Solar power and a covered parking spot seems like a great combination, but here's why many places are holding back.
"What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country."
Charles Wilson, 1953
As President Biden turns his victory lap for squeaking a major climate victory through a 50-50 Senate, the ghost of Charles Wilson remains. Wilson was the first defense secretary in the Eisenhower administration. And yes, he was a bit partial to GM because his previous job was CEO of the company.
If on top of Wilson’s ghost you throw in Big Oil and its dominance in U.S. foreign policy — witness Biden’s making nice with the Saudis last month — you’ll see the tricky road ahead to realize the promises of the Inflation Reduction Act.
To be sure, the climate and energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act are significant, even if they’re long overdue. But in order to placate the fossilized wing of the Democratic Party, for example, the bill broadens industry access to federal lands — even if the industry holds over 9,000 public lands drilling permits it hasn’t used.
These are some examples of the type of tactics that could jeopardize the implementation of the law.
The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?details successful efforts to engineer GM’s EV-1 out of existence in the late 1990’s. The EV-1 was praised by engineers. For all the world, it looked like an electric passenger vehicle was finally ready. Within six years, not only was the EV-1 program shut down, but the existing cars were destroyed, leaving virtually no trace.
The push of the fossil fuel industry against electric vehicles (EV) didn’t stop with the destruction of GM’s EV-1 program. Two years ago, the American Petroleum Institute spearheaded the launch of the Transportation Fairness Alliance, as brazen a front group as any. The group argues that gasoline or diesel-driven vehicle owners pay fuel taxes at the pump. EV owners, they reason, cheat the system by not pitching into the tax pool that funds road construction and repair. (In all fairness, EVs also don’t contribute to ground-level ozone pollution or “smog.” And, depending on the source of the electricity, EVs ideally don’t spew carbon into the air.)
However, investigators at DeSmog found that “the coalition is being managed by FTI Consulting, a DC-based international consultancy firm that has a long history of running front groups and PR campaigns for the oil and gas industry.”
A report last year by the NGO Environment America detailed efforts by state-level agencies and “astroturf” grassroots groups to strip homeowners of the financial incentives for installing rooftop solar arrays. States including Ohio, Illinois, California, Kansas, South Carolina and Florida – ironically, “the Sunshine State,” – have seen years-long efforts to roll back utility paybacks to solar owners who sell their excess power back to the grid.
Bill Koch is the estranged brother of Charles and the late David Koch, the politically active dynamos that have bankrolled many far right causes since the 1980’s.
Bill is an avid sailor who won the 1992 America’s Cup. While his Oxbow Industries had nowhere near the multi-billion fossil fuel portfolio of his brothers, Bill had quite a pocketful of his own. He also had strong feelings about wind power competing with oil and potentially spoiling the view in Nantucket Sound from his Cape Cod home.
He poured millions into a group battling Cape Wind, a 24-square-mile, 130-turbine proposal for the Sound. Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon won approval from multiple state and federal agencies and endured at least 26 lawsuits before quitting in 2017.
What’s the moral in all this?
After decades of false starts and dashed hopes, wind and solar are beginning to turn in the numbers: Both grew at record rates in 2021. With science, economics, the increasing urgency of addressing climate change and a huge federal boost at their backs, is it really time for fossil fuels to begin to fossilize?
Billion-dollar businesses don’t go down without a fight. Ever.
Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.
Last week I went on an archaeological dig to uncover ancient greenwashers and deniers. This week, I present five more that persist to this very day.
Chicago-based Heartland may be best-known for three things: Its annual conference bringing together climate deniers from around the world; and two colossal embarrassments within a few months of each other in 2012 that briefly seemed to threaten Heartland’s existence.
In February of that year, scientist Peter Gleick, a Heartland foe, obtained internal documents that showed deep cynicism in the group’s efforts to raise money and provide biased climate information to schoolkids. Gleick did so by impersonating a Heartland board member. He endured sanction and criticism (including, for what it's worth, from me), and apologized, returning to his work at the Pacific Institute a few months later. But Heartland remained wounded by the disclosures.
Then in May 2012, Heartland stepped in a large pile of its own hubris. Electronic billboards briefly appeared on Chicago freeways likening advocates for action on climate change to murderous villains like the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden. The uproar was immense and immediate. The billboards disappeared. So did some of Heartland’s support.
A bit more chaste, Heartland survived. The deniers’ conference, which I like to call “Deny-a-Palooza,” continues today.
