Sharon Kelly

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Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

House to Debate Amendment With Big Implications for Expanding Petrochemical Industry

Read time: 5 mins
Shell cracker

A recent Congressional amendment, which backers say will soon reach the House floor for debate, could have major ramifications for the petrochemical industry’s plan to move into the Ohio River Valley and start manufacturing plastics and chemicals in Appalachia.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently considering extending $1.9 billion in federal loan guarantees to the Appalachia Development Group, which submitted an application for loan guarantees through the DOE’s Title 17 Loan Guarantee Program in 2017.

The Appalachia Development Group would use that loan guarantee to build a $3.4 billion storage hub that could store over 10 million barrels of so-called natural gas liquids (NGLs), which can be used to make plastics and petrochemicals and are in high supply due to fracking in the nearby Marcellus and Utica Shales.

Green groups supporting the amendment say that those DOE loan guarantees are meant for energy projects — specifically those that cut down on greenhouse gas emissions — not for the petrochemical industry.

Will Ohio River Get Optional Pollution Limits as New Fracking-Reliant Plastics Industry Moves in?

Read time: 10 mins
Shell's petrochemical and plastics plant in Potter Township, Pennsylvania

Tomorrow, June 6, in Covington, Kentucky, a routine quarterly meeting of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), an eight-state compact responsible for setting water pollution control standards for the 981-mile Ohio River, is expected to fall under unusual scrutiny from both industry and environmentalists.

ORSANCO is considering a proposal to make its water pollution standards — designed to coordinate pollution rules the length of the river — voluntary amid a brewing battle over the fate of a river that’s both the source of drinking water for 5 million people and central to the petrochemical industry’s plans for a new fossil-fueled plastics manufacturing network.

Louisiana Law Turning Pipeline Protests Into Felonies Violates Constitution, New Lawsuit Alleges

Read time: 7 mins
water is critical infrastructure protest banner

A lawsuit filed today in federal court in Louisiana challenges the state’s “critical infrastructure” law, used to press felony charges against fossil fuel pipeline construction opponents, as unconstitutional.

Louisiana’s critical infrastructure law is unconstitutionally vague and broad, the suit alleges, because it lets “any authorized person” exclude people from public places like sidewalks and roads if the state’s 125,000 miles of mostly unmarked pipelines cross there. The law could even be used to bring felony charges against a landowner for being on their own land, the lawsuit alleges.

And, as more than a dozen arrests of peaceful protesters under the new law demonstrate, its actual aim is to chill, and harshly punish, speech and expression in opposition to pipeline projects,” the complaint adds.

Trump Admin Pushes More 'Clean Coal' Spending as Justice Department Investigates Failed 'Clean Coal' Project

Read time: 8 mins
Kemper power plant

In April, the Department of Justice informed Southern Company that it was under investigation “related to the Kemper County energy facility” in Mississippi, where Southern had spent $7.5 billion, including hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds from the Department of Energy, trying to build a coal-fired power plant that would capture carbon emissions.

Former engineers and officials from the Kemper plant have described evidence of possible intentional fraud at the construction project, alleging that the company knew of design flaws early on but pressed forward with the project in the hopes that costs could be passed on to power customers even if the project ran severely over-budget.

But the while the company remains under investigation, the Trump administration is doubling down by offering new funding — not just millions for more “clean coal” research and development, but also billions more for another construction project, which is also far behind schedule and over-budget, by the same company.

Plastics Industry on Track to Burn Through 14% of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget: New Report

Read time: 9 mins
Plastic jug on a beach

The plastics industry plays a major — and growing — role in climate change, according to a report published today by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

By 2050, making and disposing of plastics could be responsible for a cumulative 56 gigatons of carbon, the report found, up to 14 percent of the world's remaining carbon budget.

In 2019, the plastics industry is on track to release as much greenhouse gas pollution as 189 new coal-fired power plants running year-round, the report found — and the industry plans to expand so rapidly that by 2030, it will create 1.34 gigatons of climate-changing emissions a year, equal to 295 coal plants.

It’s an expansion that, in the United States, is largely driven by the shale gas rush unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Energy Regulators May Reconsider Rules Critics Say Fueled America's Oil and Gas Pipeline Glut

Read time: 4 mins
pipeline construction

A little-noticed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announcement could have an outsized impact on the oil and gas pipeline industries — if the commission decides to snap shut loopholes that analysts say create financial incentives to build too many new pipelines in the U.S.

The way the rules are currently written can allow unusually high profit margins for new pipeline projects. Since 1997, FERC has allowed certain new pipelines to rake in 14 percent profits — a rate far higher than the returns presently generated by, say, corporate bonds — with little eye to how that compares to profits available from other investments.

As Oregon Sends Jordan Cove LNG Back to Drawing Board, Gulf Coast Projects Press Forward

Read time: 6 mins
LNG ship and terminal in Sweden

On Monday, Oregon state regulators dealt a blow to the proposed Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project, refusing to issue a state water quality certificate required by the Army Corps of Engineers, citing unresolved concerns about water pollution and the company’s failure to answer information requests from the state in a timely manner.

This is a huge victory for clean water and healthy ecosystems in Oregon, and it will help protect our climate from dangerous fossil fuel projects,” Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The state water quality standards are intended to protect people and species from harm, and it’s clear Jordan Cove would cause incredible damage to Oregon’s waterways.”

The state decision was made without prejudice, meaning that the company can reapply.

Teaching Kids About Climate Science Leads to More Climate-Concerned Parents on Right and Left, New Study Finds

Read time: 5 mins
Kids peer over insects to identify them

Educating kids about climate change can help their parents learn too, a scientific study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes — even when parents initially doubted that climate change was cause for concern.

This study tells us that we can educate children about climate change and they’re willing to learn, which is exciting because studies find that many adults are resistant to climate education, because it runs counter to their personal identities,” said Danielle Lawson, lead author and a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University. “It also highlights that children share that information with their parents, particularly if they’re given tools to facilitate communication — and that parents are willing to listen.”

In Some Pennsylvania Pro-Fracking Corners, Name-calling, False Claims, and Swastika-Laden Images Circulate

Read time: 9 mins
Marcellus Drilling News screenshot of story decrying the Pennsylvania Medical Society and using a swastika graphic

Cabot Oil and Gas is a shale drilling company that, according to state regulators, botched its shale gas extraction operations in an area around Carter Road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, about a decade ago.

Cabot has for years fought liability for locals’ contaminated water supplies and has remained in legal disputes long after reaching secret settlements with many Carter Road residents that reportedly included non-disclosure agreements.

Outside a courthouse not far from Dimock, a Cabot spokesman recently claimed that people complaining about water contamination from fracking were actually paid imposters, an unsubstantiated claim quickly echoed in pro-gas circles.

Oil Companies Will Be Bad Investments Within Five Years, Predicts Survey of European Fund Managers

Read time: 6 mins
Oil derricks at sunset

European fund managers are casting an increasingly skeptical eye towards the oil industry, concluding that the industry’s financial future looks grim, according to a new survey published by a London-based organization today.

Just 18 percent of the responding fund managers, including representatives of firms based in the UK, France, Spain, and Italy, predicted that “oil companies will be good investments if their business is still focused on fossil fuels in five years’ time,” according to the survey, published by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) and the Climate Change Collaboration.

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