Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Tough-Oil World / Why Twenty-First Century Oil Will Break the Bank -- and the Planet / By Michael T. Klare/ Tom Dispatch / ICH

A Tough-Oil World
 Why Twenty-First Century Oil Will Break the Bank -- and the Planet
 March 14, 2012 "Tom Dispatch" - - Oil prices are now higher than they have ever been -- except for a few frenzied moments before the global economic meltdown of 2008. Many immediate factors are contributing to this surge, including Iran’s threats to block oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, fears of a new Middle Eastern war, and turmoil in energy-rich Nigeria. Some of these pressures could ease in the months ahead, providing temporary relief at the gas pump.  But the principal cause of higher prices -- a fundamental shift in the structure of the oil industry -- cannot be reversed, and so oil prices are destined to remain high for a long time to come.
In energy terms, we are now entering a world whose grim nature has yet to be fully grasped.  This pivotal shift has been brought about by the disappearance of relatively accessible and inexpensive petroleum -- “easy oil,” in the parlance of industry analysts; in other words, the kind of oil that powered a staggering expansion of global wealth over the past 65 years and the creation of endless car-oriented suburban communities. This oil is now nearly gone.
The world still harbors large reserves of petroleum, but these are of the hard-to-reach, hard-to-refine, “tough oil” variety. From now on, every barrel we consume will be more costly to extract, more costly to refine -- and so more expensive at the gas pump.
Those who claim that the world remains “awash” in oil are technically correct: the planet still harbors vast reserves of petroleum. But propagandists for the oil industry usually fail to emphasize that not all oil reservoirs are alike: some are located close to the surface or near to shore, and are contained in soft, porous rock; others are located deep underground, far offshore, or trapped in unyielding rock formations. The former sites are relatively easy to exploit and yield a liquid fuel that can readily be refined into usable liquids; the latter can only be exploited through costly, environmentally hazardous techniques, and often result in a product which must be heavily processed before refining can even begin.
The simple truth of the matter is this: most of the world’s easy reserves have already been depleted -- except for those in war-torn countries like Iraq.  Virtually all of the oil that’s left is contained in harder-to-reach, tougher reserves. These include deep-offshore oil, Arctic oil, and shale oil, along with Canadian “oil sands” -- which are not composed of oil at all, but of mud, sand, and tar-like bitumen. So-called unconventional reserves of these types can be exploited, but often at a staggering price, not just in dollars but also in damage to the environment.
In the oil business, this reality was first acknowledged by the chairman and CEO of Chevron, David O’Reilly, in a 2005 letter published in many American newspapers. “One thing is clear,” he wrote, “the era of easy oil is over.” Not only were many existing oil fields in decline, he noted, but “new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically, and even politically.”
Further evidence for this shift was provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a 2010 review of world oil prospects. In preparation for its report, the agency examined historic yields at the world’s largest producing fields -- the “easy oil” on which the world still relies for the overwhelming bulk of its energy. The results were astonishing: those fields were expected to lose three-quarters of their productive capacity over the next 25 years, eliminating 52 million barrels per day from the world’s oil supplies, or about 75% of current world crude oil output. The implications were staggering: either find new oil to replace those 52 million barrels or the Age of Petroleum will soon draw to a close and the world economy would collapse.
Of course, as the IEA made clear back in 2010, there will be new oil, but only of the tough variety that will exact a price from us all -- and from the planet, too.  To grasp the implications of our growing reliance on tough oil, it’s worth taking a whirlwind tour of some of the more hair-raising and easily damaged spots on Earth.  So fasten your seatbelts: first we’re heading out to sea -- way, way out -- to survey the “promising” new world of twenty-first-century oil.
Deepwater Oil
Oil companies have been drilling in offshore areas for some time, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caspian Sea. Until recently, however, such endeavors invariably took place in relatively shallow waters -- a few hundred feet, at most -- allowing oil companies to use conventional drills mounted on extended piers. Deepwater drilling, in depths exceeding 1,000 feet, is an entirely different matter.  It requires specialized, sophisticated, and immensely costly drilling platforms that can run into the billions of dollars to produce.
The Deepwater Horizon, destroyed in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 as a result of a catastrophic blowout, is typical enough of this phenomenon. The vessel was built in 2001 for some $500 million, and cost around $1 million per day to staff and maintain. Partly as a result of these high costs, BP was in a hurry to finish work on its ill-fated Macondo well and move the Deepwater Horizon to another drilling location. Such financial considerations, many analysts believe, explain the haste with which the vessel’s crew sealed the well -- leading to a leakage of explosive gases into the wellbore and the resulting blast. BP will now have to pay somewhere in excess of $30 billion to satisfy all the claims for the damage done by its massive oil spill.
Following the disaster, the Obama administration imposed a temporary ban on deep-offshore drilling.  Barely two years later, drilling in the Gulf’s deep waters is back to pre-disaster levels. President Obama has also signed an agreement with Mexico allowing drilling in the deepest part of the Gulf, along the U.S.-Mexican maritime boundary.
Meanwhile, deepwater drilling is picking up speed elsewhere. Brazil, for example, is moving to exploit its “pre-salt” fields (so-called because they lie below a layer of shifting salt) in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean far off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. New offshore fields are similarly being developed in deep waters off Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
By 2020, says energy analyst John Westwood, such deepwater fields will supply 10% of the world’s oil, up from only 1% in 1995. But that added production will not come cheaply: most of these new fields will cost tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to develop, and will only prove profitable as long as oil continues to sell for $90 or more per barrel.
Brazil’s offshore fields, considered by some experts the most promising new oil discovery of this century, will prove especially pricey, because they lie beneath one and a half miles of water and two and a half miles of sand, rock, and salt.  The world’s most advanced, costly drilling equipment -- some of it still being developed -- will be needed. Petrobras, the state-controlled energy firm, has already committed $53 billion to the project for 2011-2015, and most analysts believe that will be only a modest down payment on a staggering final price tag.
Arctic Oil
