Meeting the Public Where It’s At

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are”  - Anaïs Nin

In the short time I have officially spent in the real world, I have observed the public health frame provide considerable strength to environmental initiatives.  This frame engages audiences in ways the environmental frame does not.  Lets face it; the environment is not of inherent concern to each and every one of the 7-billion people on this planet.

The effectiveness of the public health angle was most apparent to me when the Star Democrat published an article on the high presence of Vibrio on the eastern shore.  With 825 likes and the exposure of 220 shares on Facebook, the article received an incredible online response.  I combed through each and every comment and share that I could within the limits of Facebook privacy settings.  Surprisingly, at their core, the comments and shares were all the same – general alarm and concern for public health.  It is not uncommon for environmental articles to get the comment wrath of the Negative Nancy’s of the community, but those dissenting views could not be found for this article.  The community even went so far as to say the article did not go far enough.

I monitored social media in the days following the article’s publishing.  For an article that received so much online attention, there was not a single peep, like, share, comment, smoke signal, or carrier pigeon from any of the local NGOs.  This was such a great opportunity for engagement and it went ignored.

Fortunately or unfortunately, public health threats from water quality are popping up left and right in the news.  The coverage is creating what appears to be an opportune time for a greater dialogue on the health and water quality nexus.  Just last week 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio were left without drinking water due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB) contaminating their water supply.  This bloom was a direct result of excess phosphorus caused by pollution sources like agricultural runoff, stormwater runoff, overflowing sewers, failed septic systems, and lawn fertilizers.  This specific incident may have happened in Toledo, but HABs derivative of excess pollution are nothing new.  Vibrio even received national media coverage for its rise in Florida and other southern states.

The Star Democrat’s article may have gone un-leveraged by local NGOs, but the issue of Vibrio continues to attract attention from other organizations and media outlets across the state.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, South River Federation, and West/Rhode Riverkeeper have all weighed in on the bacteria, pollution, and public safety.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation even reissued their 2009 report on the rise of infections from flesh-eating bacteria that threatens both ecological and public health.  This opportunity should not go un-leveraged.

When it comes to the nexus of water quality and public health, I often think of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC) and their demonstrative success with the public health lens.  Responding to a water contamination crisis, the public health frame connected WVRC more deeply with their community.  WVRC gained the support of community members with close ties to the fossil fuel industry who, before the crisis, never supported WVRC’s efforts.  WVRC leveraged their strong base of community support to resolve the specific contamination incident and successfully pass new clean water legislation for the state.

There might not be an obvious call to action when it comes to naturally occurring Vibrio, but it does not make the opportunity for engagement any less real.  Taking advantage of natural opportunities to engage and educate  the community sets the stage for support when emergency issues arise.  After reading the Star Democrat’s article, the public wanted more information.  Local organizations could have filled this information gap and connected this citizen base into a larger conversation on water quality and threats to public health.

Part of successful organizing, particularly online, requires letting the community be the driver (Ward, 2011).  The community was there, galvanized and ready on their own.  Activism via social media does not stop at a “like” or a “share.”  It is up to the NGOs and other related organizations to provide the right asks that move a community into more active roles both online and offline.

Groups should think of “likes” on Facebook as virtually raised hands (Ward, 2011).  There were 825 people raising their hands concerned about the increase of Vibrio in the Talbot County watershed; 825 hands that went ignored.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project studied “the Social Side of the Internet.”  The project found that being social online means it is more likely you will be social offline.

  • 68% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.
  • 62% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue.
  • 59% of all American said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact society at large.
  • 49% of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact local communities.

This is significant.  Based on this research, it is clear the online response to the local Vibrio article presented an opportunity for deeper engagement.  A chance to move those 825 “raised hands” into offline action.  I doubt those 825 people would be ignored if they showed up at an organization’s doorstep.

The stars are aligning around the water quality and public health nexus.  The public cares about this issue; they raised their hands.  Now it is up to the NGOs to meet the public where it is at, acknowledge their interest, and leverage the opportunity that naturally presented itself from utilizing a public health lens.

Resources:

 

 

Citizen Enforcement: Preventing Sediment Pollution One Construction Site at a Time

This post originally appeared on the Center for Progressive Reform’s Blog on July 15, 2014: http://www.progressivereform.org/CPRBlog.cfm?idBlog=3A431B61-9E6E-DA18-17184C8108DA344D

 

I will never look at a construction site the same way again.

