearly $66 million. Regulation of methane emissions would generate revenue for the federal government and tribes, which could be used to fund government programs, lower the deficit, and reduce the tax burden on the general population.

Early this year, the EPA finalized new rules to regulate the amount of methane wasted for existing oil and gas systems, and the Bureau of Land Management proposed similar rules for regulating future oil and gas systems on federal and tribal lands. The proposed rules would prohibit venting of natural gas, limit flaring at oil wells, require companies to detect and repair leaks, and require operators to submit comprehensive gas capture plans when they apply for drilling permits. Evident in H.R. 5538, these proposals have come under attack by industry leaders and members of Congress who believe the additional regulations amount to federal overreach and would have a negative impact on the economy. The bill explicitly prohibits the EPA and Department of the Interior from developing and implementing regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Many environmental organizations oppose the gutting of these regulations that will occur if H.R. 5538 is passed. Green America and 37 other environmental organizations have signed on to a letter to Congress explicitly stating our opposition. We believe that strong federal regulation of greenhouse gases is paramount to furthering the goals of climate change mitigation, a healthy population, and a sustainable energy future.

Genetically Engineered Trees: A New Frontier or Climate Catastrophe?

By: Kat Battaglia, Fellow, Green America’s Better Paper Project

Most consumers in the United States are now aware of genetically engineered foods, but far fewer realize that, beginning formally in 1988, biotech scientists have been working on the next frontier of genetic engineering: trees. While the biotech industry claims GE trees could be a natural solution to deforestation, it’s far more likely that a shift to GE monoculture forests, heavily dependent on chemical inputs, would further pollute our soil, air and waterways, and exacerbate the problems of climate change.

Not All Forests Are Created Equal

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Natural forest in Putney Vermont

Natural forests are more than a collection of trees. They are rich, biodiverse habitats for millions of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms that are essential to life. Forests protect soil and waterways from pollution, and even protect humans from heart and respiratory diseases. Perhaps most miraculously, the earth’s forests also store 289 gigatons of carbon in biomass, making forests one of the greatest contributors to slowing the rate of climate change.

Enter genetically engineered trees. The biotech industry is in the process of developing GE trees for a number of aims, including lower lignin content to ease processing. Lignin, a structural component of wood, must be removed from wood pulp before it can be used to make paper. GE trees with lower lignin content stand to save the paper industry a great deal of money by cutting out the expensive removal process. GE trees also promise faster growth, ease of converting wood into biofuels, protection from pests and resistance to herbicides. These developments would surely increase the profits of biotech companies, but at what cost to the planet and future generations?

Genetically Engineered Trees Threaten the Health of an Already Fragile Planet

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GE eucalyptus plantation Credit: StopGEtrees.org

The risks of GE trees are grave. From current GE trees evaluations and experiments as well as studies assessing the environmental impact of GE trees, several large issues were identified. Lower lignin content trees decompose faster and release more carbon dioxide than non – GE trees, greatly contributing to climate change.
Additionally, GE trees require repeated and wide dousing of chemicals to eliminate pests and weeds, which furthers an industrial and chemically- driven approach to agriculture. This approach causes pollution to soil, waterways and air as well as heavy emissions of greenhouse gases.

The development of GE trees will likely bring about massive, single-crop plantations, which can hardly replace natural forests. Monoculture plantations have already devastated natural forests around the world, leaving former inhabitants—mainly indigenous communities—without a home, among many other things, as detailed in Center for Food Safety’s 2016 Report on Genetically Engineered Trees.

Native species contamination is also a risk, as pollen and twigs are likely to blow from GE plantations to natural forests where they can mate with native trees, impacting the way that those species function in their environment. Due to the interconnected nature of an ecosystem, when one factor changes it can set off a chain reaction, permanently changing our environment in unpredictable and often harmful ways.

A Way Forward for Trees, People, and the Paper Industry

Despite these risks, the biotech industry is spending millions in research and development of GE trees. Why? Because beyond being essential to life on Earth, trees are an extremely valuable resource, used for paper, lumber, and even fuel. The paper industry, however, would be wise to take a look at what sustainable businesses across the country are doing to meet demand for paper, while still protecting forests. Banana leaves, hemp, agricultural waste, recycled content, and even elephant poop are worthwhile explorations for the paper industry to pursue that can take the place of trees as the major victim of paper production.

It’s not the trees that need to change, but rather the actions of those who interact with them. Natural forests need to be protected, and commercial forests must be managed sustainably. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council exemplify the standards of proper forest management in a competitive and economically beneficial manner. Until the risks of GE trees to our forests, climate, and future can be eliminated, funds for GE tree development and field trials should be reallocated to proper forest management and research on new and different conventional breeding techniques

With the immeasurable importance that forests and their ecosystems play in our natural world, each solution must be evaluated extensively to ensure a holistically beneficial approach for our communities, our forests, and our climate. To learn more about forests, check out Green America’s Better Paper Project at betterpaper.org or follow us on twitter @BetterPaperProj!