I had some direct experience with Ketchum, an international PR firm that sometimes worked for industries with bad environmental reputations. In 1991, shortly before I left Greenpeace, the group received an over-the-transom copy of a “crisis PR” plan drawn up by Ketchum for Clorox, the chlorine bleach retailer. The plan detailed making legal threats against both Greenpeace and “green reporters” who raised questions about chlorine’s safety and other dubious tactics. The punchline? Clorox had never been a Greenpeace target — until its PR firm’s counterattack strategy got loose.
Public disclosures like the Ketchum example are rare. Industry defenses against adverse science, or journalism, or advocacy, are clandestine. But they’re there. Two examples in recent years involve journalists in high places hired away by industries eager to paint themselves as sincere.
Edelman Worldwide snagged Dina Cappiello, a respected reporter for the AP and other news organizations, in 2015. Edelman has at best a spotty reputation for hiring out to dirty industries, but there is no evidence that Cappiello focused on those accounts. Two years ago, she took a job with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the visionary clean energy group founded by Amory and Hunter Lovins.Matt Wald, a longtime New York Times reporter whose reporting on nuclear energy sometimes drew criticism from anti-nuclear advocates, took a job with the Nuclear Energy Institute in 2015. He remained there for six years.
Even many of those who follow greenwashing and denialism are familiar with CORE. They’re the newly christened front group for lawyer Rick Berman, who has invented more than a dozen other groups to stage guerilla media attacks on environmental, consumer, labor, animal rights, and safety organizations — even MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (!). The Distilled Spirits Council viewed grieving moms as a threat, apparently.
Berman’s below-the-radar anti-environmental work has come to light multiple times, including this 2014 New York Timesexposé.
Berman’s “Big Green Radicals” attempts to cast mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club and NRDC as tyrants bigfooting the meek, like ExxonMobil and Chevron-Texaco.
Thirty-five years after founding Berman and Company. Rick Berman doesn’t appear to be slowing down at age 80. And as society copes with longtime threats like smoking, obesity, and climate change and faces down newer ones like plastic pollution and PFAS chemicals, he won’t lack for clients.
In 1992, Marc Morano signed on as a young reporter-producer for arch-conservative Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show. By 2004, he worked for the Cybercast News Service, where he did untold damage to Democrat John Kerry’s presidential campaign by reporting never-proven allegations that Kerry’s Vietnam service record was falsified. In the 2000’s he threw in full-time with climate denial on Senator Jim Inhofe’s staff, directing a relentless stream of anti-science propaganda.
In 2009, he jumped to the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), where he edits ClimateDepot.com. Later that year, another scoop fell into his lap when 10,000 emails between climate scientists fell into his lap just before the crucial 2009 UN Climate Conference. The selective release of just a few of those thousand emails suggested that scientists were pulling the wool over the eyes of the world with a climate “scam.”
Multiple investigations turned up zero evidence of any such scam, but that hasn’t stopped “ClimateGate” from being portrayed as a corrupt scandal nearly 13 years later.
CFACT continues to be a go-to source for far-right media and politicians. Morano effortlessly reaches back into the McCarthy Red Scare mania of the 1950’s to link scientists to a vast, unseen cabal to sink the global economy. In recent years he’s been written off by anyone to the left of Fox News.According to ProPublica’s scan of 2020 IRS filings under nonprofits’ Form 990, Morano pulled down a base salary of $182,000 that year. Not bad for a movement that likes to accuse climate scientists of only being in it for the money.
Another one I have a direct connection to: Patrick Moore, a young Ph.D. who joined Greenpeace shortly after its founding, became a leader of the Vancouver-based group in the mid-1970’s.
As Greenpeace grew worldwide near the end of the decade, internal warfare broke out between the original group and its prosperous chapter in San Francisco. A truce engineered by other Greenpeace entities in Europe brought stability to the organization worldwide, but left Moore far away from its leadership. He left Greenpeace in 1986, announcing it had strayed from its original missions.
Within a few years, Pat Moore had hired out to all manner of Greenpeace opponents: Timber, aquaculture, nuclear power, polyvinyl chloride chemicals, and more. His turnabout was an irresistible media lure, and through his group Ecosense remains so today.
At one brief point in 2017, the Nuclear Energy Institute used Moore to tout nuke power as a “carbon free” menace to climate change while Canada’s fossil fuel energy deployed him as a spokesman to cast doubt that climate change was real.
Pat Moore’s early work for the British Columbia timber industry provided what I think is the all-time greenwashing line: “A clearcut is a temporary meadow.”
There are plenty more lucrative efforts finding eager audiences to push, for example, plastics recycling as cure-all for what we’re discovering is a massive and growing problem.
Common sense and mounting scientific evidence can be weak weapons against slick and well-funded B.S.
Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.
PITTSBURGH—For more than a decade, Bryan Latkanich has discussed his concerns about fracking chemicals contaminating the water and air near his home with anyone who would listen.
Latkanich is a resident of Washington County, Pennsylvania, one of the state’s most heavily fracked regions. In 2020, an Environmental Health Newsinvestigation found evidence that Latkanich and his son Ryan had been exposed to harmful chemicals like benzene, toluene and styrene.
Now, researchers have uncovered more harmful substances in Latkanich’s tap water —“forever chemicals.”
Last year it was revealed that these chemicals, collectively referred to as PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), have been used in U.S. oil and gas wells for decades. As far as the experts we spoke with know, this is the first time PFAS that may be linked to fracking have been detected in household drinking water.
The chemicals don’t break down naturally, so they linger in the environment and human bodies. Exposure is linked to health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, liver and thyroid problems, reproductive problems, lowered vaccine efficacy in children and increased risk of birth defects, among others.
Latkanich’s water smells strange and tastes bad, and his son Ryan has emerged from the bathtub or shower with sores on his skin. Latkanich and Ryan have both had a host of ongoing health issues over the last decade, including stomach problems, asthma attacks, rashes and eye irritation; and for Bryan, repeated hospitalization for kidney issues.
“I’m wondering what this stuff does to your joints and your heart, and how it affects everything else I’m feeling,” Bryan told EHN. “My kidneys are already shot. I just want these people to stop. They gotta stop poisoning people.”
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recently tested water samples from multiple taps at the Latkanich home. They detected seven of the 14 PFAS they tested for.
“What’s scary is that they didn’t just find one, they found a bunch of PFAS,” Latkanich said. “They don’t even have guidelines on some of these yet.”
Bryan Latkanich in his kitchen in Washington County, PA.
Credit: Connor Mulvaney/EHN
The chemicals, which are extremely water-repellent, are sometimes used in fracking fluid to make the chemical mixture more stable and to more efficiently flush oil and gas out of the ground at high pressure. There’s also evidence that the chemicals are used during initial drilling and other phases of oil and gas extraction, but companies aren’t required to disclose those chemicals, so there’s no way of knowing how widespread the practice is.
The new findings suggest PFAS contamination may represent yet another problem left in the wake of fracking. But a lack of transparency in the industry makes it impossible to track where the chemicals have been used. And secrecy about ingredients throughout the supply chain for drilling and fracking chemicals make it difficult to hold any one company accountable for PFAS contamination in drinking water, leaving people like Latkanich — and regulators and scientists — in the dark.
“It’s very difficult to conduct scientifically rigorous tests on an industry that operates with so much secrecy,” Dusty Horwitt, a consultant with the environmental health advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility, told EHN. Horwitt was a co-author of the report that initially uncovered the use of PFAS in fracking wells.
The PFAS in Latkanich’s water have national implications. Physicians for Social Responsibility’s report found evidence that oil and gas companies, including Chevron and Exxon Mobile, have used PFAS, or substances that could degrade into PFAS, in more than 1,200 fracking wells in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. They also noted that PFAS could have been used in additional states and in additional types of wells.
A 2021 investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer found evidence that PFAS had been used in at least eight oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, but the state’s PFAS action team has not publicly addressed the issue of PFAS in the state’s oil and gas wells, and did not respond to questions about whether it is assessing the potential for widespread PFAS contamination from oil and gas wells.
This is especially troubling for people using private drinking water wells like Latkanich, who tend to live in rural areas where oil and gas extraction takes place. An estimated 43 million Americans use private wells, which are not protected by the federal Safe Water Drinking Act and aren’t regulated in most states, so the water isn’t routinely tested or monitored, and the responsibility for cleaning up dangerous chemicals falls to homeowners.
“Considering how toxic and persistent these chemicals are, and the evidence that they have been used in oil and gas extraction for decades,” Horwitt said, “it’s critical for state regulators to start looking for these contaminants in people’s drinking water near oil and gas sites.”
Bryan and Ryan Latkanich in front of their home in Washington County, PA
Credit: Connor Mulvaney/EHN
Carla Ng, a researcher who studies PFAS at the University of Pittsburgh and who supervised Latkanich’s water tests, said it’s possible the contamination came from the fracking wells that were previously drilled and operated 400 feet from Latkanich’s home, but there’s no way to know for sure.
“It’s really frustrating that we don’t know exactly what chemicals were used [in the wells], so we don’t even know exactly what to test for,” she told EHN.
In the absence of that information, Ng tested for 14 common PFAS. They detected seven compounds in one or more of the water samples from Latkanich’s home:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently set new health advisory limits for a handful of the most well-studied PFAS including PFOA and PFOS. Health advisory limits are not enforceable regulations, but are recommended limits on how much of a chemical people should be exposed to over the course of their lives to avoid health risks.
The levels of PFOA and PFOS detected in Latkanich’s water were 280 times higher and 379 times higher, respectively, than the new federal thresholds.
Ng noted that PFAS contamination is widespread in U.S. drinking water, and though they’re well above the EPA’s new guidelines, the levels in Latkanich’s water aren’t uncommon.
“These health advisory limits are basically saying that these compounds are a health concern even at very low levels,” she said. “But at the same time, you’d be hard pressed to find water in the United States that doesn’t exceed those thresholds.”
A drilling rig in Washington County, PA.
Credit: Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance, 2016
In Pennsylvania, fracking companies must publicly disclose what chemicals they use, but they’re permitted to withhold “trade secrets.” This exemption is used frequently. “Secret” ingredients were used in more than half of Pennsylvania fracking wells developed between 2013 and 2017, with the most heavy usage of secret chemicals occurring in southwestern Pennsylvania, where Latkanich lives.
Pennsylvania isn’t alone. Most states with oil and gas development have trade-secret loopholes in their chemical disclosure laws. In Colorado, for example, 414 million pounds of chemicals used in the state’s fracking wells were left unidentified as “trade secrets” between 2011 and 2021, according to a 2022 report from Physicians for Social Responsibility.
In some states, like Pennsylvania, oil and gas companies are required to disclose complete lists of fracking chemicals to regulators, including ingredients that are withheld from the public as trade secrets. However, a new report, published this month by Physicians for Social Responsibility, found that manufacturers of the chemical mixtures used in fracking wells aren’t required to disclose complete lists of ingredients to oil and gas companies in most of those states, including Pennsylvania.
“Chemical manufacturers know best what ingredients are being used, but they often don’t tell companies further down the supply chain because they don’t have to,” said Horwitt, lead author of the new report. “This means regulators might not be getting the information they’re supposed to.”
Bryan Latkanich in his Washington County, PA home.
Credit: Connor Mulvaney/EHN
Latkanich’s drinking water has been plagued with problems since two fracking wells were drilled in his backyard in 2011 and 2012. The wells were plugged in 2020, but because PFAS are so persistent, Ng said, it’s possible that contamination built up in the plumbing and pipes.
Numerous organizations have tested the Latkanich’s water, including Environmental Health News, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) (DEP), and Chevron, the company that drilled, operated and plugged the fracking wells on Bryan’s property.
Environmental Health News’s testing found chemicals including butyl cyclohexane, tetradecane and naphthalene in Latkanich’s water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found methane and radium, but has stated Chevron is not responsible for any contamination because similar contaminants were detected in pre-drill water samples. Chevron also tested his water and maintained that their wells did not cause contamination.
But no one had tested Bryan’s water for PFAS before now.
“The DEP isn’t checking for this stuff because they don’t want to find it,” Latkanich said. “I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with my water since 2013. They knew this stuff could be in there, but they never looked for it.”
Despite repeated requests, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection refused to answer questions about whether they’d received complete lists of the chemicals used in the wells on Latkanich’s property from Chevron, and why the agency had never tested his water for PFAS.
Agency spokesperson Neil Shader said the agency is conducting a new investigation into Latkanich’s water. He refused to say whether the investigation will include screening for PFAS. Latkanich said he had not heard from anyone at the state agency regarding a new investigation and that they had not collected any new water samples.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently tested drinking water throughout the state for PFAS, but those tests didn’t include any private wells or drinking water sources near oil and gas sites.
Shader refused to answer questions about why the agency didn’t look at oil and gas sites as part of its statewide PFAS investigation and whether it will do so in the future.
Pennsylvania is second in the nation for the number of private wells (behind Michigan). More than three million Pennsylvanians rely on private wells, mostly in rural areas where oil and gas development occurs. Private wells aren’t regulated in the state, so people living near oil and gas sites who are concerned about PFAS currently have no option but to pay for their own testing, which costs around $200 per sample, according to Ng.
