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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Fracking: Health Effects and Worker Safety

Fracking: Health Effects and Worker Safety

By Patricia M. DeMarco

{Summary of remarks at The Battle of Homestead Foundation screening of “Gaswork” by Josh Fox on August 25, 2016}

Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) for natural gas is touted as the centerpiece of American energy leadership for climate change and economic security. Sadly, this entire industry rests on “The Haliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which grants exemptions from seven major federal statutes intended to protect public health and the environment, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Toxic Release Inventory provisions. The Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act to close the Haliburton Loophole has been introduced by Senator Casey (D) PA, every year since 2011 with bipartisan support, but has been kept in committee without a hearing.

Fracking Pollution Sources:

Fracking pollution occurs at all stages of the process: site access and preparation, material transportation, drilling operations, production and processing, gas compression, pipelines, and combustion at the final point of use. Between 2005 and 2016, 137,000 wells have been drilled in 20 states. The industry operates in rural areas of the country, separating the various components of the industrial process to avoid consolidated review of environmental impacts. In many jurisdictions, as is true in Pennsylvania, local government entities are limited in what restrictions they can place on fracking activities. Unfettered by normal environmental and health protections, the industry has expanded rapidly.

In spite of industry assertions of safe practices, evidence of widespread environmental and health harm is accumulating.

  1. Climate Effects. Approximately 4% of the gas produced by fracking is lost through leaks and flaring at the well site, equivalent to 100 million tons of carbon dioxide. Fossil methane is a potent contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change with a 105 times greater impact than carbon dioxide over 20 years.
  1. Surface water and groundwater pollution. Groundwater pollution occurs from well casing leaks, estimated to have a 5% per year failure rate, and leaks through the fractured rock.(Ref) Water contaminants can be mobilized from older pollution sources such as mine drainage from the hydraulic fracturing shocks. Surface water pollution can occur from several paths including discharges and spills at the well site, wastewater disposal, and transportation spills.

Water pollutants associated with fracking disharges include carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, butoxyethanol, and zylene; toxic chemicals including boric acid, methanol, dissolved methane; and 120 endocrine disrupting chemicals such as naphthalene. (Ref)

  1. Air pollution. Drilling gas wells, producing the gas, and completing the wells releases fine particulates, and volatile organic compounds. These also come from spills on site, produced water evaporation pits, flaring gas at the well site, surface transfers, compression stations and processing facilities. In addition, thousands of diesel truck trips for hauling sand, chemicals and materials contribute to local air pollution.
  1. Ground pollution. Produced water from the fracking wells, labeled “Dirty water” legally can be discharged onto the roads for dust control or ice control. Sludge from evaporation pits goes into landfills and some produced water can be added to municipal waste in landfills. The process of developing access roads and pipelines has fragmented habitat in forests and parks, degraded farmland, and contributed to land erosion. Common contaminants include heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, bromides, radioactive isotopes of radon, boron, uranium and chromium, and chlorides from heavy brine.

 

Hydraulic Fracturing Health Concerns

Fracking environment and health effects come from the environmental disruptions of the process, the chemicals used in the slick water hydraulic fracturing process, and the contaminants that are extracted from the shale and brought to the surface with the gas. The most pervasive health effect comes from degradation of the environment and the systems that generate fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that support life on Earth. Fracking uses about 500,000 gallons of fresh water per well, causing stress on watersheds, domestic and agricultural water needs, especially in drought stricken areas.

About 649 chemicals are associated with the fracking process. Of these, 75% cause acute skin, eye and respiratory irritation; 40-50% affect the brain, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems and kidney functions; and 37% are known endocrine disruptors. 25% of the most common fracking chemicals cause cancers and mutations that may take years to emerge. Those most clearly associated with fracking include silicosis, lung cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, Hodgkins lymphoma and reproductive disorders. These are especially of concern because they increase the incidence of birth defects, low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths. These kinds of health effects are reported at statistically significant elevated levels among populations within a mile of fracking operations, potentially affecting about 9.4 million Americans.

