EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Leaves the Environment In Worse Shape

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will leave environmental damage as his legacy. His latest decision causes harm to both human health and the environment. He chose to ignore his own scientists and keep a 2012 standard for particulate matter pollution. An EPA report recommends a standard for nine micrograms per cubic meter, 25 percent stronger than the current limit of 12 micrograms. The current standard results in more than 52,0000 premature deaths a year.

Wheeler claimed that the EPA under the Trump administration “has continued America’s leadership in clear air.” He also claimed that “maintaining these important standards will ensure Americans can continue to breathe some of the cleanest air on the planet.” Perhaps he should read the EPA report that contradicts his statement. 

Lower-income communities and people of color bear a greater burden

Particulate matter pollution affects low-income communities and communities of color more. as studies show. A 2015 study found that low-income communities experience higher concentrations of air pollution. Those in poverty had a 1.35 times higher burden than the overall population while blacks had a 1.54 times higher burden, according to a 2018 study of particulate matter pollution. A 2016 study found that racial isolation is associated with long term pollution exposure. People of color have more exposure to particulate matter pollution than do whites, a 2012 study found.

“Low-income communities and communities of color will bear the brunt of Wheeler’s heartless decision,” said Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Federal Campaigns, in a statement. “The people most in need of strong science-based standards are the ones who will suffer.”

The health and environmental effects of particulate matter pollution

There are two types of particulate matter: PM10 (10 micrometers or smaller) and PM2.5 (2.5 micrometers and smaller). Both types can cause a slew of health problems, including nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease. An estimated three percent of cardiopulmonary and five percent of lung cancer deaths are attributable to particulate matter globally. People with heart or lung disease, children, and elderly adults are the ones most likely to be affected by particulate matter pollution.

Particulate matter also causes environmental damage. Particulate matter can be carried over long distances and can settle on the ground or water. Lakes and streams can become acidic as a result of particulate pollution. The nutrient balance in large river basins and coastal waters can change. Nutrients in the soil can be depleted. Sensitive forests and farm crops can be damaged, while the diversity of ecosystems is affected. Particulate matter can also contribute to acid rain effects.

Andrew Wheeler, the fossil fuel lobbyist 

Before Wheeler took the helm of the EPA, he worked as an energy lobbyist. His clients included Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal mining company in the U.S. Wheeler is the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a federation of over 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders, and policy experts. He loves coal. 

Before working as a lobbyist, he worked as a legislative aide to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress. Inhofe referred to climate change as “the greatest hoax” ever perpetrated and said in a radio interview that teaching children about climate change is “brainwashing.” When Wheeler’s nomination was announced, Inhofe praised the choice of the fossil fuel lobbyist. 

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a man who puts profit above people, companies above nature. It should come as no surprise that one of his last acts as the head of the EPA is one that demonstrates no regard for human health.


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The Move to Keep Fossil Fuels In the Ground

The covid-19 pandemic failed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. According to the World Meteorological Organization, global carbon emissions continue to increase. Perhaps one of the reasons is that most of the world’s electricity still comes from fossil fuels. And fossil fuel exploration and extraction continues despite the pandemic.

Fossil fuels are the main cause of climate change. Coal, oil, and gas comprise nearly 80 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions since the industrial revolution. The world is on track to produce more than twice as many fossil fuels by 2030 than is consistent with limiting the rise in global temperature to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The world’s fossil fuel reserves contain enough carbon to push the world beyond the 1.5C goal. 

Phasing-out existing stockpiles and the production of fossil fuels is in line with the 1.5C goal. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty calls for the phasing out of both stockpiles and production. A treaty would put the supply-side of fossil fuels in center focus by creating an international agreement to deal with greenhouse gas emissions at source. A treaty would help keep large amounts of fossil fuels in the ground. 

Why a treaty is necessary

The latest UN Environment Program report on the emissions gap found that nationally determined contributions of emissions imply a temperature rise of three degrees Celsius by 2100. If the emissions gas is not closed by 2030, the goal of staying below two degrees Celsius is out of reach. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest findings calls for a reduction of carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and for investments in fossil fuel extraction and power generation to decrease by up to $.85 trillion by 2050. 

The global demand for oil, gas, and coal is growing. Fossil fuels comprise 81 percent of energy use, according to the International Energy Agency. Fossil fuel use will increase for decades, the IEA projects. However, to keep warming below two degrees Celsius, 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves should not be burned, according to a report by Carbon Tracker. 

Some countries have policies in place to phase out fossil fuels

Although international treaties neglect supply-side solutions, countries are moving to keep fossil fuels in the ground. New Zealand, France, Belize, and Costa Rica have moratoriums on oil exploration in place. France, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Uruguay have moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The UK, Spain, and China have set timetables for phasing out existing fossil fuels. Several other countries committed to divesting from fossil fuels. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund divested from coal stocks. Ireland’s Parliament voted to require its sovereign wealth fund to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance launched in November 2017 as a coalition of national and sub-national governments, businesses, and organizations to advance the transition from coal to clean energy. Over 25 nations are part of the Alliance. These nations have pledged to phase out coal-fired power generation. To be a member of the Alliance, nations must make public declarations they will not build new, unabated coal-fired power stations and will phase out existing ones.

Phasing out subsidies

Fossil fuel subsidies occur in all stages of fossil fuel production. The Production Gap report by the UNEP looked at production plans in 10 key countries. Seven of the countries (China, the United States, Russia, India, Australia, Indonesia, and Canada) are top fossil fuel producers. Three are significant producers with strong climate goals (Germany, Norway, and the UK). What the report found out is that the production of fossil fuels in nearly every national plan exceeds the 2030 levels projected by the IEA. Subsidy reform is a tool governments can use to help make their fossil fuel plans line up with climate goals. 

The will to act

The world is already experiencing climate change impacts. The 2020 hurricane season so far has had 30 named tropical storms and forced forecasters to use the Greek letters of the alphabet. That breaks the record set in 2005 when there were 28 named storms. Hurricanes are not the only climate change impacts this year. California has experienced a record number of devastating wildfires, with 4.1 million acres and counting burned in 2020. 

Do countries have the will to act to keep fossil fuels in the ground so the world can keep warming to the 1.5C goal? Only time will tell


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Trump Administration Bails Out the Declining Oil and Gas Industry

The Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department began a corporate bailout in March. Since then, oil and gas companies issued $99.3 billion in new bonds, a report by Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, and BailoutWatch found. 

The Federal Reserve bought debt from 19 oil and gas companies, and those companies have since sold debt investors over $60 billion in new bonds. Their bond sales represent about 60 percent of energy debt issuance during that period. Twelve of the 19 companies received downgrades of their short-term debt, long-term debt, credit, or default ratings from major credit rating agencies since the bailouts in March. 

The total tally of new bonds issued this year by oil and gas companies is $129 million, which is a record going back at least a decade. This year marked the highest level of energy debt issued since 2010. “This surge in borrowing was made possible by the Fed’s promise to purchase large quantities of corporate debt,” the report stated. 

There is a big gap between the favorable treatment given to corporations and the treatment of municipalities, small businesses, and individuals, the report noted. States and municipalities have been offered much more restrictive loan terms than have private companies although municipal bonds are far less likely to default than corporate debt. Chevron and Wisconsin serve as good examples. The Federal Reserve bought a Chevron bond at a rate of about 0.9 percent over four years. Wisconsin has the same credit rating as Chevron but has to pay about 1.3 percent over three years. 

“This bailout is an unprecedented rescue of a dying industry,” said co-author Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project, in a statement.

“Instead of bailing out climate-destroying fossil fuel companies, we must assist small businesses, local governments, and individuals facing dire financial straits.”

Alan Zibel

The oil and gas industry declined until Trump’s corporate bailout

Earlier this year, before the pandemic and the oil price war between Russia and Saudia Arabia caused global demand to sink to an all-time low, the oil and gas industry “showed unmistakable signs of decline,” according to the report. Moody’s. The credit rating agency forecast in February a higher risk of default and a harder time borrowing for the oil industry. Some companies may not have made it if the Federal Reserve had not stepped in. 

Despite the intervention of the Federal Reserve, the oil and gas industry will continue to decline. The consulting firm Rystad Energy forecasts that up to 190 oil-related bankruptcies by the end of 2022 if prices stay low. The firm also warns that investors, including the Federal Reserve, are less likely to be repaid. The report by the three environmental organizations points out that “a bad investment by the central bank can harm taxpayers.”

A total of 12 fossil fuel companies that received investments by the Federal Reserve received downgrades of their debt or credit ratings from major rating agencies since March. EQT Corporation is one of those companies, and its debt was downgraded to junk by Moody’s before the pandemic. Yet the company was able to sell $500 million in bonds in the second quarter of this year. 

The Bureau of Land Management bails out a company that owes back taxes

The Federal Reserve is not the only one to give bailouts to oil companies. The Bureau of Land Management provided US Realm Powder River a 96 percent discount on 23 federal leases in Wyoming even though it owes $4 million in unpaid federal royalties and failed to pay local taxes for the last three years. According to a report by the Western Values Project, US Realm Powder River is either the sole or majority lessee on 16 Bureau of land management leases on over 7,976 acres that were given a reduced royalty rate to 0.5 percent. 

“Once again, the Trump administration has opted to put polluters over people without a second thought while taxpayers foot the bill,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill. 

What you can do

There is something you can do if you are tired of the oil and gas industry bailout from the government. Vote on November 3. Let your voice be heard at the ballot box.


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Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States

A new, cross-disciplinary white paper authored by three prominent international climate experts for the US-based Universal Ecological Fund refutes the notion that taking proactive actions to mitigate and adapt to rapid climate warming runs contrary to U.S. domestic economic interests.

It was precisely that contention that President Donald J. Trump used to justify his intention to back the US out of its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, to which then President Barack Obama committed the US in December 2015.

In contrast to numerous other studies that have sought to assess the multitude of impacts and effects climate warming has and will continue to have over the course of the 21st century, the FEU-US study, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” zooms in on economic losses resulting from extreme weather events, and on health costs of exposure to air pollution that result from burning fossil fuels. Continue reading “Leading Experts Make the Case for Climate Action in the United States”