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Native rights and resistance after Standing Rock

Nick Estes and Ragina Johnson interviewed by Khury Petersen-Smith - Socialist Worker, January 24, 2018

One of Donald Trump's first acts as president was to sign executive orders to push through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and Keystone XL Pipeline. Both projects were flashpoints of Indigenous resistance, especially DAPL, which sparked a rebellion at Standing Rock that galvanized months of protest and political action around the country.

The executive orders signaled Trump's hard line against Indigenous protest, as part of his broader attack on oppressed people, the working class and the environment. More recently, Trump announced the reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears National Monument, amid a series of insults toward Native Americans, such as his disrespect of Navajo veterans when they visited the White House.

Nick Estes is a co-founder of the Red Nation website, and Ragina Johnson is an activist and member of the International Socialist Organization. Both participated in the Standing Rock resistance and other struggles, and have written prolifically on Indigenous politics. They talked with Khury Petersen-Smith about the state of the struggle after Standing Rock and the questions of Indigenous oppression and self-determination that lie before us.

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.

Members speak out to protect climate, clean energy jobs

By staff - Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, December 11, 2017

In the final week of November, KFTC members Russell Oliver, Stanley Sturgill, Henry Jackson, Teri Blanton, Roger Ohlman, Mary Dan Easley and Mary Love converged in Charleston, West Virginia – alongside hundreds of other concerned people – to testify to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the agency’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

“Now that we have cleaner, safer and cheaper ways to generate energy, the only question should be: how can we create more of those new jobs right here and right now in Appalachia? I know this because not only have I lived it, I’m still trying my best to keep living it,” said Stanley Sturgill of Harlan County, a retired coal miner and KFTC member.

Sturgill and others urged the EPA not to eliminate the Clean Power Plan rule. Issued in 2014, the plan is an Obama administration regulation that calls on states to develop plans for modestly reducing their carbon pollution. Most would do that through energy efficiency programs, development of solar and wind power, and reducing the amount of coal burned. States have lots of flexibility on how they choose to meet the standard.

Kentucky’s utilities would be required to reduce their carbon dioxide pollution by 31 percent by 2030 from the baseline of 2012 – something that will mostly be achieved anyway through coal plant retirements that have already happened or have been recently announced.

But, to meet or exceed the standard, the state also needs to adopt some new policies and strategies to reduce energy consumption and get more from renewable energy.

Instead, the EPA is proposing to do away with the rule, which has never actually been implemented due to court challenges. What’s more, the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan has not followed the in-depth public engagement process that went into creating the plan.

KFTC member Mary Love pointed this out in her testimony to the EPA.

Watchdogs Say US Chemical Safety Board Is "Flying Blind"

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, December 8, 2017

In the early hours of August 31, explosions erupted at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey had cut off the power supply to refrigerated containers containing organic peroxide. Residences in a 1.5-mile radius had been evacuated, and deputies manning barricades began falling ill in the middle of the road one by one. Medics were called, but no further warning was given as columns of black smoke filled the air.

Arkema knew the fires were coming -- organic peroxides burst into flames unless they are kept cool -- but company officials had insisted in a press conference prior to the explosions that the chemicals were not toxic or harmful to people, according to a lawsuit filed in September by emergency workers injured at the scene.

The lawsuit describes the scene near the plant as "nothing less than chaos," with police officers doubled over vomiting and medics gasping for air on their way to assist them. At least 15 people were hospitalized. Arkema initially told authorities the victims had inhaled a "non-toxic irritant," but residues obtained from nearby residences tested positive for dangerous toxins, such as dioxins and heavy metals, according to a separate lawsuit filed by people living nearby.

What else is Arkema hiding? For answers to that question, the public is turning to the US Chemical Safety Board, where an investigation of the Arkema incident is ongoing. However, the federal agency has failed to implement a rule requiring chemical plant operators to report dangerous releases during accidents to its investigators. Congress mandated this provision back in 1990.

Had Arkema been required to report the looming chemical fires to the Chemical Safety Board, the government and emergency workers would have had more to go on than the "vague" disclosure offered by the company during the storm, according to Adam Carlesco, a staff attorney at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The watchdog group filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging the chemical board's inaction on the reporting rule. Other plaintiffs include the Memorial for Workplace Fatalities and two Gulf South environmental groups.

"America's sole industrial safety monitor is currently flying blind and placing the health of the public at risk," Carlesco said.

EPA Holds Lone Hearing on Clean Power Plan Repeal

By Kevin Ridder - Appalachian Voices, December 1, 2017

Scott Pruitt has been trying to get rid of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan even before he was head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in October, he unveiled his proposed repeal, telling a crowd of eastern Kentucky coal miners that the Clean Power Plan “was not about regulating to make things regular. It was about regulating to pick winners and losers.”

But by repealing the plan and his management of the EPA in general, what is Pruitt doing if not favoring fossil fuels over renewables?

For the proposed repeal, it seems a cornerstone of his strategy is to make sure the public has as little voice as possible in the process. While the Obama administration held 11 public listening sessions and four public hearings nationwide before finalizing the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Pruitt has scheduled only one public hearing for its proposed repeal.

Trump’s war on science

By Cliff Connor - Socialist Alternative, November 27, 2017

— Cliff Conner is currently writing a book entitled “The Tragedy of American Science.”

How loathsome is the Trump administration? Let me count the ways. On second thought, let me not—it would take too long. But one important threat it poses to the United States and the world is to the integrity of American science. Earlier this year, on Earth Day, April 22, hundreds of thousands of people responded to that danger by participating in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and 600 other cities and towns across the country. How has American science fared since then?

Many right-wing politicians and public intellectuals are torn between repugnance for Donald Trump’s truculent ignorance and exuberance at the prospect that he can help them accomplish their goal of “dismantling the administrative state.” Trump’s first year in office helped advance their strategy of destroying public faith in “big government” by discrediting it. Not only are the Trump administration’s various agencies and cabinet offices laughably incompetent and ethically compromised; the office of the presidency itself has forfeited all claim to the respect of intelligent citizens.

The offensive against “big government” is driven by billionaire donors who finance right-wing think tanks, political campaigns, and media outlets. Their single-minded goal is to reduce their taxes and roll back governmental regulation of their businesses, especially with regard to environmental and public health protection. Their crusade against federal regulatory powers entails going to battle against empirical reality, rationality, knowledge, and expertise—in short, they have declared war against science.

The deregulation of corporate activities that have compromised the credibility of American science did not begin with Trump. Nor was it exclusively a Republican political project; the Carter, Clinton, and Obama administrations all likewise furthered the deregulation agenda.

It should not be forgotten that many of the environmental rules and regulations Trump’s team has rescinded were only put in place by Obama in the closing days of his eight-year tenure as president. All they accomplished was to provide easy targets for Trump to knock over. The tawdry assemblage of antiscience policymakers appointed by Trump, however, amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of the whole process.

The Real Reason Why Trump and Pruitt Are Repealing the Clean Power Plan

By Mike Ludwig - Truthout, October 10, 2017

As concerns about climate disruption and pollution continue to seep into markets and political systems across the globe, coal will never be "clean" enough to keep up with other sources of energy. However, coal is intimately connected to an industrial past that President Donald Trump glorified on the campaign trail. That's why Trump hired Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and give coal a helping hand.

On Tuesday, Pruitt and the EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature environmental achievement, which requires power generators to clean up their coal-burning operations or switch to a different fuel source. The rules were principally designed to help the nation meet international climate commitments -- commitments that Trump has said he wants to ditch -- by reducing carbon emissions. The new regulations would also prevent thousands of premature deaths each year by reducing other types of air pollution.

From the destructive act of mining to the toxic pollution that coal plants spew into the air and leave behind in massive sludge pits, coal is one of the dirtiest ways to generate power. It's the nation's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions and responsible for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

For Trump, though, coal holds the key to voters in the regions thought to have thrust him into the White House: the Appalachian rust belts and Midwestern industrial corridors where heavy loads of coal mined from rural hillsides were once loaded onto trains and transported to steel mills and manufacturing plants before globalization sent those jobs overseas, leaving a disgruntled -- and in some areas, a mostly white -- working class behind. Coal-burning power plants survived these economic shifts, thanks to a constant demand for cheap domestic energy.

The EPA spent much of the Obama administration working to clean up the coal industry, but the industry kicked and screamed in the face of regulations that require costly investments in much-needed pollution controls and give cleaner fuels a competitive advantage, accusing Obama of waging a "war on coal." Once in office, Trump appointed Pruitt to turn back the clock.

"The war on coal is over," Pruitt said on Monday as he announced his plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan in a coal-producing region of Kentucky.

Going to bat for coal helped Pruitt launch into national politics and become the head of a major environmental agency despite his skepticism of climate science. While serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, a power company complained directly to Pruitt, even providing him with a report detailing how Obama-era regulations would force power generators to spend millions of dollars on equipment upgrades to reduce smog and carbon emissions. Pruitt went on work with the coal, oil and gas industry to challenge nearly all of the Obama administration's environmental initiatives in court.

The Corporate Assault on Science

By Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch, October 6, 2017

The fact that science is the foundation for civilization and democracy should be self-evident. Regrettably that connection seems often to escape our collective consciousness. We tend to think of science narrowly as restricted to hi-tech, laboratories and the development of electric cars or travel to Mars. But everything we do collectively from Medicare to fighting climate change to designing social programs, building infrastructure and tax policy we take for granted is rooted in evidence, that is, science.

The advent of right-wing populist hostility towards evidence and now extended by so-called alternate facts, threatens to take us down the dystopian road of the irrational. The spread of this trend in the US – highlighted by the election of Trump as president and the inability of US culture to cope with gun violence – is as much a threat to the future of the human race as is climate change.

The trend started in earnest in the 1990’s and it took a long time for scientists themselves to step up and defend their ground. An unprecedented and overt attack on public science by Stephen Harper forced the traditionally a-political science community to take a public stand for evidence-based policy. In the summer of 2012 hundreds of demonstrators marched from an Ottawa science conference to Parliament Hill under the banner the ‘Death of Evidence’.   Many were working scientists wearing their lab coats. Last April there was the world-wide Global March for Science in 600 cities coinciding with Earth Day.

The fight back for science and by scientists is one of the bright spots in the resistance against the rise of irrationalism. But there is another dark corner that has not had as much light shone on it and that is the pernicious corruption of science and scientists.

A recent book gives us a major resource for understanding and exposing the sinister trade in lies and obfuscation that results in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths every year. Corporate Ties that Bind: An Examination of Corporate Manipulation and Vested Interests in Public Health is a 450 page, 24 chapter compendium by an   international group of scientists about how corporations routinely set out to undermine public interest science – and how they have found hundreds of scientists eager to do their bidding.

Those who consider themselves informed citizens know of course that science is often corrupted with the tobacco industry being the poster child for deadly science fraud. But even the most disillusioned will have their breath taken away by the accounts in this book. One of the most compelling chapters is authored by Canadian Kathleen Ruff (a friend) who led the successful fight against asbestos in Canada.

Ruff documents how the strategy of the tobacco industry was adopted by virtually every other dirty industry eager to hide their toxic products. The advice received by the industry from the infamous Hill and Knowlton was “…not to challenge scientific evidence but instead to seize and control it. …declare the value of scientific skepticism…creating an appearance of scientific controversy.” It was a brilliant strategy and is still being used today.

Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs

By Jill Richardson - CounterPunch, March 30, 2017

When Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, Scientific American used his own words to criticize it for not going far enough.

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said. “The science tells us we have to do more.”

Scientific American analyzed the Clean Power Plan and agreed, concluding that Obama’s plan didn’t go far enough, and would fail to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now, Trump is dismantling even that. Obama’s insufficient effort to address climate change is gone with a stroke of Trump’s pen.

The plan was to go into effect in 2022, reducing pollution in three ways. First, by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. Second, by swapping coal for cleaner natural gas. And third, by replacing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Trump claims the plan puts coal miners out of work. But it hadn’t even been implemented yet. In reality, cheap natural gas and the use of machines instead of people to mine coal are responsible for putting far more miners out of work.

In other words, Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is cutting job training programs for coal country. Given that, it’s hard to believe he cares at all about jobs for coal miners.

And, with a surge in cases of fatal black lung disease among miners in Appalachia, anyone who truly cared about miners would preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helps coal miners get black lung benefits.

In short, Trump’s killing of the Clean Power Plan is a handout to dirty industry with no regard for the well-being of coal miners. And it’s putting us even further behind in our efforts to leave the next generation a habitable planet.

A better leader would find a way to promote clean forms of energy while simultaneously creating good jobs for Americans. Of course, that’s exactly what Obama’s one-time “green jobs” czar Van Jones called for, and the Republicans hated him.

But the fact of the matter is that climate-smart policies create jobs. They create jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, innovating to create more efficient batteries, and discovering the best way to upgrade our power grid.

It seems that, if we installed a wind turbine near the White House, Trump could single handedly provide the nation with clean energy from all of the bluster coming out of his mouth.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate change is as much of a crisis as ever, and the clock is ticking.

Trump’s Energy Plan: A “Brighter Future” for American Workers?

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 28, 2017

Full PDF of the White Paper can be found HERE

The day he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump issued his “America First Energy Plan.”[1] It presented policies it said would “stimulate our economy, ensure our security, and protect our health” and thereby provide “a brighter future.” Trump has promised that his energy policy will create “many millions of high-paying jobs.”[2]

What do American workers need in an energy policy? Does President Trump’s energy plan provide it? Or does it threaten our future? Is it credible or deceptive? Does it put us on the road to good jobs in an affordable, reliable energy future? Or does it threaten to reverse a massive shift to a more secure, climate-safe, fossil-free energy system — a clean energy revolution that will benefit American workers, and that is already under way?

Some in organized labor have been attracted by President Trump’s energy plan, even echoing the claim that it will provide “a brighter future.” But one thing you learn when you negotiate a contract for a union is to take a hard look at proposals you are offered— however attractive they may appear, it is best to unwrap the package and see what’s really in it before you agree. Labor should conduct similar “due diligence” for Trump’s America First Energy Plan. Was it designed to meet the needs of American workers, or of the global oil, gas, and coal companies whose executives have been appointed to so many top positions in the Trump administration? Will it encourage or hold up the energy revolution that is making renewable energy and energy efficiency the way of the future?

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