“We should be thinking about how to enable more widespread testing of well water throughout Pennsylvania to figure out the potential scale of this problem,” Ng said.
When he found out that PFAS were in his water, Latkanich initially thought it might prove that the fracking wells on his property had caused the contamination.
“Then I found out every place seems to have these things,” he said.
Chevron publicly disclosed using “nonionic fluorosurfactants” in 38 records in Texas and New Mexico from 2013-2015, according to public records accessed through OpenFF, a tool for searching public disclosures related to fracking chemicals. Nonionic fluorosurfactants may be PFAS, or may include chemicals that can break down into PFAS, according to Ng.
Chevron refused to answer EHN’s questions about its use of nonionic fluorosurfactants, about whether these compounds or PFAS were ever used in the wells on Latkanich’s property or any of its other Pennsylvania wells, and about whether it had ever disclosed complete lists of the chemicals used in Latkanich’s wells to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
“Mr. Latkanich has raised concerns with Chevron and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection about various issues since 2011,” Chevron spokesperson Deena McMullen said in an emailed statement. “His repeated accusations that Chevron contaminated his water and damaged his home have been disproved.”
Without a complete record of the chemicals used in the fracking wells on his property, there’s no way to solve the mystery of whether Latkanich’s PFAS contamination came from the wells or some other source.
Plumber’s tape or plumber’s grease used in the home could contain enough PFAS to explain the levels of some of the chemicals, Ng said, while others are less easily explained by common household contamination sources.
For example, PFDS, which was detected in several of Latkanich’s samples, was phased out of most consumer products years ago.
Latkanich has been buying bottled water for years, but he and his son still bathe with well water. That’s a less direct exposure than eating or drinking PFAS, Ng said, but is still a source of exposure.
Scientists are still learning about the potential harms of exposure for most PFAS, but PFOS and PFOA have been studied extensively.
Exposure to both PFOS and PFOA have been linked to elevated cholesterol, changes in liver function, changes in thyroid hormone levels and reduced immune response. Exposure to PFOA has additionally been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.
Both of those compounds were found in Latkanich’s water at levels hundreds of times higher than the EPA’s health advisory levels, “but it’s hard to look at one sample of water and say, ‘this is what you can expect in terms of health effects,’” Ng said.
“We know about the health impacts for some of these individual compounds,” she added, “but scientists are just starting to come up with an understanding of how these add up in the body.”
Editor’s note: This story is a follow-up to our recent report that found PFAS in a private well near fracking in Pennsylvania.
PITTSBURGH—In June, Colorado became the first state to ban the use of PFAS during oil and gas extraction — and now, in light of recent research finding the potential for widespread contamination, some are calling for a similar ban in Pennsylvania.
Last year it was revealed that PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), a group of more than 9,000 chemicals, have been used in oil and gas wells for decades. The chemicals, which are water- and grease-repellent, are sometimes used in fracking fluid to make the chemical mixture more stable and efficient in flushing oil and gas out of the ground at high pressure. PFAS may also be used during initial drilling and other phases of oil and gas extraction — not just fracking.
That’s about to change in Colorado: A new bill restricts PFAS in products like carpets and furniture, fabric treatments, cosmetics, food packaging and children’s products; and bars the use of PFAS in any type of oil and gas extraction, including fracking. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
With a separate, related bill, Colorado also became the first state to require oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the complete list of chemicals used “downhole” for all types of wells, and to certify that no PFAS were used during drilling or extraction.
Downhole chemicals include those used during drilling and other phases of operations. Most public disclosure laws in other states focus mainly on chemicals used in fracking wells, and most only require disclosure of chemicals used during extraction, ignoring the chemicals used during drilling or other operations.
“Prior to this legislation, there was a lot of secrecy involved in the chemicals being used downhole in oil and gas production operations,” Ramesh Bhatt, who advocated for the bill’s passage as chair of the conservation committee of the Colorado Sierra Club, told EHN.
Some scientists and health advocates think other states with a heavy oil and gas industry presence, including Pennsylvania, should do the same.
“When you’re talking about chemicals as toxic and persistent as PFAS, it’s extraordinarily risky to allow them in oil and gas extraction,” Dusty Horwitt, an environmental health consultant who testified before Colorado lawmakers considering the drilling disclosure law, told EHN.
Earlier this year, a group of researchers tested Washington County, Pennsylvania, resident Bryan Latkanich’s water for PFAS and detected seven of the chemicals, including several at levels well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended thresholds. Latkanich formerly had two fracking wells drilled about 400 feet from his home.
Carla Ng, a researcher who studies PFAS at the University of Pittsburgh and conducted the tests that found PFAS in Latkanich’s water, told EHN, “It’s very difficult to control where those chemicals go when drillers are pushing fluid into the Earth’s subsurface. Because of how harmful and persistent PFAS are, they should not be used in cases where their spread cannot be controlled.”
A new Shell ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, which is expected to create additional demand for fracking wells.
Credit: Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance, 2021
The use of PFAS in oil and gas wells is likely creating an under-appreciated source of PFAS contamination, adding to Americans’ exposure to these harmful chemicals through food, personal care products and drinking water. But lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess how widespread the problem is.
“It’s impossible to know at this point,” said Horwitt, who also consults for the environmental health advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Horwitt was lead author on a report published this month that found that in 16 leading oil- and gas-producing states, manufacturers of the chemical mixtures used in oil and gas extraction are generally not required to disclose complete lists of the substances they use.
The report also found that a number of states, including Pennsylvania, have laws that waive liability for oil and gas companies that don’t disclose complete lists of ingredients to regulators — as they’re required to by law — if they never received complete lists from chemical manufacturers.
Pennsylvania’s law also says chemical manufacturers can’t be held responsible for failing to disclose complete lists of ingredients in these products.
“So they’re all just off the hook,” Horwitt said.
The potential use of PFAS during drilling and other downhole operations is especially troubling, Horwitt said, because operators typically bore straight through groundwater, long before any casing or cement has been added to seal it off.
Further complicating things, some states, including Pennsylvania, have different disclosure requirements for conventional and unconventional wells. Operators of fracking wells have to publicly disclose chemicals used in their wells (minus any “trade secrets”), but for conventional wells, the public can only access that information through requests to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
\u201cGreat News! I'm thrilled to share that the PFAs Bill HB22-1345 was signed into law today by @GovofCO. Thank you @GovofCO. A Big Thank You to @Cutter4Colorado for her leadership. Also, Thanks to Senate sponsors @PeteLeeColorado @SenadoraJulie #ClimateAction #BanPFAs #ClimateAction\u201d— Madhvi4EcoEthics (@Madhvi4EcoEthics) 1654275012
In recent years, Colorado has enacted some of the most health-protective oil and gas regulations in the country. The two new PFAS bills will further advance those protections.
“We have the most advanced timeline for banning these chemicals,” Josh Kuhn, the water policy manager for Conservation Colorado, one of the organizations that advocated for the legislation, told EHN. “This is a national leading policy.”
“When all of our aquifers are polluted, where will we get our drinking water from?” Chittoor asked. “When our waterways like ponds, lakes, rivers are polluted, where will the fish live? What water will the animals drink? What water will the farmers use to grow our crops?”
Cutter, a Democrat, was moved by Chittoor’s testimony and started working with groups like Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and Conservation Colorado to craft the PFAS bill.
Many other states have passed bills restricting the use of PFAS in certain products, but none have addressed the use of PFAS by the oil and gas industry.
Kuhn said the effort to include the oil and gas industry in the state’s PFAS ban started after Physicians for Social Responsibility published a report in January 2022 that found PFAS were used in at least 10 Colorado counties. A subsequent analysis by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) found that Colorado had the most potentially PFAS-contaminated sites of any state, 86% of which were associated with the oil and gas industry.
Mary Bradford, a Republican member of the Colorado state House who cosponsored Colorado’s main PFAS bill, said she was mainly concerned about the health effects of PFAS on children and in consumer products.
“Now that we believe that PFAS is a potential health risk, we could be very surprised about how many products intentionally contain the PFAS compounds,” she said in a statement. Bradford’s district has experienced PFAS contamination of drinking water and well-documented PFAS exposures in people from a nearby military base.
“Chemicals that can harm people’s health are not just a one party issue,” Kuhn said.
While the bill banning PFAS didn’t have unanimous support, Kuhn said, they got more pushback against the consumer products portions of the bill than the oil and gas portion. The advocates and legislators working to get the bill passed talked directly with representatives from the oil and gas industry, which led to provisions that would allow for the use of PFAS in certain parts of oil and gas operations where they’re essential and good alternatives don’t exist — in gaskets and other pieces of equipment, for example.
