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“Green” energy giant Drax pays out $3 million to settle toxic pollution claims

Mon, 2022-09-26 08:13

Campaigners accuse UK government of “subsidising environmental racism”

The company that runs Drax power station has quietly agreed to pay out $3.2m to settle air pollution claims against its wood pellet factories in the United States’ deep south.

Documents obtained by Unearthed, show that late last month the company agreed two settlements of $1.6m apiece with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), to settle a string of claims against two of its wood pellet plants in the state.

Read the full investigation,

The revelation comes as American critics of the company say Drax and the UK government, who subsidies Drax to the tune of £2m a day, have driven “environmental racism” in the US by allowing communities of colour to be disproportionately exposed to pollution from Drax’s plants.

The settlement agreements centre on claims against two of the company’s pellet mills based in the small Louisiana communities of Bastrop and Urania which help supply the Drax Power Station in Yorkshire, England. The company agreed to pay $1.6m last month to settle claims raised in 2019 at its Morehouse plant in Bastrop, including failure to comply with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) permitted emissions standards and exceeding emissions for other hazardous air pollutants such as Methanol, Formaldehyde and Acetaldehyde. This came alongside a further settlement  of  $1.6m for claims against its LaSalle pellet plant in Urania, Louisiana. 

An analysis by Unearthed found that the settlements were the biggest the state’s environmental regulator had agreed in a decade. The company denies it committed any violations at its Louisiana plants and agreed to the settlement payments without admitting liability.

The settlements follow a $2.5m fine issued to Drax’s pellet mill in Gloster, Mississippi, in 2020, after it was found to be emitting well over the legally permitted level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a class of air pollutants linked to cancer, breathing difficulties, and other health effects.

Drax’s push for wood pellets in the US has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with many questioning the impacts on vulnerable communities living near the plants. Both the Gloster and Bastrop pellet mills are sited next to majority-Black communities with high poverty rates. 

Unearthed spoke to Gloster residents who told of their health declining after Drax began operations in the town in 2014. Health issues ranged from breathing difficulties, requiring inhalers or oxygen tanks to experiencing dizzy spells, rashes, nosebleeds and occasional burning sensations and irritated eyes when standing outdoors.

Drax bills itself as the “the UK’s largest source of renewable electricity.” and currently receives over  £2m a day in direct UK government subsidies for green energy, according to an analysis of financial results by climate thinktank Ember.

But  Katherine Egland, a member of the directors’ board of the US’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told Unearthed it was very unfortunate” that Drax’s biomass use was “being billed as something great in one part of the world but is causing so much misery to people on the other side”.

“My message to the UK Government is that you are subsidising environmental racism,”

“You are subsidising the harm of our planet. I understand that their intention was well meaning… And I would send an invitation to the UK Government to come to the US and go to some of these communities where these plants are operating. It is not a safe environment. It is very harmful to these communities.”

Commenting on the findings Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Dr Doug Parr, said:

For all Drax’s appeals that biomass is clean renewable energy, the reality on the ground leaves that claim ringing hollow. Toxic fumes from its wood-chopping plants are impacting poor, marginalised communities living nearby, and Drax doesn’t seem to be in a rush to fix the problem. It’s scandalous that this polluting industry is being bankrolled by EU and UK taxpayers to the tune of millions of pounds a year.

Public money would be better spent protecting and restoring our natural world and enhancing carbon sinks in the UK and overseas. Alongside that we should be reaching for a system based on genuinely clean and low carbon energy such as wind and solar whilst also boosting energy saving measures like insulating homes. 

Unearthed approached Drax for comment on the findings. Responses can be found in Unearthed’s full investigation.

ENDS

 

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Categories: Activist News

PM’s plan to weaken water rules will make sewage problem worse

Thu, 2022-09-22 10:19

Commenting on news reports that the UK government will use tomorrow’s “mini Budget” to weaken rules regulating the levels of phosphates and nitrates in waterways, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said:

“Instead of cracking down on the tsunami of sewage entering our rivers and seas, Liz Truss is now allowing housing firms to add to the problem. Sewage treatment plants are already among the main sources of phosphate and nitrogen pollution in our waterways. If rules on these chemicals are weakened, housing developers won’t need to worry about the impact of the extra waste pumped into an already dysfunctional sewage system.

“As we feared, the prime minister can’t distinguish between nature protection and red tape. By unleashing fracking and ripping up rules protecting wildlife and its habitats, Liz Truss is sending a clear signal that she’s coming for the ‘green and pleasant land’ many Conservative voters want to see protected.”