The Arctic is expected to provide a significant share of the world’s future oil supply. Until recently, production in the far north has been very limited. Other than in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska and a number of fields in Siberia, the major companies have largely shunned the region. But now, seeing few other options, they are preparing for major forays into a melting Arctic.
From any perspective, the Arctic is the last place you want to go to drill for oil. Storms are frequent, and winter temperatures plunge far below freezing. Most ordinary equipment will not operate under these conditions. Specialized (and costly) replacements are necessary. Working crews cannot live in the region for long. Most basic supplies -- food, fuel, construction materials -- must be brought in from thousands of miles away at phenomenal cost.
But the Arctic has its attractions: billions of barrels of untapped oil, to be exact. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the area north of the Arctic Circle, with just 6% of the planet’s surface, contains an estimated 13% of its remaining oil (and an even larger share of its undeveloped natural gas) -- numbers no other region can match.
With few other places left to go, the major energy firms are now gearing up for an energy rush to exploit the Arctic’s riches. This summer, Royal Dutch Shell is expected to begin test drilling in portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas adjacent to northern Alaska. (The Obama administration must still award final operating permits for these activities, but approval is expected.) At the same time, Statoil and other firms are planning extended drilling in the Barents Sea, north of Norway.
As with all such extreme energy scenarios, increased production in the Arctic will significantly boost oil company operating costs. Shell, for example, has already spent $4 billion alone on preparations for test drilling in offshore Alaska, without producing a single barrel of oil. Full-scale development in this ecologically fragile region, fiercely opposed by environmentalists and local Native peoples, will multiply this figure many times over.
Tar Sands and Heavy Oil
Another significant share of the world’s future petroleum supply is expected to come from Canadian tar sands (also called “oil sands”) and the extra-heavy oil of Venezuela. Neither of these is oil as normally understood.  Not being liquid in their natural state, they cannot be extracted by traditional drilling materials, but they do exist in great abundance.  According to the USGS, Canada’s tar sands contain the equivalent of 1.7 trillion barrels of conventional (liquid) oil, while Venezuela’s heavy oil deposits are said to harbor another trillion barrels of oil equivalent -- although not all of this material is considered “recoverable” with existing technology.
Those who claim that the Petroleum Age is far from over often point to these reserves as evidence that the world can still draw on immense supplies of untapped fossil fuels. And it is certainly conceivable that, with the application of advanced technologies and a total indifference to environmental consequences, these resources will indeed be harvested. But easy oil this is not.
Until now, Canada’s tar sands have been obtained through a process akin to strip mining, utilizing monster shovels to pry a mixture of sand and bitumen out of the ground. But most of the near-surface bitumen in the tar-sands-rich province of Alberta has now been exhausted, which means all future extraction will require a far more complex and costly process.  Steam will have to be injected into deeper concentrations to melt the bitumen and allow its recovery by massive pumps. This requires a colossal investment of infrastructure and energy, as well as the construction of treatment facilities for all the resulting toxic wastes. According to the Canadian Energy Research Institute, the full development of Alberta’s oil sands would require a minimum investment of $218 billion over the next 25 years, not including the cost of building pipelines to the United States (such as the proposed Keystone XL) for processing in U.S. refineries.
The development of Venezuela’s heavy oil will require investment on a comparable scale. The Orinoco belt, an especially dense concentration of heavy oil adjoining the Orinoco River, is believed to contain recoverable reserves of 513 billion barrels of oil -- perhaps the largest source of untapped petroleum on the planet. But converting this molasses-like form of bitumen into a useable liquid fuel far exceeds the technical capacity or financial resources of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. Accordingly, it is now seeking foreign partners willing to invest the $10-$20 billion needed just to build the necessary facilities.
The Hidden Costs
Tough-oil reserves like these will provide most of the world’s new oil in the years ahead. One thing is clear: even if they can replace easy oil in our lives, the cost of everything oil-related -- whether at the gas pump, in oil-based products, in fertilizers, in just about every nook and cranny of our lives -- is going to rise.  Get used to it.  If things proceed as presently planned, we will be in hock to big oil for decades to come.
And those are only the most obvious costs in a situation in which hidden costs abound, especially to the environment. As with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil extraction in deep-offshore areas and other extreme geographical locations will ensure ever greater environmental risks. After all, approximately five million gallons of oil were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to BP’s negligence, causing extensive damage to marine animals and coastal habitats.
Keep in mind that, as catastrophic as it was, it occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, where vast cleanup forces could be mobilized and the ecosystem’s natural recovery capacity was relatively robust. The Arctic and Greenland represent a different story altogether, given their distance from established recovery capabilities and the extreme vulnerability of their ecosystems. Efforts to restore such areas in the wake of massive oil spills would cost many times the $30-$40 billion BP is expected to pay for the Deepwater Horizon damage and be far less effective.
In addition to all this, many of the most promising tough-oil fields lie in Russia, the Caspian Sea basin, and conflict-prone areas of Africa. To operate in these areas, oil companies will be faced not only with the predictably high costs of extraction, but also additional costs involving local systems of bribery and extortion, sabotage by guerrilla groups, and the consequences of civil conflict.
And don’t forget the final cost: If all these barrels of oil and oil-like substances are truly produced from the least inviting of places on this planet, then for decades to come we will continue to massively burn fossil fuels, creating ever more greenhouse gases as if there were no tomorrow.  And here’s the sad truth: if we proceed down the tough-oil path instead of investing as massively in alternative energies, we may foreclose any hope of averting the most catastrophic consequences of a hotter and more turbulent planet.
So yes, there is oil out there. But no, it won’t get cheaper, no matter how much there is. And yes, the oil companies can get it, but looked at realistically, who would want it?
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and author of the just published The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books).  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses his new book and what it means to rely on extreme energy, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
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Copyright 2012 Michael Klare
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice             