 

Clean Energy Victory Bonds Gaining Momentum

Building on growing bipartisan momentum, Green America, the nation’s leading green economy organization, will continue to promote Clean Energy Victory Bonds in Congress. An amendment to the Senate Energy Bill (S. 2012) proposed by Senator Udall (D-N.M.) that would advance Clean Energy Victory Bonds did not achieve 60 votes as needed, but did receive growing bipartisan support yesterday in a vote of 50-47.  A separate Clean Energy Victory Bonds bill was introduced in the House in 2015 by Representatives Matsui and Lofgren and is supported by a growing list of sponsors.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds would allow all Americans to invest as little as $25 in Treasury Bonds and raise $50 billion to advance the clean energy economy nationwide.  Tens of thousands of Americans and over one hundred businesses and organizations support the passage of the bonds.

“Clean Energy Victory Bonds will allow all Americans an opportunity to invest through Treasury Bonds in a clean energy economy powered by solar and wind,” said Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Consumer and Corporate Engagement Todd Larsen. “We get frequent calls from consumers asking us when they can invest in Clean Energy Victory Bonds, and as public interest continues to grow, we know that Congress will respond and authorize the bonds.”

“The U.S. needs to grow the clean energy economy in order to remain competitive,” says Green America’s Co-Executive Director for Business, Investing, and Policy Fran Teplitz. “The clean energy economy fueled by Clean Energy Victory Bonds will provide over one million well-paying jobs, and provide a significant boost for businesses nationwide, keeping the U.S. a leader in clean energy worldwide.”

Businesses Nationwide Support Methane Regulation

Businesses nationwide are speaking up in favor of climate regulation.  The US Chamber of Commerce often gives the impression that businesses oppose environmental regulation. But across the country, thousands upon thousands of businesses are speaking out and saying that well-crafted regulations of carbon emissions are good for businesses.

There is increasing evidence that fracking for natural gas is harming local communities and substantially increasing climate change.  Today, Green America’s Green Business Network and the American Sustainable Business Council, representing over 200,000 businesses, filed joint comments with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in support of proposed regulations of methane emissions from natural gas operations on public and tribal lands.  The regulations are an important first step in addressing rapidly increasing methane emissions from natural gas operations.

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U.S. Department of the Interior
Director (630)
Bureau of Land Management
Mail Stop 2134 LM
1849 C St. NW., Washington, DC 20240

Attention: 1004–AE14

April 21, 2016

Dear Director Kornze,

On behalf of the 3,000 business members of Green America’s Green Business Network and the over 200,000 businesses represented by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), we submit our support for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recent proposed standards to reduce methane emissions and wasted gas from venting, flaring, and leaks on federal and tribal lands. The proposed regulations make strong business sense, and are an important step in the right direction in mitigating the adverse effects methane leaks have on the environment, small businesses, and Americans.

Current standards addressing venting, flaring, and leaks do not take into account recent developments in methane mitigation technology and the increasing evidence of methane’s contributions to climate change. Methane is a pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide, and accounts for nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In March, Harvard researchers published the study entitled A large increase in U.S. methane emissions over the past decade inferred from satellite data and surface observations in Geophysical Research Letters. The study relied on satellite imaging and found that methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent over the central US between 2002 and 2014. Methane emission increases over the past decade or more are significantly undermining the reductions the US has achieved in CO2 emissions over the same time period.

If strong federal rules are not adopted, methane waste from oil and gas sites will continue to exacerbate the effect climate change has on the economy, including the small businesses sector, which is a principle job creator in the US. Although climate change has more immediate consequences for certain regions – coastal communities and businesses, for instance, are already dealing with rising sea levels – small businesses in general are vulnerable to its impacts, and have less resources to adapt to them. Impacts include disrupting distribution, interrupting farming and production, and rising healthcare costs for employees. Air pollution from methane leaks on public and tribal lands near tourist destinations can also impact small businesses that depend on tourism.

Climate change is likely to have far-reaching and devastating economic impacts. The Risky Business Project, founded to highlight the risks of climate change to the economy, recently published The Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus.  The book highlights the greatest economic risks of climate change including: increased mortality; reduction in the hours that people are able to work (particularly in the agriculture, construction, utilities, and manufacturing sectors); and impacts on energy demand, coastal communities, agriculture, and crime. The authors found that the total economic impacts could be three percent of US GDP or higher. Small businesses will be particularly susceptible to such impacts.

That is why it is vitally important that the BLM take steps to lower methane emissions contributing to climate change.  These steps will help protect American small businesses and their communities nationwide.

Adopting the proposed rules will also spur innovation and create jobs in the American clean energy industry, especially within the methane mitigation sector. The majority of existing methane mitigation companies are headquartered in the United States and qualify as small businesses; this rule would allow the American methane mitigation sector to grow, and positions the US to become a global leader in reducing methane emissions.

We greatly appreciate the BLM’s leadership with the proposed rules to reduce methane waste from public and tribal natural gas sites. Although the proposed rules are a positive first step, there is also room to strengthen BLM’s proposal, including:

  • improving leak detection and repair requirements (including quarterly inspections for leak detection and conservative parameters around the proposed alternative compliance programs following the successful examples of Wyoming and Colorado in capturing waste);
  • enacting better standards for production equipment and strengthening flaring regulation (including strengthening control measure around pneumatic controllers and monitoring for leaks); and
  • ensuring enforcement, transparency, and accountability (including increased ability for public comment for ongoing issues).

Finally, it is imperative that BLM finalizes the rules this year as the need for meaningful methane regulation reform is clear: methane leaks and waste fuel climate change and negatively impact human health and businesses nationwide.  Delay will only increase these harms.

The proposed regulations and the steps highlighted above for strengthening them will play a strong role in reducing waste, protecting public health, and addressing the harmful consequences of climate change.  They will help to protect the small business community from climate impacts and provide opportunities for small businesses growth.

Sincerely,

 

Todd Larsen                                                                                       Richard Eidlin

Executive Co-Director                                                                    Vice president of Policy and

Green America                                                                                   Campaigns of ASBC

US EPA to regulate methane from existing oil and gas sources

President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada made an historic announcement yesterday regarding methane regulation.  The two countries have agreed to reduce methane pollution from their oil and gas industry by 40-45 percent over the next 10 years.

For the United States, an important outcome is that the US EPA will begin developing regulations for methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources, with the EPA stating that it will begin the formal process for developing regulations regarding these emissions within the next month.  These sources are responsible for 90 percent of methane emissions from these industries.

This is great news for Americans and the environment. Methane waste is an enormous contributor  to climate change—it is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time  period. Reducing methane emissions will also reduce volatile organic compounds from oil and gas operations, including carcinogens such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde.  Lower income communities nationwide often bear the brunt of these toxins.

Last year, Green America supported the EPA’s regulations to reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas sources, and with our allies, urged the EPA to also regulate existing sources of methane.  We are pleased that the EPA will be moving forward with the regulation of existing sources of methane emissions, as these sources represent the majority of such emissions in the US.

 

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis. Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough. The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.

The news from Paris this weekend was huge.  Nearly 200 countries agreed to take action on climate to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or an even more aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.  The deal has many positive aspects. Nations will be transparent about their emissions reductions, and that transparency should help to shame laggards.  Rich countries are pledging $100 billion per year in assistance to poorer nations.

Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough.  The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.  That is why climate scientist James Hansen has ridiculed the agreement for being insufficient to address the problem at the scale that’s needed. And, developing and poor nations are justifiably concerned that assistance from rich countries will not be enough and isn’t even guaranteed.

Of course, the flaws in the agreement reflect the political realities of the major polluter nations, particularly that of the United States.  The U.S. Congress is under the control of politicians who still question whether climate science is real, favor lavish subsidies for fossil fuels, and fail to adequately support renewable energy development.  As a result, the Obama Administration had to negotiate a deal that did not need Senate approval, and the Paris Accord, with all its strengths and weaknesses, fits the bill.

Since the goals of the Paris Accord are aspirational, it is up to citizens and progressive business leaders worldwide to push for strong measures in their countries to move to a clean energy economy.  This transition needs to protect human rights alongside environmental priorities. An important place to start the transition process is eliminating the vast subsidies for fossil fuels.  Worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels represent an astonishing $10 million per minute, or over $5 trillion per year.  These subsidies are distorting energy markets worldwide, making highly polluting fuels appear to be “cheap,” when they actually have huge environmental and health costs that will be borne by citizens for generations. And, compare subsidies for fossil fuels with those for clean energy – currently only $120 billion per year worldwide. Fossil fuel subsidies are an incredible 125 times greater than clean energy ones.  Despite these imbalances, clean energy is developing quickly around the world, but if there were a level playing field, it would increase even more rapidly, and at the rate we need to address climate emissions.

Here in the U.S., government incentives for clean energy are expiring and failing to be renewed, while fossil fuel subsidies that have been locked in for decades continue without any opportunity for public debate.  Green America is working to correct this issue by promoting Clean Energy Victory Bonds, legislation that would provide $50 billion in dedicated Treasury bonds that support only clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the U.S. This legislation would create over one million good paying jobs in the U.S., and help accelerate wind, solar, and energy efficiency installations across the country. As we work to pass Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green Americans can take action with us to divest their money from climate polluters and invest in clean energy solutions instead.

It is also essential that the citizens of wealthy countries assist poor countries in adopting clean energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.  It is only fair that the countries that have benefited from over 100 years of unrestricted carbon emissions that helped generate tremendous wealth, agree to help developing countries build their economies with low-carbon technologies.  It is also in the interest of rich countries to do so for their own sake.  For example, if climate change continues on its current path, the United States could experience sea level rises of 10 feet on its East Coast, destroying the homes and businesses of millions of people.

Climate change demonstrates clearly that we are all in this together, and that there is no place for privileging one nation above others.  As the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. has a special obligation to be a leader, creating a future for its own citizens and people worldwide.  We can all play a role, as consumers, investors, business owners, and voters to ensure that the U.S. is the leader we need it to be.