Archive for December, 2012

EPA Caught Taking A Fracking Dump

December 22nd, 2012 No comments

Friday Afternoon News Dump Buries Controversial Fracking Report

If History is a Guide, EPA Will Again Support Fracking

On Friday, EPA released an important report on fracking.

But, it got virtually no media coverage because it was issued alongside 2 other complex and controversial air regulations and on late Friday afternoon, a cynical practice known as a “news dump”.

The National Journal explains and calls out EPA:

Because this Friday is a particularly busy news day, EPA’s actions will likely get buried more than they would have on a slower news day. But EPA is no stranger to the Friday news-dump strategy. Resources for the Future, a nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental group based in Washington, culled through more than 21,000 press releases issued by EPA between 1994 and 2009 to conclude the agency announced new regulations and enforcement actions on Fridays and before holidays, “a time when news has the least impact on media coverage and financial markets.”

Last Friday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced a tougher standard for soot pollution that comes from a host of sources, such as cars and power plants. EPA was facing a legal deadline to issue the standard on that day. That news got buried deep beneath the coverage of the Connecticut school shooting, which occurred that morning.

For complying with court mandated deadlines and hiding from the media on a Friday afternoon before a holiday, EPA Administrator Jackson has been praised in some quarters as a bold and vindicated leader.

We obviously strongly disagree. We find such dumps underhanded and indicators of cowardice, not courage and leadership.

[Update 12/24 – and we knew the routine applause from Friends of Lisa was coming.]

But, aside from Lisa Jackson’s “leadership” and the EPA air rules, let’s take a quick look at the EPA Fracking Report. 

(to read the full Report, see: Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resource – Progress Report

We attended a protest and testified on the public hearing in Binghamton NY, to scope that study (see: On the Threshold of a Fracking Nightmare).

At that hearing, we urged EPA to dramatically expand the scope of what then was contemplated as a narrow study on drinking water, to address cumulative impacts, climate change impacts, health effects, and land use change and ecological effects.

Here’s how EPA’s press release spun the study:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today provided an update on its ongoing national study currently underway to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Results of the study, which Congress requested EPA to complete, are expected to be released in a draft for public and peer review in 2014. The update provided today outlines work currently underway, including the status of research projects that will inform the final study.  It is important to note that while this progress report outlines the framework for the final study, it does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, which will be made in the final study.

In other words, EPA not only buried the Report in a Friday afternoon news dump before a major holiday, the Report itself merely kicked the can down the road and dodged the big issues.

Worse, EPA felt the need to reiterate and go out of the way to appease critics, and make sure to stress that the Obama Administration supported fracking, thereby signaling that any EPA Final Report would merely tinker around the regulatory margins and pose no existential threat to the fracking industry.

To get a sense of how bad this is, those reassuring EPA signals come at a time when environmmentalists are calling for outright bans, local governments are enacting bans, and state governments are enacting moratoria:

As the administration and EPA has made clear, natural gas has a central role to play in our energy future, and this important domestic fuel source has extensive economic, energy security, and environmental benefits. The study EPA is currently undertaking is part of EPA’s focus to ensure that the Administration continues to work to expand production of this important domestic resource safely and responsibly.

The emphasis is on expanding production.

Obama wouldn’t want to be accused of waging a “war on gas” like the faux manufactured war he is allegedly waging on coal, when in fact his administration has set records for coal extraction rates (and oil and gas production too).

It will take us some time to review and analyzed the 250 page Report –

Our intent here was to work around the EPA news dump strategy and get word out on this important EPA research project.

We are not comforted by the fact that the report opens with this very first sentence:

Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future.

That is not a scientific conclusion – it is a propaganda, public relations, and marketing statement.

No wonder this Report was released via a dump.