About 170 thousand workers in the oil and gas industry are exposed to harmful chemicals as part of their regular work experience. Fatal injuries occur at a rate seven times higher than the rate for general industrial workers. Trucking accidents happen when the driver is overcome by exposure to volatile organic compounds during transport of wastes with no cautionary hazard placards. Workers suffer from strange painful rashes and neurological disorders without any idea of what caused them. NIOSH reports that 47% of workers at 111 sites they examined were exposed to levels of fine silicone dust at ten times the allowable level. Many suffered from silicosis and lung cancers from inhaling the fine sand used for propant in fracking. Workers exposure to benzene levels far in excess of the 0.1parts per million standard for occupational exposure was found at 88% of work sites. Most of the workers in the fracking industry are not represented by a union, have no advocate for their health and safety, and often are facing few alternatives to working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

Because of the Haliburton Loophole, the fracking health exposures to both the public and the workers are legal, but it is not ethical or morally right to allow such a broad segment of the population to be affected so harshly.

(See https://patriciademarco.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/8-25-2016-fracking-health.pdf for the slides of this presentation.)

 

Data Sources:

OSHA Info Sheet “HAZARD ALERT: Silica Exposure during Hydraulic fracturing” March 25, 2016.   https://www.osha.gov/dts/infosheets/


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WE Are the Clean Energy Revolution

June 24, 2016. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution filled the streets of Philadelphia from City Hall to Independence Hall with about 10,000 people from across the country marching and chanting about the issues surrounding climate change on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The anger and frustration with a political system that has ignored or opposed actions to reverse climate change rose in waves of passionate demands: “Stop Fracking Now!” “We Are the Revolution- Go Solar Now!” “Stop fracking wealth and protect public health!” People gave voice and testimony through their presence to their outrage over laws that protect corporations’ interests over workers’ health, profit multinational corporations while destroying communities’ water, land and air, and subsidize fossil fuels while placing roadblocks for renewable energy systems.

Many of the marchers spent the previous day at the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution at the Friends Center. Chief Perry of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation set the tone of the whole day by lifting up the pleas of over 200 indigenous peoples for all people to return to the old ways based on an ethic of respect for “our Father Sky and our Mother Earth.”

Chief Perry, Ramapaugh Lunaape Nation opens the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution, July 23, 2016

Chief Perry, Ramapaugh Lunaape Nation opens the Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution, July 23, 2016

Powerful stories punctuated the day:

  • Robert Nehman told of the effects of sand mining that destroys formations over one million years old to grind into sand for the fracking fields in states distant from Iowa and has workers suffering from silicosis.
  •  Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee Tribe-Ogala Lakota Nation, spoke of her decade of protests against the threat from gas pipelines and the infrastructure of fracking that had shaken her lands for ten years with earthquakes, pipeline spills, and the noise, air and water pollution that fracking brings – protests only recognized when richer white neighborhoods were affected also.
  • Diane D’Arrigo, of the Nuclear Information Research Service, described the environmental injustice associated with nuclear power from uranium mining through the enrichment process to power plant operations and fuel management –all steps of the process produce radioactive wastes that fall disproportionately on Navaho lands, and on people in disadvantaged communities.
  • Sandra Steingraber  documented the health effects of fracking noting that 15 million Americans live within a mile of fracking operations and that incidences of asthma in these areas is four times higher than background levels. (All of the presentations will be posted by Food and Water Watch – Summit for a Clean Energy Revolution)

The Clean Energy Revolution Summit: Breakout Session #3- A Visionary Ambitious Transition Plan – with Arjun Makhijani, Russell Greene, Micah Gold-Markel and Patricia DeMarco.

Remarks of Patricia DeMarco:

Climate change is the existential issue of our time. The fact that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly in response to human actions since the Industrial Revolution presents a series of ethical and moral challenges. This Clean Energy Revolution is not a technology problem… it is an ethical problem. The laws of nature – chemistry, physics, and biology – are NOT negotiable. It is we who must change our behavior to adapt the way we interface with the natural world. The pace of change accelerates as warming of the atmosphere and increasing acidity of the oceans change the geochemistry of the Earth. We must move quickly to reverse greenhouse gas production, or life as we know it will not survive.

The technology for moving the global economy from a fossil base to a renewable energy base is already in hand. No super innovation is required to begin the conversion to a clean energy future. Climate change is essentially an ethical issue on four levels:

  1. Intergenerational justice: this generation as a moral obligation to the unborn children of the 21st century to preserve the life support system provided by the living earth – oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species of which humans are but one part.
  2. International justice: people living in the industrialized northern hemisphere are the principal causers of the escalation in greenhouse gas emissions, but the most immediate devastating effects from sea level rise and drought are being felt most acutely by people who did not contribute much to the problem – people from island nations, equatorial countries and arctic communities.
  3. Local environmental justice: people living close to fossil fuel industries are most acutely affected by health effects from pollution, community devastation from mining and waste disposal, and safety hazards from spills, explosions and water and land contamination. Low income and disadvantaged communities suffer the impact while the profits benefit distant corporations.
  4. A just transition for workers: For the workers and retirees of the oil, gas and coal industry, the transition to a renewable and sustainable energy system presents a challenge that is not covered by bankruptcy laws. Corporations like coal companies that see a fall in their markets have bankruptcy protections to keep their shareholders whole, but the workers are “offloaded’ to shell corporations that go bankrupt leaving workers without pensions, health benefits or a way forward for their children and families. This practice may be technically legal, but it is not right!

These ethical issues must be addressed in a comprehensive way to mobilize the full might and ingenuity of our country on the problem of climate change. A change in attitude to make climate change an urgent issue for every person, every day, every way can begin to turn the American lifestyle from one of conspicuous consumption and profligate waste to one of preservation, conservation and wise resource use. An energy policy based on “all of the above” including fossil and nuclear resources is not sufficient to the magnitude of the task. If you are headed toward a cliff at 55 miles an hour, slowing to 30 miles an hour will just delay the time before you drive over the edge. We need to take a new direction in energy policy. The following actions can set a beginning for a renewable and sustainable energy base to the global economy:

  1. Leave fossil fuels in the ground. Eliminate the subsidies for fossil fuels, including investment and production tax credits, below market leasing on federal lands, federally funded research and development on fossil fuel extraction and combustion, trade advantages, and investments in fossil resource infrastructure such as pipelines, export facilities and processing facilities. Invest in land reclamation, watershed restoration and community re-development instead. Focus on efficiency improvement and retrofit for existing fossil-fueled buildings and operations.
  2. Support and promote renewable and sustainable energy systems with the full force of law. Adopt federal standards promoting passive and active solar design for all new buildings. Provide technical assistance and community development grants for renewable energy systems on all public buildings. Stabilize the business environment for renewable energy with permanent investment and production tax credits for renewable resources and the associated infrastructure to support American manufacture and production of components.
  3. Plug the “Haliburton Loophole” immediately to curtail the harm to workers and communities from its exemptions for hydraulic fracking from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and worker protections under Occupational Safety and Health Administration. No industry should be allowed to operate under suspension of basic public health protections.
  4. Establish a “Superfund” for displaced coal miners and fossil fuel industry workers. The pension benefits, health benefits and four years of retraining with salary support for families can redirect the human capital of workers with dignity and respect. Bankruptcy protections must provide for workers first, not only stockholders.

 

Addressing climate change will require empathy for the plight of people most acutely affected, whether they are next door, across the ocean, or yet to be born. It is time to stand up and demand an energy policy that protects our children and their grandchildren rather than the corporate greed of fossil fuel developers. The solutions are at hand. We need only the courage and commitment to pursue them as rapidly as possible, not as slowly as is expedient. Be the leader among those you reach. WE are the Clean Energy Revolution!

Hear the NPR interview here: https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2016/07/24/clean-energy-advocates-urge-dnc-to-ban-fracking-promote-renewable-fuels/

Marching with friends from Marcellus Outreach Butler

Marching with friends from Marcellus Outreach Butler


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Green Roofs: A National Policy to Help Address Climate Change

Roof of Chicago City Hall

Roof of Chicago City Hall

Since 2009 the City of Toronto has required commercial and industrial new buildings to have green roofs. France recently adopted a law requiring new commercial and industrial buildings to have at least partial green roofs and solar panels. This kind of policy direction helps to move the climate change response incrementally forward. As more and more buildings comply with these laws, the detailed refinements in response will begin to emerge.

