Tag Archives: environment

TransCanada Files $15 Billion Suit Against U.S. Government Over Keystone Rejection

On Wednesday, TransCanada Corp sued the U.S. government in an attempt to overturn President Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline rejection. In a second claim, TransCanada is seeking $15 billion in damages under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Keystone XL pipeline was dealt a blow last year after President Obama vetoed legislation that had been approved by Congress. The Senate later failed to override the veto. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands to pipelines in refineries in Houston and other locations on the Gulf of Mexico.

Reuters reports that TransCanada filed the the lawsuit in a federal court in Houston, Texas, calling the rejection of its permit to build the pipeline “unconstitutional.” The company is asking the court to overturn Obama’s permit denial to complete the pipeline and a ruling that would block any future president from stopping the pipeline completion.

The Houston lawsuit names several officials as defendants, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Department of Interior.

Under the NAFTA claim, TransCanada is requesting $15 billion to recover its investment in the pipeline. TransCanada said it “had every reason to expect its application would be granted.” Chapter 11 of the NAFTA trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States gives investors the right to make claims against governments.

TransCanada told Reuters it was “prepared for a lengthy process that could take several years.”

Despite President Obama’s rejection of the project, lawmakers in some states still support the planned pipeline. South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission recently approved TransCanada’s permit to cross into the state.

On Monday Commissioner Gary Hanson said, “If the company secures a presidential permit and the pipeline is built, the PUC will monitor the progress to ensure the construction conditions are met.”

TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper told Courthouse News: “This decision in South Dakota further strengthens our commitment to Keystone XL, the safest and most environmentally sound way to transport needed Canadian and American oil to the people of the United States.”

The pipeline has been resisted by landowners in Nebraska, as well as indigenous communities. Critics also say the pipeline’s purported increasing of jobs is false.

There have also been disputes over official documents related to the permitting of the pipeline. For example, in early July, Truth In Media reported that Secretary of State John Kerry was issued a subpoena seeking the release of all “reports, recommendations, letters and comments received by the State Department from the advising agencies pursuant to Executive Order 13337 regarding the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.”

In a statement accompanying the subpoena, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz stated that the State Department has been “uncooperative” and “shown an unwillingness to recognize the Committee’s legitimate interest in obtaining information.”

EPA Assessment Finds Mixed Results on Neonicotinoid Pesticides

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that the controversial class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids harm honeybees when used on cotton and citrus, but not on other crops like corn, berries and tobacco.

The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what is now known as colony collapse disorder— where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world. Several studies have implicated neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops.

Due to the controversy around these studies, the EPA decided to conduct four scientific risk assessments to examine the neonics and how they affect bees on a chronic long-term basis. The first report, released on Wednesday, was conducted by the EPA and California’s environmental agency and only studied the effects on the honeybee population. Nearly one-third of the human diet depends on insect-pollinated plants, with honeybees pollinating 80% of those crops.

The EPA analysis found a “clear line of harm or no harm” when examining the effects of the pesticide imidacloprid, the most popular neonicotinoid. When bees bring nectar back to the hive with levels of concentration of imidacloprid that are above 5 parts per billion there are fewer bees, less honey, and according to Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, “a less robust hive.” However, if the nectar concentration level was under 25 parts per billion there were no negative effects.

Jones told the AP that the levels of harm depended on the crop. While cotton and citrus fruits were found to be above the harmful concentrations, the levels were not harmful for corn and other vegetables, berries, and tobacco plants. Jones also said the first assessment found that treating seeds with the pesticides did not seem to harm the honeybees.

“I am not convinced that neonics are a major driver of colony loss,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, told the AP.  vanEngelsdorp did tell the AP he believes farmers are relying too heavily on the pesticides “against pests that are simply very scarce or not found in the landscape. There are studies (including EPA’s) that show no benefit to production when these products are used.”

However, Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director of the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, called the report “weak” and said the EPA ignored wild bees, such as bumblebees, which studies have indicated are more sensitive to neonicotinoids.

Once the EPA conducts the four assessments and accepts public comment, the agency may decide to act on the findings.

Neonicotinoids have also been the subject of a recent whistleblower complaint filed by a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

United States Department of Agriculture researcher Dr. Jonathan Lundgren filed an internal complaint in September 2014 accusing the USDA of retaliating against him in response to his neonicotinoids research. The complaint was dismissed by the USDA and Lundgren was suspended in October 2014. The West Field Times reports that the USDA said Lungren was suspended for three days after USDA investigators found emails among his research staff that included indecent jokes.

On October 28 2015, Lundgren filed a complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren’s complaint alleges that his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on neonicotinoid pesticides and also calls for an investigation of both the USDA and the EPA.

This is the not the first time the USDA has been called out for putting politics before science. In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who speak out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March asking for more protection.

PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams the petition was “based on the experiences of 10 USDA scientists.” The scientists allegedly faced backlash for research on neonicotinoid insecticides and glyphosate — an ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide — as well as their investigation of other topics, including genetically modified crops.

EPA Reverses Approval of Controversial Herbicide

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to reverse their approval of Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo which contains the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate.