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Keystone XL Flim-Flam by Jim Hightower / / Common Dreams

For Rep. Allen West, the skyrocketing price of gasoline is not just a policy matter, it's a personal pocketbook issue. The Florida tea-party Republican (who, of course, blames President Obama for the increase) recently posted a message on Facebook wailing that it's now costing him $70 to fill his Hummer H3.
It's hard to feel the pain of a whining, $174,000-a-year congress-critter, but millions of regular Americans really are feeling pain at the pump — especially truck drivers, cabbies, farmer, commuters and others whose livelihoods are tethered to the whims of Big Oil. It's an especially cynical political stunt, then, for congressional Republicans, GOP presidential wannabes and a chorus of right-wing mouthpieces to use gas price pain as a whip for lashing out at Obama's January decision to reject the infamous Keystone XL pipeline.
This friendly Canadian corporation, they cried, would send 700,000 barrels of "tar sands crude" oil per day through the 2,000-mile-long pipeline that it would build from Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries on the Gulf Coast. "Less dependence on OPEC," they chant like a mantra, "more gasoline for America, lower prices for consumers." What's not to like?
Well, aside from inevitable environmental damage from pipeline leaks, and the fact that this foreign-owned corporation would use the autocratic power of eminent domain to take land from unwilling sellers along the 2,000 mile route, here's something not to like: The gasoline and diesel that would be made from this Canadian crude would not go to American gas pumps, but to foreign markets.
The dirty little secret that those pushing so urgently for building Keystone XL don't want you to know is that the tar sands oil producers are in cahoots with Texas refineries to move the product onto the lucrative global export market, selling it to buyers in Europe, Latin America and China — not to you and me.
The pipeline and the toxic crude it'll carry across six states would do absolutely nothing to shave even a penny off of the price we pay at the pump.
Already, U.S. refineries are exporting records amounts of the gasoline they make. For the first time in 62 years, America is now a net petroleum exporter. Valero Energy Corp., the largest U.S. exporter of refined petroleum products, is a major lobbyist for Keystone XL. Along with Motiva (an oil refiner jointly owned by Shell and Saudi Aramco) and Total (a French refinery), Valero has signed secret, long-term contracts with Keystone's owner (TransCanada Corp.) and several tar sands oil producers to bring this crude to Port Arthur, Texas. All three have upgraded their refineries there to process diesel for export.
Adding to Big Oil's enjoyment is the fact that the Port Arthur refineries of Valero, Motiva and Total are within a Foreign Trade Zone, giving them special tax breaks for shipping gasoline and diesel out of our country. And adding to the dismay of some U.S. consumers, TransCanada has quietly boasted that Keystone XL would cut gasoline supplies in our Midwestern states, thus raising prices at the pump and siphoning more billions of dollars a year from consumers pockets into the vaults of multinational oil interests.
So, lets tally the score in this Keystone pipeline deal: The American people's environment would be put at risk, foreign nations would get the fuel, pipeline and oil investors would get the tax-subsidized profits, and we'd all stay hooked on deadly polluting oil. Meanwhile, the financial speculators and supply manipulators who are artificially causing our gasoline prices to rise escape scrutiny, while self-serving politicians (tanked up on Big Oil's and Wall Street's campaign cash) divert attention to the bugaboo of Obama's pipeline decision.
And, yet again, our nation has an excuse to postpone the necessary investments in conservation, alternative fuels and mass transit that will actually solve the gas-gouging problem.
What's not to like?
Jim Hightower
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Create Food Democracy, Occupy our Food Supply by Vandana Shiva / Rainforest Action Network / Common Dreams

The biggest corporate takeover on the planet is the hijacking of the food system, the cost of which has had huge and irreversible consequences for the Earth and people everywhere.
From the seed to the farm to the store to your table, corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land, and water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed, and distributed. And in seeking this total control, they are destroying the Earth’s ecological processes, our farmers, our health, and our freedoms.(GLobal Crop Diversity Trust)
It starts with seeds. Monsanto and a few other gene giants are trying to control and own the world’s seeds through genetic engineering and patents. Monsanto wrote the World Trade Organization treaty on Intellectual Property, which forces countries to patent seeds. As a Monsanto representative once said: “In drafting these agreements, we were the patient, diagnostician [and] physician all in one.”
They defined a problem, and for these corporate profiteers the problem was that farmers save seeds, making it difficult for them to continue wringing profits out of those farmers. So they offered a solution, and their solution was that seeds should be redefined as intellectual property, hence seed saving becomes theft and seed sharing is criminalized. I believe that saving seeds and protecting biodiversity is our ecological and ethical duty. That is why I started Navdanya 25 years ago.
Navdanya is a movement to occupy the seed. We have created 66 community seed banks, saved 3000 rice varieties, stopped laws that would prevent us from seed saving, and fought against biopiracy.
Corporations like Monsanto have created a seed emergency. This is the reason I am starting a global citizen’s campaign on seed sovereignty. I hope you will all join. The lawsuit that 84 organizations, including Navdanya, have filed against Monsanto in New York through the Public Patent Foundation is an important step in reclaiming seed sovereignty.
The next step in the corporate control of the food supply chain is on our farms. Contrary to the claims of corporations, the chemical-based “green” revolution and genetic engineering do not produce more food. Navdanya’s report on GMOs, Health per Acre, shows that the GMO emperor has no clothes. Biodiverse organic farming protects nature while increasing nutrition per acre. We have the solutions to hunger, but it’s not profitable for major industrial agriculture companies like Monsanto and Cargill to implement those solutions.
Cargill, the world’s biggest grain giant, wrote the WTO’s agriculture agreement, which has destroyed local production and local markets everywhere, uprooted small farmers, devastated the Amazon, and speculated on food commodities, pushing millions to hunger. A global corporate-controlled food system robs farmers of their incomes by pushing down farm prices, and robs the poor of their right to food by pushing up food prices. If a billion people are hungry today, it is because of greed-driven, capital-intensive, unsustainable, corporate-controlled globalized industrial agriculture. While creating hunger worldwide, agribusiness giants collect our tax money as subsidies in the name of removing hunger.
This system has pushed another 2 billion to food-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. Replacing healthy, local food culture with junk and processed food is achieved through food safety laws, which I call pseudo-hygiene laws. At the global level these include the Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary agreement of the WTO. At the national level they include new corporate-written food safety laws in Europe and India, and the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US.
The final link in the corporate hijacking of the food system is retail giants like Walmart. We have been resisting the entry of Walmart in India because Big Retail means Big Ag, and together the corporate giants destroy small shops and small farms that provide livelihoods to millions.
We must Occupy Our Food Supply because corporations are destroying our seed and soil, our water and land, our climate, and biodiversity. Forty percent of the greenhouse gases that are destabilizing the climate right now come from corporate industrial agriculture. Seventy percent of water is wasted for industrial agriculture. Seventy-five percent of biodiversity has been lost due to industrial monocultures.
We have alternatives that protect the Earth, protect our farmers, and protect our health and nutrition. To occupy the food system means simultaneously resisting corporate control and building sustainable and just alternatives, from the seed to the table. One seed at a time, one farm at a time, one meal at a time — we must break out of corporate food dictatorship and create a vibrant and robust food democracy.
Vandana Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Soaking the Customer: Private Companies Infiltrate the Water Market, We're Getting the Raw Deal by Wenonah Hauter / Other Words / Common Dreams