In the US, many buildings are adopting green roofs as part of a sustainability strategy, but the response is scattered, and financing is an issue in many areas.  The standards and initiatives vary tremendously among the 50 states.

Here is a summary of the benefits of green roofs compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists

Benefits of Green Roofs

There are so many benefits to green roofs. Here are just a few:

  1. Adding natural beauty and major aesthetic improvement to buildings, which in turn increases the investment opportunity.
  2. Helping contribute to landfill diversion by prolonging the life of waterproofing membranes, using recycled materials, and prolonging the service of heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems through decreased use.
  3. Green roofs assist with storm water management because water is stored by the substrate, then taken up by plants, and thus returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. They also retain rainwater and moderate the temperature of the water and act as natural filters for the water that does run off. They delay the time at which runoff occurs, which results in decreased stress on sewer systems during peak periods.
  4. The plants on green roofs do a great job of capturing airborne pollutants and other atmospheric deposition. They can also filter noxious gasses.
  5. They open up new areas for community gardens, commercial and recreational space in busy cities where this space is generally quite limited.

Combining green roofs with solar installations on rooftops has been tested and shown to be mutually beneficial.  See the installations at Scalo Solar, for example. Here the Sunscape rooftop in Crafton PA, acts as a “showroom” for various configurations of solar arrays and technologies, including several versions of green roof installations. The various arrangements are fully instrumented and monitored to compare efficiency and effectiveness. The data stream is available to university students in Pittsburgh for research.images


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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!


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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.


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February Union Edge – Labor and Climate Change

IMG_09412-11-2015

Ever since the EPA hearings on emission limitations for existing power plants that I attended in Pittsburgh, I have been thinking about the contrast in the reaction to climate change between labor activists and environmentalists.

I found a position statement by Richard Trumke addressing a United Nations Summit on Investment and I found his sentiment very compelling.  He said: “Why should investors or working people focus on climate risk when we have so many economic problems across the world? The labor movement has a clear answer: Addressing climate risk is not a distraction from solving our economic problems. Addressing climate risk means retooling our world – it means that every factory and power plant, every home and office, every rail line and highway, every vehicle, locomotive and plane, every school and hospital, must be modernized, upgraded, renovated or replaced with something cleaner, more efficient, less wasteful. That means putting investment capital to work creating jobs.”

If we are going to actually address the climate change crisis, we need to work together.  We need to have the discussions and the creative solutions that come from a broad collaboration.  Unions are good at solving problems, that’s what we do.  Market driven policies in place now will not move our economy in the direction it needs to go.  We need a total mobilization of policy, capital, labor and the education and engagement of the whole general public to make this kind of total societal shift, and make it quickly.

Have we ever done such a thing?  Well, we have done it 70 years ago when the nation was challenged to mobilize for World War II.  Within only a few years, we focused industrial production, food system output, and individual sacrifice to meet the war effort. Everybody got behind it, and everybody made it happen.

The challenge of moving away from fossil fuel combustion to preserve our atmosphere in a temperate range suitable for human life is no less critical.  But we have yet to address the compelling issues that need to be met so we can move forward with equitable, economically viable, lasting solutions.

We have to address the people problems, not just apply technical fixes.  What can we do to protect the displaced workers in the fossil extraction industries of coal, oil, and fossil gas?  The pensions and health benefits are an obligation that has to be honored.  How can we re-direct the workforce to make the infrastructure of a non-fossil economy replace the aging infrastructure of the fossil age?  Skills and know-how are abundant, but shifting the systems for applying the expertise of workers in new ways needs to be organized and focused for deployment. If we are serious about re-structuring our economy to save the world, why are we still subsidizing fossil fuels and fragmenting business conditions for renewable systems?  No business will grow and thrive in an environment of different rules in 50 states, changing tax treatment each year, and punitive insurance and utility tariff systems, again varying in all the states.

We need to have an organized policy and a strategic plan.  We need the unity of purpose from people at all levels.  Education, empowerment, and care for people above machines, and good wages for hard work above profits to the few multi-national corporate interests that benefit from plundering the earth forever.

Think about what kind of a world we leave to our grandchildren.  We can plan to leave them a living Earth, or bicker away our efforts and leave them a despoiled planet.

PD

 

 


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Moving from Awareness to Action

January 2015

This month two new tools have come forward from the expanding team of people working with and around me to engage solutions to the climate change challenge and the subversive threat embodied in endocrine disrupting chemical contaminants in our biosphere.  We feel an increasing sense of urgency to make meaningful changes to address these serious global problems.  Taken together, the problem appears overwhelming.  A sense of powerlessness and being overwhelmed with the complexity of it all yields denial and paralysis.

But, we take courage from our heroes!   In the new documentary “The Power of One Voice- A 50 Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson” we see how her one voice raised fearlessly and courageously in spite of vicious, personal attacks, did change the world. We can see in “Sustainability Pioneers” regular people making changes in their own lives, in their communities and in their businesses to move to a more resilient future.

We have the tools to take action moving toward a more sustainable future.  We must address the barriers entrenched in our current way of doing things.  How can we connect the unionized labor movement to environmentally sound solutions?  The labor movement was instrumental in organizing the first Earth Day and pressing for environmental protections in the 1970’s.  Now, the divide artificially pitting a clean environment against jobs makes collaboration more difficult.  Yet, the need has never been greater.  Solutions that reshape a robust economy based on renewable energy systems, organic agriculture practices and green chemistry principles for producing goods, will require changing some laws!  We need to have a broader coalition of people involved, and we need to reach beyond environmental advocates talking to each other with increasing passion and frustration.

Everybody wants healthy children.  Everybody needs clean water and air.  Everybody needs a wholesome, secure food supply. Every worker needs a living wage in a secure career path. To make a transition from a fossil based economy to a renewable and sustainable economy, we need a strategy and a plan for an orderly transition.  Allowing the fate of our children to fall from “market forces” as a policy will not work.  Our policy process is currently based on markets with government regulation seen as a negative interference. To make a successful transition, we must have a longer view than a three month business cycle; we must recognize the costs and risks the current practices are imposing on our current life and on the lives of our children and their grandchildren. We must make a strategic plan to reach a fossil-free future within the next 30 to 50 years, or our children will face life threatening conditions.

Business as usual scenarios based on continued fossil fuel use projected 650 parts per million levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is not a viable condition!  Reaching this level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be catastrophic for humans, and other creatures that breathe air.  We need to get serious about choosing more viable options.

Jobs in the renewable energy industries are growing at 22% per year for the last five years, compared to a falling profile for coal, oil and gas jobs at 8.7% over the last five years. If we make a policy commitment to support and accelerate the penetration of renewable energy systems into the economy, instead of throwing up roadblocks and objections on all fronts, we could jump start a period of prosperity and sustainable enterprise that will lead the world.

Change the laws to stabilize the tax incentives and investment incentives for the renewable energy industry.  No emerging industry will thrive in an uncertain regulatory environment, where the rules change each year and vary vastly from state to state! Shift the subsidies and tax advantages from fossil fuels to renewable systems to fund the emerging and growing technologies.  We know climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels, so it makes no sense as a public policy in the public interest to continue providing $72 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel industries. Especially since much of that benefit accrues to multinational corporations who do not necessarily invest their earnings here.

The choices we have to make are not limited by technology.  We have lots of technology to do many things from the simple to the extreme.  The question is, just because we can, whether we should pursue extreme fossil development.  We can make choices that have more favorable consequences for our life support system.

Look at your own energy supply this month.  How can you reduce your own footprint, and shift your electric supplier to renewable fuels? Make a commitment to start now!

 


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A Reflection on the “Energy for the Power of 32” Conference

Energy for the Power of 32 Conference was organized to establish a baseline and catalyze a regional energy plan and strategy for the 32 contiguous counties encompassing western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.  The preparations included a regional compilation of the Energy Flows in a Sankey diagram of Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and Losses.  the full report and analysis can be found at www.energy4p32.org

Regional Energy Flow showing Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and losses is a critical starting point for analysis. The three issues that emerge from this set of data are:

  1. the dominance of coal for electricity generation and as an export product
  2. Net exports (1,470 Trillion Btu) far exceed the regional consumption of energy for all uses (520 trillion Btu).
  3. The largest sources of “Unused Energy” result from electricity generation and transportation, Both sectors rely predominantly on technologies from the 1800’s- the Rankine cycle thermoelectric steam turbine and the internal combustion engine.

