Biden needs to step up and declare a climate emergency

Houston Chronicle
Robin Schneider & Dave Cortez
Original Article

President Joe Biden listens during an event in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Here’s something you don’t need to be told: This has been a miserably long, hot summer in Houston. In fact, the summer of 2023 has now made history as the hottest ever in Houston, with an average temperature of nearly 90 degrees, and 45 insufferable days over 100.

But it’s not just hot in Houston. Data released by the World Meteorological Association at the beginning of September showed that the previous three months were the hottest ever on record for the entire globe, by a big margin. More alarmingly, while global records only begin around 1880, climate scientists believe this is likely the hottest Earth has been in 120,000 years.

That means this is much more than just another hot summer. It’s now painfully clear, based on overwhelming scientific evidence, that human-caused climate change — the majority of which is the result of burning fossil fuels — is transforming our planet into a different and dangerous place.

Indeed, being miserably hot is the least of our worries. If climate change continues unabated, the world can expect a cascade of devastating impacts, from intensifying hurricanes to rising sea levels (Antarctic Sea ice hit a record low this summer), to more extreme fires, droughts and floods. And cruelly, the most vulnerable among us would be the first and worst to be impacted.

Here at home, we’re already seeing it with our own eyes. So far in 2023, the U.S. is at a record 23 extreme weather events that have caused at least $1 billion in damage and collectively taken hundreds of American lives. The horrifying wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii took over 100 lives alone, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the past century.

If ever there was a moment for leadership and action, it is now. Unfortunately, even science has become obscured by partisan politics, such as when one presidential candidate recently characterized “the climate change agenda” as a “hoax.” Fortunately, there are leaders in both parties who acknowledge the reality of climate change and the existential threat it presents.

President Joe Biden deserves credit for the climate-focused investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, and for appropriately using the Defense Production Act to jumpstart solar manufacturing, help build out the electric grid and source materials for electric vehicles. The president’s decision to terminate oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge is also encouraging.

But the truth is that President Biden has not gone nearly far enough, and in fact his administration has too often been complicit in advancing the interests of the fossil fuel industry. Here in Texas, for example, the Biden administration has approved federal permits for new fossil fuel export facilities along the Gulf Coast, accelerating the climate problem rather than attacking it, and putting the health and safety of coastal communities on the line in the process.

Now President Biden must show his true colors. To meet this moment and help save our planet from catastrophe, the president must heed the call of many other political leaders, and tens of millions of concerned Americans. He must act now to officially declare a climate emergency.

Under such a declaration, the president could, among other steps, take sweeping actions to reduce the entire world’s use of fossil fuels, such as by reinstating the U.S. ban on the export of crude oil, which was in place for 40 years until 2015. He could then use emergency powers to quickly advance our transition to large-scale clean energy solutions. Not only could that help prevent the worst impacts of climate change, but it could also help create millions of good jobs.

Perhaps most importantly, a presidential declaration of climate emergency would serve as a call to action, both at home and around the world. It could not only inspire Americans to make more sustainable choices in our daily lives and encourage U.S. companies to adopt more climate-friendly practices, but also facilitate international collaboration. Climate change is a global crisis, and no nation can address it alone. By acknowledging the emergency and demonstrating a commitment to respond to it, the U.S. can play the leadership role it should.

When it was announced in early August that July had been the hottest single month in the world’s recorded history, one climate scientist notably said: “We should not care about July because it’s a record, but because it won’t be a record for long.” It’s as plain as day. The climate clock is ticking, loudly. The big question now is whether President Biden knows what time it is.

Robin Schneider is executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. Dave Cortez is executive director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

LNG export terminals belching more pollution than estimated

Sara Sneath
Original Article

High-tech camera detects plentiful methane leaks outside the first Gulf Coast liquid natural gas export terminals. That creates concern about the additional 20 terminals planned nationwide.

Air-monitoring consultant James Doty can see pollution that’s invisible to the naked eye. The lens of his optical gas-imaging camera shows pollution in a rainbow of colors that reveal temperature differences.

