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Eviction of Mobile Home Park for Fracking Water

- by Alex Lotorto, Energy Justice Network
 
Riverdale Mobile Home Park was located on the Susquehanna River in Piatt Township, Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. Residents were ordered to leave the park in March 2012 by Aqua PVR LLC, a project of Aqua America, a private water utility, and Penn Virginia Resources, a natural gas pipeline company. 
 
The property was purchased in order to build a water withdrawal pump station and water line that would withdraw three million gallons per day for use in hydraulic fracturing by Range Resources, a Texas-based Marcellus shale drilling company. Each shale gas well requires five to nine million gallons of water to force open the rock, allowing the gas to flow out.
 
Aqua America's facility takes 6,000 water truck trips off the road each day, according to Aqua America, which displaced truck drivers, parts suppliers, fuel deliverers, mechanics, and service employees from their jobs in Lycoming County. The Marcellus shale industry hasn't proposed any relief, solution, or alternative to this loss of employment opportunities for Pennsylvania residents. 
 
The facility's two permits were approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a federal commission made up of Governors Corbett (R-PA), Cuomo (D-NY), O'Malley (D-MD), and President Obama.
 
The capacity of the park was 37 units and in March 2012, 32 families lived there. The initial offer from Aqua America included $2,500 for residents to move by April 1 and $1,200 for residents to move by May 1.
 
Immediately after the tragic story of Riverdale hit the press with the help of volunteers, Aqua America extended the deadline for $2,500 in compensation until June 1st.
 
A series of town halls, vigils, and picnics were organized by residents with some help from volunteers from around northeast and central Pennsylvania in opposition to the project. Residents and allies even held protests at Aqua America's headquarters in Bryn Mawr, at their shareholder meeting, and in front of Aqua's CEO Nick DeBenedictis' mansion in Ardmore.
 
Unfortunately, many residents felt forced to leave the park for reasons including fear of losing the $2,500 offer, uncertainty of what Aqua would do on June 1, and termination of their leases.
 
At the time of the final vigil on May 31, only seven families remained at Riverdale. Those families invited and hosted volunteers from all over Pennsylvania and surrounding states that evening to stay until morning when construction was scheduled to begin in an effort dubbed "Hands Across Riverdale."
 
They issued the following demands:
We demand that Aqua America sit down with the residents and their representation to negotiate in good faith a fair deal that...
1. Permits the remaining residents to stay living at Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
 
2. Provides those residents who have left with just compensation to cover their expenses.
 
3. Allows for the return of all residents who have left and wish to return.
 
On June 1, no construction vehicles came and road barricades boldly stated, "We Will Fight For Our Homes" and "Aqua America Kills Community." The following day, Aqua America sat down to negotiate with three pro-bono lawyers representing residents at the company headquarters in Bryn Mawr. A tentative agreement was reached and the residents were informed of the terms the following week. 
 
Details of that agreement are not publicly available at this time but it did include a "gag order," or non-disclosure agreement forbidding the residents and their children from speaking about the incident.
 
For a total of 12 days, Riverdale blossomed once again behind the barricades, despite all the suffering already endured. Volunteers joined to cook, run security shifts to prevent looting, move sheds, salvage building materials, plant a garden, provide child care, leaflet Jersey Shore and Williamsport, and to blast the story of Riverdale all over social networks.
 
On the twelfth day, Aqua America sent a subcontracted security firm to secure the site. Activists blocked the road in defiance, demanding that Aqua America continue to negotiate with residents in good faith. State police arrived on scene and ordered the protesters to move. There were no arrests. A chain link fence across the front of the park was constructed and later, a barbed wire fence surrounding the pump station construction area was added.
 
Round the clock security guards were stationed at the front of the park, which was lit with light towers resembling a prison. Construction proceeded even with the seven families remaining at Riverdale, including four young children. Finally, the $10,000 raised through online crowdfunding helped the residents move and relieved those who had already left with some financial burdens.
 
Former residents are scattered around the area. Many of the seniors were forced from independence into senior care centers. Three senior residents have passed away since, dislocated from the riverside community they chose to spend the rest of their life.
 
Some residents moved their homes to less desirable and more expensive parks, some are renting more expensive apartments and mobile homes, some are on the low-income housing waiting list, and others are staying with family and friends.
 
The story of Riverdale illustrates how little the gas companies, the governors, and President Obama care about the livelihoods of poor people when it comes to fossil fuel extraction.

