• NC leaders plan to test for lead and asbestos in drinking water at schools

    By: Lora Lavigne, WRAL May 5, 2022 Experts say lead or asbestos contamination in drinking water at public schools could be making your child sick. The state’s top education leaders will meet Wednesday to discuss what action is needed. The North Carolina Board of Education will assess how high the risk for lead exposure is and how much should be spent to minimize the exposure. When the school board gathers Wednesday, leaders will refine a policy to take further action on testing and discuss what the cost will be to execute that plan. The plan will be solely focused on eliminating or minimizing…


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  • Climate Change is Pushing Toxic Chemicals into Drinking Wells

    By: Erika Bolstad, Pew Charitable Trust April 28, 2022 Don Myron is probably best known as the guy who survived one of the deadliest fires in Oregon’s history by sheltering overnight in a river with a patio chair. So there was never any question that Myron would rebuild his home in Oregon’s Santiam Canyon after the house was destroyed in the Labor Day wildfires of 2020. The well Myron shared with nearby homeowners was no longer available, which meant one of his first tasks was to drill his own new source for drinking water. “It's hard to rebuild without water,” Myron said. “It's hard to do anything without water. It was a priority.” But with climate change confronting communities across the West, people who rely on wells are at particular risk as wildfires grow in intensity and frequency. Without vegetation, fire-scarred land becomes more susceptible to mudslides that can damage watersheds. Drought can increase the concentration of pathogens and other contaminants in well water. And fires can damage the well equipment and piping, leaching toxic chemicals into drinking water and forcing property owners to consider costly repairs, upgrades and filtering systems even as they rebuild their homes and businesses. Beyond the West, heavier rains and floods threaten well water quality, too. In Oregon, about a quarter of state residents rely on private wells for their water supply, according to the Oregon Health Authority. An estimated 2,000 households that rely on private wells were affected by the Labor Day fires of 2020, which, fueled by severe windstorms, rank among the largest and deadliest fires ever experienced in the state. In response, the state established a free voucher program that pays for people affected by the Labor Day fires to test their well water for some contaminants. Once Myron's well was drilled and operational, he used the voucher to have the water tested. It was “as clean as could be,” Myron said. “I was pleasantly surprised.” As States Prepare for Disasters, They Acknowledge Things Will Get Worse Such testing is increasingly common in Western states. After the 2018 Camp Fire nearly destroyed the town of Paradise in northern California, the Butte County Health Department warned residents that creeks and rivers flowing from fire-affected areas could contain elevated levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, a carcinogen, and lead, a neurotoxin. The fires damaged municipal systems and an estimated 2,438 private wells in what is, for now, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. The county also alerted property owners that contaminants could seep into the aquifers tapped by private wells. Butte County not only warned people to test for contaminants, but also advised them to drink pricey bottled water until they knew the full extent of the fire damage to their wells. If a fire burned or damaged the casing or plumbing around a well, officials warned, such breaches could cause bacterial growth, including E. coli, which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress. Heat damage from the fires also can compromise the plastic components of wells, potentially leaching dangerous chemicals into drinking water. Many of the fire-scarred communities of the West now are using guidelines developed in part by researcher Andrew Whelton, an engineering professor at Purdue University and director of the school’s Center for Plumbing Safety. Whelton studies water safety after wildfires, most recently after the Marshall Fire in suburban Boulder, Colorado. Health departments and state regulators needed a baseline understanding of what they should tell property owners, Whelton said, and in many cases were too overwhelmed by the logistics of disaster management to develop their own. “The people that were most affected by the contamination, the people that were receiving water that may or may not be contaminated, they may or may not have contaminated plumbing,” Whelton said. “They didn't have any single authority to go to, to get advice.” Few States Require Testing Most of the states that require that private wells be inspected or tested for integrity or water quality only do so when they're first drilled or when a property changes hands. It's generally up to an individual homeowner to pay to maintain a well and monitor its water quality. As a result, few wells are tested regularly. Polling shows that many Americans care deeply about water quality. But despite highly visible water crises, including high lead levels in Flint, Michigan, and scarcity within the Navajo Nation, the quality and safety of drinking water often are taken for granted. People turn on their taps and expect it to be fine. A Parched West Remains Divided on Desalinating Seawater In Oregon, only about 200 property owners with private wells have sought testing vouchers following the 2020 fires, said Curtis Cude, manager of the Oregon Health Authority’s domestic well safety program. Public health officials expected more people to apply for the vouchers, though they acknowledge that, because repairs can be expensive, wells may be a lower priority for some families. “One of the things that we were hearing, especially last year, is that people were still buried in ash and debris,” Cude said. “And some of those properties were so extensively damaged that they hadn't the opportunity to even think about getting their well on line.” Nationwide, an estimated 40 million people obtain their drinking water from a domestic well, according to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey. Many of those people are in rural communities not serviced by municipal water systems. In the West, homes with private wells are often in the places most vulnerable to increasingly hot or intense wildfires or the effects of drought. In states prone to wildfire, water quality remains an existential threat. The burden of sourcing uncontaminated water can be particularly stressful on people who've survived a wildfire. For example, Whelton points to a study of attitudes about water safety, which surveyed 233 households in Butte County, California, after the Camp Fire. More than half of respondents, 54%, self-reported that at least one member in their household had anxiety, stress or depression directly related to securing water, or in connection with water contamination issues. Most people who were surveyed said uncertainty about water and plumbing safety prompted them to alter water use in their homes. About 47% installed in-home water treatment technologies; 85% said they sought out alternate water sources. Wetter Storms Worsen Pollution Yet well contamination is a problem all over the country, including in places where climate change means more frequent and more intense rain events. In the Midwest, the intensity and frequency of rainstorms has increased since 1901, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment. It’s projected only to get worse. Heavy rains can overwhelm sewer or septic systems, transporting pathogens to the groundwater drawn up by wells. In 2018, hurricanes Florence and Michael inundated coastal Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some places. The storms affected as many as 730,000 wells in the region, according to estimates from the National Groundwater Association. In North Carolina, the rains from Florence flooded more than 30 hog lagoons full of pig waste. The overflowing toxic muck from floodwaters can seep into the aquifer or make its way down into wells from flooding at the surface. Few Wells Tested for Contamination After Major Flooding From Hurricanes In the wake of the storms, North Carolina tested 1,000 private wells, said Wilson Mize, a regional environmental health specialist with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. After Hurricane Florence, 13% of the wells tested were positive for E. coli. Typically, with new wells, only about 3% test positive for it. The results gave health officials a good indication that floodwater was entering the wells, Mize said. The positive results for E. coli dropped to about 3% after wells were disinfected. The numbers provided state health officials a baseline for the effects of flood-related pollution on wells, which is a matter of critical public health concern—about 2.4 million people rely on wells for drinking water in the state. Since 2018, North Carolina has developed a program to get information out to people with wells who face heavy rainstorms. In areas with many wells, county officials place door hanger pamphlets with information about how to care for a well before and after a storm. Along with NASA and a researcher at Northeastern University, North Carolina is developing a well water surveillance and response system. It will create a mapping tool that, after flooding, will pinpoint the areas in the state with private wells. It’s aimed at helping the state determine where to emphasize sampling and disinfection after hurricanes, tropical storms and other heavy rains. Midwest Agriculture Can Threaten Wells In parts of the Midwest, nitrate pollution from fertilizer is especially troublesome after heavy rains, said Scott Laeser, the water program director for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental nonprofit. About a third of Wisconsin residents draw their drinking water from private wells, Laeser said. About 90% of nitrate contamination comes from manure and commercial fertilizer application. When heavy rainstorms dump water, they wash away the fertilizer on farm fields. Nitrates are especially mobile, and, once rainwater saturates the ground, the compounds quickly descend into the groundwater. Then, the chemicals reemerge in people’s well water. Nitrates are most notable for causing what’s known as blue baby syndrome, a condition that results in low oxygen levels in the blood. The threat of well pollution from manure is so severe that the state of Wisconsin operates an online risk advisory forecast to help farmers understand how weather conditions and soil temperatures might exacerbate runoff. It is updated three times a day by the National Weather Service. Laeser said the conservation work conducted by Clean Wisconsin to prevent runoff has been based on the assumptions of past climate patterns, not a present and future in which major rainstorms are increasingly frequent. The group’s conservation measures in the state weren't enough before, he said, but now, they look “increasingly inadequate in the face of the extreme weather challenges that we're facing.” “What we are having to do is kind of toss those out because they aren't relevant anymore,” Laeser said. “Places in western and northern Wisconsin are getting 100- and 500-year storms annually or biannually.” Agriculture has the potential to be a big part of climate solutions, Laeser said. Synthetic fertilizer production uses fossil fuels, in particular natural gas. Heavy fertilizer use contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing synthetic fertilizer use helps both the climate and water quality, Laeser said. So does finding ways for farms to be financially resilient and sustainable—including incentivizing growers to set aside wetlands—that don't “solely reward them based on as much cheap food as possible.” “There's a huge opportunity in that we can address so many water and climate challenges simultaneously,” Laeser said. “The connections between our water and climate challenges are becoming clearer by the day.” Read the article on Pew Charitable Trust


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  • Coal ash sparks concern for potential Chapel Hill housing development

    By: Ian Walniuk, The Daily Tar Heel April 19, 2022 Residents, Chapel Hill Town Council members and lawyers are raising concern over ongoing plans to develop the Chapel Hill Police Department lot. Council members voted 8-1 to pass a nonbinding agreement to continue discussion on potentially developing the area located off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, during a town council meeting last month. Many of the members argued that moving forward with the site aligns with the Town's goals of building affordable housing and increasing walkability across the area. Town Council member Adam Searing — the lone opposing vote — said during the meeting that developing this site poses risks for surrounding communities. “Every child in Chapel Hill deserves the chance to come to school healthy and ready to learn,” Adam Searing said. “If we decide tonight to let some of our children grow up on giant mounds of hazardous coal ash, that goal becomes far harder to achieve.” Concern surrounding development on the lot has persisted since coal ash was first identified on the site in 2013. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water and the surrounding air. The proposed site plan includes a new municipal services center, as well as multifamily housing and a community green space. However, the Town has not approved any construction on the site yet. Nick Torrey, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized Town Council members for their concerns surrounding potentially removing the coal ash, citing how tens of millions of tons of coal ash have been safely cleaned up across the southeastern United States. “There are all kinds of protocols and regulations about how to do that safely, and that’s being done safely,” Torrey said. The Town plans to move forward with an economic development agreement in June. They will then enter a 12-18-month environmental risk assessment process, followed by an environmental management plan for site activities that will be prepared by environmental engineers. Risk assessment In 2019, environmental consulting firm Hart & Hickman completed its risk assessment of the site. The report determined the lot can be repurposed safely without removing all of the existing coal ash and debris. It also recommended interim measures to remove coal ash located close to Bolin Creek. Torrey added that the cancer risk threshold of coal ash exposure had been modified from 1-in-100,000 under the 2019 Environmental Risk Assessment to 1-in-10,000 in the 2021 Environmental Risk Assessment conducted by Hart & Hickman. Chapel Hill Economic Development Specialist Laura Selmer said because the risk assessment looks at the site in its current state — as opposed to potential risk once the site is fully developed — it is reasonable to assume any actions the Town takes will lower the risk of exposure to cancer-causing materials even further. “We’re confident that with the proper mitigation measures, we’ll achieve a safe site,” she said. In response, the Town removed around 1,000 tons of coal ash and soil near the Bolin Creek Trail in 2020, though some coal ash still remains on the site. If the site is developed, the Town plans to cap, contain and cover the coal ash, which would reduce community risk and exposure to potential containments. Town officials estimate that removing the coal ash would cost between $13 and $16 million and would take three or more years to complete, in a fact sheet on the Town’s website. They also state that removing the ash could prove hazardous to Bolin Creek and surrounding communities. Concerns persist Despite assurances from Town Council members and local officials, some residents and environmental advocates have been critical of the Town’s proposals. Torrey said that the Town should go beyond the minimum standards to protect the community and to protect clean water. “What we’ve urged all along is that the Town do the maximum possible to protect people and to protect clean water, and that includes being willing to commit to going beyond the minimum standards that the state might allow for this project," he said. "So that’s something they need to do more to commit to.” Pamela Schultz, an environmental engineer and a member of the Chapel Hill Stormwater Advisory Board, was critical of the Town’s claim that 5,000 truckloads would be required to remove all the coal ash. She said that the true number would likely be lower. The estimate was derived from a 2017 report, but the Town’s consultants have recently said the amount of ash on the site is probably lower than their initial estimates. However, the Town has not lowered its estimate of the number of truckloads. "The Town has said many times that they don’t think it’s as much as they originally estimated," Schultz said. The Brownfields Program In 2019, the site was declared eligible for the Brownfields Program, which would allow the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to work with prospective developers to clean up and redevelop sites that currently pose a risk of environmental contamination. Environmental lawyer Robert Gelblum said the Brownfields program is typically used when a developer wants to repurpose a site with potential contamination, but is worried about liability. “So they get this agreement whereby, instead of paying millions and millions of dollars to have to literally clean up and remediate the pollution, they negotiate this agreement which typically only requires land-use restrictions,” he said. According to Gelblum, such land-use restrictions include a prohibition on the use of groundwater and the development of senior and childcare centers. He believes developers typically prefer these land-use restrictions to removing environmental contaminants. “There’s no doubt the developer is hoping to avoid actual clean-up costs,” he said. Moving forward, Schultz said that she would favor removing the ash that is easily accessible on the slope. “In remediation, you’d call this source removal, where you know you’re not going to get 100 percent of the contaminated material, but you do your best to try and get the most concentrated potential source of future exposure and risk,” she said. Searing added that he would like to see the Town reevaluate costs associated with removing the coal ash. “I’d like to get three new estimates about how much it costs to move (the coal ash) and where it would go, and not from companies that we’re paying to tell us what we want to hear,” he said. Read the article on The Daily Tar Heel


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  • Contaminated wells prompt NC county to seek state grant

    By: Ben Sessoms, Common Dreams April 19, 2022 The Gray’s Creek community in Cumberland County could receive federal funding to help address the GenX contamination of some residential wells. The county Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to apply for North Carolina’s drinking water reserve and wastewater reserve grant. The grant, which has two rounds of funding in the spring and fall, is financed through federal allocations to the state as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will administer the funds and determine which applicants are awarded grant money. If accepted, the county could receive up to $15 million to fund construction of a new central water distribution system in the Gray’s Creek area in southern Cumberland County, according to county documents. The state’s grant is meant for at-risk water systems for which, among other purposes, the applicant’s intention is to connect residences in disadvantaged, underserved communities to a different water system. According to water sampling from DEQ, some residential wells in Gray’s Creek are contaminated with GenX, a chemical substance produced in the nearby Chemours plant. GenX is a trade name for one unregulated per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance, or PFAS, used in manufacturing nonstick coatings, among other purposes, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Last month, Cumberland County filed a lawsuit against Chemours and its predecessor company, DuPont, for allegedly releasing millions of pounds of PFAS into the air above its Fayetteville Works facility in the decades following 1970, as reported by Carolina Public Press. To determine how GenX affects the human body, more studies need to be done, according to DHHS. A small, limited study from the state agency suggests the substance, which DuPont started producing in 2009, may leave the human body quickly. Previously, the county had allocated $10.5 million for providing an alternative water system for Gray’s Creek. A pending contract is in place with the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, but the board has not yet finalized and approved that agreement. The county has until May 2 to apply for the state grant. If DEQ doesn’t accept Cumberland County’s application, the department will automatically consider the application for the next round of funding in the fall. The state could grant a low-interest loan to supplement funding if Cumberland County accepts, according to DEQ. If funding is still available after both application rounds, DEQ will give more to accepted applicants in $5 million increments until all the money is exhausted. DEQ will reward applicants in increments in order of priority, which the agency will determine. Read the article on Common Dreams


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  • Renewables company could transform how millions of tons of hog waste are managed in NC

    By: Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch April 5, 2022 Montauk Ag Renewable has test site in Duplin County and plans to operate plant in Sampson County, but will it work? Outside a large steel barn in Magnolia, Martin Redeker scooped loads of dried hog waste, composted with carbon, onto a snow shovel for anyone to take a deep whiff. It smelled. Not of acrid ammonia or sulfur, but faintly like dirt. For the past five years at a test site in Duplin County, Redeker and his business partner, Joe Carroll of Montauk Ag Renewables, have been tinkering with a new technology to process the millions of tons of hog waste produced each year in North Carolina. Redeker, an engineer, designed a system that is radically different from conventional anaerobic digesters, whose state draft permits are up for public comment. Instead, if this technology meets expectations, it could change how farmers use their lagoon and spray fields, and possibly negate the need for that antiquated method at all. “We’re running out of room in our lagoons,” said one long-time farmer at a public meeting in Turkey, North Carolina, earlier this year. “We’re running out of spray fields.” While the technology is not an environmental cure-all – it still produces biogas – it still could benefit residents, most of them people of color, who have long endured the odors and drinking water concerns associated with industrialized hog operations in eastern North Carolina. Roy Lee Lindsey, CEO of the NC Pork Council, told Policy Watch in an email statement that “We’ve heard some talk about Montauk Renewables but are not familiar with the details of its technology. We look forward to learning more about the company and the ways it might benefit North Carolina’s pig farmers. “North Carolina pig farmers are always looking for ways to continuously improve how we raise animals. Whether that involves using less water and energy or better manure management, we recognize the value of incremental steps forward.” Whether Redeker’s and Carroll’s invention offers change that is incremental or transformational remains to be seen. Yet it relies on a simple principle of physics that has existed since the Big Bang: “Energy can’t be created or destroyed,” Redeker said. Left to right: Martin Redeker and Joe Carroll of Montauk Ag Renewables; Max Pope, mayor of Turkey, at a public meeting earlier this year. (Photo: Lisa Sorg) Down a long driveway off Blind Bridge Road in Magnolia, sits the barn with a shipping container affixed to its side. Inside the container is a makeshift office, outfitted with a couple of long tables and a whiteboard scribbled with numbers and flow charts. Redeker, vice president of Montauk Ag Renewables, originally worked on technologies extracting oil from plastics in landfills. He splits his time between Colorado and North Carolina. Carroll, the company president, lives in Greensboro and previously worked in environmental mitigation, restoring streambanks and waterways. The two men owned a separate company that Montauk Renewables, a publicly traded company, purchased last year. Inside the barn winds a network of conveyors and ovens, pipes and vacuum pumps. There is no stack, Redeker said, because there are no air emissions. The process would work like this: Montauk would send a truck to the farms, which either would slurp or excavate the waste directly from the lagoons; it’s also possible to intercept the waste before it reaches those pits. The truck would transport the waste back to the new Montauk facility off Highway 24 in Turkey, in Sampson County. There, the waste would be processed in a “closed-loop” system, and converted into biochar, which is essentially fertilizer; bio-oil, a substitute for petroleum; and biogas. As planned, the plant could process 12 tons per day, with the potential to expand to 20 tons. “This isn’t something that we just drew up on the back of a napkin,” Carroll told attendees of the public meeting in Turkey. “There’s a lot of engineering, a lot of iron, a lot of steel that goes into this.” To wring as much as energy from the waste, it must be dried and processed within seven to 10 days. “That’s when a lot of the material starts to degrade and you start to get a lot of that odor,” Redeker said. “We’re in the business of taking advantage of all the energy we possibly can. We’re not stockpiling the waste.” The public meeting in Turkey was prompted by the news that Montauk Ag Renewables had purchased a former Bay Valley Foods warehouse on the west side of Turkey for $5.5 million. Montauk chose the warehouse in part because it is near five hog lagoons holding about 150,000 tons of waste. About 50 people – equivalent to about 20% of Turkey’s population – crammed into the small town hall to hear from Redeker and Carroll, who were invited at the mayor’s behest. Town residents said they were worried about potential odors and flies – the very issues plaguing neighbors of the farms themselves. “I don’t believe we’re bringing in an odor problem,” Redeker said. “And the farms are going to smell less and less as we remove the waste.” Residents were also concerned about being sandwiched between two biogas facilities. On the east side of town, Align RNG is a joint project between Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy. It is a hub for a conventional biogas system. Farmers install covers on their waste lagoons to capture methane, which is then funneled through a miles of underground pipelines to Align RNG. Align RNG cleans and upgrades the biogas and sends it through a pipeline for Duke Energy to use in its natural gas plants. Montauk Ag Renewables, whose property is outlined in blue, has purchased a former food warehouse on the west side of Turkey, in Sampson County. A separate project, Align RNG, headed by Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, operates on the east side of town off Highway 24 and BF Grady Road. (Base map: Sampson County GIS) A pipeline runs along Highway 24, which could be an injection point for Montauk’s biogas, Carroll said. However, pipeline companies usually partner with a single user for injection points, “so we will most likely not be partnering with Align.” If Montauk can’t inject into the pipeline, it plans to contract with a trucking company to deliver the gas to another injection point. Jim Monroe, spokesman for Smithfield Foods, said via email that while the company isn’t “closely familiar with this project and can’t speculate on the outcome of testing, we’re generally supportive of technologies that help farmers manage manure and have the potential to enhance the systems we have in place today. Within our own operations, we’re continually looking for ways to innovate and improve upon available technologies to further support farmers and agriculture and steward the environment.” However, conventional biogas systems like those deployed by Align RNG have shortcomings. Conventional anaerobic digesters are expensive – hundreds of thousands of dollars or more – a cost borne by the farmers. Montauk’s technology, Carroll said, requires no upgrades at the farm. “We work with existing infrastructure. They won’t need to retrofit their farm.” Conventional digesters still leave at least one lagoon uncovered, the main source of the objectionable odors. “High freeboard” – industry parlance for a lagoon that is too full – is a common violation at these farms, according to state records. The Rev. Jimmy Melvin, center, is pastor of Mt. Zion AME Zion Church in Sampson County. The church had to dig a new well after the county board of health found elevated levels of nitrates in the drinking water. The church is near several hog farms. Melvin attended a public meeting in Turkey about Montauk Ag Renewables proposal to convert hog waste for beneficial reuse. (Photo: Lisa Sorg) The feces and urine are pumped from the lagoons and sprayed on adjacent fields. That waste then seeps into the groundwater, which can contaminate streams and drinking water wells. A recent study by three scientists at UNC Wilmington shows that industrialized swine farms, and their lagoon/sprayfield systems, are a source of chronic “nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal microbial” contamination in the soil and waterways in eastern North Carolina. Nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways can stimulate the growth of toxic algae; fecal contamination poses a public health risk. Preliminary sampling data shows that nine sites in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin recorded increases in fecal bacteria. Thirteen sampling stations showed significant upticks in nitrate levels. Some drinking water wells in eastern North Carolina have elevated nitrate levels. The Rev. Jimmy Melvin, pastor of Mt. Zion AME Zion Church in Magnolia, attended the meeting in Turkey. He had to have a new well drilled for the church after the local health department notified him nitrate levels in the drinking water were unsafe. At their test facility in Magnolia, Redeker and Carroll grow switchgrass. If harvested at the right time, switchgrass can clean the soil of excess nitrogen and phosphorus because the plant has absorbed those elements into its stalk. When the plant in Turkey is fully built out, each of the 20 units will processes 12 to 15 tons of waste per day, essentially removing 275 tons of waste from the watershed daily. “That’s what got me interested in this in the first place,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t the energy piece, it was reducing the nitrogen and phosphorus in this watershed.” Since Smithfield and Dominion announced the Align RNG project, many eastern North Carolina residents and climate activists have objected to it because the release of any methane-producing gas escalates climate change. And eastern North Carolina often bears the brunt of those effects, as hurricanes, storms and floods intensify. Injecting biogas into traditional pipelines only entrenches the reliance on fossil fuels, they say. But the methane already exists, Carroll said, generated by the hog, spray field and the lagoon. “We’re able to capture that methane and get a beneficial reuse,” he said, “rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.” Montauk Renewables, based in Pittsburgh, has long captured landfill gas for energy projects. It recently took over a dairy operation in Idaho to convert the waste into biogas. “We harvest the gas,” said John Ciroli, vice president general counsel of Montauk. “We’re not making it.” At the meeting in Turkey, jars of dried hog waste, switchgrass carbon, bio-oil and compost were lined up in a row. Redeker invited attendees to open them. Some smelled like nothing. The switchgrass smelled like tea. The manure smelled like dirt. Read the article on NC Policy Watch


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  • Appalachia Knows There’s a Climate Crisis. Does President Biden?

    By: Russell Chisholm, Common Dreams April 5, 2022 As an Army veteran who served in Desert Storm and a frontline organizer in the fight to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I am certain that a transition to renewable energy is what our world needs right now. We can’t keep watching as fossil fueled wars displace and kill thousands of people around the world, from Ukraine to Iraq. Not only are these wars inhumane; they threaten the possibility of a livable future for everyone on this planet. They underscore the need to stop projects like MVP and transition to renewable energy. In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the fossil fuel industry and its political allies spread lies about the impact of fracked gas and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). Industry cronies have been baselessly declaring that completing the MVP will help our allies in Ukraine. The industry is taking advantage of a brutal war to put profit over people. But this profiteering does nothing to change our stance that the MVP and any new fossil fuel infrastructure should not be built. Here in Appalachia, we know that we can’t afford to move backward on climate progress. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is not acting in alignment with people on the frontlines of the climate crisis and environmental justice—the very communities it has claimed to put first. This month, the administration announced it will increase US liquid natural gas (LNG) exports to Europe to alleviate their dependence on Russian oil and gas. This is a massive concern for the future of climate action because building new fossil fuel infrastructure could result in the US relying on gas for longer—despite widespread certainty that all countries should be phasing off fossil fuels, including in the newest IPCC report, published Monday. Here in Appalachia, we know that we can’t afford to move backward on climate progress. Stopping the MVP isn’t about completion numbers anymore. It’s not even about permits. We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and that means this project can never be put into service. In order to ensure this happens, we need to see bold action from President Biden. There are several ways he can get back on track and help us stop the MVP. Biden could use executive action to act boldly to stop the expansion of fossil fuels and jumpstart a renewable energy transition without having to go through Congress. If Biden issued an executive order invoking the National Emergencies Act to declare a climate emergency, he could have the power to direct agencies to review their remaining permits through the climate lens, which might result in favorable decisions toward stopping MVP. The MVP is a climate disaster; it would result in the equivalent of emissions from 23 average U.S. coal plants, or over 19 million passenger vehicles annually. The pipeline also increases the risk of methane emissions, which is a greenhouse gas multitudes more potent than carbon dioxide. Stanford University recently found that methane leaking from US oil and gas infrastructure and production areas is several times greater than federal government estimates. If Biden declared a climate emergency, there would be no possible justification for methane-spewing projects like the MVP. Declaring a national emergency isn’t the only solution to the climate crisis, but it could create momentum for more bold climate action and help mobilize funding. It could also increase public pressure on unnecessary projects like the MVP. Another mechanism the Biden administration could use is the Defense Protection Act. That it is currently drafting an executive order invoking the Act to help electric vehicle producers access key minerals for the technology to store energy signals that the administration is open to using executive authority for environmental actions. Biden could also invoke the Defense Production Act to help domestic industries accelerate the production of renewable technology that could drive down costs. Some federal agencies have attempted to make progress on climate. Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued policy statements saying it will consider greenhouse gas emissions and environmental justice impacts when assessing fracked gas infrastructure. But the fossil fuel industry and the politicians they bankroll pitched “a fit because they’re worried FERC’s modest proposed policy changes might mean they no longer have free rein to build as many polluting pipelines as they want”, as Kelly Sheehan at the Sierra Club put it. During FERC’s March meeting, the agency hit pause on implementing the policy changes, despite clear direction from courts that FERC can’t continue to ignore climate and environmental justice impacts when assessing projects. If Biden declared a climate emergency, there would be no possible justification for methane-spewing projects like the MVP. Agencies, states, rural communities, and cities need clear and decisive federal leadership in order to effectively address the climate crisis. These entities have repeatedly shown interest in and pursued such action, but they continue to be impeded by the greedy fossil fuel industry. Biden says that he is for environmental justice and workers’ rights. Yet his actions put vulnerable communities like those in Appalachia in danger of being left behind with stranded assets and new polluting infrastructure in a just transition to clean, renewable energy. If he is to be the Climate President he says he is, Biden must also direct adequate and equitable funding for workers who are putting the transition into action and include them in federal policy. I served in Desert Storm. Now I’ve devoted my life to protecting my community’s land and water from the threat of unnecessary fossil fuel expansion. It’s time to turn away from fossil fuels and kickstart a just transition to a renewable and clean energy future. It’s time to declare a climate emergency and ban fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters. Here in Appalachia, we’re ready. Are you, President Biden? Read the article on Common Dreams


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  • Organizing across state lines to stop a pipeline

    By: Ray Levy Uyeda, Yes Magazine March 24, 2022 Emily Sutton loves the Haw River, with its boulders and whitewater, perfect for rafting. The river’s 110 miles flow through rural North Carolina, touching six counties in the state. But the Haw, which Sutton advocates for as its “riverkeeper” with the Haw River Assembly, is also the backdrop of an ongoing battle against a proposed pipeline, which threatens the health of the river and those who enjoy it. Plans for the Mountain Valley pipeline were first announced in April 2018. The proposed pipeline would transport fracked gas 300 miles from West Virginia to a compressor site in southern Virginia, and then another 70 miles into northern North Carolina. This last section is called the Mountain Valley Southgate Extension, and it goes through the state to allow a major stakeholder that already services nearly 30% of counties to expand its market. It is this section of the pipeline that would decimate the Haw River. The pipeline was originally supposed to be completed in less than a year and cost financial partners $3.5 billion. But four years of coordinated cross-state grassroots resistance to the pipeline’s construction has thus far prevented the Mountain Valley pipeline corporation from laying even an inch of pipeline in North Carolina soil. New county, city, and state laws have a far reach in preventing pipelines that are slated to start in one state and end in another, as seen with a Virginia state law that impacts the North Carolina section of the pipeline. With the project over budget and lacking necessary permits, one financial backer of the Mountain Valley pipeline corporation says it’s reconsidering its 31% investment in the now-$6.2 billion pipeline. The corporation is also facing an $800 million impairment charge—a financial term to describe when the value of a good or service drops below the cost to produce it. “It was determined that the continued legal and regulatory challenges have resulted in a very low probability of pipeline completion,” the funder said in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing. That, along with the additional legal and financial hurdles the pipeline now has to overcome, is likely causing other investors to see the project as more of a financial risk, forcing them to reconsider their own stake. And this cross-state collaboration is only one of many where people power is waging a concerted, and increasingly successful, campaign against fossil fuel corporations and the harmful extraction they promise. Pipeline corporations often rely on silence and intimidation—social ills that splice communities and convince neighbors of their isolation from each other. But organizers in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Nebraska are proving that building collective community power can successfully counter Big Oil’s moneyed interests. Given that oil extraction in the U.S. increased during the pandemic and that federal officials continue to subsidize fossil fuels despite scientific warnings to stop their sale and combustion, it’s clear to organizers that grassroots strategies are critical to fighting pipelines. “When a pipeline is proposed, [those impacted] either don’t know about it until it’s too late, or they don’t have the access to the information or time to dedicate to showing up to all of these meetings and giving comments,” Sutton says. When it came to the pipeline threatening the Haw River, though, she says that wasn’t the case: “We really gave the power to the people who are impacted.” How to stop a pipeline In many ways, pipeline fighting is a battle between narratives—one of money versus people power—and also one of priorities—economic benefit in the short term versus generations of climate disaster. To understand the impending defeat of Southgate, it’s important to realize that wins against pipelines don’t occur in a vacuum; generational Appalachians in West Virginia have organized in tandem with water defenders and protectors in North Carolina. Organizers from different communities, even in different states, are stronger working together when they have a shared aim. There’s a blueprint, organizers say, of what to do when a pipeline threatens already vulnerable communities. The first step is to educate neighbors and those who care about the land. The second is to make the building process as legally untenable as possible by advocating for the passage of new city and county laws, demonstrating a pipeline’s fallibility to state environmental agencies. “It’s hard to fight against major corporations when you don’t have money,” says Crystal Cavaliere, a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. Cavaliere lives in Mebane, North Carolina, and is one of the main leaders working on the Southgate resistance efforts. She says organizers and impacted residents are made to feel like if they don’t have money, they don’t have power. Cavaliere’s work is to disprove that hypothesis. There are certainly immediate risks to the river’s ecosystem: rerouting creeks with pipe, sediment pollution from construction, and gas leaks due to breakages in the line. But there’s even more at stake. Within the Haw’s watershed, the Southgate Extension would threaten 207 streams, three ponds, and 9 acres of wetlands, as well as more than 600,000 square feet surrounding a nearby watershed, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality. And these threaten the river’s future as well as its past. The word haw means “river” in the language of the Sissipahaw, one of the Indigenous tribes that called the region home. “This river was the lifeblood for entire civilizations,” says Sutton, with the Haw River Assembly, the nonprofit dedicated to advocacy and protection of its watershed. English settler-colonizers committed genocide against the Sissipahaw peoples; the river and its name remain a memory of their existence. The river was also a site of the underground railroad during the period of legal enslavement of African Americans in the United States, according to the Assembly. Even today, the Haw “still continues to be this connecting source from people in the triad, in Greensboro, all the way down to Jordan Lake and the triangle in North Carolina,” Sutton says. Fighting for all people, and their river In late 2021, three years into the battle against the Mountain Valley Southgate Extension, organizers in North Carolina were beginning to lose hope. The state permitting process looked like it was going to allow the beginning stages of pipeline construction, portending an uphill climb of legal challenges for defenders of the Haw River. But then, in the first week of December, organizers pushed the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to deny the permit required to build a pipeline compressor station, citing a 2020 Virginia environmental justice law and the potential that the compressor station would contribute to ongoing environmental injustices faced by Black and Brown residents living near the site. The compressor is a key element connecting the mainline of the Mountain Valley pipeline to the extension through North Carolina. This forced the company to start the permitting process all over again and allowed organizers more time to rally impacted residents and lobby public officials. A month later, in a case brought by the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, and other environmental organizations, a federal appeals court overturned permits previously issued by two agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, that would have allowed the mainline to devastate two species of endangered fish—the Roanoke logperch and candy darter—that live in the Jefferson National Forest, which straddles the West Virginia–Virginia border. Moreover, officials in North Carolina have twice denied a necessary Water Quality Certification permit, mandated by the Clean Water Act, to the pipeline company. And as long as the mainline isn’t built, there can be no Southgate Extension. “Southgate doesn’t have anything to stand on in North Carolina,” Sutton says. But these wins aren’t the product of state and federal agencies deciding to do the right thing, she says. They’re consequences of years of relationship building and storytelling by communities most likely to bear the brunt of pipeline construction and its ongoing devastation in the form of gas leaks, methane pollution, and water contamination—the critical first step in the blueprint of pipeline resistance. “You have to stand up, you have to say no, and you got to start telling these people how you feel,” Cavaliere says. By “these people,” she means city and county officials, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state agencies and boards tasked with evaluating permits filed by the construction company. Along with other organizations fighting the extension’s construction, Cavaliere coached landowners and other impacted residents in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to tell their personal stories in the few minutes allotted for public comment at meetings held by regulatory agencies and commissions charged with handing out permits. Cavaliere says she’s working with tribal leaders and nations that steward land in what’s known as South Carolina to prevent any future plans for pipeline construction. “We use our traditional Indigenous values when we’re organizing, so it is kind of slow,” Cavaliere says. “It’s just really about gaining people’s trust.” Learning from successful decades-long battles While fighting his own pipeline battle in Memphis, Tennessee, organizer Justin J. Pearson spent time in North Carolina with Cavaliere to swap strategies and speak at actions she had organized. From October 2020 through December 2021, Pearson led a grassroots resistance against the construction of the Byhalia Connection pipeline, which would have ravaged the majority-Black neighborhood of East Memphis. The proposed 49-mile pipeline was funded by a subsidiary of Valero and Plains All American Pipeline, billion-dollar corporations with vast legal and economic resources. Pearson’s efforts focused on the second part of the pipeline resistance blueprint: passing preemptive local laws. “The only way you’re gonna get legislation passed is with people power,” Pearson says, explaining that the legislative process also serves as a means to educate constituents and policymakers who may not know the many threats pipelines pose. “It isn’t enough to get things done; you have to have folks behind it and supportive of it to show politicians that it matters.” The 2021 passage of legislation protecting drinking water and residents’ homes affirmed that the pipeline’s construction company and financial backers would need the consent and participation of the people of Memphis if they wanted to build. In response, community members helped pass a countywide setback ordinance and two citywide ordinances—one instituting a setback and another protecting the Memphis Sand Aquifer. In July 2021, the company announced that it was pulling plans for the pipeline, proving Pearson’s community campaign against Byhalia a success. During this time, the Biden administration also revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, indicating to Pearson that his ultimate goal might just be attainable after all: “We’re collectively fighting for a future … for people, especially Black, Indigenous, people of color—people who this society has excluded intentionally. We are changing that narrative in the course of history about whose lives are deemed worthy and worth protecting,” Pearson says. It also helped that Jane Kleeb, one of the faces of the Keystone resistance, called Pearson up early in his resistance work to see how she could support his efforts. Kleeb says she provided some resources, but more importantly, she connected him to a whole community of pipeline fighters—organizers across states who share stories and swap strategies on what Kleeb refers to as “pipeline-fighter calls.” For nearly a decade, Kleeb fought Keystone by building relationships between groups who, on the surface, might appear to have little in common, like White ranchers and Native peoples. Kleeb learned that pipeline companies follow their own playbook, starting with predatorily approaching landowners and coercing them to sign easement agreements that allow the companies access to their land for drilling or pipeline construction. For instance, companies may tell landowners that all of their neighbors have signed easement agreements and that they’re the last to do so (when in reality no one else has), Kleeb explains, in an attempt to isolate, intimidate, and pressure the landowner to comply. “The only thing that stops these pipelines is if you lock up the land,” Kleeb says. Today, the organization built out from the fight against Keystone XL, Bold Alliance, mobilizes communities to fight pipelines in multiple ways, particularly by creating easement action teams. In these teams, groups of landowners are represented by Bold Alliance’s lawyers, who ensure pipeline companies won’t approach or speak to the landowners without legal representation. “It kind of takes that power that the pipeline companies had of preying on landowners away, and puts some power back into the hands of landowners,” Kleeb says. Not every pipeline battle leads to a win, Pearson says, nodding to the now-operational section of a tar sands pipeline known as Line 3, which runs through Native land in northern Minnesota. A more local risk is a bill being fast-tracked through the Tennessee state legislature aimed at usurping local control from cities that try to prevent fossil fuel companies from operationalizing. If passed, the legislation would become effective this summer, undoing the work Pearson and others organized so hard for. Yet each successive fight bears lessons, and that’s important, he says. “Even when we lose some of our fights … there’s something that has happened in our awareness and our attention and our intention and our ability to still fight on,” Pearson says. “The next fight won’t start at the same starting place; it’ll be a little further. The people who are fighting that fight will be a little more ready for the next one.” Read the article on Yes Magazine


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  • North Carolina Hurricanes Linked to Increases in Gastrointestinal Illnesses in Marginalized Communities

    By: Leah Campbell, Inside Climate News March 7, 2022 North Carolina emergency rooms reported hundreds of visits for gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain in the weeks during and after Hurricanes Florence, in 2018, and Matthew, in 2016. A new study released last month in the journal Science of the Total Environment found an 11 percent increase in ER visits during both storms, with the greatest surge among older, Black and Native American patients. The study is one of the first to look at emergency room visits for gastrointestinal concerns after hurricanes and examine how visitation rates vary between different demographic groups. It highlights the potential health effects of climate change as storms like Matthew and Florence become more common, as well as the ways in which those impacts aren’t shared equally. “The issues we saw in terms of difference by race and ethnicity were concerning,” Arbor Quist, lead author of the study and a postdoc at the University of Southern California, said. “We saw a larger increase amongst Black and American Indian patients, populations that have historically been pushed to less desirable, flood-prone land.” Heavy rain and flooding mobilize pathogens that can contaminate drinking water or make people exposed to floodwaters sick. The risk is highest for those with compromised immune systems or inadequate access to healthcare. Eastern North Carolina is one of the soggiest parts of the state, and also among the poorest and most racially diverse. Residents there have higher-than-average rates of chronic ailments like asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The region is also home to the kinds of industrial facilities that the researchers identified as potential sources of contamination, including coal ash ponds and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). North Carolina is the second leading pork producing state in the country, and its hogs create more fecal waste each year than the state’s human population. During Hurricane Florence, the state estimates that at least 50 hog waste lagoons overflowed, contaminating water with fecal bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. “Black residents and Native American residents likely live in closer proximity to some of these sources of bacteria,” said Crystal Upperman, the vice president of social performance and resilience at the consulting firm AECOM. “This is an additional piece of evidence to showcase the adverse impact that people of color have when it comes to disasters.” The study team used a public health surveillance system called NC DETECT, which tracks emergency room visits across North Carolina. Overlaying DETECT records of ER visits for gastrointestinal complications with flood extent maps, the researchers compared the visitation rates in zip codes flooded in the weeks after each storm to the rates anticipated had the storms not occurred. “It’s a fantastic study,” said Julia Gohlke, an associate professor of environmental health at Virginia Tech. “Compared to other studies that just use case reports after flooding events, this is really a step in the right direction.” A Wider Range of Diseases and Regions But these findings aren’t unique to North Carolina, and disasters can create and exacerbate a slew of mental and physical health issues. For example, a recent investigation illuminated the growing risk of infection from Vibrio, a group of pathogens that includes flesh-eating bacteria, as warming water and intensifying storm surges help the bacteria flourish and move inland. In North Carolina, the state health department reported 14 Vibrio infections in the four months after Hurricane Florence, triple the number during the same period in the previous year. Gohlke has also been involved with similar work in Texas, using so-called syndromic surveillance systems like DETECT that collect data such as ER visits or Covid-19 cases to help officials monitor public health in real-time. Those studies found significant increases in ER visits after Tropical Storm Imelda and Hurricane Harvey for various conditions including intestinal issues, asthma and pregnancy complications. “It really shows the power of using syndromic surveillance data that’s being collected by the state to look at health outcomes associated with flooding,” said Gohlke. “When combined with environmental data like flood inundation or precipitation, you can pinpoint areas that are probably going to be in need.” Even with the best data, though, linking acute medical issues to a particular disaster remains challenging. Quist said that they can merely offer “hypothesized pathways” for how flooding-induced water contamination leads to GI distress. The DETECT database doesn’t specify the cause or severity of an emergency room visit. “It’s difficult to draw firm conclusions,” Quist said. “Where were they exposed? Did they come into contact with floodwater? Did they drink contaminated water? We just don’t know.” Previous studies have shown that few people with diarrheal illnesses seek out medical care, and even fewer go to emergency rooms. Quist believes the DETECT database is undoubtedly missing reports of post-hurricane illnesses, but she says that’s a reason to believe their findings are, if anything, an underestimate of the true health risk. This is particularly true in eastern North Carolina, where many residents are uninsured. Another limitation of the research is that people move, said Rachel Noble, a professor of marine science at the University of North Carolina. The DETECT database only includes North Carolina emergency departments and maps cases based on the patient’s billing address. If someone is riding out the storm away from home and gets sick, they’ll be counted in the zip code where they live, not where they were exposed. If an evacuee is treated outside of North Carolina, they’re not counted at all. Once a hurricane hits, it’s also difficult to assess whether an illness was contracted from drinking water contamination, contact with dirty floodwater or even from food spoilage due to a power outage. Despite the shortcomings of available public health data, though, Noble said the study is a “great first effort,” and the evidence to date suggests that flooding is indeed causing acute illnesses, giving those affected by storms and deluges yet another thing to worry about. Health departments need to invest in education to ensure residents understand the risks of water contamination, particularly in communities that rely on well water, Quist said. Private wells are poorly regulated and rarely tested for the kinds of pathogens that make people sick. That’s a problem in a state where almost a third of the residents rely on household wells, she said. Upperman also stressed the need to address how governments regulate facilities like hog CAFOs with waste lagoons that can fail during floods. She said the environmental justice movement, which began in North Carolina, has always been about the inequitable siting and impact of hazardous facilities. North Carolinians, though, should think beyond the impact of hurricanes and consider water contamination an ongoing and increasing challenge, particularly as climate change stresses  water treatment and waste management systems with intensifying storms, Noble said. “As much as this paper is very valuable for us to start to think about public health and preparedness for hurricanes, we have to think about the exposure of people during what we refer to as ‘normal’ conditions as well,” she said. “We have to think about the deterioration of our water quality generally.” Read on Inside Climate News


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  • Why Do Environmental Justice Advocates Oppose Carbon Markets? Look at California, They Say

    By: Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News February 25, 2022 California’s carbon market could be hurting the state’s chances of meeting its ambitious climate goals, while at the same time exacerbating pollution in already overburdened communities, two new reports warn. Environmental justice advocates are calling the reports the latest evidence that market-driven solutions make for poor climate policy. In a report released earlier this month, a state-appointed panel of experts, known as the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, warned that California could miss its legally binding target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, largely as a result of the design of the state’s complex “cap-and-trade” market. A second report, published Feb. 15 by University of Southern California researchers, found that communities with a higher concentration of people of color and more households that fall below the federal poverty line were less likely to see reductions in pollution and more likely to live near polluting plants that participated in cap and trade. The reports are the latest in a growing body of research that suggests that while cap-and-trade programs can reduce emissions overall, they can also inadvertently maintain or even worsen environmental disparities by allowing polluting industries, which are often located in Black and Brown neighborhoods, to essentially buy their way out of reducing their emissions. California’s cap-and-trade program, which began in 2013, provides incentives for private companies to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by making the price of releasing those emissions more expensive over time. The state sets an emissions limit—or “cap”—requiring companies to either keep their emissions within the limit or alternatively buy pollution “allowances.” As the cap becomes stricter, those allowances become scarcer and more expensive over time. The allowances essentially tell the state that while a company may not have reduced its emissions, those emissions were reduced somewhere else. That could be because some companies reduced their emissions well below the threshold and then sold—or “traded”—their extra reductions as credits to other companies. Or it could be because a company invested in a carbon offset project that, at least in theory, reduced emissions elsewhere, for example, by planting trees in the Amazon rainforest. California requires that at least 35 percent of the investments made from cap-and-trade revenue go to disadvantaged communities. Still, the trading aspect of the program has allowed some industries to not only avoid reducing their emissions but in some cases to increase them, said Amee Raval, the research and policy director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. For example, California’s total greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by at least 30 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent since the state’s cap-and trade program began, according to state data. But at the same time, emissions from the oil and gas industry have gone up, the USC study says. That finding tracks with a 2018 study published in PLOS Medicine, which found that greenhouse gas emissions rose for 52 percent of cap-and-trade regulated facilities from 2013 to 2015. The USC study’s finding also tracked with a 2019 investigation by ProPublica, which found that carbon emissions from California’s oil and gas industry have risen 3.5 percent since the cap-and-trade program began. The oil and gas facilities’ operations also produce harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and soot, which have been tied to increased risk of asthma and cardiovascular and lung diseases, and an increased risk of premature death. That’s an especially big deal for environmental justice communities, which are disproportionately located near those facilities, Raval said. As an example, Raval pointed to the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California. The refinery is the state’s single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and is located in a city where people of color make up more than 60 percent of the population, and nearly 15 percent of households fall below the federal poverty line, according to census data. “The reality is cap and trade is really letting California’s business polluters off the hook, concentrating pollution in working class communities of color and undermining the credibility of our climate policy,” Raval said. The California Air Resources Board, which manages the state’s cap-and-trade program, said in an email that the board appreciates the work done by the USC researchers, but added that a separate analysis done by the state came to a different conclusion. That report, published Feb. 3 by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, found that communities of color and disadvantaged communities—determined by the state’s screening tool—were the “greatest beneficiaries of reduced emissions” from facilities subject to the cap-and-trade program, resulting in a shrinking of California’s environmental disparities. The report, however, noted that the disparities remain large and more must be done to address them. The air resources board also said California’s program was designed to anticipate times of low and high demand for allowances and had mechanisms built in to help ensure that allowances don’t jeopardize the state’s climate goals. That could mean taking some allowances off the market, though that idea has received strong pushback from industry. But the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee made clear in its report that it believed allowance trading could hinder California from reaching its 2030 climate target. One allowance equals 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, or roughly the amount released into the atmosphere by driving a car 2,500 miles. But according to the committee’s report, “some 321 million allowances were banked into the market’s post-2020 period, equal to more than the emissions reductions expected from the program over the coming decade,” with most of those allowances coming from forestry offset projects. That means that instead of reducing their emissions, many of California’s biggest companies stockpiled allowances by paying for projects that planted or protected trees—the idea being that those trees would help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. But many climate activists have criticized that approach, saying there’s no way to guarantee that offset projects actually do what they intend to do. For example, an estimated 153,000 acres of forests that are part of California’s carbon-offset program burned in wildfires last summer, but companies can still claim those forests as allowances. The recent reports sparked renewed calls from activists, urging California officials to review how cap and trade impacts the state’s climate goals. But at a legislative hearing Wednesday, the state’s top regulator said California wouldn’t be making changes to the program anytime soon. Environmental justice activists have long warned governments not to rely too heavily on carbon markets in their efforts to fight climate change, saying they could jeopardize long-term emissions reduction goals and increase the burdens on vulnerable communities. Instead, activists say, governments should pass stronger regulation that requires direct emissions reductions from industries before relying on market incentives. Last year, activists in New York and New Jersey helped contribute to the death of the Transportation Climate Initiative, a proposed regional carbon market that would have put a limit on tailpipe emissions and forced fuel producers to reduce pollution or similarly buy allowances. That program was intended to mirror the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and its crafters hoped to recruit New England and Mid-Atlantic states to participate. Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. all tentatively agreed to implement the project. But the program was heavily lobbied against by a coalition of environmental justice organizations in states like New Jersey and New York, which argued the fuel companies would pass the extra cost on to low-income drivers who were less likely to benefit from pollution reduction and had less access to electric vehicles. “Folks with access to cleaner cars are not going to be paying those gas taxes much, and then those gas taxes go to pay for cleaner cars and electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Melissa Miles, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “That’s a problem if the structural issues, such as high front-end costs remain a barrier for low-income people as they continue to get shut out of the benefits while still paying the entrance fee.” Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island all pulled out of the proposal last year, as public pressure from environmental justice groups grew and as governors expressed concern about the program raising the price of gasoline in their states. By December, the initiative was effectively dead. Some in the environmental community say they still believe carbon markets can be operated equitably, especially if they’re paired with regulation that directs the revenue generated by the programs to vulnerable populations. For example, a 2018 report from the Tax Policy Center and Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy found that while a carbon tax alone could be regressive, adding a rebate could offer low-income households an average annual tax cut of about 4.4 percent. In line with that view, Washington state passed its first carbon market legislation last year, despite a decade of infighting among environmental justice activists. The state’s Climate Commitment Act established what its proponents call a cap-and-invest program, since it includes a provision that—similar to California—requires at least 35 percent of the revenue raised by the program to be spent in vulnerable communities, with an additional 10 percent for tribal lands. In California, activists have pushed state officials to use those revenues on things like installing solar panels on affordable housing, boosting energy efficiency programs and increasing access to public transit and ridesharing. But those benefits don’t make up for the fact that pollution is rising in poor communities and California is on track to blow its climate goals, Raval said. “Cap and trade will not generate the emissions reductions we need, and the stakes are too high to double down on a failed policy,” she said. Read the article on Inside Climate News


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  • The ACP Was Canceled but We Still Lost Our Land

    This guest blog was written by Bill and Lynn Limpert. Bill volunteers with POWHR. There’s nothing like winning a pipeline fight after years of community advocacy. Defeating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) was a win for our people and planet. Hundreds of thousands of people can rest easy knowing that their lives, homes, land, and water won’t be destroyed or severely damaged by that unnecessary pipeline. Nevertheless, a lot of irreparable harm can be inflicted during a fossil fuel pipeline fight. Just because a pipeline is eventually canceled, doesn’t stop it from bulldozing through precious land and water and exhausting…


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