Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dark Spigots, Republican Rollbacks & 45's Hardhat

Coming to your neighborhood? Better hope not 
"My people are here today because we have survived in the face of the worst kinds of challenges. The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn't broken us."

That's Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier reacting to Monday's announcement that oil has begun to flow through a disputed section of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe just upriver from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Back in December, with global media attention focused upon the heavy-handed police response to peaceful water protecters in North Dakota, a concerned senior from Bella Vista, Arkansas named Kamryn Baker started a petition on that's garnered almost 49,000 signatures.

Her goal was to bring attention to the environmental dangers posed by the Plains All American Diamond Pipeline, and the dubious safety record of the company that will operate it; Plains All American Pipeline LP.

The Diamond Pipeline is a 20-inch diameter pipe that will carry crude oil across inhabited land stretching east from Cushing, Oklahoma, through Arkansas until it finally terminates 440 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee.    

As Baker notes in her petition "The pipeline itself will make it's way through five different water systems, including the Arkansas River and the Mississippi River." 

Some of the 3,400+ barrels spilled along the Santa
Barbara, CA coastline by PAAP, LP in 2015 
Now aside from the obvious environmental threats posed by a crude oil pipeline stretching through residential areas, pristine forest and sensitive river basins, the pipeline's operator raises serious concerns.

Plains All American Pipeline LP operates over 18,000 miles of crude oil pipelines that stretch across America, and they've racked up a disturbing list of violations and accidents.

Including a major coastal spill in California back in 2015.

As a Wikpedia article on the incident reports, the spill originated along the Santa Barbara coastline just north of Refugio State Beach on May 19, 2015 when a corroded, 28-year-old section of pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline began leaking.

An alarm that would have alerted workers to the leak had been turned off to repair a pump.

At least 142,800 gallons of crude oil spilled along a pristine coastal area that includes four different protected marine reserves teeming with wildlife - at least 221 birds including Pacific Loons and brown pelicans, and at least 138 mammals including California sea lions, otters and dolphins (and untold numbers of fish) were killed when they became covered with the thick oil tar that closed beaches as far as 100 miles away.

As Reuters reported last May, a grand jury indicted Plains All American Pipeline LP on 4 felonies and 42 misdemeanor charges related to the spill and the subsequent environmental damage.

Between 2004 and 2007 the company was prosecuted for over 10 different oil spills in multiple states - both history and odds suggest that some kind of accident is going to happen along the 440-mile stretch of the Diamond Pipeline stretching across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Greg L. Armstrong, CEO of Plains All American
Pipeline LP
Amanda Kennedy, a member of the Arkansas Water Guardians offered a cryptic warning in an interview in the Arkansas Traveler last December:

"No matter what, oil pipelines all eventually leak or fail and a slow leak is not easily detected either. No matter where that leak occurs along the pipeline that goes through Arkansas, it will be devastating (for) the environment and for the communities in that area. "

"There is no place that a spill would not negatively affect Arkansas. We have to stop contaminating our drinking water or we will not survive."

Her words echo the concerns of citizens and activists across the nation standing up against oil pipeline construction that threatens both communities and wildlife.

These kinds of man-made environmental threats come as the Trump administration, still smarting from failing to muster enough Republican Congressional support to even vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act last Friday, moves to undue the sweeping environmental protections put in place during President Obama's two terms in office.

Theatrically flanked by coal miners, earlier today Trump announced an executive order that would reverse the various climate change initiatives put in place by the Obama administration; with the help of his new Republican oil industry lackey EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

What's remarkable about Trump's rollback of environmental protections is that, like the Republican healthcare bill, it isn't what he says it is at all - the GOP healthcare bill failed in large part because it was actually a massive trojan horse tax cut for the wealthiest Americans disguised as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

Technology like this has been displacing coal miners
around the world for decades. 
As Coral Davenport noted in her New York Times article yesterday, Trump and other Republicans continually try to paint these climate change rollbacks as measures that will create jobs and secure America's "energy independence". 

But numerous experts cite that well-worn Republican rhetoric as both misleading and untrue.

Over the course of the past week I've heard multiple energy experts on NPR cite the well-known fact that since the 1950's, America's coal industry has largely moved towards automation to do the dangerous job of extracting coal from underneath the ground.

Complex machines like the one pictured above now do most of the back-breaking work that miners in places like Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania used to do.

Sure it's sad in terms of a way of life and a means to make a good (if dangerous) living for thousands of Americans and their families in rural parts of the nation.

But it's the coal industry itself that initiated the move to investment in technology rather than manpower - Republicans would have you believe Obama simply put miners out of work during his 8 years in office when America has been moving away from coal for decades.

Massive earthmoving machines demonstrate why
coal jobs will not be coming back as Trump says
Rather than send men underground to mine coal, some modern large-scale coal operations use massive amounts of explosives to literally blow the top off of mountains, then use massive earth moving equipment to remove the coal.

Some operations cut huge canyons to expose the coal seams then remove it (pictured left).

Despite Trump's hot-air promises to coal miners, that type of mining simply requires less workers, Trump couldn't change that if he wanted to.

Unfortunately for coal miners it's a trend that has been going on for decades despite Republican sound-bite rhetoric; just find the CEO of a mining company and ask him or her if it's more profitable to hire more miners to do the work large machines do.

As University of Wyoming energy economist Roger Godby told the New York Times, "the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization. They're not hiring people."

As far as energy is concerned Trump continues to peddle the distorted reality he lives in; like demand for coal is suddenly going to reverse a decades-long trend, spring back and miraculously "save us".

When Trump talks about coal, he only reveals he has no real understanding of global energy consumption trends, U.S. energy needs and costs, or the industry itself.

Buffoonery: Trump dons a coal mining hardhat
to dupe coal miners into voting for him.
Amanda Davenport's NYT's article quotes Harvard energy economist Robert Stavins as saying:

"We don't import coal. So in terms of (Obama's) Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever."

As Trump himself has admitted in his own book, "I play to people's fantasies." 

That's part of what's so reprehensible about Trump donning a hardhat and using coal miners to serve as visual media props so he can sell an energy policy meant to enrich the wealthy elites who bankrolled his toxic presidential campaign - under the false pretense of "bringing back jobs." 

The fog that enveloped large swaths of the Philadelphia - central New Jersey area early this morning reminded me that perspective can be obscured by phenomenon both natural and manmade.

For many Americans it's difficult to see the various ways Republicans are assaulting our environment through the thick political fog of controversy spewing forth from the White House on a daily basis.

As Trump tweets and lies, Congressional Republicans continue to chip away at the fundamental environmental protections that even Richard Nixon believed were important.

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris
Did you read the article in on Monday about the EPA set to rule on regulations that restrict the use of chlorpyrifos on Friday?

Chlorpyrifos is a widely-used pesticide shown to cause neural damage in the brains of children and impact fetuses when pregnant women are exposed to it.

It's made by Dow Chemical.

The same company that gave $1 million to Trump's inauguration committee.

Dow and other large agricultural interests are pushing to roll back restrictions on the use of chlorpyrifos, and as the article reports, "In 2000 the EPA banned most home uses of the chemical, citing risks to children." 

Does that sound like one of those "job killing regulations" Republicans fantasize about cutting?

How do you think the Trump administration's intentionally-understaffed EPA under Scott Pruitt is going to vote on rolling back restrictions on the use of chlorpyrifos on Friday?

With the chemical manufacturing corporate behemoth? Or with the innocent children whose brains will be affected by increased exposure?

Sadly, my money is on the corporate titan that "donated" $ 1million to 45's inauguration - I truly hope I'm wrong on that one.

If I'm not, let's hope sensible politicians and public health advocates can use the courts to appeal the EPA's decision and stem the flow of the dark spigot Republicans are ready to hose America with.  

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