Data showing the global context creating an impetus for a change in our energy system was not allocated to a regional profile. Data adapting the EPA Sankey diagram on greenhouse gas emissions[1] to a regional profile would be helpful in isolating principal targets for change. Coal combustion for generating electricity is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

A large data void exists in the failure to present, or even discuss, the ecosystem service components of the economy. There were some presentations about health effects and costs related to loss of productivity associated with pollution. However, the positive attributes derived from ecosystem services such as water purification, oxygen generation, food production through photosynthesis etc were not included. To the extent that the strategic plan seeks metrics and indicators to track economic conditions forward, it is essential to include metrics that reflect the health of the environment, our life support system. Measures for clean air, water quality, soil fertility and species diversity reflect not only quality of life conditions but also the resilience and sustainability of conditions upon which the economy ultimately depends. The failure to consider such parameters in economic development planning has largely contributed to the climate changing circumstances we are facing today. The classic papers of Robert Constanza et al. may be helpful in addressing this critical component of a regional strategic plan.[2] [3]

A second major omission in this discussion may be due to the absence of the presentation on environmental justice that would have been covered by Mustafa Ali. It is critical to recognize that the options for future development in energy are not limited by technology, but must be shaped by choices grounded in the ethics and values of our society. It is an ethical criterion to preserve our life support system for future generations, and indeed this is a part of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27, the Environmental Rights Amendment.[4] It is an ethical criterion to transition from a resource extraction based economy to a value adding economy, a legacy of manufacturing and innovation well rooted in our region’s history. It is an ethical criterion to establish conditions that reflect social equity among workers past and future. It is an ethical criterion to plan for a healthier solution to our energy requirements than we have done in the past.

Establishing an energy system that provides for a robust economy requires that we recognize the absolute need to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels, in all aspects of our economy. In our region, the conditions are not favorable to take maximum advantage of the natural flows of renewable and sustainable energy. The myth that renewable energy is insufficient to serve our needs must be addressed directly. The flow of solar energy to the surface of the earth exceeds our current and projected needs by many orders of magnitude. [5] The energy uses in the region for all sectors – residential, commercial, industrial and transportation – require only 520 trillion Btu. The Unused (wasted) portion to deliver this amount of energy in useful form 1,400 trillion Btu, represents the compelling reason to change our system. If we focus on the work that needs to be delivered, rather than the replacement of the fuels that are mostly being wasted in the current system, the options are far more exciting.

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

The work of Lovins et. al. illustrate ample ways to move toward a much less wasteful energy system focus on suiting the energy source to the energy need, and addressing appropriate technologies for the task.[6] Thus as a goal, buildings will operate in net zero profile for energy, water and waste. We have current illustrations for the realistic achievability of this approach in the Phipps Living Building example, and even retrofit examples in the innovation workplace. [7] [8]

Transportation systems will require two types of transition first, to renewable fuels, most likely recovered from wasted food sources, but also new technologies such as methane gas fired or electric engines., ultimately to hydrogen driven systems. Transportation system solutions require better integration of non-mechanized mobility options such as designing communities for easier pedestrian access to services, recreation and workplace centers. Our region was once heavily dependent on pedestrian mobility, as the many remnants of pedestrian stairways testify. Walking distances to transit was normal as recently as 1968.

Industrial and manufacturing sector presents the largest challenge, but also the largest opportunity. As a strategic goal, think about converting the raw export component of the regional economy to value added production where raw materials convert n the regional economy to finished goods. Such activity can occur as part of creating a sustainable stream of energy system supports, including the technology and communication interconnects for a distributed electric system where the load and source are balanced. New categories of utility services emerge from such an inverted paradigm of utility system including DC as well as AC segments, load leveling and voltage regulation , and storage (including not only batteries but fly wheel, compressed ait, pumped hydro storage and chemical phase change crystals.) Making and installing adaptive technologies for existing buildings can also offer increased production opportunities, such as ground source heat pump auxiliary heating/cooling systems that tap into the existing water pipes with external heat exchangers.

