Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Kamala Harris Flip-Flops on Fracking After Polls Tighten in Pennsylvania

A week ago, Joe Biden notoriously flip-flopped on his long-held anti-fracking position while campaigning in Pennsylvania, where fracking is a major industry.

“I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me,” Biden said.

Unfortunately for him, there was ample evidence that he’s promised to end fracking if elected president.

Now that polls have tightened, and Trump and Biden are tied in the state of Pennsylvania (a crucial swing state), Kamala Harris, who also campaigned on banning fracking, has also flip-flopped on the issue. Harris now says she’s comfortable with Biden’s newfound support for fracking because (wait for it!) it provides “good-paying jobs in places like Pennsylvania.”

During her failed presidential bid, Kamala Harris promised she would ban fracking.

“There is no question I am in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said during a CNN town hall on climate change in September 2019.

The Biden-Harris campaign knows that fracking and natural gas are important to the economy of Pennsylvania. After lurching further and further to the left during the primaries, they’re now trying to pivot back toward the center by reversing key positions they’ve long held to get support from the base of the Democratic Party. Now they’re desperately trying to pander to a crucial swing state and expect the public to trust them when they say they won’t ban fracking.


Recalling EPA’s Gold King Mine disaster

Five years after the infamous blowout, EPA finally settles with Utah over Gold King pollution

Duggan Flanakin

On the fifth anniversary of the notorious spill of 3 million gallons of heavily contaminated acid mine water from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and State of Utah announced an agreement that ends the state’s lawsuit.

Neither the EPA nor the contractors involved at the Gold King spill site are entirely off the hook for their alleged missteps that resulted in downstream damages. Lawsuits filed by the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico, and a group of Navajo farmers and ranchers have been consolidated, and discovery is proceeding, with a projected trial date sometime in late 2021.

Pursuant to the agreement, Utah will dismiss its legal actions against the EPA and the United States; mining companies Kinross Gold Corporation, Kinross Gold U.S.A., Inc., Sunnyside Gold Corporation, and Gold King Mines Corporation; and EPA’s contractors: Environmental Restoration, LLC, Weston Solutions, Inc. and Harrison Western Corporation. EPA also agreed to strengthen Utah’s involvement in the EPA’s work to address contamination at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site, which includes the Gold King Mine and other abandoned mines.

The agency further agreed to act on the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s application for $3 million in Clean Water Act funds for various projects, including the development of water quality criteria for Utah Lake, septic density studies, nonpoint source pollution reduction projects, and nutrient management plans for agricultural sources.

The agency also agreed to initiate Superfund assessments by the end of 2021 at the Rico Argentine Mine Site, the Camp Bird Mining Site, the Carribeau (or Caribou) Mine Area, all located in Colorado, and possibly other sites that have the potential to impact downstream waters in Utah. Coupled with its work at the recently established Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (which includes Gold King), the EPA expects to conduct and oversee more than $220 million in abandoned mining site work that will potentially improve Utah’s water quality by reducing the flow of heavy metals and other pollutants from old mines in the state’s waterways.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the agreement “a win-win for EPA and Utah” that “will bring environmental benefits to Utah, avoid protracted litigation, and hopefully serve as a lesson for the future to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.” EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold promised that the agency’s “partnership with Utah will be stronger as we continue to support the State in addressing its water quality needs.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the state is “very pleased that millions of dollars can now be spent towards mitigation, remediation and assuring water quality in Utah, rather than years of more litigation, trials and appeals.” This, he added, “is what cooperative federalism looks like – a true federal and state partnership” that protects the people, public health and the environment.

The relationship between the EPA and Utah was not always so amicable. Within days after Cement Creek and the Animas River were turned yellow all the way from Colorado through New Mexico and Utah all the way to Lake Powell, Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert declared a state of emergency and added that he was “deeply disappointed by the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was a preventable mistake, and they must be held accountable.”

CFACT Senior Policy Analyst Paul Driessen described the incident this way: A contractor under EPA supervision used a backhoe to dig away tons of rock and debris that were blocking the entrance portal of the Gold King Mine, which had been mostly abandoned since 1923. Because of steady seepage, the EPA should have known that the water was highly acidic (pH 4.0-4.5) and laced with heavy metals. It could and should certainly have checked.

Eventually, the greatly weakened portal burst open, unleashing at least 3 million gallons of toxic water that contaminated the Animas and San Juan Rivers all the way to Lake Powell, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border on the Colorado River. The EPA waited an entire day before notifying downstream mayors, health officials, families, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and kayakers of the toxic spill.