(and lets not forget the history here: It was a favorable Whitman EPA 2004 Report to Congress that claimed there were no risks from fracking that served as the basis for Congress to enact the infamous “Haliburton Loophole” in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Dick Cheney did not write that EPA Report.)

two of the worst people in the world

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Paulsboro Investigation – Silo Logic, Not Safety Logic

December 22nd, 2012 No comments

Official investigation report would provide a credible and powerful tool for seeking legislative and regulatory reforms to strengthen overall chemical safety

Billions Spent on Terrorism, But Chemical Responders Don’t Have Batteries

I just got a note from a friend in Paulsboro, I assume in response to our request for an accident investigation, advising me that “Hey, the local emergency plannning and EHS requirements don’t apply to railroads you dummy – and the DOT requirements are less stringent!”

Duh! That’s the whole point of the exercise.

Maybe I never made that point clear at the outset, so let me illustrate with examples.

Case 1: Suppose you were taken to the hospital emergency room, unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head after being hit by a baseball bat.

Now suppose that instead of sending you to the CAT scan and calling a neurologist, they sent you for blood tests and to a podiatrist. You suffer irreversible brain injury and are a vegetable.

Case 2: suppose you had a heart attack or stroke and collapsed on the sidewalk. A neighbor calls 911. You are located in Town A. The nearest ambulance and hospital in Town A is 40 miles away. But just over the border in Town B, there is a hospital just 1 mile away.

The 911 dispatcher calls the Town A ambulance corps. You die 15 minutes later on the sidewalk.

Case 3: A final example: Suppose the initial incoming 911 calls in the Connecticut school massacre were vague – something about an emergency with windows broken in the chemistry lab. Assuming it was an explosion,  the first responders were the fire Department and explosive experts, instead of police SWAT units. 20 more kids get killed as the firemen wait for police.

Get it?

In other words, it is obvious that how a situation is perceived determines how it is responded to.

So the questions become:

Is that perception based on the primary facts and criteria that should be considered?

Is the response tailored to the correct perception?

Now, let’s apply that logic to the Paulsboro toxic train wreck.

The primary risks were from toxic release, air dispersion, human exposure, and health effects of a toxic chemical.

Does that have anything at all to do with navigable waters, trains, or bridges?

The primary expertises required to respond to a toxic air release are chemistry, toxicology, air dispersion modeling, air sampling, and risk assessment and risk communication. Those experts are employed by US EPA and NJ DEP.

Does that have anything to do with the Coast Guard’s mission and expertise? With the railroad company?

My key objective in requesting the IG investigations was to force the government to explain exactly the facts they considered and the criteria they applied in first emergency response and in managing this incident.

But it was not just a train accident. The scope of the investigation needs to be broadened to look up and downstream and consider where the vinyl chloride was manufactured, where is was going, and the regulatory requirements for safety that apply from cradle to grave – an entire “industrial ecology” that poses not only acute risks from accidets, but 24/7 ongoing risks from tons of daily chemical emissions.

Was the bridge just the  weak link in a dangerous chain? Are chemical companies given adequate incentives to reduce risks?

Jut think about the recent case of the mother who was driving dead drunk the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway and killed lots of people. The investigation of that accident was not limited to the Parkway or the vehicle, but considered what the woman did the night before; what she ate in the morning; how, where, and when she got the alcohol; when/where she drank it; whether their were prior signs of alcoholism or drunk driving; and whether her husband should have allowed her to drive that morning.

We need a similarly broad look at vinyl chloride and overall chemical safety regulation.

The investigation report, I’m sure, would document serious flaws in the overall regulation of chemical safety – from prevention and preparedness, through emergency response and cleanup, to federal, state, and local agency jurisdiction and responsibilities.

In turn, an official government accident investigation report would provide a credible and powerful tool for seeking legislative and regulatory reforms to strengthen overall chemical safety.

I assume that you catch my drift. So let me go into a little more detail to put a finer point on it.

There are a patchwork of federal, state and local requirements that apply.

So, think back to our 3 examples above, and keep in mind that the driving factors in decision-making should be science and public health, not what are commonly referred to as bureaucratic silos.

Are we driven by science and public health in how we regulate overall chemical safety? Was the emergency response to the Paulsboro disaster driven by science and public health?

Here are the 4 primary regulatory programs (silos) that are involved:

  • Chemical Facility Risk Management requirements
  • Local Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning 
  • Railroad Safety
  • Emergency Response Framework

Ask yourself: do your lungs know the difference or care about whether you were exposed to a chemical released by a train car, truck, or a tank at a chemical facility?

Why is 10,000 pounds of vinyl chloride regulated very differently at a  facility versus on a rail car? Why is 9,999 lbs. any less hazardous than 10,000 lbs?

Are costly regulatory requirements at chemical facilities being dodged by keeping facility inventories below regulatory thresholds by shipping more product by rail and truck instead of storing it on site?

Are chemical companies playing games and increasing overall system risk by shipping chemicals (just in time inventory) to increase profits or to avoid regulation of on site storage?

Which government agency has the relevant expertise? Was that agency in the lead and making safety decisions?

Why was the railroad and their consultant allowed to play any role? (particularly given the fact that the railroad was a responsible party and had liability at stake and the consultant has a checkered record.)

Why is there little integration between chemical facility, transportation, and local emergency planning?

What risk levels drive evacuation? Who makes those calls and on what basis?

Can we do more to reduce chemical risks and do better to regulate the entire lifecycle and system?

These are just some of the questions I want an investigation to answer.

Hopefully, a lot of gaps, loopholes, and flaws will be identified by the Report and become the basis for reforms to prevent a future disaster that could be much worse.


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A Counter-Proposal to the NRA

December 21st, 2012 9 comments

[Update:  12/22/12 – The predictable fallout: universal condemnation. Bergen Record:

“Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe,” Bloomberg said.

And for once I agree in part with Gov. Christie – although instead of ducking the question about the NRA (not familiar with the particulars proposal) he should have denounced NRA like Bloomberg did – this isn’t about particulars, its about fundamentals:

And Governor Christie, who said at an event on Thursday that armed guards don’t foster “an atmosphere of learning,” reiterated that stance on Friday.

“You don’t want to make this an armed camp for kids,” he said, noting that he wasn’t familiar with the particulars of the NRA’s proposal. “I don’t think that’s a positive example for children. We should be able to figure out other ways to enhance safety.”  ~~~ end]

Wolfenotes must go off topic today to respond to the NRA’s extraordinarily warped proposal to put armed guards at schools.

The NY Times reports:

WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association on Friday called for schools to be protected by armed guards as the best way to protect children from gun violence.

Here’s our counter-proposal:

Here’s a technological police state solution I’ve posted on line to taunt the gun nuts:

Put a chip in all guns – like the one in my cell phone – that provides 24/7 location data.

Use drones, satellites, and mobile and fixed ground level detection equipment to monitor the guns, in real time.

If a gun is detected entering into “regulated space”, a police response is generated.

The police response would range from a cop car deployed to confront the gun possessor via the NYC policy of “stop and frisk”, or – in a worst case – a drone is deployed to conduct a “signature strike”.

Local police are already doing this domestically (i.e. “stop and frisk”) and it is US policy internationally (i.e.  24/7 drone surveillance, and drone strikes, including “signature strikes”).

The technology is already widely deployed too – from GPS, cell phone chips, and digital license plate scanners to Homeland Security cameras.

After all, what’s good for the black city kid and “insurgent” goose, is good for the gun nut gander!

Oh, and if NRA wants armed guards at schools, don’t pay for it out of the art and music budget.

Make the gun nuts pay a $500 per gun per year year fee to pay these school cops.

One twisted proposal deserves another!

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The Paulsboro Plan – Coming To Your Town?

December 20th, 2012 No comments

Shelter in Place – Does this look like your house?

Duck & Cover - And Shelter in Place


Readers here know that a toxic train derailed in Paulsboro NJ early on the morning of Friday November 30. By pure luck, most of the community was not awake and out and about when it happened.

A cloud of toxic vinyl chloride gas rapidly spread from one of the rail cars, throughout the community. Over 80 exposed people were sickened and sent to local emergency rooms. Luckily, a nearby elementary school dodged the toxic bullet.

We now learn that emergency responders lacked proper equipment and the hand held air monitoring devices didn’t have working batteries. As a result, we don’t know the levels of toxic gas to which people were exposed immediately after the accident.

[Maybe the chemical companies that make billions in profits producing these poisons could pass the hat and buy the town some batteries for Christmas? Voluntary philanthropy is the only way to go because Gov. Christie won’t stand for any regulatory requirements and “job killing red tape” and unfunded State mandates.]

Later, EPA mobile lab air monitoring showed unsafe levels throughout the community – even 4 days after the accident.

Vinyl chloride is a highly toxic and carcinogenic gas – children are especially susceptible to adverse health effects from even short term low concentration exposures.

Current science is not able to say with certainty whether there will be any adverse health effects to those exposed.

Residents were never told about all this – but they were told that the air was “safe” and that there would be NO health effects to the people who were exposed.

After pressure and threats by the chemical industry to shut down plants and move production and jobs out of state, the toxic trains are now again running, despite the fact that there is no public report by the NTSB about the cause of the accident,  the ancient bridge has not been replaced, and failed prevention and emergency response plans have not been corrected.

No biggie, right?

Portions of the town were evacuated – while other residents were told to “shelter in place”. The evacuation zone expanded and contracted over time, and the shelter in place guidance was rescinded. Community meetings were scheduled, cancelled and rescheduled. The press was asked to attend and then told not to attend, and then reinvited.

Chaos, no?

So we thought we’d provide “official” information from the NJ Office of Emergency Management of exactly what shelter in place  is supposed to look like.

[While this Guidance requires “preplanning, we note that the Guidance was not posted on the Unified Command website until December 14 – 2 weeks after the accident – we assume that it is intended to address the statistically inevitable future accidents.]

Here’s how “shelter in place” is supposed to work:

The process used to seal the room is considered a temporary protective measure to create a barrier between you and potentially contaminated air outside. It is a type of sheltering in place that requires preplanning.

  • Bring your family and pets inside.
  • Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
  • Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
  • Go into an interior room with few windows, if possible.
  • Seal all windows, doors and air vents with 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting and duct tape. Consider measuring and cutting the sheeting in advance to save time.
  • Cut the plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings and label each sheet.
  • Duct tape plastic at corners first and then tape down all edges.
  • Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps so that you create a barrier between yourself and any contamination.
  • Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for official news and instructions as they become available.
Got that?
  • Did you do all your preplanning?
  • Bought your emergency kit?
  • Sealed up all the leaks in that drafty old house of yours?
  • Bought the duct tape and plastic sheets?
  • run through the drill with the wife, kids and dog?
  • Set your cell phone to the local emergency responders so you’ll be awake to install it all immediately after the next train crash?

Feel safe now?

But, oops! They didn’t tell you something important.

You got to get to the second page to read this small caveat:

However, local officials are unlikely to recommend the public shelter in a sealed room for more than 2-3 hours because the effectiveness of such sheltering diminishes with time as the contaminated outside air gradually seeps into the shelter. At this point, evacuation from the area is the better protective action to take.

After 3 hours you might be dead.

Thousands of toxic train cars travel throughout NJ every day.

According to EPA,  a leak or accident at any one of a dozen NJ chemical facilities could KILL OVER 100,000 people. 

Does it make sense to manufacture, store, process, and transport toxic chemicals that could kill so many people in the most densely populated state in the country?

Or do you think you can shelter in place and ride it out?

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Stop Taking Dives for the Short End Money

December 20th, 2012 No comments

Classic Movie Scene Provides a Message For Our Corrupt Times

You was my brother Charlie – You Should have looked out for me a little bit.

You should have taken care of me just a little bit, so  I wouldn’t have had to take them dives for the short end money.   ~~~ Watch the full scene


And you all know that “the short end money” comes in multiple forms.

You know that.

So, instead of selfishly serving power and privilege, serve truth and justice.

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