The EPA told the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco that they had discovered new information which suggests 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, known as 2,4-D, could be more toxic than the agency previously believed. The agency claimed it initially did not recognize that glyphosate and 2,4-D were possibly a toxic combination.

“E.P.A. can no longer be confident that Enlist Duo will not cause risks of concern to nontarget organisms, including those listed as endangered, when used according to the approved label,” the agency said in a court filing. The EPA also said they realized they “did not have all relevant information at the time it made its registration decision.”

The EPA’s decision is related to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of U.S. farmer and environmental groups represented by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety who are seeking to overturn the approval of Enlist Duo.

Enlist Duo is part of a partnership between Monsanto and Dow known as the Enlist Weed Control system. The weed controls system is the latest effort to combat the growing problem of so-called “super weeds” that have resulted from the abundant use of glyphosate-based herbicides. In order to fight off the tougher weeds, Dow and Monsanto partnered together to produce Enlist Duo.

 Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife,” said Earthjustice’s Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that more than 200,000 people signed a petition they circulated which asked Dow to cancel its plans to sell Enlist Duo. Sylvia Fallon, Senior Scientist at the NRDC, said her organization was “delighted” by the news but also called on regulators do a proper job the first time. “EPA needs to do better in protecting human health and the health of the plants and animals in the ecosystem,” she said.

Dow has until December 7 to respond to the EPA’s decision and then the court will decide if 2,4-D should be removed from commercial products. If the court agrees with the EPA, it will likely delay the introduction of genetically engineered foods that were created to be resistant to 2,4-D.

The New York Times reports that in September the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the E.P.A.’s approval of another Dow pesticide known as sulfoxaflor because of concerns the chemical was insufficiently studied and possibly harmful to bee populations.

Earlier this year, Truth In Media reported that both 2,4-D and glyphosate had been linked to cancer in studies conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC found that Glyphosate “probably” causes cancer and found 2,4-D to be “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” a step below “probably carcinogenic”.

Stay tuned to Truth In Media for more details on this developing story.

Amid Protest, SeaWorld Announces Changes to Killer Whale Show

On Monday, SeaWorld’s chief executive Joel Manby announced the company would change the “theatrical killer whale experience” in San Diego by the end of 2016 and refocus the water parks on conservation of animals.

The changes will affect the California Shamu show with “an all new orca experience focused on the natural environment [of the whales].” The orca whale performances will continue at SeaWorld parks in San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida.

The Guardian reported:

“We are listening to our guests, evolving as a company, we are always changing,” Manby said as he unveiled a new corporate strategy on Monday. “In 2017 we will launch an all new orca experience focused on natural environment [of whales]. 2016 will be the last year of our theatrical killer whale experience in San Diego.

Attendance at the San Diego park is falling fast. Visitor numbers dropped 17% last year to 3.8 million, according to city authorities, and Manby warned investors last week that numbers are still falling and would contribute to a $10m hit to SeaWorld’s profits this year.”

“People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies,” he said. “Just look at WholeFoods … I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”

Manby’s efforts to rebrand SeaWorld are also a response to the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The film investigated claims of abuse of orca whales and how such treatment may have provoked violent behavior that led to the deaths of three people. SeaWorld denies the claims, calling the film “propaganda” and asks customers to consider these “69 reasons you shouldn’t believe Blackfish”. Despite the denials, the film has sparked protests and falling profits for SeaWorld.

MintPress News recently reported on the company’s decreasing profits:

“SeaWorld has suffered a 84% collapse in profits as customers have deserted the controversial aquatic theme park company following claims it mistreated orca whales.The company, which trains dolphins and killer whales to perform tricks in front of stadiums full of spectators, on Thursday reported declines in attendance, sales and profits because of ‘continued brand challenges.’” 

The announcement to change the San Diego park comes after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA) Act. The bill would end the wild capture, breeding, import and export, and captivity of  killer whales. In a press release, Schiff said there is strong evidence of “psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals” and said the ORCA Act would ensure “this will be the last generation of orcas who live in captivity”. 

If the bill became law, it would effectively end SeaWorld’s use of wild animals for circus performances. SeaWorld is feeling the pressure and wisely adjusting their policies, but will it be enough to satisfy the public outrage? Manby says customers want less of a “theatrical experience” and more “natural setting” for the whales. Is a theme park equipped to provide a natural setting for animals that belong in the ocean?

Leave your thoughts below.

EPA Proposes Ban on Common Pesticide

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposal which would ban the use of chlorpyrifos on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops. Chlorpyrifos is a common insecticide which is used on a number of crops that also includes oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus.

The Associated Press reports:

“The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide. U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year – about 25 percent of it in California.”

The EPA stated that a recent analysis did not show risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but combined with estimates for exposure from drinking water, the “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard.”

The agency will take public comments on the proposed ban for at least two months. A final ruling is expected in December 2016 with the rule going into effect in 2017.

In the early 2000’s the EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos and in 2012 placed “no-spray” buffer zones around schools and other sensitive areas.

The AP reported the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit asking for a national ban on chlorpyrifos, citing evidence the chemical interferes with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.

Veena Singla, a scientist with NRDC’s health and environment program, said that the proposal “is a huge step in the right direction, but we think there’s enough evidence to ban all its uses now.”

