Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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Lessons from the Field- Decision 2016

imgresPresidential elections present an opportunity for a broad public dialogue about the issues and policies for the country, a time for debate, discussion and exploration of options. But this has been a campaign full of vicious and demeaning rhetoric, a cacophony of bitter voices masking deep fears and heartfelt worries. The opportunity has been lost for a broad public discourse on the serious issues our country faces. Civil and polite dialogue has broken down entirely showing a lack of respect for the institutions of our democracy and for the individual participants in the contest. In the name of free speech, we have abandoned reasoned debate in favor of hurled insults and degrading parodies. Some observations emerge from my canvassing conversations with hundreds of citizens.

 

People feel a sense of betrayal in the unrealized hopes and expectations from the Obama administration. There was such a surge of optimism, with raised expectations of massive changes within the term of the first black President. But, by design, the institutions of government buffer the pace of change, and people feel frustrated. Hopes unrealized fuel cynicism and in some cases despair and anger. Few people understand how government is intended to work, the balance of powers among the branches or the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

 

People fear for the future. There are many forces beyond individual control – globalization, economic shifts, drought and floods. Drawn in part from concerns about changes proposed to address global warming, the unknown future drives people to nostalgia for the past. The Clean Power Plan addressed the technology shift and fuel changes away from fossil sources, but the human and community impacts were not included in the legislation. Such matters as worker transition, community redevelopment and education fall outside the jurisdiction of the EPA enabling legislation. In a Congress where over 50% of members deny the existence of climate change or global warming, the broader policy initiatives necessary for a just and comprehensive shift are impossible to execute. A nostalgia for the heyday of coal, oil and gas development with the mist of time obscuring the problems of the early industrial age, easily grew to a cry of a War on Coal. The personalized plight of coal miners also obscures the broader issues of the treatment of workers and restoration of communities that have festered for decades. The focus on the “All of the Above” energy strategy has glossed over the devastation to the land and the life support systems that protect the clean air, fresh water and fertile ground. The Standing Rock Sioux have taken a stand for preserving the land as a sacred obligation. Their lesson is a powerful recalibration of the equation that has placed jobs at any cost over preservation of the land.

People lack empathy for their fellow citizens. They are focused on their own individual situations and have little interest in the broader common needs. The sense of a common purpose as a community or as a nation is absent. The mentality of preserving individual rights and freedom to do as they please without regard for others is prevalent. This campaign has made the use of hurtful, degrading and disrespectful language appear normal. Without a sense of mutual respect, civil society will not survive. Without recognizing and taking responsibility for inequities and injustice, we cannot make necessary changes to insure that all citizens live under the promises of the Constitution. The sense that everyone has the same rights does not come across as a personal obligation to every citizen.

So on this eve of the 2016 election, I plead once again for the higher principles of our nation to prevail. The rights offered under our Constitution are open to everyone equally, under the law. But people have taken the right of freedom of speech and right to bear arms to an extreme level, ignoring the responsibility to respect each other. These freedoms exercised without responsibility or accountability lead to chaos. A representative democracy requires citizen involvement, not just at election season, but all the time. Once in office, elected officials need to be called to account for their actions. Citizens have the obligation to make their voices heard in communications, in peaceful demonstrations, in action on legislative proposals throughout the course of the years. Elected Officials take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, and that includes the rights of all of the citizens, the people. This concept has been perverted to include “corporations” as “Persons” but they are not living beings who breathe and bleed. The commitment to the public interest over corporate greed must be re-established as a national priority.

Citizens must take back the control of the government by caring about each other as communities, and holding elected officials accountable. The time is now to vote out people who are not serving the public good so we can start over. Democracy is not a spectator sport that occurs once every four years. It is a daily exercise of responsibility. Begin by voting on the issues, not on the undocumented rhetoric of the campaign. The fate of our nation and of the policies that may preserve life on Earth as we know it hang in the balance.

 


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Support for the Federal Clean Power Plan

The following testimony was filed in the EPA Hearings in Pittsburgh on the Final Rule for the Federal Clean Power Plan.  There is a move in progress in the U.S. Senate to block this initiative.  If anything, this effort must be strengthened and accelerated, not stopped. Call you Senator TODAY!

RE: Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0199

Federal Plan Requirements for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electric Utility Generating Units Constructed on or before January 8, 2014; Model Trading Rules; Amendments to Framework Regulations.

My name is Patricia M. DeMarco.[i] I reside at 616 Woodside Road in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I am speaking in trust for my grandchildren, and all the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate is set by the actions we take to address climate change.

The Federal Clean Power Plan presented in this regulation sets out a framework in which to begin curtailing emissions from existing power plants. I recognize the difficult political environment surrounding this effort. It is important to begin the process of curtailing fossil fuel combustion, but the cautious approach offered in the Federal Clean Power Plan will not meet the urgent need we face. There are three areas where more attention must focus going forward to control greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric generating units:

  1. The final target for acceptable emissions by 2030 is too low.
  2. Environmental and social justice issues are not adequately addressed.
  3. The plan does not encourage creative approaches that set the elimination of fossil fuel combustion as a firm goal.
  1. Target is too low.

If the Federal Clean Power Plan for Existing Electric Utility Generation is fully successful, by 2030 emissions from the electricity- generating sector will only be reduced by 32% below the levels in 2005. That will maintain 1.2 billion metric tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil electricity production.[ii] The World Meteorological Organization reports levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, climbing steadily towards the 400-parts-per-million (ppm) level, having hit a new record every year since reliable records began in 1984. Carbon dioxide levels averaged 397.7 ppm in 2014 but briefly breached the 400-ppm threshold in the northern hemisphere in early 2014, and again globally in early 2015.[iii] As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to accumulate, the production of water vapor in the air accelerates due to warmer conditions, which magnifies the warming effect even more. Warmer temperatures are melting the permafrost releasing tons of trapped methane from the tundra in the Arctic.[iv] The goal of limiting atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million no longer appears achievable. The actions contemplated in this regulation are insufficient to the urgency of the situation our children will face.

As a practical matter, the EPA is attempting to retain a minimum disruption of business as usual for the electric utility industry. The final rule states: “Fossil fuels will continue to be a critical component of America’s energy future.”[v] This rule alone will not meet the need to maintain viable climate conditions for the future. A more comprehensive climate policy is required.

  1. Environmental and Social Justice Issues

There are three levels of environmental and social justice issues inherent in the Federal Clean Power Plan. First, the Community Impact Assessment in the Plan shows the burden of pollution continues to fall disproportionately on disadvantaged people within three miles of the target power plants. In Pennsylvania, fifty-one existing electric generation units are targeted in the Clean Power Plan. Within a three mile radius of these plants, 1,853,694 people are exposed to particulates, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hazardous air pollutants, and heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and lead emitted from coal combustion. One single plant in Pennsylvania affects 447,057 people of whom 61% are minorities, 49% are low income, 18% are below high school education, 6% are children and 12% are elderly. This plant emits pollution levels in the 89th percentile – it has pollutants above the recommended safe levels. The ethical and appropriate decision for this kind of plant is to take it off line, and seek replacements for this power from renewable and non-combustion power sources.

The second social justice issue pertains to the workers in the fossil fuels industries. 80,000 coal miners, 147,000 oil and gas field workers face declining employment opportunities as part of the transition to a non-fossil future. It is essential to proactively protect the future of these workers.[vi] The corporate behavior towards workers has not been encouraging to date, as companies such as Peabody Coal have off-loaded retirees and laid off workers with their pension and health benefit obligations, to shell corporations like Patriot Coal, which soon declares bankruptcy, leaving the workers to an uncertain fate.[vii] This behavior may be legal within the laws of corporate finance, but it is wrong. Federal subsidies of $18 to $35 billion per year flow to large multinational corporations for oil, gas and coal exploration, development and production.[viii] These funds could be used to address the social justice needs of displaced fossil fuel workers.

The third environmental justice issue is the unattended remediation and restoration of the land. When the continued production of fossil fuels is no longer a priority, companies will have even less incentive to restore land, watersheds or ecosystem services disrupted by extraction and production activities. As they have done for years, they will walk away taking their profits and investing in the next big thing, leaving the remains of their resource extraction to be addressed as public obligations. In Pennsylvania alone over 3,000 miles of streams have been permanently degraded from mining.[ix] More watersheds and lands are becoming affected by Marcellus and Utica shale drilling and production activities. The profits come in short term bursts to private companies, but the environmental impact may lag by years, even decades, and the cost of remediation falls to the public. Withdrawing from fossil fuel extraction must include remediation and restoration to the extent possible. Mountain tops removed for coal extraction remain as scars on the land, looking more like moonscapes than forested, rolling hills formerly sheltering homes and towns. We must build a future that respects and restores the land. On April 22, 2010, the world’s Peoples Conference on Climate Change adopted a Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth. It declares in part: “Article 3. respect, protect, conserve and where necessary, restore the integrity, of the vital ecological cycles, processes and balances of Mother Earth”[x] The United States should join the 126 nation signatories to this declaration. The time of brute resource extraction without restoration and protection of the living systems of the earth is overdue to end.

  1. The lost opportunity to challenge innovation.

The Federal Clean Power Plan appears to displace fossil fuels as slowly as possible, rather than as rapidly as possible. There is no aspirational goal of eliminating fossil fuel combustion by 2030 or even by 2050. There is no commitment to enable the maximum possible contributions from renewable resources and energy demand reduction by efficiency improvements. In fact, major impediments to using non-combustion technologies remain embedded in the energy system. For example, constructing a passive solar, zero net energy house in Pittsburgh requires 22 variances from existing zoning regulations.[xi] Subsidies to fossil fuel development and exploitation remain, while investment mechanisms for either renewable resource development or abatement of fossil fuel environmental effects are variable, and relatively limited. In 2014, US taxpayers were subsidizing fossil fuel exploration and production alone by $18.5 billion a year, an increase of 45% from 2009.[xii] An “All of the above” energy policy will not achieve the goal of eliminating fossil fuel combustion by 2050 to control life-threatening changes in the climate.

Using existing commercial technologies, it is possible for the United States to reach an electricity generation carbon dioxide emissions target of 750 million metric tons per year by 2050 at a cost of less than 1% of the annual Gross Domestic Product. According to a study completed in November 2014 for two national laboratories, deep de-carbonization requires three fundamental changes in the U.S. energy system: (1) highly efficient end use of energy in buildings, transportation, and industry; (2) de-carbonization of electricity and other fuels; and (3) fuel switching of end uses to electricity and other low-carbon supplies.[xiii] “All of these changes are needed, across all sectors of the economy, to meet the target of an 80% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. Energy system changes on the scale described in this analysis imply significant opportunities for technology innovation and investment in all areas of the U.S. energy economy. Establishing regulatory and market institutions that can support this innovation and investment is critical. Both areas— technology innovation and institutional development—are U.S. strengths, and place the U.S. in a strong leadership and competitive position in a low carbon world.”[xiv]

Investing in clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the United States would add more than one million jobs by 2030 and nearly two million by 2050. By reducing emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, the United States would also increase GDP by up to $290 billion and raise household incomes.[xv] Gains in construction, manufacturing, and other sectors outweigh losses in fossil-fuel industries resulting in a net-gain of employment across the nation.[xvi] A strong commitment to eliminating fossil fuel combustion, with a just transition for workers, rather than slowly ramping down by “market forces” will be more likely to reach a meaningful goal for controlling climate change and will enhance economic viability during the transition.

Americans have demonstrated time and time again the ability to rise to meet a challenge. What is totally lacking in this Federal Clean Power Plan is the inspiration to reach for a new solution. This plan tinkers and tweaks the existing flawed and inefficient electricity generation system, retaining as much of the historic infrastructure and equipment as possible, with no intention to eliminate fossil fuel combustion as the end point. Our children deserve better! Think of the conditions we are imposing on the next generation, conditions we cannot even imagine because the earth has not experienced them for millions of years, if ever. Preventing the worst of the effects of climate change is our obligation to the children of the 21st century. We should set a challenge goal of zero fossil fuel combustion by 2050, and align all systems, the creativity of the American people, and the full might and weight of government resources to achieve that goal.

When President Kennedy challenged us to set foot on the moon, the goal seemed impossible. But the challenge inspired a generation. The technologies spun from that effort yielded results that transformed the world. Our survival as a species is no less of a challenge. There is no supply line to planet Earth but the stream of energy from our sun. It falls on us in a super-abundance to our daily needs. We have only to meet the challenge of organizing our energy systems to use it. Call on the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of our nation rather than stall, suppress and regiment innovation to preserve the systems of the past.

Sources and Citations

[i] Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph. D. full Curriculum Vitae is at www.patriciademarco.com

[ii] Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy Industry in 2005 Report #:DOE/EIA-0573 (2009)Release Date: February, 2011 http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/pdf/tbl6.pdf

(5,996.4 million metric tons in 2005 reduced by 32% = 1,918.8 million metric tons)

[iii] World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations. Bulletin November 6, 2015. “Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Hit Yet Another Record.” https://www.wmo.int/media/content/greenhouse-gas-concentrations-hit-yet-another-record Accessed November 9, 2015.

[iv] Kevin Schaefer. Methane and Frozen Ground. National Snow and Ice Data Center. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/frozenground/methane.html Accessed November 10, 2015.

[v] Federal Clean Power Plan Fact Sheet. http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan

[vi] Jeremy Brecher. “How to Promote a Just Transition and Break Out of the Jobs vs. Environment Trap.” Dollars & Sense. November/December 2015. Pages 20-24.

[vii] Matt Jarmesky and Peg Brickley. “Patriot Coal Again Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.” Wall Street Journal. May 12, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/patriot-coal-files-for-chapter-11-bankruptcyagain-1431435830 Accessed November 10, 2015.

[viii] ICF International. Economic Analysis of U.S. Decarbonization Pathways. November 5, 2015. http://nextgenamerica.org/news-reports/new-report-transition-to-clean-energy-will-create-millions-of-jobs-increase-gdp-and-raise-household-incomes/ Accessed November 10, 2015.

[ix] U.S. Geological Survey. Pennsylvania Water Science Center. “Restoration of Stream Water Degraded by Acid Mine Drainage.” http://pa.water.usgs.gov/projects/energy/amd/restoration.php Accessed November 10 2015.

[x] World People’s Conference on Climate Change. “Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth” Cochabamba, Bolivia. April 22, 2010. http://therightsofnature.org/universal-declaration/ Accessed November 10, 2015.

[xi] Lucyerna DeBabaro personal communication. Cite Solarize Allegheny

[xii] Oil Change International. July 2014. “Cashing In on an All –of –the Above: U. S. Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies under Obama 2009 to 2014. Page 7.   http://priceofoil.org/2014/07/09/cashing-in-on-all-of-the-above-u-s-fossil-fuel-production-subsidies-under-obama/

[xiii] Energy and Environmental Economics, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. U.S. 2050 Report: Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States. November 2014. Page xv. http://deepdecarbonization.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/US_DDPP_Report_Final.pdf Accessed November 10, 2015.

[xiv] Energy and Environmental Economics, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. U.S. 2050 Report: Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States. November 2014. http://deepdecarbonization.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/US_DDPP_Report_Final.pdf Accessed November 10, 2015.

[xv] ICF International. Economic Analysis of U.S. Decarbonization Pathways. November 5, 2015. http://nextgenamerica.org/news-reports/new-report-transition-to-clean-energy-will-create-millions-of-jobs-increase-gdp-and-raise-household-incomes/ Accessed November 10, 2015.

[xvi] ICF International. Economic Analysis of U.S. Decarbonization Pathways. November 5, 2015. http://nextgenamerica.org/news-reports/new-report-transition-to-clean-energy-will-create-millions-of-jobs-increase-gdp-and-raise-household-incomes/ Accessed November 10, 2015.