AUDIO: Energy's Water Footprint in the Western Drought

Drought in the western U.S. is in the news every day, yet most media coverage ignores the impact from water withdrawals for industrial power facilities. While municipal and agricultural use are major drains on limited water resources, so too are biomass, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power facilities. 
 
On August 20, EJN spoke with Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Energy/Water Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates, about the findings of her report, "Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity," discussing the water demands of electricity generating power facilities and lower-impact alternatives.
 

If You Build It, They Will Cut

 

Generating biomass energy doesn’t result in more logging, according to the biomass industry, whose spokespersons claim facilities only make use of “waste” wood already coming from existing logging operations.

Ron Kotrba, Senior Editor for Pellet Mill Magazine, wrote in the May/June 2015 issue that biomass is the “most unlikely of the forest products to drive the general practice of forestry in the U.S.”

Kotrba believes that the notion of biomass “driving forestry practices in the U.S. is a purposefully deceptive scare tactic used by some in an attempt to influence the perceptions of policy makers and the public.”

Chris Matera, director of Massachusetts Forest Watch, a grassroots forest advocacy group based in Northampton, has long warned that “wood fueled biomass energy will add tremendous pressure, and further degrade already stressed forests.”

“Existing wood-fueled biomass facilities already cut and burn enormous amounts of whole trees for fuel,” said Matera, “and any new facilities will only add more logging pressure.” 

Clearly, opinions differ among the biomass industry and its critics, leaving the question: do biomass energy facilities increase logging?

Federal and state agency personnel, along with members of the biomass industry, have made statements demonstrating that the construction of a bioenergy facility is likely to result in a local increase in logging, including in National Forests, by opening an additional market for the sale of trees that might have otherwise been left in the forest to grow.

Brad Flatten, Stewardship and Timber Sales Specialist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, was quoted in “Wood Supply Assessment for Commercial-Scale Biomass Power Cogeneration and Biomass Utilization Projects in Central Washington,” saying the establishment of biomass energy facilities in Washington state “may provide a market for small-diameter material typically generated from fuels treatment…and potentially increase the number of treatment acres.”

In other words, controversial “fuel reduction” logging projects, which many scientific studies suggest aren’t effective at reducing the likelihood of a large wildfire, may expand in scale if a biomass energy facility will purchase the trees.

Biomass energy, said Eric Lamfers of the Washington Department of Natural Resources in the “Wood Supply” document, “affords treatment of areas that normally could not be treated without market-based opportunities.” This statement also makes it evident that some Washington forests would be left unlogged without the existence of biomass energy facilities.

Wind River Biomass, a combined heat and power biomass energy facility proposed for Stevenson, Washington, plans to source trees from the nearby Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A biomass gasification project in North Fork, California that would burn trees to create electricity, heat and biochar would also increase logging, including in the Sierra National Forest, according to a May 6, 2015 article in the Sierra Star.

Jim Branham, executive officer for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, one of the entities behind the North Fork facility, was quoted as saying that biomass projects such as his are “key to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and protecting our forests and communities from large, damaging wildfires.” Once again, a biomass energy facility is acting as a driver for more “fuel reduction” logging projects.

While some biomass energy facilities spur logging in anticipation of the natural process of wildfire, other facilities trigger logging after a burn. For example, a new biomass facility in Kauai drove the cutting and burning of 15,000 tons of pine and eucalyptus trees in Kokee that wouldn’t have been logged otherwise, according to March 5, 2015 article in the Washington Times.

An April 4, 2015 article in Timberline reported that Watertown, New York-based wood chipping company, Pala Wood Service Company, “had all but stopped chipping [trees] due to a lack of a customer base for that product.” Yet, according to Pala Wood’s owner, Bruce Strough, the recent opening of ReEnergy Black River, a 60-megawatt biomass power facility in Fort Drum, “represented an opportunity to get back into the market.”

As more biomass energy facilities are built across the U.S., including ones in close proximity to National Forests, only time will tell whether we’ll see a resulting uptick in logging proposals, as biomass opponents warn. But, if statements by those working on the ground to advance bioenergy are accurate, more logging specifically to fuel these facilities is probable.  

When Zero Waste is Environmental Racism

- by Kaya Banton, Chester Environmental Justice

 

My name is Kaya Banton and I have been a resident of Chester, Pennsylvania all of my life.  Chester is a small city right outside of Philadelphia known as one of the worst cases of environmental racism.

 

There are a number of polluting facilities in and surrounding Chester. The most famous is Covanta, the nation’s largest waste incinerator, burning 3,510 tons of trash per day. Though Covanta is the largest incinerator in the country, they have the fewest pollution controls of any incinerator in the nation. Within a mile of Covanta, 80% of the population is black. Only 1.5% of waste being burned at Covanta comes from Chester. The rest comes from wealthy suburban areas of Delaware County, Philadelphia, and New York.

 

Covanta is the largest polluter in Chester and one of the largest in all of eastern Pennsylvania.  Due to the pollutants from Covanta and other industries, many people in Chester have cancer, asthma, and other horrific diseases. I know entire families that have asthma or cancer. Both my mother and my little sister developed chronic asthma after moving to Chester. The childhood asthma hospitalization rate in Chester is three times the state average.

 

With research and organizing support from Energy Justice Network last summer, community members went door to door last year and packed city hall twice, winning a unanimous vote of the planning commission, recommending that city council shoot down plans for the rail box building to receive New York City's steel trash containers. Unfortunately, city council voted in favor of Covanta because they did not want to get sued. Covanta was permitted to bring New York’s trash by rail, which will put them at full capacity. A big concern from the council was the amount of trash trucks coming through the city. Covanta said that since the trash will be coming by rail, the truck traffic will be decreased majorly, but even though residents made it clear that the trash containers will be taken through Chester by train to Wilmington, Delaware then back into Chester by truck. This will not decrease truck traffic, but will only increase pollution by adding train traffic.

 

I did some research and found out that New York’s zero waste plan is actually a “zero waste to landfill” plan that locked in 20 to 30 years of burning waste in Chester, making the impacts of my city invisible while New York gets the benefit of looking green. I was incredibly confused as to how New York City environmental justice groups could celebrate the announcement of a zero waste plan that allowed waste to be burned in Chester. We give toxic tours of our community upon request for those wanting to see what we experience on a daily basis.  

 

We invite anyone, especially those from Philadelphia and New York, to contact us for a tour.

EJ Victory! Taking Responsibility for Where Your Trash Goes...

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

I’m excited to open this issue by sharing our first victory of its kind: stopping a major city (Washington, DC) from signing a long-term incineration contract that was expensive, polluting, unhealthy, and racist.

The worst thing that can happen with your waste is for it to be burned. We’ve found this to be the case with waste from Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York City, where trash ends up being burned in some of the nation’s largest and filthiest incinerators – in communities of color in Lorton, Virginia and Chester, Pennsylvania that are already heavily polluted by a concentration of dirty industries.

These major cities have closed incinerators within their borders many years ago, and DC, New York and Los Angeles are among many that have examined and rejected the idea of building their own new incinerators in the last few years. However, they have not been shy about sending waste to be burned in other communities.

The zero waste term is being hijacked by these cities, auto companies, Disney, and others claiming “zero waste to landfill” goals. This term is a code word for “incinerate our remaining waste and pretend the toxic ash doesn’t still go to landfills.” Leading zero waste consultants and activist allies are even now greenwashing these schemes through certification and membership in bodies like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. Just last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a zero waste resolution that includes a waste hierarchy that, like EPA’s, places incinerators above landfilling, driving more misguided city decisions to opt for incinerators.

Our victory in DC shows that environmental justice allies in a major city can take responsibility and stop their waste from being burned, as we chart the way to true zero waste strategies.

As the last few articles in this issue show, there are conflicts between waste strategies among grassroots activists in New York City. What started as an effort to have fair distribution of transfer stations within the city resulted in the worst possible outcome for environmental justice: a 20-30 year contract to send much of the city’s waste to be burned in Covanta incinerators in Niagara Falls, NY and in Chester, PA. Our efforts to stop the trash train plan on the Chester end failed last summer, and efforts are still underway in Manhattan to stop one of the two transfer points that would feed waste to Covanta’s incinerators, but aren’t looking good.

Unfortunately, NYC Mayor de Blasio’s “One New York” plan, announced this past Earth Day, is a “zero waste to landfill” plan that masks the city’s intent to keep burning its waste in facilities that would never be accepted within the city. The Covanta contract contains clever “put-or-pay” provisions that ensure that NYC pays for waste transportation to Covanta incinerators even if zero waste efforts are so successful that the city doesn’t have enough waste to give. Will the city even come close to its zero waste goals, and if so, will they suck up the penalty of paying for a service they no longer need, or will budget constraints keep NYC poisoning people with incinerator pollution?

Transform Don't Trash NYC

- by Gavin Kearney (Environmental Justice Director, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest) & Eddie Bautista (Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance)

New York City’s homes and businesses generate anywhere from 6 to 8 million tons of mixed solid waste every year – more than any other city in the country. And the manner in which it manages that waste is rife with injustice – a few NYC communities of color play host to numerous truck-intensive transfer facilities, while other communities of color as near as Newark and as far as Virginia and Ohio then receive NYC’s waste for landfilling and incineration. For over a decade we have been working with environmental justice advocates and other allies in NYC to address these issues. We have achieved some important incremental victories over pitched opposition. But much remains to be done. 

Ultimately, if it is to do right by Environmental Justice (EJ) communities, NYC needs to greatly diminish the amount of material it exports for disposal and build local recycling infrastructure while minimizing community impacts, creating a safer workplace for waste workers, and reducing environmental harms.  To build the will for this within the City we are working to expand the local discussion around solid waste to encompass worker well-being, economic development, climate change, fair treatment for small businesses, and, of course, environmental justice. This is the focus of our current, ongoing campaign for solid waste reform – Transform Don’t Trash NYC.

New York City Outsourcing Incineration

- by Dara Hunt

Congratulations to Energy Justice Network and other organizations on stopping a Covanta contract to incinerate DC waste in an Environmental Justice community. 

Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in stopping New York City’s plan, and a 20-year contract with Covanta Energy to transport and burn 800,000 tons per year, or more, of New York City’s putrescible waste in poorly filtered Covanta incinerators in Chester, PA, and Niagara Falls, NY.

This disposal strategy is part of New York City’s 20-Year, 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP). The SWMP didn’t set aggressive waste reduction goals for New York City or establish concrete plans to reform the City’s inadequately regulated private waste industry.  A modest, 25 percent recycling target set in the SWMP has never been achieved – the City’s recycling rates remain at abysmal levels: 15-16 percent for City collected waste and around 24 percent for privately collected waste. Instead, the SWMP focused on building large and expensive, single-purpose waste transport facilities and long-term contracts to move waste to distant disposal sites.   

Many of us believe the plan’s focus on investment in new buildings and 20+ year waste transfer and disposal contracts takes the City in the wrong direction – tethering us to the lagging, high waste volume status quo. New York City needs to implement price incentives to create better waste behavior. We need aggressive goals and programs to help residents, businesses and government agencies reduce or divert much more waste. And the City needs to clean up private waste industry vehicles and operations through better regulation and oversight. 

EXCLUSIVE: Biomass Energy and the Carbon Neutral Shell Game

- by Brett Leuenberger, July 6, 2015 (Graphics by Brett Leuenberger)
 
Related Content: Biomass Incineration and Climate (debunking carbon neutrality)
Who would have ever thought that clean renewable energy could come from a smokestack? And yet, according to our U.S. government and the biomass industry, that’s exactly what’s happening when you burn trees (biomass) for energy. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to renewable energy, I think of wind turbines and solar panels producing clean, emission-free renewable energy.
 
While the final rulemaking process for biomass emissions is still in review, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released this memo last November from Janet McCabe to industry stakeholders, which endorses most biomass emissions as carbon neutral:
 
  • "For waste-derived feedstocks, the EPA intends to propose exempting biogenic CO2 emissions from GHG BACT analyses and anticipates basing that proposal on the rationale that those emissions are likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic CO2 emissions, or even reduce such impacts, when compared with an alternate fate of disposal."
Most of us can agree with the fact that we’re facing unprecedented global climate change due to our use of fuels that emit greenhouse gases (mainly carbon) into the atmosphere. There are a few possible ways to address this global climate challenge. One way is to vastly reduce or terminate our use of carbon emitting fuel sources by transitioning to emission-free energy sources like wind, solar and tidal. We could expand on that idea by creating hyper-local communities that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy through the use of micro-grids. That’s why the carbon emissions from biomass are so critically important, especially as we look to our future energy and transportation needs and how those choices affect our earth’s climate.
 
The Biomass Boondoggle
 
There are multiple environmental issues with burning wood for biomass energy. Burning wood (pulp, chips, trimmings, sawdust residues and whole trees) for biomass energy actually emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than fossil fuels. Compared to fossil fuels, woody biomass is significantly less energy efficient and you need to burn at least twice as much wood to produce the same amount of thermal energy. For example, one ton of wood pellets produce 16.5 million BTU’s of energy while one ton of #2 fuel oil produces (52% more) 33.8 million BTU’s of energy.
 
Burning trees for biomass is a double whammy for the environment; not only are you adding more carbon emissions than fossil fuels, but you are also removing trees that work as carbon sinks and sequester vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. The biomass industry claims they use low value waste wood for fuel, but overwhelming evidence shows the industry repeatedly using whole trees for biomass and wood pellet production. 
 
Similarly, the industry is not obligated to account for the immediate or future loss of carbon sequestration from harvested trees. When compared to other “free” renewable energy sources like wind and solar, biomass energy is considerably more expensive to operate and requires long-term costs for sourcing the woody biomass fuel. Likewise, using woody biomass as a fuel source for electric utility power is not always cost effective in a competitively priced energy market. Here’s an example of a biomass plant forced to shut down; it was cheaper to remain idle than trying to supply power to the grid, leaving ratepayers on the hook.
 
The emissions from woody biomass contain high concentrations of particulates, which increase the air quality health risks to humans. Burning biomass exacerbates the problem of ocean acidification by taking locked-up terrestrial carbon (trees) and transforming it to atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is the major cause of ocean acidification. The growing U.S. biomass industry is creating an increased demand for wood, which can escalate clearcutting, deforestation, forest fragmentation, land-use changes and species habitat loss, as pointed out in this multi-disciplinary collegiate study from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Remembering Marvin Wheeler

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network 
 
When we formed Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA) in 2012, we couldn't have kicked it off without Marvin Wheeler, who found us as an active member of the West Park Civic Association. As a retired school nurse, Marvin understood the health threat posed by the plan to burn 150 tons a day of trash and sewage sludge in the heart of Pennsylvania's third largest city.
 
Surrounded by schools, parks, playgrounds, public housing, a hospital, and a prison, this experimental incinerator was a threat to all that Marvin held dear.  
 
"Keep in mind, this is a brown and black low-income neighborhood," he reminded us. "I think they picked this site because of the county prison that's over there... it's like 'kill the prisoners a littler earlier, before they finish their sentences.'"
 
It saddens us that he is no longer with us to see the fruits of the victory he helped make possible. When others weren't available to help, Marvin organized a petitioners committee and kicked off the effort to bring the issue to the voters. He helped us collect the thousands of signatures we needed to get the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance we drafted onto the city ballot so that the people could choose to adopt protections from incinerator pollution. In freezing winter weather, Marvin worked hard on collecting signatures, slogging from door to door with us, welcoming us into his home, and introducing us to other key people in the community. His warm and humorous personality kept us going in the frantic drive to collect enough signatures in the city's initiative process.
 
While we didn't win the way we had planned (at the polls), the incinerator deal has fallen apart in the past several months. As one of the original petitioners, Marvin is named in our lawsuit over the ordinance initiative (which is still in the courts, as we fight over the right for people to vote on such matters). The delays killed the project as permits and investors were also tied up. The 35-year waste supply contract with the city was canceled by the city late last year. The company's air permit was rescinded a few months ago, and their waste permit (which we also legally challenged) was just revoked as well.
 
As a medical professional, Marvin was teaching kids about asthma triggers and understood that incinerator would be a large one. He spoke about how asthma inhalers and medicines just treat the symptom after the disease, and spoke of the need to be proactive, not reactive. 
 
"The issue here is air quality... and when you think about that and the number of children in this area and the school less than a half a mile from here... what impact does it have on those middle school children?"
 
Here is a fantastic video of Marvin speaking about the struggle, and how "we have to do something different" with green jobs and recycling, not incineration.

Are Media Outlets Megaphones for Polluters?

Are Media Outlets Megaphones for Polluters?
 
Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 5pm PST / 8 ET
 
Guest Speaker: Steve Horn, Investigative Journalist

Are media outlets doing an adequate job covering the health and environmental impacts of dirty energy corporations and other polluters?

Not according to Steve Horn, a Madison, Wisconsin-based freelance investigative journalist and writer for DeSmogBlog. Steve has found an alarming trend in one-sided media reporting on energy issues, making it difficult for the public to make informed decisions about climate change, air pollution, and our energy future.

Join Steve on Thursday, May 21 at 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET to get the scoop on media’s scanty reporting on corporate polluters and what you can do about it.

 

Find audio archives of past calls here

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