Driessen lambasted the Obama Administration, other Democratic Party officials, and eco-activists for their initial response to the incident, which also caused major damage to Navajo Indian lands. But while EPA’s own internal report called the incident “likely inevitable,” an Interior Department review released in October 2015 found it was both “preventable: and also “emblematic” of the federal government’s “inconsistent and deeply flawed approaches to reopening shuttered mines.” Driessen and others agreed.

Specifically, the Interior Department said that contractors at the Gold King site chose not to bore a hole to physically check water levels and contamination inside the mine before digging – a protocol established in 2011 during a successful mine reopening. “Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.” Before undertaking its incompetent cleanup, EPA had threatened Gold King property owner Todd Hennis with a $35,000 per day fine unless he granted them access to the property (which the agency and its contractors then turned into a disaster zone).

In a follow-up article, Driessen found the testimony of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell shocking, as she stated she was unaware of anyone being fired, fined or even demoted – and that federal investigations and reports refused to hold anyone responsible for the ensuing disaster. Even worse, while then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said she EPA “absolutely, deeply sorry,” she disavowed any personal or agency responsibility and sent the Navajo emergency water tanks contaminated with oil. Then FEMA denied the Navajo any disaster relief, which prompted nearly 300 affected farmers and ranchers to file a separate (now consolidated) lawsuit.

(Driessen’s in-depth September 2015 articles (here, here and here) provide extensive details – and damning conclusions – about the scope of EPA and contractor incompetence, negligence, double standards, whitewashing ... and refusal to accept responsibility, compensate victims, or even observe the very rules that EPA typically imposes with an iron fist on corporations, municipalities and citizens. (Most of the damning photographs of activities leading up to and after the blowout appear to have been scrubbed from the internet. However, quite a few can still be found here and elsewhere.)

In the early days of the Trump Administration (while Obama holdovers were still running the show), the EPA finally released an Inspector General’s report on the Gold King incident. Rob Gordon, longtime head of the National Wilderness Institute and currently an advisor to the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said the IG’s report was yet another whitewash, more for its omissions than its inclusions.

Gordon noted, for example, that the IG’s report had omitted EPA’s critical, erroneous and indefensible assumption that the mine was only partially full of water, and failed to mention that the EPA crew reburied the natural plug after unearthing it. His final assessment was that there are “gaping holes in the EPA’s fiction” which, if allowed to stand, will send a message that “misleading, deceiving and lying works, and that bureaucrats need not follow the laws they enforce on others.”

Navajo and New Mexico officials were equally dissatisfied with the EPA’s initial response to their cries for just compensation for immediate and future losses of both revenue and their traditional use of land and water impacted by the spill. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas lambasted the EPA for seeking to “impose weak testing standards in New Mexico.” That litigation is still ongoing.

Via email     

The prospects of a green steel industry

It's possible but if it came about it would require huge dollops of taxpayer money to proceed.  And the huge amount of hydrogen needed has to come from somewhere -- from electricity produced by "fossil" fuels most probably.  It's really just an intellectual exercise

Last week marked an important moment for the prospects of a green steel industry. In Lulea in Sweden a low-carbon steel pilot plant began to test operations. It is the brainchild of HYBRIT Development, a joint venture between SSAB, a steelmaker, LKAB, a state iron-ore producer, and Vattenfall, a state-owned power company. “There is a lot still to be done, and there are challenges remaining, but I dare to claim that this is a globally unique plant,”  says Martin Lindqvist, boss of SSAB.

Somewhere between 7% and 9% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions comes from making steel. Producing one tonne of the stuff emits about two tonnes of carbon dioxide. If the world is to tackle climate change, that needs to be dramatically cut. The most common steelmaking method uses coking coal to remove oxygen from iron ore. The resulting liquid iron is mixed with other substances to create steel. What makes the HYBRIT project unique is that it aims to replace the coking coal with hydrogen.  And if that is made with renewable energy (as is the plan), then the process will have virtually no carbon footprint.

Others are following HYBRIT’s lead. On August 28th Thyssenkrupp, a German steelmaker, announced plans to build a similar plant. ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, is experimenting with a range of low-carbon approaches, including carbon capture and storage and replacing the coking coal with a “bio-coal” made from waste wood. Voestalpine, an Austrian steelmaker, launched a green hydrogen-power plant last November.

