Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


Leave a comment

A Plea for the Rights of the Living Earth

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

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

 

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

 

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 Since taking office, the Trump Administration has rescinded or repealed 60 environmental, public health and worker safety protections in the name of eliminating ‘burdensome regulations.”[4] Millions of people now are exposed to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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leave a comment

The Voice of the Earth Rising

As 2015 comes to a close, we mark a rare congruence of awareness and a call to action on climate change. In advance of the COP-21 talks in Paris, the leaders of all of the world’s major religions have called for true stewardship of the Earth.  The Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si

 http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html,

the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change http://islamicclimatedeclaration.org/islamic-declaration-on-global-climate-change/

and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth from the People’s Climate Conference in Cochabamba,  https://pwccc.wordpress.com/programa/

calls to action resound with increased urgency. The COP-21 Accord, though non-binding, united the voices of 195 nations to strive for a 2 degree ceiling, with many advocating a goal of a 1.5 degree limit, in temperature rise by mid-century.

imagesIt is my hope for the new year that we can recognize the critical importance of the living Earth. We hear the voice of the Earth not in words but in the songs of birds and of whales; in the intricate ballet between flowers and pollinators; in the exhalation of forests and phytoplankton; and the sweep of landscapes. Earth speaks also in pain as forests are felled; oceans become acidic; mountaintops are scraped off; and the carbon dioxide of human energy production and agriculture pollute the air and water.

As we celebrate our Holidays and make plans for the New Year, may we remember that we are more alike in our humanity than different in cultures, religions or customs. May we reach out to work together to preserve and restore the life support systems of the living Earth- fresh water, clean air, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that constitute the global web of life. May we work together for justice and equity as we face the necessary transitions from despoiling to preserving the resources of the Earth.

To my Colleagues who have helped me in so many ways this year as my manuscript has come together, I offer thanks for gifts beyond measure. Thank you for all you are doing to build a Pathway to Our Sustainable Future. May we all hear and embody the great power of the voice of the Earth. The children of the 21st century deserve our fullest effort to preserve our beautiful living Earth. To my grandchildren, and the nieces and nephews of my family, I solemnly promise my whole life to protecting your future.

Buon Natale!


1 Comment

The Critical Agenda for COP-21 in Paris

In addressing the opening session of the COP-21 session in Paris, President Obama has called for “A world that is worthy of our children.  A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress.  A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited.”

Lofty aspirations designed to engender a spirit of cooperation make excellent rhetoric. The reality is quite different.  America retains an “All of the above” energy strategy, as reported in the 2015 Energy Outlook by the EIA: “While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.” The effects of the Clean Power Plan noted by President Obama in his remarks in Paris are not included in the 2015 Energy Outlook, and in fact the CPP was rejected by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. Our country is a house divided, conflicted and distracted in its focus. Climate change remains a partisan, divisive issue, with no consensus on action in sight.

Changing the frame of reference of the discussion may be helpful. While the political forces vie over the pace of continued exploitation of fossil resources for fuels, the systems of the living planet earth show signs of breaking down.  If the Milankovich cycle estimates are accurate,  our planet is in the period of its orbital cycle most closely spherical, a period between ice ages when life flourishes. But, this period of stability has been compromised by the combustion of fossil reserves for fuel, and the simultaneous destruction of oxygen producing forests and phytoplankton. The components of the planet that provide the life support system of oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the complex biodiversity that connects all living things are being compromised by human actions. The negotiations at COP-21 in Paris focus on sharing rights and responsibilities among nations, and seeking compensation and balance for development in differing economies.  There is no discussion about the rights of the living earth on which all of humanity depends.

The People’s Movement for the Rights of Mother Earth are bringing the following Universal Declaration to the negotiations at COP-21 with a tribunal on December 7th.  Here is the preamble to that declaration:

We, the peoples and nations of Earth: 

Considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny;

Gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well;

Recognizing that the capitalist system 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;

Convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth;

Affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so;

Conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth;

Proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and call on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations of the world, and to the end that every individual and institution takes responsibility for promoting through teaching, education, and consciousness raising, respect for the rights recognized in this Declaration and ensure through prompt and progressive measures and mechanisms, national and international, their universal and effective recognition and observance among all peoples and States in the world. ( See full text here of the Articles of the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth)

https://pwccc.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/the-proposals-of-%E2%80%9Cpeoples-agreement%E2%80%9D-in-the-texts-for/

This declaration was created at the People’s Climate Conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010, signed by 288 organizations from around the world, and carried to the COP-21 talks with even greater support of nations, individuals and more organizations.

We must recognize that only by preserving and protecting the ability of the living earth to serve the vital ecosystem functions will we survive and thrive on this planet. The services that generate oxygen-rich air, filter and purify water, create food and fiber from photosynthesis, and many others, come from the interconnected operations of the living systems of the planet.  Humans are one part of that interconnected web of life. Extracting resources without any thought to replacement, restitution of disruptions, or protection to vital components has brought our civilization to the bring of extinction.  From billions to none can happen within a generation, as is evident from the loss of creatures such as the passenger pigeon. We are witnessing the extinction of nearly 25,000 species this year alone.

Recognize this challenge to control the excesses of consumption and waste. Seek to unleash the imagination and aspirations of the most wise among us in the ways of living within the constraints of the resources of the living earth, without continuing to exploit non-renewable components of the earth’s crust. Apply technology with the goal of regenerating and renewing the life support systems of the living earth, not subduing and suppressing them. If we in America can apply our ingenuity and expertise to solve the issue of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, stability and prosperity will follow.  Greed is the enemy.  It is time for a just transition to a renewable and sustainable way of living.

 


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

The Limits to Methane Regulations- Comment to the EPA

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505-4776

Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New and Modified Sources

My name is Patricia DeMarco. I am a biologist by training with a thirty-year career in energy and environmental policy.[1] I speak on behalf of my grandchildren and the unborn children of the 21st century whose fate we determine by our actions today. I support the EPA’s efforts to regulate the oil and gas development industry as part of the 2009 Endangerment Finding, where the EPA Administrator found that the current, elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—already at levels unprecedented in human history—may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare of current and future generations in the United States. In your background of the regulation you state:

“As Earth continues to warm, it may be approaching a critical climate threshold beyond which rapid and potentially permanent—at least on a human timescale—changes not anticipated by climate models tuned to modern conditions may occur.” http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505-4776

 

In the face of such dramatic findings, the regulations proposed here have the effect of putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage. The regulations you are considering come late in the process for an industry shamefully protected by Section 322 of the National Energy Act of 2005 with exemptions from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These exemptions for high volume hydraulic fracturing and other deep drilling operations assure weak regulatory provisions. Nevertheless, as citizens we must reiterate the plea for regulations that take consideration of the public health and safety for those affected by fugitive methane and volatile organic compounds produced at all stages of the gas and oil production process.

 

As you consider the reams of technical comments received in this docket, I ask that you recognize that the hydraulic fracturing process for developing natural gas from deep shale formations happens in neighborhoods, next to schools, in and under parks and on farms where our food is grown. The industry has intruded with impunity into the most intimate parts of communities and sets up industrial operations adjacent to sensitive areas and in watersheds. Fugitive emissions from such operations affect people where we live, work and play. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, but has lost the confidence of the people because the industry has eviscerated its capacity to act strongly in the public interest. The EPA’s purpose is to ensure that all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work. These regulations restricting the emission of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas industrial operations must draw a clear line of safety for the public.

 

Hydraulic fracturing now takes place in 39 states, with millions of people living within five miles of a fracking facility. For people in the zone of impact, the national average data used for assessing “significant risk” are not relevant. If your house is within 100 feet of a well, or your school is 200 feet from a compression station, or your business is 300 feet from a processing facility, you are exposed to numerous volatile organic compounds. Theo Colborn and colleagues compiled a list of 632 chemicals (an incomplete list due to trade secrecy exemptions) identified from drilling operations throughout the U.S. Their research found that 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40–50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.[2]

 

Fugitive methane mobilized by the fracking process has migrated into water supplies, even wells posing significant health and safety hazards to the persons affected. Inquiries for documentation about the number of people for whom the gas companies are providing trucked drinking water were not obtainable, as proprietary information. Requests for documentation of the composition of emissions were not obtainable because the industry has no requirement to disclose, or even measure what they are. This arrogant attitude of disregard for the concerns of people about their health and safety cannot stand.

 

These regulations on methane and VOC emissions should apply to existing oil and gas facilities as well as new and major modifications. Strengthen the requirements for documentation and reporting of leaks at all stages of the operations: Pre-production, Production, Processing and Transmission.[3] Establishing required protocols for monitoring and reporting leakages of methane and volatile organic compounds will contribute to the understanding of this entire system.[4] Annual or semi-annual data collection is insufficient to protect the public health.[5] Continuous monitoring stations should be required for every unconventional oil and gas facility that is within five miles of residences, businesses, schools, parks or populated areas. The data from such monitoring stations should be publicly available, and local authorities should be notified when levels exceed established limits of safety. Corporate voluntary compliance protocols are inadequate to protect the public health and safety.

 

Uncertainty remains over a potential environmental benefit of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing that has public health implications. Natural gas is more efficient and cleaner burning than coal. When burned, natural gas releases 58% less CO2 than coal and 33% less CO2 than oil. Because of that, it has been promoted as a transitional fuel to begin conversion to greener energy such as wind and solar. Although natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, a recent study argues that replacing all of the world’s coal power plants with natural gas would do little to slow global warming this century. Switching from coal to natural gas would cut the warming effect in 100 years’ time by only about 20%. [6]Although a 20% decrease in warming over 100 years is significant, the consequences of the warming not prevented will have grave implications for public health.[7]

 

If the objective of this regulation is to reduce the emission of methane and other VOC’s as greenhouse gases affecting climate change, I question the effectiveness of the investment contemplated in this regulation as the best way to do so. As stated in the background of this proposed regulation, the EPA estimates the total capital cost alone of the proposed regulation will be $170 to $180 million in 2020 and $280 to $330 million in 2025. This amount of investment in solar and renewable technology implementation would have a far greater positive effect on greenhouse gas reductions with virtually no public health effects. We require a comprehensive energy policy that moves forward to an economy that is not based on fossil fuels. Continuing to build out the infrastructure, fine-tuning the way we extract oil and gas, is not solving the underlying problem.

 

Specific Recommendations:[8]

Recognizing that the process is in motion, the following specific recommendations may help to make these regulations more effective.

 

  1. Require Reduced Emission Completions (REC), also known as “green completion,” to reduce methane and other VOC leaks for all wells, not only gas wells. RECs and green completions refer to technologies that capture methane and other gases at the well head during and after well completion and avoid their release into the atmosphere.
  2. Require Leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs for all stages of oil and gas development.
  3. Require advanced technologies to control fugitive emissions.
  4. Require reduction of diesel particulate matter through the use of cleaner combustion engines and alternative fuel types at oil and gas development operations, especially in the transport of water, wastes and chemicals from High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing operations.
  5. Limit venting and flaring gas associated with oil production and ensure that all gas is captured or used on-site.
  6. Require comprehensive characterization of all pollution sources in unconventional oil and gas development and quantitative assessment of pollutants and emission rates through research and updated federal and state inventories.
  7. Improve air quality monitoring before, during, and after well development and around all sources.
  8. Expand the federal and state ozone monitoring network to better characterize air quality in rural areas highly impacted by pollution from oil and gas development.
  9. Require identification and implementation of adequate and protective setback requirements to reduce the exposure of residents to intermittent and chronic levels of air pollutants and toxins. Such research could draw on findings from analyzing the dispersion of air pollution as a function of the distance from road traffic and consider data from the effects of new or existing setback rules in states with unconventional oil and gas development. See, for example, the study being conducted by the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.[9]

 

In closing, I call for the closure of regulatory loopholes in federal environmental programs to fill data gaps, increase transparency and oversight of the oil and gas industry and ensure public health protections. As the evidence of significant and ongoing public health effects from unconventional oil and gas drilling accumulate, it is unconscionable to continue expanding and protecting this industry. In the interest of protecting the health of our planet and the health of our people, we must cease developing fossil deposits that are destroying our life support system.

 

Thank you.

 

[1] See full Curriculum Vitae at https://patriciademarco.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/patricia-m-demarco-2013-cv.pdf

 

[2] Colborn T, Kwiatkowski C, Schultz K, Bachran M. 2012. Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: an International Journal 17(5):1039-1056.

[3] J. Bradbury, M. Obeiter, L. Drucker, A. Stevens, W. Wang. “Clearing the Air – Reducing Upstream Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the U.S. Natural Gas System.” World Resources Institute. April 2013. www.wri.org/publication/clearing-air Accessed September 25, 2015.

[4] Ramon Alvarez, Steven Pacala, James Winebrake, William A. Chaneides and Steven P. Hamburg. “Greater Focus Needed on Methane Leakage from Natural Gas Infrastructure.” PNAS. Vol. 109 no. 17. Pp. 6435-6440. www.pnas.org/109/17/6435 Accessed September 25, 2015.

[5] Bamberger, M., Oswald, R. (2012).Impacts of Gas Drilling on Animal and Human HealthNew Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health, 22(1): 51-77.

[6] Finkel ML, Law A. The rush to drill for natural gas: a public health cautionary tale. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(5):784–785.

[7] Howarth R, Santoro R, Ingraffea A. Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Clim Change. 2011;106(4):679–690.

[8] Tanja Srebotnjak Miriam Rotkin-Ellman. “Fracking Fumes – Air Pollution from Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Public Health and Communities.” Natural Resources Defense Council. Issue Paper ip:14-10-a. December 2014. http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/fracking-air-pollution-IB.pdf Accessed September 24, 2015.

[9] Geisinger Research, “Geisinger Leads Marcellus Shale Initiative Coalition Explores the Potential Health Effects of Natural Gas Mining in the Region,” Geisinger Research Connections Winter: 1–3, 2013.