Ruby Williams, a 78-year-old Aqua Pennsylvania customer, got stuck with a $40,000 water bill because of a serious leak in the pipes under her home in Bristol Township, Pennsylvania. After her situation garnered national media attention, the private company agreed to reduce her bill to a few hundred dollars.(ILRI / Flickr)
Likewise, the Price family of Stallings, North Carolina recently had their sewage service cut off by Aqua North Carolina despite having paid an overdue bill. The company demanded $1,000 to restore it — hundreds of dollars more than the actual cost to do the work. Again, thanks to bad publicity and public outrage, Aqua backed down.
It's not just American consumers that feel the pinch as our municipal water systems change from public to private hands — and it's not just that Aqua America is one bad actor, either. Private interests worldwide increasingly control our water. Too often, customers are getting a raw deal.
Nestlé, Veolia, and Suez Environnement are just a few of the multinational corporations that either provide water services to our homes, bottle our communities' spring water, or otherwise control the vast amounts of water needed to power our industries. All of us, like Ruby Williams and the Price family, will pay the price — unless we stop allowing them to turn our water into a commodity that they can exploit, and instead force our governments to do their jobs and protect our water resources.
Many economists, market-oriented environmentalists, and think tanks say we should let the market decide when it comes to water provision. They say that the higher the market value of water becomes, the more likely it is that people will use it wisely. That's a thorny proposition for a public resource that has no substitution and that is essential for human life. As consumers have seen, market forces can create untenable burdens by driving up water rates.
At the most extreme, companies cornering the water market will price out the poor. As the planet's population (7 billion and counting) and industrial development increases, entire freshwater lakes disappear, groundwater resources are drawn down, and technologies — including chemicals used in fossil fuel extraction — pollute water supplies. It doesn't take a brilliant economist to recognize that water will become more valuable. That means the companies that control it will become richer. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide already lack access to clean water and sanitation. Their numbers will increase.
It's wrong to let the private sector drive water policy. But it’s already beginning to happen. This trend will be on full display in France at the World Water Forum, which begins March 12. Many of the same companies that increasingly control our water will be holding a corporate trade show disguised as a multi-stakeholder forum to create solutions for providing water to the world's poor. Letting the private sector take the lead on these efforts is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.
After all, as consumers time and time again have experienced, corporations in the water business are accountable primarily to their shareholders, not the people they serve or the localities in which they operate. Conversely, public officials can be voted out if their constituents don't like the services rendered.
All people deserve access to an adequate supply of clean water. Profits reaped from water services should be reinvested in the local community, not pocketed by shareholders half a world away. It's in the public interest.
Wenonah Hauter
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply FEBRUARY 27, 2012 by Common Dreams

Food justice advocates rise up to confront corporate control of our food system

- Common Dreams staff               
An alliance of Occupy groups, environmental and food justice organizations have called for a global day of action on February 27 to resist corporate control of our food system and to work towards a healthy food supply for all.
Occupy Our Food Supply is a call facilitated by Rainforest Action Network and is supported by over 60 Occupy groups and over 30 organizations including Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farms Coalition and Pesticide Action Network.
Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Agribusiness campaigner with Rainforest Action Network says of the day of action:
"Occupy our Food Supply is a day to reclaim our most basic life support system – our food – from corporate control. It is an unprecedented day of solidarity to create local, just solutions that steer our society away from the stranglehold of industrial food giants like Cargill and Monsanto,”
Occupy Our Food Supply supporter Vandana Shiva says:
"Our food system has been hijacked by corporate giants from the Seed to the table. Seeds controlled by Monsanto, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Philip Morris, retail controlled by Walmart - is a recipe for Food Dictatorship. We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."
Occupy Wall Street’s Sustainability and Food Justice Committees also issued a letter in support of the day of action:
“On Monday, February 27th, 2012, OWS Food Justice, OWS Sustainability, Oakland Food Justice & the worldwide Occupy Movement invite you to join the Global Day of Action to Occupy the Food Supply. We challenge the corporate food regime that has prioritized profit over health and sustainability. We seek to create healthy local food systems. We stand in Solidarity with Indigenous communities, and communities around the world, that are struggling with hunger, exploitation, and unfair labor practices.”
“On this day, in New York City, community gardeners, activists, labor unions, farmers, food workers, and citizens of the NYC metro area, will gather at Zuccotti Park at noon, for a Seed Exchange, to raise awareness about the corporate control of our food system and celebrate the local food communities in the metro area.”
Vandana Shiva:  "We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."
"When our food is at risk, we are all at risk."
In an op-ed on the Huffington Post today, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, supporters of the day of action, emphasize that the consolidation of our food supply is harming the environment, food safety and farmers:
Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can't find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about foodborne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farmworker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day's work.
When our food is at risk we are all at risk.
Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.
What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.
This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.
The Occupy Our Food Supply website indicates that the action is Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, and that in addition to confronting the corporation control of our food supply, we must work towards solutions to make healthy food accessible to everyone. It invites people to share their fair food solutions on their Facebook page and on Twitter using the #F27 hashtag.
* * *
Eric Holt-Giménez, Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First Executive Director, writes that while the demand to fix the food system seems reasonable, it does not address the "inequitable foundations of the global food system."
The goal of food justice activists is a sustainable and equitable food system. Their strategy is to actively construct this alternative. Tactics include community gardens, CSAs, organic farming, etc. The problem is that this combination of strategy and tactics only addresses individual and institutional inequities in the food system, leaving the structure of the corporate food regime intact. The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful -- and why it is feared. The political alignment of these movements, however, is no small challenge.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Friday, February 24, 2012

