The New Year came in on the heels of an explosion in the small prairie town of Casselton, North Dakota, when two BNSF Railway trains collided, one carrying crude oil. The residents of Casselton were told to evacuate as the thick clouds of black smoke filled the sky. The only comfort in this latest of crude oil transportation disasters was that no people lost their lives. That wasn’t the case in Lac-Megantic, Quebec where 47 people lost their lives when a Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd train carrying tar sand oil derailed and exploded. Small rural communities and First Nations lands have suffered the most from this steady flow of oil spills. When it isn’t train tankers careening off the tracks, it is crude oil pipeline leaks flowing out on to wheat fields and into rivers. When it isn’t crude oil, it is natural gas explosions such as the one in West, Texas last April, when a fertilizer plant blew up, killing 15 innocent people. Repeatedly, the oil and gas industry has shown criminal disregard for the lives and property of people and communities.
So, what can citizens do? We could and we must say that the nation’s infrastructure for oil and gas development is not up to the threat posed by the headlong drive to squeeze every last drop of petroleum out of the earth. We could and we must say that federal, state and local governments have failed to protect us, and have fallen far short of establishing and enforcing effective regulatory standards for the oil and gas industry. These measures are critical and it is up to us to hold our governments accountable.
On the morning of September 29, North Dakota farmer Steven Jensen discovered a gurgling pool of oil in his wheat field. From a quarter-inch hole in the pipeline, 865,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken oil field leaked into his fields. It was 11 days before there was any public notification of the spill. In the last two years, North Dakota has had over 300 pipeline oil spills that were never publicly reported.
As the oil polluted soil is being removed from Steven Jensen's wheat field, the Enbridge oil company is planning a new pipeline from North Dakota carrying crude oil across northern Minnesota. In Carlton county, local residents and farmers along the proposed pipeline route are concerned about the risks the new pipeline, called Sandpiper, poses to their lives, land and environment. Citizens in the region have come together under the name Carlton County Land Stewards. IATP met with some members to learn more about the pipeline plans. Like so many extreme energy development projects, the citizens most affected are often the last to know what is being planned. Fortunately, land owners and farmers in Carlton County are working together to protect their farms and community.
As controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has captured most of America’s attention, Minnesotans have been dealing with a different pipeline carrying tar sands bitumen to the United States. On July 17, 2013, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, L.P. a 120,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity increase to line 67, the “Alberta Clipper”, from 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd.
As two of the largest free trade agreements (TTIP and TPP) in history are being negotiated, free trade agreements like these will become more entrenched in our lives than ever before. Unfortunately, the tangle of rules and regulations, mostly designed to keep intact and strengthen corporate interests, can create serious roadblocks for real, earnest work to improve sustainability on the national, state and even local levels. As local governments work to build policy that includes sustainability standards, they may be on the wrong side of international trade law.
A new IATP report, Sustainability Criteria, Biofuel Policy and Trade Rules makes very clear that if we hope to change policy in any arena—pushing for lower GHG emissions, reducing pollution, producing cleaner energy or enabling local sourcing—understanding international trade law is an absolutely required first step.
Report author and trade lawyer Eric Gillman uses the state of biofuels policy as a backdrop, including real examples of current biofuel sustainability efforts, to set the stage for examining the larger implications of WTO trade law on all sorts of policy development:
If we are to construct the type of policies needed to address the multiple environmental, social and economic crises that we face, understanding how these policies interact with international trade rules is absolutely required. This paper is a ﬁrst attempt—within the context of biofuel policy—to raise some of these questions and address necessary changes.
Rural resistance has helped slow the development of renewable energy. It doesn't have to be that way. For the President's green-energy plans to succeed, he needs to reach out to the rural leaders who are ready to act on climate change.
President Barack Obama made urgent calls for new steps to address climate change in his State of the Union address yesterday, “for the sake of our children and our future.” While the focus was on renewable energy, he missed an opportunity to talk about the essential ingredient for addressing climate change: the support of rural communities.
Due to the structure of our legislative system, representatives from rural America—and their constituents—have played a disproportionate role in derailing federal climate action over the last several years. Rural resistance is due, in large part, to the complete neglect of this constituency by U.S. climate policymakers and activists, which allowed climate issues in rural America to be defined primarily by the fossil fuel industry and its surrogates.
Without positive, pro-rural voices, or proposals on the table that emphasize the opportunities, climate change deniers have been able to—correctly—focus on the additional burdens that new regulation or taxation would bring to parts of the country that already have lower incomes and higher energy costs than cities.
Encouragingly, some rural perceptions about climate change are changing. Rural people are already experiencing and responding to the climate crisis in myriad ways. One of the most severe droughts in U.S. history is still unfolding, forcing farmers and ranchers across the country to rethink crop and livestock production systems.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has long prided itself as being on the cutting edge of identifying and addressing global issues that affect our daily lives. We analyze complex challenges, bring people together, and work to shift power in our quest for a more democratic, sustainable and just world.
Our ever-vigilant policy analysts report back that there is but one unifying forum recognized around the world for sharing ideas and vision: the cat video.
I invite you to enjoy IATP’s latest production, Chiko, Le Chat Politique.
Please share this important message with your friends. And give now at www.iatp.org/gtmd12.
Thanks to a generous friend of Chiko the cat, all gifts today will be matched dollar for dollar up to $8,000.
Thank you for participating in Give to the Max. Your support makes our work possible. To learn more, go to www.iatp.org/gtmd12.
Jim Harkness, President
The fine print: No cats were harmed in the filming of this video, unless you count licking a McDonald’s cheeseburger. With special thanks to Henri, Le Chat Noir.
What does it take to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fulfill their duty to protect public health? More than a letter from two members of Congress, apparently.
FDA finally responded to a letter sent by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Congress’ only microbiologist, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) last May. Following on the heels of the release of IATP’s Bugs in the System report, the letter asked what FDA was doing to control the unapproved, and possibly illegal, marketing of antibiotics by animal drug companies for use in ethanol production.
As IATP documented in our report, antibiotics are widely used in ethanol production to control bacterial contamination, although non-antibiotic alternatives are also effective and readily available on the market. Our investigation showed that the agency considers antibiotics used in ethanol production to be “food additives.” Under federal code, food additives must be FDA approved before they can be lawfully marketed. None of the antibiotics used in ethanol production—including the human drugs penicillin and erythromycin, and human-drug analogues tylosin and virginiamycin—have been so approved, yet the FDA has refused to regulate their marketing and use.
IATP has issued a press statement applauding Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) for writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and calling for action on antibiotics in ethanol production.
Our latest investigation, Bugs in the System: How the FDA Fails to Regulate Antibiotics in Ethanol Production, is heavily cited in their letter, and it's encouraging to see them addressing the FDA's apparent neglect of their responsibilities. Check out the press statement, posted below, or read up on the IATP investigation that made it happen. Hopefully the FDA will recognize its responsibility and take the actions necessary to correct the situation. Get involved in the fight against antibiotic resistance by signing IATP's latest petition.
Over the last three years, IATP has written numerous reports and blogs about why antibiotic use in ethanol production is unwise and unnecessary. The antibiotics that ethanol producers use to control bacteria during production end up in a co-product called distillers grains (DGS), which are sold as livestock feed. We’ve argued that feeding livestock this additional, non-therapeutic antibiotic dose may contribute to antibiotic resistance, a problem that poses huge threats to public health. We’ve also argued that antibiotic use in ethanol production is unnecessary—effective, cost-competitive alternatives are readily available and widely used by the industry, but our common-good appeals haven’t stopped drug companies from unlawfully selling antibiotics to ethanol producers, or producers from using them.
That might now change.
Today, we’re releasing the results of an investigation into the FDA’s failure to regulate antibiotic sales to the ethanol industry. For at least the last five years, drug companies have been marketing unapproved antibiotics to ethanol producers, a practice, according to the FDA, that is prohibited by federal code. The FDA knows about it, but has done nothing. Drug companies know too, but continue to market these antibiotics.
There is a lot to talk about following last Friday’s release of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow’s draft Farm Bill, but hardly any time to talk about it. The bill is scheduled for mark-up tomorrow. Yes, that’s April 25th. After the full mark-up, the Committee bill will move to the Senate floor for debate, probably sometime in May. We’ll have time, then, to do some thorough analysis. Today, however, we’ll try to give you a couple of bites to chew on, with accompanying actions to take. Here’s the scoop on important energy title programs.
The Senate Ag Committee draft of the 2012 Farm Bill includes zero mandatory funding for the Farm Bill Energy Title, which includes important programs that promote on-farm energy efficiency and perennial-based renewable energy. Over the last month, we’ve been working with many other agriculture, energy, and environmental groups to let Congress know how important these programs are. But without mandatory funding, these programs will be left virtually dead.
How much do we need these programs? Take the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), for example. In 2011 alone, REAP saved or created almost 7,000 jobs; reduced greenhouse gases by almost 2 million metric tons; saved the equivalent of over 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity; and generated $465 million of investments in our communities.