«

»

Aug 11

Vibrant Environmental Movement Builds in Response to Extreme Energy Extraction

1respBy Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

Originally published in Alternet.org

Impressive environmental protests have been organized by a wide range people calling for an end to radical energy and a transformation to a clean energy economy. Radical energy includes fuel derived from extreme extraction methods like tar sands, hydrofracking and off-shore drilling for oil or methane gas and mountain top removal for coal. This is costly energy, not only in dollars but in its impact on the environment; and it is causing an impressive growth in people taking action to protect the planet.

Radical energy also requires a massive increase in the number of pipelines being built to carry tar sands bitumen and gas from hydrofracking.  Rather than building the upgraded energy infrastructure we need to reduce wasted energy and to efficiently store and transport energy from the sun and wind, the United States has embarked on building pipelines as well as relying on trains to carry oil and gas. This has resulted in inevitable oil spills, leaks and other damage.

On August 1, a study of Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline—which flooded a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood with over 200,000 gallons of tar sands oil—revealed known “manufacturing defects,” with grave implications for the tens of thousands of similarly built pipelines still in the ground and operating. The old energy industries are grasping every piece of profit they can get, no matter what the cost to the planet (like this oil leak in Thailand) before the inevitable transition to a clean, sustainable energy economy is finally put in place.

One reason the movement has grown is because there have been so many leaks, oil spills and eco-disasters in recent years, especially this summer, that it has been impossible for people to ignore. And, the effects are long lasting.  People in Kalamazoo, Michigan are still dealing with a tar sands spill from the Enbridge Line 6 that occurred three years ago; problems will continue into the foreseeable future.  The TransCanada pipeline that brings tar sands from Alberta to the Midwest experienced 12 leaks in its first year beginning in June 2010.  And, dozens of “anomalies” (which can be seen in the video) were found in the newly laid pipeline in Southern, Texas.

This summer a TransCanada whistleblower testified in Canada that there was a “culture of noncompliance” and “coercion,” with “deeply entrenched business practices that ignored legally required regulations and codes” and carries “significant public safety risks.” One underreported environmental “leak” is not coming from pipelines but from the tar sands pit itself.  For nearly three months a mysterious watery bitumen has been coming from a tar sands site with no signs of stopping, and TransCanada has no idea how to stop it. “Watery” is significant because it may indicate the tar sands has mixed with the aquifer.  And, if people think they can avoid the inevitable problems of pipelines by using trains to transport they should not forget the horror of the train wreck in Lac-Megantic, Quebec where a train transporting oil derailed.

The destruction of the environment is so intense that it is leading to an angry opposition by growing numbers of people. We know that the planet cannot speak for itself and those of us who are conscious and aware of the ecological destruction to air, water, soil and climate, must take action to speak for the planet.

Sometimes it takes confrontation, and other times efforts to build consciousness.The Healing Walk in Alberta this July brought more than a thousand people to march together and pray for healing of the land, water, air, and the people themselves. At the heart of the event were indigenous people, who came from all over North America to join Alberta First Nations to see for themselves the destruction and degradation from the out-of-control tar sands expansion.  They found that even those who earn their living from the tar sands voiced their concern and support.

The big energy scare of the week is what is happening in Fukushima.  The recent news about the rising radiation in the Pacific Ocean occurred around the anniversary of the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in which two nuclear bombs killed 150,000 people (some reports say more than 300,000 were killed). Historical review shows the ruthlessness of President Truman’s decision as “American military leaders from all branches of the armed forces, among them Generals Eisenhower, Arnold, Marshall and MacArthur; and Admirals Leahy, Nimitz, and Halsey strongly dissented from the decision to use the bombs – some prior to August 1945, some in retrospect – for both military and moral reasons.”

Today the issue is nuclear energy and the horrendous impact of Fukushima is making headlines. Nuclear Regulation Authority officials in Japan report highly contaminated water may be leaking into the soil from a number of trenches, allowing the water to seep into the site’s groundwater and eventually into the Pacific Ocean.  TEPCO reports that highly-radioactive groundwater could start coming to the surface at the Fukushima plant. The head of the Groundwater Research Group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said, “Groundwater also flows beneath the seafloor, so it’s possible that contaminated groundwater could spring up outside the port.”

Reuters reports that the bolts in Fukushima’s storage tanks will corrode in just a few years, and a plant worker reveals, “Tepco says it doesn’t know how long tanks will hold.” These tanks hold 380,000 tons of radioactive water.

The fact that radioactive substances are still being released into the ground, the sea and the air is irrefutable proof that the nuclear disaster of March 2011 is not over. ABC Australia reports that last week TEPCO admitted that radioactive water from the plant has probably been leaking into the Pacific for the last three months. Former high-level nuclear industry executive – Arnie Gundersen says that Fukushima has “contaminated the biggest body of water on the planet”, and that the whole Pacific Ocean is likely to have cesium levels 5-10 times higher than at peak of nuclear bomb tests. The reality is now clear: TEPCO is unable to handle the emergency at Fukushima.

There is good news too. The Nuclear Information Research Service reports some major victories for activists working to stop nuclear energy. Duke Energy cancelled its two proposed new reactors in Levy County, Florida. And, Electricite de France announced that it is pulling out of the U.S. nuclear market entirely. EDF wanted to build new reactors at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland and Nine Mile Point, New York. This follows victories earlier this summer in California and Kentucky.

But there is more to do. In Washington State, a tank storing radioactive waste at America’s most contaminated nuclear site, Hanford, has sprung a leak, leaching yet more cancer-causing radioactive isotopes into soil merely five miles from the Columbia River.

And, your help is needed to stop an absurd plan by the nuclear energy industry to get their radioactive waste off their property by transporting it on the nation’s highways to temporary holding centers.  Activists dub this plan “Mobile Chernobyls” and “Fukushima Freeways!” Members of Congress actually support this dangerous plan and the Nuclear Information Research Service is asking your help to stop them.  Click here for more information about ways you can help.

Years of activism, organized resistance, civil resistance and pressure by people opposed to nuclear energy is winning.  Investors will not invest in nuclear, companies are dropping projects and the dangers of nuclear energy are becoming more obvious to everyone.  The nuclear renaissance heralded just a few years ago is in retreat.

Throughout the summer there have been numerous actions against new radical energy sources, including the fearless summer, sovereign summer and summer heat protests, along with so many others.  We really liked this one organized by Peaceful Uprising in Utah – “If you build it we will come” – which occurred at a tar sands strip mine, the first in the United States.  It sends the industry and their investors a message – the people do not want the environment destroyed for dirty energy that will add to the climate catastrophe; and they will organize to slow, stop, harass and undermine excavation and transportation efforts for radical energy. The message to investors is their investment will not produce the profits they hoped; and industry will know that their practices will be more costly with widespread community opposition.  No doubt litigation against radical energy will also be part of the equation.

Native Indians on the Nez Perce Reservation are in the midst of three days of protests to stop the transport of a tar sands megaload’s ten proposed tar sands shipments, measuring over 250 feet long, 23 feet high, and 21 feet wide, through the cherished lands and waters that sustain the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) people.

Another inspiring protest in Oregon to blockade the transport of carbon-based energy, brought out hundreds of people gathered on the Interstate Bridge and in kayaks and canoes in the Columbia River below to protest fossil fuel shipments on the Columbia. The group hung a banner from the bridge that said “Coal, oil, gas, none shall pass.”

The great potential of water damage from hydrofracking was on display in drought-stricken New Mexico.  Hydrofracking requires millions of gallons of water, and a terrible drought has led some farmers to sell their water to the oil and gas industry in order to pay their bills; even worse news, many farmers are actually pumping the water out of the aquifer to do so, risking long-term water supplies.

Another great concern is that the oil and gas frackers poison the water with their secret formula of toxic chemicals so the water will not only be unrecoverable, but may also penetrate and contaminate even more of the groundwater.  The destruction of water supplies by hydrofracking will reinforce the conclusion of aCitigroup economist on water as a commodity who said “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”

Protest movements in the U.S. and around the world are fighting back against hyrdrofracking.  After a protest at the Democratic Governor’s meeting in Aspen, even the pro-fracking Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, admitted what many in Colorado have been saying for years, “none of us want fracking in our backyard.” Colorado is a state with more than 2,000 documented fracking-related spills.

Protests and government action against Chevron for a fire that occurred a year ago which caused more than 15,000 people to be hospitalized with respiratory problems escalated on the anniversary.  Two thousand people came out to protest at the Richmond, CA facility, and more than 200 were arrested. On August 5, Chevron pleaded no contest to six criminal charges related to the fire and agreed to submit to additional oversight over the next few years and to pay $2 million in fines and restitution as part of a plea deal with state and county prosecutors.

Investigative journalist Steve Horn continues to expose the corruption of the State Department’s KXL pipeline investigation.  Now he shows how the firm writing the environmental impact assessment has ties not only to tar sands but also to hydrofracking. People are calling for the study to be thrown out and re-done because of the ties (not acknowledged by the firm when it was hired for the environmental review) between corporate interests and the firm doing the study.

One of the great threats to the environment is President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  This trade agreement will make transnational corporations more powerful than governments and make it very difficult to pass laws to protect the environment and move to a green energy economy.  Activists are urging people to join in this letter to President Obama, click here. And this Tuesday night at 9PM Eastern Time, there will be a massive twitter party to spread the word about the TPP and build the movement to stop it. Follow #TPPTuesdays to participate.  Also, “like” and follow this Facebook page. Themovement against the TPP is growing. Get involved by going to FlushTheTPP.org.

There may finally be some justice in a corporate environmental crime that is 29 years old. Leaders of the five organizations of survivors of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal welcomed the decision of the District Court this week to summon Dow Chemical, USA in the ongoing criminal case on the world’s worst industrial disaster in December 1984. Union Carbide, USA has been avoiding charges of manslaughter and other serious offenses and the US has been sheltering their CEO, Warren Anderson, from extradition to India. This could be a major step toward accountability.

But, after that horrendous train wreck in Lac-Magentic, Quebec that caused an oil explosion which killed 47 people and left a town destroyed, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Ltd train corporation filed for bankruptcy in the United States and Canada. It faces mounting pressure from authorities to pay for the disaster clean-up, but they want to avoid paying for the damages to preserve the value of their company.  It seems capitalists always find ways to socialize the costs whether they are human, environmental, or economic; whether trains or banks or other big business interests.

People are recognizing that there are inherent conflicts between the economic system that demands profit before protection of the planet, and requires constant growth to survive; with the need to protect the environment.  And, this conflict relates to the conflict of the wealth divide, John Foster Bellamy points out you can’t have substantive equality without ecological sustainability and vice versa. And, Vijay Prashad points out that at the root of many of these conflicts of wealth and the environment is a legal system that puts property rights first.

All of this points to the need for a transformation of our energy supplies.  The United States needs to set a goal of a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy by 2030.  Can it be done? Do we have the technology? Arjun Makhijani, who wrote a book on the roadmap to a clean energy economy that would be carbon-free and nuclear-free wrote on the anniversary of Fukushima that:

“We can do better than making plutonium just to boil water or polluting the Earth with fossil fuel use. When I finished Carbon-Free Nuclear-Free in 2007, I estimated it would take about forty years to get to an affordable, fully renewable energy system in the United States. Today, I think in can be done in twenty-five to thirty years. Are we up to the challenge?”

Research shows that wind, water and sun are safer, healthier and less expensive. It is not a question of money or feasibility, but of priorities.  There is no doubt the country and world would be better off if it committed to this transition. Americans want to live in a clean, carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy.  People are moving in that direction, protesting what we do not like and building the clean energy world we want.  What is lacking is leadership from elected officials.  As is so often the case, the people must lead.

People are working to create the new economy that will be equitable,  sustainable and put people and planet before profits.  We are at the Democracy Convention in Madison, Wisconsin where we organized the Economic Demcoracy Conference.  You can watch it on live stream here.  Join us and get involved.

This article is produced by PopularResistance.org in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on PopularResistance.org’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are cohosts of Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC. They also codirect Its Our Economy and are organizers of the PopularResistancew.org.