Advocates like Kuhn and his colleagues also partnered with water utilities, which helped build bipartisan support.
“Water utilities on the receiving end of polluted water face significant challenges when it comes to removing PFAS,” Kuhn said.
Physicians for Social Responsibility’s reports cited evidence that PFAS may be used during the drilling phase for fracking and other types of oil and gas wells, but because no states currently require public disclosure of the chemicals used during drilling (as opposed to chemicals used during extraction), it’s impossible to know how common the practice is.
Colorado has found a solution to that with the separate bill that requires disclosure of downhole chemicals and requires that both operators and chemical manufacturers certify that no PFAS have been used.
“The first bill bans the use of PFAS by the oil and gas industry, and the second bill creates accountability,” Kuhn said.
There are a number of downhole operations, including drilling, that are different from what’s technically called fracking, Bhatt, with the Sierra Club, explained. Those chemicals are overlooked in most state laws.
Initially, the bill required complete disclosure of the ingredients used and their proportions, but after pushback from the industry related to revealing trade secrets, it was amended to require a complete list of individual chemicals used in oil and gas operations, but not their proportions or the exact mixtures used in specific products.
“You have to weigh the importance of protecting trade secrets against the importance of protecting health and the environment,” Bhatt said, “but we think this was a good compromise.”
Representatives from the American Petroleum Institute and the Colorado Oil and Gas Institute responded to the report by Physicians for Social Responsibility on the use of PFAS in oil and gas extraction last year, saying they agreed that PFAS shouldn’t be intentionally used in fracking fluid, and contesting the idea that trade secrets provisions could be hiding extensive PFAS use.
The American Petroleum Institute has also said that PFAS use in oil and gas wells is limited and that the trade group will continue to review available data to protect health and safety.
Several advocacy groups, including PennFuture, the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Health Project, have called for action on the issue of potential PFAS contamination from the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania.
Kuhn and Bhatt said they haven’t heard much from lawmakers or advocates in Pennsylvania or other states about crafting similar legislation yet, but that they’d be happy to consult about how they’ve successfully regulated PFAS in Colorado. Kuhn suggested reaching out for resources to Safer States, an environmental health advocacy group that tracks legislation related to chemical safety throughout the states..
Kuhn also cautioned that while the bill was being crafted, advocates and lawmakers were pressured by some chemical industry groups to limit the specific PFAS they were restricting, which they did not do, and emphasized that a comprehensive ban on the chemicals is the most protective option.
“In Colorado,” he said, “no longer will any of these ‘forever chemicals’ be inserted into the ground, potentially threatening water supplies needed by both humans and wildlife.”
This week President Biden laid out a set of executive actions aimed at curbing climate change in light of recent setbacks on the issue.
Even with Democrats controlling the White House, House, and Senate for the past two years, climate action has been largely stalled. So, when it comes to Congress, who is the most influential Republican helping to block the Biden agenda?
No, it’s not Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of coal state Kentucky. He’s an Olympian-level obstructionist, but not the gold medalist on blocking climate action.
And no, it’s not the Babe Ruth of climate denial, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. He announced his retirement to take effect in January, shortly after his 88th birthday.
Okay, it’s kind of a trick question. The Senator who’s done more to advance the GOP agenda on climate and energy is lifetime Democrat Joe Manchin (D-WV).
What’s that you say? How can a “D” be the Leader of the “R” Pack on anything?
Because the Senate’s King of Coal is the holder of all the Democrats’ cards as its 50th member. And even that math is complicated. There are actually 48 card-carrying Democrats. New Englanders Bernie Sanders and Angus King are Independents who caucus with the Dems, and Vice President Kamala Harris wields the tie-breaking vote in her role as President of the Senate.
Thus, Democrats have the slimmest possible advantage in the Senate. Their leadership in the House is only slightly more stable.
In the Senate, the loss of a single Democrat’s support can doom a bill. That one lost vote is usually Manchin’s, and last week, after painstaking negotiations with his fellow Democrats, Manchin announced that he’s walked away from a core portion of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, including more than $300 billion for climate projects. There is little hope that the major White House effort on climate change can be salvaged.
So if Manchin behaves like a Republican, why hasn’t he switched parties? Or why haven’t frustrated Democrats helped him out the door? And just exactly what makes Manchin tick?
That may be a moot point if Republicans win big in the midterms on November 8, or if Biden becomes a one-termer on Election Day 2024. That’s also Manchin’s day to stand for re-election, should he choose to do so at age 77.
Joe Manchin was born and raised in a southern West Virginia coal town. Injuries ended a promising football career at West Virginia University. He founded Enersystems, a coal brokerage business now run by his son. But his investment reportedly brought his wealth into the low millions.
He spent much of the 1980’s and 1990’s in the state legislature, mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1996, and a successful one for Secretary of State in 2000.
In 2004, he won the West Virginia governorship. Two years later, he took his turn on the national stage when a high-profile coal mining disaster claimed 12 lives at Sago Creek, West Virginia.
Manchin consistently drew high approval ratings as governor, and when the state’s legendary U.S. Senator Robert Byrd died in 2010, Manchin won a special election to replace him. His campaign featured a TV ad in which Manchin fired rifle bullets through a copy of proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on climate change.
He easily won re-election to a full term in 2012 and beat back a stiff challenge from the state’s Attorney General, Patrick Morrissey, in 2018. As AG, Morrissey was the lead plaintiff in the case where the Supreme Court stripped the EPA of much of its power to regulate greenhouse gases last month.
The League of Conservation Voters gives Manchin a lifetime score of 56% — about halfway between the scores in the 80% and 90% range that LCV typically awards Democrats, and the 10% to 20% scores typical for Republicans.
He has voted against federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and he’s voted to restore that funding. He’s generally supported Republican issues on immigration. Manchin is part of a bipartisan effort to reform the 1887 Electoral Count Act, a key component in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential results.
During the Trump years, Manchin voted with Trump a bit more than 50% of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly.
The White House is reportedly both furious with Manchin and terrified that a public feud will chase the West Virginian straight into the arms of the Republicans. He has consistently ranked at or near the top of the Congressional lists of recipients of oil, gas, and coal money.
In 2016, coal billionaire and Democrat Jim Justice was elected West Virginia’s Governor. In August of 2017, Justice abruptly switched parties, leaving Manchin as the state’s last statewide Democrat in office. Both Justice and Manchin remain strongly popular.
Justice was re-elected in 2020 as a Republican by a nearly two-to-one margin.
His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.
The recent 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA was an exercise of raw political power.
The anti-regulation, conservative majority did it with a highly contrived, legally threadbare argument simply because they could. Notably, the dispute was about a regulation — the Clean Power Plan (CPP) — that was no longer in effect.
It’s also worth noting that market forces had already done more to drive a transition away from coal in U.S. electricity generation than the CPP had been predicted to do, had it stayed in force.
The only apparent reasons for the Supreme Court to take the case were (1) to allow the Court’s most radical majority in modern times to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to address climate change, and (2) to do so in a way that would open the door to future decisions reining in the power of the so-called “administrative state” to regulate industry under broad guidelines granted by the Congress.
What the decision explicitly forbids EPA to do is to use “generation-shifting mechanisms”— that is, forcing electricity generators to shift to cleaner options -- to reduce the reliance of U.S. electricity generation on coal-fired power plants.
The ruling does not deprive EPA of the right to regulate coal-fired power plant emissions in other ways, such as with emission standards or technology requirements applied to specified types of plants. (One could assume the Court only left those options open to EPA because it was only the generation shifting options that had been challenged in the case the Court was reviewing.)
The Court’s majority claims it is simply returning to Congress the opportunity to indicate whether or not it intended to delegate to EPA authority to do the specific thing that the disputed regulation did; but the majority is well aware there’s no chance the current Congress would come down in favor.
While the ruling does, then, deprive EPA of one important option for regulating greenhouse-gas emission, the far larger danger resides in the majority’s having invoked a sweeping “Major Questions Doctrine” to justify its decision in this relatively narrow case.
That majority declared that this newly labeled doctrine — whose antecedents in previous Court decisions do not fit the current case (see Justice Kagan’s dissent)― holds that rules imposed by EPA or other Executive Branch agencies are subject to judicial review if the rules have major economic or other societal impacts and were not authorized, explicitly and in detail, in the language of Congress’s delegation of authority to the agency in question.
Inasmuch as Congressional delegations of regulatory authority to Executive Branch agencies often do not specify the specific regulatory tools the agencies may use (for the good reason that Congress lacks the relevant expertise and doesn’t wish to constrain those better equipped), the majority’s newly elevated doctrine puts a vast array of environmental and business regulations at risk when this Court finds opportunities to review them.
John Holdren is a research professor in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and Co-Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program in the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
From January 2009 to January 2017, Holdren was President Obama’s Science Advisor and Senate-confirmed Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy