Monday, November 14, 2011

DEC: Inergy LPG Storage in Salt Caverns Is Insane. Say No.

Today was the deadline to comment to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on the proposed Inergy, Corp. liquefied petroleum gas storage in salt caverns in Reading, New York, just north of Watkins Glen on beautiful, vineyard-encircled Seneca Lake. This is what I wrote to the DEC about its facility ID 8-4432-00085. I am not as polite as most of those who wrote. That's because I'm mad as hell. You should be, too.

I could give numerous scientific reasons that permitting the LPG storage facility in salt mines in Reading (or anywhere else in the Finger Lakes) will cause environmental damage. Many others have submitted such comments as to why the DEC’s EIS for LPG storage in salt mines in Reading is grossly inadequate, why we are aware and disgusted that the only real benefits will go to Inergy, related industries, and to the government and regulatory officials in their pockets, and why we are aware and disgusted that We the People who live in the region will pay dearly without receiving any recompense for our immeasurable and irreconcilable losses.
Others have written about how our existing tourism, wine, outdoor recreation, and real estate businesses would collapse with the permitting of poisoning by Inergy and related industries.
You have had an earful about how the noise, traffic, and clogged air would affect our lives and health—and surely your own, even very basic, research would have confirmed this.
You already know that LPG storage facilities cause sicknesses and even death of plant and animal life—and probably of people (as well as existing businesses).
You know, too, that there will be few jobs gained, if any. It is in fact more likely that Inergy’s LPG storage facility would lead to job loss, considering that existing businesses will be forced to downsize or close as tourism and crop purity are destroyed.
You have heard firsthand from homeowners who are selling their homes and escaping, or at the very least delaying planned home building or home-improvement projects. You have heard of how prospective buyers are looking elsewhere because nobody in her right mind wants to live near or be forced to travel by a gas storage and transport facility.
Surely it is clear to you that lower property values will have an overall terrible effect on Schuyler County’s property tax base, which in turn will cause neighboring counties’ properties and tax bases to weaken
You must admit, sir, that the DEC is hamstrung and grossly understaffed. It does not have the power to enforce regulations, even if regulations had any meaning. But they don’t, and that is the primary purpose of this letter.
This Company Is . . . Let’s Just Say, Not One to Write Home About
Surely it is clear to anyone with half a a brain that once Inergy gets this facility in place, it will quickly expand to the other salt caverns around Seneca Lake, and thence to the many caverns around Cayuga and the other Finger Lakes. That will destroy everything valuable about this region as a place to live and raise a family, a vacation destination, a business community, and the precious ecosystems and waterways on which life depends.
I’m not sure that anyone has yet brought up the fact that Inergy, like all fossil-fuel corporations (indeed, like all corporations), has one mission and one mission only: to make money.
That money is often made at the expense of people’s livelihoods, property, health, and lives. And the corporation often lies to get its way. Which is exactly what is happening here, with Inergy.
Inergy has, preposterously, claimed that its executives and staff are “locals” who “care about” Seneca Lake. That is an outright lie. Almost all, and certainly the highest-paid ones, are from out of state, as several of us have learned from these individuals themselves. So that argument must be publicly refuted and called out for the lie it is. DEC and the media “reporting” on this issue should already be doing that consistently.
You and the media should also be seriously questioning why (a) Inergy relies on the 1992 GEIS, which does not even deal with LPG storage in salt mines, for information in its proposal; (b) the company was sued by Michigan Attorney General in 2008 for price gouging (and settled by refunding the overcharges to customers); (c) the company has no ties to this region; (d) the company has been caught in numerous lies and misrepresentations, yet Reading and Schuyler County officials seem to find these all just fine.
We’re Not Fooled: This Gas Is Not for Domestic Use
Inergy is attempting to pull a bait-and-switch by telling people in this region that its desire is to “store heating fuel here so that we can provide local residents with cheaper fuel during winter months, when prices are higher.”
That, too, is an outright lie. Inergy will sell to the highest bidder because that is its mission: to make money. It would be following in the footsteps of countless fossil fuel corporations that have lied to convince the public, regulators, and legislators that they intend to keep their domestically extracted product in the USA (it’s so “patriotic” and will make us “energy independent” and get us off “foreign fuels”). They are granted permits to poison here, and then turn around to sell their products abroad, where the best prices can be met.  
Waterborne Energy, Inc., in its LPG Report dated 3 June 2010, says, “On an annualized basis, there were 30.208mmbbls exported during calendar year 2009. Through June 2010 there have been 17.145mmbbls exported – or 56% of the overall total achieved last year. If the year-to-date July figures are included the percentage rises to 61%. The vast majority of the exports is clearly propane, of which there have been 16.6mmbbls removed from domestic inventories. This compares to the total propane volume exported last year, which was 25.4mmbbls.”
Pervin & Gertz, Inc., “international energy consultants,” reported in its 2010 Latin American LPG Seminar, held in Chile November 15-18, 2010, that “In fact, LPG exports from Houston to Latin America have grown each of the past 3 years and volumes appear to be on track to reach a modern day record in 2010. This situation has had repercussions in the U.S. propane market, with pre-winter inventory levels running far below average. Ultimately, we expect these conditions to strengthen propane prices in the U.S. This scenario would trigger higher prices throughout most of Latin America, particularly in un-subsidized markets reliant on propane imports.”
Coastal Caverns, Inc. (CCI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Vitol Group, announced on July 5, 2011, its plans to develop a new propane export facility in conjunction with its in-development LPG storage operation in Beaumont, Texas. It will include storage capacity for up to six million barrels of domestic and international grade propane as well as a processing facility capable of handling as much as 100,000 bbls per day. The project will be designed to ultimately treat and export up to 3 million tons of propane per year.
Most recently, three weeks ago, BG Group signed a 20-year, $8 billion agreement with Houston-based Cheniere Energy to export LNG.
So much for “clean, patriotic, domestic energy” serving the U.S. market. We know that’s hogwash, as are the claims of Inergy and others that LPG storage is completely unrelated to fracking for “natural” gas in our region.
Part of a Much Bigger Industry That Will Destroy New York State Permanently
We know that propane is found in Marcellus shale gas south and west of us, and we know that the gas needs to be refined to separate the propane from the methane and butane. That requires refineries—more industrialization.
Once the door is open to this destructive industry, there will be no shutting it.
That is not acceptable. We are not willing to be collateral damage to serve the interests of a few corporate fat cats and the politicians with whom they are colluding.
The people who work for the DEC, like those who work for regulatory agencies of every description in the United States, no doubt mean well and have good intentions. But you have been rendered powerless by a political system that does not see value in regulating industry to protect people and nature.
Impotent Regulatory System
DEC is virtually powerless. Why would any sane people trust that a powerless agency can protect us from corporate harm, that you even could protect our environment and nature from corporate damage, or that you could possibly “mitigate” the harm once we have been contaminated—which we surely would be if this LPG storage facility and the subsequent industrial expansion come to New York State?
You are not God; you cannot make pure something that has been permanently poisoned. You cannot restore a bucolic, beautiful, peaceful way of life once it has been destroyed by a heartless, soulless industry. You cannot make dead fish and aquatic creatures come back to life. You cannot remove benzene, or methane, or toluene or xylene or hydrochloric acid—or radium, or a mixture of the above—from our drinking water and croplands.
Lest you accuse me of hysteria, I will point out that I am a journalist with 33 years of experience investigating, among other things, environmental and business issues. I did graduate work in botany and horticulture, and I am a long-time organic farmer. I am not given to hyperbole. Every thing I have predicted in this fracking fight so far has come true. I smelled this Inergy rat the minute it announced itself in Reading.
The Role of the DEC
I love the Finger Lakes and New York State, and I will not stand by and see it destroyed by wanton corporations given free rein to rape and pillage at will. Nor will the tens of thousands of people who have joined actively in antifracking movement across the state, from Shelter Island to Niagara Falls.
I do not agree with some leaders in the fight against this destructive industry that an independent Qualitative and Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) is in order. The only thing in order, in my mind, is a total ban on use of the Finger Lakes or any critical watershed as storage of highly toxic materials. A potent and on-task environmental regulatory agency would be fighting for this right up front, no matter the odds. Unfortunately, the DEC charge of fostering “natural resources” development is directly at odds with its charge of protecting the environment, and your conflicted mission inevitably causes harm to the latter.
Yet your goals statement does say the DEC pursues “environmental quality, public health, economic prosperity and social well-being, including environmental justice and the empowerment of individuals to participate in environmental decisions that affect their lives.”
Now, that’s more like it. If you start toward this goal, you will inevitably listen to us and say a resounding No to the Inergy proposal.
If you do not, the people cannot stand for the degradation of our home, and there is no time like the present to make some serious changes in the way business is conducted in New York State. We are fighting for our way of life here. We are fighting for our future. There is tremendous power in people when so much is at stake. I sincerely hope the DEC will be on the side of the environment and environmental justice, as your website proclaims you are. If not, well, I guess it's up to us, then.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great Investigative Journalism Work You MUST View

