Map of “high risk” chemical plants in the USA

Since 9/11 governments and industry have argued that information on toxic substance storage must be kept secure in order to reduce the risk that acts of terrorism will cause the release of harmful materials. This view has reversed the trend towards community right-to-know that was evolving prior to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Whatever the merits of the two philosophies, Greenpeace USA has broken the taboo by publishing a map of what it calls “high risk chemical plants” in the USA. The map includes facility names, community, and types of chemicals stored.

Greenpeace claims that:

  • One in three Americans is at risk of a poison gas disaster by living near one of hundreds of chemical facilities that store and use highly toxic chemicals.
  • A chemical disaster at just one of these facilities could kill or injure thousands of people with acute poisoning.
  • Of the 12,440 chemical facilities that report their chemical disaster scenarios to the Environmental Protection Agency, Greenpeace has identified 473 chemical facilities across the U.S. that each put 100,000 people or more at risk.
  • Of those, 89 put one million or more people at risk up to 25 miles downwind from a plant.

Greenpeace offers the following caveats to its map:

  • All data is based on hand-written notes taken from reports issued to the Environmental Protection Agency by owners and operators of facilities through the Risk Management Program.
  • Inaccuracies may occur from human error or may be out of date as these reports are updated sporadically by companies either every five years or when a process change occurs at a facility.
  • All data is current as of October 2011.

To GallonDaily’s knowledge, no similar mapping based on current data is available for Canada.

The map is available at http://usactions.greenpeace.org/chemicals/map/

Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls for climate change boycott

In an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu is calling for “an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet”.

Tutu makes the following points, among many others:

  • We must stop climate change. And we can, if we use the tactics that worked in South Africa against the worst carbon emitters.
  • Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse. No more can it be dismissed as science fiction; we are already feeling the effects.
  • It is appalling that the US is debating whether to approve a massive pipeline transporting 830,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The pipeline will affect the whole world, our shared world, the only world we have. We don’t have much time.
  • [Our] responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it”. To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.
  • During the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, using boycotts, divestment and sanctions, and supported by our friends overseas, we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state, but also serious moral pressure.
  • Those countries and companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us.
  • People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.
  • We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.
  • It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. To serve as custodians of creation is not an empty title; it requires that we act, and with all the urgency this dire situation demands.

The complete article is available at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/10/divest-fossil-fuels-climate-change-keystone-xl

A top ten 10 list for energy planning

In celebration of the announcement earlier yesterday that Stephen Colbert would be taking over from David Letterman as host of The Late Show, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario shared with the closing plenary of the All-Energy Conference in Toronto his top ten list for energy planning in Ontario. GallonDaily believes that the list has applicability to many other jurisdictions, so we are presenting an abbreviated version of the Commissioner’s list here:

10.Plan on the basis of all fuels. We obsess on electricity planning, which is domestically produced, but Ontario’s energy planning often ignores petroleum fuels, which are imported.
9. Integrate the cost of carbon. Even Exxon is putting a shadow price for carbon in its long term planning. Ontario should do the same.
8. Provide transparency, honesty, and stakeholder participation in energy planning. Key word: honesty. Miller argues that governments and industry should respond to the misinformation that is controlling the public policy debate.
7. Take advantage of the technological opportunities that we have, including smart grid, energy storage, and waste heat.
6. Pursue building retrofits and building energy consumption labelling seriously.
5. Support geothermal and solar hot water.
4. Seize the low carbon opportunities in transportation, especially electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and light and heavy rail.
3. Create an open policy forum in the energy sector.
2. Conservation first, everywhere: it’s the cheapest and best way forward.
1. Leadership: we need someone to show us the path forward, because we do not have a vision of where we are going.

This is a GallonDaily original post based on a presentation witnessed at the All-Energy Canada conference in Toronto on 10th April 2014.

Canadians interested in more energy efficiency

Elizabeth McDonald, President and CEO of the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance, gave a fascinating presentation to the All-Energy Canada conference in Toronto today.

In public opinion research commissioned by CEEA and undertaken by Gandalf Research:

  • More than half of Canadians (58 per cent) said they are doing some things to conserve energy, but will likely do more.
  • Just over one third of Canadians said they have done a great deal to conserve energy in the last year.
  • When asked what the benefits of conserving their energy would be, 86 per cent of Canadians said saving money; 49 per cent said helping the environment.
  • One third of Canadians said they haven’t done more to conserve energy because of cost.
  • One quarter of Canadians have had an energy audit done, or participated in a rebate program.
  • 81 per cent of Canadians said that developing technologies that reduce energy consumption is very important.

Lots more in the slide deck for the presentation which is available at http://energyefficiency.org/resources/reports .Click on All Energy Conference Presentation: Making Energy Efficiency Work.

The All-Energy Canada conference is a partnership between the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, the Canadian Solar Industries Association, and Reed Exhibitions. This article is posted by GallonDaily directly from the All-Energy Canada 2014 conference floor.

 

Canadian Renewable Fuels Association launches new bioeconomy strategy

W. Scott Thurlow, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, used an Ottawa luncheon meeting of the Economic Club of Canada today to announce a new strategic plan for the Association. Entitled Evolution and Growth: From Biofuels to Bioeconomy, the strategy acknowledges that biofuels are not just about replacing and enhancing petroleum as an energy resource but should also provide the chemical building blocks of a greener industrial economy.

Thurlow’s presentation emphasized that renewable fuels provide major economic, environmental and social benefits and that innovation within and assisted by the industry has now reached a point where renewables are now going from green to greener. Renewable fuels are now encouraging such initiatives as the modernization of industry, diverting waste from landfills, and revitalizing the forestry sector.

The CRFA is seeking:

  • a fair value for greenhouse gas reductions, meaning monetizing of emission reductions through emissions trading or a carbon tax.
  • platforms that help advance innovation and promote investment in new renewable fuels technologies in Canada.
  • increasing the federal renewable diesel mandate to ensure a 5% inclusion rate of biodiesel in diesel fuel by 2020.
  • the build-out of new refuelling infrastructure so that consumers will have more choices at the pump.
  • increasing domestic production and use of advanced biofuels.
  • building a comprehensive bioeconomy strategy for Canada.

The full report and an audiovisual presentation are available at http://www.evolutionandgrowth.ca/

The next issue of Gallon Environment Letter will be focusing on the topic of building a bioeconomy and will provide more information about the CRFA proposals. Subscription instructions are at www.gallonletter.ca/subscription.htm

Renewable energy looking good in Europe

Critics of renewable power frequently suggest that the intermittent nature of wind and solar power make it unreliable and therefore uneconomic. Energy guru Amory Lovins pointed out to the recent GLOBE conference that conventional energy sources are also unreliable. Down time from scheduled maintenance, breakdowns, distribution system problems, solar flares, and labour disruptions not only at the generating plant but also throughout the supply chain can cause conventional generating stations to go off line. Now data on renewables from Europe show how much of a role renewable can play in major electricity systems.

The European Union has a population of just over 500 million, or about 25% more than North America. According to figures just published by the European Renewable Energy Observatory, an independent organization co-funded by the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme of the European Union,

The report presents information for each European Union country with respect to windpower, photovoltaic, solar thermal, small hydropower, geothermal, heat pumps, biogas, biofuels, urban waste, solid biomass, concentrated solar power, and ocean energy. Renewable energy provided 23.4% of gross electricity consumption in 2012, employed 1.22 million people, and accounted for about $200 billion CDN in economic activity. EurObserv’ER attributes most of the decline in renewable energy investment to a decline in technology prices.

The 185 page report The State of Renewable Energies in Europe 2013 Edition may be found at http://www.energies-renouvelables.org/observ-er/stat_baro/barobilan/barobilan13-gb.pdf

A summary is available at http://www.eurobserv-er.org/pdf/press/year_2014/bilan/english.pdf

High levels of VOCs are emitted from some new baby mattresses

Environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have reported that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from some crib mattresses. The problem appears to be associated with the polyurethane foam and polyester foam that is often used in such mattresses. New baby mattresses emit four times as much VOCs as old crib mattresses. Body heat increases emissions and emissions of volatile organic compounds are highest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone. One of the researchers is quoted by the University as stating that crib mattresses release VOCs at rates comparable to other consumer products and indoor materials, including laminate flooring (20 to 35 micrograms per square metre per hour) and wall covering (51 micrograms per square metre per hour).

The researchers identified more than 30 VOCs in the mattresses, including phenol, neodecanoic acid and linalool. The most abundant chemicals identified in the crib mattress foam, such as limonene (a chemical that gives products a lemon scent), are routinely found in many cleaning and consumer products. The researchers have not published the brands of baby mattress used in their research.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, not much is known about the health effects that occur from the levels of VOCs found in homes. The implications of the research are not alarming, in GallonDaily’s opinion, but the whole question of indoor exposure to VOCs certainly warrants further study and emissions from baby products containing foam may warrant somewhat more accelerated further study.

A summary of the research findings is available at http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/04/02/crib-mattresses-emit-chemicals/. The full paper, fee or subscription required, is at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es405625q?prevSearch=%255BContrib%253A%2BBoor%255D&searchHistoryKey=

Greenpeace praises some internet companies while slamming others, itself

It is not often that Greenpeace in North America praises large organizations in the private sector but that is exactly what the ngo did when flying its ‘thermal airship’ over Los Angeles earlier today. On one side the message read ‘Building the Green Internet’ and carried the logos of Apple, Facebook and Google. The reference was to the announcement by these three companies that they will power their data centres entirely from renewable energy. On the other side the airship carried the message ‘Who’s Next to Go Green?’ with the logos of Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Pinterest, four companies that Greenpeace believes are powering their operations with polluting energy.

GallonDaily cannot help but note that the ‘thermal airship’, which can accommodate as many as three people for a one hour flight or one person for a three hour flight, apparently derives its lift from air heated by a propane burner system. Last time GallonDaily checked, we found that propane is a 100% fossil fuel with greenhouse gas emissions not much better than oil. For Greenpeace to praise companies that use 100% renewable power with an airship that uses 100% fossil energy seems somewhat more than ironic.

Nevertheless, the concept of praising environmentally more responsible companies while hitting on those that are not making similar moves towards sustainability is likely one that will appeal to the internet generation. Let’s hope Silicon Valley is listening.

The Greenpeace announcement of the stunt is available at http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2014/04/03/greenpeace-flies-silicon-valley-praises-internet-companies-gone-green/

Thoughts on waste management consultations

One of the closing sessions at last week’s GLOBE 2014 conference was a special session on waste management. Organized by the National Zero Waste Council, a fledgling organization sponsored by Metro Vancouver, the session, entitled Advancing a Waste Prevention and Reduction Agenda in Canada, involved a panel of generic policy experts involved not only with waste management but also with other environmental and social issues. The panel was chaired by Erica Johnson, host of CBC’s Marketplace show.

The most interesting part of the session was the opportunity provided to the 150 or so audience members to ask questions and make proposals for the work of the NZWC. Although held as part of GLOBE, this particular session was open to anyone who might be interested. Vancouver is currently going through a strategic planning process for waste management, including the construction of a thermal component commonly but not quite accurately known as an “incinerator”. Thus the session attracted a fairly activist group of people and organizations who have thoughts and notions about waste management.

In GallonDaily’s editor’s experience from more than 30 years of work on waste management issues, waste management is one of those issues, like hockey in Canada, where everyone considers themselves an expert. The suggestions brought forward by the audience covered the full range from banning polystyrene, putting a refundable deposit on all glass bottles or on all packaging, taxing homes according to the amount of waste generated, requiring retailers to take back all packaging, and asking the NZWC to ban the construction of an incinerator in Vancouver. One could see where the ideas were coming from but few if any of them were practical, politically viable, and economically sound whether for Canada or for the NZWC.

As almost everyone involved with public consultation, especially around waste management issues, will know, people frequently promote ideas that are based on an incomplete understanding of the facts. But the frustrating part of the GLOBE session was that no one on the panel or in the room attempted to explain why some of the ideas presented were not likely to fly. Thus the participants presenting these impractical ideas most likely went away feeling that they had made a contribution. When, in a matter of months, the NZWC announces its first workplan and none of these ideas are included, some of the activist participants will feel that they have been ignored. They will be angry and many will begin to promote their proposals even more aggressively. The panel led GallonDaily to two conclusions:

  1. consultations of this nature should include experts who can respond immediately to suggestions coming from the public and can discuss the pros and cons of each idea in a way that increases understanding of the complexity of the topic and of the considerations that have to be taken into account when developing waste management policy; and
  2. the industry must recognize that public opinion is eager for waste reduction initiatives that may be quite harmful to industry and, in some cases, to the environment. Unless the Canadian packaging industries and commercial users of packaging ramp up their public education efforts, local and provincial governments, possibly also a future federal government, will start implementing policies based on suggestions coming from public meetings such as this.

In GallonDaily’s opinion, industry will only have itself to blame if packaging bans, taxes, levies, and take-back programs become mandatory.

Former Enbridge CEO contributes sound ideas on corporate social responsibility

In a presentation to a session at the GLOBE 2014 conference in Vancouver, former Enbridge President and CEO Patrick Daniel gave a very realistic overview of how corporate responsibility to various groups has evolved over his 40 years in industry. He said that companies used to consider that shareholders, employees and customers were their primary communities but in more recent times the whole of society has become much more important, possibly even exceeding the previous three groups in importance for corporate success.

At the same time Daniel admitted that only a very small number of companies have recognized this, that for the corporation it is not just a matter of handing money out for community activities but actually engaging with broader society and many of the groups that society includes, and that many companies are finding it especially challenging to address their corporate social responsibilities. He said that he expects that in future years the matter of social license to operate will impact many more companies.

This is a GallonDaily live report from the floor of the GLOBE 2014 conference.