Political Flavors

Is it Too Late to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Posted in Editorials on March 20th, 2013

In February, Adam and I went to a rally and march in Washington DC to protest the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. On March 8, a draft Environmental Impact Statement was released for the project. The deadline for public comment is this coming April 22 – Earth Day.

As I have some experience with Environmental Impact Statements and I am a hopeless wonk, I decided to look over the document and see if there was anything I could comment on. The Sierra Club has created a petition on their website urging people so sign it and tell the President not to approve the project, but I wanted to see if I could take more direct action.

I’ve read the executive summary and a few sections that interested me in the full document. What I have found is discouraging.

It’s much later in the process than I had originally thought. This is the second draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, written to address the impacts of a new stretch of pipeline. The route of the original pipeline was the only thing objectionable enough for the project to not have been approved the first time.

The “no action” alternative assumes that the production and consumption of Tar Sands oil would remain unchanged. This seems like a giant assumption! It also seems to go against the spirit of the law. The no action alternative is meant to serve as a baseline/control measure, not as conjecture. This is also why the dEIS has been quoted as saying that Keystone XL is “unlikely to have an impact.” The document states that whether or not the project goes forward, there will be on impact on the rate of development of the Tar Sands – not climate change in general.

Obviously, a rebuttal to this point would be that the United States cannot control the actions of a Canadian corporation or the Canadian government. This is true, but I still find it highly disingenuous.

The dEIS also addresses Native American involvement in the project. Many Native American tribes were contacted and asked to participate in writing the dEIS and in identifying land they did not want the pipeline to go through. This seemed to be exactly the opposite of how the government was portrayed at the Forward On Climate rally. Leaders from several tribes spoke about how their wishes were being ignored and that they would be displaced by this project. After further research, most of these leaders were from Canada – and the dEIS does not have to address impact on Canadian First Nations people.

President Obama has recently announced that Environmental Impact Statements must address climate change. But because this document only applies to the pipeline itself, and not the burning of the oil it will transport – remember: it assumes that that oil will be burned no matter what happens, this announcement will not impact this project at all.

Bill McKibben has asked for people to call their Senators because another vote is going to be taken on the issue.

I’m trying to find some light at the end of the tunnel, some hope that this project can be stopped…and I got nothing. The Sierra Club, 350.org and others are moving public opinion, but not fast enough. The way the dEIS is written, with ridiculous assumptions that are apparently legal don’t leave any room for my objections. I wish I could say I trust the President to make the right decision, but I don’t.

Letter Writing Sunday: End Polluter Welfare Act

Posted in Editorials on June 24th, 2012

At Netroots Nation, Bill McKibben spoke about the End Polluter Welfare Act. It was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (S-VT) as S 3080 and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) as HR 5745.

According to a press release from Senator Sanders,

The measure would do away with tax breaks, financial assistance, royalty relief, direct federal research and development and many loopholes that benefit the fossil fuel industry. Under current law, more than $113 billion in federal subsidies would go to oil, coal and gas industries in the coming decade.

The five largest oil companies in the United States earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade. Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, paid absolutely nothing in federal income taxes.

The bill is supported by 350.org, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, Oil Change International and Earth Justice.

350.org has a lot of great resources on this bill, and they are keeping a scoreboard of which members of Congress have gone on the record and which have not.

I am going to send the following letter to my Congressional Representative and my Senators.

How to find your Member of Congress’ contact information.

How to find your Senator’s contact information.

I am writing to ask that you please support S 3080/HR 5745, the End Polluter Welfare Act. We cannot afford to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that does so much harm to our health and environment while simultaneously making record profits.

Fun Friday Cosmetics Review – Juara Perfume

Posted in Green Product Reviews on March 9th, 2012

Ever since I read “Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry” by Stacy Malkin, I’ve slowly started to change the way I purchase and use cosmetics. I frequently consult the Skin Deep Database at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. I don’t have any hard and fast rules, but I try to purchase products that are at least one of the following: fragrance free, have organic ingredients and/or do not contain phthalates or parabens.

I will be reviewing some of the brands of natural cosmetics that I use regularly. To see all of the posts in this series, click here.

I have stated that I’ve gone “fragrance free.” What I mean by that is that I try not to use products that have “fragrance” listed as an ingredient. This is because that term doesn’t mean a specific ingredient. It’s a placeholder for a proprietary concoction that could contain carcinogenic chemicals. However, I still like to use perfume for special occasions.

During my last trip to Terrain I picked up

Juara Tiare Jasmine Tea Perfume Oil

Like the Yakshi perfume I have reviewed previously, this is a roll on made from essential oils. It’s a bit lighter and less greasy than the Yakshi however, and absorbs easily into my skin.

This fragrance is a lovely, light and floral. You can smell white tea and jasmine. It’s not overpowering, and quite pleasant. The package came with a small packet of Juara shower gel of the same scent.

Juara seems like a company that takes it’s social commitment seriously. Their website touts that all of their products are vegetarian and free of parabens phthalates, and sulfates and that they do no animal testing. In addition, their packaging is Forest Stewardship Council Certified.

I Speak For The Lorax

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on February 29th, 2012

During this year’s Superbowl, I had my first look at the trailer for “The Lorax” a new animated film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. I was not amused. Adam reminded me that this version didn’t stick to the story of the original book – I was tipped off by a stupid joke about a “mannish” looking woman.

A few days later I was browsing in a store and saw a box of Lorax Valentine’s Day Cards for children. How could a movie about saving trees have a marketing tie-in with a paper product?! I looked closely and did see that the Valentine’s were printed on recycled paper, but they were being marketed more as an advertisement for the movie than as a green alternative to other Valentines.

On Thursday night, Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones tweeted a link to her article about the movie’s tie-in with a new Mazda SUV. No, it’s not a hybrid or a plugin.

I was able to push the whole mess out my head, until Saturday afternoon. I was clipping coupons and saw…

…this atrocity

“The Lorax’s Breakfast With Green Eggs & Ham, Truffula Chip Pancakes”

I just felt so overwhelmingly frustrated at the bitter irony of it all. The Lorax was a very important story in my childhood, and to see it undermined in this fashion is heartbreaking. It’s not just the blatant commercialization. I dig Star Trek and Star Wars and Archie Comics and Harry Potter – fandoms with endless merchandising, that I know is not always the best thing for the environment. But SUV’s and pork are two incredibly destructive products with regards to human health, climate change and biodiversity.

According to the EPA, after electricity production at #1, Transportation is the #2 source of Carbon Dioxide emissions – the greenhouse gas most abundant in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. This is why advertising an SUV – one of the most inefficient forms of transportation – in conjunction with a movie that is based on a book about preserving the Earth’s ability to sustain life is so distasteful.

But what about the green eggs and ham? Can’t a kid have a nice brunch with family? According to The Sierra Club, those eggs aren’t so bad – at only 4.8 pounds of CO2 emissions per kilogram of food, they are a reasonable indulgence. But pork produces much more CO2 – 12.1 pounds per kilogram of meat. And that’s not all. In the United States, most pigs raised for pork live in CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The EPA defines a CAFO as an animal feeding operation that:
(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation
(c) meets certain size thresholds

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s like a chicken coop! But for pigs. Not quite. The thing about raising pigs – for those of you who never think about where your bacon comes from – is they create an incredible amount of manure8 pounds or more per hog, per day. And all of that fecal matter has to go somewhere. Most farmers or factory farms are responsible, I’m sure. Generally, pig manure is stored in lagoons to decompose. Yes, lagoons. And sometimes, accidents happen. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms’ hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.

Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.

When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.

Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.

That’s why I was seeing red when I looked at that IHOP advertisment. I was thinking of all the lakes of pig feces in our great nation that are making people sick. And the flesh of the pigs who produced it was being marketed to me as a delicious family breakfast. By The Lorax.

I’m not even going to write anything about the diaper tie-in.

I want to be clear, I’m not a saint. I eat meat a few times a week – mostly poultry and the occasional grass fed beef if I can find it. (Writing this post might have been the motivation for me to give up my weekly BLT once and for all). I try not to be wasteful, and to research the environmental impact of products I buy before purchasing – but I’m sure I mess up on occasion. That’s not the point. My achievements or failings as an environmentalist are not being portrayed to market a children’s movie based on a book about saving endangered species and taking care of trees.

The marketing team for The Lorax did choose some partners that make sense. Stonyfield organic yogurt, Ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the EPA Energy Star Program are all much more appropriate sponsors – because even though they are consumer products, they are ones produced ethically and have a smaller environmental impact than SUV’s, diapers, and ham. The movie’s producers did not stop there, however. It’s almost as if they watched Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold as if it was an instructional film about movie marketing. I can’t pretend to know how these decisions were made – but I would wager it would have something to do with taking for granted that most people are stupid and uncritical of their media.

I speak for The Lorax, and this is an unconscionable exploitation of the story told in Dr. Seuss’ book. Whether or not you see this movie, think about where your money goes, where the products you buy come from, and about what assumptions are made by those trying to sell you something.

LI Families Responds

Posted in Site News on February 28th, 2012

Proof that a firm but polite email can work wonders, LI Families has taken down the paragraph suggesting that there are no risks at all for pregnant women to get manicures, pedicures or hair treatments that I objected to in my “Not So Healthy” post. Well done, LI Families!

LI Families – Not So Healthy

Posted in Editorials on February 23rd, 2012

EDIT: The paragraph I objected to has been taken down. LI Families did not inform me directly, but when I shared this post on their message board another commenter pointed it out. Good work, LI Families!

On February 10, the website Long Island Families sent out an email and posted an article entitled “Mommy To Be Myths” debunking various old wives tales about pregnancy. I’m no expert, but most of it seemed to be sound and healthy advice that I had heard before. But the last one startled me.

Cut out your routine manicures/pedicures/hair appointments False. Although being in a very fume-filled environment is not the best for long periods of time for anyone, you will not harm your baby in any way by getting your routine mani/pedi. Scheduling your appointment for a quiet time at the salon will help cut out any fumes you may be exposed to.

I really object to the way this downplays the risks of the chemicals found in many nail polishes, nail polish removers, hair dyes and hair straighteners. It’s true that some brands of nail polish have become safer in recent years, but risks still remain in brands that haven’t changed and in many nail polish removers.

Additionally, the post mentioned nothing of the recent controversy about formaldehyde in a popular hair straightening treatment or the health risks of breast cancer and fibroids from hair care products frequently used by black women.

Finally, there was no mention that phthalates found in many common cosmetics pose a risk of hyperactivity once the child is born.

I know that pregnant women are bombarded with all kinds of pressure and unsolicited advice. But to simply hand wave away a legitimate concern is irresponsible. There are plenty of ways for a mother to be to relax without increasing the risk of harm to her or her baby.

Letter Writing Sunday: Safe Chemicals Act

Posted in Editorials on January 15th, 2012

Last month, Senator Gillibrand announced her support of the Safe Chemicals act:

More than 84,000 chemicals are currently listed on the EPA’s database, many of which are used regularly in consumer products, but there are three classes in particular that have been found to cause hormone disruption and reproductive deformities when children are exposed in-utero and at young ages. The three major classes of chemicals which children are directly exposed are:

1. phthalates, found in soft plastic products like teething rings, balls, and plastic dolls;
2. BPA, found in hard plastic toys, such as action figures, electronics, and playmobil toysets; and
3. flame retardants found in children’s pajamas and bedding.


Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act, legislation introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), which requires chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals and the EPA to evaluate safety based on the best available science. Specifically, the legislation would:

Require chemical companies to develop and submit safety testing data for each chemical they produce. EPA would have the authority to require any additional data needed to make a safety determination before a new chemical is introduced into commerce. The submission of this data is not currently required by TSCA prior to commercialization, and can only be requested by the EPA once they have reason to believe that a chemical poses a risk to the population.
Require EPA to prioritize existing chemicals for testing based on risk into one of three classes: immediate risk management, safety standard determination, no immediate action to facilitate a risk-based approach for analyzing the approximately 84,000 chemicals currently in the EPA’s database.
Allow the EPA Administrator to issue orders or initiate judicial proceedings to protect the public from chemicals that may “present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”
Provide the public, market and worker access to reliable chemical information by publishing a database housing chemical information and decisions made by EPA about chemicals.
Establish a Children’s Environmental Health Research Program, which requires the EPA to establish an advisory board on children’s health as it relates to toxic chemicals, provides grants to support research into children’s vulnerability to industrial chemicals.
Incentivize safe alternatives by establishing a research grant program targeted at priority hazardous chemicals for which alternatives do not presently exist.

I’ve written before about my concerns about pthaltes and other toxic chemicals found in cosmetics and every day products. I applaud Senator Gillibrand and Senator Lautenberg for their work on this issue. If you live in New York or New Jersey, send them a call, email, or even a tweet or facebook message to thank them for their job well done.

Otherwise, you can contact your Senator and Congressional Representative through the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics by clicking this link.

Letter Writing Sunday: Transit Tax Benefits for Straphangers

Posted in Editorials on November 20th, 2011

Hat tip, Long Island Fail Road.

As someone who takes public transportation to work every day, I am happy to take advantage of the Transit Tax Benefit – I can set aside a certain amount of money from my salary every month, pre-tax, and spend it on bus or train fare. Currently the amount is $230 per month, which is a reasonable amount considering a NYC Subway pass is $104 per month and a Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit or Metro North Commuter Rail pass can be over $200 per month.

If it’s so incredibly controversial to remove tax brakes for corporate jets, why can’t working people of all classes write off their commuting costs? And yet somehow this years budget will roll back the allowance to only $115 per month.

You can take action by sending an email to your member of Congress and Senators, and asking them to support H.R. 2412 and S. 1034, both titled “The Commuter Benefits Equality Act” which will keep the Tax Benefit at the current level. My letter is below

I am writing to you today to ask you to support The Commuter Benefits Equality Act. As a commuter, I face increasingly high fares every year and this tax benefit helps to reduce the cost. Public transportation has many benefits, one of which is a cleaner environment for all of us to enjoy, and so this incentive has multiple positive qualities.

At this time of economic hardship for so many Americans, I urge you to pass this bill so that there will be as few obstacles as possible for getting people back to work.

Senator Gillibrand Responds on Climate Change

Posted in Editorials on September 8th, 2011

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent me a response to this letter.

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concern for the Clean Air Act, and your desire to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other pollutants. I share your view on this issue and will continue to oppose efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act.

One of my top legislative priorities has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that New York’s families have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. I will continue to oppose attempts to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding, strip the EPA of its lawful authority, or delay the implementation of Clean Air Act regulations set forth by Administrator Jackson.

We must continue to press for cleaner standards for the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. These plants, many of which are inefficient and scheduled to be decommissioned, must not be allowed to continue to operate under the lax standards that they now follow. We need to ensure that all newly constructed coal fired power plants meet emissions standards and that the plants that continue to operate abide by elevated performance standards. These outdated power plants represent the inefficient and carbon-intensive technologies that we must move away from in order to transition to a clean energy economy.

Thank you again for writing to express your concerns, and I hope that you keep in touch with my office regarding future legislation. For more information on this and other important issues, please visit my website at http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter.

I am very impressed with this thorough response. Kudos, Senator!

From The Mouths Of Babes

Posted in Personal Essays on July 25th, 2011

Greta Christina recently commented on facebook:

[I] Am very puzzled by the troll on my blog who thinks I’m a vegetarian dog owner. And who apparently thinks these would be bad things. ?!?!?

And it brought me back to the eighth grade. I was sitting in Art class. At my assigned table were two other girls I didn’t know well but were fairly neutral towards me and two boys who, for some reason had decided to pick on me. They bullied me while the two girls said nothing, for fear that they would become the targets next. They made comments about my clothes, or anything they could think of. I was a slightly awkward 13 year old, growing out my bangs and without much fashion sense, but my biggest crime, in retrospect is that as a new student that year I hadn’t yet found a stable group of friends to back me up. And I also had not learned how to project confidence and a “don’t fuck with me” vibe – my adolescent vulnerability was on my sleeve.

I was a part of my school’s Conservation Club – an extra curricular activity for young environmentalists with maybe 4 other kids but somehow the boys in my Art Class had found out about this and thought it was hilarious.

“Hey! Those acid wash jeans are sex-y!” he said mockingly.
“Shut up.” I thought I was being forceful, but it probably made the bulls-eye bigger.
“Do you know how you are going to end up? You’re probably going to never get married, because seriously, what man would want you? And you will be living in a big mansion, as President of Earth Day adopting Korean kids.” So much to unpack there. Sexism, racism, and more from some middle school jerk.
I thought about it. I knew the “forever single” was supposed to hurt my feelings, but I was more interested in his career prediction. President of Earth Day, I already knew, was not a real job, but it sounded pretty fucking cool.
“Ok, whatever.” I said. The bell was about to ring.

I’ve often thought back to that day and how much his insult(s) revealed the amount of toxic hatred our culture spews and is picked up by kids and teens. I thought of it the night before my wedding and laughed that he was so far wrong on two counts (My job is white-collar boring and administrative, and I have not yet see President of Earth Day on Monster.com). The mansion and Korean children have also not materialized.

So yes, Greta, trolls have a way of picking out stereotypes they feel represent the “worst” about a group and flinging them back at us in a way that both fails to insult and reveals a lot about their own warped ideas.