Our neighbors in Tonawanda, on the Niagara River in western New York State just south of Buffalo, were being poisoned for decades by a company that, unlike the gas/oil industry, does not enjoy exemptions from clean water, clean air, and toxic waste laws and other regulations set in place to protect our environment and health.

For many years regulatory agencies DEC (NYS) and EPA (federal) ignored residents' complaints of foul air and physical ailments, outrageously high rates of cancer and other diseases, and benzene levels 500 times higher than what is considered the highest acceptable level in state guidelines. Not only benzene, but other highly toxic chemicals were being released over decades into the air and water by a company called Tonawanda Coke Corporation. (No doubt others of the 50 or so industrial polluters that have PERMITS in Tonawanda contributed even more.)

From the piece:
Joe Martens, commissioner of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, defended the record of his agency, which eventually set up high-tech air quality monitors that documented extremely elevated benzene levels, leading to the enforcement actions. But he said such sophisticated equipment had not been available previously. So state officials had no way of knowing about the benzene, formaldehyde, and other toxic emissions seeping from leaks in equipment and piping at the plant, Martens said. “Hazardous air pollutants are difficult to detect. We didn’t have the equipment to do the type of detection — you know, police work — that EPA was able to do” later.

After reading this, what kind of idiot would say, "Hey, sure the DEC and DEP and EPA will protect us from being poisoned by industry"? Ask the people of Tonawanda, many of whom have become very sick and some of whom have died because of the toxins dumped on them by this single iron-smelting factory.

Yet we are to trust that the DEC and other flaccid regulatory agencies will protect us from Big Gas and related industries and their fracking and related machines and poisons? No way, Jose!

We must tell the DEC and the governor that no amount of regulation is acceptable. DEC (and DEP and other states' agencies) regulations are not acceptable. Only a full and total ban on industrial poisoning from fracking and other industries is acceptable.

Read the great investigative piece on Tonawanda citizens who fought back against the polluting company, which was finally charged in criminal court -- because poisoning us and our communities IS A CRIME and thus should be in the criminal code. Every one of the corporate officers and senior staff should serve serious jail time and pay heavy financial damages to those they poisoned. Not that any amount of money could restore the poisoned people's lives or adequately compensate for their losses.

This piece is part of a fine, scary, and eye-opening new series by the Center for Public Integrity in concert with Slate and NPR, called "Poisoned Places."
From "About the series":
As often happens during in-depth investigations — an unexpected discovery. Reporters learned that the EPA maintains a “watch list” that includes serious or chronic Clean Air Act violators that have not been subject to timely enforcement. Two versions of the internal list, never previously made public, were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. (More about the watch list here.)

Congratulations to the investigators, researchers, writers, editors, publishers, and funder of these important pieces. May they awaken people to the dangers we face and help them force change to protect and sustain the places we live, the air we breathe, and the lives we hope to continue leading.