MAC: Mines and Communities

US update

Published by MAC on 2007-09-06

US update

6th September 2007

There is growing evidence to doubt - if not deplore - arguments used by some environmental NGOs that using carbon "offsets" (or trading in mercury emissions' "credits") contributes to an improved global environment.

At the very least, some community members, somewhere, will continue to bear an acceptable burden. As the author of the following critique points out: ""[I]t's all well and good... [to] curtail emissions elsewhere, or trade mercury emissions credits, but that does nothing to safeguard the community where the actual power plant belches out toxins."

Coal mining continues to underpin the US's apparently unquenchable thirst for power, but the Bush regime - ever mindful of rich corporate backing by the energy sector - has been busily promoting uranium mining and nuclear power as central to combating global warming. At last month's APEC gathering in Sydney, Bush boosted the new “Global Nuclear Energy Partnership”, to which China, France, Japan, Russia and the United States have already signed up.

Heading - if modestly - in a contrary direction is the Democratic Party-controlled US Congress. Its intention to mandate that utilities generate at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources (such as wind power and solar) by 2020, is now under attack from the steel industry

Offsets Aren't Enough

Two environmental groups cave in to Big Coal in Texas

By Megan Tady, In These Times

30th August 2007

As someone who once sunk a shrimp boat as an act of civil disobedience, Diane Wilson was disappointed when two big environmental groups opted for a less-than risky alternative to blocking a new coal-burning power plant that's poised to blaze in her community of Calhoun County, Texas.

If she had the time and resources, Wilson, a fourth generation fisherman and leader of the lonely environmental group Calhoun County Resource Watch, says she would have tried to "stop [the plant] dead in its tracks."

Instead, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition in Texas and the national watchdog organization Public Citizen ended their opposition to the plant this month. The groups agreed to drop their permit challenge of the 303-megawatt coal plant in exchange for NuCoastal Power Corporation's commitment to offset 100 percent of its mercury and carbon dioxide emissions. The proposed plant, which will burn petroleum coke, will be located in Point Comfort, Texas.

Although Wilson is frustrated, she told me she had "no hard feelings" toward the environmental groups, saying only theirs was a "different strategy."

But Wilson is being generous. It seems like our increasingly dull-toothed environmental organizations are suffering from another case of capitulation.

The massive plan for coal plant expansion in the United States just as climate change barrels forth with ferocity is as ridiculous and dangerous as a triple- bypass patient eating another Whopper. Equally treacherous is the doctor who orders the burger, or in this case, the environmental groups who give a nod to the coal plant.

Texas is not a painless place to rein in polluting industries, and battles fought in court can be insanely expensive, with victories far from guaranteed. I'm not suggesting that stopping mighty coal is another easy day in the office. But giving coal the green light should never be done, even on the hardest terrain. No new coal means no new coal, regardless of the corporations' concessions.

In this case, the concessions seem grand. NuCoastal has agreed to offset 100 percent of its mercury reductions by reducing emissions by 80 percent and purchasing mercury emissions credits. The corporation has also promised to offset 100 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions through a variety of credible-sounding avenues: funding energy efficiency programs, shutting down a comparable source of emissions, building wind turbines, or investing in carbon sequestration equipment.

"I've been told that this is a good thing," Wilson says.

But good things don't always come in suavely wrapped packages. "Offsets" and "emissions credits" are just pretty terms for a dirty reality: NuCoastal's coal plant will still be polluting, and the people of Calhoun County will still be suffering. It looks like Calhoun County's Lavaca Bay has been greenwashed.

Kevin Smith, a researcher for UK's Carbon Trade Watch, says, "The fact is, with the magnitude of the threat of climate change, you can't be doing one kind of climate-friendly project in order to justify fossil fuel emissions elsewhere."

Seems like that's straight out of chapter one of an environmentalist's primer. So why are so many groups using a strategy written by corporate polluters? I realize that environmentalists, often backed into a corner, have few cards to play. But when will compromises like offsets get tossed out of the deck?

Brianna Cayo Cotter, communications manager of the Rainforest Action Network, is as strict as a schoolmarm when it comes to coal. She told me in an email, "There should absolutely be an immediate and binding moratorium on coal expansion. Even one coal plant is too many and if the proposed 150 coal-plant- expansion plan (which is just for the U.S.) were to become actualized, we would be in a point of no return climate wise. The greenhouse gas emissions would be staggering at a moment where everyone is saying our only chance at this point is huge emissions reductions. There cannot be anymore coal development."

Besides allowing polluters to wriggle off the hook with ease, offsets are harmful because they send a message that the community housing the coal plant isn't worth much. It's all well and good that NuCoastal may curtail emissions elsewhere, or trade mercury emissions credits, but that does nothing to safeguard the community where the actual power plant belches out toxins.

Of course, Calhoun County's currency depreciates even further given that over 16 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 40 percent of residents are of Latino origin, according to the 2000 Census, and that the County is already the site of a Superfund.

The SEED Coalition has admitted the dangers of this power plant. On their website, the Coalition predicts ominous results, saying that "emissions from this plant would risk human health and adversely impact fish and wildlife" and that "there would be risks of spills in the bay." The group also says, "Burning Pet Coke is still experimental."

Not much changes just because NuCoastal is offsetting emissions. Perhaps a few of these risks are minimized, but the effects of mercury and carbon dioxide are still present, even if there's less of it.

In a press release earlier this month, Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, said, "Exposure to mercury, a toxic heavy metal, can lead to neurological damage, and children are especially at risk. NuCoastal deserves credit for reducing its mercury emissions significantly."

Credit for "reducing" emissions of a toxin that harms children's brain function, while still releasing it into the air? We might as well applaud the Bush administration for deploying smart bombs that supposedly "reduce" the number of civilians killed in air strikes.

And it's the applause that's disconcerting. Rather than admitting defeat-- because a new coal plant, no matter the scrubber, is a loss--Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition's language about the agreement sounds as if it was some sort of gain for the environmental movement.

The chipper press release from the groups announcing the NuCoastal agreement says, "Environmentalists applaud offsets of carbon dioxide and mercury emissions," and that the agreement is "precedent-setting."

This press release might as well have been written by Tony Snow for the way it obfuscates the truth about the situation. We need honesty from our leading environmental groups if we really plan to go toe-to-toe with Big Coal, not some letter from camp telling Mom everything's fine despite a daily beating from a bully.

If we are to make any real effort at minimizing climate change, the default, mainstream approach from environmentalists has to be keeping fossil fuels in the ground, not burning them with an asterisk. But as long as our leading environmental groups continue touting offsets and emissions reductions like they're viable solutions to our predicament, we'll never move to a truly sustainable way of living.

In the same press release, Hadden said, "I don't know of any other utility that has made this mercury commitment, and hopefully others will follow NuCoastal's lead."

Actually, let's hope not.

Climate Change, Nuclear Power Central to APEC Meeting

SYDNEY, Australia, (ENS)

6th September 2007

Australia and the United States will cooperate more closely on climate change and nuclear power, Prime Minister John Howard and President George W. Bush announced Wednesday at a news conference following their bi-lateral meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, gathering in Sydney.

The leaders and senior officials of the 21 APEC economies situated around the Pacific Rim are meeting here through Sunday to strengthen the Asia-Pacific community. The focus of the APEC meeting will be on economic development, trade, regional security, job creation and climate change.

Prime Minister Howard told reporters, "We agreed on joint statements regarding climate change and energy, a joint nuclear energy action plan, which involves cooperation on civil nuclear energy, including R&D, skills and technical training, and regulatory issues.

"Australia intends to participate in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, and there will be great benefits in terms of access to nuclear technology and nonproliferation," Howard said. "And the United States will support Australian membership in the Generation IV International Forum, which involves R&D to develop safer and better nuclear reactors."

Under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, nations with advanced nuclear capabilities would provide fresh fuel for nuclear power plants and recover and recycle used fuel for other client nations who agree to employ nuclear energy for power generation purposes only. Energy officials from the nuclear powers China, France, Japan, Russia and the United States signed on to the plan in May.

On the defense side, said Howard, "the two countries will explore enhanced cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And that could, in fact, involve a stationing - basing in Australia by the United States equipment and stores and provisions that would be available for ready use in disaster relief in our immediate region. And we think in particular of any repetition of the tsunami disaster or things of that kind which occurred a couple of years ago."

The two countries will strengthen their "already robust program of military exchanges and joint operations," said the Australian prime minister, who assured President Bush that Australian forces would remain in Iraq.

President Bush defended his approach to climate change, including his rejection of the Kyoto Protocol that limits the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized nations by a legally binding percentage of 1990 emissions. Neither the United States nor Australia has joined the Kyoto treaty, named for the city in Japan where it was drafted in 1997.

"Now, I know some say, well, since he's against Kyoto he doesn't care about the climate change," said President Bush. "That's urban legend, that is preposterous."

Pointing out that last year the United States "reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions and grew our economy at the same time," Bush said that shows his strategy of putting new technologies in place is working.

Australia and China are both coal producing and consuming countries, but burning coal in traditional ways produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Bush complimented the Australian prime minister for proposing to cut back on tariffs that prohibit the export of technologies that will enable China to burn coal more cleanly. "We support him strongly on this, so that technology is more likely to be able to flow from those of us who have it to those who don't," Bush said.

"And there are fundamental questions," he said. "How fast can we get effective technology to the market - coal sequestration technologies, nuclear spent fuel reprocessing technologies to the market? And once to the market, can we help developing nations acquire those technologies?

Otherwise, it's an exercise that's not going to be effective," said Bush. "So I appreciate you bringing up the nuclear power initiative," said Bush to Howard. "If you truly care about greenhouse gases, then you'll support nuclear power. After all, nuclear power enables you to generate electricity without any greenhouse gases."

For years the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States was surpassed by China this year. The American president said he would discuss climate change with Chinese President Hu Jintao during the APEC meeting.

"In order for there to be an effective climate change policy, China needs to be at the table," said Bush. "In order to get China at the table they have to be a part of defining the goals. Once we can get people to define the goals, then we can encourage people to define the tactics necessary to achieve the goals."

"I believe this strategy is going to be a lot more effective than trying us - people - countries to say, this is what you've got to do. We're telling you how to behave - as opposed to why don't we work together to achieve a common consensus on being good stewards of the environment," said Bush, adding, "APEC is a good forum to do this."

Today, President Hu addressed the opening ceremony of the APEC Business Summit and expounded China's views on advancing comprehensive cooperation among the APEC members in pursuit of sustainable development in the region and the world at large.

Friday, when APEC leaders gather for the high-level portion of the meeting, has been declared a public holiday in the Sydney metropolitan area.

All week, steel fences and concrete barricades have surrounded the APEC area and armed guards are in the streets.

President Bush apologized for the high level of security and said he feels "guilty" about it.

"Look, I don't want to come to a community and say, you know, what a pain it is to have the American President. Unfortunately, however, this is what the authorities thought was necessary to protect people," said Bush. "And you live in a free society. People feel like they want to protest; fine, they can. And unfortunately, evidently, some people may want to try to be violent in their protests. But I apologize to the Australian people if I've caused this inconvenience."

New South Wales Police are allowing the state's Green Party to hold an event for media in Sydney's Martin Place on Friday, despite threatening Tuesday to go to Supreme Court to prevent it.

"The Greens have been requested to move an event that we are planning in Martin Place even though it is several hundred meters outside the APEC restricted zone," said Sylvia Hale, NSW Greens MP and police spokesperson.

The New South Wales government, endorsed by the APEC Taskforce, has legislated that areas of the Sydney Central Business District, Hickson Road, Darling Harbour and parts of the Harbour off Circular Quay are "declared areas" under the APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007. This enables specific police powers to be used in those areas to ensure public safety and order.

"The APEC police powers law gives the police extraordinary additional powers but it does not allow them to ban any dissenting views from being expressed in the middle of the Sydney Central Business District," said Hale.

The Greens event will be a press conference accompanied by some street theatre featuring a group of party members dressed to resemble lifesavers candies while Greens Senator Kerry Nettle calls on APEC leaders to be climate savers.

"We have held scores of similar events in Martin Place without incident," said Hale. "There is absolutely no reason why we should not be allowed to express a political view in Martin Place or anywhere else in the city."

Hale called on NSW Premier Morris Iemma to guarantee that there will be no undercover police or other security agents attempting to provoke violence at demonstrations planned during the APEC meeting.

Her call follows an admission by Canadian authorities that three people photographed wearing bandanas covering their faces and carrying rocks at an August demonstration at the North American government leaders summit were undercover police officers.

"I want a public assurance that the police will not be trying to manufacture an excuse for giving their special APEC powers and weapons a workout," said Hale. "Sydney has a long history of peaceful political protest and the Greens want to see that history continue. We are discouraging any violence by either protesters or police."

Twelve Greenpeace activists were arrested Monday at the world's biggest coal port at Newcastle, 160 kilometers north of Sydney, after painting the message "Australia Pushing Export Coal" on the side of a coal ship, The Endeavour, and unfurling a large banner in Chinese calling on China to be cautious of John Howard and George Bush’s attempts to sabotage Kyoto. Greenpeace says the protest was staged to expose the Howard Government's real APEC agenda, "to protect Australia's coal export industry by undermining the Kyoto Protocol."

Two ice sculptures of Prime Minister Howard and President Bush are touring Sydney during the APEC forum slowly melting in the sun as a reminder of the impact of climate change and the failure of these two leaders to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or set firm targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

The ice sculptures were made for Make Poverty History, a coalition of more than 60 aid agencies, community groups and religious organizations, to dramatize the coalition's report "APEC: An End to Extreme Poverty - An Alternative APEC Agenda."

Make Poverty History Co-chair Andrew Hewett said climate change is not simply an environmental or economic challenge. "It is a moral challenge, because those least responsible for causing the problem - the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world - will overwhelmingly pay the highest price as climate change begins to bite."

He urged Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, commit to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and support adaptation to the planet's warming climate on the part of developing countries around the Pacific Rim. APEC's 21 Member Economies are - Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, China; Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

Steel industry prepares strategies vs. energy bill

Metal Bulletin

31st August 2007

As Congress returns to Washington after a monthlong vacation, steel industry insiders are working out strategies to confront legislation they consider threatening.

The steel industry is concerned about an energy bill passed by the House prior to the recess, which would require most utility companies to generate at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind power and solar by 2020 (AMM, Aug. 7).

Metal producers immediately condemned the bill, saying it would force utility companies to pass on the cost to them. Manufacturers said that while they see renewables as part of the answer to their need for cheaper, more reliable energy supply, a mandate was a step in the wrong direction.

The challenge for the steel industry is deciding how best to approach the issue. They could either choose to expand the definition of "renewable" in the language of the bill to include nuclear and other forms of energy, or they can try to simply kill the bill completely.

The industry wants to find an approach that would benefit the electric-arc furnace (EAF) and integrated steel mills equally, one source said. As it stands, the bill is thought to hurt the integrated more, but not by a lot, a source said. Conferees could be named as early as next week, and those members will be the first to get attention from steel industry representatives on Capitol Hill. After that, they will go to their various Steel Caucus members looking for assistance. "But they can't make exceptions just for the steel industry," one source said.

Meanwhile, rumors that Sen. John Warner (R., Va.) might retire when his current term expires in 2008 are making some steel industry sources nervous. Although it hasn't been introduced yet, a climate change bill by Warner and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) is considered by many to be imminent. That bill would likely cherry-pick from other climate change bills and include a cap-and-trade program, something the steel industry is steadfastly against. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, would probably favor their bill since Warner has clout in his party. Warner in turn might push hard for the bill in an attempt to carve out an environmental legacy for himself.

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