more unsettled

Last week, I wrote about how unsettled I was, for both personal and societal reasons.

It’s worse now, particularly on the political front.

With the Manafort verdict and the Cohen guilty pleas and the immunity deals for Pecker and  Weisselberg, the possible legal jeopardy for the Trump family and businesses has increased. The president has tweeted multiple threats against the Justice Department and especially against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There has been public discussion about the possible issuing of presidential pardons, but those only apply to federal charges and it is likely that the state of New York will bring more tax and financial charges against the Trump Foundation, businesses, and family members. Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation on Russian election and political interference continues and no one knows when the next indictment or plea deal will be announced.

It makes my head spin.

Although I was a preteen at the time, I remember this same unsettled feeling during the final stage of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned. Despite the public revelation of evidence of corruption and coverup, many of Nixon’s supporters among the electorate were adamantly against his impeachment or resignation; it took the intercession of Republican Congressional leaders to convince Nixon to resign rather than put the country through impeachment of the president and subsequent Senate trial.

I have no idea how our current predicament will resolve. I pray that it will be just and peaceful and lead to healing and reconciliation in the country, but I fear that it will not.

Senator John McCain died yesterday, leaving a long and distinguished record of public service, as a Navy officer, including five and a half years as a prisoner of war, a member of the House of Representatives, a Senator for over thirty years, and a presidential nominee. Tributes to him, his courage, and his service are pouring in from across the country from people across the political spectrum. It saddens me that part of the obituaries and coverage is dedicated to Donald Trump’s personal animus against and disparagement of Senator McCain.  Given that history, DT’s current condolences ring hollow.

May John rest in peace and may his legacy live on in his family, friends, and colleagues.

Earth Day

Another in the string of catch-up posts from this spring…

Earth Day was remarkable for us here in New York State for two reasons this year.

First, the vast majority of the countries of the world signed the Paris climate agreement that day at United Nations headquarters in New York City. Of course, this was a remarkable event for the whole world and we all hope that we finally have the political will to follow through on what the science tells us we must do to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming while assisting people everywhere to adapt to the effects that are unavoidable and already underway.

Second, just days before a final deadline, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the water quality certificate application that would have permitted the construction of the Constitution methane pipeline.

Those of us in the environmental community have been battling against the further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure as part of the fight against global warming. Building pipelines for fossil fuels is akin to building whaling ships as whale oil was being displaced by other lighting sources. It doesn’t make sense to prop up a dying technology.

Unfortunately, the decision in New York came too late to save forests in a 22-mile swath of Pennsylvania, where some land was taken by eminent domain and cleared despite the owners’ objection and the fact that the whole project did not have all the permits needed to move forward. We were especially heartbroken for the Holleran family, who lost the majority of their producing sugar maples.

The pipeline company is trying to challenge the DEC’s decision in court. I sincerely hope that the court upholds the DEC’s action to protect our environment and health.

Good News for the Southern Tier

Like many other former industrial powerhouses, my home region, the Southern Tier of New York (midway across the southern border of the state with Pennsylvania), has struggled with economic development.

In recent years, while there has been some growth in the education, health care, and arts sectors here in the Binghamton area, the formerly strong manufacturing and hi-tech sectors are a shadow of their former selves.

Since 2011, New York has had an economic development system organized as various regional economic development councils, which make plans which compete for funding. The eight counties of the Southern Tier have won some funding in prior years, but this year the stakes were especially high, with three regional prizes worth $500 million ($100 million a year for five years) each available. The other five regions will share a larger-than-usual pot of funds, so no one is left out.

The Southern Tier economic development plans have always been well-received, including in 2011 when the timeline for initial plans was very tight and coincided with a record flood. Some of our projects have been funded, but progress has been slow, leading to additional hand-wringing and pressure to allow shale gas development, even though only a few jobs would be generated at considerable environmental cost.

While I am grateful that shale gas development was (mostly) taken off the table in New York State last December, our area needed more concrete plans to add jobs in our region.

In the form of one of the $500 million awards announced yesterday, we finally have commitment from the state to help make that possible.

The Greater Binghamton area where I live is central to the plan, with major revitalization centered around the Route 17c corridor.  The Binghamton segment is mixed-use, blending business, retail, arts, increased living space, downtown University presence, and waterfront development. Johnson City is centered on health science/technology and culture, with Endicott, the original home of IBM, centered on advanced manufacturing, including an industrial 3D printing center.  We are excited to begin!

There are projects already lined up for the first year allocation of $100 million, with plans to leverage additional private capital. Of course, the rest of the region is not left out. There are plenty of other projects being funded, too, including food/agriculture initiatives for our many rural communities.

I have been one of the rare cheerleaders for our region, which tends toward pessimism about everything, including our typical-for-the-Northeast weather. I often used some of the earlier projects of our Regional Economic Development Council as alternatives to fracking in my years of commentary on that topic, for which I was frequently ridiculed.

I am ecstatic that my optimism is being rewarded.

Excelsior!

(Excelsior is the state motto of New York and is usually translated as “Ever Upward.”)

 

SoCS: growing up in the sticks

I grew up in the sticks.

It’s an expression I don’t hear much anymore. OK – I don’t hear it at all anymore. I’m not sure how widespread its usage was but it means to grow up in an out-of-the-way place. I grew up in a town of 200 people, give or take, in western Massachusetts along the Vermont border. We had a little general store which had the post office in it. We had a paper mill where most of the people in town worked. We had a school that went up through eighth grade. We even had a little bar/restaurant called “The Club.”

Everything else – big grocery stores, clothing stores, the high school, doctors, banks, etc. – was twenty miles away.

So, to me, where I lived was the definition of  “the sticks.”

I was surprised after I moved to Broome County NY – aka Greater Binghamton – that the definition of “the sticks” was different. In New York State, it seems that everything gets compared to New York City. There is The City, its suburbs and Long Island – and everything else becomes “upstate,” mashing together large cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, with smaller cities, towns, villages, and very rural areas, such as the Adirondacks.

So even though I live on the southern border of the state, just a few miles from the state line with Pennsylvania, I am “upstate.” I live in a town that is a hundred times larger in population than my hometown, about the size of the twenty-mile-away city that we used to go to for shopping and services when I was growing up. My current town is a suburb of Binghamton, which is a city with its own opera company, symphony, minor league baseball and hockey teams, and all kinds of other amenities that were much further afield when I was growing up.

Yet, because we are small compared to NYC, we are considered to be “the sticks.”

Go figure.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is: “stick.”  Come join in the fun! Find out how here: http://lindaghill.com/2015/05/15/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-1615/

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b
adge by Doobster @MindfulDigressions

 

Drought, farms, and climate change

On the morning news, I heard the staggering statistics that California, which is in extreme drought, uses 80% of its water for agriculture, growing a third of the US supply of fruits and vegetables. It has already taken some farmland out of production or substituted crops that use less water. Meanwhile, it is in its fourth year of drought with snowpack under 5% of normal. As in over 95% of normally expected runoff water will not be there this year.

This should be setting off all kinds of alarm bells across the country. We need to shift our food production to more local areas and sustainable practices. Now, not in some distant future. We need to change our expectation of what foods we eat in which season of the year. When I was growing up, we ate fresh sweet corn in mid- to late-summer, when nearby farms were harvesting. We would prepare extra corn, cut it off the cob, and freeze it to eat at other times of year. We need to get back to this sense of eating fresh foods locally and preserving the extra produce to eat later rather than expecting California to send us strawberries in February. Certainly some crops, like citrus fruits, will not grow throughout the country, but others, like salad greens, can be grown close to where they are consumed, even in northern urban centers in winter where they can be grown indoors.

During the long slog fighting against shale gas development in New York State, I used many arguments against various aspects of this industrialization of our state. One of them was that, in this time of shifting climate, we needed to preserve our New York farms and forests for food production. Much of the farmland in the US is projected to have major droughts and heat waves as atmospheric carbon increases, including California and the Great Plains/Midwest farm belt. The Northeast, while expected to warm, is not expected to have severe issues with water supply. New York must assiduously protect its soils, water, and air from pollution in order to feed itself and other states as climate stressors increase.

Defending Broome County

While it would seem that the impending fracking ban in NY would cut down on my incessant commenting on shale oil/gas issues, there has instead been a flurry of reports and editorials to answer, such as this one. Yes, I got carried away, but it really upsets me when people in other parts of the state misrepresent my home area. My (very long) comment to an editorial in the Syracuse Post-Standard:

I live in a Broome County town bordering PA and this editorial’s contention that we are looking forlornly across the border at prosperity in PA is dead wrong. Across the border in PA there is shale gas drilling going on, but a lot of negative impacts. Besides the health problems that have been documented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there are socioeconomic problems with high rents, increased crime rates, inability to insure, finance, or sell homes near wells, plummeting royalty payments, noise pollution, light pollution, increased rates of homelessness, increased truck traffic, accidents, liens placed on properties when drilling companies didn’t pay their subcontractors, and strains on medical and emergency services. People who wanted to live in a nice country setting are now in a noisy industrialized setting. I am grateful that these problems won’t be coming to my town.

Meanwhile, I think the editors should take a trip to Greater Binghamton and look around. It is not the poverty-stricken, despairing place you seem to think it is. Two of our biggest employment sectors are medical, anchored by Lourdes and two UHS hospitals, and education, anchored by BInghamton University and SUNY-Broome, with a new graduate school of pharmacy about to be built. We still have high tech jobs, though fewer than we once had, with IBM, Link flight simulation, and BAE, among others. Our most exciting new plans in high tech are in the the area of renewable energy/energy storage. Binghamton University’s Solar Lab has been conducting research for a number of years already and has developed a thin-film solar cell that uses only common elements without any rare earth elements. Two large projects are currently being built, a High-Tech incubator in downtown BInghamton and the SmartEnergy Center on the Vestal campus. The combination of these should expand our high-tech/energy sector in the future. Meanwhile, Broome County is a state leader in energy efficiency upgrades through NYSERDA Green Jobs, Green NY and in expansion of solar for homes and small businesses. The energy projects alone have created many times more jobs than shale drilling would have, without the pollution and industrialization of residential and rural areas that would have occurred with drilling.

And about the potential of shale drilling in NY. DEC had to weigh possible economic benefit versus potential costs of drilling to the state and to residents; it’s part of its job. The economic impact section of the draft SGEIS made a number of faulty assumptions, including that shale plays are uniformly productive, that large swaths of NYS would be viable to drill, and that the wells would produce for thirty years. Data from PA and other areas with shale drilling have shown that there are distinct sweet spots in shale plays that are high-producing, with the rest of the play being much less so. Most of the shale in NYS is too thin and too shallow to contain large amounts of methane and there are not natural gas liquids, which have a better economic profile than dry methane, at all. Shale wells of all kinds have very steep decline curves, with the vast majority of the gas being produced in the first 18 months and most of the rest in the following 3-6 years, much shorter than the 30-year timeframe the SGEIS assumed. The industry has done some test wells in various parts of the Marcellus and Utica in NY – and didn’t think it was worth applying for permits. The major companies in their own maps of the play never showed the potential drilling area going much over the NY border. Production numbers in PA bear this out; once you head north from the NEPA sweet spot, production goes way down. Because HVHF wells are so expensive to drill and frack, methane prices would have to more than double to break even in southern Broome County and the figures just get worse from there. It’s time to stop pretending that fracking – or casinos – are the future of the Southern Tier and get to work on building up renewable energy and conservation, while expanding on education, medical, high-tech, agriculture, next-gen transportation, recreation, and tourism jobs.

http://www.syracuse.com/…/new_yorks_hydrofracking_ban_drape…

Not One Well!!!!!!!!

Hours ago, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that high volume hydraulic fracturing will be banned in New York State. I am thrilled with the news, if a bit dazed. After spending countless hours on this issue over the last several years, the whole fractivist community is relieved and celebrating!

I will get to slow down on commentary a bit, but I’m sure that I and other NY fractivists will continue to fight expanded fossil fuel infrastructure and waste disposal in NY, as well as continue to help other states to rein in the pollution and health impacts that fracking is causing.

But now, from my home in New York on the PA border, I can proudly state:  Not One Well!

Giving thanks for no fracking

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I am thankful that there has been no shale gas drilling using high-volume hydrofracking in New York State, especially in Vestal, my hometown.

I’m also thankful that this has been the year that many independent scientists have published peer-reviewed work elucidating the damage that shale gas and oil extraction, processing, transport, use, and waste disposal are doing to human, environmental, and planetary health.

The work of climate scientists makes the high stakes abundantly clear. Humans must stop burning fossil fuels as soon as possible, especially unconventional fossil fuels which have a higher greenhouse gas emission burden than conventional fossil fuels.

Therefore, I call on you as governor to enact a permanent ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in New York State and to end the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and importation of waste products from shale drilling.

Instead, New York State must go all in for renewable energy and efficiency. Wind, especially off-shore wind, solar, electric grid upgrades, biomass, non-food-crop biofuels, heat pumps, geothermal, advanced battery storage, and other emerging energy technologies are what New York, the United States and the world need for our future, not an ever more desperate and expensive scramble for dangerous fossil fuels.

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey

lake effect snow update

Yesterday, I posted about the lake effect snow storms afflicting several areas in the US, including western New York State just south of Buffalo. Sadly, there have been twelve deaths attributed to the storm so far. Because so many feet of snow are very heavy, there have been some roof collapses with more feared to come.

Some areas are still receiving additional snowfall. The forecast predicts a warm front with some rain arriving over the weekend. This has only heightened worries of more roof collapses as the rain adds weight to the feet of accumulated snow. People are trying to clean snow off roofs as quickly as possible, but the area is quite densely populated and many roads are still inaccessible for help and equipment to arrive.

The other very real threat is flooding. With temperatures predicted to climb to 60 degrees F. (15 degrees C.), the snow will melt rapidly and street and small stream flooding is most likely unavoidable.

All brought to you by global warming. Remember, even though this is a cold weather event, it was started by a tropical typhoon.

Dear Governor Cuomo

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I sent this letter to New York Governor Cuomo today on the election and shale drilling and equal protection and climate change and science and more.  I know it is overly long – although I could have written much, much more – but I am proud that I managed to get this done before the election, despite the disruption that recent family health issues have caused. I decided to write this today, even though I have 385 email messages to view, so apologies to anyone awaiting a personal email.
JC

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The election is eight days from today, but I do not think I will be able to vote for you because you are not doing enough to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers equally.

I live in Vestal and I and my Southern Tier neighbors are at risk from the health and environmental impacts of shale gas production, processing, transport, and waste disposal, a risk from which you have not protected us.

Some of the impacts that have already occurred are road damage in Vestal from the overweight trucks transporting drilling supplies to sites in Pennsylvania, inability to get mortgages on leased land, crime associated with gas industry workers staying on the NY side of the border, leaking pipelines, increased truck traffic, light and noise pollution, airborne silica sand along rail lines and during trucking transfers, and an explosion at a Windsor compressor station.

Other impacts are probable but not being tested, such as degradation in air quality.  Some impacts are obscured by the lack of tracking of the fossil fuel industry.  For example, waste products are shipped by truck without the exact composition being known, so that if they are disposed of at a landfill the effects on the leachate are unknowable.  Given that some of this leachate is treated in Endicott, this is a local concern as well as a regional one.  Meanwhile, it is still legal to spread drilling wastewater on roadways in New York, despite the fact that we know that Marcellus wastewater is often high in radium, which is a radioactive, toxic element known to bio-accumulate and cause serious health problems, including cancer.

Other impacts are, of course, global in scope.  The latest readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide are at record highs and we know that humans burning fossil fuels have been the driving force in that.  Also, the atmospheric methane level is at a record high.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, 86 times more potent in a twenty year timeframe. After a long period of stability, atmospheric methane levels began rising in 2007, coinciding with “shale boom.”  Several new scientific studies say that replacing coal or diesel fuel with fossil methane will not help our climate situation.  Shale development will not cut the risk of the next record flood here in Vestal or the next superstorm roaring up the Atlantic coast.

I have been trying to follow the DEC’s SGEIS and regulatory process for years now.  I say “trying” because the process itself is obscure.  Besides the obvious problem of the Minerals division trying to promote fossil fuel production while also trying to regulate it, there is the larger problem that the DEC’s work has been hidden from the public for years now. Because there has been a large number of independent, peer-reviewed scientific research studies published in the last two years, the last publicly available draft of the SGEIS is totally outdated, but we have no idea whether or not the DEC has been continuing to update the SGEIS as these new scientific studies and data from other states who are drilling have become available.

The obscurity of the process has been compounded by the DOH “review” of the the health findings of the DEC’s work.  Although this has been referred to as a study, it is not.  A real health study would follow the national/international guidelines of a health impact assessment (HIA) and would be conducted as a clearly defined, public process. It would consider health impacts on different groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women/infants. It would look at the interplay of exposures to many different substances and the interactions among them. It would look at impacts for those in close proximity to wells and related infrastructure and those further away, including air quality, possible food and water exposures, and climate impacts.  It would also consider socioeconomic changes, such as rates of crime and homelessness, property value, cost of living, stresses on community services, and gains and losses in different job categories.

The economic section of the draft SGEIS is particularly outdated and unrealistic, having been built on what we now know are totally impossible expectations, that the industry could get economically viable amounts of gas anywhere in the Marcellus and Utica.  The price of methane is so low that it is unlikely anywhere in New York can presently produce shale gas economically, with the danger that small companies would take that risk using borrowed money and leave behind wells that cause pollution that the state would need to clean up when the company goes bankrupt.  New York already has thousands of leaking, abandoned wells awaiting proper plugging; we should not compound the problem with even limited amounts of shale drilling.

Governor, you say over and over that the science must decide, but that you are not a scientist. You say that scientists disagree.  The actuality is that industry-funded science is presented and used in a way that makes it seem that shale drilling is safe, while independent science presents data and possible explanations for that data which show that there are environmental and health impacts occuring. A recent example of this is the media coverage of a recent federal Department of Energy study of a single PA deep shale well for eighteen months, which showed that fracking chemicals had not reached an aquifer 3,000 feet distant, which is being touted as “proof” that “fracking” doesn’t pollute water.  Meanwhile, a PNAS study of the official DEP records of PA wells drilled from 2000-12 which covers tens of thousands of wells and their failure rates (Abstract here: http://psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1217 with link to full report) shows that leakage rates for new shale wells in Northeastern PA are significantly higher than those for conventional wells and for shale wells drilled in the rest of the state. Leaking wells equals methane migration into groundwater, soils, and/or through faults, wellbores, or cracks equals pollution of the water, land, air, and atmosphere. The fact that NE PA is particularly vulnerable to leaking shale wells is disturbing for those of us in the border area of New York as the Marcellus geology here is similar. Yet this much larger study is not getting the press attention of the DOE study which is much less helpful in assessing the situation in New York.

The situation is sadly reminiscent of the doctors and scientists in the employ of the tobacco industry who swore to Congress that smoking did not cause cancer, while independent doctors and scientists were raising public health alarms not only about smokers’ health but also about those exposed to second-hand smoke or in utero tobacco exposure.

For you or any governor to authorize shale gas drilling in the Southern Tier would be like deciding to lift the smoking ban here while continuing to protect other parts of the state.  Our health and well-being here in Vestal is every bit as important as your health in Albany or the health of my sister in NYC or my daughter at ESF in Syracuse.  With the current scientific literature, there is no way that the DEC and DOH can say that unconventional shale gas drilling and its attendant processes are safe. We in the Southern Tier are due protection from its risks equal to those in other regions.

Your television ads tout “Next-Gen energy” here in Broome County and we are justifiably proud of that. Do not compromise that pride by also saddling us with the outmoded 19th and 20th century fossil fuel dependence that is worsening global warming. It’s time to back up your rhetoric after Sandy about combating climate change with action.  NO to new fossil fuel development and infrastructure!  YES to renewable energy, clean energy storage, and energy efficiency initiatives!  YES to equal health and environmental protection for everyone!

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey