The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene. This week's edition includes:

  • Help stop a coal-to-gas plant in Rockport, Indiana
  • Council of Canadians calls on provinces to ban fracking
  • NAACP joins lawsuit to defend mercury and air toxics standards
  • Navy testing, training exercises a dire threat to marine life
  • Germany to close all nuclear reactors by 2022
  • Murders of environmental activists on the rise
  • Drilling for oil in the Arctic
  • Exxon Mobil project for Rocky Mountains defeated
  • Indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo fight proposed dam
  • Toxic liquid pour into the earth poisons groundwater

Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.


Help stop a coal-to-gas plant in Rockport, Indiana

With a population of only 2,160, Rockport, Ind., emits more pollution than New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles combined, according to a July 2 email from the Sierra Club.

Leucadia Corp. has proposed a plant that would convert coal to gas in Rockport and would pollute the town further. This $2.9 billion plant would not only affect Rockport but would increase pollution in the Ohio River, which is the most polluted waterway in the U.S., the email says.

With five coal-fired power plants from Evansville to Tell City, along the Ohio, southwest Indiana is one of the most polluted areas in the country. Those plants emit pollution, the email says, such as mercury, sulfur and carbon, which are associated with birth defects and chronic diseases, including asthma and heart disease.

The Rockport Generating Station, currently in operation, is one of the largest coal plants ever constructed. Its cooling towers and smokestacks are visible 45 miles away, according to the email.

Adding insult to injury, the email says, “Indiana's governor and legislature have been absent in their duty to protect residents in Kentuckiana. Instead, they passed a sweetheart deal to force Indiana ratepayers to buy Leucadia's dirty gas, while exempting big business! This means Indiana consumers all across the state can expect to see their gas bills increase, as Leucadia's synthetic gas could cost ratepayers up to three times the cost of conventional natural gas.”

By rejecting Leucadia’s water permit, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) can stop the plant from being built.


Council of Canadians calls on provinces to ban fracking

Canada’s largest social justice organization, the Council of Canadians, has written to the premiers of Canadian provinces and territories urging them to ban fracking, according to a June 27 Boundary Sentinel article.

“Last month the state of Vermont took action to protect water sources and to curb demands on fossil fuels. Provincial governments should do the same thing,” Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, said in the article.

On May 16, Vermont became the first U.S. state to ban fracking.

A recent Environics Research poll found that 62 percent of Canadians support “a moratorium on all fracking for natural gas until all the federal environmental reviews are complete,” says the post.

The poll reflects the fact that communities across Canada have demanded bans and moratoriums on fracking because it can pollute water, hurt human health, produce high carbon emissions and cause earthquakes.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has said, according to the post,

"Human beings survived for thousands and thousands of years without oil and natural gas” and that “we have never known humanity or life on this planet to survive without clean water."


NAACP joins lawsuit to defend mercury and air toxics standards

On June 15, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) joined a lawsuit to help defend EPA’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from attacks by the fossil fuel industry, according to a news release the organization issued that day.

The NAACP sees the issue of pollution as one of environmental justice and civil rights. Of all African-Americans, 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Such power plants are the No. 1 cause of human-created mercury emissions, says the release.

Furthermore, an African-American family earning $50,000 annually is more likely to live adjacent to a toxic facility than a white family earning $15,000 annually.

Last year, the NAACP passed a resolution on civil rights issues related to clean air. Its Environmental and Climate Justice Department has been supporting improved air pollution regulations and is developing a toolkit to help people living in polluted communities advocate for better pollution controls.

"The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a common sense step to protect the health and well-being of our communities," stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "This is a civil rights issue because people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution from coal-fired power plants. We will support the Environmental Protection Agency as they defend these long-overdue standards."


Navy testing, training exercises a dire threat to marine life

Starting in 2014, the U.S. Navy plans five years of testing and training with sonar and explosives off the East Coast, Southern California, Hawaii and the Gulf states. This practice, to be carried out 33 million times, threatens whales, dolphins and other marine animals with deafness, injury and death, according to a June 26 email from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC.)

