You are here

Environmental Defense Fund

The Clean Power Plan Is Not Worth Saving. Here Are Some Steps to Take Instead

By Dennis Higgins - Truthout, January 19, 2018

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) was proposed by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 to mitigate human-caused factors in climate change. It focused principally on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The plan was much heralded by environmental groups. Not surprisingly, in October 2017, Trump's appointed EPA head, Scott Pruitt, signed a measure meant to repeal this plan. 

Several states attorneys general and many national environmental groups are pushing back. However, in censuring Trump's attack on the CPP, valid criticisms of the plan itself have been ignored. No one remembers to mention that promoting gas was always at the heart of the CPP.

The current US gas boom is due to hydraulic fracturing of shale beds. This extreme extraction mechanism jeopardizes human aquifers, uses millions of gallons of water per well, and produces toxic flowback whose disposal is linked to water contamination and earthquakes. The product of fracturing is often referred to as "fracked gas." In short, the CPP supports the use of "natural" (fracked) gas.

Under Obama, the EPA, aided by the gas industry, declared "natural gas" to be "clean." Gas is mostly methane, and "fugitive methane" -- the gas that leaks by accident or through intentional venting, from well-head to delivery -- was discounted in the CPP. Noting the only factor in methane's favor (it generates less carbon dioxide on combustion than coal or oil), the field is tilted in favor of gas-burning power plants. In an article entitled, "Did the 'Clean Natural Gas' lobby help write EPA's Clean Power Plan?" Cornell scientist Robert Howarth points out a fundamental flaw in the CPP. The plan, "addresses only carbon dioxide emissions, and not emissions of methane... This failure to consider methane causes the Plan to promote a very poor policy -- replacing coal-burning power plants with plants run on natural gas ... "

Only at leakage rates lower than 1 to 3 percent (depending on usage) is gas cleaner than coal. But methane leaks at rates between 2 and 12 percent, and its climate impact -- or global warming potential (GWP) -- is 86 times that of CO2 over 20 years. (The GWP means a pound of methane in the atmosphere has the warming equivalent of 86 pounds of CO2 over 20 years. Of course, we're not talking about pounds here, but about millions of tons per year.) In a review of the CPP, Howarth said, "Converting to natural gas plants, which is what this latest rule is likely to do, will actually aggravate climate change, not make things better. It's well enough established to suggest the EPA is on the wrong side of the science."

It should be noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Paris accord and New York State all use the year 1990 as a baseline from which to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. But, perhaps disingenuously, Obama's EPA chose to use 2005, at which time recession had already achieved significant carbon reduction, rendering the plan's proposed cuts to CO2 even less significant.

In August 2015, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for three decades and one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming, described the CPP as "almost worthless" in that it failed "to attack the fundamental problem." Hansen stated bluntly: "As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy, someone will burn them." Of the steps the CPP claimed to be taking to address global warming, Hansen said, "It is not so much a matter of how far you go. It is a matter of whether you are going in the right direction." That same year, the US Energy Information Administration came to the same conclusion that others had: Under the CPP, the natural gas industry would benefit before renewables did.

Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University also examined the efficacy of the CPP. He told Truthout that instead of using the IPCC's global warming potential for methane of 86 pounds over 20 years, the CPP assessed methane's impact (GWP) at 25 pounds over 100 years. This factor, its failure to fully assess fugitive methane, as well as its curious 2005 baseline, mean that the projected 32 percent reduction in CO2 from power plants by 2030 would have the net effect of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions by only 11 percent. The CPP "more than compensates for the elimination of coal CO2 with additional CO2 and methane," according to Ingraffea. "If this is all we manage in the power sector in the next 13 years, we are screwed," he said.

Senate Bill 4 Regs Will Expand Fracking in California

By Dan Bacher - IndyBay, July 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Governor Jerry Brown administration, known for its subservience to Big Oil, is gearing up for a massive expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling techniques that will contaminate California's groundwater supplies, pollute rivers and streams, and devastate coastal ecosystems, including so-called "marine protected areas" implemented under his helm.

On July 1, anti-fracking, environmental and watchdog groups responded to the release of final fracking regulations developed under Senate Bill 4, pointing out that the rules promote more fracking and pollution of water supplies in the drought-plagued state.

Senate Bill 4, the green light for fracking bill, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 20, 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the California League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and other corporate "environmental" NGOs provided green cover for the odious legislation. They backed the bill until the very last minute when they finally decided to withdraw support because of amendments from the Western States Petroleum Association and other Big Oil interests that further weakened the already weak legislation.

In a statement, Food and Water Watch said, "Today the Brown Administration finalized regulations on fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques that will allow oil and gas companies to continue to conduct these techniques at the expense of California’s water, air, agriculture and public health."

White House Solicits “Green” Sell-outs For Positive Statements on Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers - Global Research, April 08, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. 

The White House has published a handful of comments from “environmental groups” implying widespread support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate trade agreements. Yet these cherry-picked comments from some of the most conservative, corporate-funded environmental groups actually reveal the administration’s desperation to find any support for such deals.

Indeed, the reality is that scores of major environmental organizations including Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth,, and many others oppose fast-track for the TPP. Many recognize the TPP is a backward step for environmental protection that will help push the world over the tipping point for climate change.

The White House’s false image of environmental support for the TPP

The White House is having a hard time generating any momentum for fast-track trade authority for the TPP and other agreements. The Obama administration pushed to stop the Seattle City Council from opposing fast-track legislation and the TPP, but instead got a unanimous vote against them from a major port city that trades with Asia.

One of the key issues that has fostered opposition to the TPP is the impact of the agreement on the environment. In order to counter the reality of broad environmental opposition, the White House published an article seeking to spin reality. The White House carefully selected environmental groups that are heavily corporate-funded and then cherry-picked quotes inaccurately portraying their position. In fact, all the groups quoted by the White House have said they have not endorsed the TPP and are waiting to see what the agreement says.

In response to the White House effort Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for said:  “So many groups and organizations who care about climate change have repeatedly bashed this corporate giveaway — and suggesting otherwise is nothing short of misleading cynicism.” And, Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program said: “The White House took some of their statements and spun them out. There are a large number of environmental groups that came out pretty clearly and said … ‘What we’ve seen on TPP doesn’t look good.’”

The Truth About Natural Gas: A ‘Green’ Bridge to Hell

By Naomi Oreskes - EcoWatch, July 28 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy. The Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels. We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel—even a “green” fuel.

Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth. That truth is basic chemistry: when you burn natural gas, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced is, other things being equal, much less than when you burn an equivalent amount of coal or oil. It can be as much as 50 percent less compared with coal, and 20 percent to 30 percent less compared with diesel fuel, gasoline, or home heating oil. When it comes to a greenhouse gas (GHG) heading for the atmosphere, that’s a substantial difference. It means that if you replace oil or coal with gas without otherwise increasing your energy usage, you can significantly reduce your short-term carbon footprint.

Replacing coal gives you other benefits as well, such as reducing the sulfate pollution that causes acid rain, particulate emissions that cause lung disease, and mercury that causes brain damage. And if less coal is mined, then occupational death and disease can be reduced in coal miners and the destruction caused by damaging forms of mining, including the removal, in some parts of the country, of entire mountains can be reduced or halted.

Those are significant benefits. In part for these reasons, the Obama administration has made natural gas development a centerpiece of its energy policy, and environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, have supported the increased use of gas. President Obama has gone as far as to endorse fracking—the controversial method of extracting natural gas from low permeability shales—on the grounds that the gas extracted can provide “a bridge” to a low carbon future and help fight climate change.

So if someone asks: “Is gas better than oil or coal?” the short answer seems to be yes. And when it comes to complicated issues that have science at their core, often the short answer is the (basically) correct one.

As a historian of science who studies global warming, I’ve often stressed that anthropogenic climate change is a matter of basic physics: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. So if you put additional CO2 into that atmosphere, above and beyond what’s naturally there, you have to expect the planet to warm. Basic physics.

And guess what? We’ve added a substantial amount of CO2 to the atmosphere, and the planet has become hotter. We can fuss about the details of natural variability, cloud feedbacks, ocean heat and CO2 uptake, El Niño cycles and the like, but the answer that you get from college-level physics—more CO2 means a hotter planet—has turned out to be correct. The details may affect the timing and mode of climate warming, but they won’t stop it.

In the case of gas, however, the short answer may not be the correct one.

Does the Environmental Movement Speak for You?

By Burkely Hermann - Originally published at State of Nature, Spring 2013; reposted by permission of the author.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For years, I thought the big environmental organizations were on my side. Just look at the nice logo for the World Wildlife Fund which has a polar bear as its image and the Defenders of Wildlife with wolves howling in the background. However, as I entered my first year of college I had a rude awakening. In researching for a talk, I found that companies ranging from the worst polluters to health insurance firms had representatives on the boards of these organizations. Over two months later I followed up on this and my anger was even greater as I woke up to the reality. In 2008, when the anger over the Sierra Club partnering with Clorox spread nationwide, NBC News quoted Gwen Ruta, a vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, as saying that “partnerships between businesses and advocacy groups can be good for the planet and a company’s bottom line.” I asked myself: are these huge environmental organizations corrupted by the business community and the two-party oligarchy?

Let us jump back to the Forward on Climate protest in DC on February 17th. I went to the protest on this very cold day and wrote something everyone should keep in mind. Looking back, I remember how the rally before the march on the White House seemed like an Obama rally, and a bit like a rock concert. While there were college students and people of all persuasions – races, genders and ethnicities – the rhetoric of the speakers deeply worried me. My friend, who was also equally critical of Obama, concurred. While there were some good speakers such as indigenous rights groups and founder Bill McKibben, there were also a number of Obamacrats, such as Sheldon Whitehouse, the sponsor of the internet censorship bill, SOPA, and Van Jones, who formerly worked as Obama’s “green jobs” czar. Also, there were some strange speakers like an investment banker, an actor on a reality TV show, a commentator who has a CNN show and the Sierra Club President. It seemed to me that this rally was trying to channel all of the people there to have one demand: end the Keystone XL pipeline. I still think that people were thinking for themselves, and the march itself was inspiring to see, but it seems a lot of people took in the pro-Obama rhetoric without questioning it. As a result, I now believe that the permitted and approved march was almost worthless, and was a waste of time because no sort of political change came, especially since these “pseudo-protests” were on a Sunday, when the federal government wasn’t in town, meaning they were not a threat.

You may wonder how this ties into the environmental movement. Major “partner organizations” of this the Forward on Climate protest included the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club (a main sponsor), Environment America, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wilderness Society. These organizations are part of what will be referred to throughout this article as “Gang Green,” (or Big Green) a moniker which represents the top ten groups in the mainstream environmental movement, all of which have huge staffs and a good number of lobbyists, and bring in millions each year. Journalist Naomi Klein recently wrote in The Nation about these groups, saying how the divestment campaign pushed by young activists has missed an important target: Big Green, which has

led the climate movement down various dead ends [including] carbon trading, carbon offsets, [and] natural gas as a “bridge fuel”… [because] the groups pushing hardest for these false solutions took donations, formed corporate partnerships with [or have stock in] the big emitters… [including] Conservation International… [the] Wildlife Conservation Society… WWF [World Wildlife Fund]… the National Wildlife Federation [and]… the Nature Conservancy.

As Klein says, “the message to Big Green is clear: cut your ties with the fossils, or become one yourself.”

The Devil's Triangle: How Big Green, Mainstream Labor and the Democratic Party Derail the Struggle to Stop Fracking

By John Reimann - June 11, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Fracking kills.

It kills by poisoning the earth, the water and the air.

It kills by destroying wilderness and open space areas.

It kills by destroying our quality of life.

It kills by releasing methane – a potent greenhouse gas - into the atmosphere.

It kills by diverting investment and resources away from developing renewable energy sources, thus enormously exacerbating global climate disruption/global warming.

And the entire gamut of Corporate America-–from the oil and gas industry to the major financiers-–is lined up to continue to rape, plunder and pillage the environment using this disastrous practice. Covering for them, major environmental NGO's and supposedly environmentally conscious politicians, as well as the mainstream union leaders are pretending that it can be made acceptable if properly regulated.