The proposal from the EPA came just days after a researcher with the United States Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on pesticides. The complaint follows calls for investigation of both the USDA and the EPA.

The Anti Media reported that Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist and 11-year veteran of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, filed the complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren is well-known in the scientific community for previously alleging that the USDA attempted to prevent him from speaking about his research for political reasons.

Lundgren previously published a study that found soybean seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides “offer little benefit to soybean producers.” He also served as a peer reviewer in a report published by the Center for Food Safety. That study found further evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees.

Although Lundgren’s work is examining a different class of pesticides, his story highlights a dangerous trend around the science of pesticides: the suppression of research and retaliation against those who challenge the safety of pesticides.

In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment issued a letter to officials with the USDA and EPA. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

A number of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides have now been linked to health problems in animals and humans, as well as environmental degradation.

In March of this year it was reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report on the herbicide glyphosate which concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”  The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the EPA had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.

The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

Since the IARC’s rulings, Monsanto has faced a wave of lawsuits as personal injury lawyers are now looking for plaintiffs who have been harmed by the corporations products. 

The rise in the use of pesticides and herbicides comes with the increased use of genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. In September 2014, I wrote about the USDA’s decision to approve GE corn and soy and how this decision would lead to an increase in pesticide use.

This happens because the food products being approved by the government are engineered to resist widely-used chemicals such as glyphosate. This has led to an increase in “super-weeds” which are immune to the effects of glyphosate. This leads to an increase in spraying of these chemicals, as well as newer, stronger chemicals to fight the super weeds.

This cycle of spraying, and nature responding and adapting, will likely continue as the USDA recently approved another GE corn from Monsanto. Fellow bio-tech giant Syngenta is also applying for approval of a glyphosate-resistant GE corn. The USDA’s preliminary findings stated the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds will be an ongoing problem as long as herbicides are used.

The EPA’s latest proposal to ban the use of chlorpyrifos may indicate a shift towards more nuanced policies on herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.

Obama Administration Launches New Strategy to Combat Declining Bee Population

On May 19th, the federal Pollinator Health Task Force released a new plan to reverse the rapidly declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. The “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” calls for making millions of acres of federal land more suitable for bee colonies, as well as spending millions on research and possibly using fewer pesticides which have been linked to cancer.

Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.

The Associated Press reports:

“While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.

“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”‘

White House science adviser John Holdren discussed declining bee populations and monarch butterflies, stating that “pollinators are struggling.”

Under the plan 7 million acres of bee habitats would be restored over the next five years. This will require a move from monocropping (growing a single crop at a time) to more diverse planting for the pollinators. The changes will affect the Department of Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency will increase studies into the safety of controversial neonicotinoid pesticides. The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have implicated Neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops, as a possible cause for colony collapse disorder.

Recently researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to the nicotine-based systemic insecticides had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.

The Swedish scientists conducted the study in the wild, the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness.

A second study found that in laboratory tests bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

 Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP that the plan was still not enough. Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer expressed similar sentiments, stating, “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”

UPDATE: Environmental Protection Agency May Begin Testing Food For Glyphosate Residue

Following a recent study which found the popular herbicide Glyphosate  ‘probably’ causes cancer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stated they may begin testing food for residue of the product.

On Friday the EPA released a statement to Reuters discussing the possible changes.

“Given increased public interest in glyphosate, EPA may recommend sampling for glyphosate in the future.”

The move comes after a study in March by the World Health Organization‘s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC published a report in The Lancet Oncology detailing evaluations of organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. The report concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The evidence for this conclusion was pulled from studies of exposure to the chemical in the US, Canada and Sweden published since 2001.

The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985. The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

Glyphosate is not only the most widely-used herbicide, it is a key ingredient in Bio-Tech giant Monsanto’s popular RoundUp products. Reuters reports that Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice-president of global regulatory affairs, was unsure “how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe.” The corporation says scientific data does not match the claims and called for an emergency meeting between Monsanto and WHO officials.

However, WHO scientists say they stand behind their assessment. Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute and lead author of the study, told Reuters“There was sufficient evidence in animals, limited evidence in humans and strong supporting evidence showing DNA mutations and damaged chromosomes.”

The battle around glyphosate is also closely linked to the debate around Genetically Engineered or Modified foods. The herbicide is typically used on GM crops such as corn and soybeans that have been specifically modified to survive the harmful effects of the herbicide. Corporations like Monsanto are heavily invested in the success of the chemical. The herbicide has been found in food, water, and in the air in areas where it has been sprayed.

Currently, the EPA tests thousands of food for pesticide residues, but does not test for glyphosate. This is because the EPA, and the European Union, believe glyphosate to be safe. The agency also told Reuters that the decision to test depends on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Pesticide Data Program. However, Peter Wood, spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told Reuters that the “EPA makes the determination which commodities and pesticides are tested.” Until the WHO study, the EPA was unwilling to believe glyphosate might be harmful and previously said the chemical did not pose a risk to human health.

What are your thoughts? Is the fear of glyphosate and Monsanto legitimate? Is it unnecessary?