ENDS

Contact: Greenpeace UK news team at [email protected] and on 020 7865 8255

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Categories: Activist News

Nationwide energy-saving home insulation scheme could inject almost £7bn into economy and slash bills

Tue, 2022-09-20 09:49

As soaring energy bills continue to fuel the cost-of-living crisis and the UK heads towards a recession, the government’s response has entirely neglected some of the most economically efficient solutions. This report is a complete economic analysis which highlights how a government backed programme to insulate homes and install heat pumps could inject £6.8 billion into the economy by 2030 and create almost 140,000 new jobs.

The report and analysis – which was produced by Cambridge Econometrics on behalf of Greenpeace UK – used macroeconomic modelling to assess the impact on economic growth and employment, both positive and negative, of recommendations set out by the government’s climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), for decarbonising housing.

These recommendations include upgrading the energy efficiency of all homes, through installing wall, loft and floor insulation as well as double glazing, to a minimum of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C standard over the next 10-15 years, and ramping up the deployment of low-carbon heat pumps so that installations reach 900,000 per year by 2028.

These measures would be funded, in part, through government grants, such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme – which currently offers grants of up to £5,000 for air source heat pumps. The installation of energy-saving products, such as insulation and double glazing, would require further government funding to cover around half of the investment. The remaining costs would be paid for by homeowners and landlords.

Government targets for energy-saving upgrades are woefully off track, with home insulation installations falling 50 per cent this year, and sales of heat pumps per household in the UK the lowest in Europe in 2020.

The report finds that scaling up the delivery of these green home upgrades could provide huge economic and social benefits – including to those on low income, older people and People of Colour, who tend to be most exposed to risk of fuel poverty – while also easing the cost-of-living and climate crises by slashing bills and carbon emissions.

The analysis assumes, as a number of energy analysts do, that soaring gas prices will be sustained to 2030, while the price of electricity will start to fall from 2026, as renewables make up a greater proportion of the UK’s energy mix and market reforms bring electricity prices back to 2020 levels by 2030.

Ramping up the installation of electric-powered heat pumps and home insulation, combined with this shift away from expensive high-carbon fossil fuels and towards cheap, clean renewable energy for electricity production would lead to lower bills.This would result in households having more money to spend on non-essential things in other areas of the economy, the report finds.

This increase in consumer spending adds to the number of jobs created in sectors such as retail and hospitality. However, the bulk of the 138,400 new jobs are generated in the manufacturing and and installation of energy efficiency measures, and a significant net increase in jobs from the switch away from gas heating systems to low-carbon heat pumps.

Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, said: “The UK is in an economic, energy and climate meltdown. Yet the government continues to shun the green home upgrades that offer a viable way out of this mess. It’s truly baffling.

“Greening the UK’s homes at speed and scale will reduce energy consumption, bills and carbon emission. It will provide tens of millions of households with warmer homes that are cheaper to run and help limit the catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.

“Those reasons should be enough on their own, but what’s key is that, as the UK is hurtling towards a recession, it could give a boost of  almost £7 billion for the economy by the end of the decade. Insulation and heat pumps may not be sexy but they sure are effective.”

Michael Lewis, Chief Executive of E.ON UK, supported the report’s findings and the urgent need for making energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority. He said:

“Energy efficiency is the fabled ‘silver bullet’ for a future energy system: it cuts bills and carbon emissions today, it creates jobs and it reduces our reliance on foreign gas. We’ve helped to improve well over a million properties across the country in the last decade and we’ve seen the personal impacts of people living in warmer, more comfortable homes; not just lower bills but families leading healthier lives, in streets and estates that are simply nicer places to live. The decade ahead is crucial if we are to meet our 2050 zero carbon targets, but taking action for climate also means taking urgent steps to help people this winter and in the years to come.”

Jon Stenning, Head of Environment at Cambridge Econometrics, said: “The recent and highly damaging rapid increases in fossil fuel prices have fundamentally altered the economics of the transition. Improving the quality of the UK’s housing stock and switching to low-carbon heating technologies can bring down household bills immediately, and remove struggling households from having to choose between heating and eating this winter, while also delivering greater economic growth and substantial carbon emissions savings in the long term.

Greenpeace UK is calling on the government to deliver £7 billion of funding over the next two years, with an emergency funding package for short-term measures, to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes across the UK through the installation of insulation, double glazing, draught-proofing, heat pumps and other energy-saving measures.

This money should  cover the scale up and skills development of a workforce installing heat pumps, much larger than the current Boiler Upgrade Scheme. This would see the deployment of heat pumps rapidly ramped up this decade, to ensure installations reach at least 900,000 per year by 2028, as per the recommendations of the CCC.