Transformation from fossil fueled enterprise to renewable energy flow based enterprise seems daunting and “unrealistic” according to my working group colleagues. But, many times in our history we as a country have taken on major transformations in a very short span of time, often less than a decade. The industrial mobilization that shifted production to make vehicles machines and munitions for World War II happened in a span of three years. The rural electrification of America took only five years. The shift from horse and buggy to automobile took only 20. The shift from regulated communication to unregulated and competitive communications took less than a decade. What is needed in order to mobilize this kind of capability is a clear and urgent motivating force that enables cooperation among competing interests. That force can be national security in time of war, market opportunities opened by innovative technology, or collective moral outrage.

What we cannot lose sight of in this discussion is the essential truth that the climate of the earth is changing rapidly, irreversibly, due to human activity that we can control. If we defer meaningful action to contain the conversion of sequestered carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, the atmosphere will no longer support aerobic living organisms…that includes people. A graph projecting 600 to 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was presented as if it were a normal expectation for continued practices. This cannot be construed in any way as “Business as Usual” but as a catastrophe! Every year that we delay in addressing this situation narrows our options and reduces our chances of shifting successfully away from a course of disaster. Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 200 years or more, our actions today determine the fate of the unborn generations who have no say in determining their fate. We must consider the legacy we are leaving to them. We have seen the accumulated damages from mining and burning coal for fifty years, including the 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams permanently contaminated with acid mine drainage. We must take precautions going forward to preserve, protect and if possible restore the health of the living earth we depend on for our own survival.

As you develop the formal strategic plan for the Power of 32, I urge you to seek out and consider seriously the voices who speak for the living parts of our community, our economy and our selves. If we only focus on the infrastructure and technology, we will not preserve our own survival.

Respectfully submitted,

Patricia DeMarco

[1] EPA greenhouse gas emissions by source http://www.epa.gov

[2] Constanza, Robert et. Al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital. Nature. May 15, 1997. Vol 387. Pages 253-260.

[3] Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism. 2010. Earthscan. London.

[4] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27

[5] NASA Chart on energy flow comparisons renewable vs fossil resources

[6] Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute. Reinventing Fire – Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. 2011. Chelsea Green Publishers. Vermont.

[7] Phipps Living Building see http://www.Phippsconservatory.org

[8] Hartkopf and Loftness – innovation workplace Carnegie Mellon University


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A Plea from the Youth for a Safe Climate Future

19Nov2014

I come from the generation of explosive activists who held sit-ins and teach-ins and street demonstrations for the clean air act, civil rights, women’s rights and opposing war and nuclear power.  We passed many laws through the 1970s addressing the most obvious signs of pollution, and the most egregious of injustices. In most cases, these laws dealt with the symptoms without really changing the underlying problems.  They put corks in the smokestacks, stoppers in the emission pipes and liners in the landfills, but did not address the underlying sources of pollution, or injustice and inequality.

Now we see the accumulated effects of our continued poisoning of the earth.  Even with permits and regulations, the US alone spews 3.6 Billion pounds of toxic materials into the biosphere. (EPA Toxic Release Inventory) Much of this comes from the continued combustion of fossil fuels, especially coal.  The laws of physics and chemistry and the responses of living organisms and ecosystems to this barrage of poison will proceed, with consequences that are not negotiable.  Nature wins, always.  We ignore the evidence of damage at our own peril.

But, we children of the 60s, who now dominate the governance of our country, must take heed to the voices of our children, whether they vote or not! The decisions we make today about our energy use, our ways of using resources and our food supply system determine the fate of millions who are not at the table to speak.  The fate of the unborn generations is in our hands.  Whether our personal ideology includes accepting the evidence of a screaming earth or not, it is prudent to err on the side of caution when dealing with issues with consequences spanning hundreds of years.

Listen to the wisdom of our youth. If we decide to accept the moral obligation to provide for their future, we will treat climate change as the emergency it is.  In the words of Jonas Salk, “We must be good ancestors.”  Preventing the destruction of our fragile life support system is a worthy legacy.

See the letter of the Australian Youth Coalition to the G-20 below, and take heed of their plea.

http://www.aycc.org.au/g20