Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Earth Day 2018 – A View of Hope from the Pit of Despair

April 22, 2018

by Patricia M. DeMarco

A bright profusion of daffodils rims the pond.  Young mourning doves explore the edge of the waterfall with their fuzzy plumage offering camouflage from the Coopers hawks soaring overhead.  Blossoms and tree leaves swell in readiness to burst forth with the rich foliage of summer.  I listen to the songs of the birds in their Spring courtship calls and take comfort that the flow of the seasons continues.  At the micro-level of a single back yard, the thrum of Life pulses within the Earth and gives me peace. So much of what gives life meaning is embedded in little things. Priceless things like Spring.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder. P. 100)

My thoughts turn to Rachel Carson this Spring of 2018. Her heroic battle to complete her book Silent Spring in the face of the devastation of metastatic invasion of breast cancer into her bones, her lungs, her every nerve ending wracked with the devastation of a disease that in her time was a death sentence.  The one in eight women in America who face this same disease have a much more favorable trajectory for survival.[1] Rachel Carson’s voice calling for precaution in the use of man-made materials that are biologically active has fallen on deaf ears.  Even the protections for clean air and water and the toxic substances controls imposed by law have failed to stem the flow of toxic releases. Now labeled as “burdensome regulations” even the minimum standards in place are under attack in favor of unfettered pollution to create short–term economic profits. The myth that protecting the environment costs jobs is well entrenched and shows no sign of abatement. I look at a trajectory forward from this year and see nightmare visions of rivers flowing black with coal waste, plastic suffocating the life of the oceans, air thickened by noxious emissions newly relieved of constraints.  I think of the Pittsburgh of the late 1950’s when I was old enough to notice and complain of the sulfurous smell that suffused my world. Is it even remotely possible that this past will be the future my grandchildren know? I tremble in rage at even the possibility of such an outcome.

For the first time in the history of the world,
every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals,
from the moment of conception until death. 
Rachel Carson. (Silent Spring. P.12)

Rachel Carson’s precautionary message, vilified in the industrial mainstream in America, has taken hold in the regulatory systems of other countries, especially Europe. In the EU, the burden of proof of safety rests on the manufacturers who must demonstrate that products and their breakdown components pose no health or toxic danger to people or living things.  Not so in the US.  Here, the industry meets minimum requirements, and whole categories of materials are “generally regarded as safe” without testing for health effects.  The burden is on the consumer to prove that their illness was caused by exposure.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biennial bioassay of the US population, for example, the average American has over 300 synthetic chemicals in his or her body, 75 of which are known mutagens or carcinogens.[2]  93% of the adult population has Bis-Phenyl-A in their bodies, a known endocrine disruptor found in plastic container linings, thermal paper such as receipts, and plastics used for food.[3] Even babies are born pre-polluted, as documented by a study of cord blood in newborns that showed 237 synthetic chemicals present at birth, including carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds.[4] The wanton disregard for post-consumer fate of synthetic materials now forms a global chemical stew that surrounds all living things. The modern Age of Plastic has been a massive experiment on life without any controls.

Global awareness of global pollution as an existential problem is growing across the world.  It is impossible to ignore the millions of ocean creatures coming to land dead from consuming plastic debris floating in the ocean in great gyres concentrated by the currents. Our habit of converting fossil raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with no plan for retrieving the waste creates millions and millions of pounds a year of synthetic material that does not break down into smaller molecules that can re-enter the cycle of life.  Synthetic materials made from fossil resources, extracted with great damage to the living systems of the Earth, transported, manufactured into materials for convenience. 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, over half for single use items that become trash – More than eight million tons of plastic debris ends up in the ocean every year.[5] Modern living has hundreds of daily actions depending on plastics- structural components of buildings, vehicles, electronics, tools, instruments, fibers. The problem of plastic pollution is complex, and has evolved over fifty years at least.  The solutions will require dedicated effort, but most critically, a force of will to change the process toward solutions.

It is a moral and ethical problem, not a technology problem. The plastic pollution of the globe is the most serious unintended consequence of convenience combined with a failure to take responsibility for the waste produced at any level.  Manufacturers have failed to take responsibility at the design stage to prevent toxicity and harm in the biological activity of the synthetic material they produce.  Unless regulatory restrictions are imposed and enforced, there is no ethic of assuring safety in the products or their degradation by-products.  Industry, especially in the US screams about burdensome regulation and insists that restrictions limit profits and kill jobs. Producers of plastics, especially single-use consumer convenience products, take no responsibility for reclaiming or recapturing the waste. There is no profit in recapturing the used materials, it is apparently cheaper to make new plastics from more fossil raw resources like petroleum and natural gas liquids.  Retailers and advertisers promote ever more items for convenience, representing the single use and throw away concept as a convenience to the consumer. Cutlery, plastic cups, dishes, straws, food containers, take-out foods, packaging everything within packages then clad in shrink-wrap… the list is endless. Consumers take little responsibility for the waste created with all this “convenience.” Americans recycle less than 5% of the plastic waste.  The ethic of taking responsibility for recycling plastic has evaporated with the old-fashioned practice of returning beverage bottles for re-use. Soda. Milk, beer, water once came in bottles with a deposit and refund on return.  Glass bottles could be cleaned and reused five or more times before being recycled and reformed for renewed use.  A circular fate for the silica based resource of glass.  This practice is routine in Germany, where re-use of beverage bottles is standard.[6]  They also recycle and re-use some plastic bottles with machines that shred the bottles at the point of sale for a deposit.

Solutions to the single-use plastic problem can begin immediately with citizens calling for responsible plastic policies.[7] REFUSE single-use plastics: straws, shopping bags, water and soft drink bottles, cutlery, food containers.  REDUCE the amount of disposable plastic in a conscious effort at the point of purchase.  Ask: “Is there a reusable version of this product?  Is the container recyclable? Is the packaging excessive? What becomes of this product when I am done with it?” Plan ahead to bring re-usable shopping bags, re-usable cutlery, cups and water bottles. Bring re-usable containers fort take-out rather than Styrofoam or polystyrene take out boxes. RE-USE items that can be re-purposed for creative applications from crafts to the selection of goods made from recycled materials, such as wrapping paper, carpet, flooring, some furniture. Recycled plastic for 3-D printing and ocean recovered plastic for product containers are two initiatives from industries developing more responsible global practices. (Ref) RECYCLE responsibly. Know the requirements for recycling in your community. Sort appropriately; wash out food contamination, avoid cross-contamination that will send the entire load to a landfill. RAISE YOUR VOICE to demand better plastics management policies.  From the local level, seek community action to have efficient recycling programs, compositing clean materials for community gardens being careful to prevent plastic contamination. Stand up for state and federal rules that make product safety a priority to protect consumers. Call product manufacturers of brands you use and demand a responsible waste recovery program.  Send the packaging back! In the UK, a group of consumers have been leaving excess single-use packaging at the store after check out….. Call your Representatives and Senators to demand stronger regulations that protect consumers and the environment by reducing the production of single-use materials at the source.[8]

Forty-eight years ago, the first Earth Day called millions of people to action.  We filled the streets in droves, held Teach-Ins and demanded that law-makers pay attention to the pollution of water air and land that was killing us and our children. Today, the approach of limiting the exposure by determining allowable levels of emissions has still resulted in 5.2 billion pounds per year of toxic releases into air, water and land.[9]  Today’s technology has the capacity to go beyond the old adage that the “Solution to pollution is dilution.” We have managed to pollute the oceans globally, the air worldwide, entire watersheds, acres and acres of farmland.  It is time to exercise the precautionary principle in full force.  Design materials to be safe from the beginning – benign by design through green chemistry practices.[10] The culture of convenience based on consumer freedom to act without restraints and for industries to make decisions based exclusively on the economic profit as a driver, leaves the priceless attributes of the living Earth exposed to wanton destruction.[11] Freedom without responsibility and accountability for damage leads to chaos. The moral obligation to preserve the priceless life support system of the Earth must balance the economic drive of profits at any cost.  We can live without plastic straws; we cannot live without fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected Web of Life, of which humans are but one part. On this Earth Day, take a walk through your neighborhood, and pick up all the trash around you. Notice how much plastic debris has become a normal part of the landscape, and resolve to be part of the solution.

 

Citations and References

[1] U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics  http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Biomonitoring Program. https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/index.html

[3] Edna Ribiero et. Al. Occupational Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA): A Reality That Still Needs to Be Unveiled. Toxics. 2017 Sep; 5(3): 22. Published online 2017 Sep 13.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634705/

[4] Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood.” Scientific American. December  2, 2009. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa

[5] Joe McCarthy. “9 Shocking Facts About Plastics in Our Oceans.” Global Citizen. June 12, 2017. https://www.ecowatch.com/plastic-oceans-facts-images-2436857254.html

[6] James. How Does The German Pfand System Work, And Is It Effective? 21 May 2017.

https://liveworkgermany.com/2017/05/how-does-the-german-pfand-system-work-and-is-it-effective/

[7] Beth Terry. 100 Steps to a Plastic Free Life.  https://myplasticfreelife.com/plasticfreeguide/

[8] National Council of State Legislatures offers resources and model legislation.    HTTP://WWW.NCSL.ORG/RESEARCH/ENVIRONMENT-AND-NATURAL-RESOURCES/PLASTIC-BAG-LEGISLATION.ASPX

[9] Environmental Protection Agency.Toxic Release Inventory. National Analysis 2015.  www.epa.gov

[10] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh. 2017) Pages 140-169.

[11] Report of the World Commission on The Environment and Development “Our Common Future.”  United Nations 1985.  http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

 

 


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Comments on the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline

 

April 5, 2018

Allegheny County Public Hearing

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Southwest Regional Office
Waterways & Wetlands Program
400 Waterfront Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
RA-EPWW-SWRO@pa.gov 

 

In the Matter of: Shell Pipeline Company, Falcon Ethane Pipeline

JOINT PERMIT APPLICATION FOR PENNSYLVANIA CHAPTER 105 WATER OBSTRUCTION AND ENCROACHMENT PERMIT AND U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS SECTION 404 PERMIT (JANUARY 20, 2018)

My name is Patricia M. DeMarco, I reside at 616 Woodside Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.  I am an elected Member of the Borough Council in the Borough of Forest Hills, representing 5,600 citizens.[1] Our community lies in the area affected by air emissions and watershed contamination potential impacts from the Falcon Ethane Pipeline. I speak on behalf of the citizens I am sworn to represent and for the unborn children of the 21st century who will bear the consequences of the decisions made today.

 

I oppose the construction of this pipeline and the entire industrial complex of which it is a critical component. The Falcon Ethane Pipeline system is a 97-mile pipeline network intended to feed the SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Falcon Pipeline will carry more than 107,000 barrels of ethane per day through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to Shell’s Appalachia Petrochemical facility, which would then “crack,” or break apart, ethane molecules to create ethylene and polyethylene for single-use plastic materials at the rate of 1.6 million tons per year. The SHELL Appalachia Petrochemical facility would be the first step in building a regional petrochemical hub.[2] Piecemeal permitting of the multiple components of this intended petrochemical industry hub prevents the comprehensive impact review of the consequences of converting the forested, rural landscape of western Pennsylvania to an industrial mega-complex. The petrochemical industry is migrating from the storm ravaged Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana and Texas to escape the effects of climate change that their own industrial activities are exacerbating. Western Pennsylvania communities will become part of the sacrifice zone to this endeavor, as has happened in Baton Rouge Louisiana and parts of Houston, Texas.[3][4]

 

The construction of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline should be denied for three reasons: it presents a clear danger to critical ecosystem functions in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it presents a public health hazard; and it contributes to the immoral and unethical destruction of our climate and planetary health. Propagating infrastructure for fossil-derived methane to be burned as fuel, and petrochemicals to be converted into single-use plastic materials accelerates the slow suicide of our civilization.

 

Falcon Ethane Pipeline violates PA Constitutional protection for the environment.

The Pennsylvania Constitution protects the natural resources of the Commonwealth:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.[5]

This Constitutional provision argues explicitly for precaution in protecting natural resources, including their inherent ecosystem functions, for the use of current and future generations.  It is clear from the proposed route of this Falcon Ethane Pipeline that the permanent right of way will assure the clearing of forest lands, the disruption of natural habitat, the exposure of wetlands, streams and rivers to spill hazards and erosion for the imposition of roads and crossings, and the loss of aesthetic and recreational use of lands. The proposed route of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline will require 1, 273 acres of construction space and 650 acres for the permanent right of way. The Shell Pipeline Company has a poor record of spills, from breaks, leaks and operations. An examination of Shell’s operations around the world makes it clear that the company operates with a brazen disregard for the safety of its own workers, the needs of local communities both here in the United States and internationally, and the long-term impact of drilling on the environment.[6]  In the United States, Shell has one of the worst environmental violation records in the industry, illustrated by these few examples. In September 2011, Shell was fined $500,000 for failing to report five toxic releases at the Deer Park refinery in Harris County; the facility is close to two schools and multiple communities; In 2010, two Shell subsidiaries were forced to pay $3.3 million in civil penalties to the government and spend $6 million to install pollution reduction equipment at refineries in Louisiana and Alabama; In addition, four years earlier, the company was fined $6.5 million for more than 50 environmental violations in Riverside, California.[7] This pattern of corporate behavior is unlikely to change in the proposed Pennsylvania operations at Shell petrochemical facilities.

 

Clean fresh water is essential for life- single use plastic from natural gas liquids like ethane is not. Critical environmental and ecosystem functions will be at risk of damage and degradation from the effects of this pipeline and the extensive infrastructure required for the extraction of fossil methane and natural gas liquids such as ethane from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields. Fully implementing this strategy to locate a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania will assure the destruction of the natural landscape, watersheds, and fresh water rivers and streams for decades into the future. Protecting fresh water resources is a critical need to support the habitability and resilience of the Western Pennsylvania region.  The Falcon Ethane Pipeline compromises watersheds, wetlands, streams and rivers that provide the water supply directly for at least 8,500 people, and the 30,000 people who rely on the Ambrige Reservoir, not counting people served by private wells within the affected area.[8]

The Falcon Pipeline will directly intersect 319 streams with 361 additional streams located only 500 ft from construction areas and 174 wetlands with 470 additional wetlands located only 500 ft from construction areas. For the most part, these intersections will use open cuts and dry ditch trenching for the construction process, offering minimum protection from sediment, erosion and the introduction of contaminants.  Horizontal Directional Drilling to give greater protection to sensitive areas was indicated in some planned crossings, including highway crossings, but was not included in the plans for crossing areas that directly affect water reservoirs in the Ambridge and Tappen Reservoirs. No plans for DEP or other regulatory oversight of operations in these sensitive watershed, wetland and stream crossings are included in the Application.

 

The Montour Trail will be crossed by the Falcon Pipeline in nine locations: five by the pipeline itself, three by temporary access roads, and one by a permanent access road.[9] Construction of the pipeline and ongoing right of way maintenance will entail clearing of woods and disruption of scenery and a recreational bike way used by an average of 400,000 people annually. This constitutes a permanent and irreparable harm to a scenic and recreational asset of Pennsylvania.

 

The Falcon Ethane Pipeline will deliver ethane extracted from Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant in Monaca, PA. The anticipated output of this facility is polyethylene plastic, a precursor for single-use plastic packaging, among other plastic products. It is anticipated to use low-cost ethane supplied by shale gas producers in the Marcellus and Utica basins to produce 1.6 million tons (Mt) of polyethylene a year.[10] Global pollution from plastic waste has reached crisis levels. In 2010, eight million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean from coastal cities and river discharges.[11] With no restrictions for recycling, reclaiming single-use plastic waste, or designing for repurposing and recapturing this material, the net effect of the Shell Appalachian Petrochemical facility, and the ethane pipeline that feeds it, will be to convert fossil raw materials to trash as rapidly as possible to generate profits for the industry.  The costs to the environment in the form of permanent non-biodegradable plastic pollution will endure for generations.

 

Falcon Pipeline contributes to health effects for workers and communities.

The slick water hydraulic fracturing method for extracting fossil natural gas and associated liquids from deep shale deposits was enabled by the National Energy Act of 2005, which gave an exemption for this process from seven federal environmental and public health laws.[12]  Due to such exemptions, the Falcon Ethane Pipeline is not technically required to file for air quality permits under the Clean Air Act. The rapid expansion of the industry has been accompanied by an increasing documentation of public health and worker exposure data. As a result of the rapid growth of this industry, 9.4 million Americans in 39 states live within one mile of fracking facilities. The Fifth Compendium of peer reviewed documentation of health effects from the fracking industry has been compiled by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social responsibility. The major findings of this study based on peer-reviewed health studies are as follows:

By several measures, evidence for fracking-related health problems is emerging across the United States and Canada. Studies of birth outcomes in regions of intensive unconventional oil and gas extraction continue to point to reproductive risks, including low birth weight and preterm births. In Pennsylvania, as the number of gas wells increase in a community, so do rates of hospitalization, and community members experience sleep disturbance, headache, throat irritation, stress/anxiety, cough, shortness of breath, sinus, fatigue, wheezing, and nausea. Drilling and fracking operations are also correlated with increased rates of asthma, elevated motor vehicle fatalities, ambulance runs and emergency room visits, and gonorrhea incidence. Benzene levels in ambient air surrounding drilling and fracking operations are sufficient to elevate risks for future cancers in both workers and nearby residents, according to studies. Animal studies show numerous threats to fertility and reproductive success from exposure to various concentrations of oil and gas chemicals, including at levels representative of those found in drinking water. Two dozen chemicals commonly used in fracking operations are endocrine disruptors that can variously disrupt organ systems, lower sperm counts, and cause reproductive harm at levels to which people can be realistically exposed.[13]

Given that significant public health impact is already evident from the build out of the petrochemical industry based on hydraulic fracturing, the continued expansion of this industry, including the pipelines that connect the fracking sites with petrochemical production, processing and export facilities, is not in the public interest. This industry may be technically operating legally due to a special interest exemption from environmental and health protections, but its continued development will come at a tremendous price in avoidable human suffering.

 

Ethical Arguments against expanding fossil-based petrochemical industry.

Climate change and global pollution from synthetic non-biodegradable materials are the existential crises of our time. In addition to carbon dioxide produced from the direct combustion of fossil methane from Marcellus and Utica shales, the proposed power plant to drive the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility and the millions of diesel-fueled trucks that connect all the parts of this industry contribute to accelerating global warming. Methane leaks from U.S. oil and gas operations were significantly higher than previously estimated, as were U.S. methane emissions overall, which increased by more than 30 percent over a twelve -year period. Most of this excess methane, which is responsible for 30-60 percent of the recent upsurge of global atmospheric methane, represents leaks from U.S. gas and oil operations.[14]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example) There is also the issue of the supremacy of mineral rights over surface rights. This is an ethical issue especially when the surface  rights include essential ecosystem functions such as watersheds, wetlands, forest, prairie grasslands and rivers. In Pennsylvania, where the mineral rights owners are given access to fossil resources even over the objections of surface property owners, the Constitutional protection for natural resources for future generations is ripe for testing in court.

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. Policies that suspend the environmental and health protections to the advantage of the petrochemical, oil and gas industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being impede progress to a more sustainable future.

 

From the beginning, the industry has been touting the production of jobs and a resurgence of manufacturing in the area. As Shell states in its promotion for the Shell Falcon Ethane Pipeline, “The project will bring new jobs to the area, with up to 1,000 workers at peak of construction and four to six permanent employees when completed.”  [15] The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical project is slated to create approximately 6,000 jobs during the construction phase and a further 600 permanent positions upon completion. However, an investment of the equivalent of the $1.34 trillion anticipated to build out the petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania may preclude more sustainable and long-term opportunities.  Imagine what the re-investment of this amount of capital in long-neglected communities in Pennsylvania could accomplish with investments in renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, and a circular supply chain for products produced by green chemistry processes.  While Pennsylvanians still support natural gas, the level of understanding for the environmental risks of fracking is eroding that support to the extent that 55% of people polled in March of 2018 say the environmental risks of fracking are greater than its economic benefits.[16]

 

It is time to put a stop to this destructive and dangerous build-out of a petrochemical hub in western Pennsylvania.  It is an investment in a backward-looking industry that forecloses better options for the future.

 

Citations and References:

[1]  This statement represents the views of the author alone and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Mayor of the Borough of Forest Hills or any other Member of the Borough Council.

[2] Ref https://www.fractracker.org/projects/falcon-public-eia/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[3] Ted Genoways. “Port Arthur Texas: An American Sacrifice Zone.” On Earth. August 26, 2013.    http://archive.onearth.org/articles/2013/08/if-built-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-will-end-in-one-toxic-town Accessed April 3, 2018.

[4] Pollution A to Z. Cancer Alley, Louisiana. Louisiana Forum. http://www.pollutionissues.com/Br-Co/Cancer-Alley-Louisiana.html  Aslo see:  Centers for Disease Control. (2002). Cancer Prevention and Control “Cancer Burden Data Fact Sheets, Louisiana.” Atlanta, GA.  Accessed April 3, 2018.

[5] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article I. Declaration of Rights § 27. Natural resources and the public estate. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/00/00.HTM Accessed April 2, 2018.

[6]  Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 3. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[7] Alaska Wilderness League. “SHELL Oil- A Record of Environmental and Corporate Malfeasance.”  June 2012. Page 5. http://www.shellnews.net/wikipedia/documents/CompressedShellReport.pdf Accessed April 2, 2018.

[8]  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-hca/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[9] Frack Tracker Alliance. “The Falcon: Routes, Facilities and Easements.” January 27, 2018.  https://www.fractracker.org/2018/01/falcon-routes/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[10]  Hydrocarbons technology. “Shell Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex.”     https://www.hydrocarbons-technology.com/projects/shell-pennsylvania-petrochemicals-complex/ Accessed April 2, 2018.

[11]  J.R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T.R. Siegler, M. Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law. “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science  13 Feb 2015:Vol. 347, Issue 6223, pp. 768-771 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768 Accessed April 3, 2018.

[12] National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptins for hydraulic fracturing from provisions of seven federal environmental laws and their associated implementing regulations: National Environmental Policy Act (1969, 2005); Clean Water Act (1972, 1987, 2005); Safe Drinking Water Act (1974); Clean Air Act (1970, 1977, 1990); Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976); Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (1986); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund)(1980) For further analysis see: Renee Lewis Kosnik. “The Oil and Gas Industry’s Exclusions and Exemptions from Major Environmental Statutes.” Earthworks. 2007.

[13] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) Pages 114-126. http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/ Accessed April 3, 2018.

[14] Concerned Health Professionals of New York & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2018, March). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (5th ed.) (See footnotes 714-716, 724, 733, 734.)

[15] https://www.shell.us/business-customers/shell-pipeline/falcon/about-the-falcon-pipeline.html Accessed April 3, 2018.

[16] Center for Opinion Research, Franklin & Marshall College.  /StateImpact Pennsylvania Poll. March 29, 2018.  https://www.fandm.edu/uploads/files/708725106986767486-f-m-poll-release-march-2018.pdf  Accessed April 4, 2018.


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International Women’s Day 2018

International Women’s Day 2018
Today my thoughts are centered on my brave beautiful daughter who is just recovering from breast cancer surgery. She has excellent prospects for a full and happy life, but I think of the many women who do not have such excellent care. I also am so thankful that the understanding and treatment are so much more advanced than when Rachel Carson faced a tragic encounter with this disease. In only a few decades the diagnosis of cancer has gone from a stigma and certain death sentence to a treatable condition.
I think of Rachel Carson who wrote much of Silent Spring while in serious suffering from the advanced
stages of breast cancer. She faced not only the lack of technology for diagnosis and treatment but also the difficulties of dealing with a male oriented medical establishment. Her courage in the face of her private and ultimately losing battle with cancer qualifies her as a heroine not only for the environmental movement but also for the millions of women who suffer the affliction of breast cancer.

“FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, EVERY HUMAN BEING IS NOW SUBJECTED TO CONTACT WITH DANGEROUS CHEMICALS, FROM THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION UNTIL DEATH.”
                                                                                                                         RACHEL CARSON

 So many people deal with cancer now. Many have multiple tumors over a lifetime. Some explain the higher incidence of cancer to the longer life span in modern times. Others draw a strong correlation with the chemical stew that penetrates our bodies from birth to death. The average newborn child in America has over 200 synthetic chemicals in his or her body at birth, 79 of which are known mutagens and carcinogens.(1) While scientists continue to explore the causes of cancers, and some are better understood than others, there is a sinister accumulation of man-made materials that play a role in our collective vulnerability.
To make cancer a less prominent feature of our health expectations, we need to reduce the flow of toxic synthetic materials. The entire regulatory system is designed to try to limit the amount of toxics that can be released into the air or water. However, the additive effect of even permitted levels yields millions of pounds of toxic releases a year. (2) A better approach would limit the hazard of products  by design. This is the exciting field of Green Chemistry which can limit the amount of carcinogenic and mutagenic material in the air, water and land by designing materials that are benign and biodegradable by design. Prevention rather than dilution will produce better materials with less impact on the living Earth.

Terry Collins- Theresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University

If we are to take a serious effort to control cancer and endocrine disruption for the next generation, we must begin by redirecting our materials supply chain away from fossil based precursors and toward biologically benign materials. The process of converting fossil based raw material to products and then to trash as quickly as possible is killing the living Earth. And as part of the creatures of the living Earth we are killing ourselves too. Green chemistry and bio-based materials as well as processes to remove and destroy synthetic hydrocarbons from water supplies holds great promise for a much more healthy and sustainable world.(3) Technology will not save us unless we add the Ethical element of choosing to pursue technologies that support and preserve the life support system of the Earth.

 

As I am now facing my fourth tumor, all of independent origin over two decades, I wonder about the many exposures I have experienced in my life.  The technician at the MRI lab sternly telling me to control my breathing said there are many people with multiple tumors as they reach advanced years.  She seemed to think it was a normal thing to accumulate cancers with age.  I do not accept that as normal!  I think of the many years I spent as a child living in a community where every house burned

Pittsburgh 1952

coal for heat, and we played in the coal pile, looking for fossils, and finding many! Of course we were covered in coal dust.  Then, the skies were full of smoke, with cinders actively falling to coat everything with a foul, oily and gritty blackness from the steel mills and coke operations that defined Pittsburgh.  Beyond that, DDT was sprayed on everything from trucks that coursed through the neighborhoods, especially on the compound we lived in in Manilla, Philippines in the ’50s. And, I worked in a biology laboratory as an undergraduate, in times when scintillation fluid was washed down the sink, and I stood over the toluene fumes for hours at a time cleaning the vials. And what of the open air testing of nuclear weapons that filled the air with radioactivity around the globe? Or the teflon frying pans everybody thought was so wonderful? I have reverted to well-used cast iron but nobody alive is immune from the plastics and preservatives and additives in our food.  It is a wonder we survive at all!

The worst horror of my nightmares is not my own saga of assault by out of control cells, but the thought that my children will suffer from something in my life of chemical exposure and environmental mutagens. This is the motive that propels my purpose and my advocacy for reform.  I have such fears for the next generation as the evidence that the “Fable for Tomorrow” Rachel Carson described in Silent Spring is already upon us.

~~~~~~~~~

  1.  Sara Goodman. “Tests Find More Than 200 Chemicals in Umbilical Cord Blood. Scientific American. December 2, 2009.  Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/  
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency. Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) 2016- Executive Summary. Accessed 8 March 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-01/documents/2016_tri_national_analysis_execsumm.pdf
  3. Terry Collins. Green Chemistry. Science and Society.July 27, 2012.  Accessed 8 March 2018. http://scienceandsociety.net/2012/07/27/dr-terry-collins-–-green-chemistry/


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A Timeless Romance

A Timeless Romance

February 14, 2018

On this bleak February day with unnaturally warm rain pelting the frozen ground, with news of yet another school slaughter and invasion of disease into the most personal spaces of family, with an endless but unheralded litany of misery as Nature screams for protection from unbridled greed, the pit of despair looms depthless and dark tempting the weak, the exhausted, the desperate into the abyss of drugged stupor or the oblivion of deliberate ignorance. As I contemplate this bleak scene, my mind wanders to the conditions my parents faced in a nation on the brink of war that already ravaged Europe and with unknown perils looming ahead. My Italian born Father, with his poet’s heart yet un- battered by the horrors he would live thorough as a special service paratrooper imagesin Donovan’s Devils unit behind the lines, wrote to his fiancé this wonderful anthem of love and hope.  Their dedication to the fight for justice and goodness never ceased until their ways parted when my Mother died in March 2000, followed by my Father in April 2001. The bond of their love encircled me and my brother and sister, the extended family as it grew, the students they each taught, and the many colleagues and friends they acquired from all around the world.  They did not fight for people to bear arms, but for people to know and speak out, to stand against tyranny and injustice whether on the battle line in time of war or on the picket line in times of strife for worker’s rights. Theirs was a romance tested by time and adversity, but proven by a legacy that lasts. Their newest great-grandchild came this week- Anne Marcella bringing once again hope and renewal to the cycle of life.

In the midst of my sadness and near despair, my sister sent me again this poem of hope and love from my father’s war journals. He was a young soldier at camp, knowing he was facing a high possibility of going to war and not returning. So he writes to his sweetheart a vision of what can be.  He returned to bring the dream to life.

 

FOREVER VALENTINE
Poem by Michael A. De Marco for Marcella Strutzel
Written in 1943 while in Training at Camp David, No. Carolina

There are some days in February, few
Rare, precious days when spring comes back and brings
Sunshine, breaths of warm air, and thawing winds.
If one lost track of time and left out March,
It would be Spring and easy to believe
That winter’s gone and Spring is here to stay.
It was Spring! We two forgot it was not May
And went to see the tree, our tree, the one
By us imagined, planted in the grove
Where it was growing with the other maples.
And as we walked, the spongey earth and sod
Made squeaky, sucking noises when we stepped.
We did not care about the wet, it was
So good to see that all the snow had gone,
That all the rocks were drying brown and grey,
And that in low spots, clumps of fresh, new grass
Thrust straight, green blades through last year’s rotted mat.

We walked on the path’s upper side, where sod
Grew thick and made a lapping rim, until
It wound itself away as if it were
A spool of yarn that had unrolled and left
Us standing, when unraveled, at the root
Of our adopted maple.  There it was
Growing up, big, spreading graceful branches
So its leaves would brush the other trees,
Cast shadows to protect from the hot sun
Dew drops, ferns, lilies, moss and violets.

I drew up close and rubbed the bark to see
If I could feel its pulse with my four fingers.
They touched a smooth spot just beneath the crotch.
There were not scars or rings; it was clean bark.
This was the spot for it I knew.

I took
My knife out from my pocket, opened it
And whet the blade on sandstone rock I found.
I tested the new edge for sharpness then.
It felt keen when I stroked it with my thumb.
The setting sun was perfect light, as if
I had commanded it to send its rays
At that one angle for my work, I dug
The knife blade in; and it cut quick and deep,
Clean through the bark to strike the white heart-wood.
Then with a turn I sliced a curve and made
The bottom of the point.  Another twist
And I had drawn the other side.  Now for
The cutting out and stripping of the bark.
She stood aside and watched my bright knife blade,
More interested in the sunlight’s flash,
Play, dance of fiery pin points on the steel.

At last I turned to her, said it was done;
But for a moment she stood silent, pointing
With forefinger at the sun and sky.
A cool wind blew the clouds until they rolled
Themselves into soft balls of eider down,
Lined up and formed in banks of threes and fours,
Then slowly rolled away on melting bars
Of sunlight, revolving puffs of golden mist.
And as the sun dropped down to rest behind
The shoulders of black hills, the wind whispered
Goodnight and stretched cloud banners there to mark
With streamers red where the sun slept till dawn.
We looked and saw the beauty of sunset;
Then with an easy motion she swung round
And gazed upon the heart that I had cut
Deep in the clear, grey bark of the young maple.

The outline on the inner heart-wood clean,
White, shaped a solid fullness in the bark.
A rounded heart, and through its middle came
The arrow straight and slim, perfect and true,
As if struck there half way exactly by
The golden bow of Cupid letting loose
The arrow of true love deep in our heart;
A last sun’s ray turned it to sudden gold,
Just for an instant made it livid, burning,
Shimmering and alive with quivering light.
Then it paled white, and slowly darkened
Silver, like the rising moon of coming night.
Our heart will grow and strengthen with the tree,
And with the bark become more warm and round.
Perhaps it may stir, beat, pulse like our own
Some day when sap starts through in Spring…when sun,
South wind, blue sky bring with them miracles,
Its soul will fill with everlasting love!

Unknown


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A Plea for the Rights of the Living Earth

“I pledge myself to preserve and protect America’s fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established and her strength depends.” Rachel Carson [1]

Earth as we have known it faces dramatic and escalating changes wrought by the ignorance and carelessness of human exploitation. In the early days of human civilization, when humans were small tribal bands moving among other predators and omnivores, their impact was kept in balance as part of the ecosystems they occupied. As the population grew and humans added technologies for manipulating and shaping the natural world through large scale agriculture then through roads, cities and industry, the impact has grown to the point where now modern people do not perceive themselves automatically as part of the natural world. This separation from nature combined with a sense of entitlement to exploit, own and use the resources of the Earth for profits has sent the impact of human civilization spinning beyond the threshold of balance of natural systems.

 

Today’s economy rests on using fossil resources- oil, natural gas and coal – for fuel and petrochemical feedstocks. Fossil resource use is manifest in global warming and global pollution, from the accumulation of petrochemical products in the environment and the products of fossil fuel combustion in the atmosphere.[2] Our fossil dependent civilization now faces life or death situations across the planet as the inherent limits of tolerance for living conditions are breached. A quarter of the globe now faces desert conditions from prolonged drought; bleaching of 40% of the world’s coral reefs from ocean acidification and warmer temperatures; melting and collapse of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets; and average global carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million, levels not seen for thousands of years.[3]

 

The governments of all the countries in the world have pledged to address the peril of climate change, except for the United States of America under the Trump Administration. The isolation from our peers and the destructive effect of his policies undermine the natural capital of our nation and amplify the effect of our civilization on climate change and global pollution. Our life support system is under direct attack. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has rescinded or repealed 60 environmental, public health and worker safety protections in the name of eliminating ‘burdensome regulations.”[4] Millions of people now are exposed to risks of water contamination, air pollution, and the destruction of national lands and offshore areas from expanded oil, gas and coal development under relaxed environmental reviews. This is the road to an impoverished and unhealthy nation ruled by a cruel and oblivious elite. This is not the America my immigrant grandparents shed blood, sweat and tears to build.

 

This situation is more tragic because the solutions are all around us, technologies and systems proven to provide the base for a thriving economy abound – renewable energy systems, regenerative agriculture, green chemistry and a circular supply chain.[5] We are facing a moral and ethical crisis, not a technology challenge. The splintered factions of the environmental and social justice movements must coalesce and stand together to restore a system of checks and balances that contain the rampant greed of unfettered economic exploitation.  Capitalism unbalanced by social and environmental constraints becomes a tyranny, thriving on the exploitation of the natural resources of the Earth and discounting the intrinsic value of all living things, including people. Continuing on this course will end in a planet hurtling through space devoid of the lush regenerative life we have known.

 

The People’s Climate Congress held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth signed by 288 nations and adopted at COP21 in Paris as part of the Paris Climate Accord. The first declaration is “For the right to life and to exist.”[6] The Earth provides everything we need to live and thrive as functions of the interactions among the living systems and mineral structure of the planet.  Robert Costanza and his colleagues have recently updated the twenty- year study of the value of ecosystem services in an article which concludes that the substantial contributions of ecosystem services to the sustainable wellbeing of humans and the rest of nature should be at the core of the fundamental change needed in economic theory and practice if we are to achieve a societal transformation to a sustainable and desirable future.[7]

We can achieve a sustainable society where economic enterprise is balanced with environmental health and social and cultural values. This goal rests on recognizing the intrinsic value of the life support systems of the living Earth. We have established in law that corporations have the same rights as “persons” under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Contract Clause and Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[8] Yet, we do not recognize the components of our living Earth as having intrinsic rights under the law. In a few places in America, this concept of Nature having legal rights is beginning to be challenged in the courts.  First is the lawsuit Juliana et. al. vs. the United States filed by the Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 teenagers in Oregon who claim the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuel production and its indifference to the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations. The plaintiffs argue that their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property have been violated. They also argue that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use.[9]

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado is asking a judge to treat the Colorado River as a person rather than property, therefore recognizing its right “to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve.” It makes the argument that if corporations in the U.S. can be granted the same rights as people, shouldn’t rivers be allowed that status as well? [10]The same issue lies at the heart of the of the Indigenous Peoples challenge to the Keystone XL Pipeline, who argue that the pipeline would endanger the water supply and the river system in the event of a leak. Initially denied pending further environmental studies to evaluate the effects on the watershed and water supply, the Keystone XL Pipeline is now returned to production by Trump actions rescinding the requirement for a more thorough environmental review.[11] The 1,179-pipeline extension was projected to move 830,000 barrels of sands oil per day, and is at the center of this battle over land rights of private U.S. citizens, Native Americans, and the U.S. government in its role as guardian of the public interest.

The most alarming aspect of these lawsuits and many others piling up across the country is that the government is supposed to protect the public interest and the people, not corporations! The perversion of our Constitution to serve multinational corporations with no concern whatsoever for the people of this country, or indeed of ANY country, over the preservation of the public health and welfare is a total perversion of America.  We must take back the true values of America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, or we will perish from this Earth. If corporations are persons, how much more valid is the claim that the rivers, forests, grasslands, wetlands, and estuaries should have the rights of persons? I call for the adoption of the Universal Rights of Mother Earth as a Constitutional Amendment to balance Citizens United.  We will otherwise destroy our life support system in the pursuit of unfettered economic greed.

Written for the Sierra Club Allegheny Group Newsletter. January 21, 2018 Published in Allegheny Sierran, Spring 2018 issue, page 5. http://alleghenysc.org/agv1/wp-content/uploads/sierran_spring_2018.pdf

References

[1] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 43

[2] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[3] NOAA;  https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25026 Accessed January 16, 2018.

[4] Nada Popovitch, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. “60 Environmental Rules on the way out under Trump.” The New York Times. Updated, December 15, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/05/climate/trump-environment-rules-reversed.html Accessed January 20, 2018

[5] Patricia m. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017. University of Pittsburgh Press.

[6] See the preamble and the ten rights of Mother Earth in Patricia DeMarco. 2017. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press.) p. 25-26.)

[7] Robert Costanza, Rudolph deGroot, Leon Braat, Ida Kubeziewski,Lorenzo Fioramonte, Paul Sutton, Steve Farber, Monica Grasso. “ Twenty years of ecosystem services: How far have we come and how far do we still need to go?” Ecosystem Services 28(2017) 1-16. http://www.robertcostanza.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017_J_Costanza-et-al.-20yrs.-EcoServices.pdf Accessed January 15, 2018.  See also my interview with Robert Costanza on The New American Economy Radio https://theunionedge.com/twenty-years-ecosystem-services/

[8] Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling of corporations as persons http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/08-205.html Accessed January 15, 2018.

[9] Juliana et. Al. vs the United States Government. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/ Accessed January 20,2018.

[10] Angela K. Evans. “Rights of Nature Lawsuit Seeks personhood for the Colorado River.” Boulder Weekly. September 28, 2017. http://www.boulderweekly.com/news/rights-nature-lawsuit-seeks-personhood-colorado-river/ Accessed January 19, 2018.

[11] Robert. Diotalev and Susan Burhoe. “Native American Lands and the Keystone Pipeline Expansion: A Legal Analysis.” Indigenous Policy Journal. Vol XXVII, No.2. (Summer 2016)  http://www.indigenouspolicy.org/index.php/ipj/article/viewFile/265/403 accessed January 19, 2018


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Fatal Fracking Frenzy

Fatal Fracking Frenzy

By Patricia M. DeMarco

January 4, 2018

 

“The road we have long been traveling on is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster.”  Rachel Carson.[1]

 

Conceived of greed, promoted with pride, and nourished with worker’s blood, sweat and tears, the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for fossil gas reserves has whipped the energy industry into a frenzy. Its backers point with great satisfaction at the results accomplished by eliminating “burdensome regulations.”  This industry could only proceed when the National Energy Act of 2005 opened the “Haliburton Loophole,” granting exemptions for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction from seven federal environmental and worker protection laws.(https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R41760.pdf)  Without these exemptions, fracking would be illegal! Now 39 states have some degree of fracking operations producing natural gas at the pace of 80 billion cubic feet per day, 67% from fracking from 300,000 wells.[2]

 

Relatively cheap natural gas is piped across the country mostly for domestic use in homes and displacing coal for utility electricity production.  But the industry targets massive exports in the near future as the infrastructure for transport and shipment to China and other growing markets is complete.[3] When that happens, the domestic prices will go up, and the communities that currently justify the fracking side effects with the need for local use and local jobs will be left with the environmental degradation in water use, land devaluation, and air emissions[4] but the larger profits will accrue to the multinational companies that sell the gas internationally.

 

Fracking also produces hydrocarbon liquids that can be used as precursors for plastics and other petrochemical products.  This is the payload for the industry.  The collection system and infrastructure of new refineries , “ethane cracker” plants, is shifting the locus of the petrochemical industry toward Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia, the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas deposits.[5] The pace of this industry initiative has hastened following the devastating storm damage that lay siege to the Houston and Louisiana coastal installations.  As the industry knows in its strategies, continued sea level rise and the increased storm severity from global warming compromise the viability of these operations long term.  While continuing to deny and obfuscate the reality of climate change, the petrochemical industry prepares to migrate into areas interior from the coasts.

 

Companies like the Edgar Thomson Works of U. S. Steel see fracking as a way to secure a dedicated gas supply in the face of likely price increases and restrictions.[6] A community such as Braddock, left devastated by the loss of industries, looks hopefully to this new avenue for employment and economic development.  But, the hidden costs loom unrecognized, lurking to bring on lower birth weights in babies, higher incidents of asthma, water contamination, and increased pollution from diesel trucks and spills.[7] Without strict controls and oversight, the short- term promise of jobs, both those preserved in the existing Edgar Thomson operations and those emergent in the new fracking industry, comes at the price of a community locked into a sacrifice zone.[8]

 

Ultimately, the fracking frenzy unleashed by Dick Chaney and his colleagues through the Haliburton Loophole accelerates the fatal outcome of our fossil dependence. Investments in the infrastructure of the fossil gas extraction and enhanced oil recovery and “clean coal” technologies divert resources from implementing renewable energy systems on a large scale nationwide.  Every new data point indicates greater levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, greater acidification of the oceans and greater contamination from petrochemical products- plastics – worldwide.[9]  Rather than curtailing these destructive initiatives, we plunge forward heedless of the signals of danger ahead, danger already upon us, and catastrophe for humanity as a certain end.

 

The proposed fracking operation at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works is the exact cutting edge of the transition. The 600 workers in the Edgar Thomson mill one of the last steel mills operating from the heyday of Pittsburgh Industry, see cheap gas as a lifeline to preserving their jobs. The company argues that gas is cleaner than coal and provides revenue from potential sale of produced liquids that can become feedstock for the plastics petrochemical industry. Mayor Fetterman is looking at the immediate tax revenues and retention of jobs for 600 working families, and minimizes the risks that he bets will play out long range, if at all.[10]

 

There is a three-layered ethical conundrum surrounding fracking.

  1. The hydraulic fracturing industry only exists because the Halliburton Loophole in the National Energy Act of 2005 gave exemptions from seven federal environmental protection and worker safety standards. It may be legal, but it is wrong to suspend environmental and worker protections to promote the profitable extraction of a fossil resource for the economic benefit of corporations. Using petrochemical liquids from fracking to add to the single-use plastic burden of the Earth is another highly unethical consequence of this industry.

 

  1. Environmental justice issues arise from exposures to people who live in proximity to pollution sources such as steel mills fracking operations, coal fired power plants and petrochemical facilities. The areas around such sources are considered “sacrifice zones” where people cannot afford to leave and are subject to pollution for generations. (See the lengthy literature on Baton Rouge cancer alley, for example)

 

  1. Inter -generational justice issues arise as the fracking process extends the use of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its extraction, processing and use for another thirty years. Global warming from increasing greenhouse gas emissions is an existential threat to all life on Earth as we know it. This is a step in the wrong direction.

 

Finally, policies for a just transition for heavy industry need to be developed. As the whole industrial supply chain moves to a more circular system based on sustainable practices for resource management, the fate of existing workers and the human and social needs in the transition must receive focused attention. Economics alone in a market heavily skewed by embedded fossil industry subsidies will not drive a just and equitable transition to a sustainable future. People demanding accountability for policies that suspend the rules to the advantage of certain industries at the expense of public health and worker well-being can make a difference in the outcome.  Communities demanding full disclosure and hearings before permits are issued can make a difference in seeing that environmental and health standards are preserved. Community meetings to placate “unduly concerned” citizens after deals are struck in the back room have no place in a true representative democracy.

 

If our elected officials do not stand for the health and well-being of the community, we who care must stand up and be heard.  The Allegheny County Health Department must be petitioned to enforce air emission standards of existing sources, without exception. If the government no longer protects the people, we must protect ourselves.

~~~~

 

 

References and Resources

[1] Rachel L. Carson. Silent Spring. 1962. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.  p.277

[2]  Energy Information Administration. Energy Today “Hydraulically fractured wells provide two-thirds of U.S. natural gas production” May 5, 2016. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26112  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[3] Shelly Goldberg. “Natural gas exports can solve U.S. energy glut.” Bloomberg Business News. May 2017.   https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-05/natural-gas-exports-can-solve-u-s-energy-glut Accessed January 3, 2018.  See EIA article on planned pipelines here https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28872

[4] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States (Final Report) December 2016. EPA-600-R-16-236ES. December 2016. https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/hfstudy/recordisplay.cfm?deid=332990  Accessed January 3, 2018.

[5] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Wrong Way- A Call for A New American Dream.” Blog post January 8, 2017. On subject of plastics pollution and production from fracking.  See citations and references for primary resources. https://patriciademarco.com/2017/01/08/wrong-way-a-call-for-a-new-american-dream/

[6] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142

[7] Patricia DeMarco. “Fracking Health Effects and Worker Safety.” Battle of Homestead Foundation presentation. August 25, 2016. (See citations for primary sources.)  https://patriciademarco.com/fracking-health-effects-worker-safety

[8] Reid Frazier. “U.S.Steel agrees to allow fracking at Edgar Thomson Mill.” NPR State Impact. December 27, 2017.   https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2017/12/27/us-steel-agrees-to-allow-fracking-at-steel-mill/ Accessed January 2, 2018.

[9] National Climate Assessment. http://www.noaa.gov/media-release/arctic-saw-2nd-warmest-year-smallest-winter-sea-ice-coverage-on-record-in-2017Nature. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/overview/overview#intro-section-2

[10] Don Hopey. “Company planning to drill for gas at Edgar Thomson mill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 27, 2017.     http://www.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/12/27/Merrion-Oil-Gas-planning-drill-gas-US-Steels-Edgar-Thomson-mill-Braddock-Pittsburgh/stories/201712270142


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2017 A Personal Review

December 10, 2017
Patricia M. DeMarco

This has been a roller coaster year beginning with the depths of despair at seeing Donald Trump take the oath of office as President to the heights of elation at seeing my book in print –  finally. I take away the overall sense of hope for the future from the spirit of resistance rising among young people newly energized to be involved; a sense of growing confidence in the way forward from global commitments to action on global warming; and a cry for respect for the dignity of real people regardless of race, gender or nation of their birth.  America is in transition, and it is an exciting time full of opportunity for those who choose to lead with purpose and compassion.

I share with you here the highlights of my life this year, with thanks to so many of you who have waked this way with me.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from PittsburghMy labor of four years was published by University of Pittsburgh Press and launched with great fanfare at Phipps Conservatory in September. So far, it has good reviews and serves the function of providing many opportunities for me to speak and reach out to people with a message of empowerment and hope. I am grateful to The Pittsburgh Foundation, especially Jeanne Pearlman, for giving me the resources to become a full-time writer. It has changed my life.

 

“From Pittsburgh to Paris” – these words, evoking the Global Climate Accord and the vastly differing positions of President Trump and Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto, also define the highlights of my year. Kevin and Jenn graciously invited me to join them to vacation in Paris. Exploring this wonderful city with my grandchildren, Quinn and Lia, accented the importance of beautiful living spaces within a city, and the timeless value of culture, art, and history. The Normandy World War II battle sites, especially the acres of white grave markers coursing over the quiet hills, reminded me of the sacrifices my parents’ generation made, and my Father’s role in service to America as a soldier, Foreign Service officer and teacher. He and my Mother set a high standard for living with purpose and caring.

The experience reinforced my own life mission to preserve and protect the living Earth for today’s children, those to come in the 21st century, and all of life on Earth.

 

William Freudenburg Lifetime Achievement Award – The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences presented me with this award at the annual

conference in Phoenix Arizona in June. I was honored to have this opportunity to address an audience of my peers and find affirmation for the unconventional career path I have carved. I am most pleased to have my students see a way forward that validates the dedication to advocacy in the name of science.

“The New American Economy Radio Program” – Charles Showalter, the ten-year host of The Union Edger –Labor’s Talk Radio invited me to provide content and co-host a weekly hour long program exploring emerging opportunities and challenges for the work of the future. We interviewed guests ranging from Mustafa Ali to Carl Pope and covered topics from regenerative agriculture to electric vehicles, cleaning endocrine disruptors out of public water supplies, and robots. You can listen live or download podcasts at http://newamericaneconomyradio.com. The show reaches 300,000 people a week in 33 cities.

Borough of Forest Hills net zero energy borough building – In the second year of my term as a Member of the Forest Hills Borough Council, Chair of Finance Committee, I have been involved with building the new Borough building to house the Council and Administrative offices, the Police station, the CC Mellor Forest Hills Branch of the Library, and a community space. The passive solar design building has a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system and 154 kW solar photovoltaic system on the south facing roof that will meet all of the electricity requirements, net over the year. It is an exciting and inspiring response to updating the infrastructure of the Borough for the future in a forward-looking way.

 

Dodged the Silver Bullet yet again! – On July 5, instead of going to see Mark Rylance’s play written for The 125th Commemoration of the Battle of Homestead, for which I had been working for 18 months with the dedicated people of The Pump House Gang, I went to the emergency room with what turned out to be a malignant kidney tumor. After surgery to remove the tumor and my right kidney, I recovered at home for six weeks or so, tended with care by Tom and cheered and supported by Steve and my extended Family and many friends. Except for hitting the wall by 9:00 PM, I am pretty well recovered and refuse to be defined by my illness.  I think of the words of Friedrich Nietzsche “What does not kill us makes us stronger.”

As I look forward to 2018, my best wishes go to all of you.  May you find fulfillment in your own purpose in life.  May you take hope from knowing that the living Earth can heal, if we will help.  And know that every effort from individual actions to broad community policies matter.  Take the courage to act as if our life support system needs every person’s best effort.  Stand up for preserving the living Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that form the web of life, of which humans are but one part.

 

Blessed Be!

 

 

 

 


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Imagine Global Cooperation- COP-23

November 9, 2017

by Patricia DeMarco

On his way to the Conference of Parties- 23 (COP-23)  in Bonn, Germany, California Governor Gerry Brown stopped to speak to the Baden-Wurttenberg lawmakers in Stuttgart to address the issue of action on climate change:  “Let’s lead the whole world to realize this is not your normal political challenge,” he added. “This is much bigger. This is life itself. It requires courage and imagination.”[1] Calling for an international movement on behalf of life on Earth as a collective priority can transcend the political divisions that paralyze effective action. Building an international consensus on a way forward can release the inventiveness of human ingenuity in response to a common crisis. The sooner we begin an international collaboration with the goal of preserving the viability of the planet for all life, the sooner we can make real progress as a civilization. We are all more alike in our humanity than different in culture, religion or politics. We all depend on our common life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species with whom we share this Earth.

This is not a partisan issue. Reach across to your neighbors and friends and plan together to make each community more resilient, more sustainable, and less dependent on fossil fuels. We must all demand that Congress place priority on reinvestment in the infrastructure of the future, beginning with communities that have had fossil extractive industries as the base of their economy for so long. It is time to diversify, to re-imagine our future around sustainable systems that restore and regenerate the living Earth which supports our life.

War-torn Syria joined the Paris Agreement at the Bonn gathering of COP-23, leaving President Trump ‘s declaration to remove the United States from the global agreement as the solitary proponent of denial. Hundreds of US Mayors, several states and many hundreds of corporations have declared adherence to the Paris Climate Accord, vowing to take actions to help hold the increase in global average temperature to no more than 2° C or 3.6° F. Reducing the combustion of fossil fuels to lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is the most efficient way to accomplish this goal.  But this is only the beginning of the energy revolution that will re-shape the way civilization relates to the natural world. Once communities and businesses begin to meet their energy needs through renewable systems, rather than destructive combustion, possibilities and innovations will multiply.

Adaptations for efficiency and resilience are already occurring, for example in solar panels where the solar photovoltaic system is integrated into the structure of roofing tiles, rather than affixing them to a roof, and window glass that can generate electricity as sunlight passes through it. The concept of designing buildings that create as much energy as they use- net zero energy buildings- has already taken off as a common sense and cost efficient way to provide space conditioning and electricity in homes and commercial spaces. Research and pilot projects designing electric micro-grids that connect energy generating sources located among the customers is challenging the traditional electric  utility structure.  Some are embracing the innovations and incorporating distributed generation into their operations, finding new categories of service in load management, storage and reliability assurance.  Other utilities are resisting the advance of renewable resources and customer- owned generation with punitive tariffs and restrictive conditions for connecting to the wider grid.  In many such cases, some customers find it easier to install their own storage, and simply drop off the connected grid- true “energy independence.”

The renewable energy industry is growing rapidly. One in 50 jobs in America are in the renewable energy industries.  Solar energy jobs have increased 178% from 2010 to 2016.[2]  The solar industry employs more than 260,000 Americans, a 25% increase from 2015 to 2016, and the average wage in the industry is $28.00 per hour; 25% of the workers are women.[3] If all renewable energy and efficiency improvement industries are included, there are more workers in the renewable energy sector than in coal, oil and gas combined. Deliberate suppression of this initiative by Congressional “Tax Reform” is not productive to a growth industry that also accomplishes greater public interest goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the absence of strong leadership at the federal level, states and individual companies have made a wide range of approaches to using renewable energy systems.( See the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency http://www.dsireusa.org)  It is clear that this transition from a fossil base to a renewable energy system will not proceed smoothly until there is a wider consensus in the United States to commit to a fossil free future.

This is a major step for a country as large and complex as America, but we are also a country known for its ability to rise to hard challenges and to place the common good at the center of public policy initiatives many times in its history. This can be the galvanizing common challenge that unites our spirit in purpose.  Technology is not the impediment. Rather, it is the entrenched interests of the fossil extractive industries in coal, oil and natural gas that have taken a strangle hold on the public policy process.  It is time to call a halt to the suffocation of innovation.  It is time to unleash the forces of ingenuity and creativity that will allow America to resume its leadership role in the world. This is not a matter of “getting regulations off the back of business” but rather a matter of re-designing our laws to support and encourage actions that align better with the laws of nature.  We need to preserve the life support system that provides fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, fertile ground to grow our food, and the well-being of people and all the other living things that share this earth. This is a challenge worthy of our best efforts.  It is a challenge to inspire our young people to have hope and faith in the future, rather than fear.  It offers a way forward that recaptures the spirit of community in a shared battle that is worth winning.

This alignment of nations in the Paris Climate Accord to address the common goal of preserving a viable planet is rare, and offers an opportunity for common ground unprecedented in our time.  It is not a technology problem. It is an ethics problem we can solve by making a commitment to care for the living earth, and care for each other. A future based on renewable and sustainable systems offers a better future, not one of greater deprivation and distress.  A civilization dedicated to preserving and regenerating the life force of the Earth holds the promise of a great renewal of spirit and a richness of legacy to sustain future generations. We need the courage to move away from what has become familiar over a hundred years and adopt practices that bring the prospect of a better future closer to reality. We need the fortitude to overcome the forces vested in short-term gains at the expense of our very survival.  It is time to leave the dinosaurs at rest in the ground and welcome the sun.

Actions:

  1. Review your own energy use profile and find ways to reduce what you use in your home, your transportation and your business. https://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
  2. Examine your personal “supply chain” and see what you can change to reduce the amount of material you throw away or waste. Commit to cutting out disposable plastics, and recycle everything you cannot avoid. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2012/05/plastics-by-the-numbers/
  3. Call your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urge them to support climate action, especially retaining the investment tax credits for solar and wind. Punitive removal of these modest measures while adding substantial subsidies to coal, gas and nuclear fuels is an unethical choice for the future. https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials
  4. Ask your local community to make a commitment to the Paris Climate Accord. Make a plan for your local community commitment to the future of our world. https://www.wearestillin.com/us-action-climate-change-irreversible

Remember to find time to experience the wonders of nature all around us every day.  We will preserve what we love. So, do indeed adopt a tree or a stream or a landscape and keep it in your heart.

Blessed Be.

 

[1] Erik. Kirschbaum. “Gov. Gerry Brown Delivers a Blunt Climate Change Message in Germany>” Los Angeles  Times. November 8, 2017.  http://beta.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-germany-jerry-brown-climate-change-20171108-story.html  Accessed November 9, 2017.

[2] The Solar Foundation. State Solar Jobs Census. https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/

[3] The Solar Foundation. “The Potential of State Solar Jobs- 2017.” http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/TSF-Census-Future-State-Solar-Jobs-2021.pdf


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FDR Four Freedoms of Democracy Revisited

August 28, 2017

The consequences of having a President who condones bigotry and disrespect have come to fruition this troubled summer of 2017. As White Supremacy rhetoric has become accepted as “free speech,” the moral fabric of America is shredded and all of us are more fearful and less secure in our homes, in our lives and in our communities. This violent bombast has obscured more substantive matters. Existential crises for which the possibility of consensus becomes increasingly elusive worsen while public attention diverts to the drama of domestic terrorism.

I view this tragedy of the Trump moral weakness through the lens of a visit earlier this summer to the Normandy World War II Memorial and the Omaha Beach where the U.S. and Allied forces landed in the summer of 1941 to turn the tide of the war against German Nazi armies. So many died there standing

Here Lies A Comrade In Arms Known But to God

in defense of Freedom, a concept sharpened by the contrast in the Western world between the rampages of despot Adolf Hitler, striving for world dominance in the name of an ideology based on exclusivity and hate, and the Allied ideology of liberty, inclusiveness and freedom of belief. I found it instructive to revisit President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address to Congress in which he called for a united stand against tyranny.

In this 21st century, we face global warfare of clashing ideologies, but we also face a common threat to the survival of life on earth from the cumulative effects of human enterprise on the environment and the life support system of the living Earth itself. WWII ended in a declared victory for freedom and a peace that lasted through diplomacy and mutual alliances until the verbal hostilities of the Cold War and arms race. Our nation in 1941 was “threatened from without” and confronted the threat of tyranny with a call for national unity and common purpose. Today we are a nation divided on lines of ideology as well as class, race and view of our role in the world. We are not united in purpose. While Roosevelt opposed the forces that argued for “enforced isolation behind an ancient Chinese wall,” our President is building walls, both physically and rhetorically dividing our nation from allies and presenting blustering threats on all sides. While Roosevelt called for leadership through “responsibility and accountability based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations large and small,” modern America looks at other nations as resources, markets or targets of opportunity for “deals.” Roosevelt wisely noted, “Enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people’s freedom.”(1)

Roosevelt’s observations about democracy resonate to our time:

“There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are

  • Equal opportunity for youth and for others;
  • Jobs to those who can work;
  • Security for those who need it;
  • Ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The preservation of civil liberties for all;
  • The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living for all.” (1)

Achieving these essential components of democracy in the 21st century can build unity of purpose. These are the true values of America that can unite us again. Achieving these freedoms requires that people accept responsibility as citizens to participate in the process of governing. It also requires that those elected to lead must be held accountable to a moral standard that puts the public interest first. Laws alone do not make a country great. It must be the priority of all citizens to protect and defend the basic things that allow all of the people to succeed.

In this current environment, the issue is still jobs. As we struggle to address the real and pressing dangers not to our nation alone, but to the very existence of life on Earth from global warming and global chemical pollution, we must provide for a just and equitable transition to a non-fossil based economy. This path is not only viable, but has proven productive of vibrant economic, social and environmental success.

The quadrennial National Climate Assessment, authorized by Congress in 1990, concludes: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.” (2) Denial does not change the consequences. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. It is time to accept reality and act responsibly for the sake of life on Earth and all future generations.

Those who see the past as a secure and comfortable condition are often lured by the romanticized myth of “the way it was back in the day” without admitting the reality of living and working in dangerous, polluted and debilitating conditions. Many came to America to better their fortunes and improve the prospects for their children. They endured harsh conditions and dangers to give their children better choices. The altruism of the laborers for their children built the wealth of America, secured by the organized labor movement pressing for fair wages and safety in the workplace. As the strength of unions has eroded over the last thirty years, the wealth has accumulated again in the top 1% of the population, abetted by government policies and the Citizens United ruling determining that corporations have the rights of “persons” under the law. Corporations are NOT people. They do not bleed. They do not feel love or joy or pain. A government controlled by multinational corporate interests does not act in the public interest to secure the conditions of democracy!

1970 Earth Day Protesters

It is time to take the power of governance back to the people! It is time to recognize that the issue is still jobs. Providing good employment for willing workers to provide for their families is the function of the public and private sectors working together for the greater good of all. The trickle down theory has never worked except to enrich the privilege of the few. In the interest of long -term survival of our species, we must make a transition to new ways of running the economy. Establish value based on the natural capital of the living Earth and cease its exploitation and destruction. Convert energy systems from a fossil fueled economy to renewable and sustainable systems. Make products with green chemistry principles using components and processes that do not

Albatross killed by eating plastic debris

create toxic or poisonous products or by-products. Shift our chemical-dependent agriculture system to regenerative practices based on ecology that restore the fertility of the land and conserve water. These pathways offer the promise of shared benefits in economic opportunities, health benefits and environmental stability for another generation.

The Freedoms my father fought for in World War II will elude Americans of the 21st century if we cannot stand to defend the true values that can unite our nation to a renewed common purpose: to preserve a just and equitable future for those who have no voice at the table today. We must renew the altruism for the unborn and the living things of the Earth who depend on the wisdom of people today. It is only with care and foresight for the fate of the Earth that we will leave a legacy worthy of those who fought for our freedom. We must stand up to tyranny and demand accountability for the true freedoms that make America great. The Woodland Hills Academy seventh graders held a march on Earth Day 2016 to declare that “Guns and Violence Do NOT Define US!” We should heed their passionate leadership!

References:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 State of the Union Address “The Four Freedoms” (6 January 1941). Voices of Democracy. Oratory Project. https://fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms
  2. Quadrennial National Climate Assessment, DRAFT. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/climate/document-Draft-of-the-Climate-Science-Special-Report.html?mcubz=0