Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Gifts of the Living Earth

by Patricia M.DeMarco, Ph.D.

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, marking the first time humans had stepped out in space: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”[i] The iconic images of our fragile blue planet spinning in the vast reaches of space cemented the perception of Earth as our only home. This giant leap in perception of the fragility of our planet set the stage for many of the environmental protections written into law in the United States during the 1970s.

The living earth fueled by the power of the sun provides the essential elements of our life support system: fresh air, clean water, fertile ground, and the biodiversity of species that constitute the interconnected web of life, of which humans are but one part. The gifts of the living earth include the many ecosystem services that humans rely on without thinking about them. The supporting services that provide nutrient cycling, soil formation, habitat formation and primary production; the provisioning services that produce food, fuel, wood and fiber and fresh water; the regulating services that temper the climate, control flooding, control pests and diseases, and purify water; and the cultural services that offer spiritual, aesthetic, educational and recreational benefits.[ii] This priceless life support system is in crisis. Burning fossil fuels has accelerated the accumulation of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, leading to global warming.  Resource extraction to obtain fossil fuels and other minerals has destroyed nearly one third of the natural habitat areas of the earth. Human populations, with life spans extended by modern health treatments, have spiraled beyond the carrying capacity of the natural world as the world’s people increasingly model their behavior after the Western standard of hyper-consumption. These four stresses on the earth have produced the twin existential crises of our time- global warming of the climate and global pollution, especially from plastic materials.

Solving the existential crises of global warming and global pollution is not a technology problem. It is a moral and ethical problem. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. We must change the way our society operates to abide within the laws of Nature in ways that can sustain life on earth. The United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1985 framed the concept of sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept implies a commitment to preserve the well-being of future generations on a global basis. 

The most recent United Nations Report of the IPCC[iii] finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air. “Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.[iv] Achieving a more sustainable path for modern civilization requires an adjustment of priorities. 

In the current system of the global economy, business decisions and government policies, especially recently in the United States, place highest value on monetary gains, with diminished or minimum weight on environmental and social values. This heavy stress on economic outcome regardless of environmental or social damage or inequity has resulted in rapidly accelerating deterioration of ecosystems, habitat, and quality of life across the country, and in many places around the world.

To achieve a more sustainable civilization for our children, preserving and restoring the ecosystems that provide our life support system must assume a higher value in decision making at all levels. Likewise, to achieve a higher level of equity, justice, and fairness, the social and cultural values that provide quality of life must have higher importance in all levels of decision making.

Pollinators provide essential eco-system service

The industrialized economy takes the basic premise that the resources of the earth are available for exploitation giving profits to investors. The land is not restored or regenerated as part of this process because there is no immediate profit in restoration. Only when regulations require remediation or protection do most corporations indulge in repair of damaged land. Likewise, to maximize profits, labor is paid as little as possible, with investment in machinery to reduce labor costs as much as possible. The entire tax structure and investment reward strategy of our current U.S. economy rests on these concepts.[v]

The earth is a living system of which humans are but one part; not human property to be owned or destroyed for profit. The laws of nature co-evolved over millions of years – chemistry, physics, biological and physiological responses to conditions in the environment -define complex inter-relationships among all living things and connect the living earth elements with the mineral and inert elements. These functions are inherent in living systems, priceless attributes of the living earth that are not reflected in the drivers of the economy. To achieve meaningful and lasting solutions to the existential crises of global warming and global pollution, the laws of nature must be incorporated into the practices of civil society.

Indigenous Peoples all around the world have long recognized the necessity of living within the laws of nature and do so by respecting the rights of the living earth. A gathering of Indigenous Peoples in the People’s Climate Conference at Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010 adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that was introduced at the COP-15 meeting in Paris in 2015 arguing for a 1.5°C increase above pre-industrial ceiling for global warming. The goal of a 1.5°C ceiling was incorporated into the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 signed by 195 nations due to these efforts. The justification for this action states in part:

We the Peoples and Nations of Earth are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; and … Recognizing that capitalism and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change … establish this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.[vi]

The Universal Rights of the Living Earth

The Indigenous Peoples Congress defined ten Universal Rights of Mother Earth.

  1. The right to life and to exist. The diversity of living plants, animals and micro-organisms on earth have a right to life and to exist. The complex interactions among the parts of ecosystems work best when all the components are in place and functional. Human habitat destruction, exploitation, and life cycle interruption drive hundreds of species to extinction. 
  2. The right to be respected. Indigenous Peoples lived on the Earth for thousands of years in harmony with Nature. Colonial appropriation of lands, especially for resource extraction, has destroyed many cultures. The cultural wisdom of Indigenous Peoples holds great value for guiding the transformation of society.
  3. The right to regenerate bio-capacity and to continue vital life cycles and processes free from human disruption. Human activities have permanently destroyed habitat, for example by converting rain forests to mono-crop plantations. Entire ecosystems have been disrupted by such activities as strip mining and mountaintop removal. Global pollution of air and water have damaged the viability of many living things. North American bird populations have declined by 29% since 1970 due to habitat loss.[vii]
  4. The right to maintain identity and integrity as a distinct self-regulating, and interrelated being. Complex symbiotic systems such as coral reefs, wetlands and rain forests are compromised by human actions both directly by development and exploitation and indirectly by the effects of pollution and global warming. The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has experienced fatal bleaching for 50% of its range. [viii]
  5. The right to water as a source of life. Fresh water is a critical indicator for the viability of all living things on earth. Co-evolution of the integrated living systems currently on earth depend on the availability of fresh water. Over 140 million people are expected to face migration due to prolonged drought caused by climate change by 2050.[ix]
  6. The right to clean air. Air pollution transcends local, regional and continental boundaries. In many parts of the United States, pollution has reduced the distance and clarity of what we see by 70 percent. One in four children in the U.S. have asthma. Global air emissions contribute to global warming, ocean acidification, and particulates
  7. The right to integral health. The concept of health as a universal right recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, psychological, emotional, social and spiritual health. Healthy beings only can exist in a healthy environment. To keep the planet and people healthy, we need food systems designed to protect natural resources, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, provide nutritious and affordable food, and strengthen the resilience and prosperity of rural populations.[x]
  8. The right to be free from contamination, pollution, toxic or radioactive waste. Pollution from the by-products of modern society have contaminated the entire world. There are now 15–51 trillionpieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade in petrochemical plants across the United States to turn fossil natural gas liquids extracted by hydraulic fracturing into single-use plastic.[xi]
  9. The right to not have genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens integrity or vital and healthy functioning. 105 commonly used agricultural pesticides, fungicides and herbicides have endocrine- disrupting effects on wildlife.[xii] In addition, the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and other industrial processes compromises wild stocks as pollen travels without restriction on the winds.  
  10. The right to full and prompt restoration from violations caused by human activities. Many environmental harms from extractive industry particularly are not reversible.  Extinction is forever. And for some damages, there is no recovery possible. For example, Mountain top removal mining of thin coal seams has destroyed 500 mountains throughout Appalachia.[xiii] The “restored mine sites have vastly different, less diverse landscapes subject to erosion and acid runoff. 
“Restored” mountain top removal coal mine site in West Virginia. 

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth articulates an urgent plea for use of the precautionary principle in shaping the relationship of human activity to the natural world. The concept of protecting, and restoring to the extent possible, the natural systems of the earth lies at the heart of preserving the priceless life support systems of the living earth for current and future generations. As Rachel Carson wrote in her essay “On the Pollution of Our Environment,” 

Underlying all these problems of introducing contamination into our world is the question of moral responsibility – responsibility not only to our own generation, but to those of the future.[xiv]

In some cases, the harms to the environment or to living systems may not be known until long after the fact. But in many cases, especially with modern techniques for assessing biologic harm, the potential for harm is either well established, or can be shown to be highly likely. For example, Bristol Bay Alaska is home to the largest wild salmon run in the world. The open pit Pebble Creek Mine, if it begins operation, would end this $1.5 Billion fishery from arsenic contamination.[xv] Arsenic released from mining gold and highly soluble in water, even in minute amounts is toxic to salmon especially as they spawn and in the juvenile stages of growth. The livelihood of over 14,000 people directly depends on the wild runs of salmon, including the subsistence villages of Bristol Bay.[xvi] Even species as abundant as salmon can vanish quickly if critical habitat is lost, or harvesting is heedless of regenerative needs, as happened with the abrupt extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.[xvii] Some harms are not reversible. Extinction is forever.

A Matter of Ethics and Justice

How we as a society address the challenges of climate change is not a matter of technology, but rather a matter of justice and ethical choices on several levels. Most urgently, addressing climate change effectively now is a matter of intergenerational justice. Actions taken or not taken by the current generation will markedly affect the fate of future generations.  While this has always held true in the past, these times are different because actions taken today will have irreversible consequences that compromise options for the future. It is important to recognize that within the range of options available now, there are many choices that will lead to a better future, without relying forever on fossil fuels.  For example, the re-Imagine Beaver project facilitated by the League of Women Voters in Beaver County PA developed a four-part plan for diversifying and renewing the economy as an alternative vision to having the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Plant dominate the area’s economy.[xviii]

Climate action is also a matter of international justice because the effects of global warming are not evenly distributed around the world.  The richest 10% pf people produce half of the global carbon dioxide emissions, while the poorest 50% of people produce only about 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions.[xix] Globally, the industrialized countries mostly in the northern hemisphere are greatest causes of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but the greatest damages from resource extraction and global warming occur in the southern hemisphere among poorer nations. Global market drive resource extraction practices that destroy habitat as well.  For example, palm oil used for snack foods devastates 27 million Hectares of tropical rainforest and is endangering hundreds of native plants and animals.[xx] Island nations and coastal areas along all continents are affected by sea level rise, more extreme and frequent storms and tidal surges. Even within single nations such as the United States, climate change has varied geographic effects. Coastal areas suffer flooding and storm surge while other areas suffer from prolonged droughts, wildfires, and advancing deserts. The World Bank estimates there will be 140 million climate migrants fleeing lands made uninhabitable by loss of water due to climate change.[xxi]

People of all faiths all around the world hold common concern for the well-being of people and for the need for justice and equity in interpersonal transactions. As a civilized society, we must consider the present and impending conditions that require understanding, empathy for our fellow beings, and a sense of obligation for the welfare of future generations. We must recognize that the laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Humans cannot legislate the laws of chemistry or physics or the biologic system responses to changes in the environment.  We must adjust our laws and cultural customs to live in harmony with Nature. The time for exploitation and subjugation of Nature for short term profits is over if we are to survive as a species.

A Transformation for a Better Future

When faced with the alarming facts of the effects of climate change, many people respond with fear. At the hearings on the Clean Power Plan in the summer of 2016, the streets of Pittsburgh were filled with demonstrators on both sides of the proposed action to close coal power plants and move toward renewable energy systems.  Coal miners and their allies in the IBEW, AFL-CIO and trades unions marched 3,500 strong with uniform T-shirts, loudspeakers and goading from Governor Corbett. In contrast, a few hundred assorted environmental activists, mothers with children in strollers, and students gathered on the corner of Grant Street near the Federal Building to chant and sing. This sharply drawn contrast belies the reality under the demonstrations.  Coal miners understand that their work gives them lung diseases and faces a stark future, but their fear stems from knowing that if nobody goes into coal mining, there will be no new workers to support their pensions, health benefits and families. Laws protect corporations in bankruptcy, but as has been evident as Patriot Coal, Murray Coal and others have gone bankrupt, the workers are left with pennies on the dollar to fend for themselves.[xxii] Union strength has eroded significantly, and many workers in the oil and gas fields are not unionized.  Transformation to a sustainable economy must address the entire social fabric of our culture, not just fuel switching.  The human face of the transformation must be a major part of the way forward.  The AFL-CIO statement to the Copenhagen Climate Accord states: “We are asking for a just transition of the workforce that creates decent work and quality jobs.” [xxiii] But the climate crisis is much more complex than a simple transition.  It requires a rearranging of the elements of our society to reach a sustainable civilization, much as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

We must make a plan to move to a sustainable future.  The tools for this process are at hand, lacking only the political will to move forward.  There are three principal pathways for our sustainable future:

  • Renewable Energy Systems that conserve and restore resources
  • Regenerative Agriculture for a non-toxic food system that captures carbon in fertile ground
  • Pollution Prevention and A Circular Economy for materials designed for re-use from benign materials.[xxiv]

Steps in the transformation require a comprehensive approach, recognizing that as sustainable systems become more prevalent, the process of adopting them will become more sophisticated and streamlined in practice. Take for example the shift from horse-drawn carriages to motorized vehicles and consider the many adjustments that took place. Rules of the road had to be established to keep drivers from running into each other. Roads had to be paved so vehicles would not become bogged down in mud, and vehicles were licensed to certify drivers. An entire fuel delivery and supply infrastructure had to be established. Horseshoe operations, blacksmiths, tack shops and buggy makers all saw the decline and extinction of their business. Now, as we look at a transformation of the energy system to renewable resources, we have similar adjustments facing us. The utility interface changes when the customers also produce energy some or all of the time. Zoning issues and building codes become a consideration if net zero energy buildings are to become standard practice. Converting the energy system from a fossil-based operation to a renewable energy system will require attention to micro-grid integration using artificial intelligence to balance load and supply and offers the new utility service function of storage and load leveling. Technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and anaerobic digestion of waste to make non-fossil methane or hydrogen become more economic options. Similar changes will need to occur in food systems, transportation and materials management.[xxv]

The transformation to a society living in harmony with nature will place priority on protecting biodiversity in all areas of the world, as an excellent indicator for the health of the complex ecosystems that comprise Earth’s life support system. We are facing a critical time in which we will choose the fate of our living Earth for hundreds of years into the future. In making the critical choices about energy and all resource management, we must place greater value on the living things, rather than on the short-term profits to corporations as the dominant driver. The plan. For a just transition must address the needs of people caught in the transition- the oil, gas, and coal workers especially, who will need to transition to new ways of working in new fields. Just and equitable solutions will need to include protecting pensions, health benefits and re-training for existing workers. A companion to a policy of re-investing in communities can empower people to re-structure our society with a more diverse and locally responsible economy.

We need a new system of governance that relies on a doctrine of public trust for natural resource management. In such a system, common resources are managed for the long-term benefit of the whole of society collectively, rather than to be owned and divided to profit individuals or corporate owners. A particular major change in this approach would place the ecosystem services, mostly on the surface of the earth, as priority for protection above the rights for extracting mineral deposits from deep underground. Such an approach recognizes the priceless value of the services the living earth delivers to all living things for free, as conditions of mutual support.  We can transform our society to align with the natural cycles of resource use, recovery and re-use, rather than changing raw material to trash as rapidly as possible.

The Moral Imperative

Humanity now faces global crisis conditions: Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have reached at 412 parts per million, the highest level in 650,000 years; 2019 is the hottest year on record since 2001; Arctic ice sheets are decreasing at 12.8% per decade; and coastal flooding worldwide is common as sea levels rise and oceans warm.[xxvi] Storms, wildfires, and prolonged drought conditions affect broad areas of the world. In the face of these dire facts, children all over the world have stood up to plead for action on climate to protect their future.  How can we ignore the pleas of our children as they protest, file lawsuits, demonstrate and march for the right to live on a viable planet?[xxvii]

There are no technological barriers to making rapid and meaningful changes toward sustainable climate solutions. All of the technologies necessary to address the major sources of global warming and global pollution are in hand and will only improve in effectiveness as they become more widely adopted. Only the political will to act stands in the way of transforming our economy. Over 73% of Americans want action on climate change but are deeply divided on partisan lines (67% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans)[xxviii] The U. S. Constitution vests the power of government in The People. We have the power to act to save our world.

The best way to move forward is to remember that we are more alike in our common humanity than different in political stance, race, gender, religion or culture. If we protect the rights of the living Earth and connect our own fate to the fate of the natural world, we will find the courage to make the necessary changes. The result will be a better future and the legacy of a renewed sense of wonder in the miracle of creation. Each person can act. Each person matters in the great interconnected web of life. Here is Rachel Carson’s conservation pledge:

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.[xxix]

Decide to leave our children a living Earth. Thank you.

Photograph courtesy of Kirsi Jansa

Presented to Integrity of Creation Conference: toward a Healthy Planet at Duquesne University on September 25, 2019

Citations and Sources

[i]  Associated Press. “Armstrong’s “one small step” quote explained.” Navy Times. July13, 2019. https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/07/13/armstrongs-famous-one-small-step-quote-explained/  Accessed September 23, 2019.

[ii]  Robert Costanza, Ralph d’Arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Robert V. O’Neill, Jose Paruelo, Robert G. Raskin, Paul Sutton, Marjan van den Belt. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural capital.” Nature387: 253-260 (1997) https://www.nature.com/articles/387253a0#auth-2  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[iii] United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi. https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[iv] IPCC. “Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” October 8, 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/   Accessed September 18, 2019.

[v] United Nations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. New York. September 2015. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300 Accessed September 19, 2019.

[vi] World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. “Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth.” Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 22, 2010 https://therightsofnature.org/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-UNIVERSAL-DECLARATION-OF-THE-RIGHTS-OF-MOTHER-EARTH-APRIL-22-2010.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[vii] Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Adriaan M. Doktor, Peter J. Blancher, John R. Sauer, Adam C. Smith, Paul A. Smith. “Decline of the North American Avifauna.” Science. 4 Oct 2019. Vol 366, Issue 6461, pp 120-124. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/09/18/science.aaw1313

[viii] Terry P. Hughes, James T. Kerry, Andrew H. Baird, Sean R. Connolly, Tory J. Chase, Andreas Dietzel, Tessa Hill, Andrew s. Hoey, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Mizue Jacobson, Ailsa Kerswell, Joshua S. Madin, Abbie Mieog, Allison S. Paley, Morgan S. Pratchett, Gergley Torda, & Rachel M. Woods. “Global warming impairs stock-recruitment dynamics of corals.” Nature. 18 April 2019. Nature Vol. 568. Pages 387-401. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1081-y.epdf  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[ix] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461  License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[x] World Health Organization. World Health Statistics 2018: Monitoring Health for the SDGs. https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2018/en/  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xi] Center for Biological Diversity. “Ocean Plastics Pollution: A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life.”  https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/   Accessed September 20, 2019.

[xii] Mnif, Wissem & Ibn hadj hassine, Aziza & Bouaziz, Aicha & Bartegi, Aghleb & Thomas, Olivier & Roig, Benoit. (2011). Effect of Endocrine Disruptor Pesticides: A Review. International journal of environmental research and public health. 8. 2265-303.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51508758_Effect_of_Endocrine_Disruptor_Pesticides_A_Review  Accessed September 18, 2019. 

[xiii] Appalachian Voices. “Mountaintop Removal 101.” http://appvoices.org/end-mountaintop-removal/mtr101/

Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xiv] Rachel Carson.  “The Pollution of Our Environment.” In Linda J. Lear (Ed.) Lost Woods – The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. Beacon Press. Boston. 1998. Pages 228-245.

[xv] Businesses for Bristol Bay. Economic Impact.   https://www.b4bb.org/economic-impact   Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xvi] Earthjustice. “Bristol Bay Salmon threatened by Pebble Creek Mine.” October 9, 2019.  https://earthjustice.org/features/alaska-s-bristol-bay-the-pebble-mine  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xvii] Patricia M. DeMarco. “Moving Targets- A Reflection on a Century Passing. March 13, 2015. https://patriciademarco.com/2015/03/13/moving-targets-a-reflection-from-a-century-passing/

[xviii] Mark Dixon, Heather Haar, Andre Goes, Joanne Martin, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Riedel. Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Spring 2019.  https://breatheproject.org/app/uploads/1970/01/920114-LWVP-Re-Imagine-Beaver-County-Book.pdf   Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xix] Timothy gore. Extreme Carbon Inequality. 2 December 2015. Oxfam International.  https://oi-files-d8-prod.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf  Accessed September 20, 2019. 

[xx] Rainforest Rescue. “Palm oil- deforestation for everyday products.”  https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxi] Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. 2018. Groundswell : Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29461

 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.  Accessed December 7, 2019.

[xxii]  Matt Egan. ‘Nervous and scared” – Coal Workers Fear for Pensions after Murray Coal Bankruptcy. CNN Business. New York.  November 1, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/01/business/murray-energy-coal-bankruptcy-pension/index.html  Accessed December 7, 2019. 

[xxiii] International Trade Union Confederation. Resolution on Climate Change action. July 12, 2018.  https://www.ituc-csi.org/the-4th-ituc-world-congress-20807    Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxiv] Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh PA. 2018.

[xxv] Patricia DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2018. Pages 193-210.

[xxvi] United States Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change Indicators in the United States 2016. Fourth Edition.  https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-us-and-global-temperature  Accessed September 19, 2019.

[xxvii] Juliana VS. United States https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/juliana-v-us Over 400 such lawsuits are pending at various stages in the United States courts. 

[xxviii] Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate change in the American mind: April 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Climate_Change_American_Mind_April_2019b.pdf  Accessed September 19, 2019. 

[xxix] Linda J. Lear. Rachel Carson – Witness for Nature. Henry Holt & Company. New York. 1997. Page 137.


Two Visions for Our Future: “Water is Life” vs. “Water Drives Fracking”

by Patricia DeMarco

November 15, 2019

Water Keepers Demonstration October 23, 2019 photo credit to Kirsi Jansa

Fresh water lies at the nexus of the existential crises of our time- global warming and global pollution. Two mutually exclusive visions for the future played out on the streets of Pittsburgh this October. The Shale Insight Conference at the David Lawrence Convention Center gathered gas and petrochemical industry corporations, workers, and supporters to share development plans and hear President Trump present his vision for this area as “the energy hub of America.” Throughout the day, three protests organized by Bend the Arc, the Indigenous People Water Protectors, and the Women’s Climate March demonstrated against the petrochemical build-out plans calling for protection of the water. A week later, Mayor Peduto speaking at the P4 Climate Summit decried the petrochemical build-out in Western Pennsylvania as a backwards looking development and painted a vision for a more resilient and sustainable future for the region. The two messages define the great divide that is pulling America apart, but within the controversy, elements of common ground have the potential to unite all of us in common purpose – to secure the future for our children.

Two points of contrast emerge from this dichotomy: What do we value? Who profits and who pays? We may find common ground when we consider What is our legacy?

What do we value?

Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers whose waters flow together to form the Ohio River and then into the Mississippi River. We are part of the great Mississippi River drainage that serves nearly one third of the American mainland. This geographic distinction held this place we call Pittsburgh as a center for commerce, trade and civilization from ancient times forward, long before the French and British battled for dominance here at the Point. 

For the Indigenous Peoples gathered here to celebrate the life-force of fresh water, unity with the land, the earth, the sky and the water is essential for all life. Preserving these elements of Nature is a sacred trust handed from one generation to the next for seven generations. As the water blessing ceremony began, Cheryl Angel spoke most passionately in her own Lakota tongue of the unifying force of water. “Water is Life. Without it we cannot live, so it is our sacred duty to protect the water, to keep it running free and pure for our time, and for our children and their grandchildren.”  The concept of connection to the water, the air, the land is embedded in the civilization of the Standing Rock Sioux, as expressed by Guy Jones, “The drums share the heartbeat of the Earth, our provider. Peace is our goal, at all costs, but we have no peace from the invasion of pollution, from the poison of industries and mining. We have no peace from the taking of the water and the taking of our land.” As the ceremony unfolded to the drumming and chanting and dancing of the tribal leaders, water samples brought for sharing were arranged in a circle, co-mingled and blessed, then poured into the rivers’ confluence as a symbolic unity with the waters of the entire Mississippi system. We who stood here in solidarity with this ancient ritual are moved with the solemnity and the significance of this tradition – holding sacred the priceless gifts of the living Earth: fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the many species that constitute the interconnected web of life.

For the Standing Rock Sioux, the Seminole, the Algonquin, the Tribes of the Iroquois Nation, humans are essentially part of nature, not dominant over nature. The sufficiency of all in the community depends on the interdependence of each person. Each contributes for the benefit of the whole, and the community is celebrated as a unit. Decisions honor the ways of the past, recorded in the wisdom of Elders, and consider the implications for seven generations forward. The obligation to protect the water, the land, the resources of Earth is a sacred duty. They speak for all of the people who rely on fresh water as a critical need for life. They speak for all of us and the yet to be born children of the 21stcentury.

By contrast, the Shale Gas Industry sees water as a component of production, taken for free from the surface waters at a tremendous rate. Each event of hydraulic fracturing in a deep shale well takes 500,000 gallons of fresh water. The coexistence of abundant water resources with the deep shale seams of the Marcellus and Utica gas deposits makes the Western Pennsylvania corridor attractive for this industry.  

As the increase in frequency and severity of storms in the Gulf Coast has damaged or destroyed infrastructure for petrochemical production, the industry scans north and east to this region for the resources it needs to produce gas, and plastic. The federal and state rules that strive to protect water- The Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and several others, were suspended for hydraulic fracturing industries by the “Haliburton Loophole” in the National Energy Act of 2005. This permits the process of slick-water hydraulic fracturing to inject water laced heavily with salt (1,300 times more concentrated salt than sea water) and a cocktail of chemicals and fine sand that make it possible to extract gas from deep underground. Water that comes up to the surface with the gas becomes heavily contaminated not only with the chemicals introduced but also with materials extracted from the deep shale formations, including radioactive Boron, hydrocarbons, and minerals. 

To the petrochemical industry, the water has value as a cheap production element to be used and discarded with minimum concern for the by-products. The methane (natural gas) produced from fracking is used for heating and cooking, and large amounts are liquefied and set for export to other countries. The liquids (ethane and other components of “wet gas”) are destined for the petrochemical industry, a much more lucrative undertaking that makes polypropylene plastic pellets, the precursors to many products such as food packaging, film, trash bags, diapers, toys, crates, drums, bottles, food containers and housewares.

As of 2019, the gas production from fracking fails to return sufficient profits to continue the capital-intensive process, but, the expectation for producing plastic from the hydrocarbon liquids produced with the gas keeps this industry rolling forward.[1] In addition to the 17,000 wells already drilled in Pennsylvania, the industry expects to need 1,000 fully producing wells annually to serve the contemplated plastics production enterprise they plan for a petrochemical hub in Western PA, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia. The Shell Appalachia Petrochemical facility under construction in Mercer County will produce 2.2 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, emissions of greater than major facility thresholds for emissions of 100 tons per year of NOx, 100 tons per year of particulates, and 50 tons per year of volatile organic compounds such as benzene.[2] The company plans to buy carbon offsets to abate its emissions, so sees no problem in producing so much greenhouse gas from the plant. The plant will produce 1.6 million metric tons per year of polyethylene plastic pellets, much of it destined for discard within 24 hours of first use.  There is no plan for recapturing or recycling any of this material. “Where we are coming from is that plastic, in most of its forms, is good and it serves to be good for humanity,” according to Hilary Mercer, who is overseeing the construction project for Shell.[3]

Who Profits and Who Pays?

The fossil industries profit. Certainly, the petrochemical companies that are investing in this enterprise have stacked the cards in their own favor as much as possible to produce profits for their corporations and shareholders.  Three principal tools have generated the profits to the fossil industries: direct and indirect federal subsidies extending back as far as 1837, state and local tax incentives, and abatement of environmental regulations at both the federal and state levels.

According to the Office of Management and Budget report of Subsides to Oil, Gas and Coal Industry, in 2018 taxpayers paid $20.5 Billion/year in direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction.[4] Permanent Investment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal of $7.4 Billion/year are included in the federal budget. This is compared to $1.3 billion in Investment Tax Credits for renewables, which need to be specifically reauthorized every five years. Oil and gas companies also receive indirect subsidies such as drilling cost deductions for oil and gas, valued at $2.3 billion per year, and other accounting advantages such as:

•Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)

•Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)

•Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)

•Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)

•Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[5]

In 2015, the U.S. spent $649 billion on direct and indirect fossil industry subsidies, more than the federal spending for the entire defense budget and ten times more than the federal spending for education.[6] State level subsidies also support fossil industries. For example, Pennsylvania provided $3.2 Billion in tax breaks and direct grants for fossil industries during fiscal year 2012-2013 alone.[7] Specific projects such as the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant have received commitments of $1.6 Billion in subsidies and tax incentives. Subsidies matter. According to an International Monetary Fund study issued in 2018, 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences.[8]

Relief from environmental regulation also comprises a significant profit to fossil development, especially to the hydraulic fracturing industry. From the first major environmental regulation packages of the 1970s, industry has steadily objected, protested and lobbied to erode environmental restrictions.  What the public sees as protections of vital resources such as clean air and safe drinking water and important natural resources, industry sees as a cost without benefit or a negative salvage value. The “Haliburton Loophole” was adopted with minimum scrutiny and debate, giving the fracking industry advantages not enjoyed by oil, coal or any other major industry with regard to pollution controls. While the dynamic tension between public interest and private profits has always played out within the regulatory system, under the Trump Administration, most regulatory agencies now have major industry leaders at the head. 

The result is that eighty-five significant environmental regulations have been rolled back as of December 2018, including provisions of the Endangered Species Act, provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Power Plan- Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines.[9] The stated objective of regulatory rollbacks, such as changing the oil and gas rules to eliminate control of methane emissions, is “to remove regulatory requirements that are not appropriate to regulate, and will reduce unnecessary regulatory duplication, saving $85 million in regulatory costs from 2019 to 2025.”[10]

The people pay. 

Fracking and the petrochemical buildup to produce plastics threaten prospects for addressing global warming and global pollution.  The plastics industry based on raw materials extracted from fossil gas deposits will accelerate both global warming by producing tons of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production cycle, and the product of this operation will contribute tons of plastic materials to the waste stream contaminating the oceans and landfills. Industry analysts and labor unions look at the immediate jobs scenario, projected to last for 20 years with escalating levels of manufacturing associated with the petrochemical operations. The cost of this industrial expansion comes from the climate impact, environmental degradation, and deterioration of worker and public health and safety. 

The regulatory policies applied to fracking for natural gas and petrochemical production support destruction of the natural environment. Environmental damage to land and ecosystems is the inevitable consequence of the fracking process from the hydraulic fracturing itself, the pipelines, separation facilities, transportation and production infrastructure. Fracking fragments forests, compromises wetlands, destroys watersheds, emits methane and fugitive hydrocarbon pollutants, and contaminates land with deposits of particulates, radioactive material and organic compounds. 

Removing millions of gallons of fresh water from the surface flows of rivers and streams of Pennsylvania to pump underground for hydraulic fracturing will have long-lasting consequences for the geology of the area.  Stream paths will be re-directed, groundwater recharge rates will be affected, and plumes of heavy salt will travel through the hydrology of the area.  Unknown consequences of this massive redistribution of the water flows will impose both tangible costs to communities as they struggle to assure safe drinking water supplies and indirect costs in the loss of functioning ecosystems. Taxpayers and communities will pay for the transient profits of these multi-national corporations for generations into the future. 

The single Shell Appalachia Petrochemical plant under construction in Beaver County now will send out enough pollution and greenhouse gasses to totally obliterate the climate action efforts of the entire surrounding area. The complex of such facilities touted at the Shale Insight Conference would doom this whole area to a future devoid of hope for reaching any meaningful response to the climate crisis and the global plastics pollution crisis that is compromising the very existence of life on earth. The profits will enrich a few multi-national corporations, who will pay as little as possible to their workers, and as little as they can manage to the communities, with extended tax credits and subsidies from the tax payers of the state and nation.  

Meanwhile, the costs of failing to address or mitigate the effects of climate change extract an enormous cost from all of us. A summary of the principal economic effects of failing to address climate change was reported in the fourth congressional climate Assessment. [11]

  • Labor Losses: Heat-induced productivity reduction costs $160 billion in lost wages a year
  • Higher Energy Costs: $87 billion a year by 2100 due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • Infrastructure damages: Coastal areas face $507 billion worth of real estate from risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100.  
  • Inland infrastructure damage: Inland flooding could destroy thousands of bridges by 2050 at a cost of $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year in addition to landslides and collapsing roadways from storm damage and super-saturation of the soil;
  • Shrinking Environmental capital: industries dependent on functioning ecosystems such as fishing face  huge losses, for example $230 million/ year in loss on shellfish harvests alone.
  • Recreation and tourism losses: $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone, and cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected.
  • Agricultural productivity losses: the drought of 2012 alone cost $14.5 billion as determined by crop failure insurance payments.
  • Health Effects: stress from extreme weather both cold and heat, affect the health of humans affected both in direct ways from heat stress, asthma, respiratory afflictions and allergies to indirect effects of chronic stress, economic loss, and increased disease vectors.

The costs of continuing this intense investment in extending the fossil-based industries far into the future will have catastrophic effects on our ability to mitigate climate change in our communities.

What is our legacy?

This area has seen the boom and bust cycle repeatedly over its history, most recently in the dramatic decline of steel and heavy manufacturing in the 1970-1980 decade.  The population fell, unemployment reached 25% among those who stayed, and the city was close to bankruptcy.  This was an industrial transition without a plan, without consideration of the social and environmental justice issues, and without compassion for the human suffering.  The trauma and scars of that time run deep and linger to this day. People see system change as fraught with danger. The myth that air and water pollution are inevitable, if not necessary, side effects to having good jobs is well entrenched in the culture of Pittsburgh.

We can take many important lessons from the trauma of that sad time. First is to recognize that powerful industries will shape the social conditions for their success without regard for the impact on individuals, communities, or future citizens.  They will shape the laws to their advantage for as long as they can. The net effect of regulations today is to protect polluters and criminalize protestors. Taxpayer subsidies originally applied to encourage the public convenience and necessity of certain enterprises have not been reviewed and evaluated for current conditions. Do subsidies to multi-national corporations with annual profits in excess of the gross domestic product of many countries really support a public convenience and necessity when the result is increased pollution and global warming?

Second, workers are rarely paid what they deserve; they are paid what they negotiate.  Unions had a major role in obtaining fair wages, safe working conditions and humane hours through battle with the barons of the industrial revolution.  Now, the strength of unions has been undermined and eroded by the same forces that offer good wages on the condition of workers enduring the effects of lax environmental and public health and safety regulations. The fraught labor movement has alienated entrepreneurs and innovative companies emerging in the renewable energy arena, and in the high technology industries as well.  Do we need a better model for determining a fair wage, or is there another way to reflect the value for “the public convenience and necessity” in moving away from a fossil-based economy?

Third, we must recognize that the laws of nature are not negotiable.  The laws of chemistry, physics, and the biological responses to changes in the physical environment cannot be changed by human declarations or wishes.  Our laws and actions must conform to the laws of nature, or we will join the growing list of living things that are going extinct in the face of a warming planet. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase the temperature of the planet by holding the sun’s radiation close to the surface. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause increased acidity in the oceans as the carbon dioxide absorbs into the water. Changes in the currents of air and water affect the weather patterns and the water cycle in ways that disrupt established patterns of land use and human habitation as well as habitat for creatures all over the globe.  

Pittsburgh is on a new path, one that leads to a vibrant, more resilient and sustainable economy with greater hope for equity and environmental stability. Quoting Mayor Peduto’s statement to the P4 Climate Summit,

“These are the facts: In Pennsylvania there are twice as many workers employed by the clean energy industry than by fossil fuel producers. There are more clean energy workers in Allegheny County than any other county in the state, including Philadelphia. The plans the City of Pittsburgh has adopted to cut carbon emissions in half are projected to add 110,000 full-time equivalent jobs by 2030. Pittsburgh has transitioned to a technology-based economy, with its tech firms attracting almost $4 billion in investments the last 10 years – $2.3 billion of which has come in just the last five years, much of it focused on the autonomous vehicle and robotics sectors. …  Pittsburgh has willed itself into economic rebirth after its near death. It joins the world in valuing our future over reliving the past.” [12]

We face a critical inflection point where the ecological balance shifts to a new equilibrium that is hostile to life as it has evolved over the last five million years. The invisible hand of the market will not drive the fundamental transformation that is required to maintain climate conditions in a temperature range that supports today’s living things, including humans.  We must apply the moral judgment to make decisions that will sustain a living planet for the future. Where we choose to make investments and what we choose to enable by law will determine the fate of our children. The greatest tragedy of the Haliburton Loophole is the huge diversion of capital and expectations from a path that sustains life to one of destruction. The enormous subsidies and incentives showered on the multi-national corporations of the petrochemical industry foreclose investment in sustainable, resilient development initiatives within communities.  This lost opportunity cost of the fracking/petrochemical industry is a moral decision to destroy the future rather than to preserve it. 

When empowered to decide on what kind of future is desired for communities, people develop exciting plans.  In Johnstown, Beaver, Butler, Meadville and Erie, communities are working to re-define their future. For example, The Re-Imagine Beaver County project facilitated by the League of Women Voters gathered community members and leaders throughout Beaver County over an eighteen- month period.[13] The strategies that evolved from this work established a community vision that is not dependent on a single fossil-based industry but rather establishes a diversified base of businesses in many different industries. The plans call for investing in Energy Innovation, Green Chemistry Eco-Industrial Parks, Sustainable Agriculture and Riverfront Development centered on restoration and natural resources.  The community is moving forward to implement this vision, with the premise that if the $1.6 billion in incentives given to the Shell Petrochemical complex were invested in communities instead, this vision would be readily accomplished for far less. 

The way forward:

We face two visions for the future- one where preserving fresh water symbolizes a civilization that recognizes the value of the living Earth and preserves it as the provider of our life support system and one where water is a production medium and land is to be exploited for transient profits. I close with Rachel Carson’s prescient comment at the end of Silent Spring:

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we travel at great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.”[14]

The pathways to a sustainable future and the technologies we need to pursue them are at hand.  We are not facing a technology crisis, but rather a crisis of ethics.  Will we leave a legacy of a living earth for our children, or will we remain focused on immediate profits and condemn our children to a future hurtling toward certain destruction of life? Imagine what we can accomplish if we invest in the future instead of subsidizing the past.

Sources and Citations


[1]  Rebecca Elliot, Christopher Matthews. “Oil and Gas Bankruptcies Grow as Investors Lose Appetite for Shale.” The Wall Street Journal. August 30, 2019.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/oil-and-gas-bankruptcies-grow-as-investors-lose-appetite-for-shale-11567157401 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[2] Air Quality Plan Approval Application – Petrochemicals Complex.  Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC Beaver County, Pennsylvania. May 2014.  Submitted to PA Department of Environmental Protection. https://gasp-pgh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Shell-Petrochemicals-Complex-Plan-Approval-Application.pdf

[3] Michael Corkery. “Deluged by Plastics but Bustling to Make More.” New York Times. Aug. 12, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/business/energy-environment/plastics-shell-pennsylvania-plant.html Accessed October 23, 2019.

[4] For a fuller discussion of oil and gas subsidies and effects see  https://patriciademarco.com/2019/05/23/green-jobs-and-a-living-planet-make-it-happen/

[5] http://priceofoil.org/2017/10/03/dirty-energy-dominance-us-subsidies

[6] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/06/15/united-states-spend-ten-times-more-on-fossil-fuel-subsidies-than-education/#414b6e784473

[7] https://www.pennfuture.org/Files/News/FossilFuelSubsidyReport_PennFuture.pdf

[8] David Coady, Ian Parry, Nghia-Piotr Le, and Baoping Shang. Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An       Update Based on Country-Level Estimates.  International Monetary Fund Working Paper, Fiscal Affairs Department. May 2019. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2019/05/02/Global-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Remain-Large-An-Update-Based-on-Country-Level-Estimates-46509 Accessed November 7, 2019.

[9]  Harvard University. Environmental and Energy Law Project. Regulatory Rollback Tracker. https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/regulatory-rollback-tracker/  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[10] https://www.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2019/08/13/Shell-cracker-Trump-protesters-plastics-ethane-oil-gas-Beaver-EPA-regulations-pennsylvania/stories/201908130059

[11] USGCRP, 2018: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 1515 pp. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.

 https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/downloads/NCA4_2018_FullReport.pdf  Accessed November 7, 2019.

[12] Oliver Morrison. “Peduto Speaks Out Publicly for the first time against a petrochemical expansion in western Pennsylvania.” Public Source. October 30, 2019. https://www.publicsource.org/peduto-speaks-out-publicly-for-the-first-time-against-a-petrochemical-expansion-in-western-pennsylvania/ Accessed November 7, 2019.

[13] Re-Imagine! Beaver County. Joanne Martin, Heather Haar, Mark Dixon, Andre Goes, Connor Mulvaney, Sophie Reidel. Funded by Colcom Foundation, Heinz Endowments, League of Women voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund, Three Rivers community Foundation. Spring 2019.

[14] Rachel Carson. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1962. Page 277.


Labor Day 2019- A Fannie Sellins Commemoration and A Commitment

Patricia M. DeMarco With Guest writers Leann Foster and Frank Snyder

The Battle of Homestead Foundation held a Centennial Commemoration of labor heroine Fannie Sellins on August 26, 2019.  Many thanks to the efforts of Steffi Domike, Battle of Homestead foundation founding member and co-editor of “When River Ran Red”[2]for organizing this commemoration and for her enduring efforts to educate and organize workers for justice. Here are the dinner remarks of Leeann Foster, USW International Vice President and Frank Snyder, Secretary-Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, given at the grave site of Fannie Sellins and Joseph Starzelski.

The Great Steel Strikes of 1919 came in the wake of victory in World War I, a war intended to establish the rights of democracy for the people and workers of Europe. The munitions and supplies used in that effort came from the ramping up of industrial production for the sake of the war effort.  Workers felt valued, empowered and enjoyed some improvements in their working conditions during that time, but at the end of the war, conditions deteriorated. Workers endured twelve-hour days in the face of the horrific heat and danger of the steel mills.  Even as the steel corporations’ earnings soared, the wages were lowered, and conditions deteriorated to their past levels of desperation. No benefits came to the widowed or maimed. In 1919, in Pittsburgh alone 195 men died in the steel mills.  Discontent and worker organizing was met with brutality, oppression and terrorizing workers organizing for better wages, conditions and hours.  The 1919 strike crumbled in the face of these tactics.  

Fannie Sellins became a heroine to the cause of workers’ rights, and for the cause of compassion and social justice for the families of workers.  She was brutally murdered on August 26, 1919 as she pleaded for the private Coal and Iron Police to stop beating Joseph Starzelski, a picketing miner. Mother Jones wrote of the 1919 strike in her autobiography:

Human flesh, warm and soft and capable of being wounded, went naked up against steel; steel that is cold as old stars, and harder than death and incapable of pain. Bayonets and guns and steel rails and battle ships, bombs and bullets are made of steel. And only babies are made of flesh. More babies to grow up and work in steel, to hurl themselves against the bayonets, to know the tempered resistance of steel. The strike was broken. Broken by the scabs brought in under the protection of the troops. Broken by breaking men’s belief in the outcome of their struggle. Broken by breaking men’s hearts. Broken by the press, by the government. In a little over a hundred days, the strike shivered to pieces. [1]

Remarks of Leeann Foster:

Introduction and Acknowledgments:

Fannie Sellins was a proud union woman. She fought for a better life for herself, her family, her sisters and brothers, all workers and union members. Our steelworker delegation here today honors the life and work of Fannie Sellins and today we declare her to be an honorary Woman of Steel. I’m proud to be here with other Women of Steel: Mariana Padias is a USW organizer, originally from Tucson, Arizona; Colleen Wooten is a USW district 10 staff representative who was unit president out of Express Strips in North Huntington; Keli Vereb works for USSteel at the Irvin Works and is the district 10 co-chair for Women of Steel; Steffi Domike is a labor educator who got her first union card at USSteel’s Clairton Plant. And we have sisters here from ATI. I look forward to meeting you this afternoon.

I am particularly proud of this local, USW local union 1196, which has honored Sellins’ memory for the past century. You represent the best of our union: honoring Fannie Sellins who was martyred for our cause, for the cause of all workers fighting for justice. You strengthen our union for the future by remembering the struggles it took for us to gain representation, learning from our past and fighting every day for a better life for our members. The displays in this union hall are a testament to your efforts to keep your history alive. I thank you and ask for a round of applause for our Brackenridge local.

It is also a distinct honor for me to be here with my brothers and sisters from the United Mine Workers of America. It is here, in UMWA District 5 that the United Steelworkers of America was dreamed of by our common union forefathers. Philip Murray (the man who would become the President of both the Steelworkers Organizing Committee and the first International President of the United Steelworkers of America) was President of UMWA District 5 in 1919, and it was he who hired Fannie Sellins. In 1918 the UMWA took the lead with the industry-wide organizing committee created by the American Federation of Labor to support steelworkers in their fight for a union, for better pay and shorter working hours. I thank you and ask for a round of applause for our brothers and sisters from the United Mineworkers.

Today I have three objectives:

One is to join with you, brothers and sisters, to remember our brave sister, Fannie Sellins, and to take inspiration from her strength, her integrity and her commitment to fighting for a better life for all working people.

A second is to renew our solidarity with all of you: union members and sons, daughters, parents and children of union members, coal miners and steelworkers.

My third objective is to look at our movement today through the lens of the fights in 1919 and the eyes of Fannie Sellins and to ask, “What are the parallels for today?” What can we learn from the past?

Commemorating Fannie Sellins

Fannie Sellins, was a seamstress who came into the labor movement in 1902 by organizing St. Louis’ Local 67 of the United Garment Workers (UGWA). By 1909, she was local union president. An inspirational and passionate speaker, Sellins spoke of the need for all workers to have representation and she knew that our strength comes from our solidarity.

In 1909, Sellins spoke to a group of coal miners in Illinois, “Help us fight.” She said, “We women work in factories on dangerous machinery, and many of us get horribly injured or killed. Many of your brothers die in the mines. There should be a bond of sympathy between us, for we both encounter danger in our daily work.” 

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the UGWA both understood this “bond of sympathy” between all workers. A century ago, these unions practiced “pragmatic industrial unionism,” expanding their organizing to include all who worked. As we say in my union, “Everyone in, nobody out!”

In 1913, Sellins’ was hired by the UMWA as an organizer and sent to Colliers, WV, a company town. There she worked with families of striking miners.  A federal judge (in the pocket of the coal operators) outlawed the UMWA. In defiance, Fannie Sellins walked the picket line with the strikers, was arrested and given a jail sentence of 6 months. She spent 3 months in jail until the UMWA raised her bail. As you heard up at the site of the murders earlier today and as you can see in this beautiful painting of Sellins as she sat in her jail cell, on December 3, 1913, Sellins declared her belief in her rights ad an American citizen:

“I am free and I have a right to walk or talk any place in this country as long as I obey the law. The only wrong I have done is to take shoes to the children in Colliers whose bare feet are blue from the cruel blasts of winter. If it’s wrong to put shoes on those little feet, then I will continue to do wrong as long as I have hands and feet to crawl to Colliers.” 

Knowing that for the labor movement to succeed, the steel industry had to be organized, in 1917 the UMWA sent Sellins to coal and steel company towns in the Allegheny Valley, including Brackenridge and Natrona, to organize the families of steelworkers to withstand a strike. She spoke with the women of the community and told them that there was a path out of misery and that path was with the union.

Fannie Sellins knew that the companies would try to exploit differences among workers to divide their loyalties. Here is an example of how she confronted this problem: Louis Hicks’ mines in the Allegheny Valley went out on strike in 1917. Instead of negotiating with the UMWA, Hicks brought in Southern black workers to break the strike. The strikers heard about a train of black workers coming to town. Sellins waited at a railroad signal outside of town; as the train slowed down, she ran along the tracks shouting “Don’t break the strike, support the union!” 100 men from Alabama abandoned the train.  After that, the Coal and Iron Police knew who she was and were gunning for her.

What are the parallels for today? What can we learn from the past?

The law was stacked against unions and union organizers in 1919 and, although we have made great strides to get the right to organize, our rights are constantly under attack now and we must fight to defend ourselves and to gain better legal protections for workers.

Law enforcement in 1919 was subject to being purchased by the powerful coal and steel operators. Today, corporate lobbyists have gained enormous power to influence legislators; the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United opened the doors for unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns. Big Money still can buy government and it’s as important as ever for us to work together to support candidates for office who support working people and who cannot and will not be bought.

Immigrants were discriminated against in employment and housing as well as being attacked physically as Joe Starzeleski was in Natrona on August 26, 1919. Even though most of us in this room are the children, grandchildren and great-grand-children of immigrants, today newcomers are demonized. We are seeing immigrants, both documented and undocumented, being reviled by the president of our country. Some of the recent mass shootings have targeted Mexicans and Spanish-speaking citizens. The United Steelworkers takes a strong stand against the current treatment of asylum seekers, particularly the cruel and inhuman family separations on our Southern border. 

The coal and steel companies of 1919 fanned the flames of racism by sending labor agents to the South to recruit unemployed black share-croppers as strike-breakers at Northern mines and mills. This is a dangerous, divisive tactic that unfortunately is still employed today.  During the recent lockout, ATI intentionally hired black mill guards and scabs, knowing full well that that would inflame old divisions among workers and in our communities.

Red-baiting was a company tactic in 1919 and is back in use today. Union organizers are called “communists” or “socialists” and when they speak of workers’ rights and workplace democracy, they are accused of introducing dangerous ideas to workers.

  • This prejudice strongly influenced the attitudes of the coroner’s jury to find the mine guards’ killing of Sellins’ as self-defense. 

But we know that Sellins’ ideas were the furthest thing from dangerous. At the 1921 UMWA commemoration of her death, Robert R. Gibbons, President of UMWA District 5, said, 

  • “Fannie Sellins gave her life in the attempt to put an end to the suffering of the miners and their families, to lead them out of wage slavery. 
  • “Mrs. Sellins was a noble woman. She had taken part in the organization of many mines in the Pittsburgh district.  For this work the women loved her, men revered her, children worshipped her and the enemy abused and murdered her. Her life was filled with ministrations of love, kindness and mercy.”

In thinking about the future of our important work to build and defend working people and build our movement, we can look at Fannie Sellins and take OUR cues from HER fights: Fannie Sellins was not a new immigrant, but she fought with and for new immigrants in the sweatshops of St. Louis. She fought for new immigrants on strike at mine portals and she urged new immigrant families of steelworkers in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley to join her in the fight for a better life. Fannie Sellins, the seamstress, fought for the nine-hour day a century ago so that we could enjoy an eight-hour day and the five-day work week today. We must defend corporate attacks on this right by resisting forced overtime. As the labor movement has fought for almost two centuries: “8 hours for work, 8 hours to sleep, and 8 hours for what we will!” Fannie’s leadership and bravery in the face of overwhelming corporate power and abuse inspires us to follow in her footsteps and tackle the problems in our communities and workplaces.

A woman of steel stands firm, does not back down. 

Thank you, Fannie Sellins, for your courage, your commitment and compassion. And thank you for your leadership.

Remarks of Frank Snyder:

Good evening. My name is Frank Snyder, and I am the Secretary-Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and on behalf of our State Fed President, Rick Bloomingdale, and our 700,000 hardworking women and men who make up our organized labor Federation, I bring you greetings and all the appreciation I can muster, for you never forgetting the life of Fannie Sellens. While this day marks the 100th anniversary of her shocking death, a cowardly act of inhumane violence; it’s her life’s work that a century later serves as a profile in courage, perseverance, dignity and justice.

I digress. Two weeks ago, I came across what seemed to be endless stories marking the 100th anniversary of the death of another well-known name from that era – Andrew Carnegie. And the two could not have been more unlike one another. And in the articles I forced myself to read, they portrayed Carnegie with near religious exuberance. That twisted reality must come from when the richest man of his time, in the twilight of his life, tries to erase his guilt-ridden conscious for the pain he left on so many, with libraries, music halls, and colleges.

The 1892 Homestead strike in Pennsylvania and the ensuing bloody battle instigated by the steel plant’s management remain a transformational moment in U.S. history, leaving scars that have never fully healed after five generations. And no, there are no libraries or music halls or colleges that commemorate the senseless massacre of innocent steelworkers at Carnegie Steel, or the brutal murder of an “Angel of Mercy”. A period every bit as tumultuous as our own today, the 1890s saw sweeping changes in the economy, politics, and society, while giving birth to a technological revolution that would profoundly alter the lives of all Americans. Sound familiar?

Those few who knew how to exploit that new world, like Carnegieor Rockefeller, prospered handsomely; those who did not became icons of how the other half lives. A tale of two cities. The only thing – the only thing, that stood, and stands, in the way of those two cities of haves and have nots, are America’s unions. Men and women, assembled with one another in solidarity, for the purpose of social and economic security, protection, and advancement through collective bargaining.

Still, the war rages on. No, the battlefield is more subtle today than it was a century ago. A hundred years ago corporate America fought us with violence, imprisonment, exile, and in the case of Fannie Sellens, execution.

Today, they still fight us with tactics of fear, intimidation, harassment – all commonplace in today’s anti-union workplaces.

Our outdated labor laws are making us weaker at home and diminishing our standing in the world.

In more cases than not, a free and fair process for forming a union simply does not exist in America today. That must change.And it starts with the Unions of the AFL-CIO, fighting back with PRO Act, The Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or H.R.2474, and its Senate companion Bill 1306. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act protects the right to join a union by:

  • Bolstering remedies and punishing violations of workers’ rights, 
  • Strengthening workers’ right to stand together and negotiate for better working conditions, and 
  • Restoring fairness to an economy that is rigged against workers.

Regardless of our profession, we submit to you all, that there is dignity in all work. And all need to be treated with respect, and a voice in the decisions that affect them. That’s what Fannie Sellens gave her life for. And rather than coming together to remember how she died, imagine when we gather in the future and remember how she lived throughout her short chapter in American history, that laid the foundation for meaningful labor law reform to enable all workers to share in social and economic justice and a voice at work through an organized labor union

Image Copyright to Bill Yund
African Americans from the South were deployed as strike-breakers during the 1919 Steel Strike. They also hoped for a better life. When the strike was defeated, most were left jobless, although some were retained in the hottest and dirtiest jobs. This steel plate loader was one of the more fortunate.

As we enter another cycle of elections, it is critical to keep focus on the needs of working people, the source of our productivity, and the soul of our nation in America and around the world. Without justice, there will be no peace. Without fairness, there will be no progress. Without compassion, there will be no true stability in our civilization. Workers standing together for a healthy world will assure solutions to the existential crisis of climate change and global pollution. A just transition must take account of labor, environment and health all together, not just economic considerations of corporations.

[1]Autobiography of Mother Jones. Chapter 24. The Steel Strike of 1919.  https://www.iww.org/history/library/MotherJones/autobiography/24

[2]David A Demerest, Jr., General Editor, Fannia Weingartner, Coordinating editor. Co-Editors: Steffi R. Domike, Doris Dyen, Nicole Fauteux,Russel W. Gibbons, Randolph Harris, Eugene Levy, Charles J. McCollester, Rina Youngener. “The River Ran Red” Homestead 1892. Pittsburgh Series in Social and Labor History. University of Pittsburgh Press. 1992.


Metamorphosis- A model for our way forward

Metamorphosis

August 2019

The monarch butterfly has become an iconic emblem of the need to preserve the environment.  As insect populations decline from loss of habitat due to climate change and from broad use of pesticides and herbicides that are acutely toxic to pollinators, people have become more concerned. Pleas for help now fall on deaf ears at the EPA where industry influence has constrained controls on wide use of neonicotinoids, glyphosate, and dicamba.  Pollinator populations are crashing, with terrible consequences for food production. A world without insects would be dreary and uninhabitable as these creatures are essential parts to many food chains and essential ecosystems.

Barb Martin at the Sunny Plot

It is encouraging that individual efforts can make a significant difference in the outcome of this sad story.  In my home town of Forest Hills PA, Barbara Martin and the Late Bloomers Garden Club made a deliberate effort to increase the habitat for pollinators in the public gardens the club maintains.  Individual members also began planting specifically for pollinator-friendly gardens. Milkweed cultivation became very popular.  We all send pictures around celebrating the latest development- Monarch egg- laying, caterpillar sightings, chrysalis formation! We await the first emergence to be documented as a new generation of adult butterflies joins the hopefully growing throng. We share the small tragedies of caterpillars killed by stinkbugs or cadis fly attacks. The gardens are now scenes of high drama, not just places of colorful attraction.

Second instar Monarch caterpillar eating milkweed in Patty DeMarco's garden
Third instar Monarch caterpillar on milkweed in Linda Hyde’s garden
Monarch chrysalis photographed by Barb Martin in her garden
Monarch adult emergent in Barbara Martin’s garden

Metamorphosis thus tracked and observed is revealed as one of the wonders of nature. Metamorphosis is the process through which insects, such as butterflies, develop from the egg to caterpillars, which molt two or three times as they grow, to pupate in a chrysalis, and then emerge in a totally different form as a butterfly. All of the fuel and resources necessary for the final adult butterfly form are contained in the caterpillar.  You can think of the caterpillar as an eating machine devoted to storing fat, and a butterfly as a flying machine devoted to reproduction. The special cells that become the organs and parts of the butterfly are clustered behind the head in the caterpillar- small “imaginal discs” of specialized cells that grow slightly, but wait until the chrysalis forms to become active. During pupation, the stored resources the caterpillar made become the fuel for growth and development of the organs that will be evident in the butterfly. It is an elegant manifestation of nature!

Metamorphosis is also a good descriptor for the changes our civilization is facing with the existential challenges of climate change and global pollution. We have grown our industrial age on the resources extracted from the Earth – coal, oil, and natural gas – and consumed them with explosive effect on the capacity of the economy to support growth…at least for a while.  Now, after roughly 100 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we are hitting the limits of growth.  Not growth as usually defined in economic terms, but growth in terms of keeping the balance of the life forces of the Earth.  Unlike the caterpillar, human society has no signal to trigger the transformation to the next stage. We must listen to the voice of the Earth warning of the limits to growth in its current mode. The way forward cannot pursue the same path as the past.  Just as the munching caterpillar is transformed into a flying creature, we need to transform our civilization from a rapacious converter of raw material into trash into a civilization devoted to preserving and sustaining the life support system the living Earth has provided to us.

The tools and resources necessary for the transformation to a sustainable civilization are at hand. This is not a technology issue. It is an issue of values and ethics, of recognizing that we have reached, perhaps even exceeded the limits of growth in this mode.  I share here the wisdom of Donella Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth.

People don’t need enormous cars; they need respect. They don’t need a closetful of clothes; they need to feel attractive and they need excitement, variety and beauty. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgment, love, joy. To try to fulfill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems.[1]

If we really look at the way nature manages healthy systems, we see the balances among growth and decomposition and reconstitution.  In the great cycles of life, nothing is wasted and every part is interconnected with other parts to make a complex system that changes and evolves in succession. Human civilizations in past times have sustained a harmonious existence in nature for thousands of years, as the indigenous populations in many diverse parts of the world have illustrated. Modernizing such cultures has rarely achieved a similar balance.

The elegance of natural systems and the absolute economy of resource cycles in nature can inspire our future ways. As the monarch flutters through the milkweed in the garden, I am thankful for the efforts of my friends and of so many people from Mexico to Canada who are stepping forward to provide sanctuary for these amazing wanderers. Because their life cycle spans a continent, the healthy presence of monarch butterflies gives hope that we can restore the health of our own life support system for our children and the children yet to be born in the 21stcentury.


[1]L. Hunter Lovins et.al. A Finer Future – Creating an Economy in Service to Life. New Society Publishers. B.C. Canada. 2018. Page 27


Green Jobs and A Living Planet: Make It Happen

Patricia M. DeMarco

May 20, 2019

The fragrant, lush explosion of growth in the deciduous Pittsburgh landscape reminds me that Nature is resilient and has evolved through millions of years to thrive and flourish. Though the reality that human actions have precipitated existential crises from global warming and global pollution is undeniable, the burgeoning life of Spring brings hope. What humans have caused, humans can change. The laws of Nature are not negotiable, but the laws and policies of nations can be changed to preserve natural systems. The time is ripe and the tools for a sustainable transformation of our economy and our culture are at hand.

The Situation

The natural systems of the earth have evolved to provide everything we need to survive and thrive – the essential conditions for life as we know it: solar energy (both incident and stored), oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground, and the vast biodiversity of species that constitute the living earth. This essential life support system is under stress from human driven actions: fossil fuel combustion, resource extraction, uncontrolled population expansion, and hyper-consumption, especially in America. Americans comprise about 5% of the world’s population but use 25% of the worlds energy resources.[1]It would take five and a half planets to provide our lifestyle for everyone on earth, but we have only one Earth. The Mauna Loa Observatory has measured carbon dioxide levels at 415 parts per million, an atmospheric concentration not seen on planet Earth for over three million years. [2],[3]We are entering planetary conditions never experienced by current living systems, including human civilizations.

The situation is more urgent than ever. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) issued itsreport on Global Biodiversity compiled by 145 expert scientists from 50 countries. Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES said: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. … it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”[4]

How can we accomplish this critical task? The Green New Deal framework presents a catalyst to stimulate creative discourse on bringing a positive transformation to our system.[5]Town Hall meetings on the Green New Deal are taking place across the country as people begin to work out the specifics of a green economy. These conversations offer an opportunity to bring many more people to awareness of the severity of the situation we are facing, and to move to action in every aspect of our lives. This problem is too important to leave to “other people” or “whoever is in charge.” Everyone has a stake in preserving a habitable planet for now, and especially for the future. Sustainability must become the new normal.

The Concept of Sustainability

We are not facing a technology problem- we are facing an ethics and a moral problem. There is ample evidence in recent history of America leading transformative changes in a short time when united in purpose and guided by a specific objective, as illustrated by the rapid industrialization of our economy in World War II to defeat Hitler. [6]Sustainability requires that we place a higher priority on taking responsibility to preserve a living earth for future generations. The Brundtland Commission definition of sustainability states simply: “Meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[7]If we care at all about our children and grandchildren, it is critical to recognize that this an existential challenge for all of life on Earth, and an intergenerational imperative. We already experience the effects of a one degree increase in the average temperature of the earth.[8]To achieve sustainability within the next twenty years, we must pursue system solutions to systemic problems.  

Plan for a Sustainable Economy

A true transformation of our economy and lifestyle requires moving in a new direction on multiple levels. The energy system must shift from a fossil fuel basis, – oil, natural gas and coal – to energy use and production around modular, renewable resources. The food production system must shift from a chemical-dependent process to regenerative agriculture processes that restore the fertility of the land, sequester carbon, and provide food more locally.  The processes that create materials and goods must shift to using resources that do not create toxic products and by-products, such as plastics from fossil feed-stocks, but rather use components that can be broken down in natural systems. Moving these major systems to a different platform does not require new technology, but a commitment to shifting to a life-sustaining system instead.[9]The transformation is in process all over the world and in many places in America as well. When people visualize the changes in a positive light, they will no longer fear moving to the unknown. Workers in the oil, gas and coal industries, in the traditional petrochemical production industries, and commercial scale agriculture industry feel fear and uncertainty about changes proposed to achieve sustainability. The immediate threat of job loss and meeting needs of family overwhelm philosophical attention to the fate of future generations, even the rapidly approaching fate of today’s children. We must replace that fear with concrete plans for a sustainable economy. 

A just transition must include a plan for taking care of the workers in industries that need to change. That means protecting workers and their unions, including their wages, pensions and health benefits, providing meaningful training and re-training, and making investments in communities for new infrastructure, new systems and effective social infrastructure of laws and regulations. Simply mandating fuel substitutions is inadequate to this task. We need to re-frame the problem and reach to the root causes of social justice and environmental justice issues to make a meaningful and effective transition.

Re-Framing the Problem

We measure the well-being of our country on the basis of how well the economy is doing. Consumer confidence, the Gross Domestic Product, the performance of Wall Street, the size of the trade deficit all mark the measure of success. The most widely quoted indicator, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of Consumption (Consumer spending) plus Investment by private companies plus Government Spending plus the net of Exports minus Imports. Our economy basically depends on turning raw material to trash as rapidly as possible with consumer spending at the heart of the system. This approach does not account for the priceless contributions of the living ecosystems that provide fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and support of the entire biodiversity of species. These essential functions are not explicitly reflected in what is measured, and in fact, the destruction of such essential services often counts as a positive value in the GDP, such as filling wetlands for building sites.[10]The priceless services the living Earth provides, like pollination, oxygen creation, water purification and so many others, do not count in the GDP. In a sustainable system, the economic value would be balanced with social and cultural values, and environmental values for a holistic approach to measuring the well-being of society.[11]By placing overwhelming emphasis on the economic value as indicated by the GDP, the balance of society is skewed. 

This one-dimensional way of measuringvalue obscures the full environmental and social consequences of consumer’s decisions. Prices of goods and services to not reflect the cost in environmental damage to land and ecosystems, the cost of air pollution on health, the contamination of water supplies, or the loss of farmland to prolonged drought. In fact, many policies actually supportenvironmental destruction. 

In the energy system, for example, moving toward sustainability requires that fossil fuel combustion must be quickly curtailed. Yet, government policies, some dating back to the early nineteenth century, heavily subsidize fossil fuel extraction.[12]In the U. S. direct production subsidies for oil, gas and coal extraction amount to $20.5 billion per year hard-wired into the tax and budget process.[13]PermanentInvestment Tax Credits for oil, gas, coal development amount to an additional $7.4 Billion/year.[14]This is compared to $1.3 billion/year for all renewables tax credits, which decline on a sliding scale and end in five years unless Congress explicitly extends them. There are additional federal tax credits and loopholes for oil, gas and coal amounting to $10 billion/year:

  • Intangible drilling oil & gas deduction ($2.3 billion)
  • Excess of percentage over cost depletion ($1.5 billion)
  • Master Limited Partnerships tax exemption ($1.6 billion)
  • Last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting ($1.7 billion)
  • Lost royalties from onshore and offshore drilling ($1.2 billion)
  • Low-cost leasing of coal-production in the Powder River Basin ($963 million)[15][16]

Changing this wide array of subsidies would require explicit changes in the law by an act of Congress. 

Why do all of these subsidies matter? First, 98% of all operating coal plants are unprofitable if environmental controls are updated and enforced, and 50% of yet-to-be-drilled oil and gas wells are not profitable (at $50/barrel oil price) if they do not have tax preferences. [17]The fossil industries spend an enormous amount of money to keep these preferential treatments in place.[18]For example, in the 2015-2016 election cycle, oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million on campaigns and lobbying, and received $29.4 billion in subsidies.[19]The laws will not be changed as long as the people in Congress are beholden to the fossil interests. The status quo will not achieve sustainability within a reasonable window of time. It is too late for small incremental changes. Major changes through a comprehensive and bold initiative are necessary. The Green New Deal approaches a solution in a multidimensional way.

The Cost of NOT Acting on Climate

As initiatives ranging from the “cap and Trade” proposals of 2009 to the Green New Deal of 2018 come forward, the prevailing reaction has been that green options are too expensive and therefore impractical. However, failingto address climate change is already very expensive. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandated a climate assessment be filed to Congress every four years. The Fourth Climate Assessment was filedin November 2018, by 17 current federal agencies appointed under President Trump. The findings of this report are unequivocal:

  • $160 billion in lost wages a year from heat-induced productivity reduction;
  • $87 billion a year by 2100 in higher energy costs due to mounting demand on a power system made less reliable by extreme weather.
  • $507 billion worth of infrastructure damage from real estate at risk of being inundated by rising sea levels by 2100; and
  • $1.2 to $1.4 Billion/year from Inland flooding destruction of thousands of bridges by 2050
  • $230 million/ year—loss on shellfish harvests. 
  • $140 Billion/year recreation industry losses from disappearing coral reefs alone 
  • cold-water fishing and skiing would also be affected. [20]

These costs are considered to be minimum estimates of the potential damages and resulting costs as the result of climate change. The economic damages on industries, communities, individuals and institutions are already accumulating across the country, and around the world.[21]

Better Choices: The Green Jobs Economy

What is a “Green Job”? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Green Jobs are “Jobs in businesses that produce goods and services that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources.” These are in diverse fields and enterprises ranging from biological materials processing to regenerative agriculture.  For simplicity, I will focus here on the energy sector. 

Green jobs in the energy sector are expanding rapidly as technology costs in renewables are dropping sharply. In 2013, based on unsubsidized life cycle cost analysis by Lazard investment bank, both wind and solar utility scale systems fell below the cost of coal, and the costs have continued to decline against coal, oil and gas.[22]Demand is also increasing for energy efficiency and clean energy solutions as businesses seek to save operating costs. Businesses especially recognize that energy efficiency has rapid returns and is an under-used tool for productivity improvement. Investment in energy management software alone is expected to increase by 10% in the next four years. [23]In many states, more supportive policies encouraging renewable energy use and removing barriers such as restrictive zoning are advancing renewable energy systems.[24]

The green energy field has a diversity of job opportunities in sectors ranging from clean energy production to environmental management. All have shown robust job growth over the last decade, with trends increasingly positive.[25]Renewable energy systemsinclude hydroelectric, wind and solar energy, both passive solar incorporated into building design and active photovoltaic power generation. Solar energy alone employs more people than oil, gas and coal combined with 777,000 jobs posted in 2016. Solar jobs are growing at 25% per year and wind at 16% per year, though the trend has slowed a bit due to federal policy uncertainty and the tariffs imposed on imports of solar panels and components from China.[26]The renewable energy production field employs skilled workers such as Electricians, Electrician helpers, Solar Installers, repairers, and Electric power plant operators. When these renewable energy systems are built in America, they also employ machinists, construction workers, and building trades workers.

Energy Storage and Advanced Electric Gridopportunities showed a 235% surge in growth in 2016-2017with 98,800 jobs in storage and 55,000 jobs in advanced electric grid operations. These fields are critical for building the infrastructure to integrate renewable resources into a smoothly functioning electric system. Adding storage both as utility scale functions and as modular additions to individual buildings creates flexibility, reliability and resilience in the operations of electric service. Using artificial intelligence for grid management and load adjustments also expands the capability of the system. This is an exciting and rapidly growing field.

The Energy Efficiency fieldincludes diagnostics, engineering modifications, retrofitting, adapting and installing energy efficiency improvements to commercial and residential buildings. This sector employs 2.2 million workers, mostly in construction trades such as Roofers, Roofer- Helpers, Pipe-layers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, Steamfitters, HVAC Mechanics, and HVAC Installers. The opportunities in energy efficiency grow as communities and businesses invest in infrastructure improvements and modernization. Because these jobs are tied to local initiatives, they are an excellent bridge to a more resilient economy.

The transportation sector is undergoing a massive transformation in Advanced Vehicles and Transportation. Developing and manufacturing electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles provided 174,000 jobs in 2016-2017. It is a growing field, for example, Ford announced $11 Billion in investment for 40 EV and Hybrid vehicles targeted to be on the market by 2022.[27]In addition to traditional automotive workers, this sector adds skills in artificial intelligence, engineering and electronics. 

Environmental Managementin the green economy has a role of increasing importance.  This field defines the intersection of change where traditional systems are adapting to incorporate renewable energy, efficiency and operations. [28]Because of the strong financial benefit of sustainability, 43% of corporate executives have placed sustainability on the agenda for their operations. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track “sustainability” jobs at this time, there are strong indicators of rapid growth in this field.[29]Jobs in the energy management field include Hazardous waste management, Refuse Recycling management, Septic system engineers, Plant and system operators, Conservation scientists.[30]This field is evolving and is shaping the direction for future enterprises both from within corporations and as new business areas of opportunity.

Wages and Skills in the Green Economy

An often – repeated allegation about the green economy holds that green jobs don’t pay well.  This is not true. Wages in the clean energy economy are above the national average of $23.86 per hour. For Clean Energy Production (renewables) wages average $28.41 per hour; for Energy efficiency, $25.90 per hour; and for Environmental Management, wages average $27.45 per hour. [31]

The scope and range of job opportunities offer a wide array of skill requirements and opportunities.  This is an area of high diversity and high prospects for growth. Jobs that improve the environment and conserve resources offer a foundation for moving to a sustainable future. The barriers and impediments to this path can be overcome. The problem is much like that of the Suffragettes who had to overcome the objections of the men in power to obtain rights for women to vote. The fossil industry interests hold the power in Congress, and they must be overcome to accelerate the transformation necessary to address climate change and global pollution. Workers in current fossil industries such as coal mining look at green job opportunities through the lens of wages won by long and hard union negotiations, years of organizing for rights and benefits, and a generation of struggle. The jobs of the Industrial Revolution are not the jobs of the future. But the wages, benefits and conditions of work are negotiable, and can be improved. These new jobs have the benefit of being inherently healthier both for the workers and for the environment of the communities. Organizing, negotiating and demanding more equitable wages, fair distribution of resources between workers and corporate owners, and a basic respect for the dignity of work lie at the heart of this initiative for green jobs. The days of man-killing work are over, and we should rejoice that the future holds better choices.

A call to action

There is no reason to delay the rapid transformation to a sustainable green economy. We need only to listen to our children.  From young Greta Thornburg pleading for her future to the United Nations to our own children in lawsuits against inaction by the U.S. Government, children around the world are begging for their future. Our Constitution offers Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as an inalienable right. If we leave our children a planet so compromised that the life support functions we take for granted do not operate, haven’t we failed in our Constitutional obligation to them? As stated in the International AFL-CIO Confederation climate statement in Copenhagen this year, “Economic transformation cannot be left to the “invisible hand” of the market.”[32]This is a time for workers to unite and organize for the sake of our children and grandchildren, to learn the lessons of the union labor movement and demand a more equitable solution.

The laws of Nature are NOT negotiable. Climate change will continue its inevitable course with ever increasing disastrous consequences for all of life on Earth. OUR Laws must change to enable and promote “Green Jobs” instead of protecting fossil industries. The majority of Americans want action on climate change.  We must find the determination and organize broadly to change the direction of our government policies. The current policies of the United States are moving backward – rejecting the Paris Accord on Climate Action, refusing to sign the Plastics Reduction amendment to the Basel Accord on international trade in hazardous materials, and rescinding 87 environmental and health protections by Executive Order, for example. None of these actions serve the public interest, rather they seek to re-establish a world that no longer exists.

Momentum is building for action on climate change: 22 states, 550 cities, and 900 companies with operations in the US have made climate commitments.[33]All 50 states have some type of policy that could bring about emissions reductions. When people demand action, we can make change happen. The key elements for action on climate change include:[34]

1. Government-driven investments in the Green Economy

2. Innovation and skills development 

3. Social protection- especially pensions and benefits 

4. Consultation with social partners (unions and employers) 

5. Healthy environment for healthy people and planet

6. Equitable redistribution of resources and power.

These are essential to the necessary transformation to a better, sustainable future.

We can DECIDE to leave a Living Earth as a legacy for our children! 

Citations and Resources:


[1]http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

[2]Scripps Institution of Oceanography. CO2 Reading for May 11,2019. Mauna Loa Data Center. https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/carbon-dioxide-hits-level-not-seen-3-million-years-here-ncna1005231 

[4]https://www.ipbes.net/document-library-catalogue/summary-policymakers-global-assessment-report-biodiversity-ecosystem)

[5]H. Res. 109. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. 116thCongress, 1stSession. February 7, 2019. https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres109/BILLS-116hres109ih.pdf

[6]https://prospect.org/article/way-we-won-americas-economic-breakthrough-during-world-war-ii Accessed May 15, 2019

[7]  World Commission on Environment and Development Report “Our Common Future.” 1987. https://www.sustainabledevelopment2015.org/AdvocacyToolkit/index.php/earth-summit-history/historical-documents/92-our-common-future

[8]See discussion of effects of elevated carbon dioxide levelshttps://www.cnn.com/2019/05/13/health/carbon-dioxide-world-intl/index.html)

[9]For more examples see P. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. 2017 University of Pittsburgh Press.

[10]R. Costanza, R. deGroot, P.Sutton, S.vander Ploeg, S. Anderson, I. Kubeszewski, S. Farber, R.K.Turner. “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global Environmental Change. 2014. 26:152-158.   https://community-wealth.org/sites/clone.community-wealth.org/files/downloads/article-costanza-et-al.pdfAccessed May 17, 2019.

[11]Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity”   https://conservationtools.org/guides/95-economic-benefits-of-biodiversity Accessed May 19, 2019.

[12]The National Energy Act of 2005 explicitly granted exemptions from seven federal environmental and worker safety protections to allow natural gas extraction from deep shale formations by hydraulic fracturing. 

[13]http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/

[14]https://www.treasury.gov/open/Documents/USA%20FFSR%20progress%20report%20to%20G20%202014%20Final.pdf

[15]https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/  also   https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0009-8

[16] http://priceofoil.org/2017/10/03/dirty-energy-dominance-us-subsidies/

[17]http://priceofoil.org/2018/02/07/new-study-shows-axing-fossil-fuel-subsidies-could-deliver-major-climate-benefits-but-press-release-says-the-opposite/

[18]https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/03/oil-and-gas-industry-has-pumped-millions-into-republican-campaigns

[19]https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?Ind=E01

[20]https://nca2018.globalchange.gov

[21]https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

[22]Lazard. Levelized Cost of Energy Report. 2018. https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/

[23]https://www.energymanagertoday.com/11-experts-predict-the-future-of-energy-management-in-2019-0180643/

[24] Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy  http://www.dsireusa.org

[25]https://www.labor4sustainability.org/post/green-jobs-in-a-global-green-new-deal/

[26]https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/25/u-s-solar-energy-employs-more-people-than-oil-coal-and-gas-combined-infographic/#7cc2b7228000  

[27]Ford announces $11 Billion investment in 40  hybrid and electric vehicles by 2022. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autoshow-detroit-ford-motor/ford-plans-11-billion-investment-40-electrified-vehicles-by-2022-idUSKBN1F30YZ

[28]https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/sustainabilitys-strategic-worth-mckinsey-global-survey-results

[29]https://www.bls.gov/green/sustainability/sustainability.htm

[30]https://www.bls.gov/green/

[31]https://www.brookings.edu/research/advancing-inclusion-through-clean-energy-jobs/

[32]AFL-CIO Climate statement at Copenhagen  https://www.scribd.com/document/96838350/Final-Report-from-the-AFL-CIO-and-International-Trade-Union-Confederation-on-the-Copenhagen-Accord-on-Climate-Change

[33]Bloomberg Philanthropies. Fulfilling America’s Pledge: How States, Cities, and Businesses are Leading the United States to a Low-carbon Future. 2018. https://www.bbhub.io/dotorg/sites/28/2018/09/Fulfilling-Americas-Pledge-2018.pdf  Accessed May 22, 2019.

[34](for more ideas on a just transition see https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/


The Rights of the Living Earth

Today is Earth Day 2019. It is time to move from awareness to action as we face the existential crises of our time – global warming and global pollution. It is time to recognize and assign a high value to the rights of the Living earth that provides our own life support system – fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that comprise the ecosystems of this living planet. We must shift from making our decisions around only economic determinations of profit for corporations and bring back the balance that values a healthy environment, healthy ecosystems, and strong cultural and social resources. We cannot sustain our civilization in a world wrung dry and rendered barren from unfettered resource extraction and human greed. Only communities of caring people, respectful of the rights of the living earth as essential as our own , will preserve our options for the future. Our children deserve the right to fresh water, clean air and fertile ground. Let us stand today on this Earth day 2019 to defend the rights of Our Living earth.
Listen here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2VPVHlrQ6E&feature=youtu.be


Waste and Recycling- Turning Problems into Opportunities

April 9, 2019

Patricia DeMarco statement to Allegheny County Council

As a fellow elected Official from the Borough of Forest Hills, I recognize the obligation we have to plan for the needs of our community, for both the current and future citizens. We in the local government level are closest to the needs of people, and have the best opportunity to engage in enlightened change.  We are facing twin existential crises in our time in global warming and global pollution, especially from plastics.  Changes in federal trade policies and in China’s restrictions on accepting waste with less than 1% contamination have created a looming crisis in trash management as municipalities across the country face significant changes in the rules. Most material collected through single stream recycling becomes cross-contaminated and increasingly ends up in landfills.

The 139 communities in Allegheny County are each struggling to understand options and cost impact of the changes in recycling rules.  People want to recycle, but “aspirational recycling” leads to inappropriate mixing of materials that are not accepted. The change in the rules of recycling present an opportunity for us to work together collectively to find a better solution. 

  1. Better metrics.  We do not have a good understanding of the components of the entire waste stream. The last comprehensive study was published by the EPA in 2009, and updates are not available to date. That study indicates that Municipal Solid Waste is a small part of the overall waste problem. There may be significant regional and local variations in the components of the waste stream that will be important to understand. The US produces around 236 million tons of municipal waste each year, but numbers for industrial waste are less clear, with some estimates as high as 7.6 billion tons per year. Plastic packaging represents about 65% of household trash. https://recoverusa.com/industrial-waste-management/It is important to know what we are dealing with both in amounts and sources. 
  • Restrict single-use plastics. Several communities have enacted bans on the use of single-use plastics such as shopping bags, plastic straws and stirrers, and Styrofoam containers. Over 95 pieces of legislation have been enacted in 2019 addressing recycling and single-use plastics ranging from the Maine requirement to provide receptacles for convenient return of plastic bags to California where several restrictions passed by referendum. Models of actions taken at all levels of government are available, and options tailored to the waste stream of this area can be developed. http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx
  • Increase fines for litter.A huge amount of plastic materials litter the streets and are washed into the rivers. We have seen the graphic and tragic results of ocean creatures harmed and killed by ingesting plastic material. Plastics that will endure for hundreds of years are used for short-term, single purpose objects like plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic or Styrofoam containers. The material has not been suited to the function intended. So much material ends up on the edges of roads, streets, yards, blowing around to be caught in tree branches.  If we raise the fines for littering to $1000 per incident and enforce the law by making offenders clean up litter, we can raise awareness of the harm from throwing material into public spaces.
  • Create economic opportunities for circular material management. Less than 0.1% of recycled material is returned to a useful product. Fossil resources from natural gas liquids or petroleum distillates are manufactured into products designed for a single use, and then become trash. There is an ethical component of this business model that uses plastics – a material that will last for hundreds of years in the environment- for products designed to be used for minutes. As the frantic build-out of the ethane cracker plant complex in western PA and Ohio and West Virginia continues its slog through the regulatory process, we who have responsibility to the citizens’ health and well-being must ask the questions about designing these products to be re-used, re-purposed or re-claimed. Does the output need to be feedstock for further single-use packaging material? Can we intervene in this process and require accountability for the design so the end result is not an additional billion tons per year of material designed to be trash?
  • Reclaim and re-use.If we can separate and collect materials such as glass and certain parts of the plastics stream, there are opportunities for new business development.  Pittsburgh was once a center for glass manufacture and has a long legacy of innovation in materials management.  Pittsburgh has nine EPA Green Chemistry Award winners in both academic and private sector categories. Can we develop a materials industry that does not rely on fossil feed stocks? Can we use some waste plastics to fabricate feed for 3-D printing? Are there other industries that can emerge around a circular materials management system?  We need to explore these ideas as a way to generate economic opportunities drawn from what is now a growing problem.

Clearly a matter of such complexity will not be resolved by any municipality acting alone.  I would like to ask the Allegheny County Council to establish a Special Task Force to investigate the best ways to address the waste issue, both from the perspective of source reduction and from the perspective of creating a path to reuse and repurposing materials.  We must address both industrial and municipal wastes. And we must create a culture of care among the public to stop the wanton discard of trash. The 29 CONNECT municipalities surrounding Pittsburgh have established a new Working Group on Economic Development and the Environment to begin addressing these issues together.  I hope the Allegheny County Council can establish leadership in addressing this issue.


2019 Carnegie Science Award- Environment to Patricia DeMarco

March 13, 2019

PATRICIA M. DEMARCO SELECTED TO RECEIVE CARNEGIE SCIENCE AWARD
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATE LAUDED BY PEERS AND REGIONAL LEADERS
FOR ACHIEVEMENTS ON FOREST HILLS BOROUGH COUNCIL

PITTSBURGH, March 13, 2019 – Each year, Carnegie Science Center’s Carnegie Science Awards recognizes and celebrates innovative and inspiring leaders in western Pennsylvania who are on the cutting edge of the science and technology industries. At a private reception at the Science Center on March 12, 2019, officials announced that Patricia M. DeMarco, PhD, will receive a Carnegie Science Award in the Environmental category for her achievements as a member of the Forest Hills Borough Council.

Winners of Carnegie Science Awards, presented by Eaton, were selected by a committee of peers—past awardees and industry leaders—who rigorously reviewed nominations and selected the most deserving winners. This year, the program will honor awardees in categories ranging from Corporate Innovation, Start-Up Entrepreneur, Life Sciences, Science Communicator, and several educator and student categories. In addition, a Chairman’s Award is presented to an individual or an organization that has made outstanding contributions in science, either through exemplary work in one field or through transcendent leadership, commitment, or achievement.

“The Carnegie Science Awards provide an opportunity to celebrate the remarkably talented individuals and organizations in our region’s science community,” said Jason Brown, Henry Buhl, Jr., Interim Director of Carnegie Science Center. “These innovators have had immeasurable impact on Pittsburgh’s healthcare, manufacturing, energy, environmental, and education industries. Their achievements, dedication, and perseverance are truly inspiring.”

As a professor, mentor, author, radio host, and more, Patricia M. DeMarco, PhD, has established herself as a passionate environmental leader in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. After her election to the Forest Hills Borough Council in 2016, Dr. DeMarco conducted a lifecycle cost analysis for a solar photovoltaic system to be included in the design of the new borough building. The construction of the passive solar design building has a geothermal heating and cooling system with an average annual net zero energy performance. As part of the Borough commitment to environmental quality she re-established the borough’s Environmental Advisory Council, which has offered public awareness programs on recycling, plastics, and energy efficiency as well as a community clean-up.

On receiving the award, DeMarco said: “Moving a community to commit to sustainability through an innovative building design takes a whole team and a sustained effort. My role has been one of a catalyst to mobilize a shared vision and the talents of many people to bring this vision forward. Members of the Borough Council past and present, the Borough Manager Mr. Morus, architect Rob Pfaffmann, general contractor Volpatt Construction, and EIS Solar who installed and financed the solar roof, all worked to make this possible. Assistance from Senator Jay Costa supported inclusion of the Library section within the constraints of the budget. I hope the reality of the net zero energy Forest Hills Borough Building will inspire others to make a similar choice.”

The Carnegie Science Awards Celebration on May 10 will feature a strolling dinner, silent auction, and awards presentation full of inspiring stories about the region’s top minds in science, technology, research, and education. As Carnegie Science Center’s signature celebration of innovation and annual fundraiser, the event attracts 500 business, medical, academic, and community influencers from across the region, and raises funds to support education programs that nurture the next generation of science and technology leaders. For more information about the awards celebration, go to www.CarnegieScienceCenter.org/ScienceAwards.

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1 Comment

Clairton Coke Works- An Air Quality Challenge

The Borough of Forest Hills voted to file the enclosed statement in support  of the Allegheny County Health Department Recommendations for better air quality in our area.  The comment period is open until February 28. Statements of support can be sent to jdawes@pahouse.net 


February 20, 2019
To: PA House and Senate Democratic Policy Committee

Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee
Cc: Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive
Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department


Re: Comments of Borough of Forest Hills on Clairton Coke Works

The Borough of Forest Hills thanks Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee and all the members of the Democratic Senate and House Policy Committee for holding public hearings on the matter of air quality in Clairton. We have taken this opportunity to send comments for your consideration based on the needs of our community as directly affected by the US Steel Clairton Coke Works plant operations.
The Borough of Forest Hills is located 13 miles from Clairton in the immediately adjacent valley. The 6,354 citizens of the Borough of Forest Hills are directly affected by the air quality degradation due to increased emissions from the loss of the de-sulphurization equipment at the fire-damaged Coke Works in Clairton.


On December 24, 2018, a fire and explosion at the Clairton Coke Works damaged the air pollution control de-sulphurization system as well as a portion of the plant structure. (1) Since the date of this accident, we have experienced 28 days of unhealthy air quality. (2) US Steel, the plant owner, does not expect repairs to be completed until May of2019. Although the company has adjusted operations to somewhat abate emissions, coke production continues and our citizens are likely to be exposed to unhealthy air conditions for the duration of this repair period.

The 2005 National Air Toxics Assessment report listed Clairton and nearby Glassport as having the 3rd and 4th highest rates of cancer risk from air pollutants in the nation, respectively. (3) While there were improvements in the most recent 2011 report, Allegheny County is still in the top 2% of risk nationally, with much of the area above the threshold the federal government considers acceptable (1 00 in a million).

 According to a study of 1,200 local elementary school children conducted by Dr. Deborah Gentile of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for Pediatric Alliance:(4)

• Nearly 39 percent of schoolchildren in the study were exposed to unhealthy levels of outdoor air pollution above the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while almost 71 percent of the students were exposed to levels above the threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
• More than 22 percent of the study participants had physician-diagnosed asthma, but the asthma was uncontrolled for nearly 60 percent of those students.
• Children from eight school systems exposed to the highest levels of PM2.5 from industrial sources had 1.6 times the risk of an asthma diagnosis.
• There was a nearly 5 times greater prevalence of uncontrolled asthma linked to outdoor air pollution, but not to other triggers such as obesity and environmental tobacco smoke exposure, after adjustment for demographics of gender, race, and pove1iy.
• The asthma prevalence rate of22.5 percent among the students evaluated is more than double the Pennsylvania Depmiment of Health’s statewide figure of 10.2 percent for children and the federal rate of 8.6 percent for children, according to the CDC. An Allegheny County Department ofHealth survey for 2015-2016 found that 15.1 percent of adults in the county have a history of asthma. (5)

This study was completed in 2014-2016 when the Clairton Coke Works had pollution abatement equipment in place. Note that this plant is believed to use old desulphurization technology on its batteries, not the “Best Available Control Technology” which is required in similar operations in modern progressive countries such as Sweden and other European countries.6 Repairing the pollution control equipment with old technology, not best available technology, is not acceptable. Now that the control devices and monitoring recorders within the plant are inoperative, the health impact is only exacerbated by the increase in sulfur dioxide and other noxious fumes normally reduced during operations.


This chronic situation, punctuated by periodic excursions of severe pollution over the years, is overdue for permanent redress. This plant initially operated in 1867 and has had only minimum upgrades to control pollution, and then only under direct orders and fines from regulators. Since the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1964, and the toxic emissions standards adopted in 1977 this plant has had continuing violations. United States Steel entered a consent decree in 1970 to clean up the pollution from its plants, but later failed to comply with the decree they had signed. They have contested and appealed every order requiring them to end pollution from operations, including an appeal to the one million- dollar fine recently imposed by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) for the continuing violation ofthe Title V Permit. They have contested enforcement actions, paid fines grudgingly, and threaten shutdown to maintain their
position of entitlement to use the air and rivers for disposal of the waste products of production since 1867. Modern technology is available and in use in other similar facilities that prevent the serious emission profile of the Edgar Thompson Coke Works. The coke operations are not entitled to unlimited use of the air and water for absorbing their pollution. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are entitled to clean air and pure water under Article 1, Section 27 of the Constitution which states:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values o f the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property ofall 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.
This standard of entitlement to a healthy environment also extends to the workers in the plants who often experience elevated pollution levels as part of their normal working environment.


Maintaining 19th century industries as we move into the 21st century requires adjustments to reflect the reality of this time. The ACHD has jurisdiction over enforcing the environmental and health standards pertaining to the operation of this plant and other industries in the County. However, the ACHD has only the authority granted in law and under the regulations promulgated for enforcement ofthe law. There are limitations and weaknesses in these laws and regulations that preclude optimum actions to control air and water emissions from industrial operations. It is especially important to address these deficiencies at this time because US Steel has allowed a lease for hydraulic fracturing extraction ofnatural gas operations to commence on its property at Edgar Thompson Works in the immediate future. Without amendments to the controlling laws, the new industrial sources will have the same deficiencies in public health protection that have prevailed for decades, perpetuating the lax control system well into the future. As we in Forest Hills Borough hope to expand high technology and green businesses in our area, we recognize that maintaining a high quality of life standard is critical to the future of our community as well as to the health and safety of all of our citizens.

We offer the following recommendations in support of a positive vision for a more resilient and sustainable future:
We support the recommendations of County Health Director Karen Hacker, presented at the public hearing of the Pennsylvania Operations and Policy Committee on February 7, 2019 at the Clairton Municipal Building,(7) and add some additional recommendations:
1. Amend the 1990 PA Clean Air Act to update the “episode criteria” definition. The current criteria forbid ACHD from taking action unless the pollution level exceeds 800 parts per million. ACHD cannot take necessary actions to protect public health unless the event qualifies as an “episode”8 A pollution ‘Episode’ is defined as occurring ‘when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion … and the County is under a county-wide ‘air pollution watch.’ Since Clairton pollution does not affect Fox Chapel and Sewickley due to air flow patterns, you will never have a ‘County wide air pollution watch.’
2. No regulation allows ACHD or a court to order the pollution source to do an immediate shut-down or lessening ofproduction (such as going to hot idle for the coke production batteries) if clean air standards are exceeded at monitors. ACHD is required by regulation to issue Title V ‘Permits to pollute’ to large volume sources. These permits are issued pursuant to County Code and the Allegheny County Air Control Regulations, Article XXI, Ch. 505 sec. 16 to 19. State and County regulations need to be strengthened to

allow immediate shutdown of any industrial operation if monitors reveal a pattern of regular violations of emission standards incapable of being controlled by the existing pollution control equipment, regardless whether the source is a major source with a permit to pollute under Title V, or a minor source which is not required to have a Title V Permit. 9
3. Change the regulations so that coke plants and other industries are forced by law to reduce production immediately on any day deemed to be an ‘air action day.’ These air action days include those on which weather and meteorological conditions create inversions that hold pollution close to the ground. The pollution plumes then cannot be dispersed by winds to be diluted in the upper atmosphere. The air pollution then stays close to the ground creating the smelly “smog” that smells of rotten eggs and exacerbates asthma and pulmonary problems.
4. More stringent requirements are needed to deal with fugitive emissions such as those that occur every time the ovens are opened to load or remove coke. Two of the batteries at Clairton are known to have faulty door seals which allow fugitive emissions. Article XXI currently regulating fugitive emissions must be tightened to require compliance with air quality standards when foreseeable events like charging of coke ovens or removal of coke products results in air pollution.
5. The notice of a major event must be shortened. ACHD was not advised until Friday, January 4, 2019 of how seriously the December 24, 2108 fire damaged the pollution control desulphurization equipment, and how huge an effect the loss of this equipment had on the coke works pollution emissions. The current notice provision states that an industry has seven days to notify the ACHD when an ‘incident’ occurs. Allegheny County regulation needs to be amended to require 24-hour notice to ACHD for any pollution event and a strict four- hour notice if a pollution event occurs during any air quality action day. (10)
6. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ACHD must increase the monetary fines for air quality violations. The current system allows an industry an advantage to pay the minimum fines rather than address the repairs or abate the pollution by using best available control technology 11 .

Additional Ideas to enhance protections of public health:
1. Amend Section 505-13 definition of”air pollution episode.” An episode is currently defined to occur only when meteorological conditions are conducive to poor dispersion. An air pollution episode is defined to occur only when a Countywide air pollution watch is in effect.” Due to the way air flows in the Monongahela Valley, it would be extremely rare to have pollution in Sewickley and Fox Chapel therefore a county-wide watch will never happen. The regulation should be changed so any “air quality action day” will allow definition of an ‘air pollution episode’ in the affected area.

2. Amend Section 505-86 the Clean Air Fund regulation to provide that money in the Clean Air Fund collected from air emission violations can be distributed as a loan to any municipality whose solicitor is authorized to file suit for air pollution violations which constitute a public nuisance. Change the regulation to provide that “In the event that the ACHD hearing examiner or a Court determines that a pollution source constitutes a public nuisance, the municipality is entitled to recover all attorney fees and expenses of the suit, including all amounts loaned to it from the Clean Air Fund.” The purpose of this amendment is to help communities bear the burden of financing public nuisance lawsuits to cure air pollution.

3. Revise the permit requirements for major sources in Allegheny County Air Pollution Code Article XXI. CH. 505 Sections 17-18 dealing with major sources (those emitting more than 100 tons per year of certain hazardous pollutants.) Set forth a revised permit structure to require Best Available Control Technology for all new sources, all major repairs of existing sources, and all modifications of existing sources. The regulation should require Best Available Control Technology, and specifically not allow “Commercially Feasible Technology” which is currently specified in the regulation. The Mon Valley has been a nonattainment region for decades. Requiring ‘Best Available Control Technology,’ not ‘Commercially Feasible’ old technology can fix our pollution problems and prevent worsening conditions from new industrial sources, such as proposed hydraulic fracturing activities in Braddock Hills, Penn Hills and Versailles.
We request that the Allegheny County Health Department conduct specific health surveys in the affected communities surrounding the Clairton Coke Works during the pendency of repairs. The Clean Air Fund will allow expenditures for studies to assess the health effects of pollution and specifically examine the effect that loss of the desulphurization equipment at Clairton Coke Works has had on the Mon valley. Baseline data are available from studies conducted by Dr. Gentile and others, but specific monitoring of the health of the children, elderly, and sensitive populations must occur to maintain a good profile of the harms to the community that occur from the direct effects of this increase in air emissions. This study should include increased monitoring of air quality in the communities correlated with weather patterns and ambient air conditions. Inversions and still air that holds pollutants close to the ground in the valleys surrounding Clairton and throughout the Monongahela Valley can amplify the effects of air emissions on health. Funds for health surveys and community notification are available from
the Clean Air Fund and should be made available for this purpose.
Finally, we request The Clairton Coke Works should be placed in hot idle mode until the repairs to the pollution control equipment are competed. Delays of weeks in reporting incidents of spikes in air pollution are not acceptable. A system of reporting air quality has emerged from citizen observers through social media. However, formal advisories are important, and recommendations for action beyond “stay indoors” must be advanced. It is unreasonable to expect people to avoid outdoor activity for the duration of repairs at the Clairton Coke Works until May 20 19.


Maintaining a high quality of life is critical to our community in Forest Hills Borough as we advance into the 21st century. Attracting families and clean technology businesses to our area is more difficult when there are constant air quality alerts due to operations of a plant designed for the 19th  century. We are adamant about making a just transition to a more resilient and sustainable future for our citizens. That future depends on enhancing the quality of our air, assuring the safety and abundance of drinking water, and preserving park land and an urban forest canopy in our community. It is our obligation as representatives ofthe people we serve to protect their health and safety.


Adopted by vote of Borough Council, February 20,2019

Members:
Nina Sowiski, President
William Tomasic, Vice President William Burleigh
William Gorol
John Lawrence
Dr. Patricia DeMarco
Member of Council on behalf of Members listed above

Citations and References
1. Fire and Explosion at Clairton Coke Works. https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2019/01/16/u-s-stee1-identifies-likely-cause-of- fire-repairs.htmI
2. Submission Mission air monitors for Dec 24 to Feb 5
3. National Air Toxics Emissions Report- Allegheny county
4. American Lung Association “State of the Air Report 2018” https://www.lung.org/local- content/ content-items/about-us/media/press-releases/pa-pitts-area-worsen-2018.htmI
5. Deborah Gentile study of asthma in children https://www.ahn.org/news/9-8-2017/studv-local- schoolchildren-reveals-alarming-rat s-uncontrolled-a,·Lhma-exp sure-to
6. Michael Hein and Manfred Kaiser. “Environmental Control and Emission Reduction for Coking Plants.” http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/38333/intech-
environmental control and emission reduction for coking plants.pdf
7. Testimony of ACHD Director Karen Hacker begins at 1:22:07 to 1:44:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41AD11WE7YU&fbclid=lwAR2VG CWNyFg- MTj8XOqXj51XshNyvmxruG2wv4opGyC-vY7epbzoPw pYw
8. See the PA regulations, 25 PA Code 127.301-303 and also Allegheny County Code’s Air Pollution Control Act, CH 505-13.
9. Andrew Godstein. “Health Department Fines US Steel Clairton Works $1 Million: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 28, 2018. https://vvww.po t-
gazett .com/n w /environm nt/2018/06/28/Health-department-fines-U-S-Steel-Clairton-Coke- W orks-1-million-environmental-compliance/stories/20 1806280180
10. See Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Act Ch 505-13
11. The Post-Gazette news article 2-19-1991 noted it was cheaper to pollute and pay the fines than to eliminate the pollution with best available control technology.