Open Letter to President Obama on Climate Change

The letter that is part of the article above encapsulates what many of us have been saying for years. Let’s hope the President is finally in a position to take action to push renewable energy and reduce fossil fuels.

I did finally get a reply to the letter I sent to the President after his appearance at Binghamton University last August.  It was disappointing, as it failed to acknowledge any points that I had made, just re-iterating the accomplishments of the administration in renewables and the “all of the above” strategy that is causing us to lost ground even further on fossil-fuel-induced climate change.

Obviously, an open letter signed by so many major environmental organizations has much more sway than letters from unknown constituents such as myself. Even then, is it possible to move the bureaucracy and the Congress in the right direction?

Comment on Forbes fracking piece

Re-posting a comment I made to this Forbes piece:

It’s a lot more complicated than Mr. Steffy lets on in this piece. I live in the Southern Tier of NY right along the PA border and know that the vast majority of the Marcellus and the Utica in NY is too shallow, too thin, and/or thermally overmature to drill with the current prices for methane. (For more information, view the recordings of a recent panel at Cornell: ) Most of the drilling now is in wet gas areas, as the liquid hydrocarbons are drawing higher prices than the dry gas (methane), which is what is in NY and northern tier PA.

Many rural folks who have wells nearby do not benefit from the methane. Most of their homes do not use natural gas and are not on distribution lines for it. The low price of methane does not benefit them but it does drive down any royalties they may get.

NYC folks who are converting to natural gas heat instead of oil are benefitting by lowered costs at the moment, although if large-scale LNG exports begin, domestic prices are sure to rise.

Meanwhile, both rural and urban folks are suffering the effects of climate change, which is caused by ALL fossil fuels. Unconventional fossil fuel extraction, processing, transport, and use are all implicated in methane emissions, which adds to the carbon footprint.

Instead of building out all the infrastructure needed to support unconventional fossil fuel drilling and use, we should build renewable energy infrastructure. It is technologically possible to go to renewable sources without a fracking “bridge”. Read more about a plan to do this in NY and elsewhere here:

typhoon lessons

I have been following the horrible impacts of typhoon Haiyan on The Philippines. I was moved by Yeb Sano’s speech and action at the UN climate talks in Poland.  When will we wake up to the extreme danger that climate change has on our planet and all its inhabitants and take the swift and strong actions we need to keep the earth (at least mostly) hospitable?

Will Haiyan, in the wake of wildfires, floods, droughts, glacial melt, heat waves, and record storms of all types across the globe finally be the motivator to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels? We have already delayed much longer than the science indicated was wise and we can’t undo the damage we have already inflicted on the atmosphere, but we must stop our dependence on fossil fuels if we are to have any hope of averting runaway greenhouse impacts, with massive melting of permafrost and methane hydrate release from the oceans.

I have been trying to do my part by opposing unconventional fossil fuel extraction, promoting efficiency, and supporting renewable energy technology, but, even with many others following the same path, we have been unable to affect change quickly enough. In the aftermath of Haiyan, I find myself thinking within a Catholic social justice framework:  about social sin, about care of creation, about the dignity of human life in community, about the responsibility I – and each of us – have to care for others and the earth.

I haven’t figured out yet how much more I can do. I pray that enough people will come together to finally move public policy in the direction necessary to save the planet before it is too late. While we need to preserve the earth for future generations, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we also need to act for present generations.



Superstorm Sandy anniversary

This week, there are a lot of reports on the one year anniversary of superstorm Sandy, much of it revolving around how slow and difficult re-building has been and how much is left to do. While these reports are true and I understand the frustrations, the situation should not have been a surprise. Recovery from major disasters is usually slow. Compare today’s New Orleans to pre-Katrina. I live in a town that was affected by the flooding of the Susquehanna with tropical storm Lee in September, 2011. Some of the FEMA buyouts in my county are just going through now, and probably wouldn’t have happened at all if Sandy hadn’t been so devastating that it mustered additional federal disaster recovery funding for New York State.

The sad truth is that many homes and businesses that were destroyed should not be re-built in the same location, even if they are elevated. For decades, we have been building on barrier islands, river banks, shorelines, flood plains, hillsides that are at high risk for landslides, former marshes and wetlands, and all manner of unstable topography. We built various flood walls and levees and drainage systems and sea walls and planted wind breaks and tried to convince ourselves that we could control nature, but it is becoming increasingly evident how foolish we were. Barrier islands are meant to be temporary landforms, breaking and reforming when they are battered by winds and waves. The sand on the shores is meant to migrate. Floods are meant to deposit new soil on their floodplains and to change the path of the river bed. It’s why mature rivers develop bends and meanders. Marshes and other wetlands absorb some of the excess precipitation to blunt the effects of large storms and floods.

We got away with building where we shouldn’t have and interfering with the natural topography for a while, dealing with extreme weather events when they happened rarely, and might have gotten away with it for even longer, had we not been burning fossil fuels with abandon. Given the realities of climate change and the fact that, even if we finally muster the will to stop using fossil fuels quickly, the planet will continue to heat with increased severe weather events for decades to come,  we need to stop doing the things that got us into this mess in the first place.  It means not building at all in some especially vulnerable areas and building to strict codes regarding elevation and positioning of infrastructure in others.  Restoring wetlands and salt marshes. Increasing permeable areas so there is less run-off to deal with.  The list of changes we need to make is long.

Most important of all, we must stop all incentives, subsidies, tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, etc. for fossil fuels. It’s (well past) time that we transitioned to 100% renewable fuel sources. We have the technology to do so. There are scientific studies outlining plans to do so, including one specific to New York State.  Bonus:  Offshore wind turbines can help blunt some of the force of hurricane winds.

We will have to weather more horrible storms and more instances of sustained bad weather, such as the stationary front that caused nine inches of rain and then-record flooding in my area in 2006 and the recent stalled storm system that recently devastated the Boulder CO area. And we will have to re-build, but we have to do it with an eye to what will be more secure in the future. And we have to keep the vast majority of the fossil fuels in the ground. No more excuses. It’s much, much too late for that.

Letter to President Obama

As predicted, things got hectic, but I have been wanting to share the following letter that I sent to President Obama after his visit to Binghamton University to talk about higher education. Of course, we fracktivists took the opportunity to talk about the perils of unconventional fossil fuel development. We rallied on campus, had speakers, and held signs and chanted as the presidential motorcade passed. Because we did not have a forum to meet the president directly, I wrote a letter after the event. I realize the president won’t see it, but hope it will get be another addition to the growing file of opposition to fossil fuels, especially unconventional ones.

August 26, 2013

Dear President Obama,

I am very pleased that you came to visit my hometown, Vestal, New York, home to Binghamton University, on Friday to discuss the affordability and quality of higher education. You and I are the same age and we each have two wonderful daughters.  Another thing you, Michelle, and I have in common is that we all were lifted up and set on a service-oriented path for our adult lives by outstanding opportunities at institutions of higher learning. Obviously, the particulars of our journeys are very different; I went from the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, Massachusetts to Smith College. However, for us and countless others, the critical and creative thinking that is fostered by college/university education has been the basis for many important decisions in both private and public life.

One of the things I most appreciated about attending a liberal arts institution was the encouragement to study many subjects outside one’s major. One of my favorite departments at Smith was the geology department, in which I studied basic geology, environmental science, and meteorology and climatology. I studied those subjects because of personal interest, but, in recent years, that background has been important in my role as an engaged citizen and social justice advocate.

I was one of hundreds of New Yorkers who greeted your motorcade on the Binghamton University campus with signs asking you to ban high volume hydraulic fracturing for fossil fuels, “fracking” for short. One side of my sign pictured a traffic light with the caption, “Stop fracking. Go green energy.” I know you have called for the elimination of tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies for a long time and share your disappointment that they have not yet been enacted. I also know that you consider fracked methane to be a less damaging bridge fuel to the renewable energy future. I disagree on a number of grounds, but will only address climate change here.  

As you may know, if more than 3.2% of methane produced escapes into the atmosphere, methane becomes worse for the climate than coal when burned to produce electricity. Recent scientific studies show high rates of leakage from gas drilling basins. For example, this study by NOAA/CIRES shows leakage just from the drilling and immediate production in the Uintah basin in Utah at 6+%. Recent and ongoing studies have detected thousands of methane leaks from the distribution systems under the streets of Boston, Manhattan, and Washington DC. A recent report completed for Sen. Markey shows that consumers are being charged for the methane lost to leakage:  Methane is lost through venting and flaring, the most egregious current example being the massive venting and flaring in conjunction with Bakken shale oil drilling in North Dakota and Montana. There are also leaks in transmission lines and from gas processing and transmission activities such as compressor stations. Three examples from my own area:  1) The Millennium Pipeline was cited for methane leakage and faulty welds in 2011 even though it had only been in operation since 2009.  2) An explosion occurred at a Windsor NY compressor station on July 23, 2012 when lightning hit a vent stack and ignited methane being vented. This venting of methane was described as part of normal operations.  3) We smelled gas in the street near our Vestal home and had a patch of grass near the curb die. NYSEG confirmed a methane leak but said the wait to fix it would be months. It became an emergency situation one night during a heavy rainstorm when the methane leaking underground began to follow the lines into the basements of two of our neighbors’ homes.  Over a year, and several other emergency repairs later, the lines in the street and into our homes were finally replaced, along with some of our meters. Months later, we had an energy audit performed, which detected a leak in the fitting of our new outdoor meter. I realize these personal stories are anecdotal, but they illustrate that methane leakage is common in the distribution system and that the industry does not deem these leaks particularly important to quickly repair or to prevent from occurring in the first place.

Current evidence makes it impossible to believe the industry’s contention that only 1% leakage is occurring. Rather, it seems that the current increase in unconventional fossil fuel production, particularly of methane, is causing damaging amount of methane emissions, especially given the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas in the critical twenty year timeframe, during which we are attempting to keep atmospheric carbon below 450 ppm and total global warming below two degrees Celsius.

To achieve this goal, international climate scientists agree that the world can burn less than a third of the known conventional reserves of fossil fuel. Given that, it makes the most sense to leave unconventional fossil fuel carbon safely sequestered underground. That would mean no further development of mountain top removal coal, shale oil/gas, tar sands, coal bed methane, off-shore Arctic drilling, etc. and using a third of the remaining conventional reserves as a transitional fuel source as we move quickly to a renewable energy world.

The flip side of my sign dealt with our local role in that transition. It read,  “Binghamton U:  Proud Home to Solar Lab and SmartEnergy. Not Fracking!”  The existing Solar Lab has developed a thin-film solar cell that does not use any rare earth elements. The SmartEnergy Center is currently being built as part of the SUNY 2020 initiative and will conduct research in green energy production, efficiency, and storage technologies. Meanwhile, in the City of Binghamton, a High Tech Incubator project is underway. We hope that some of the research from the University will be used to start new companies to produce renewable energy products for New York, the United States, and the world. Broome County, the birthplace of Link Flight Simulation and IBM, has a long history of innovation and we hope to carry that legacy forward into the 21st century green economy. I also hope that we can convince Governor Cuomo to make New York a leader in renewable energy by adopting a plan such as this:

I truly appreciate how much you have already done to move our country toward greater energy efficiency and renewable energy production through the many green initiatives that grew out of the stimulus plan, the new CAFE mileage standards, the incoming regulations on power plant carbon emissions, the White House solar array installation, and others. I also appreciate you using the power of the presidency to bring the issue of climate change to the fore in national attention. I do, however, feel that the fossil fuel indsutry and the scientists they fund have misled you on the place of unconventional fossil fuels in the transition to the clean energy economy. I hope that you and your administration will consult with independent scientists to reassess the role of fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction and, instead of “all of the above,” choose “go all in” for renewables.

Very truly yours,

Joanne Corey

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