NRDC Lawsuit Seeks to Ban Agent Orange Ingredient from Weed and Feed Products / Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) / Common Dreams

Popular Use of Toxin 2,4-D in Pesticides Poised to Skyrocket without Action

WASHINGTON - February 23 - Seeking to ban a World War II-era toxic weed killer ingredient called 2,4-D, the Natural Resources Defense Council today filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their failure to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances of this known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.   
“This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place – from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms – exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks,” said NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon. “There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it.” 
2,4-D is one of the oldest pesticides still legally on the market. Forty-six million pounds of 2,4-D are still used every year in the United States alone, applied, often via weed-and-feed products, to areas such as front lawns, playgrounds, and golf courses. Agricultural uses of 2,4-D include application to pasture land, timber, wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, rice, oats, and sugar cane.
Despite dozens of scientific studies that have long demonstrated 2,4-D’s link to cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cell damage, severe hormonal disruption, reproductive problems and birth defects, it remains the most commonly used conventional pesticide-based weed control product in the home and garden market and one of the top three pesticides sold nationwide today.
The pesticide has been detected in drinking water and as a contaminant in surface water and groundwater. The pesticide also lingers in soil for over a month after it is applied to lawns, meaning 2,4-D can easily finds its way into homes tracked in by shoes and pet paws. 2,4-D is classified by EPA as a hazardous air pollutant and by the State of California as a toxic air contaminant.
2,4-D can be absorbed through the skin, making anyone who applies it or is in contact with lawns or surface water near application at risk of exposure. As a result, young children who crawl on carpets or play on the floor are most vulnerable to indoor exposure by hand-to-mouth ingestion, skin absorption, and inhalation of dust.
The NRDC lawsuit, which calls for EPA to respond to a petition to ban 2,4-D, comes on the heels of aggressive pushes by agricultural biotechnology companies eager to win U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of newly engineered and pesticide-resistant crops. Dow Agrosciences is petitioning to deregulate its 2,4-D-resistant genetically engineered crops with USDA, for which the agency is currently accepting public comments through April.
Toxic 2,4-D is expected to be used in even greater quantities as weeds have become increasingly resistant to Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. If Dow Agrosciences’ genetically modified 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybean crops gain USDA approval, use of 2,4-D could increase by 50-fold or more. This will put thousands more Americans at unnecessary risk and further contaminate our air and water. Also, wide-scale application of 2,4-D threatens other crops grown downwind, as well as trees, landscaping, and vegetable gardens, since these plants are easily damaged or killed by 2,4-D.
“We cannot ignore the serious harm 2,4-D poses to human health and safety any longer,” said Nick Morales, NRDC attorney. “EPA already understands the health threats. Now the agency needs to act on them.”
For more information about 2,4-D and the serious human health impacts, please see NRDC’s fact sheet and Gina Solomon’s blog.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Links:

Central Pennsylvania Cave, Bats, and Other Rare Wildlife Saved from Mine / Center for Biological Diversity / Common Dreams

WILLIAMSBURG, Pa. - February 23 - Conservationists have succeeded in saving a central Pennsylvania cave and surrounding wildlife habitat from a proposed limestone mine. A state-endangered bat species and a tiny cave arthropod found nowhere else on the planet are among the beneficiaries of the settlement agreement reached today by conservation groups Center for Biological Diversity and Juniata Valley Audubon Society, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Catharine Properties, LLC, the mine developer. In exchange for dropping their lawsuit against the DEP and Catharine Properties, the conservationists have received a formal pledge from the company that it will not disturb the cave site or surrounding area, or bring harm to the species of concern.
“Bats in the Northeast have been under huge pressure in recent years, because of the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Further stressing these animals, by destroying important bat habitat and possibly even killing bats directly, is completely unacceptable.”
The groups had challenged the DEP permit because it failed to protect the eastern small-footed bat, which hibernates in Heller Cave and roosts in rock piles in the surrounding area. The mine also threatened the sole location of the Heller Cave springtail, first discovered in 1997. Hikers, bicyclists, and birdwatchers were concerned about the impact of the quarry on the adjoining Lower Trail, and local residents worried about the safety of hundreds of quarry trucks per day, driving back and forth on the area’s narrow, rural roads.
The bats in Heller Cave were discovered to have contracted the newly emergent fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, two winters ago. Bats throughout the eastern United States have been devastated by the illness, which is estimated to have killed nearly 7 million bats over the last five years, in 16 states and four provinces. The Center filed a federal petition two years ago requesting endangered species listing of the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat, which has also been found in the vicinity of the mine site. Both species have experienced steep declines due to the ravages of the disease.
The terms of the settlement agreement stand so long as Catharine Properties, or its successors, are without an approved “large non-coal” mining permit. The large permit would be subject to the same review, and potential litigation, as the small permit that had been challenged by the conservation groups. Among the claims brought by the groups was that DEP had not included a requirement in the permit for a “total avoidance area” around Heller Cave — a stipulation made by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in its review of the permit’s impact on state-protected species.
Stan Kotala, Conservation Chair for the Juniata Valley Audubon, was cautiously optimistic that the long-term outcome for the Heller Cave area would be its permanent protection. “Ideally, this site, which has been recognized by both Blair County and the state of Pennsylvania as an outstanding natural area, will eventually be protected by a permanent designation, such as a conservation easement. Until then, our groups will stay vigilant to protect this special place.”
The conservation groups were joined in the lawsuit by wildlife advocate Laura Jackson, and were represented by Professor Kenneth T. Kristl and his law students at Widener University Environment and Natural Resources Law Clinic. The Delaware-based school has a campus in Harrisburg.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Juniata Valley Audubon is a regional conservation organization with more than 600 members in Blair, Huntingdon, and Bedford Counties, Pennsylvania.

How the New Mexico Anti–Nuclear Campaign Achieved A Major Victory by Subhankar Banerjee / Common Dreams

On February 17, as I was stepping out the door for an exhibition opening of my arctic photographs and to participate in an environmental panel at Fordham University with former New York State assistant attorney general Robert Emmet Hernan, I received an email news update from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a Santa Fe, New Mexico based NGO that began with these words, “We have reason to celebrate with the ‘abandonment’ of the proposed Nuclear Facility as part of the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) by President Obama and the Department of Energy.”Joni Arends and David Bacon with smoke from the Las Conchas Fire in the background (Photo by Subhankar Banerjee)
On February 13, the President released his proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. On page 26 of the document “Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings: Budget of the U.S. Government” we find, “The Administration proposes deferring the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility... for at least five years.” Then on February 17 the Albuquerque Journal reported, “Chu [U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu] told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the Department of Energy decided to abandon—at least for now—a planned LANL plutonium lab because of budget constraints.”

Abandoned or postponed—either way, this is a major victory for the New Mexico anti–nuclear activists and community members who have been fighting this issue since 2003. So far the news has mostly escaped the radars of the national mainstream and progressive media—I found one Associated Press article, and few articles in the New Mexico newspapers. But this story has local, regional and national significance, so I’ll share a bit more with you.

In New Mexico, the two national labs—Los Alamos and Sandia wield a lot of power as they bring in a lot of money into the state—to develop among other things weapons of mass destruction. These projects are usually justified with a simple argument—in the interest of National Security—the U.S. sacred cow. It isn’t easy for an elected official—state or federal to oppose a major weapons project at one of these labs. The Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board was quick to express their displeasure with President’s decision and blamed it on the mismanagement at the lab, “New Mexico’s Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the committee, noted that ‘for years we have been told the CMRR nuclear facility was necessary...’ although he stopped short of condemning the DOE for essentially pulling the plug and shifting the money to the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn. ...But if it wants to get ahead in the funding game—and regain value in the eyes of the administration—mistrust between the labs and with the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration], operational inefficiencies and a draconian management culture must be fixed.” Let’s take a closer look.

We’re always so inundated with bad news and sad news that we rarely take the time and look back, when we do win, most importantly at the things that got us there, however fleeting that win might be. In activism there is no win however, only ongoing engagement, as environmental activist David Brower once famously articulated, “Conservationists have to win again and again and again; the enemy only has to win once.” That aside, for now, what can the New Mexico activists tell us about how they stopped what they call, a Plutonium Bomb Factory. Here is their story.

Exposing Public Health Hazards

We know from history that one of the most effective ways to fight destructive projects and products is to expose the public health hazards—because people vote! If we only tell “this animal and that bird would die” if a project moves forward, it’s a tough sale—because sadly, but it’s true, animals and birds don’t vote. So, getting community members (read: voters) engaged in the campaign is crucial, and threat to public health—anyone can understand that, and that is one thing the New Mexico activists have done well in exposing.

Last summer, New Mexico experienced the largest fire in the state’s history—the Las Conchas Fire that started on June 26 burned more than 150,000 acres in northern New Mexico, in and around the Los Alamos National Lab. Arizona, broke their record too—the Wallow Fire burned more than 530,000 acres. Climate change? Yes, of course. If you have a bit of time to read, I’d recommend New Mexico writer William deBuys’ thoroughly researched and beautifully written book, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Last summer, I was living in Santa Fe. Thick smoke from the Las Conchas Fire filled our sky and there was legitimate fear that the smoke might have radioactive and hazardous substances from LANL’s operations—past and present. So, I had all my windows closed in the small adobe home—it was hot like hell, and I wrote the first piece, “New Mexico is Burning with Potential for Nuclear Contamination” that you can read here. For that piece, I spoke with Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and learned from him that public comments on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the proposed CMRR–Nuclear Facility were due by the end of June 28—the same day I posted my piece.

Then, I sat down with Joni Arends, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Marian Naranjo, an elder and activist from the Santa Clara Pueblo. They were concerned about nuclear contamination and were determined to stop the proposed CMRR–NF. Marian told me, “you cannot see radioactive elements in the air, you cannot smell it, you cannot taste it, and just because it cannot be detected with technical toys, doesn’t mean its not there. After the Cerro Grande Fire [of 2000] the government told us that no radioactive element was released in the air. We never had leukemia in our children, now we do, in Santa Clara and the San Ildefonso Pueblos.” Later Joni, CCNS board member David Bacon, and I visited Marian at her home, and saw the raging fire and its massive smoke that was burning not that far from her community. Las Conchas Fire burned large areas in crucial watersheds and sacred sites in the Santa Clara and Cochiti pueblo lands. On July 1, I published my second piece, “Las Conchas Fire Woke Us Up—Let Us Now Stop the Plutonium Bomb Factory” that you can read here.
Then, Joni introduced me to Registered Geologist Bob (Robert) Gilkeson, a former LANL employee, who had resigned from the lab and became a whistleblower. I sat down with Bob, Joni and David for four hours, and then spent more than two weeks going through the enormous amount of documents that Bob had given me. On July 18, I published my last and the most extensive piece on the issue, “Another Kind of Fukushima? Asks Whistleblower Robert Gilkeson” that you can read here. It was the first article that told the story of Bob’s groundbreaking investigative research and analysis. Bob and Joni were later interviewed by several media outlets in the U.S. and abroad.

I won’t repeat what’s in those articles, but when you read all three, you’ll know that the New Mexico community organizations and activists had articulated extremely well the public health hazards of building a plutonium pit production facility that sits on a complex network of seismic faults, that reside in an extremely fire prone habitat, in the drought stricken (read: climate ravaged) American southwest. The lawmakers had to listen.

Activism Rooted in Science and Knowledge of Law

The team of Joni and Bob—a dedicated activist teaming up with a careful scientist—the result ought to be good, right? But the things that Bob said in the article may have come across to many readers as hard to believe. Here are some examples: “I can tell you LANL doesn’t have the required knowledge for seismic hazard to continue operations with nuclear materials,” and, “The seismic hazard at LANL is possibly 75% higher than the power of the earthquake ground motions that released very large amounts of radionuclide contamination at Fukushima.” And David Bacon said, “Because they’re looking at a possible major earthquake, it’ll impact all of us. With 6 metric tones of plutonium inside the lab, and all of the surface and subsurface nuclear waste, it’ll impact the entire American southwest, everybody. They need to pack up right now and leave.” At the time, all these could have sounded like scare tactic.

Now consider this. On November 17, 2011 during a public meeting in Santa Fe, Peter Winokur, Chairman of the U.S. Defense Nuclear Safety Board (DNFSB) said of the existing Plutonium Facility (PF–4) at Technical Area 55, which is right next door to the site for the proposed—now abandoned CMRR–NF, “The Board believes that no safety problem in the NNSA complex is more pressing than the Plutonium Facility’s vulnerability to a large earthquake. Today, NNSA and the contractor described their plans to fix weaknesses in the building’s structure and to upgrade key safety systems so they can survive a large earthquake. These plans are promising, and progress to date has been sound, but this work must continue to be executed with the utmost urgency to ensure adequate protection of the public and workers. From the Board’s perspective, additional modeling and analysis will be required to ensure that all seismic vulnerabilities for the Plutonium Facility that can lead to its collapse or loss of confinement are fully addressed.” You can read his full statement here.

In a 13–page memo to me dated February 21, 2012 Bob and Joni write, “Director Peter Winokur and the Senior Staff of the DNFSB held a meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 17, 2011 to hear concerns from the DOE, LANL and the public for the seismic hazard at LANL. Gilkeson made a written and verbal presentation that brought attention to the great earthquake danger at LANL that was misrepresented and ignored in the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] documents for the proposed CMRR–NF and the large data gaps in the required knowledge of the seismic hazard for the engineering design and cost of the proposed facility. Gilkeson described the failure of the DOE and the DNFSB to implement the four Industry Standards required by Presidential Executive Order 12699. Director Winokur and the Senior Staff of the DNFSB took notice of my presentation. We understand that after the meeting in Santa Fe, Director Winokur met with the Office of the President about the seismic hazard at LANL.” But they also point out, “During the November 17, 2011 meeting in Santa Fe, Director Winokur put on record that the DNFSB considered the earthquake danger at the large plutonium facility (PF–4) at LANL TA–55 to be the most pressing issue in the DOE Nuclear Weapons Complex. This statement was based on maximum ground motions of 0.5 g from a single earthquake. The statement did not take into account the potential for much greater ground motions from synchronous earthquakes and the much greater ground motions from the concealed active fault that crosses TA–55 close to and possibly below the 40–year old PF–4, which is located next door to the proposed CMRR–NF. The PF–4 is the only nuclear facility in the DOE Complex where new plutonium bomb triggers are manufactured.” You can read their memo (pdf) to me here, which has wealth of information in the first nine pages of text and then four pages of maps.

I spoke with Bob and Joni over telephone on February 21, and I said, “Sounds like lawmakers paid attention to sound scientific analysis,” to which Bob responded, “Perhaps, but not exactly. It’s knowing the law.” He emphasized, “It’s knowing the law.” He had studied a particular NEPA document 12699—Seismic Safety of Federal and Federally Assisted or Regulated New Building Construction. The memo to me states, “After discussions with the technical staff in the DNFSB, Gilkeson discovered the assessment of the earthquake danger at the proposed CMRR–NF at LANL Technical Area 55 was not in compliance with the 1990 Presidential Executive Order 12699.”

Also note that this project was moving forward without a thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). On that basis, the Los Alamos Study Group had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico against the DOE and NNSA that claimed, “The Obama Administration had not written an applicable environmental impact statement for the project (CMRR–NF), the cost, material requirements, and impacts of which have all grown considerably since the project was first conceived.” The Study Group wanted the government to write a new and thorough EIS, not a supplemental EIS.

Economic Analysis and Alternatives

Secretary Chu told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the DOE “decided to abandon” the project because of “budget constraints.” The price tag for American taxpayers for this project was $6 billion. The New Mexicans did many creative things to raise awareness about that budget. I had written, “The lingering question in my mind was who would make the biggest bucks if the federal government hands out the $6 billion for the proposed CMRR–NF project. I was shocked to find out it’d be none other than Bechtel, the lead operator of LANL.” At hearings and meetings activists and concerned citizens shared stories of Bechtel’s long list of cruelties in other facilities, and the organizations distributed double–sided handouts with plenty of information on Bechtel. The truth spoke for itself and led to the outrage that the community members felt. They also exposed that in a state where public services are being cut drastically, the government was ready to write a fat check for a plutonium pit production facility.

But instead of focusing only on the negative, the New Mexicans also offered a specific economic alternative that community members of a financially disadvantaged state could relate to and would benefit from. They suggested the $6 billion should be spent on: “Jobs that would go to 12,000 individuals including from the distressed communities like Santa Clara, Cochiti and others; $50K a year for each individual for ten years—for forest restoration, watershed restoration and management, replenish our communities, and give people back their humanity.”

Gregg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group Director expressed his outrage with these words: “The Democrats on our congressional delegation are trying to hide from the public by supporting a bogus SEIS process, which examines no alternatives and resolves nothing. They are selling out the state’s future with their permissive silence, the motivation for which is surely pecuniary, given how the great need for cash in our political campaigns. This project directly competes for appropriations with renewable energy and the jobs, environmental benefits, and security those could bring us, raising questions about what priority New Mexico Democrats really give such popular concerns. We will pursue every avenue to stop this project, for the sake of our young people, our environment, and our economy.”

As you can see, the New Mexico activist community had framed their argument also with solid economic analysis and offered hopeful alternatives.

Community Engagement

I asked Joni if she could tell me how the community members engaged with this campaign. She responded, “In New Mexico, we congratulate everyone for all the good work done to oppose the Nuclear Facility, which was proposed in 2003 in a National Environmental Policy Act draft environmental impact statement. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, through various iterations over the decades, New Mexicans and others have actively opposed the manufacture of plutonium triggers at LANL and the plans to increase it. The opposition to the Nuclear Facility grew from grassroots actions organized for the various NEPA processes, including informed public comments made during the official meetings and hearings; creation of art, signs and skull masks; letters to the editors; petition signing; phone calls to decision makers; and many prayers.”

This victory is a relief, a big one for sure, but the work of New Mexico anti–nuclear campaign goes on. Bob and Joni point out in their memo to me aptly titled, Great Earthquake Danger at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “The available information indicates that the seismic rehabilitation of the 40–year old plutonium facility PF–4 is not feasible. For example, DOE has admitted that seismic rehabilitation of the 60–year old CMR is not feasible. Nevertheless, DOE plans to use the unsafe CMR and the PF–4 nuclear weapon facilities for at least the next ten years and probably even longer now that DOE is not allowed to construct the proposed CMRR–NF because of the great uncertainty for the earthquake danger at LANL.” The focus of the New Mexico anti–nuclear campaign right now is—LANL has to be cleaned up, and that is a major project; and so they’re currently engaged in a new kind of economic analysis. I’ll tell you more, as I find out more about that in the coming weeks. As I was wrapping up this piece news came in that LANL Director Charlie McMillan citing budget cuts has just proposed to the NNSA a layoff of 400 to 800 employees at the lab.
On February 17, as I was getting ready to give my talk on the arctic at Fordham University in New York, the news came in that the Obama administration had just approved Shell’s spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea in arctic Alaska. My heart sank. That project is moving forward without a thorough Environmental Impact Statement, and the government knows full well that Shell does not have either the technology or preparedness to respond to a BP–like spill in the harsh environment of the frozen arctic seas. I just completed editing a 384–page anthology titled Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point that will be published by Seven Stories Press on June 19, but you can pre–order it now. In the book nearly 40 contributors—conservationists, indigenous activists, writers, and scientists, tell the story with stunning urgency and groundbreaking research why we must fight to protect the arctic now, for all of us. I hope you will join us in that campaign in urging the President to stop Shell’s drilling plan in America’s Arctic Ocean. You can also check out the Special Series on Shell’s Arctic drilling here.
Let us congratulate and give thanks to our friends in New Mexico, and continue on with our own work, which lie ahead of us, as always.
Subhankar Banerjee
Subhankar Banerjee is founder of He is currently editing an anthology titled, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (New York: Seven Stories Press, April 2012). For his Arctic activism he has received numerous awards including Cultural Freedom Fellowship from Lannan Foundation, National Conservation awards from National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, and was most recently named an Arctic Hero by Alaska Wilderness League. Subhankar has been appointed Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and a Fellow at Forbes College of Princeton University for fall term 2011.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Will Chevron Case Take Down Trade Pact ‘Investor-State’ Enforcement System? / Public Citizen / Common Dreams

CONTACT: Public Citizen

Arden Manning (202) 454-5108
February 17, 2012

Unprecedented Ruling Today by International Investor Tribunal Orders Ecuadorian Government to Violate Its Constitution, Interfere in Its Independent Court System to Help Chevron Evade Liability for Amazonian Contamination
WASHINGTON - February 17 - An unprecedented ruling today, in which an investor-state international arbitral tribunal initiated by Chevron ordered the Ecuadorian government to interfere in the operations of Ecuador’s independent court system on behalf of the oil giant, provides a chilling glimpse of how corporations are trying to use international investor tribunals to evade justice, said Public Citizen.
After having lost on the merits in Ecuador and U.S. courts and after 18 years of trying to stall judgment, Chevron turned to an ad hoc “investor-state” tribunal of three private lawyers as the last chance to help the company avoid paying to clean up contamination in the Amazonian rainforest. Chevron is trying to get this private tribunal to suspend enforcement of or alter an $18 billion judgment against Chevron rendered by a sovereign country’s court system.
The tribunal issued a ruling today even though it has not even determined that it has jurisdiction over the case. Past such international investor cases in which tribunals have ordered governments to pay cash damages to corporations have led to growing controversy.
“The Ecuadorian government should not violate its own constitution and interfere with its independent courts’ order for Chevron to clean up its horrific contamination in the Amazon, because some unelected ad hoc tribunal of three private sector lawyers called together by Chevron to meet in a rented room in Washington, D.C., pretends to have the authority to second-guess 18 years of U.S. and Ecuadorian court rulings,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
“Consider the broader implications of this star chamber ‘investor-state’ system: How can a panel of three unelected private sector lawyers order a sovereign government to violate its own constitution’s separation of powers and interfere in its court system, all to help Chevron (a company whose severe contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been repeatedly proven), and how can that tribunal do this all before it has even decided that it has jurisdiction over this case,” Wallach said.
Meanwhile, the three private-sector lawyers serving as tribunalists on this kangaroo court will continue to rack up large hourly fees even as they order Ecuador’s government to help Chevron deny justice to the 30,000 Amazonian indigenous people who have won a historic $18 billion clean-up of deadly environmental contamination. Tribunalists in this system, who alternate between serving as “judges” and representing corporations in cases before panels of their colleagues, are paid on an hourly basis.
“The only silver lining of this obscene ruling is that having one of these shady investor-state tribunals presume to attack a country’s constitution, justice system and 30,000 people whose futures rely on Chevron cleaning up its mess could lead to the implosion of the entire investor-state system, which international companies are increasingly using to try to evade justice worldwide,” said Wallach.
These unaccountable investor-state tribunals have issued perverse rulings in the past on behalf of corporate claimants. Recent U.S. trade agreements empower foreign corporations to use this system to skirt our domestic courts and directly use our government before these corporate tribunals to obtain payment of unlimited taxpayer funds when they claim domestic environmental, land use, health and other laws undermine their “expected future profits.” More than $350 million has been paid by government to corporations in attacks on toxics bans, environmental issues and zoning permits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.) Billions in additional claims are pending. Possible inclusion of the investor-state private enforcement system for corporations to sue governments is becoming one of the most controversial issues in the first “trade” deal the Obama administration is negotiating – a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice