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Organizing at the Frontiers: Appalachian Resistance to Pipelines

By the BRRN Radical Ecology Committee (REC) - Black Rose, September 6, 2018

Death on the Dakota Access: Oil & Gas Boom Generates Dangerous Pipeline Jobs Amid Lax Regulations

Antonia Juhasz interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 12, 2018

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from San Francisco, the site of this week’s Global Climate Action Summit. I’m Amy Goodman. Thousands, tens of thousands of people marched here in San Francisco Saturday to demand action on climate, jobs and justice, as they kicked off the Rise Against Climate Capitalism conference, a counter-conference to California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit.

Today the conference will highlight the common goals of climate activists and labor. That’s also the focus of an explosive new report headlined “Death on the Dakota Access: An investigation into the deadly business of building oil and gas pipelines,” published today in the Pacific Standard magazine. It looks at the deaths of two men who worked on DAPL—that’s the Dakota Access pipeline—and the massive oil and natural gas boom that’s generated some of the deadliest jobs in the country.

For more, we’re joined by the report’s author, Antonia Juhasz, longtime oil and energy journalist. Her books include Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill and The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must Do to Stop It.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Antonia.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Thanks for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about why you began this piece, why you started this investigation, “Death on the Dakota Access.”

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, I’d been covering Standing Rock for some time, and I was actually doing an interview with LaDonna Brave Bull Allard in Standing Rock, and she told me that back in 2014 when she first learned of Dakota Access pipeline, she knew she was going to oppose it. And the reason why, she told me, was, “No one is going to build an oil pipeline over my son’s grave,” because of how close it would pass to where her son was buried.

That death got me to thinking about the pipeline itself as a source of injury and harm and death, not just spills that might come from it, and have, or leaks, or where it was being built, but then the people involved in building it. And I started looking at construction and learned of the death of a young man who was building the Dakota Access pipeline, Nicholas Janesich, 27 years old, and his death was reported by the AP.

I started to dig into what had happened to him, and as I started doing that investigating, I learned that just three days later, at the opposite end of the pipeline, another worker building the Dakota Access pipeline had died during construction. So then I said, “I need to learn more about oil and gas pipeline construction,” and went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to look at fatality rate data, because I had already learned that the drilling of oil and natural gas, so the extraction workers, has been found to be one of the deadliest jobs in America, with fatality rates as high as seven times the national average. So I went to see what were the fatality rates for oil and gas pipeline construction workers, only to learn that they had never been run. The Bureau of Labor Statistics had never run that data. They didn’t even start counting deaths in this sector until 2003.

Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy

By Clare Church and Alec Crawford - International Institute for Sustainable Development, August 2018

The mining sector will play a key role in the transition toward a low-carbon future.

The technologies required to facilitate this shift, including wind turbines, solar panels and improved energy storage, all require significant mineral and metal inputs and, absent any dramatic technological advances or an increase in the use of recycled materials, these inputs will come from the mining sector. How they are sourced will determine whether this transition supports peaceful, sustainable development in the countries where strategic reserves are found or reinforces weak governance and exacerbates local tensions and grievances.

Through extensive desk-based research, a mapping analysis, stakeholder consultations, case studies and an examination of existing mineral supply chain governance mechanisms, this report seeks to understand how the transition to a low-carbon economy—and the minerals and metals required to make that shift—could affect fragility, conflict and violence dynamics in mineral-rich states.

For the minerals required to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, there are real risks of grievances, tensions and conflicts emerging or continuing around their extraction. In order to meet global goals around sustainable development and climate change mitigation, while contributing to lasting peace, the supply chains of these strategic minerals must be governed in a way that is responsible, accountable and transparent.

Read the report (Link).

Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup

By staff - Northern Plains Research Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638, July 2018

In 2018, Northern Plains Research Council partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union 1638 to conduct a research study into the job creation potential of coal ash pond cleanup in Colstrip, Montana.

Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. This study aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip workforce and community.

From the executive summary: Coal ash waste is polluting the groundwater in Colstrip, but cleaning it up could provide many jobs and other economic benefits while protecting community health.

This study was conducted to analyze the job-creation potential of cleaning up the groundwater in Colstrip, Montana, that has been severely contaminated from leaking impoundments meant to store the coal ash from the power plants (Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4). Unless remediated, this contamination poses a major threat to public health, livestock operations, and the environment for decades.

Communities benefit from coal ash pond cleanup but the positive impacts of cleanup can vary widely depending on the remediation approach followed. Certain strategies like excavating coal ash ponds and actively treating wastewater lead to more jobs, stabilized property values, and effective groundwater cleanup while others accomplish only the bare minimum for legal compliance.

This study demonstrates that, with the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of the community as a whole.

Read the text (PDF).

Petro-masculinity: Fossil Fuels and Authoritarian Desire

By Cara Daggett - SagePub, June 20, 2018

Global warming poses a problem for fossil fuel systems and those who profit from them; leaving fossil fuels in the ground likely means leaving trillions of dollars of profit in the ground. Vast networks of privilege that are sustained by fossil economies are likewise threatened. As Jairus Grove reflects, ‘environmental justice will require unequal roles: significantly constraining, even repressing, the powers of the Eurocene’. Similarly, the ‘Planet Politics Manifesto’ reminds us that ‘the planet is telling us that there are limits to human freedom; there are freedoms and political choices we can no longer have’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the amount of money and privilege at stake, the tragic ethos demanded by global environmental justice is being resisted. Those regions that have emitted the most carbon dioxide are positioning themselves to profit from a warming earth by advancing a militarised and corporatised version of climate security. The result, as Christian Parenti foresees it, is the likelihood of a ‘politics of the armed lifeboat’, given that, already,

the North is responding with a new authoritarianism. The Pentagon and its European allies are actively planning a militarized adaptation, which emphasizes the long-term, open-ended containment of failed or failing states – counter-insurgency forever. This sort of ‘climate fascism’ – a politics based on exclusion, segregation and repression – is horrific and bound to fail.

‘Climate fascism’, with its camps, barbed wire and police omnipresence, is a likely outcome of climate (in)security.

A nascent fossil fascism is already evident in the wake of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and the conservative capture of the US Congress. In a short time, the Trump Administration and the Republican Party have shored up fossil
fuel systems by denying climate change and dismantling a host of environmental policies including: withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, installing a climate denier (Scott Pruitt) to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, taking steps to kill the Clean
Power Plan, weakening the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, lifting a moratorium on new coal leases on federal land, ending a study on the health effects of mountaintop coal removal, and moving to open nearly all US coastal waters to offshore drilling for oil.

Climate denial obviously serves fossil-fuelled capitalist interests. However, coal and oil do more than ensure profit and fuel consumption-heavy lifestyles. If people cling so tenaciously to fossil fuels, even to the point of embarking upon authoritarianism, it is
because fossil fuels also secure cultural meaning and political subjectivities. Since the new imperialism of the 19th century, fossil fuels have become the metaphorical, material, and sociotechnical basis of Western petrocultures that extend across the planet.

In other words, fossil fuels matter to new authoritarian movements in the West because of profits and consumer lifestyles, but also because privileged subjectivities are oil-soaked and coal-dusted. It is no coincidence that white, conservative American men – regardless of class – appear to be among the most vociferous climate deniers, as well as leading fossil fuel proponents in the West.

Read the text (Link).

The Sky’s Limit California: why the Paris Climate Goals demand that California lead in a managed decline of oil extraction

By Kelly Trout, et. al. - Oil Change International, May 22, 2018

This study examines the implications of the Paris Agreement goals for oil production and climate leadership in California.

California’s leaders, including Governor Jerry Brown, have been vocal supporters of the Paris Agreement. Yet, California presently has no plan to phase out its oil and gas production in line with Paris-compliant carbon budgets. Under the Brown administration, the state has permitted the drilling of more than 20,000 new wells, including extraction and injection wells.

We provide new data findings related to:

  • The climate implications of ongoing permitting of new oil wells in California;
  • The ways that a managed decline of existing wells can prioritize health and equity; and
  • Elements of a just transition for affected workers and communities.

We recommend that the state take the following actions:

  • Cease issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implement a 2,500-foot health buffer zone around homes, schools, and hospitals where production must phase out;
  • Develop a plan for the managed decline of California’s entire fossil fuel sector to maximize the effectiveness of the state’s climate policies; and
  • Develop a transition plan that protects people whose livelihoods are affected by the economic shift, including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.

As a wealthy oil producer, California is well positioned to take more ambitious action to proactively phase out its fossil fuel production and has a responsibility to do so in order to fulfill its commitment
to climate leadership. By taking these steps, California would become the first significant oil and gas producer globally to chart a path off fossil fuel production in line with climate limits.

Download (PDF).

What caused the Eagle Creek fire?

By Hanna Eid, Samantha Clarke and Ben Riley - Socialist Worker, September 12, 2017

AS A fire raged through Oregon's Eagle Creek last week and workers struggled to save people stranded in the popular hiking destination, the media were busy placing blame on anyone they could--including a 15-year-old boy--rather than the conditions that laid the basis for the devastation.

On Saturday, September 2, the Eagle Creek fire was reported in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, about 45 miles from Portland, Oregon. By the next morning, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres and began to move west through the gorge toward the 2.3 million-person Portland metropolitan area.

Over the next three days, temperatures soared into the mid-90s, and winds began to gust, fanning the flames of the once-tame blaze into a 31,000-acre force of nature, capable of threatening the massive population in its path.

The effects from the fire began to be felt by Portland residents on Monday, as smoke filled the air and ash began to rain from the sky. "It's so hard to breathe" became a common sentiment of frustration from people all over the city. Many compared the thick layer of ash coating everything in sight to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, which spread ash all the way around the globe.

On Tuesday, as the air quality worsened--reaching peaks deemed "very unhealthy" by the afternoon--and the fire drew closer, the city posted evacuation notices for many residents in Portland's eastern suburbs, and set up emergency shelters for displaced residents.

The fire joins others sweeping across Oregon, as well as Montana, California and Idaho, in one of the hottest, driest summers on record. The five hottest summers in Oregon history have all been within the last 13 years, causing the easy and rapid spread of forest fires, whether from human or natural causes.

The annual budget for fire suppression hit $1 billion for the first time in 2000, and only 15 years later hit $2 billion in 2015. The fires have continued to grow bigger and more frequent, even as we spend more money to suppress them.

Yet when both liberal and conservative media outlets chimed in about the Eagle Creek fire, their narrative was focused on retribution and personal accountability. An especially grotesque account from CNN villainized teenagers who were accused of using fireworks that ignited the fire.

But blaming kids for a fire of this magnitude is a misdirection of what is otherwise rightful frustration and anger with unsafe conditions, poor air quality and the destruction of both public and private land.

To prevent devastation like this in the future, we need to address the real causes of this massive fire as well as the others: climate change, the logging industry and the root of both--capitalism.

Special Report: How Decentralized Mutual Aid Networks Are Helping Houston Recover from Harvey

By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzáles - Democracy Now, September 12, 2017

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show in Houston, Texas, two weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused historic flooding and left residents to coordinate with each other to rescue thousands of people who were left stranded when officials were overwhelmed. Now that volunteer spirit of mutual aid has continued in the storm’s aftermath.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!’s Renée Feltz joins us now with a report from her home town of Houston on how—some of the many Houstonians who formed decentralized networks to clean out flooded homes, feed thousands who lost everything, and offer much-needed counseling.

Welcome back, Renée. Why don’t you set up this piece for us?

RENÉE FELTZ: Thanks, Amy. It’s great to be back in New York. Like many people who live in Houston, in the Gulf Coast, I feel like I’m going through a bit of PTSD. I did have a good time. It was good to see people down there. But it’s a long-term recovery situation. And part of what I was happy to see and excited about was the fact that people that helped each other, neighbor to neighbor, are now helping each other in the long-term relief. And so, we spoke with a woman named Mary McGaha, and she’s going to introduce us, in this video, to her home that was destroyed. And then we’ll meet some of the volunteers that are helping to clean it out. We’ll also meet people helping to serve meals and to do counseling.

Kicking Them While They’re Down: What Trump is Doing to Appalachia

By Kenneth Surin - CounterPunch, April 11, 2017; Photo by Don O’Brien | CC BY 2.0

Appalachia voted overwhelmingly for Trump, who won it by a resounding 63%-33%.  Appalachia as a region is defined by federal law, and consists of 490 counties in 13 states.  Hillary Clinton won only 21 of these counties.  According to the right-wing Washington Examiner, “She did not win a single county in Appalachia that is mostly white, non-college-educated and has a population of under 100,000 people”.

Political analysts have used a fine-tooth comb to go over the issue of Trump’s popularity with less-educated whites, so there is no need to repeat their findings here.

More interesting, and not so much discussed thus far, is the potential impact on Appalachia of the budgetary policies announced recently by the Trump administration.  In a nutshell:  what’s been announced may “make America great again”, but it almost certainly won’t do this for Appalachia (not that the rest of the country, except for the plutocracy, is likely to benefit either).

Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been earmarked for elimination by Trump, as has the Economic Development Administration (EDA)– more about this later.  The ARC compiles statistics on Appalachian poverty, income, and employment.

According to the ARC 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report, the poverty rate across the US was 15.6% compared to 19.7% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are significant variations between different Appalachian states where poverty rates are concerned.  For example, the Virginian statewide rate is 11.5% as opposed to an 18.8% rate for the Appalachian region overall.

(This statistic is however somewhat misleading when used in this way because Virginia’s overall poverty rate is greatly reduced by the economic contribution of affluent northern Virginia (NoVa) with its abundance of well-paid government and tech jobs.  There are “two Virginias” where income disparities are concerned, and the poverty rate in Appalachian Virginia, as opposed to NoVa, is a more accurate 18.8%.)

The state with the worst regional poverty rate is Kentucky with a 25.4% rate in its Appalachian portion as opposed to the 18.9% rate for the rest of the state.

The cause of this poverty is not so much unemployment (though that is a contributing factor), but desperately low income levels.

Fairness in the Low-Carbon Shift: Learning from Environmental Justice

By Uma Outka - Brooklyn Law Review, January 1, 2017

The environmental justice movement in the United States forged a pivotal connection among concerns for social justice, civil rights, and environmental protection. At a time when the federal environmental statutes enacted in the early 1970s were beginning to mature, the movement drew critical attention to the disproportionate environmental harm borne by low-income communities and communities of color. The movement forced environmentalists to reflect on their biases and their commitments — to recognize that urban or degraded landscapes where people live are as much a part of our environment as the remote wilderness of our national parks. It made plain that our laws, designed to protect human health and the environment, were letting environmental justice communities down.

Today, as climate change drive s a shift in the energy sector away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon resources, calls for “energy justice” and “climate justice” expand the movement’s conceptual reach in the modern context. These justice concerns respond to inequality in the distribut ion of environmental harms, as well as access to the environmental, economic, and social benefits asso ciated with the energy sector and climate policy. The link between climate change, energy, and environmental justice is un mistakable: the energy sector contributes to climate change more than any other industry; climate change is predicted to affect environmental justice communities most; and the energy sector has a long history with environmental injustice. In the United States and around the globe, the energy sector is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, causing atmospheric temperatures to rise.

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