His reports set the scene for each site, describing the weather, wind direction, temperature, time of day – and methane emissions.

“The sky was partly cloudy, and it was warm with south-southeasterly winds, as this Venture Global LNG facility was actively and continuously releasing significant methane emissions to the atmosphere,” he wrote in one entry, in June.

All of the liquified natural gas export terminals in Texas and Louisiana that he’s looked at through this instrument had one thing in common: “huge emissions,” said Doty, who was hired by Earthworks to look at Louisiana pollution after managing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s mobile air-monitoring program for 17 years.

Through his camera lens, he sees plumes of dark blue and purple whenever his instrument detects leaks of a key natural-gas component, methane – a greenhouse gas that can trap 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In 2016, the U.S. exported its first tanker of liquified natural gas, or LNG, from Cheniere’s Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish. Since then, fossil fuel firms have built four more export terminals in the Gulf South with plans for 20 more. Even before the terminals were built, the initial emissions estimates to regulators were so alarming that some environmental advocates described the planned facilities as “carbon bombs.”

Now, it seems that the reality is more grim than the predictions. All five of the active LNG export terminals in the Gulf South have leaked pollutants. People who live near the export terminals say the facilities are belching higher levels of toxic and climate-warming pollution into the air than originally estimated – which threatens the air quality of communities already burdened by pollution.

For example, Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass export facility, in south Louisiana, exceeded hourly emissions limits of its air permits more than 100 times in 2022, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which sent the company a consolidated compliance order in June, warning that fines were possible.

Industry marketing campaigns tout natural gas as a “cleaner” alternative, because burning it produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, to generate the same amount of energy. But leaks and emissions can erase those benefits, because natural gas is primarily composed of methane, the potent greenhouse gas.

“Any perception that LNG facilities are clean and don’t have big emissions is absolutely false,” Doty said, describing what he saw over the course of two days last summer, as he pointed his camera at three LNG facilities in Cameron Parish.

“LNG emissions were prevalent at all three facilities and filled the horizon above the companies and in the downwind airshed,” Doty wrote in his assessment. One location – the Cheniere Sabine Pass LNG site – “stood out in magnitude from the others,” he wrote.

Instead of lowering their emissions, two Gulf Coast LNG facilities, one in Louisiana and one in Texas, have asked state officials to make the situation right by increasing the amount of pollution they are permitted to spew into the air.

All together, in the United States, 25 planned projects to expand and build new export terminals will produce more than 90 million tons of greenhouse gasses annually, according to “Playing with Fire: the Climate Impact of the Rapid Growth of LNG,” a 2022 report from the Environmental Integrity Project that based its conclusions on the projected emissions given to regulators before the facilities were granted permits.

“That’s almost as much climate-warming pollution as 18 million passenger vehicles running for a year,” the report noted.

Launching with leaks – LNG export terminals

Roishetta Sibley Ozane has been trying to stop the buildout of export facilities in southwest Louisiana near Sulphur, where she lives with her six children.

“We keep saying how these emissions are killing the local community,” said Ozane, an environmental organizer who founded a mutual-aid organization called the Vessel Project, to help her neighbors meet basic needs. “All of these pollutants lead to respiratory problems. The children, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions are particularly vulnerable.”

Ozane has experienced dire effects within her own household.

“We went to the doctor and they told me I had a skin disease that I can’t even pronounce,” wrote Ozane’s 10-year-old daughter, Kamea Sibley Ozane, in an op-ed in Teen Vogue. “The doctors ran more tests and they told me that my skin condition is caused by my environment— the air around me is peeling off my skin.”

Four years ago, about 15 miles south of Ozane’s neighborhood, Sempra’s Cameron LNG terminal began the process of supercooling natural gas into a liquid to be shipped to Asia and Europe. Within 24 hours of production starting at the facility, LNG leaked into the air, according to a letter from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which fined the company $41,600 for the leak.

