Fossil Fuel Divestment: How to Evolve the Campaign Beyond its Shortcomings

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

Sometimes, environmental movement campaigns that become very popular aren’t the ones that are the most strategic. Trying to divert the fossil fuel divestment bandwagon to a better path hasn’t been easy (or well-received), but some critical examination is long overdue.

As activists like to point out, we don’t have much time to address climate change. We’re already past the point where we can “stop” it, and likely past the points where we can contain it to the two degree Celsius increase that supposedly averts catastrophic levels of climate disruption. Given this urgency, we cannot afford for so much time and energy to be spent on campaigns that aren’t fitted to the scale of the problem.  It’s like scaring people about how awful global warming is, then telling them that they just need to screw in a different light bulb and drive a Prius.

In short, the fossil fuel divestment campaign is symbolic and diverts attention from going after the largest and most critical sectors driving climate change, and from actually disconnecting institutions from reliance on fossil fuels. It implicitly greenwashes other dirty energy sources (some of which are worse than coal) by framing the problem as just about fossil fuels. It similarly ignores the largest cause of global warming: animal agriculture. Unlike the anti-Apartheid campaign, it fails to target corporations in a position to actually change their behavior. Finally, investments are likely to be shifted to smaller fossil fuel corporations, corporations that support the fossil fuel economy, or other damaging investments. Efforts to drive investments to truly clean alternatives will be hampered by economic contradictions, requiring a deeper economic analysis as the campaign evolves.

Divestment is a symbolic campaign, but not a strategic one

Some of the main national organizers of this campaign – even Bill McKibben, in private – have admitted that the campaign is symbolic. Jamie Henn, a spokesperson with 350.org, said divestment alone will not succeed in reversing climate change, stating: “We have no illusion that we can bankrupt a company like ExxonMobil through divestment, but we can vilify them to the point where they begin to lose their political influence.” While campaign supporters have been building arguments for how symbolic campaigns can have tangible results, the reality remains that it’s still a stretch, and that more direct campaigns to fight fossil fuels would do far more for the climate and the communities directly impacted by the industry.

Christian Parenti makes several good points in his late 2012 article in The Nation, titled "Problems With the Math: Is 350's Carbon Divestment Campaign Complete?" He points out that the most infamous climate deniers, Koch Industries, is privately held and is immune to divestment, as is 70% of world oil reserves (and even more of the ‘easy oil’) which are owned by national oil companies that are also heavily insulated from the tactic (though some are now partially traded). He points out that corporations don’t make money on investments (stock is mainly a way to get money out of these corporations), and that their bottom line isn’t impacted by investments, but by those consuming their products.

What Would be More Strategic?

The biggest contributor to climate change (as much as 51%) is animal agriculture. However, as the recent Cowspiracy documentary shows, big environmental groups are unwilling to talk about this and advice that people stop eating so much meat and dairy. The other elephant in the room is natural gas power plants. With methane being 86 to 105 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time-frame, and serious leakage of methane gas occurring throughout the natural gas infrastructure (which cannot be brought to levels lower than coal’s impacts), the current push from coal to gas is suicidal for the climate. There is a surge of about 300 gas-fired power plant proposals in the U.S. right now, and the major environmental groups are doing an excellent job of ignoring them, if not still championing the switch from coal to gas. If the time and energy (and funding) put into divestment were put toward stopping gas-fired power plants while there’s still time to challenge most of them, it would be a dramatic and real win. Divestment campaigns and power plant battles both aren’t easy to win, but the track record of stopping power plants is arguably far better than divestment’s track record so far. About 60% of the gas-fired power plant proposals in the last wave of development (10-15 years ago) were stopped. 400 were built. Many more weren’t. Each power plant stopped does far more than all divestment campaigns can claim to – avoiding about 30 years of fracking over each power plant’s lifetime.

Divestment is a student-centered campaign. Even if we don’t leave campuses, there are several ways corporations are tied to universities, including purchasing and service contracts, research grants, recruiting, and ties to board members (often called trustees or regents).

A campus divestment campaign could just as easily include campaigns like the one run by the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition (which Energy Justice Network started in 2006 to fight proposed coal plants in Ohio) where Ohio State University students successfully pressured their campus president to step down from the board of Massey Energy, a major coal mining corporation. Could that also be seen as symbolic?  Perhaps, but corporate influence over those running universities has had effects on curriculum and other corporate-university relationships – more than stockholding has in terms of influence.

Far more relevant would be to get schools and other institutions to replace fossil fuel use with demand reduction and clean, non-burn alternatives. This would directly stop their financial support for climate change, while becoming demonstration sites for how we should all live. Ending reliance on industry-funded scientific research (and getting more public funding for it) would also go a long way to end the “science for hire” that has our universities cranking out “tobacco science” promoting dirty energy.

Bloomberg isn’t something I’d normally cite, but they hit the nail on the head with this recent opinion piece

“If divestment activists were serious about making a difference, setting an example, and drawing the full weight of America’s moral opprobrium onto the makers and consumers of fossil fuels, they’d be pushing a University Agenda that looked more like this:
 
  1. Require administrators, faculty, sports teams and other student groups to travel exclusively by boat and rail, except for “last mile” journeys.
  2. Cease construction of new buildings on campus.
  3. Stop air conditioning buildings, except for laboratories and archives that require climate control. Keep the heat no higher than 60 degrees in winter.
  4. Put strict caps on power consumption by students, keeping it to enough electricity to power one computer and one study lamp. Remove power outlets from classrooms, except for one at the front for the teacher.
  5. Ban meat from campus eateries and require full-time students to be on a meal plan.
  6. Remove all parking spots from campus.
  7. Stop operating campus shuttles, except for disabled students.
  8. Divest the endowment from fossil-fuel companies, if it makes you feel better

Why has No. 8 jumped to No. 1? Because it’s easy. Because a group of students pushing endowment divestiture can shut down a public meeting and be rewarded with the opportunity to hold a teach-in; a group of students pushing a faculty flying ban and the end of campus parking would find the powers that be considerably more unfriendly. Not to mention their fellow students. Or, for that matter, their fellow activists, few of whom are actually ready to commit to never in their lives traveling out of America’s pitiful passenger rail network. This is what I meant in an earlier post where I said that doing the easy but pointless thing is a substitute for, rather than a complement to, the hard and necessary thing.”

 

Dirty Energy is NOT just Fossil Fuels

 

 

Especially since the campaign is a symbolic one, it’s important that we educate people properly and stop feeding the perception that fossil fuels are the only dirty energy source, or the only fuels cooking the climate. This focus on fossil fuels has major blind spots, both for the climate and environmental justice.

Trash incineration, biomass incineration, landfill gas burning and biofuels are all promoted as renewable and carbon neutral, even though they’re worse than their worst fossil fuel counterparts. Nuclear power is also a serious problem, with its own climate impacts, which sucks up the money needed to transition away from fossil fuels.

Trash incineration is 2.5 times as bad for the climate as coal, and is far worse by every other measure of pollutants as well.  New EPA loopholes, as well as Obama’s Clean Power Plan, are poised to have coal plants and all sorts of boilers start burning trash without regulation or community notification. Divestment, like other climate policies, ignores incinerator emissions, even though over half of the CO2 emissions from trash incineration are from the burning of plastics and other fossil-fuel-derived products.

Biomass incineration is 50% worse than coal for the climate, and claims of carbon neutrality have been repeatedly debunked. “Save the climate, burn a tree” doesn’t make for a catchy cause, but forests in the U.S. are being logged for this “renewable” power, and are even being chipped and shipped (with fossil fuels) to Europe to be burned in converted giant coal plants. Ignoring “biogenic” CO2 emissions is just another form a climate denial.

Landfill gas burning for energy is even worse than trash incineration, as organic wastes are continually fed to landfills to become CO2 and methane. Burning the gas for energy, ironically, causes more gas to escape the already pitiful gas capture systems, making it worse to use for energy than to just waste and flare the gas (even if coal were displaced by the small amount of power generated). True zero waste solutions are needed, including keeping organics out of landfills, to tackle this major methane source.

Biofuels are worse than petroleum  for the climate, necessitating that we stop trying to grow fuels (using natural gas-based nitrogen fertilizers and other fossil inputs), and move away from burnable fuels altogether.

Nuclear power is the most expensive (and subsidized) form of power and one of the most destructive and racist. It is a false solution that sucks up all of the economic resources needed to transition away from fossil fuels. It also uses a significant amount of fossil fuels to chew up large amounts of land and bring uranium through four energy-intensive steps of processing before it can be used in a reactor.

By making these dirty energy climate impacts invisible, divestment campaigns feed the perception that these energy sources are valid alternatives to fossil fuels. A campaign that is more symbolic than strategic should at least ensure that its campaigners “get it” about these false solutions, and not pretend that their impacts are zero. More troubling is the fact that nuclear power and incineration disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color. Keeping their struggles invisible perpetuates the injustices.

Even natural gas is partially greenwashed by divestment, since it only measures the top corporate divestment targets in terms of CO2 emissions – without including the substantial leaks of gas throughout the system that cause fracked gas to be worse than coal for the climate. If leaked methane was properly accounted for, far more fracking companies would be campaign targets. Since the campaign only targets extraction-sector corporations, the energy utilities and power plant developers driving the market for the gas are left untouched, even though demand-side campaigning would be far more effective.

Fossil Fuel Divestment is NOT based on the Anti-Apartheid Divestment Campaign

 

Fossil fuel divestment is not like divestment from South African apartheid. The Free Burma movement of the 1990s was. In both cases, multinational corporations were pressured to divest from specific countries.  In the mid-1990s, after the Free Burma movement pressured Pepsico to leave Burma, where the company had sponsored trade shows for the military junta, Texaco was the next major campaign target. Texaco was working to build a gas pipeline through the rainforest using slave labor. Soon after the University of Wisconsin system divested over $230,000 in Texaco stock, specifically over this issue, Texaco pulled out of the pipeline project, just before they were about to be the target of a new national student campaign. These victories in Burma and South Africa were possible because corporations were pressured to cut their losses by dropping one small part of their overall operation.

 

Targeting the Wrong Corporations

 

Unlike those earlier divestment campaigns, the Fossil Fuel Divestment strategy is asking Exxon to stop being Exxon. If the campaign wanted to directly change corporate behavior through divestment, it needs to go after the corporations that can afford to make these changes, such as targeting the banks that finance dirty energy, or the cement companies that provide cement casings for fracking wells, or the power plant developers and utilities driving the demand for coal and gas. Such a campaign needs to target the corporations that enable the Exxon’s of the world, not expect Exxon itself to respond to minor fluctuations in stock price.

 

Reinvesting in What?

 

Unless reinvested wisely, money will just shift to other bad corporations, like the banks that finance fossil fuels, or companies that supply them, or other types of dirty energy. Shifting investments away from the top 200 corporations targeted by the campaign could likely mean shifting to smaller fossil fuel corporations, as Haverford College points out:

 

The campaign focuses on 200 companies identified as having the largest proven reserves of fossil fuel resources, but does not address investments in other companies with marginally smaller fossil fuel reserves, or in companies with closely related activities, such as drilling and exploration services. When the College investigated a claim that a portfolio can be ‘optimized’ to exclude the 200 named companies while closely tracking the performance of a broad index fund, we learned that this was accomplished by replacing the excluded fossil fuel companies with other, smaller fossil fuel companies and associated service companies. We question the symbolic power of a strategy that would merely replace certain fossil fuel companies with other players in the same or related industry.”

 

Shifting from the targeted 200 corporations to smaller or ancillary fossil fuel companies or their funders is the opposite of strategic. These other corporations are the ones who could more easily be moved by a divestment campaign.

 

As the divestment campaign evolves, the need for reinvesting in clean solutions has become more of a priority.  However, there are inherent contradictions in trying to play within the confines of institutions that insist on getting high returns on their “investments.” Even the term “investment” is misleading, as putting money into stock markets is more akin to gambling than investing, and is more often about getting money out of corporations (by doing nothing to earn it), than about stock being used to build the company.

 

Marjorie Kelly, co-founder (and for 20 years, president) of Business Ethics magazine, points this out in her book, The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy. After touting socially-responsible business for decades, she came to the conclusion that corporations are inherently incapable of being socially responsible, and wrote that book to outline how corporations should be radically redesigned. The intro of her book explains: 

 

Stockholders fund major public corporations -- True or false?

 

False.  Or, actually, a tiny bit true — but for the most part, massively false.  In fact, “investing” dollars don't go to AT&T but to other speculators.  Equity investments reach a public corporation only when new common stock is sold — which for major corporations is a rare event.  Among the Dow Jones industrials, only a handful has sold any new common stock in thirty years.  Many have sold none in fifty years.”

 

The capitol flow for these large corporations is in the opposite direction, forcing the corporation to internalize profits, externalize costs and constantly grow as fast as possible. The very nature of investing supports an economic growth model that is killing the planet.  Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. As Edward Abbey once said, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”  As a friend put it to me, “first we knew that the earth was flat, then we knew the earth was round… now we know that the earth is constantly growing.”

 

Clearly, we need to move beyond this understanding of the world, as if we can expect corporations to constantly grow the economy, returning profits to shareholders as if resources are endless. If we don’t challenge this premise and these economic models, we’re just reinforcing this market-based capitalist framework that brought us these problems in the first place. We need a steady state economy, but such an economic model isn’t something that an institution can invest in, expecting a return.

 

Are we smashing capitalism yet?

 

After the huge People’s Climate March, I participated in “Flood Wall Street” – a sit-in a few blocks from Wall Street, which stopped traffic (but not Wall Street) for several hours. Many were eager to “smash capitalism” – which I support – but I find it amusing how it’s framed as a one-step act, perhaps to be done on the way home from work. The idea is usually offered up by those who can’t articulate what the first steps might be to smash capitalism. I think it’s safe to say that shifting investments from a set of 200 large corporations to other corporations (large or small) is not a step toward smashing the capitalist growth-based economic model that is cooking our planet.

 

Worker-owned cooperatives and publicly-owned energy systems are one good step away from corporate control. However, they generally aren’t the sorts of systems that return profits to absentee shareholders.  Using investments as the primary tactic limits the campaign to alternatives that are still growth-based and expectant on making money by doing nothing. The best alternative I’ve heard, which is a wonderful idea, is to reinvest endowments in the creation of new cooperatives to reduce energy demand locally and return some of the savings to the investors. We need to hit a point where all home and building owners are approached with offers to fund their maximizing use of conservation, efficiency and non-burn heating and electricity alternatives. This approach couples the investment alternatives with a real way to reduce use of fossil (and bio-) fuels.

 

Evolving the Campaign & "Divesting" in the Broad Sense

 

The two main national U.S. student socially responsible investment (SRI) movements in the 1990s rapidly evolved and radicalized once they saw the need to have a deeper anti-corporate analysis.  That analysis was informed, in large part, by the "Taking Care of Business" booklet that launched the modern anti-corporate personhood movement, and related materials. The 2003 documentary, The Corporationwhich exposes how modern corporations meet the government’s definition of a psychopath, is also an eye-opener calling us to a deeper analysis and more meaningful tactics.  

 

We need to “divest” in a much broader sense. Let’s stop the 300-some proposed gas-fired power plants while there’s still time. Let’s also stop the rest of the dirty energy infrastructure, whether it be the popular pipeline to protest, the not-so-known pipelines, the Bakken crude oil “bomb trains,” the coal and nuclear facilities, or the biomass and waste incinerators. Let’s attack the demand by making campuses and communities into models of how to get away from burning anything to meet our energy needs. Let’s look honestly at the need to end animal agriculture and be willing to talk to people about what they eat, and change institutional choices in the matter. Let’s challenge one another’s environmental organizations to admit that deeper changes are needed, to focus on some of the immediate threats they’re ignoring, and to stop promoting bad policies, like Obama’s Clean Power Plan, carbon tax or trading schemes, and “renewable” energy policies that include biomass or other combustion sources.

 

Plugging in: Students seeking out a more radical (getting to the root of a problem), justice-oriented way to plug in are encouraged to check out the Student Environmental Action Coalition and to explore our campus organizing resources, including our Energy Justice Shale Initiative (formerly Energy Justice Summer) and Frack U. programs, supporting grassroots resistance to fracking. Anyone seeking to work with front-line impacted communities, or wanting to explore how reinvestment can benefit some of the environmental justice communities we work with (like Chester, PA) should get in touch with us at Energy Justice Network and check out our map of communities impacted by dirty energy and waste facilities.

 

Mike Ewall is founder and director of Energy Justice Network, a national support network for grassroots activists fighting dirty energy and waste facilities. 

Why We Must Fight Gas-fired Power Plants

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

The Ban Ki Moon U.N. Climate Summit is shortly coming to New York City. As we march and teach workshops at climate convergences, the media is likely to focus on the story of the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan” moving us away from coal in order to mitigate climate change. The story won’t be told that this plan will do more harm than good, mainly by ignoring methane and enabling a huge move from coal to gas-fired power plants.

The plan also does more harm than good by not regulating CO2 from trash incineration (2.5 times as bad as coal for the climate) and biomass incineration (50% worse), thus encouraging a large-scale conversion to burning everything from trash to trees. Other EPA deregulation efforts allowing waste burning to escape regulation by calling waste a “fuel” are also clearing the way for this toxic, climate-cooking disaster.

A leading researcher for a major fracking corporation recently confided in me that this move from coal to gas will spell disaster for climate change, confirming that if only about 3% of the gas escapes, it’s as bad as burning coal. Actual leakage rates are far higher (4-9% just at the fracking fields and more in pipelines and distribution systems), but it was most interesting to hear this person admit that the industry will never get below that level of leakage to become less harmful than coal.

We now know that methane is 86 to 105 times as potent as CO2 over a 20-year time-frame -- we’re in real trouble if we keep using the outdated “20 times over 100 years” figure EPA maintains, and permit this new generation of gas-burning to be built.

Why is it strategic to focus on the power plants?  Read on…

1) Gas burned for electricity is the largest source of gas demand since 2007. From 1997 to 2013, it more than doubled and is poised to keep growing.

2) Stopping power plants is more winnable than fighting fracking, liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, pipelines or compressor stations. Stopping fracking one community at a time isn't a winning strategy when the industry has thousands of communities targeted, and rural neighbors pit against neighboring landowners desperate for lease money. State and regional bans and moratoria have been effective so far, but LNG terminals, pipelines and compressor stations have federal preemption aspects that make them hard to fight through local or state government.

Fighting proposed LNG export terminals also has the "weak link" problem.  Ten years ago, when we were fighting LNG import terminals, there were 40 proposals throughout the U.S., but the industry and government officials admitted they only needed six – two each on the east, west and gulf coasts. Now that they're planning export terminals, there are nearly 30 proposals, and the same dynamic is at play, where the industry has stated in their conferences that they only need two on each coast, after which they'll toss out the rest of their proposals and "let environmentalists take the credit." Cynical as that is, it's not a strategy we can defeat if we're trying to attack gas demand, since it's unlikely we can beat enough to prevent the planned export volumes -- especially due to federal preemption and the clustering of most proposals on the oil- and gas-dominated Gulf Coast, where it's far harder to stop them.

Each gas-fired power plant blocked is a certain amount of gas burning and fracking prevented, while we can stop over 20 LNG terminals without putting a dent in planned export volumes. While work against the LNG export terminals is commendable, it should not be prioritized over stopping the rush to build hundreds of gas-burning power plants.

3) Attacking proposals can only be done in a certain time window, or we're doomed to roughly 30 years of power plant operation and gas demand. Although coal power plants are dirtier to live near, all of the funding and resources being put into closing coal plants while ignoring (or endorsing) new gas power plants, is misguided. Existing power plants can be tackled at any time, but proposals have to be fought when they're proposed, or it's too late. Also, coal production has peaked in the U.S., prices are going up, and gas is undercutting coal. It's effectively illegal to build new coal power plants and the industry is already moving quickly to shut and replace coal. The question is:  will we allow a switch from coal to gas, or force a change to conservation, efficiency, wind and solar?

So, if there are plans for gas-burning power plants in your area, whether it’s a new plant, an expansion or conversion of an existing plant, or reopening of a closed plant, please be in touch so we can plug you in with others who are fighting these. There is strength in numbers!

Biomass Incinerators Sue Feds for $22 Million

- by Maeusz Perkoswki, September 16, 2014, Capital Press

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"263","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"225","style":"line-height: 20.6719989776611px; width: 225px; height: 225px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"225"}}]]Two biomass facilities in California that use agricultural waste to generate electricity claim the federal government owes them about $22 million.

The plaintiffs — Ampersand Chowchilla Biomass and Merced Power — claim the U.S. Treasury Department is wrongly withholding funds from an economic stimulus program that helps pay for renewable energy projects.

Each company invested more than $40 million to build facilities in Chowchilla and Merced that rely on boilers and turbines to produce energy from agricultural byproducts, such as orchard trimmings and nut shells, as well as other sources of waste.

The facilities became operational in 2011 and applied to the Treasury Department for reimbursements of 30 percent of the project costs, which were available through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Instead of providing each company with the full amount, roughly $12 million apiece, the government only reimbursed each of them for about $1 million, the complaint said.

What the Frack? Scraping the Bottom of the Oil Barrel is Not Good to the Last Drop

- by Mark Robinowitz, PeakChoice.org

The toxic impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas have been subject to public debates, protests, and lawsuits, among other tactics to stop these dangers. But the other half of the fracking story, which has had much less attention, is the exaggeration of recoverable reserves.

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The fracking industry claims shale gas will fuel 100 years worth of USA consumption of “natural” gas. Massive amounts of drilling in the past several years have increased gas production above the 1973 natural gas peak. Gas has significantly increased its share of the electric power grids, lowering coal combustion and helping damper plans for new nuclear reactors.  

One of fracking’s dirty secrets is fracked wells decline far faster than conventional wells. Fracking a well also requires more money, technical talent and resources than conventional wells.  

Two of the three top gas fracking regions in the USA have peaked. Barnett Shale near Fort Worth, Texas has peaked and plateaued. Haynesville in Louisiana and Arkansas has peaked and declined sharply. The largest fracking region -- Marcellus in Pennsylvania -- has not yet peaked and provides nearly a fifth of all USA natural gas. Nationally, about forty percent of natural gas is from fracking.  

Fracking for oil has reversed the decline of USA oil extraction since the 1970 peak. The Bakken shale in North Dakota has fueled wild claims of alleged energy independence and even proposals to export oil to Asia. However, Bakken has not even offset the decline of the Alaska Pipeline, which has dropped three fourths from its 1988 peak and is approaching “low flow” shutdown. Fracking in south Texas has also raised Texan oil production but the state’s peak was still back in 1972 -- a reason huge efforts have been made for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Post Carbon Institute has published reports documenting how fracking estimates have been exaggerated. They were vindicated in May of this year when the Department of Energy admitted plans for oil fracking in the Monterey Shale in California had been exaggerated and downsized the estimated resource by ninety-six percent (96%). Post Carbon’s montereyoil.org website has details.  

We are in a paradox at this time of Peak Everything and Climate Chaos. If we keep burning fossil fuels we will continue to wreck the biosphere, but if we suddenly stopped that would wreck civilization, which could accelerate ecological destruction (how many forests would be burned for electricity, for example). Fossil fuels allowed our population to zoom from under a billion to over seven billion today.

Fracking, deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and tar sands extraction in Canada have delayed gasoline rationing. We are in the eye of the energy crisis hurricane, perhaps for a few more years.

The Limits to Growth study in 1972 predicted peak resources around the turn of the century, followed by peak pollution as dirtier resources were used as higher quality resources were depleted. Fracking, tar sands, mountaintop removal and other desperate destructions seek to maintain the exponential growth economy now that the easier to extract fossil fuels are in decline.  

Using solar energy for two decades taught me that renewable energy could only run a smaller, steady state economy. Our exponential growth economy requires ever increasing consumption of concentrated resources (fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables). A solar energy society would require moving beyond growth-and-debt based money.

After fossil fuel we will only have solar power, but that won't replace what we use now. We need to abandon the myth of endless growth on a round, and therefore, finite planet to have a planet on which to live.

Humanity does not face the question of whether to use less fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, since we have reached the limits to energy growth due to geological factors. How we use the remaining fossil fuels as they deplete determines how future generations will live after the fossil fuels are gone. Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for bigger highways or better trains? Relocalization of food production or more globalization? Resource wars or global cooperation?

Mark Robinowitz is author of “Peak Choice: cooperation or collapse” at PeakChoice.org

Amid Oil and Gas Boom, Colorado Continues Role as Earthquake Lab

- by Kevin Simpson, August  31, 2014,  The Denver Post

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"253","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"line-height: 20.6719989776611px; width: 335px; height: 222px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Sciencemediacentre.co.nz"}}]]From the living room chair where he sat reading around half past 9 on a May evening, Ron Baker heard the boom and felt his century-old Greeley farmhouse shudder, sending a menagerie of plastic horses toppling from a bedroom shelf.

He stepped out the back door and aimed a flashlight at the thick, ancient cottonwood that leans over the roof, expecting to reveal a snapped limb as the culprit. But he circled the house and found nothing amiss.

About a half-mile down the county road, Judy Dunn had been sitting in bed watching TV when she felt her brick ranch house shake and heard the windows rattle, making her wonder if an oil or gas well had blown.

A few miles away in the city, Gail Jackson joined neighbors spilling out into the street, wondering if a plane crash had triggered the big bang and sudden vibration that dissipated as quickly as it arrived.

Marcellus Shale Drillers Under-Reported Waste

- by Anya Litvak and Maxwell Radwin, August 31, 2014, The Post-Gazette

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"252","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"line-height: 20.6719989776611px; width: 333px; height: 287px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]EQT Corp. told the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that it sent 21 tons of drill cuttings from its Marcellus Shale wells to area landfills in 2013.

But landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania told a different story.

Six facilities in this part of the state reported receiving nearly 95,000 tons of drill cuttings and fracking fluid from the Downtown-based oil and gas operator last year.

The landfills' records are the correct ones, said Mike Forbeck, waste management director with the DEP. He said the agency has opened an investigation into drillers' under-reporting of landfill waste.

The EQT case — 21 tons vs. 95,000 tons — may be the most dramatic example of how data submitted by oil and gas operators don't match up to reporting required of landfills. The DEP said it has been aware of the problem for "a number of months" and is looking into why the different reporting channels aren't yielding the same results.

Proposed Washington Biomass Incinerator Nets $200k State Grant

[Another biomass incinerator that would require the logging of public lands. -Ed.] 

- by Eric Florip, August 27, 2014, The Columbian

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"251","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"264","style":"line-height: 20.6719989776611px; width: 264px; height: 264px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","width":"264"}}]]A $200,000 state grant will support a new biomass-fueled power plant near Stevenson expected to be operational next year, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday. The money will go to Wind River Biomass Utility, which has pursued the project will local, state and federal partners.

"Enabling clean, renewable heat and power generation from forest biomass not only creates jobs and economic activity in our timber-dependent communities, it supports our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase treatment of our local forested lands for health and fire reduction," Inslee said in a statement. The announcement came during the governor's swing through the area.

The facility would generate energy from forest biomass — for example, the wood debris left over from timber harvesting, thinning and treatments.

Studies have shown the plant could be built along with a greenhouse and nursery business, according to the governor's office. The heat and power generated by the facility would serve the site itself, and surplus power could be sold to the Skamania County PUD.

The grant will be paid through the state Department of Commerce's Forest Products Financial Assistance Program, which is federally funded. The money will be used to purchase equipment for the facility.

The $2 million first phase of the project is expected to operational by next summer, said Paul Spencer, managing partner with Wind River Biomass. The facility's initial capacity will be a half of a megawatt of electricity, and two to three megawatts of heat equivalent, Spencer said. Future expansion could increase capacity to two megawatts of electricity and five megawatts of heat equivalent, he said.

Most of the material fueling the plant will come from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Spencer said.

Oregon Group Files Civil Rights Complaint Over Biomass Air Pollution

- by Lisa Arkin, August 6, 2014, Beyond Toxics
 
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"246","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 222px; height: 167px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: KVAL"}}]]On August 6, Beyond Toxics filed a civil rights and environmental justice complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) challenging the Lane County Regional Air Protection Agency’s decision to allow a power plant to increase its discharges of hazardous particulate matter. The complaint alleges that allowing Seneca Sustainable Energy to increase pollution discharges disproportionately impacts the health of minority and low-income residents of West Eugene. The complaint requests that U.S. EPA’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) invalidate the decision to increase pollutant discharges.
 
Seneca Sustainable Energy’s plant emits fine particulate matter, which is highly dangerous to human health. Exposure to fine particles can affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease, and increase the risk of premature death. Children’s asthma rates in the West Eugene area are almost twice the state average.
 
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are disproportionately likely to be minority and low-income (in comparison with other areas of Eugene). The nearby neighborhoods (Bethel-Danebo, Trainsong, and parts of River Road) are also overburdened with industrial pollution, making these residents disproportionately likely to suffer from health effects such as asthma.

Energy Justice Summer: Standing With Communities in the Shalefields

 
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"245","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 310px; height: 242px; margin: 1px 10px; float: left;"}}]]This summer youth have gathered in the shale gas region of Northeastern Pennsylvania to facilitate trainings, compile reports, and to fight for the safety of landowners, workers, and the environment.
 
Energy Justice Summer is based in Susquehanna County in order to directly connect with the community members impacted by shale gas development. The program consists of three working teams: research, education and outreach, and community organizing.
 
Charlotte Lewis, a research team member, Scranton native and student at Lackawanna College said, “Rural communities in Pennsylvania are changing from farmland to gas land. When this source of energy is depleted, what industry will we have left to sustain us?”
 
Lewis and her team members have drafted a socioeconomic impact report focusing on poverty indicators and the decline of farm-related income in rural counties with high-volume drilling.
 
The preliminary findings, based on data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, show that counties free of shale gas wells that use at least 15 percent of their acreage as operating farms earned 13.5 percent more from their commodity sales per farm than those in counties with over 100 wells drilled.
 
The report also explores the rise of free and reduced school lunch eligibility in school districts with high density drilling. For example, according to the PA Department of Education, 5 out of 6 school districts in Susquehanna County have seen an increase in eligibility in the past five years; at the same time, over 950 shale gas wells have been drilled.
 
Another series of reports created by the research team includes the history of environmental violations committed by Shell, a international crude oil & gas company. This will be followed by two more reports focusing on Cabot Oil & Gas, and Chesapeake Energy.
 
Sarita Farnelli, education and outreach team member, and a student who grew up in Dimock, PA said, “Fracking made my family's water undrinkable. I'm still afraid to drink our tap water.”
 
Events hosted by the education and outreach team have included a free water quality monitoring workshop in collaboration with the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring at Dickinson College at Salt Springs State Park. In addition, trainings on environmental violations analysis, regulatory appeals, and community organizing.
 
On top of scheduling workshops in Susquehanna County, the community organizing team has worked with residents of Milford Township, PA to halt the compressor station planned for NiSource's East Side Expansion Project. The 9,400 horsepower compressor would connect the Tennessee and Columbia pipelines and is proposed to be built in the vicinity of local homes, schools, and senior centers—despite the threat of respiratory diseases or cancer contributed by venting emissions.
 
When the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to schedule a hearing to answer questions and concerns of local community members, Energy Justice Summer and Clean Air Council teamed up to hold a public hearing on July 9th at the Pike County Public Library in Milford. As a result of this successful meeting, the DEP planned a hearing at 7 pm. on August 18th, at the Delaware Valley High School in Westfall Township.
 
The organizing team has also directed their energy to the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project. The Williams Company Inc. extension would connect to the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export terminal and will cross new territory in Susquehanna, Wyoming, Columbia, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Lebanon, Lancaster, Clinton and Luzerne counties.
 
Energy Justice Summer Fellows have met with landowners on the pipeline route to distribute information about the FERC regulatory process and landowner rights. The team is scheduling follow-up landowners' meetings in September with residents who may lose building lots, fruit trees, sugar maple groves, timber sales, and pasture land if the pipeline is approved.
 
Spencer Johnson, from Lancaster, PA, writer, and graduate of Franklin and Marshall College said, “There are a lot of stories and articles about fracking, but to be here on the frontlines, to be in it...the people we are working with are our friends, we want our friends to be protected.”
 
Johnson has written a series of stories based on the testimonials from residents whose health and livelihood have been effected by unconventional shale gas infrastructure, in collaboration with a professional photographer and videographer, Max Grudzinski and Crystal Vander Weit. An interactive web project featuring the stories, photos, and videos of Johnson's team is currently being designed.
 
The team of Energy Justice Summer also includes: Adam Hasz, Alex Lotorto, Allison Petryk, Collin Rees, and Maria Langholz. Energy Justice Summer is a joint project between Energy Justice Network and SustainUs. Energy Justice Network is a non-profit organization committed to providing resources to grassroots organizing groups battling environmental degradation throughout the nation. SustainUS is an internationally-networked nonprofit organization dedicated to offering tools of social and environmental justice to further young peoples' goals toward sustainable development.

Residents Voice New Concerns on Gainesville, FL Biomass Incinerator

-  by Morgan Watkins, August 5, 2014, Gainesville Sun

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"235","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 225px; height: 154px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: State of Florida"}}]]Local residents worried about the biomass plant showed up Tuesday evening for a public meeting on its draft Title V air operation permit, which could be approved this fall, to make their concerns known.

Folks milled around the Hall of Heroes Community Room at the Gainesville Police Department on Northwest Eighth Avenue, talking over the issues with fellow residents as well as with Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials who were on hand to answer questions.

Several people submitted written comments to the FDEP at the meeting, which was styled as an open house, although others stopped by a table in an adjacent room to give verbal comments instead.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center has applied to the FDEP for the five-year permit, which would be effective Jan. 1. This would be its initial Title V permit.

The biomass plant drew complaints of noise, odor and dust issues in the past from residents of the Turkey Creek Golf & Country Club, while government employees who work nearby at Alachua County's Public Works facility complained about odor and dust problems as well.