Plastics in Appalachia: The New Coal…..Just What We Need, Another Coal, Plus a Bad Day at the Roundhouse

Last week I wrote about how we need to vastly reduce our use of one-use plastics in part due to our inability to recycle plastic and in part due to plastic’s reliance upon fracking. And then Roxanne sent me this Inside Climate News article on a series of massive plastics plants being planned along the upper Ohio River. Anything for a profit, Ohio River be damned.

Roundhouse Roundup

Thank goodness for Miranda Viscoli and Selinda Guerrero as they delivered two big wins yesterday, with SB 8 passing on the House Floor, the first of bills backed by Retake Our Democracy is headed to the Governor’s desk. And in House Judiciary, Rep. Gail Chasey advocated fiercely for HB 51, Felon Voter Rights and it passed through her Judicial Committee 9-2 and will now go to the House floor.

One repercussion of the array of gun violence prevention bills advancing through the Roundhouse is a perverse twist on the “sanctuary” movement with as many as twenty rural counties across the state proclaiming their counties as 2nd Amendment Sanctuaries where police and sheriff in those communities will refuse to enforce newly passed gun violence legislation. It is a reminder that political strategy developed on the left (for immigrant safety) can be then used by the right. This is something President Trump should have considered before announcing his national emergency at the border. in 2020, hopefully with a progressive, climate change-driven president, a national emergency could be declared to launch a full frontal assault on climate change and the fossil fuel industry.  And as much of this report will describe, just such a national emergency declaration is entirely in order.

Bitter pills. The duo of Sen. Clemente Sanchez and Sen. Mary Papen has struck again, killing HJR-1 which would have resulted in an investment of an additional 1% from the permanent fund into early childhood education. Unswayed by abundant evidence of the wisdom of the investment and the compiling of millions in the permanent fund, the two Senators joined Republicans in killing the bill in Rules Committee yesterday. This is our first MUST PASS bill to die and we are taking notes. It is simply unacceptable to have leadership in the Democratic Party undermine important bills now that we have a Governor who will sign them.

SB 489 plods along.  In an effort to improve the bill, New Energy Economy had prepared amendments to ensure competitive procurement and PRC authority and NEE thought that it had secured a Senator to introduce them yesterday. But I am told that last minute backdoor efforts by bill supporters dissuaded that Senator. Instead a couple of largely irrelevant amendments were introduced and passed. The bill now goes to the Senate floor. I am not optimistic about prospects of getting needed amendments considered.

It seems that the Governor and Roundhouse leadership are not interested in amending the bill.I certainly understand why PNM would advance the language in this bill, but it is far more difficult to understand why environmental organizations, the Governor and Democratic leadership would approve elements of this bill. At the very end of the hearing, after the votes had been cast, both Senator Tallman and Senator Sanchez asked to explain their votes and both acknowledged that they felt that bill, as written, would not provide competitive bidding and Senator Tallman went so far as to say that PNM was operating on “a failed business model,” and Senator Chavez said, in closing, “I am afraid I will regret this vote,” On to the Senate floor. I am guessing this bill will not sit for long.  Click here to watch yesterday’s excruciating Corporations and Transportation hearing. The last five minutes capture the closing comments of Senators Sanchez and Tallman.

Twelve Days Left.… Especially on the heels of a couple of setbacks and with a mounting number of important bills sitting idle, it is easy for the spirits to sag. We are noting a slow erosion in the numbers coming to hearings, easy to understand when hearings slated for 1:30 often now start at 3 or 4 and agendas are jammed with ten or more agenda items. But the 60 day session only comes every two years and yes it is grueling.  But the last two weeks is here and this is when you are most needed. Try to buffer up some reserve energy and come to the Roundhouse today. Our alert today. Some important bills today, so if you can make it to the Roundhouse, moving the four bills below forward would be make a tremendous day for economic and indigenous justice, but both of these committees are very tough on good progressive legislation.:Last night, we sent out Action Alerts from our Statewide Network with contact information for the bills below and information on other bills. So, if you want to get those alerts please click here to join the Network.

  • Tuesday at 1:30, in Room 311 (or 1/2 hr. after the floor session, so likely later), the Senate Corporations & Transportation Committee is scheduled to hear HB 31 Phased-In Minimum Wage Increase. This is a tough committee, folks, with Sanchez and Papen often voting with the Republicans.
  • 1:30, in Room 307: Three HUGE bills in the House Appropriations & Finance Committee is scheduled to hear HB 416 Medicaid Buy-In ActHB 295 Health Security Act, and HB 278 Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women.House Appropriations is chaired by Rep. Patty Lundstrom who has a penchant for managing to have many good bills tabled.  This is such an important hearing. Please try to make time to attend.

A Plastics Boom:  Just What the Doctor Ordered for an Overheating Planet

Just what we need a boom in plastic production and with it an array of toxins emitted into the air, a major US river imperiled and another industry to purchase fracked coal.  This is not what Paris had in mind. Along the Ohio River thousands of workers are assembling the region’s first ethane “cracker plant.” This is an enormous enterprise with hundreds of construction workers involved. In a year or two, Shell Polymers, part of the global energy company Royal Dutch Shell, plans to turn what’s called “wet gas” into plastic pellets that can be used to make a myriad of products, from bottles to car parts. All to be used and tossed or incinerated. If it were just this one plant that would be bad enough, but more are in the pipeline (ugh, terrible analogy).

Two Asian companies could also announce any day that they plan to invest as much as $6 billion in a similar plant in Ohio. There’s a third plastics plant proposed for West Virginia.

From Inside Climate News: “With little notice nationally, a new petrochemical and plastics manufacturing hub may be taking shape along 300 miles of the upper reaches of the Ohio River, from outside Pittsburgh southwest to Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. It would be fueled by a natural gas boom brought on by more than a decade of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process that has already dramatically altered the nation’s energy landscape—and helped cripple coal.”

More from Inside Climate News:  “But there’s a climate price to be paid. Planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the Shell plant alone would more or less wipe out all the reductions in carbon dioxide that Pittsburgh, just 25 miles away, is planning to achieve by 2030. Drilling for natural gas leaks methane, a potent climate pollutant; and oil consumption for petrochemicals and plastics may account for half the global growth in petroleum demand between now and 2050.”  And of course the chambers of commerce of the world and other state business leaders are applauding wildly claiming that this petrochemical boom is precisely what the doctor ordered to inject life in a sagging economy after three decades of the steel industry’s collapse.  It seems as if the same business-fueled mantra has been played for decades whether clear cutting forests, growing tobacco, building nuclear plants or nuclear weapons–if we boost our economy and offer out of work people jobs, the production of anything is a legitimate enterprise. It is several decades past the time when we realize that if wealth were redistributed, people would have to work less and we would have to produce and less. That may not generate annual growth to satisfy Wall St, but given Wall St.’s insatiable hunger for profit, but it might make our lives more sane and sustainable and our planet far healthier.

Map: Ethane Cracker Plants on the Ohio RiverBut there are jobs to be created and plastics to create, use and toss away. From Inside Climate News: “Drilling companies have also extracted a lot of natural gas liquids, particularly ethane, also called wet gas. It’s used to produce ethylene, which then gets turned into plastics, providing an additional revenue stream for the oil and gas industry. It’s the industry’s latest play, and it comes at a time when industry analysts and the federal government say the demand for plastics is skyrocketing.”

“These materials are hooked into just about every part of the economy, from housing to electronics to packaging,” said Dave Witte, a senior vice president at IHS Markit, a global data and information service. “Today, the world needs six of these plants to be built every year to keep up with demand growth.” Ugh.  After a bad day at the Roundhouse, this is not exactly what you want to read.

IHS acknowledges some opposition, including an international backlash against plastics. IHS published a report last summer that found that worldwide pressure to reduce plastic use and increase recycling was one of the biggest potential disruptors for the plastics industry and was “putting future plastics resin demand and billions of dollars of industry investments at risk.”

And Inside Climate News projects a similar problem with the petrochemical industry now facing New Mexico:  Stranded Assets.  “The oil and gas industry might find themselves with stranded assets, needing to abandon Ohio River valley communities,” said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, a Pennsylvania-based organizer for the Environmental Integrity Project. “Do they really care,” she asked, “if they can make money for the first 10 years or 20 years of their operation, but then plastic goes away in the world? What happens to the communities that are left behind?”  And I’d add, where exactly does this plastic go away to?

Pittsburgh has been brushing off its sooty steel city past and is now pledging to slash its carbon emissions. But the Shell cracker plant alone, just 25 miles away, would emit 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, effectively wiping out nearly all the gains in carbon reduction that Pittsburgh plans to achieve by 2030, said Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer. The Shell plant will also emit as much smog-forming pollution as 36,000 cars driving 12,000 miles year; that would equate to about a 25 percent increase in the number of cars in Beaver County, said James Fabisiak, an associate professor and director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh. Below is graphic depicting what one of these plants would look like. Now imagine four.

The challenge seems at times Herculean and I must admit there are moments when the challenge seems unbearable. And then I think of my kids and imagine the grand kids likely to come and make another cup of java, print out some one-pagers and drag myself to the Roundhouse.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Illustration: Plastics: From the Gas Plant to Your Home

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife, Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development

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4 replies

  1. About ‘Bitter Pills’ above. I have said it before but it is worth repeating. Democrats and Republicans, both wings of the same rapacious bird. The effort should be to clean house, begging with senators Clemente Sanchez and Mary Papen.
    Thanks for the info on plastics, now that we are incinerating what we already have. Check out Plastic Planet the movie.

  2. Why doesn’t the State use the Trump model and refuse to provide State assistance to those counties that choose to become “2nd Amendment Sanctuaries”?

    • The problem with this is that it sets the precedent for doing this in relation to funding for NM in offering a Sanctuary City or State for immigrants. We will have to see what happens with this. My hunch is that most Sheriff’s are pretty wedded to enforcing the law, even if they don’t agree with it and that these motions from counties is more symbolic than enforceable.

  3. Kentucky is getting into this? That’s a bit ironic. I’ve been reading that Kentucky is having a hemp boom. Hemp oil, I understand, is safer for the environment than petroleum, and can replace petroleum in many uses. (Did you know that the Diesel engine was originally designed to run on vegetable oils, including hemp oil?)
    We need smart, motivated people to develop hemp-based substitutes for plastics.

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