Certain types of pollution—mostly sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus—run into the Chesapeake Bay and fuel algal blooms, creating dead zones where crabs, oysters and other Bay life cannot survive. Indeed, the Chesapeake is on track to have an above-average dead zone this year.

Construction sites are a major source of sediment runoff. When mud washes from a single construction site, it can damage three miles of downstream waters. Recovery can take up to a century. Maryland has rules that construction companies are supposed to follow to minimize runoff. These rules pay off: For every dollar spent keeping mud onsite, taxpayers save $100 or more in damages avoided.

That’s why I spent last Wednesday driving around Baltimore with four others checking to see whether constructions sites were following the rules.

I learned that the most effective measure to prevent runoff is to quickly get disturbed soil under a dense blanket of straw mulch, then grass. Other measures, like the black fences you see at most construction sites, can’t keep enough mud on the site to prevent pollution. Simply put, exposed soil equals pollution. Whenever you see exposed soil on a construction site, pollution will occur come the next rain.

Under Maryland law, to begin work at a construction site, a contractor must first clear only a narrow strip alongUntitled the downslope edge of the site’s perimeter. Within this swath, the contractor installs a fence to capture runoff and deliver it to traps also built within the perimeter swath. These fences and ponds, however, trap less than half the mud. Once fences are installed, the perimeter must then be mulched and seeded within three days [COMAR 26.17.10.07B(f)(i)]. If the mulch blows away, the contractor must re-mulch. If the grass doesn’t reach 95 percent coverage within eight weeks, the contractor must reseed.

Once the perimeter is stabilized, the contractor can start work on the interior of the site. The company uses bulldozers to level the ground so construction can begin. Once the ground is level, known as “rough grade,” the contractor has up to seven days to stabilize all exposed soils. Paved areas are considered stabilized; all other “erodible” (i.e., non-paved) areas must be mulched and seeded.

The only way to determine that contractors are properly stabilizing construction sites is to go out and take a look. Government agencies, in this case the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), are tasked with inspecting sites like these, but MDE has gradually lost funding and staff while its responsibilities have increased dramatically. When writing environmental laws, Congress envisioned a strong role for citizens—Congress placed citizen suit provisions in virtually all of the federal environmental statutes, for example, enabling citizens to “stand in the shoes” of regulatory authorities and bring suit to enforce the law. Citizen enforcement is vital when bureaucracies stumble or polluters skirt the law.

The tour of construction sites I took last week is true citizen enforcement. Our knowledgeable guide, Richard Klein who leads Community & Environmental Defense Services, made the process easy by preparing a simple questionnaire for us to fill out. We visited 11 sites over the course of three hours. The result? About two of the 11 were even remotely stable. Not an unusual result, according to Richard who has tracked this problem for years.

In addition to Baltimore City, Richard is leading tours of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties. With the help of volunteers, he’ll compile data on hundreds of construction sites across Maryland. He encourages the volunteers to write thank-you letters to construction companies that are following the rules and letters encouraging companies without proper stabilization to do better.

Richard’s overall goal is to provide the public support needed to bring all jurisdictions up to the point of full compliance with the stabilization law. After surveying the counties, he’ll send the data he and the volunteers compile to the MDE. By showing MDE that citizens strongly support the agency’s efforts to inspect construction sites and take enforcement actions when necessary, he aims to channel this public support into getting enforcement agencies the resources and political backing needed to maximize compliance.

You can learn more about the tours and report a violation through Richard’s website. Another great way to track pollution is through the just-released Water Reporter app, a crowd sourced, interactive app that allows citizens to share information and flag pollution problems in their communities.

Anne Havemann, Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform

 

Anne_HavemannAnne Havemann, J.D., is a CPR Policy Analyst. She joined the organization in 2013 to work on its Chesapeake Bay program area.

Havemann has nearly a decade of experience working on environmental issues at the regional and national scale. From 2005 to 2010, she was the communications director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit organization working on clean energy issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She focused on the Clean Water Act during clerkships with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her article on debarring BP in the wake of the 2010 oil spill, co-authored with CPR president Rena Steinzor, appears in the William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review. Her second article, which won the Joseph Bernstein prize and was published in the Maryland Law Review, considers whether Maryland’s renewable energy laws violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

Ms. Havemann received a B.A. in environmental science from Colorado College in 2004. She received her law degree with a certificate in environmental law from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law in 2013, where she graduated magna cum laude. While at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, she was editor in chief of the Maryland Law Review. In that position, she hosted a symposium in conjunction with CPR that brought together scholars from the environmental and financial fields to discuss regulatory enforcement. She is a member of Order of the Coif and a recipient of the Alumni Association Award for contributing most largely to the law school through her character and leadership.

Contact Information:
202.747.0698

Email: ahavemann@progressivereform.org

Has Exhaustion Hurt Our Advocacy Efforts?

In our world of metrics and indicators are we missing something?

When we talk about the obstacles to transformative success (for whatever issue that may be) we talk about things like political power and corporate control.  We do not usually talk about the role personal exhaustion plays in success.  I recently came across a Huffington Post article on ending burnout in social change movements and our inability to build a thriving future on a platform of exhaustion.  Which got my wheels turning a bit.

Has exhaustion and burnout impacted the advocacy community in Maryland – specifically that of the environmental community?  Can exhaustion be linked to to the lack of success on bay and climate efforts?

“Overwork is a near-pandemic amidst people who are devoted to making the world better, whether you’re paid or volunteer, an organizer, educator, artist, entrepreneur or any other kind of change-maker.

It’s the conversation we’re not having, and we need to.”

I completely get where the author is coming from.  Advocacy work does not fit into a neat little 9-5 box.  Exhaustion can result in poor work performance and ill-planned campaigns.  I would easily wager that exhaustion in advocacy has risen with the evolution of the internet, wifi, and smart devices.

Is the exhaustion the author discusses a baseline exhaustion that has always existed in nonprofit work or is this a new level of exhaustion from our inability to disconnect from work?  Or, as I suspect, is it exhaustion derivative from decades of the same lax-luster campaign plans and voluntary efforts?

“The world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th hour each day. It does not need more email blasts or campaign plans written with bleary eyes.”  

The above statement is very true, but I would add that the world does not need your 13th or 14th or 15th poorly planned email that is a part of an equally as poor strategy.  It is understandable to me how movement burnout could result from decades of the same voluntary approach and groups silo-ing themselves.  These strategies do not produce the desired end goal and just compound one another as organizations continue to apply them over and over in hopes something will change.

I believe burnout is a side effect of continuing to engage in the same ill-producing strategies and the lack of transformative success.  I think this is what we have seen in Maryland.  The tides do seem to be turning though.  Groups are becoming more cognizant of diversifying their alliances and breaking their silos.  Strategies are evolving and strengthening, but it is a slow process and will take time to permanently separate from the same lax-luster strategies we have been deploying for decades.

In a commencement speech given this year, Jim Carrey addressed the graduating class and shared “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”  I could not agree more with this statement.  If you put your energy into the same strategies that have been ill-producing for decades and lax-luster at best, you will be successful, but only in producing the chronic exhaustion the author attributes to the lack of transformative success.  I firmly believe in doing what you love, but you must take a 30k foot view to understand if what you are doing will ultimately achieve your end goal.  If not, re-strategize and change course so as not to fall into the rut of exhaustion and underperformance.

Can We #Hashtag Our Way to Transformative Change?

Shonda Rhimes, who basically controls Thursday’s on ABC, gave a commencement speech at Dartmouth College this past year.  Among many of the thoughtful and encouraging words she read to the graduating class of 2014 was her comment that a hashtag is not a movement.

“And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #YesAllWomen #TakeBackTheNight #NotAllMen #BringBackOurGirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething.

Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing into your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show.”

If there is anything that drives me nuts it’s slacktivism and only participating in social change issues behind the safety of a computer.  Her words were music to my frustrated ears of online activism.  Opinions are like @$$ holes, everyone has one – but not everyone will get off the computer and take more impactful action.

I didn’t realize Ms. Rhimes’ comment got so many people in a tizzy until I saw a Buzzfeed article on it – specifically on if hashtags count as activism.  Buzzfeed reached out to “a number of people who use hashtags and social media to enable social change by email and asked them all the same question: Do you think hashtags count as activism?”

As much as I love Buzzfeed, their question misses the core of Ms. Rhimes’ comments.  She said #hashtags are not a movement.  She never said they don’t count as activism.  Instead of asking this seemingly one-dimensional question of if #hashtags count as activism, I would be more interested in learning from the respondents what role they feel online organizing, social media, and #hashtags play in movements to effect transformative change and how are they actually seeing that play out in their work.

#hashtags are a component of activism.  They help bring attention to issues.  They help build a groundswell of support to push an issue, to build a movement.  They, in and of themselves, are not a movement.  A “like” or #hashtag is not a powerful move, it will not itself alone create meaningful change. People need to stop believing their “like” is making an impactful difference and organizations need to start providing the right “asks” to get people more engaged.

Social media has created a platform where individuals, elected officials, and reporters can follow issues in real time.  We have seen this unfold in Maryland within the environmental community.  The Smart on Pesticides Campaign has thoughtful metrics and a strong online presence to push their issues.  They use their metrics (which are not a simple measurement of likes) to understand what their audience cares most about.  They give them directives and ways to get involved beyond a computer.  They keep them up to date on relevant issues.  Their social media presence is incorporated into a larger strategy and has help achieve the success they have seen in the 2014 legislative session.  The Smart on Pesticides Campaign is the movement.  Their #hashtags and online content are the tools to make the effort successful.

When social media presence is not well thought out or strategic it will plateau or fizzle out.  When I think of these issues,  I think of organizations who simply measure “likes” as a sign of impact or the immediate support that floods my newsfeed in the wake of a tragedy.  #YesAllWomen created a great dialogue, but weeks after its creation where do things stand?  I had a friend who was incredibly shaken up and upset about the shooting that inspired the #YesAllWomen conversation.  She started reading and sharing articles and making comments online.  As with most, her public concern for the issue died as quickly as it had emerged.  The movement and conversation that was created was great, but there isn’t/wasn’t a next step, a directive, and end goal to push supporters to.  It has just seemed to fizzle.

Shonda Rhimes was 100% correct.  #hashtags are not a movement.  #hashtags will not achieve anything from their simple existence beyond creating an online conversation.  But if the online presence is built into a strategic campaign or effort, it could create the base of support and awareness to create the transformative change we want to see in the world.

F is for …

…another failing waterway.

The 2013 Healthy Harbor Report Card has been released and Baltimore’s waterways are not doing so hot.  To be exact – they are failing.

The report card was released at a press conference held at Mill No. 1 on the Jones Falls.  Attendees included representatives from the Waterfront Partnership, Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore City Department of Public Works, UMCES, Abell Foundation, Rauch Foundation, Baltimore Community Foundation, UMD Environmental Law Clinic, MDP, MDE, Choose Clean Water Coalition, National Aquarium, Brown Advisories, and a yellow-crowned night heron.

Blue Water Baltimore’s executive director, Halle Van der Gaag,used the release as a call to action for improving local water quality and harbor health – reminding attendees that we need to move faster and get more done.

I admired Halle’s speech for using the press conference to speak on the reality of water quality in Baltimore City and the need for change.  Instead of attempting to paint a pretty picture.

Our waterways may not currently catch on fire (thanks to actions like the Clean Water Act), but that does not mean our watershed health issues are any less important or serious.  Water quality is not just an environmental health issue, but a public health one.  An F is simply unacceptable.

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Southern MD Food Council: Foodways Community Networking Event

On Wednesday, May 7th I made the trek to Waldorf, Maryland for an evening surrounded by the most diverse group of folks brought together by their interest of local foods issues.

The Foodways Community Networking Event was held by the Southern Maryland Food Council to create cross-sector connections between people interested in food-related topics.

There were representatives from

  • Local K-12 Schools
  • Farmers
  • Hunger Community
  • Health Department
  • St. Mary’s University Students
  • Prince George’s Food Equity Council
  • Accokeek Foundation
  • Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
  • Southern Maryland Food Council
  • University of Maryland Extension
  • Watermen

The night was comprised of “speed dating” round tables focused on specific topics related to the food system, e.g., distribution, environmental impacts, agriculture, food labeling, healthy food budgeting, natural foods, food waste, and community gardens.

After three table break outs with conversations no one wanted to end, we came back together as a group to share some final thoughts.

The group had an overwhelming interest in …

  • Food hubs
  • Hunger
  • Education
  • Legislation
  • Transportation

The evening concluded with the group agreeing on the importance of “voting with our forks.” The present day industrial food system is overwhelming and unnecessarily complicated. But the market is driven by demand and although it will take time and commitment, we can refocus our food purchases by “voting with our fork” to support local, sustainable farmers.

Do we need industrial agriculture to feed the world? No. And with dedicated citizens, like the ones in Southern Maryland, coming together around local food issues, we can permanently transition to a more local and sustainable food system.

Spring 2014 Grant Awards

With the end of the 2014 Maryland General Assembly, dusk is most assuredly settling on the O’Malley regime, and it may be a propitious time to pause and consider what has been achieved over the past seven years, and where we may be headed once the Governor has decamped for other pursuits. The General Assembly session provides one interesting lens with which to frame that consideration, as the pieces of legislation that most centrally occupied the state’s environmental community constitute clear punctuation marks on the major environmental achievements of the last seven years.

The Governor can be justly proud of having established ambitious and secure goals, timetables, and strategic frameworks for improving the condition of the Chesapeake Bay and managing Maryland’s transition to a clean energy future. In this legislative session, Chesapeake Bay activists were most intently focused on contesting efforts to delay, defer, and denude key instruments for achieving those restoration goals and objectives. These efforts included a host of bills to repeal or otherwise disrupt legislation passed in 2013 to establish stormwater utility fees in the state’s ten largest counties, as well as several bills seeking to burden implementation of new rules governing the application of additional manure on already saturated farm fields.

Meanwhile, climate and clean energy activists targeted their efforts at improving (by addition as well as subtraction) one of the central implementation instruments for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction plan – the renewable portfolio standard.

As these pieces of legislation preoccupied environmentalists keen – as they probably should be – with tying a neat bow on the O’Malley legacy, other pieces of legislation represented the emergent energies in the environmental community, the energies and voices that seek to shape the contours of the debates that will define the next four or eight years.

Amongst the most insistent of these voices were those associated with SB725, the Poultry Fair Share Act. In seeking to impose a 5-cent fee per chicken on poultry integrators to generate revenue for cover crops, the legislation and its supporters hope to reframe agricultural pollution as a corporate accountability problem, and to expand advocacy ownership of the issue beyond the environmental community.

We also saw a number of important bills that raise questions about how to most appropriately frame our energy challenges and opportunities. The notable energy achievements of the O’Malley Administration have foregrounded the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and successfully championed solutions focused on changing the sources of our energy and reducing our use of it. These new pieces of legislation raised questions about the degree to which the framing of the problem and the solutions needs to move beyond a sources-and-sectors approach focusing on CO2, in order to address the energy transition question in a more transformative way.

A cluster of bills in the General Assembly – SB 786, SB 706, and SB56 – might prefigure an approach that would prioritize the structural changes that could produce an energy system that is not just cleaner, but also healthier, safer, fairer, and more democratic:

  • The Community Renewable Energy Generating System Pilot Program (SB786) sought to task the Maryland Public Service Commission with authorizing pilot projects that would develop a better understanding of if and how ‘community renewable energy generating systems’ can be workable in the state. By allowing for the purchase of ‘subscriptions’ in community renewable systems and generate credits on their own electric bills, virtual net metering could substantially increase access of low income residents to the benefits of clean energy.
  • The Cumulative Impact Assessments Act (SB 706) would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment to conduct a cumulative impact assessment before approving permits for landfills, incinerators, hazardous substance facilities and other projects that pose risks to the environment and to public health. This legislation seeks to address environmental justice concerns whereby low income and minority communities are disproportionately burdened by polluting facilities.
  • The Maryland Recycling and Landfill Diversion Task Force Act (SB56) sought to establish a task force to make recommendations to the General Assembly about aggressive recycling and waste diversion goals. This legislation would complement the zero waste strategy – including a statewide 80% recycling goal – that the Department of Environment plans to announce later this spring. The draft strategy and the legislation have both been panned by segments of the environmental community, for pandering to the waste management industry, and treating ‘waste to energy’ incineration as an appropriate zero waste strategy.

Unlike the Poultry Fair Share Act, these pieces of legislation were not especially controversial within the environmental community. They did, however, represent an assertion of concerns about equity – environmental health and justice – that have only been present in marginal and episodic ways in the energy conversation over the last seven years. As with the corporate accountability framing of the Poultry Fair Share Act, social justice concerns have the potential to reshape the direction and recast the ownership of the energy issue. While this would undoubtedly be a boisterous process, many believe that it holds the potential to power significant – perhaps even transformative – change.

There is not a hard and fast distinction between those who are trying to fully realize the potential of the frameworks that O’Malley has helped achieve and those who are trying to change the conversation. There are differences, however, and these differences matter, especially if they can be made constructive.

It is useful to hold this formulation in mind when engaging with this docket. A significant portion of the docket is comprised of incremental work intended to fully realize the potential in O’Malley’s Watershed Implementation (WIP) and Greenhouse Gas Reduction (GGRP) Plans. We are recommending support for work to strengthen policies and regulations to achieve the Bay restoration goals embedded in the WIP, we are recommending support for work to expand local capacity to implement the strategies promoted by the WIP, and we are recommending support for work to encourage Marylanders to embrace the goals and strategies upon which the GGRP rests.

We are also, however, recommending support for work that seeks to define and propose bigger visions than those that animate the WIP and the GGRP. This work – on transforming our energy and food systems, and confronting the pathologies of perpetual growth – seeks to frame and engage ‘sustainability’ in its most challenging and, potentially, rewarding articulations.

Finally, we are also recommending support for work that we hope can cultivate estuarine spaces – highly productive venues for the mixing of incremental work and transformational perspectives. In this regard we are especially excited about the critical mass of leadership networking on this docket. These linked efforts to help local elected and appointed leaders learn together how to better develop and implement sustainability policies are organized around conventional approaches to sustainability, but we believe that they also have the potential to spawn more ambitious appetites.

For our Spring 2014 Grant Cycle our Board approved 35 grants in the total amount of $3,451,311.

Chesapeake Bay

American Rivers
Earthjustice
National Wildlife Federation
Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Funders Network
Potomac Conservancy
Friends of Frederick County
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
Sassafras River Association
Center for Progressive Reform
HOPE Impacts
Food & Water Watch
Waterkeepers Chesapeake
Assateague Coastal Trust
Maryland Environmental Health Network
National Caucus of Environmental Legislators

Climate Change

Institute for Environmental and Energy Research
Baltimore Sustainability Commission
Center for Environment and Society
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Labor Network for Sustainability

Sustainability

Bay Journal
Maryland Non-Profits
Center for Sustainable Economy
Environmental Finance Center
Smart Growth America
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Center for Emerging Media
Center for a Livable Future
Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment
Crossroads Community Food Network
Civic Works
Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Corporation

If you have any questions please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken. Email: mmilliken@towncreekfdn.org Office: 410-763-8171

We Need A Surgeon General’s Report For Fracked Gas Exports At Cove Point

This post originally appeared on Health and Environmental Funders Network Blog, Giving InSight, on [April 15, 2014]:http://hefn.org/connect/blog/we_need_surgeon_generals_report_fracked_gas_exports_cove_point

 

ccan_cove_point_1This post was authored by Katie Huffling, program director for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power and Light (DC, MD, NoVA), and Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Megan Milliken from the Town Creek Foundation shares this introduction:

Maryland, which loses 1.6 acres of state land each day from sea level rise, is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  The Town Creek Foundation is committed to helping Maryland exceed its goals of reducing pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its greenhouse gas emissions, including through transition to clean energy alternatives.  Dominion Resources’ Cove Point plan to convert a liquid natural gas (LNG) import facility on the Eastern shore of Maryland into a major natural gas export facility will reinforce our dependence of fossil fuels with a facility that will only exacerbate the problem. 

The fight against Cove Point is not a matter of one facility, but of Maryland’s clean energy future.  Dominion has green-washed their communications, arguing that this is a great solution for Maryland, but it is simply a profitable opportunity for Dominion.  If the public fully understands the implications of this facility, it would not stand a chance.  As the following post outlines, Stop Cove Point advocates, including Town Creek grantees Interfaith Power and Light and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, are galvanizing public support in opposition to the facility, while supporting a reinvestment in clean energy.  We believe that Cove Point presents a dramatic example of wrong choices for Maryland’s energy future and, as such, provides a platform on which to promote an alternative vision.

 

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancerchanged America forever. Before the report, Americans generally assumed smoking was okay – maybe even good for us given ads like, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” But then the hard evidence – the undeniable facts – came to the surface and public opinion shifted.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Maryland is that there’s a new “Camel cigarette” problem. For the past several months, a powerful corporation called Dominion Resources has been telling Marylanders that we can light something else on fire – something called “fracked gas” – and that it will be good for public healthand the environment. Dominion wants to build a massive industrial plant at a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland to systematically collect, process, liquefy, and export to faraway Asia a huge quantity of gas taken from hydraulic fracturing drilling sites all across the region.

To understand the full-blown public health emergency that could result from this, remember this number: 19. Nineteen out of Maryland’s 23 counties have recently been mapped and found to have gas basins below their surface. Every one of those 19 counties could get fracked – with attendant problems ranging from flammable tap water to deforestation – thanks directly or indirectly to Dominion’s Cove Point plan.

Here are the facts. Wherever fracking occurs, wherever you drill down a mile deep and set off explosions to free up natural gas, problems occur. Again, these range from thedocumented contamination of drinking water near drilling sites to the triggering of earthquakes from the reinjection of the drilling water into the ground. Further health risks include toxic and hormone-disrupting chemicals released into surface and ground waters.

Dominion’s plan is to pipe the fracked gas from as far away as New York and – potentially – from all across Maryland to Cove Point on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. There, with the aid of a large new power plant, the gas would be liquefied to 260 degrees below zero. The liquefaction process itself would combust so much gas and use so much propane that it could generate more global warming pollution than four of Maryland’s biggest coal-fired power plants. And Dominion still calls this “clean energy.”

Image source: Emma Hohenstein, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

 

The gas would then be poured onto massive vessels and shipped to India and Japan to be re-vaporized and piped again to be finally burned for energy. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dominion, our analysis is that the “life-cycle” emissions from this process make liquefied and exported fracked gas almost certainly as bad for the global atmosphere as burning coal!

And yet the U.S. Department of Energy has given preliminary approval to seven gas export facilities in Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and at Cove Point in Maryland. More than a dozen others have been proposed by the gas industry. If all of them were built, it would create the greenhouse gas equivalent of adding 100 coal-fired power plants to U.S. emissions. It would, in short, make a mockery of the White House “climate action plan” proposed by the President last summer.

Understandably, this is hard for many people to believe.  Not unlike Big Tobacco in the 1950s, the gas industry has bombarded the public with TV and print ads heralding the appeal and safe-use benefits of gas. But the facts – as with tobacco – are the facts. In early February, a major panel of scientists declared that U.S. cities that switch their bus fleets over to fracked gas are not reducing their greenhouse pollution below conventional fleets. No climate change benefits at all.

It turns out Dominion doesn’t think the federal government should conduct a comprehensive environmental statement for its $3.8 billion, highly polluting, region-transforming project. And so far the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to forgo such a study.

Why does Dominion oppose an EIS? One can only assume it’s because the company fears an EIS would be the equivalent of a Surgeon General’s report. Among other things, an EIS would show that residents in southern Maryland can expect worsening asthma rates as their air quality deteriorates from the constant flaring and liquefying of gas.

Maryland needs and deserves a Surgeon General’s report on Cove Point, covering the whole scheme of drilling for fracked gas and exporting it through the state.

Guest Blog: Fossil Fuel Company Divestment & Renewable Energy Reinvestment

Fossil Fuel Company Divestment & Renewable Energy Reinvestment

Fran Teplitz, Policy Director, Green America

The fossil fuel divestment movement continues to grow nationally and internationally as individuals and institutions — including pension funds, institutions of higher learning, and philanthropic endowments –recognize the importance of ridding their portfolios of fossil fuel companies. As we see time again, whether the issue is divestment from apartheid South Africa, divestment from the Sudan, or divestment from tobacco, when investors add the the power of their voice and their assets to social movements, the pace of change can accelerate.

Divestment intensifies public, media, and policy-maker attention to issues and signals that the stakes of inaction are unacceptable. This is certainly true for the climate crisis, in which the threats to human and environmental health continue to mount – especially for populations and ecosystems with no defense.

The fossil fuel company divestment movement, sparked by 350.org, urges investors to divest their portfolios of the top 200 fossil fuel companies. As extreme weather events become more common and the level of carbon pollution continues to rise – exceeding in some areas the 350 parts per million deemed the safest upper limit – all sectors of society need to take  action to shift global energy use toward renewable energy and energy efficiency. As 2014 opened, a coalition of foundations, with aggregated assets of $1.8 billion, announced their fossil fuel company divestment plans, giving an important boost to the divestment movement. At the same time, we see the continued development of fossil fuel company-free investment products including progress toward the first fossil free indexes that will help individuals create low carbon portfolios.

More and more investors understand that divestment is the right thing to do from the perspective of planetary well-being – as well as from a fiduciary perspective. Financial analysts are realizing that fossil fuel companies are over-valued and pose increasing risk to investors. We are now at the point where we cannot burn the reserves that fossil fuel companies already have without exceeding the two degree Celsius rise in temperature, over preindustrial levels, that scientists globally agree we must remain under for planetary health. At current carbon dioxide emission rates, we are likely to exceed this threshold.

Green America’s new Guide to Fossil Fuel Divestment and Clean Energy Reinvesting can help individuals, in our roles as investors and consumers, to create the clean energy economy upon which the future depends.

The Guide provides resources to help individuals get started in aligning their investments with their commitment to addressing climate change. Key steps include:

1. Divest Your Fossil-Fuel-Company Holdings

If you own direct company stock, sell any investments in the top 200 companies holding the most fossil-fuel reserves. If you only own mutual funds, call your mutual fund companies and urge them to offer fossil-free options. If they can’t, or won’t, tell them you’ll be shifting more of your mutual fund investing to mutual fund companies that offer fossil fuel company -free funds. Develop a divestment plan so you can meet your financial needs without adding to global change.

2. Reinvest in Clean Energy and Fossil-Free Products

Buy fossil-free stocks in consultation with your financial planner, invest in fossil-free mutual funds and ETFs, or invest in crowd-sourced solar projects.

3. Invest in Clean Energy for Your Home and Community

Boost your home’s value by installing clean energy, or look into community solar opportunities, on the rise nationwide. There are shared renewable energy options for people who rent and a number of utilities themselves that offer clean energy, as well as resellers like PEAR and Ethical Electric that actively work to build more clean energy sources.

4. Shift Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

Don’t do business with conventional mega-banks heavily invested in fossil fuels. Move your checking and savings accounts and credit cards to community development banks. Find resources at www.breakupwithyourmegabank.org  and www.takechargeofyourcard.org.

5. Support Institutional Divestment Movements

Work with your city, house of worship, university, or other groups that may be invested in fossil fuels. Find ongoing campaigns at www.gofossilfree.org.

Each of us has a responsibility to take as many actions as we can to reverse global warming. If enough of us – citizens, policy makers, businesses, investors, and scientists –take action, we can build a clean energy economy that will serve us for generations to come.

 

FranFran serves as the Director of Social Investing & Policy at Green America. Green America is a nonprofit membership based organization in Washington, DC that involves consumers, businesses and investors in economic strategies to advance positive social and environmental change. Fran joined the organization in 2000 and manages Green America’s role in various coalitions related to sustainable business and economics, climate change, and other policy issues. She also directs Green America’s work on socially and environmentally responsible investing.

Fran worked with Peace Action and the Peace Action Education Fund for seven years before joining Green America. Prior to Peace Action, she worked on U.S. policy toward Central America.  She holds a Master’s Degree from the Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and earned her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis in Political Science. 

Guest Blog: Rebecca Ruggles on the Bay Watershed Agreement

What does it mean when a public entity holds a two hour public comment session and it is over in about an hour?  Not a good sign!

Those of us who went to speak at the Chesapeake Bay Program’s public session on the final draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement had time for reflection after the meeting.  It only took about an hour.  We had blocked from 10 to noon, and about a dozen of us did speak.  But as one commenter noted, “There should be people creating a traffic jam on Forest Drive this morning and standing in a line down that hallway.”

The reason they were not, we think, is because they know this Agreement is not worth their time.

What are its flaws?

Claudia Friedetzsky of Maryland Sierra Club asked the Management Board to add a focus on climate change and measurable goals related to climate change adaptation.  Failing to mention such a massive threat showed the Bay Program lagging behind scientists and the public consensus.  We need your leadership on this, she said.

Jill Witkowski from the Choose Clean Water Coalition explained why senior Chesapeake Bay Scientists and policymakers developed an alternative, the Citizen’s Bay Agreement with 25 action steps.

Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network asked the Commission to address toxics, citing human and environmental threats and the full documentation of the toxic contaminants in the Bay, from the EPA’s December 2012 report.

I added that the Maryland Environmental Health Network has recently done a brief assessment of best practices for reducing pesticides in urban waterways.  “The experts agree we need more information, and the field is thin.  The goal you rejected last summer is so reasonable and minimal.  MdEHN asks that you reconsider and add this to the Agreement.”

Then I read a synopsis of the very simple proposed addition they had considered last summer and rejected: “Assess research to improve knowledge of effects of contaminants by 2015 so future strategies can be considered.”

Such an extremely modest thing to propose – but shot down as not needed!

Perhaps the most striking assessment of the Final Draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement, which is supposed to establish a basis for collaboration across the political boundaries of watershed, was given by Ray Sullivan of Save Your Annapolis Neck.

I didn’t write down his exact words but his point was powerful.  “Why are no real estate developers, no one from agriculture or the chemical industry here today commenting on this agreement?  It’s because they already got everything they want.  They know this is a toothless agreement!”

Next time when I’m sitting through a long hearing or waiting my turn to speak on a long list, I’ll remember this experience at the Management Board meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  Better to be part of a noisy throng fighting to get the future right, than working on something that has no chance of making a difference.

 

rebeccaRebecca Ruggles is Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. She was formerly Director of Special Projects at Baltimore Medical System (BMS), a community health system serving Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Rebecca consults to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers as the coordinator of the Green Funders affinity group. She sits on the Board of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (formerly Chesapeake Covenant Community), a network of congregations and people of faith pursuing better stewardship of our natural world. She is a member of the Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council and an active member of the Greater Baltimore Asthma Alliance.