Scientists have calculated that the practice will cause more than 5 million cases of temporary hearing loss, 16,000 cases of permanent hearing loss, nearly 9,000 lung injuries and over 1,800 deaths in marine animals.

“Navy ships,” the email says, “will flood millions of square miles of ocean with high-intensity sonar, which is known to cause disorientation, hearing loss, stranding and death in whales. In addition, the Navy will be detonating high-powered explosives with the potential to fatally injure the lungs and other organs of marine mammals.”

The home of the endangered blue and humpback whales, the ocean around Hawaii and Southern California would be affected especially severely. The Navy itself estimates that more than 1,000 marine mammals would die in that area alone.

“[T]he threat to even one North Atlantic right whale may be one too many,” the email says, “as fewer than 400 of these survivors now hover on the brink of extinction.”

A letter for supporters to sign calls on the Navy “to take steps to significantly reduce the level of harm that training and testing activities will inflict on marine life” but stops short of urging a ban on those activities.


Germany to close all nuclear reactors by 2022

The German government announced it will shut down all 17 of the country’s nuclear reactors and replace them with renewable energy sources, mainly solar and wind power, according to a June 22 Truth-Out.org article.

“In March,” the post says, “the German government announced a program to invest 200 billion euros, or approximately $270 billion, in renewables. That’s 8 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW) Economic Institute in Berlin.”

Eight German reactors have already shut down, with the remainder to terminate operations by 2022, the post says.

“Under Merkel’s plan, 80 percent of Germany’s energy will come from renewables by 2050, according to the German Advisory Council on the Environment,” the post says. “Studies by the council show that 100 percent renewable power is a realistic goal for Germany.”

The goal of President Barack Obama’s “New Energy for America” plan, by contrast, is to provide the country with 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

Germany is temporarily burning natural gas to supply the country’s energy. Nuclear power used to produce 20 percent of its electricity.


Murders of environmental activists on the rise

Murders of environmental activists worldwide have increased substantially in the last three years, according to a June 20 Grist article.

According to the post, “A report released Tuesday by the London-based Global Witness said more than 700 people — more than one a week — died in the decade ending 2011 ‘defending their human rights or the rights of others related to the environment, specifically land and forests.’ They were killed, the environmental investigation group says, during protests or investigations into mining, logging, intensive agriculture, hydropower dams, urban development and wildlife poaching.”

While 96 activists were killed in 2010, the figure for last year was 106.

“Targeted assassinations, disappearances followed by confirmed deaths, deaths in custody and during clashes with security forces are being reported,” the post says. “The killers are often soldiers, police or private security guards acting on behalf of businesses or governments. Credible investigations are rare; convictions, more so.”

As the post says, with the increasing scarcity of resources and shift of habitats from global warming, the murder rates among environmentalists can be expected to worsen.


Drilling for oil in the Arctic

The Obama administration is going ahead with issuing permits for oil drilling in the fragile Arctic, according to a June 27 Common Dreams article.

Shell Oil Co. is the first company to receive approval for exploring for oil in the Arctic and expects to begin this month. “Shell,” the post says, “has faced more legal prosecutions for safety and environmental transgressions than any other major oil company drilling offshore in the North Sea.”

The administration’s idea of a plan for cleaning up a spill is to cross their fingers and hope to die, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters on June 30. “I believe there’s not going to be an oil spill.”

“[E]ven one of the world’s largest insurance pools refuses to back offshore drilling operations in the Arctic, saying the environment is ‘highly sensitive to damage’ and that the risk is ‘hard to manage,’” according to the post.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has announced plans to create a 500-meter “protest-free zone” around Shell’s ship, according to a June 29 Common Dreams article.

At the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit, Greenpeace international Director Kumi Naidoo, says the post, “who was arrested last year for boarding a drilling ship in the Arctic waters off Greenland, said that the organization [will not be] discouraged or intimidated by implementation of the zone."

"We have been warned there will be severe penalties, but I now serve notice on Shell that we are at the point where, if needs be, we will break the injunctions and pay the price of that," he said.

Naidoo added, acknowledging the danger of Arctic drilling, "It is only when decent men and women said 'enough is enough' and 'no more' and were prepared to put their lives on the line and go to prison if necessary, and that is where we are. We have to intensify civil disobedience."


Exxon Mobil project for Rocky Mountains defeated

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, recently lost its bid to turn a remote, wild stretch of the Rocky Mountains into an industrial transportation corridor, according to a June 28 email from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Exxon Mobil had planned to ship mining equipment, some of it nearly 210 feet long and weighing more than 300,000 pounds, over a delicate ecosystem and into Canada, says the email.

“Not only would building the transportation corridor have destroyed one of the most beautiful stretches of the Lewis and Clark trail,” the email says, “it would have paved the way for Exxon to extract more oil through the dirty process of tar sands mining.”

Tar sands extraction has already devastated the boreal forest of Canada, destroying the habitat of millions of migratory birds and generating three times the volume of global warming gases as conventional oil production.

NRDC credits a public outcry for this environmental victory. Last year, thousands of letters went to the State of Montana and U.S. Forest Service urging officials to delay the project. Exxon Mobil finally gave up on the project in June.


Indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo fight proposed dam

Indigenous people in Malaysian Borneo are fighting a proposed 1,200-megawatt dam, a project that would force 20,000 Borneo residents from their traditional lands in the Borneo rainforest, says a June 22 email from World-Wire.com.

The dam would flood about 93,000 acres and affect 24 villages and longhouses along the Baram River.

The Sarawak Save Rivers Coalition, a group of eight indigenous organizations, “lodged a police report against Sarawak Energy over illegal activities by company geologists on native lands,” according to the email. Save Rivers also criticized Sarawak Energy for failing to inform transparently on the dam plans and for exerting pressure against dissidents. During a so-called ‘dialogue session’ with affected locals, Sarawak Energy had prohibited a high-ranking indigenous leader to voice his concerns over the project."

In response, Torstein Dale Siøtveit, the Norwegian CEO of Sarawak Energy, a state-owned energy producer in Borneo, insulted the coalition by saying that indigenous leaders opposing the dam were “just making noise” and “tak[ing] advantage of the Baram people’s ignorance,” as reported in the Borneo Post.

In a statement released after Siøtveit made his remarks, the email says, the Bruno Manser Fund urged him to apologize for his “dismissive” remark over the Baram people’s “ignorance” and comply with international dam-planning standards and said, “If anyone is ‘ignorant’ over the dam plans, this is a direct consequence of Sarawak Energy’s refusal to release necessary information on the dam such as the Environmental Impact Assessment.”


Toxic liquid pour into the earth poisons groundwater

U.S. industries have used the earth as a dumping ground for the past several decades, injecting more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep in the ground and hoping that the deep layers of rock would safely contain the waste for millions of years, according to a June 21 Raw Story article.

“No company,” the post says, “would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil.”

It appears now that the wells drilled to contain the toxic chemicals have leaked repeatedly. The chemicals have risen to the surface and, in some cases, have seeped into shallow aquifers that store much of the country’s drinking water.

“There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking,” the post says.

Gas and oil drilling exacerbate the problem by producing large amounts of waste and requiring hundreds of disposal wells for it.

According to the post, “’There is no certainty at all in any of this, and whoever tells you the opposite is not telling you the truth,’ said Stefan Finsterle, a leading hydrogeologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who specializes in understanding the properties of rock layers and modeling how fluid flows through them. ‘You have changed the system with pressure and temperature and fracturing, so you don’t know how it will behave.’”


Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.