Much of the action is happening in the European Union. That is partly the result of its emissions-trading scheme (EU ETS), which puts a price on carbon emissions and eats into the steelmakers’ profit margins. Last year ArcelorMittal blamed carbon taxes, among other things, for its decision to cut European production. Before British Steel went bust in 2019, it received a £100m ($130m) government loan to pay its EU carbon bill.

The pressure is likely to grow. Next year the EU ETS goes into a new phase. As a result, free carbon allowances, which are dished out to many industries, will be reduced. Morgan Stanley, a bank, estimates that the costs will amount to a tenth of European steel-producers’ pre-tax profits. Many hope that the costs will encourage steelmakers to invest more in green products. But bosses claim that, without help, they may be forced to move operations abroad.

Whether or not that is true, higher taxes will help make green steel more competitive. HYBRIT plans to get a product to market in 2026. Initial estimates suggest that the price could be 20% to 30% above that of conventional steel. Those costs could be higher still. Much depends on the price of electricity, which is needed in huge quantities to make the green hydrogen.

A bigger problem than price is scale. Even if European producers create a competitive, low-carbon offering, Chinese mills make 48% of the world’s steel. They may fall under a Chinese emissions scheme in the future. But there is little hope of their experimenting with green steel soon.

HYBRIT’s launch is a welcome, much-needed step. But Mr Lindqvist is indeed right to point out that a lot needs to be done. That goes for Sweden’s pilot plant and for the steel industry as a whole.

Editorial from "The Economist"

Australia: Koala controversy in NSW

How much do we need to lock up to protect its habitat?

Bitter division in the Coalition over planning policy related to koalas is threatening to split the government, with Deputy Premier John Barilaro asking the Premier to call an emergency cabinet meeting over the issue.

Mr Barilaro wrote to his National MPs asking them to sign a letter urging Gladys Berejiklian to hold the cabinet meeting on September 14 as three Nationals MPs threaten to move to the crossbench.

Nationals MPs are demanding that cabinet changes the guidelines which form part of a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) that seeks to protect koala habitat.

A spokesman for the Premier said the "issue would be considered by cabinet in due course".

While the Nationals are leading the opposition to the policy, some Liberals, such as Wollondilly MP Nathaniel Smith, are also concerned about the impact it could have on their electorates.

Several government sources said Emergency Services Minister David Elliott has also expressed concerns, although the minister said he had not yet declared his position.

The concerned MPs want Planning Minister Rob Stokes to agree to a raft of changes, including the definition of core koala habitat, before NSW Parliament resumes next Tuesday.

A government source said Ms Berejiklian had already made the decision that cabinet would consider the changes before Mr Barilaro's letter.

One of the most vocal opponents, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, said the guidelines were "a knee-jerk reaction to target farmers and the timber industry" and a "line in the sand".

The Nationals MP said the new rules, which include increasing the number of tree species protected from 10 to 123, would severely limit the way property owners could manage their land.

"I was elected to parliament to represent my community and I get really annoyed when city-centric people preach to us, especially when people in Sydney have done nothing for their koalas," he said.

Mr Gulaptis said he would move to the crossbench if changes were not made. Nationals MP Gurmesh Singh, who represents Coffs Harbour, is also considering sitting on the crossbench, as is upper house Nationals MP Sam Farraway.

The NSW Nationals' chairman and former long-serving MP Andrew Fraser also weighed into the debate on Monday, issuing a statement "demanding commonsense on planning policy".

"The people of regional NSW are sick and tired of being used as the biodiversity offset for western Sydney development," Mr Fraser said.

Mr Stokes, who has met with Nationals MPs including Mr Gulaptis and Mr Singh to discuss their concerns, has maintained that changes were about modernising koala protection laws.

"It's fair enough then that there should be an obligation to check whether it's [a development] going to have an impact on koala populations," Mr Stokes said last week.

The NSW Farmers Association said on Monday that Ms Berejiklian needed to "partner with farmers" to take steps to protect koalas on farms instead of imposing a policy based on inaccurate mapping.

"The current debate around the Koala [policy] has been wrongly characterised as a green versus brown debate – this is incorrect," NSW Farmers' president James Jackson said.

The Nature Conservation Council has warned that the Berejiklian government should be "considering strengthening laws to protect this iconic species".

“On current trends, koalas are on track to become extinct in NSW by 2050,” the council's chief executive Chris Gambian said.

“The laws that Mr Gulaptis wants to tear up were drafted well before the summer bushfires, which killed thousands, wiped out local populations and pushed many others closer to extinction."



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