It took less time for a leak to develop at the Calcasieu Pass LNG terminal, about 20 miles further south. The day before Venture Global began operating the facility, in 2022, more than 180,000 lbs of natural gas was released from an LNG storage tank, according to a report submitted to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, or LDEQ.

Throughout its first year of operation, the Calcasieu Pass facility continued to struggle with leaks: it was out of compliance with its air permits for 286 days, or most of the year, according to a report by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

To be in compliance with its permits, Venture Global has asked LDEQ to increase its carbon dioxide emissions limit by 17% and increase its toxic emissions limits by 17%. According to the company’s permit-modification request, the proposed emissions increases are necessary because of operational and design issues.

That explanation didn’t make sense to Anne Rolfes, the director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “They’ve got significant problems all over the place,” she said. “And then their response is not to fix any problems but then apply to the state to increase their permits.”

The state has not yet approved the permit increase, said LDEQ spokesman Gregory Langley. “LDEQ has not projected a date by which a final decision will be made,” he said. Venture Global did not respond to requests for comment.

The Calcasieu Pass plant is not the only Gulf Coast LNG export facility to request an increase in its air permits.

Since it began operating in 2018, Cheniere’s Corpus Christi facility has exceeded its permitted emissions hundreds of times, according to a 2022 analysis by Reuters. On three occasions, the LNG facility has asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, to increase emissions caps, doubling the originally permitted level of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

A Cheniere spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment about emissions at the facility.

Neighbors of the Corpus Christi terminal have pushed for transparency and accountability about releases, but they still aren’t typically alerted when the facility is polluting above permitted limits.

Instead, neighbors mostly hear about the excess emissions after they are reported to TCEQ, said Chloe Torres, the Coastal Bend Regional Coordinator for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “And by then, people have been breathing in these toxic chemicals and had no idea.”

Torres lives about 15 miles away from the Corpus Christi LNG export terminal.

The facility burps gas through its flares so often that locals refer to it as “Motel 6,” Torres said – “Because they leave the light on.”

LNG could warm the atmosphere for generations to come

Beyond the export-terminal emissions are other far-reaching effects of LNG, said Alexandra Shaykevich, co-author of the Environmental Integrity Project report that tallied the greenhouse-gas emissions of the two-dozen planned LNG export projects.

Despite the marketing campaigns about cleaner, greener natural gas, natural emissions accumulate all along the “lifespan” of natural gas – as it is drilled, piped and eventually burned to make energy, she said.

And each step contributes to global warming.

“We know these are huge sources of air emissions,” Shaykevich said. “They’re certainly incompatible with our long-term goals to hit net zero.” (Net-zero refers to commitments by national governments, organizations, and industry to negate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by reducing emissions and removing carbon from the atmosphere.)

Louisiana is especially vulnerable to climate change. As global temperatures continue to rise, tropical storms will produce more rainfall and higher storm surge, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. At the same time, coastal protection of barrier islands and wetlands continue to wither away.

In 2020, Roishetta Sibley Ozane, the Sulphur community activist, lost her home to Hurricane Laura, which produced storm surge levels more than 17 feet high. The storm’s extensive damage triggered an affordable-housing crunch, forcing her and her children to live in a FEMA trailer for two years.

“We are in a climate emergency,” Ozane said. “It’s crucial to take into account the increased harm these increased pollutants cause the communities. We must put people over profit.”

Sara Sneath is a freelance investigative climate reporter based in New Orleans.

Global banks pledged to cut emissions – but still invest billions on US gas exports

The Guardian
Taylor Kate Brown
Original Article

Many banks promised to work toward net-zero emissions – but their targets explicitly exempt liquefied natural gas projects

America’s massive gas export boom is about to get bigger. By the end of the decade, the Gulf coast could see as many as 12 new liquefied natural gas terminals (LNG) built along its shores.

This expansion would triple the amount of gas the US currently exports to be burned around the world, adding more than 200 coal plants worth of greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to one estimate.

The terminals can’t move forward without money from the megabanks that bankrolled the first boom less than a decade ago. Almost all of these same banks have pledged to work toward a world with net-zero emissions. But for many, their climate targets explicitly exempt LNG projects.

Banks have argued LNG exports help reduce climate pollution by replacing coal with gas but critics say the full emissions of the exports, including producing and moving that fuel around the world, make that calculus questionable. “Fossil fuel expansion is fundamentally incompatible with meeting that net-zero goal,” says Adele Shraiman, a campaign representative with Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance project.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned any new fossil fuel development is likely to push the earth’s climate past an increasingly dangerous 2 degrees of warming. Both environmental groups and major investors have said banks are not using their financial power fast enough to cut carbon pollution and invest in zero-emissions energy.

About 20 banks have financed the majority of the construction costs for LNG along the US Gulf coast. By the end of 2022, those financial institutions had provided loans or bond underwriting, combined, of more than $110bn, according to data compiled by the Sierra Club. An additional $14bn has been financed this year.

About a quarter of the $110bn came from three financial institutions: SMBC, Mizuho and MUFG – Japan’s megabanks, which supported the building of export terminals including Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi and Plaquemines. Japan’s need for LNG in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster led to those investments, and while they have pledged to cut carbon emissions, they have made no promises around LNG.

Our of the six largest US banks – Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America – have backed export terminal construction in the region with almost $22bn in loans and underwriting.

The top banks backing LNG projects in the US either declined to comment to Floodlight or did not answer written questions.

Shraiman, of the Sierra Club, said US banks are trailing other global financial institutions, especially European banks, in both their pledges to reduce emissions and in actually cutting fossil fuel financing.

Of the six major US banks, only Wells Fargo and Citibank, the only two major US banks not as heavily invested in LNG, have absolute emissions targets for 2030 for the oil and gas sector – publicly committing to a reduction of 26% and 29% percent respectively from 2019 levels.

Others have only committed to lowering the average intensity of the emissions across all the projects they finance. This would potentially allow the total amount of greenhouse gasses they finance to grow, including increasing investments in gas that are less polluting than oil and coal, but expand their total carbon footprint.

Europe’s scramble for gas after the Russian invasion of Ukraine reinvigorated interest in US LNG. Yet, any new projects wouldn’t come online until mid-2025 at the earliest. To stave off uncertainty for future demand for the fuel, US developers have sought to lock buyers into contracts as long as 20 years.

Those long-term contracts entice banks to finance LNG, even as they argue that such investments are helping reduce the world’s carbon emissions.

“I think a lot more work needs to be done on getting folks to understand the [climate] risks associated with LNG,” Shraiman says, adding there’s a “pervasive view” in the finance industry that exporting gas will help displace coal more than renewables, and the need for gas will continue for decades. It’s a view shared by the CEO of America’s largest bank.

Shraiman says bank policies on LNG are among the gaps in their net-zero promises.

Take, for example, JPMorgan Chase. One of the largest investors in fossil fuel projects worldwide, the bank’s 2030 target aims to reduce the average intensity of carbon emissions of the oil and gas projects it finances. But the bank doesn’t detail how it will reach those targets.

JPMorgan Chase isn’t alone. Most major banks don’t include loans to Gulf coast LNG projects in their emissions pledges.

Excluding LNG and other businesses from those calculations ignores methane emissions and leaks from transporting, processing and shipping the fuel. Smaller but persistent methane leaks across US infrastructure are likely underreported and can mean the difference between exports actually creating more emissions than coal.

Roishetta Sibley Ozane, Gulf fossil finance coordinator for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, says LNG projects promise local economic benefits, but nearby Black and low-income communities such in Lake Charles in south-west Louisiana see only the impacts of a warmer world.

“The people in those communities aren’t the ones that are being hired,” she says, adding that it’s a “bad look” for the American banks that say they want to invest in these communities to fund industries that harm them.

She’s worried, among other things, about air pollution and increased coastal erosion, especially given the destruction storm surges from Hurricane Laura brought to the area. One proposed project is within the debris line from that storm.

European banks are the most vocal about LNG financing and have more aggressive 2030 targets – as much as a 34% reduction in absolute carbon emissions. But there are key exceptions.

HSBC announced in late 2022 it will no longer finance new oil and gas fields, a first among banks of its size. But the British bank will continue to finance and advise other fossil fuel projects, including shale gas development and gas-fired power plants under certain conditions. The bank did not respond to questions about their position on LNG.

In late March, French bank Société Générale said it had backed out of Rio Grande LNG. While the bank previously said it would no longer invest in new or significant LNG expansions in North America, it excluded “already mandated” projects, leaving its continuing support for the project unclear until recently. Société Générale did not respond to questions about its relationship with Driftwood LNG, another major project.

Public pressure has sometimes made a difference. In 2017, a group of local Indigenous activists and Sierra Club representatives from Texas’s Rio Grande Valley traveled to Paris to lobby BNP Paribas, then the financial adviser to a proposed project near Brownsville. Months later, BNP backed out of the project. It has not financed an LNG terminal in the US since 2017.

Frustrated by permissive state and federal agencies, Sibley Ozane and others have turned their activism toward the American banks funding the many existing and proposed projects in Louisiana and Texas.

“You can get all the permits that you want,” she says. “But if you don’t have the funding, you can’t get anywhere.”

Several environmental groups raise concerns on Flint Hills Resources December oil spill

KRIS 6 News
Alexis Scott
Original Article


CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Local environmentalist groups in Corpus Christi are raising concerns about the lack of updates from Flint Hills Resources Ingleside Terminal regarding the oil spill that happened on December 24, 2023.

The initial report from Flint Hills Resources stated more than 3,000 gallons of light crude oil was released. It was later determined to be more than 14,000 gallons.

According to the company, the oil spill was caused by a pipe failure. Light crude oil was found in several locations including North Beach, Corpus Christi Marina, Indian Point, Nueces Bay, the Rookery Island, a dredge material placement area and University Beach near Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Elida Castillo with Chispa Texas says she’s been working to get answers from the company. Now, more than three months later, she says she and other community members are frustrated that they’re being left in the dark when it comes to their environment.

“I think the biggest concern was the lack of information,” said Castillo, “We were just being told ‘every thing is okay now. There’s no reason for you to be concerned.’ But we’re like “No,” an oil spill is kind of a big deal.”

Armon Alex, the Vice President of the Mayor’s Environmental Task Force, went to University Beach with other community members to help clean up. He says although crews were at the beach following the spill, the mess was still visible weeks later.

“When I got to University Beach and I got to the shoreline, I couldn’t take more than three steps without coming across some of the oil that was washing up on our shorelines,” said Alex.

Just recently, he collected washed up paraffin wax pieces that he says are still on the beach. Alex says the impact of the oil spill has also affected wildlife.

“Here we are three months later and we don’t know anything,” said Sanchez, “It wasn’t communicated properly about what happened. We don’t know the damage it has done to the water or to the animals. We know for sure it has done some damage and we just want answers, we want transparency.”

Although with their concerns, the groups say they want to be updated on Flint Hills Resources’ preventative measures so a spill like this doesn’t happen again.

Other groups supporting the push for transparency and accountability are For the Greater Good, Hillcrest Residents Association, Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association, South Texas Human Rights Center and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Flint Hills released a statement regarding the progress of the oil spill saying, “Flint Hills Resources is continuing to monitor and recover paraffin material trapped in breakwaters and jetties that occasionally washes up on the shoreline at North Beach and University Beach. We will maintain the ability to respond to residual material that may be reported by the public. At this time an investigation is underway to determine the root of the cause. Once complete, that information will be shared with the relevant regulatory agencies.”

Flint hills resources says they have shared their necessary updates with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office and the City of Corpus Christi. They add the investigation of the oil spill is on track to finish next month.

Environmentalist groups seek answers from Flint Hills Resources on December oil spil

Caller Times
Vicky Camarillo
Original Article


Men in blue suits stop to examine a spot on North Beach during a cleanup effort by Flint Hills Resources on Jan. 3, 2023. Matthew Jimenez and Angelica Mancera, of San Antonio, take photos and fish from the beach during a short visit to Corpus Christi, Texas.

Three months after a pipe failure at Flint Hills Resources led to 14,000 gallons of light crude oil spilling into Corpus Christi Bay, environmental advocates are raising concerns about the absence of a public update from the company on the effects of the spill.

The spill, first reported on Dec. 24, originated from a pipe failure at Flint Hills Resources’ Ingleside crude oil terminal.

The light crude was found at North Beach, Corpus Christi Marina, Indian Point, Nueces Bay, the Rookery Island, a dredge material placement area and University Beach near Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

On Friday, the day that marked three months since the spill, a coalition of seven South Texas advocacy organizations issued a news release saying Flint Hills has yet to report to the public its findings “about what happened, why it happened and at what stage the clean-up is.” They said debris from the spill is still present in the bay.

“I don’t understand why they haven’t reported such data, and why they were so hush hush about it for three months,” Love Sanchez, co-founder of Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, said in the news release. “We want answers!”

The advocacy groups are Chispa Texas, For the Greater Good, Hillcrest Residents Association, Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association, Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, South Texas Human Rights Center and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Since Dec. 24, Flint Hills Resources has been conducting a joint investigation with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Texas General Land Office into how the spill occurred. Officials believed subfreezing temperatures may have been a contributing factor.

The investigation is ongoing, and the company expects to have a final report this spring, Jennifer Worrel, a spokesperson for Flint Hills, told the Caller-Times.

“At our weekly meeting between Flint Hills Resources, the US Coast Guard, the Texas General Land Office, and the City of Corpus Christi, we shared on Friday that the investigation is on track to conclude next month,” Worrel wrote in an email.

The size of the spill did not warrant limitations to beach access, swimming or fishing. It also was not large enough to require the cleanup response to be federally directed, City Manager Peter Zanoni said in January.

Still, the spill and cleanup forced the temporary closure of the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

Globs of oil dot the shoreline in Ingleside on the Bay on Dec. 30, 2022. Six days prior, an oil spill occurred originating from a pipe failure at Flint Hills Resources’ Ingleside crude oil terminal.

Within a couple of weeks of the spill, at least 13 birds died due to exposure to crude oil and one turtle was treated for potential exposure.

In their news release, the advocates included a list of questions for Flint Hills about how many people and animals have been exposed to the crude, the short- and long-term risks to people who were exposed and the status of the cleanup.

Worrel did not directly respond to those questions when asked by the Caller-Times.

The environmentalist groups also suggested the city take over “man-made environmental disaster management instead of ceding clean-up and investigation of accidents to the polluters” and keep industry accountable in part by administering “heavy fines” for violators of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

“City Manager Peter Zanoni must better prepare city staff to quickly respond to man-made environmental disasters,” the news release stated. “The city cannot count on the fossil fuel industry to adequately respond to future disasters.”

However, Zanoni told the Caller-Times the city doesn’t have the funding, staff size or expertise to respond to environmental issues of that size. The national practice is that a company responsible for an environmental hazard is also responsible for cleaning it up, he said.

Under the Incident Command Structure, part of the National Incident Management System, an incident is not resolved until a state or federal agency — depending on the case — gives approval.

“In that case, the city wouldn’t be involved because we would be surpassed by the state, and if not the state, the federal government,” Zanoni said. “We don’t have the jurisdiction to demand that they continue to clean up or not.”

He said a city code allows the city to issue small fines, but doing so would prevent it from receiving bigger settlements from state or federal agencies in the future.

“We may be waiving some future significant dollars to get a smaller amount in the upfront” if the city imposed fines against companies, Zanoni said.

“The city’s role is to make sure we keep the community informed of the event, that we do our own overall assessment as to whether or not the persons managing it are keeping the city’s interests as a high priority,” Zanoni said.