Greenpeace UK is also calling for more immediate support to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, with extra welfare support for those in most need, funded in part by permanently increasing the tax rate on oil and gas company profits to the global minimum of 70%.

ENDS

Contact: Greenpeace UK Press Office – [email protected] or 07801 212 960

Notes to editor:

Greenpeace UK: The economic impact of decarbonising household heating in the UK in an era of high fossil fuel prices

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Categories: Activist News

The future of Greenpeace’s ships

Sat, 2022-09-17 07:47

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Greenpeace? For lots of people, it’s a green ship with a bright rainbow painted across the bow.

Greenpeace was founded on the ocean, when the first Greenpeace crew set out in an old fishing boat to stop a nuclear weapons test in the Aleutian Islands in 1971. Ordinary people set sail with the belief that they had a responsibility to make the world a more peaceful place for all of us.

Ships have been at the heart of Greenpeace’s campaigns ever since. From the jungle waterways of Indonesia to the wilderness of Antarctica, we are able to confront environmental destruction in places otherwise impossible to reach.

The Esperanza, one of our three ocean-going ships, has just reached the end of its working life after 20 years of service. Unless we replace it, our ability to campaign at sea will suffer.

A new, green ship

So Greenpeace is making plans for a new, green ship. The project is still at an early stage,  but we know it’ll use dramatically less fossil fuel from day one. Better still, it’ll have a future-proof design that’ll allow it to go completely fossil free once the technology is available.

The new ship won’t just be cleaner, it will carry the tech needed to expose and challenge the destruction of our oceans and climate. And it’ll provide a platform for work by our allies, especially in communities worst hit by the climate and nature crisis.

There’s lots of work to do to make this plan a reality, and we won’t go ahead unless we’re sure it’ll be good value for money, and give us everything we need to keep winning campaigns.

Lots of the details are still being worked out, but here are some key facts about the new ship project:

It’ll give us unique campaigning capabilities

As well as cutting-edge green propulsion technology (see below for more on that), the new ship will be equipped for campaigning success. Our plans include a world-class onboard laboratory, and the specs and equipment needed to operate in polar regions, and in deep water.

What does this mean in practice? It will be able to take a team of scientists to those critical areas we need to protect as ocean sanctuaries like the Arctic, the Sargasso Sea, the Saya de Malha Bank in the Indian Ocean, the White Shark Café in the mid-Pacific and Blue Hole in the South Atlantic.

It will be able to follow the supertankers that carry the products of deforestation to the places driving destruction through their consumption, and accelerate the systemic changes we need in how we produce food and what we eat.

We won’t be keeping it to ourselves

The new ship will be able to accommodate more people at sea and in port, with better working and living/sleeping spaces. This will make it more accessible for people not used to life at sea and for people with various social, cultural, physical, religious backgrounds, including local communities.

We want this ship to add to the resources of the wider movement, as well as to Greenpeace campaigns. We will provide more training, support and specialist staff to make our fleet more available in more places to more parts of Greenpeace and the wider movement. We’ll start work on this while the ship is being built so that it can be used effectively from the moment it’s launched.

It’ll be powered by a mix of technologies

We have worked hard to reduce the amount of fuel being used by our ships, but there’s only so far you can go in tinkering with a traditional engine. This is why we’re looking at the better option of building a ship powered by renewables, which would be much cleaner and set a model for others to follow. The new ship will be a sailing ship at its heart, using the power of the wind to cross the ocean thanks to a modern Dynarig sail system. It’ll also use a combination of solar panels, batteries, green hydrogen, fuel cells and green methanol to maximise fossil-free operation. As these green fuels become more widely available around the world, we’ll be able to rely on them more and more, with a view to eventually operating the ship completely fossil free.The world-changing power of Greenpeace ships Blocking seabed destruction

Greenpeace ships built ‘boulder barriers’ to stop industrial fishing ships tearing up seabed habitats with their nets.

Protecting the Antarctic

Greenpeace ships documented unexplored parts of the Antarctic Ocean floor, providing the scientific evidence needed to create protected areas around key habitats.

Stopping Amazon oil drilling

Submarines launched from Greenpeace ships took the first ever images of the Amazon Reef where oil giant Total was planning to drill. Our work proved that Total’s plans would put the reef at risk and they eventually backed off.

A new ship is a major investment

Ships are huge, complex pieces of equipment, and the truth is that they don’t come cheap – especially when we’re using the best green technology to keep fossil fuel use to a minimum.

This will be a major investment for Greenpeace, probably in the region of €50m. But protecting Earth’s life support systems is the most important job there is, and it’s worth doing it right. We know the fishing and fossil fuel industries are ready to spend tens of millions of pounds on supertrawlers or hundreds of millions on new offshore rigs. If we want to stand up to these powerful industries, we need the right tools to get the job done.

It’ll be funded separately from Greenpeace campaigns

The money to build the ship won’t come from our campaign budget and won’t divert resources from other organisational priorities. As we haven’t started fundraising yet some costs to get the project going will come from our reserves (money we put aside to maintain and replace vital assets like our ships). In future our goal is that most of the total cost will be met by additional money raised because of the ship.

Greenpeace’s next voyage

In the 50 years since our first voyage, Greenpeace’s bold and independent approach to campaigning has changed the world in all kinds of ways. But there’s so much more to do, and the situation gets more urgent every day.

As we move into this crucial decade for the climate and the planet we need to provide our campaigners, researchers, experts and allies with tools they need to step things up. To run projects grander and more impactful than that first crew of Greenpeace campaigners could ever have imagined.

The new ship will be a vital platform for this next generation of campaigns, but of course none of it will be possible without the energy, courage and creativity of Greenpeace supporters around the world. We’re excited to embark on this new voyage with you, and we’ll keep you posted on the project as it unfolds.

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Categories: Activist News

You’re not imagining it – there really were a lot of climate disasters this summer

Fri, 2022-09-16 14:48

Whether you cursed or loved the UK’s hot summer, there’s no shying away from the changes in our environment. Climate change and extreme weather affects us all and unfolds unequally across the world. Yet climate disasters are often reported in isolation. We hear about one after another in a parade of bad news. We hear about the lives lost, the places destroyed and the urgent appeals for aid. It seems like it’s getting worse. But rarely do news reports give us time to grasp the scale of what’s happening.

If this summer or its headlines left you reeling, this article might make you even angrier. We’re delving into the summer’s environmental events to look at how the climate crisis is unfolding in front of us. It’ll be bleak reading at times, but I want you to bear with me. Because here’s the thing: there is a short time to do something to stop the worst impacts. But we won’t want to take action if the climate crisis seems abstract, instead of something happening now. Welcome to 2022’s summer snapshot.

A man and boy use a satellite dish to move children across a flooded area. Heavy monsoon rains pounded parts of Pakistan in August, and affected millions of people. © Fida Hussain / AFP / Getty

Floods in Pakistan destroyed millions of homes

After eight weeks of non-stop rain, severe flooding has devastated Pakistan. Over 1000 people are dead and millions have lost their homes. Flash flooding and destroyed river banks are two reasons for the high death toll. This monsoon has caused an enormous human disaster.

Pakistan is vulnerable to climate change. Its location means it can experience heatwaves and drought, and intense rains. Pakistan is also home to the most glaciers (huge ice sheets) in the world outside of the north and south pole, which can melt as the world gets hotter. Although Pakistan does get monsoon rains, the amount of rain this year was above average. Heavy rainfall and burst river banks made this year’s flooding extreme.

So is climate change to blame for this “monster monsoon”? Scientists say it’s likely. A rapid study suggests that rainfall may have been more intense due to global warming – a “monsoon on steroids”. This echoes analysis of Pakistan’s 2010 ‘superflood’ that “was made more likely by global heating, which drove fiercer rains.”

Rubble and destruction of a UK housing estate after a large blaze. Fires broke out as the UK experienced a record-breaking heatwave. © Leon Neal / Getty

Record heat and more wildfires in the UK

The UK had two heatwaves this summer. It experienced its hottest temperature yet, hitting a new record-high of 40.3ºC. For some, it’ll have felt like a sunny holiday from the grey drizzle Britain is famed for. But for others, the sweltering levels of heat were difficult at best and life-threatening at worst.

As well as extreme heat, the UK has had 745 wildfires so far – more than the whole of 2021. UK wildfires may not be as extreme as places like Australia or North America, but they’re still tricky for firefighters to deal with.

How much of the UK’s heatwave was down to climate change? Well, recent analysis found climate change made the heatwave at least 10 times more likely and 4ºC hotter – and that’s a conservative estimate.

Extreme heat isn’t just happening in the UK. Earlier this year, India and Pakistan suffered intense and record-breaking temperatures. Scientists say these were 30 times more likely thanks to climate change. Their 2010 heatwave was made 100 times more likely by the climate crisis. Did you get that? 100 times! Likewise, scientists found the extreme heat in Canada and the US in 2021 was also “virtually impossible” without climate change.

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Categories: Activist News