“We are aggressively pursuing a robust, enforceable environmental standard in the TPP including U.S. proposals that go above and beyond previous free trade agreements,” [Froman] said. “We have worked closely with the environmental community from the start and have made our commitment clear.”
Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, as quoted in “Green groups fear U.S. U-turn on Pacific trade deal vows,” Financial Times, 01/15/14
The outcry is growing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the proposed fast track process for approving it in the U.S. In our last post, “The Secret Scary TPP: What You Need to Know and Do,” we covered the basics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and some of the main issues with it. Today, we’ll explain how not only does it fail to protect the environment, it also includes tools that allow corporations to punish countries for environment and public health protections that threaten corporate profits.
The most important of these is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), mentioned in our last post.
Investor-State Dispute Settlements
The investor–state dispute settlement process emerged in the 1960s. It didn’t become popular until the 1990s, though, when bilateral investment treaties became more commonplace. Corporations began using the tool and discovered how useful it was, and it became more and more popular from there.
Investor-state dispute settlements have three main parties: the investor, the state, and an arbitrator. The “investor” in investor-state disputes is generally a corporation, although individuals have occasionally filed suits. The “state” is generally a country, though it can be a province as well. Only investors can initiate cases. The arbitrator comes from a rotating panel, and someone who serves as arbitrator in one case can serve as counsel for another.
The investor-state system isn’t tied to any particular country or body. However, its settlements are binding and can be enforced in domestic court. More worryingly, there is no appellate body and decisions are not made based on precedent. Because arbitration can only be initiated by corporations, if a state is successful in defending itself, it has only won that specific case. Change the parties or the details, and the corporation or a similar one can try again. Because arbitrators are paid by the hour, it is in their interest to drag on legal proceedings as long as possible.
According to the United Nations, the average cost of a tribunal exceeds $8 million per party per case. An unwelcome decision by a state can cost the state millions of dollars for defense in multiple similar cases, even if they successfully defend themselves one or every time. Additionally, there is no cap on the amount of compensation investors can seek. For example, the Swedish nuclear energy corporation Vattenfall is currently suing Germany for $4.6 billion for its planned phase-out of nuclear power. Even if a state believes they have a strong case, the threat of damages in the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars can be daunting. When even careful, justified decisions can lead to endless legal battles and costs, the result is a chilling effect on new domestic protections.
This is especially true for poorer, less-developed countries, which often need new environmental and public health protections the most. Investors can sue states for prohibiting or restricting processes or products that are banned in the investor’s home country or proven to be unsafe, as long as the investment arrived before the new regulation. For example, in the infamous Ethyl Corp. v. Canada case of 1996/1997, Ethyl Corp, a U.S. company, sued Canada for $251 million plus legal costs for Canada’s ban on the import and trade of MMT, a dangerous octane booster in gasoline. Use of MMT was already banned in the U.S. when Ethyl Corp. brought the case, but not only could Ethyl Corp. bring a case to the tribunal, they won. Ethyl Corp. received a $13 million settlement plus legal fees, a reversal of the ban, and a public statement from the Canadian government saying that there were no risks from the use of MMT in gasoline.
While corporations often favor undeveloped countries for the smooth operations and large profits that come from a lack of oversight and regulation, investor-state systems are a cherry on top. Because poorer countries can’t afford huge legal battles or settlements, they are reluctant to put new regulations in place. And if they do dare, corporations can always threaten–or pursue–tribunals and huge settlements. Developing countries are in a no-win situation, and corporations, as they are wont to do, capitalize on this.
We’ve covered the damage done by the mere existence of these cases–but what about the problems with the arbitration itself? Tied to no particular state or body, unmoored from any foundation of precedent, arbitration is characterized by vague, corporate-friendly guidelines. The most prominent of these are “minimum standard of treatment” and “fair and equitable treatment.” Violating the minimum standard of treatment essentially means denial of justice–violating what any reasonable neutral party would consider fair. Depending on who’s doing the interpreting, “fair and equitable treatment” is sometimes the same standard, sometimes a higher one. In the context of investor-state relations, “fair and equitable treatment” generally means that deals and new regulations or restrictions are decided on quickly and transparently, and favor investors.
Two other key terms:
“Indirect expropriation“: here generally interpreted to mean any action that takes control of or lowers the value of an investor’s assets/investments in a place.
“Regulatory takings“: regulation or similar actions that constrain a corporation’s activities, thereby lowering or preventing expected profits.
More legal definitions are available in Consumers International’s Fact Sheet. The cases cited above come from Public Citizen’s long and outrage-provoking history of all investor-state cases, available here. It’s worth a read.
The Famed Environment Chapter: Empty Hopes for Environmental Protection
On January 7th, Wikileaks released the draft Environment Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Environmental groups had been anxious to see a draft of the chapter to evaluate the strength of the language and see whether agreements against overfishing, illegal logging, and shark fin harvesting were included as required by U.S. law and previous trade agreements.
As feared, despite its title, the Environment Chapter gives essentially no assurance of environmental protection. As with investor-state arbitration, environmental protection comes after trade and corporate profits in priority. To that end, the chapter is characterized by its weak, vague language. Variations on “cooperative,” “voluntary,” and “facilitate” come up frequently. Article SS.9.1: Voluntary Mechanisms to Enhance Environmental Performance, is a typical example of this:
“The Parties recognize that flexible, voluntary mechanisms […] can contribute to the achievement and maintenance of high levels of environmental protection and complement domestic regulatory measures. The Parties further recognize that such mechanisms should be designed in a manner that maximizes their environmental benefits and avoids the creation of unnecessary barriers to trade.”
Another example: the section on Corporate Social Responsibility, which reads in part:
“Each Party should encourage enterprises operating within its territory or jurisdiction, to adopt
voluntarily, into their policies and practices, principles of corporate social responsibility related
to the environment [...].”
The few tools for enforcement that the Environment Chapter does include are known to be weak. As the Sierra Club points out in their analysis, “Raw Deal: How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Threaten Our Climate,” “While the provisions of the environment chapter may be strong on paper, similar provisions in other trade pacts that allow one trading partner to challenge the environmental practices of another trading partner have never before been utilized.”
As for the required provisions? They’re in there, somewhat, but again with weak language. Even though the U.S. is required to seek a ban on shark fin hunting in any new international trade agreements, the Environment Chapter doesn’t include one. Additionally, in 2007, the U.S. government had agreed that any future Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) should be binding. The U.S. proposed that here, but other countries fought that as well as any other specific issue discussions in the Environment Chapter, even with non-binding language throughout. In their explanation of the Environment Chapter’s background, Grist points out that as the Environmental Chapter stands, instead of enforceable language, “if a country is found wanting, it just has to promise to work toward changing its ways.”
The TPP and Fracking
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would encourage more fracking exports. As the Sierra Club points out in their factsheet, “An Explosion of Fracking? One of the dirtiest secrets of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement,” “the DOE loses its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement that includes so-called ‘national treatment for trade in gas.”
‘[...] The TPP, therefore, could mean automatic approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) export permits—without any review or consideration—to TPP countries.”
And once those agreements are in place, impeding them could lead to an investor-state case. That means that beyond its current limited respect for the people’s voice, the government would have to weigh the cost of listening to protest against potentially huge legal settlements. And even if we were victorious there, investor-state dispute tribunals could, in an arbitrary arbitration, undo all of our work.
What Can You Do?
If you’re in the United States, call your congressional Representative to oppose TPP Fast Track! Today, February 12th, is a National Call-In Day against the fast-track process. The TPP is unlikely to go through without the fast track process. If you are reading this on, or within a few days of, February 12th, use the Coalition call-in number, 1-888-925-7006. Tell your Representative that you oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to vote NO on the fast track process.
After February 14th: call your U.S. Representative directly with the same urgent message. Just look up their phone number with an easy zip code-based search here: Find My Representative.
Learn More: if you’re in southeastern Pennsylvania and want to learn more or discuss more, come to the TPP Forum at the Jenkintown Library at 6:30PM on February 20th to hear representatives from Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food & Water Watch, the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, and Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition talk about the TPP. Protecting Our Waters is a co-sponsor of this event. For more information and to RSVP, see the event’s Facebook page or Food & Water Watch’s event page.
“Pennsylvania State Police said it could take days to contain the fire from an explosion at a Greene County gas well this morning that left one person missing,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today at 3:21 pm.
The well near Bobtown, Pennsylvania, where about 20 employees were working, exploded around 7 a.m., drawing emergency crews and ambulances to the scene.
DEP spokesman John Poister said that Chevron, which is responsible for the apparent blowout, explosions and fire, called in a Wild Well gas well fire control unit from Houston but that unit will not be on site til 4 pm today.
Mr. Poister also said that a truck on the well pad that contained propane also exploded. The fire was so intense that firefighters had to pull back from the flames, he said.
More from the Post-Gazette reporters Molly Born and Amy McConnell Schaarsmith:
“We’re being told … the site itself, that fire, will not be contained and we will not have access to that property for at least a few days,” Trooper Stefani Plume said.
A representative from Chevron Corp., which operates the site, would not answer questions at the briefing.
One worker was hospitalized with minor injuries, Trooper Plume said.
Another is missing, according to the trooper and Chevron spokesman Trip Oliver. The other 18 workers had been accounted for as of 8:48 a.m., according to Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene. It is not yet clear what sparked the explosion.
“I’m praying that everyone is safe, and that if anyone is unaccounted for that they are found alive and well,” Ms. Snyder said.
The explosion at the Chevron Appalachia-owned Lanco 7H well at 641 Bald Hill Church Road just caused a fire that forced state troopers from the Waynesburg barracks to close the road to traffic and establish a half-mile perimeter around the site, according to state police and Ms. Snyder.
Plumes of smoke billowed from the area of the well, which was still burning after noon.
Firefighters from Bobtown/Dunkard Township, Greensboro, Mount Morris and Carmichaels have responded to the scene.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Greene County Emergency Management Agency also are on the scene, and help from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Red Cross has been requested.
The explosion and fire appear to be a fracking blowout. However, after the first big blowouts in Pennsylvania in 2010, the fracking industry has been successful in making sure the word “blowout” does not appear in the press.
This appears to be key to industry PR efforts to de-link the fracking industry blowouts, in the public mind, from BP’s blowout and its well-known elements: devastating pollution, death and injury to workers; cozy relationships between the industry and regulators which led safety procedures to be ignored.
We trust the public to understand that whether it’s BP, Chevron, Range, Cabot, or Chesapeake, the resulting destruction is reprehensible and could have been prevented. By not fracking Pennsylvania shale, for instance.
Have you seen the extraordinary photos and video from the natural gas pipeline explosion which lit up the night sky in Manitoba early Saturday?
Because of the explosion and fire, several thousand people in southern Manitoba are without natural gas service as temperatures influenced by the polar vortex hover close to —20 C.
“The explosion and fire at a TransCanada Pipelines valve site near St. Pierre-Jolys happened early Saturday morning, sending a massive fireball into the dark sky,” the Canadian Press reported.
The timing of this latest major disaster — coming close on the heels of series of six major oil by rail disasters and countless other recent pipeline fireballs and spills — underscores the danger of transporting fossil fuel whether by rail or by pipeline.
In an added irony, the icy polar vortex escaping southward — due to warmer air caused, scientists say, by our past burning of fossil fuels — deepens the desperation of 4000 Canadians without natural gas service due to the explosion.
The spectacular series of oil and gas pipeline disasters and oil by rail catastrophes, along with the West Virginia water contamination due to chemicals used in coal processing, beseeches us all to connect the dots to climate, to corporate control, and to our need to rapidly transition to a sustainable energy future.
Deeper meaning of pipeline and oil by rail disasters
This endless series of disasters is not just telling us we need safer rail cars, better pipelines. It’s telling us that our extreme wastefulness and disconnectedness from the earth, from the longer-term consequences of our actions, and from each other must shift.
What remaining fossil fuel we can afford to extract, as slowly and safely as possible, must be used for life support, and for the rapid transition to a sustainable energy economy, with care and planning to achieve energy justice.
This will probably require a shift to stakeholder capitalism in the U.S., rather than shareholder capitalism. Shareholder capitalism, our current system, essentially legislates that blind profit must drive the political economy “no matter what,” even if that means steadily committing long-term climate suicide.
Stakeholder capitalism is also much more protective of jobs and income. This is of tremendous relevance as income inequality in the U.S. continues to skyrocket. Germany, for example, has stakeholder capitalism, as Harold Meyerson recently pointed out in a January 14th Washington Post article showing that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would increase income inequality tremendously if allowed to pass: “Free Trade and the Loss of U.S. Jobs.”
Rapid phasing out of extreme energy extraction essential
Minnesota is leading the way, with a judge ordering a major utility to invest in a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of solar, instead of natural gas, for power plants — for ecological reasons.
“Spending a given amount of money on a clean-energy investment agenda generatesapproximately 3.2 times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending thesame amount of money within the fossil fuel sectors.”
Yet the larger-scale transition urgently needed is barely even being discussed.
We know that most of the current reserves owned by oil and gas companies must stay in the ground in order to protect climate. So it’s logical that the remaining oil and gas must be used for life support, not to make billions of plastic bags. Not for U.S. military bases all over the world. Not for bigger, more powerful cars. Not for bigger, harder to heat homes and unhealthy levels of meat consumption. Not for inefficient construction in cold regions that makes no use of passive solar techniques, double-pane and triple-pane windows, and high R-value insulation. Not for extraction of energy which approaches a 1:1 ration of energy used for cradle to grave production. Not for extreme energy exports. And not for continued subsidies of fossil fuels at the expense of and instead of renewables.
Why is there not more change? Are we so cowed by the Koch brothers? Are we so terrified of change? Are we so petrified of inconvenience? Do we consider going without plastic bags to be the ultimate in deprivation? Really?
Conveniencing ourselves to death
Fossil fuels have contributed enormously to human development, but now they are doing the opposite. We are “conveniencing ourselves to death,” as Wyoming rancher and farmer John Fenton said at our Freedom from Fracking conference this past September in Philadelphia.
Fenton, who has benzene in his drinking water at 50 times the “safe” limit after fracking contaminated his water, had witnessed a plastic bag (manufactured using ethane, a natural gas product) floating high in the sky and had an epiphany.
The massive Manitoba explosion, coinciding with the polar vortex which scientists say is caused by global warming, must be our collective epiphany.
We cannot deny that we are in a true planetary emergency. This endless series of massive pipeline explosions and spills, and this endless series of rail explosions and spills, is trying to tell us something. When will we listen to the deeper message?
As of 9 p.m. Monday night, the train cars were still on the bridge. According to a Reuters story published yesterday, “CSX Railroad said it would take one to two days for workers to remove the oil and sand cargo and the derailed cars.” But with close to a foot of snow falling on Philadelphia through Tuesday night, that seems unlikely.
For Immediate Release: January 21, 2014
Contacts: Iris Marie Bloom, Director, Protecting Our Waters, 215-840-6489 email@example.com
Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director, Clean Air Council, 215-567-4004 x 121, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Member, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, 215-913-8363
Wes Gillingham, Program Director, Catskill Mountainkeeper, 845-901-1029
Philadelphia Derailment of “Oil Bomb” Train Sparks Outrage;
Near-Miss from Disaster is Sixth Derailment of Bakken Shale Train Since June
Groups Press for Immediate Halt
Philadelphia, PA – Outrage is building among residents whose lives are put at risk by the mile-long oil and gas trains coming from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, Montana and Canada, in the aftermath of the oil train derailment yesterday in Philadelphia. The derailment occurred in a densely populated neighborhood, over a major highway, near several large universities, Children’s Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania medical complex. Rapid evacuation of a five-mile radius from any future oil train explosion and fire in the Philadelphia area, or any urban area, would be impossible. When a similar train exploded and burned on December 30th, 2013 in Casselton, North Dakota, evacuation was urged for a five-mile radius to avoid damaging inhalation of toxic smoke.
Today Protecting Our Waters, Clean Air Council, Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light, the Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy join together in calling for a halt to the dangerous trains carrying fracked oil and gas.
“This derailment, just blocks from my Philadelphia home of 24 years, is truly terrifying because all five of the other recent derailments of this type of shale oil and gas train have erupted into fireballs, including the one that incinerated fifteen acres of downtown Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people in that small town,” said Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters, a Philadelphia-based grassroots nonprofit.
“Human life is worth more than oil and gas, which is changing our climate and harming the health of residents in the increasingly extreme “sacrifice zones” for fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, including risky transportation. These ‘oil bomb’ trains are putting lives at risk in urban and rural areas alike,” Bloom continued. “We agree with Canadian Pacific Railroad CEO E. Hunter Harrison, who told CNBC on January 15th, ‘These 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots, would be stopped tomorrow.’’“
“This near miss [in Philadelphia] highlights the public safety and health concerns related to a continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels for our energy needs,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director of the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. “No one—not the residents of the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota living near active drilling and flaring, or residents of Philadelphia, should have to be exposed to the health and safety impacts of unbridled dirty energy. The Council calls for a swift transition away from polluting and harmful energy, including fracked crude oil and gas, to clean, safe renewable energy, with conservation and energy efficiency.”
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, a member of the Philadelphia chapter of Interfaith Power and Light PA, said: “It is morally indefensible to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of people along hundreds of miles of railroad track by shipping an extremely dangerous substance in tanker cars that the authorities admit are unsafe and need to be phased out.”
“This could have been catastrophic,” said Wes Gillingham, Program Director for the Catskill Mountainkeeper. “The train could have exploded onto a busy highway, spewing the toxic contents directly into the Schuylkill river which flows into the Delaware River.”
“This should stand as a wake up call not just to Philadelphia but also all across the country to any community near a rail transport,” said Gillingham. “The clear message is we need to stop the runaway gas and oil industry from endangering our communities for the sake of their profits.”
Gillingham added, “Every time we turn around there is another report of problems with Bakken oil or tar sands crude being shipped by rail. In 2006, reports show there were 5000 rail cars of petroleum. Now we are up to somewhere around 500,000. This is a recipe for disaster with combination of inadequate inspections faulty cars, aging tracks and a greedy industry bent on getting their tar sands crude and fracked oil and gas to market as fast as they can no matter the cost to the communities along the way. In 2013, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), over 1.5 million gallons of crude spilled from rail cars. That is more than has spilled in the previous forty years.”
The exploding trains have also damaged air, drinking water and wetlands. Yesterday’s derailment put the Schuylkill River at risk as toxic Bakken shale oil, known to contain carcinogenic benzene and deadly hydrogen sulfide at high levels, dangles over the river, threatening to catch fire and explode as other train cars have done.
Economist Janette Barth, PhD, who has written and lectured extensively on the economic impact of shale gas development and is a director of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, commented, “The recent derailments and explosions of trains carrying crude are just another of the many costs that have not been considered in analyses of the economic impacts of increased shale oil and gas production in the United States. It is far too costly for Americans to allow continued exploration and development of shale oil and gas. The time is now to ramp down the production and use of fossil fuels and to increase the development of renewable energy.”
BACKGROUND: The chronology of six derailments across North America overshadows the fact that yesterday’s derailment is also the fourth derailment of this type of train to occur in the Philadelphia area since 2011. First, the five previous “oil bomb” train derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations:
1. 2013: June 6th: Lac-Megantic, Canada: Bakken Shale oil train derails, explodes, burns 15 acres of downtown Lac-Megantic, kills 42 people; additional five presumed dead.
2. 2013: October 19th: Edmonton, Canada: A fireballs erupts as a Bakken Shale train derails; one LPG car explodes and three burn; homes burn to the ground.
3. 2013: November 8th: In rural Alabama, 20 cars of a Bakken Shale oil train derail, burning and sending a fireball 300 feet into the air, also polluting a wetlands.
4. 2013: December 30th: In Casselton, North Dakota a stunning mushroom-shaped fireball erupts, followed by heavy plumes of toxic smoke, when 21 cars of a Bakken Shale oil and gas train derail and burn. Town evacuated; evacuation urged for everyone in a five mile radius to avoid the toxic smoke.
5. 2014: January 7th: Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada: 150 people evacuated when 17 cars derailed including 5 oil cars, 4 LPG cars. Two LPG tank cars and one crude oil tank car caught fire.
6. 2014: January 20th: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand.
Philadelphia area derailments involving 111 type tank cars since 2011:
1. Derailment in East Park near Fountain Green Drive in January 2011
2. Derailment in Paulsboro in November 2012
3. Derailment in September 2013 near PBF’s Paulsboro refinery
Risk factors making Bakken Shale oil trains particularly unacceptably dangerous:
1. Rail cars of the 111 type are not designed to carry this type of fuel.
2. Presence of volatile organic compounds, including carcinogenic benzene, increases pressure, flammability and explosive character of the fuel
3. Presence of deadly and explosive hydrogen sulfide gas, found by Enbridge in Bakken Shale oil at 1,200 parts per million. Just a few inhalations of H2S at 200 parts per million can cause respiratory failure in humans.
4. Researchers have found that in collisions, the highly rigid, thin skins of the (111 type) tank ruptures easily.
5. Rails over which these trains travel are often very old. The Philadelphia railroad bridge involved in yesterday’s derailment was built at the turn of the 20th century.
6. Experts are wondering whether the Bakken Shale oil and gas is so flammable that it should be re-categorized as a Class 1 explosive material, but while the experts wonder, it is categorized as if it is less explosive and flammable than it is.
Source for CNBC quote: A lifelong “railroad man,” E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific, said on January 15th, 2014, “The 111 tank cars that you hear so much about, if I was calling the shots would be stopped tomorrow,” Harrison said, speaking with Tyler Matheson on CNBC’s Nightly Business Report. “They’re not ready, they’re not equipped for that commodity [Bakken Shale crude] as I see it, they’ve been controversial for two decades now, so that needs to change.”
Source for Philadelphia area derailments and H2S content in Enbridge oil tank: Hidden City: “A Petaled Rose of Hell: Refineries, Fire Risk, and the New Geography of Oil in Philadelphia’s Tidewater,” by Christopher Dougherty. Online at http://hiddencityphila.org/2013/12/a-petaled-rose-of-hell-refineries-fire-risk-and-the-new-geography-of-oil-in-philadelphias-tidewater/
Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.
Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. derailments, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.
As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.
As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.
So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.
URGENT – Call your PA Senator from now through Tuesday!
Oppose PA SB411, the Acid Mine Drainage in Fracking Bill!
Please call or email your Pennsylvania State Senator right now to tell him or her not to vote for PA SB411.
SB411 provides overly broad immunity to drillers, letting them off the hook if they pollute streams or soil with highly toxic fracking wastewater, as long as that toxic waste includes any amount of AMD (acid mine drainage) water.
What’s worse, proposed gas rules now open for public comment would allow untreated AMD to be stored in open freshwater impoundments used in fracking and drilling. But those impoundments are not designed to hold hazardous liquids, adding another way that this pollution can be let loose into the environment.
Please email or call your PA State Senator now. The vote is expected today, Monday, Jan. 13th, but keep calling through Tuesday because anything can happen.
Update: 11:30 AM Monday Jan. 13th: The critical vote belongs to State Senator Vincent Hughes, the Senate Minority Leader. Please call Senator Hughes’ office and ask him to vote no on SB 411, because companies shouldn’t be allowed to profit off of pollution.
Call Senator Hughes now: (717) 787-7112
To find your Pennsylvania State Senator click here.
The Bill, as currently amended, can be found here.
Please ask your family and friends to call too!
For Talking Points and more information and analysis go here.
Don’t be confused!
As if to add further badly-timed confusion to the fire, StateImpact PA just published an article this morning, on the day of the vote, singing the praises of using Acid Mine Drainage water to reduce radioactivity in fracking wastewater!
While the science is interesting, in practice the benefits are theoretical, with other potential consequences left unexplored. Worse, unfortunately the StateImpact piece concluded with a brief reference to the Acid Mine Drainage bill (SB411). which implies the acid mine drainage bill is purely beneficial. The StateImpact piece ignores the raging controversy, fails to mention the fierce statewide opposition to the bill among residents of fracking regions and among at least 27 environmental organizations, including Protecting Our Waters.
Let’s be clear. The bill is written by the fracking industry and its friends to ensure that they get more power and control, save money, and have less liability for their actions… while “framing” the bill as pro-environmental. It’s a Trojan Horse.
In addition to letting polluters off the hook for damage they cause as long as AMD water is used in the waste that causes the damage, and in addition to the clauses allowing dangerous and inappropriate storage of AMD, SB411, according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network, “would spread polluted water from coal mines into our aquifers and into the fracking business. It is being described as a ‘beneficial activity’ but is really a perversion of the PA Environmental Good Samaritan Act.”
Please call now to oppose SB411. Then, if you like, join 2100 petition-signers here and join 140 “Thunderclap” users here, to maximize the power of the internet… after you’ve maximized the power of your own voice with that crucial telephone call.
Thank you for all you do!
Despite the efforts of the Obama administration, over the last few months, word has been bubbling up about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. With that increasing knowledge has come increased outrage across wide-ranging interests, governments, and party lines. What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), why is the Obama administration trying to keep it secret, and why is it provoking a growing outcry?
General TPP Facts:
- It’s big. The TPP would establish a free trade zone from Vietnam to Chile, covering about 800 million people, 40 percent of the global economy, and a third of world trade.
- But the contents of the agreement aren’t really about international trade, at least in the traditional sense. “The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch on Democracy Now, 10/4/13.
- As Secretary of State, John Kerry has been one of the leaders in promoting the TPP and the Obama administration’s wishes for it abroad. At the October 2013 APEC Summit in Indonesia, Kerry said, “At its core, TPP is about generating growth for our economies and jobs for our people by unleashing a wave of investment and entrepreneurship all across the Asia Pacific. And at a time when we, all of us, seek strong and sustainable growth, TPP is creating a race to the top, not to the bottom.”
- The Obama administration is trying to Fast Track the TPP, meaning that Congress would only get a yes-or-no vote on whether to pass it and no ability to discuss or amend the agreement. Explains Bloomberg, “The trade authority, which expired in 2007, lets Congress set parameters for considering trade deals, and allows lawmakers to pass the accords without making amendments.”
- The Obama administration hoped to finish TPP negotiations by the end of 2013, but it’s been delayed, in part by countries who disagree with U.S. (and frequently Australian) proposals to give huge amounts of power to corporations.
Closed Doors–to Everyone But Corporations
- From The Washington Post on 11/15/13: “The United States Trade Representative and the Obama administration have kept the treaty texts secret from the public. However, they have shared texts with 700 or so “cleared advisers,” all of whom come from intellectual property rights holders’ industries,” including Verizon, Cisco, and General Electric.
- Says Wallach, “And it was only after a big, great fuss was kicked up by a lot of members—150 of them wrote last year—that finally members of Congress, upon request for the particular chapter, can have a government administration official bring them a chapter. Their staff is thrown out of the room. They can’t take detailed notes. They’re not supposed to talk about what they saw. And they can, without staff to help them figure out what the technical language is, look at a chapter.” (Democracy Now, 10/4/13, above and here)
Who Opposes it and Why?
- The U.S. has taken extreme positions even among fellow TPP negotiating countries, leading to some discord and stalling in negotations.
- Congress. According to Susan Sell, Political Science Professor at George Washington University in The Washington Post‘s 11/15/13 post, “Congress has already expressed displeasure at being shut out of this process. When its members see how provisions that had been defeated in a domestic, democratic, and deliberative process in January 2012 have been included in TPP I suspect that they will not be happy.”
- And she’s right. In November 151 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter opposing the Fast Track process, while 22 Republicans in Congress, including Michele Bachmann and PA Representative Mike Fitzpatrick, sent their own letter to President Obama opposing it.
- The venerable international NGO Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Intellectual property rules contained in the TPP would make the medicines relied on by Doctors Without Borders and the populations they serve unaffordable. As explained in their action alert, “We need to keep prices low so our patients — and millions of others still waiting for treatment in the developing world — can get the medicines they need.”
- Anyone who’s done the economic analysis. The TPP wouldn’t actually benefit U.S. trade, and could even hurt it. For example, the TPP prohibits the popular Buy American provisions that promote U.S. jobs and competitiveness of U.S.-made goods. Public Citizen has a breakdown of the myths and facts here. And even Bloomberg, typically pro-capitalism, has expressed strong reservations, publishing an article entitled “Pacific Trade Deal Needs More WikiLeaking” or, as published in The Japan Times, “WikiLeaks Reveals why Asia Should Skip the TPP.”
Corporate Rights Above All: TPP and the Environment
- “Only the United States and Japan oppose the objectives in the treaty (Article QQ.A.2) that mention economic and social development, maintaining a balance between the interests of rights holders and users, protecting the public domain, quality examination procedures, and access to affordable medicines,” says George Washington University’s Professor Susan Sell.
- Says Public Citizen’s Wallach, “It would be a big push for fracking. Now you would say, ‘Why fracking?’ Because it doesn’t allow us to have bans on liquid natural gas exports. Or, if this were in effect, we couldn’t ensure the safety of the food we feed our families. We have to import, for instance, fish and shrimp that we know, from the limited inspection that’s done, is extremely dangerous from certain kinds of growing ponds that are contaminated, etc., in some of the TPP countries.” (Democracy Now 10/4/13, above and here)
The Investor-State System
- The TPP includes the investor-state system, in which corporations can sue governments if their expected profits are impacted by any government action, including those pushed for by the people. Explains Wallach, these cases wouldn’t be heard in government courts, “but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation. They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations.” Philip Morris is already doing this in Australia in retaliation for legislated plain cigarette packaging with larger health warnings. According to Public Citizen, in 2012, the U.S. Lone Pine company “launched a $250 million NAFTA investor-state case against a Canadian ban on fracking.”
- More details about the rights given to corporations under the TPP and investor-state systems are available from Public Citizen here. Besides chilling public opposition, regulation, and government action, the investor-state system rarely allows people and governments to hold corporations accountable. As detailed in Public Citizen’s fact sheet on TPP and the environment, instead, corporations will leave a country to avoid accountability in domestic courts, then sue from afar.
What You Can Do
- As Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen puts it, “We need to stop fast track, for one. [...] Fast track makes it easier for industry groups to ram bad policies through, via the Office of the US Trade Representative, with little Congressional oversight. Last week nearly half of Congress revolted against fast track authority, and we can build on that success. Members of Congress need to hear the message: no to fast track.”
- Email your members of Congress and tell them to vote No on Fast Track. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a general, slightly tech-centered letter to send through their website to your members of Congress.
- Or, call Congress. Public Citizen has instructions and a script on their website.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: “We’re TPP Activists: Reddit Asked Us Everything“
- Public Citizen: Expose the TPP
- Public Citizen’s fact sheet on TPP and the environment: “TPP’s Investment Rules Harm the Environment“
- In November, WikiLeaks released the draft for the entire Intellectual Property Rights Chapter of the TPP.
- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)’s analysis of TPP and the threat it poses to public health in developing countries.
Today the members of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission stood up to pressure from the shale gas industry — and from Governor Christie — and voted 7 to 7 to reject a pipeline which would have carried fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale through the treasured, and legally protected, New Jersey Pinelands.
Seven Commissioners rejected an intensely controversial “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) which would have violated the Commission’s own rules in order to permit the pipeline. These Commissioners acted to protect a region that provides drinking water to millions of state residents against a brand new, unnecessary, and damaging South Jersey Gas Pipeline.
This is a major victory for the people and for the environment. It also shows that every local resident, every independent grassroots environmental advocate — and everyone from organizations large and small who showed up over and over again to testify — put their time, their energy, their resources and their passion for protection to good use.
We are all, quite frankly, ecstatic.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network sent this short message, with a link to emerging press coverage of today’s vote and its meaning:
“THANK YOU TO ALL WHO TOOK PART IN THIS FIGHT! HUGE VICTORY!!”
Protecting Our Waters representatives testified about a dozen times at the series of meetings from July through January, and put out as many public alerts, proud to be an active part of this vital struggle. We are even prouder of local New Jersey galvanizers like Georgina Shanley, Margo Pellegrino, and others who never hesitated and never gave up.
Today’s vote is an affirmation of the heart and soul of organizing political will against the odds. And it affirms the wisdom of calling for the best qualities of decision-makers to emerge, while consistently confronting bias and bullying at every turn.
The public’s demand for health, safety and a sustainable future aligned with passion far and wide for keeping the Pinelands as wild, as flourishing, as powerfully alive as possible.
The decision-making process seemed almost to be designed to maximize the frustration of the concerned public.
The public testified, then were told their testimony wasn’t recorded. The public demanded an expert witness, restoration ecologist Kevin Heatley, be allowed to present as much information to the Commission as South Jersey Gas had been allowed to present, and the request was denied. “Final votes” were called repeatedly, then turned out not to be final. Suddenly scheduled and re-scheduled meetings forced activists to mobilize repeatedly, in challenging times and places. Many people sacrificed, having to give up work, school, and family responsibilities to come through to protect the Pinelands.
This strategy is called “Relentless ‘Persistence,” and it worked! On behalf of climate, we won. On behalf of forests, wetlands, wildlife and waterways, we won. On behalf of public safety — enough with the fracking fireballs! — we won. On behalf of public health, we won. On behalf of air quality and safe drinking water quality, we won. On behalf of the people and democratic control as it is meant to be exercised, we won.
Sustainability and Democracy Join Forces: “The Pinelands are Not for Sale”
Today’s victory is also a victory for sustainability. While the pipeline’s advocates claimed it was exclusively for domestic beneficial use, other indicators suggested it would be used to export fracked gas as LNG — liquified natural gas — overseas.
“We are proud the Commissioners did their job to protect the Pinelands region, its water supply, and its unique ecosystem from a polluting fossil fuel pipeline. Even with all the bullying and arm twisting, protection of the environment prevailed. With this vote today the Commissioners stood up to protect the Pinelands, ensured better air quality for the region, stopped dirty energy in the region, stopped the potential for LNG exports, and shut down the BL England plant,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a press release today.
He added, “This is a victory for democracy over bullying, a victory for the Pinelands and more important, for the people. This is the biggest environmental victory under the Christie administration. The Commissioners did not cave to polluters and special interests. Today the Commissioners said the Pinelands are not for sale.”
Opposition Wide and Deep
In its statement today, the Sierra Club summarized, “The ill-conceived project is widely opposed. Four former New Jersey Governors and a number of state legislators had come out in opposition based on concerns with the legality of using an MOA for project approval, the lack of a proven compelling need for the project, the existence of alternatives that do not violate Pinelands regulations, and the lack of public process in the proceedings. Newspapers across the region have written editorials in opposition based on the significant negative impacts associated with the project. The Pinelands Commission received thousands of letters (over 1600 during the official comment period and many more beforehand) and petitions in opposition to the project and hundreds of people spoke out against the project at public hearings before the Commission.”
Urgent Flood of Emails Needed to Federal Rep opposing Pinelands Pipeline!
This Friday, January 10 the Pinelands Commission will vote on whether or not to allow the massive new South Jersey Gas pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands Forest Area, violating a ban on this kind of destructive pipeline and ruining irreplaceable, invaluable and unique Pinelands forest assets. The fight to save the Pinelands from this intrusion has been hard fought and it is now down to the wire. The vote can go either way.
From Delaware Riverkeeper Network — on behalf of the entire movement to prevent this destructive fracked gas pipeline through the unique, and legally preserved, ecosystem of the Pinelands — note: anyone can comment!
This is where you come in. Please take a moment to email the federal representative on the Commission to say “Vote NO on the South Jersey Pipeline”. The Dept. of the Interior’s representative works for the National Park Service (NPS) and represents the federal government, – the Dept. of the Interior – on the Commission. These agencies were instrumental in forming the Pinelands reserve 35 years ago. They need to know you want these precious resources protected, for REAL. The federal representative could hold the deciding vote – let’s make sure they hear from us in a BIG way.
If you can make it to the meeting Friday, go here for details – the more people who stand up for the Pinelands on Friday, the more likely the unlawful Memorandum of Agreement will be voted down. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM on January 10th, 2014 at the Richard J. Sullivan Center, 15C Springfield Road, New Lisbon, New Jersey 08064.
Please email Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, and the National Park Service NOW to urge the federal rep to oppose the Pinelands pipeline and vote NO on this historic vote.
(NOTE: Some people are getting an “invalid” message delivered back from Sec’y Jewell. We [DRN] tested it again this morning with a request for a delivery confirmation and got back a notice that it was successfully delivered AND a message that it was invalid separately. We have built redundancy into the emails by providing another DOI email address that is a blind cc and the NPS address so we are pretty certain the emails are going to both the DOI and the NPS.
Sorry for any confusion. It may be a response to all the emails they are getting from many groups doing action alerts on this at this critical time…so please take action and know that at least 2 of the addresses (DOI and NPS) are receiving the emails we are sending. Thank you!) — update from Tracy Carluccio at DRN.
Thanks to DRN and to all the individuals and groups who are stepping up right now in this urgent, important campaign.
Ok. Someone’s got to say it. So we will. Stop the Bakken Shale oil trains!
The flaring is extreme: surely by now you’ve seen the photos of the Bakken Shale flaring? With 1,500 fires burning, it can be seen from outer space. The destructiveness to our climate is scientifically documented and can be seen with the naked eye, unlike the fugitive methane emissions that can be seen only with a FLIR camera.
But this — packing rail cars not designed to transport volatile, toxic, high-pressure gasses like benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene — and then putting shale oil mixed with 30 percent to 40 percent volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene — and then sending those trains through residential neighborhoods across the country — is beyond.
The mushroom-shaped fireball in Casselton should tell anyone these are no ordinary fires. The Bakken Shale oil is super-flammable, full of volatile gasses, and something is wrong with any official anywhere who lets these trains through their town. Forty-seven people are dead from the Lac-Megantic explosion, and fire from these exploding trains have filled the sky four times in six months, most recently on December 30th in Casselton, North Dakota.
Scientists and engineers are questioning whether, in fact, the derailments are causing the explosions, or the other way around. Watch the ten-minute video discussion with scientist Scott Smith, embedded in this Desmogblog post, to learn more. In the Alabama and North Dakota incidents, the engine cars stayed on the tracks, Smith says, whereas the exploded part of the train may have derailed because the Bakken Shale oil exploded into flames when the volatile chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, turned from liquid to gas and ignited due to the presence of any static electricity or spark.
The Bakken Shale oil train series of explosions is so extraordinary that we are reposting in full, below, the Desmogblog piece by Steve Horn which has been making national news for 48 hours, including a mention on Democracy Now! on January 6th. This is top notch investigative reporting:
Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals
On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.
This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett‘s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.
Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLC, incorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The BNSF Direct “bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis’ terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.
According to Marquis’ website, its Hayti, Missouri terminal receives seven of BNSF Direct’s 118-unit cars per week, with an on-site holding terminal capacity of 550,000 barrels of oil.
Marquis was one of many companies in attendance at a major industry conference in Houston, Texas in February 2013, called “Upgrading Crude By Rail Capacity.” Its September 2012 Missouri DNR permit application lends additional insight into how and why BNSF’s freight train erupted so intensely in Casselton.
Rather than a normal permit, Marquis was given a “special conditions” permit because the Bakken oil it receives from BNSF contains high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the same threat PHMSA noted in its recent safety alert.
Among the most crucial of the special conditions: Marquis must flare off the VOCs before barging the oil down the Mississippi River. (Flaring is already a highly controversial practice in the Bakken Shale region, where gas is flared off at rates comparable to Nigeria.)
It’s a tacit admission that the Bakken Shale oil aboard the exploded BNSF train in Casselton, ND is prone to such an eruption.
“Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) emissions are expected from the proposed equipment,” explains the Marquis permit. “There will be evaporative losses of Toluene, Xylene, Hexane, and Benzene from the crude oil handled by the installation.”
In a December 31 Google Hangout conversation between actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, and the group’s chief scientist Scott Smith, Mr. Smith discussed the oil samples he collected on a previous visit to North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.
“What I know from the testing I’ve done on my own — I went out to the Bakken oil fields and pumped oil from the well — I know there are unprecedented levels of these explosive volatiles: benzene, toluene, xylene,” said Smith.
“And from the data that I’ve gotten from third parties and tested myself, 30 to 40 percent of what’s going into those rail cars are explosive volatiles, again that are not in typical oils.”
“We must work to better understand the risks involved with the transportation of unconventional crude oil, whether diluted bitumen or Bakken fracked oil,” Smith told DeSmogBlog.
“It all starts with scientifically and transparently understanding exactly what is in these crude oils, and working to set new safety standards to protect human lives and all waterways, wetlands, marshes and sensitive ecosystems.”
It may be the dead of winter in North Dakota, but the Casselton explosion has shined a bright light on the myriad serious threats of Bakken oil rolling down the tracks through the backyards of thousands of Americans. The industry’s secrecy about the explosiveness of this oil just went up in flames.
But how will the public react to the news that industry knew this could happen all along? With the Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, and the deadly Bakken oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec last July, all North Americans ought to question the wisdom of extracting and transporting this highly dangerous oil.
To see this post on its home site visit Desmogblog.