Monday, May 30, 2011

An Environmental Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing - Leading Anti-Biomass Proponent Tied to Oil/Gas/Coal and Mining Industry

An Environmental Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:
Leading Anti-Biomass Proponent Tied to Oil/Gas/Coal and Mining Industry 
Journalist, Genevieve Fraser
By Genevieve Fraser
 Margaret Sheehan, a lawyer with EcoLaw, a volunteer group promoting renewable energy policy and chair of the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign, which sponsored a proposed 2010 ballot initiative aimed at stripping biomass-derived energy of its label as renewable, has ties to world-wide oil, gas, coal and mining industries as well as with the world's largest producer of vinyl compounds and a leading North American producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), through her association with the Sheehan Family Foundation, according to tax records on file at the National Center for Charitable Statistics. 
Along with shares from corporations such as Merck and Abbot Laboratories, the Foundation has millions of dollars in shares tied to fossil fuels and other polluting industries.  The Foundation also receives major donations from family members and the L. Knife & Sons, a family owned corporation.  Their tax records can be viewed electronically at http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/orgs/profile/043197325?popup=1#forms  
The Sheehan Family Foundation was established in 1992, according to a Foundation press release, “Its mission is to protect the environment and enhance the quality of education including youth serving programs.”  Though the Foundation has a geographic focus in eastern Massachusetts, it has expanded in recent years to include Haiti and other international projects.   Grants made by the Foundation from 1992 to 2007 totaled over $10 million.  But despite the obvious good it does, many of the Foundations financial dealings run counter to its expressed mission.


The Foundation’s mining interests include 2,200 shares from the Newmont Mining Corporation, recipient of the “Hall of Shame 2009 Public Eye Award” for its Akyem project in Ghana. “According to the jury it had destroyed unique natural habitats, carried out forced resettlement of local people and polluted soil and rivers,” the Public Eye states.  Newmont was also the subject of a 2005 Frontline expose of South American activities, “Peru – The Curse of Inca Gold.”  That same year, the company was cited for illegal toxic waste dumping in Indonesia. The Foundation sold its shares in 2007.

 

Trees dying at the Quabbin Reservoir from Red Pine Scale.
These trees need to be taken downed and incinerated as biomass.
There is currently a moratorium on cutting trees at the Quabbin
The Foundation also has maintained over 10,500 shares of the Southern Copper Company which is 75 percent owned by Mexican mining conglomerate Gropo Mexico. The company is a major producer and refiner of copper, molybdenum, zinc, silver, lead, and gold, and operates mines and smelters in Mexico and in Peru, in the Andes mountains southeast of Lima.  In 2003, a lawsuit was filed (02-9008. Docket No.)  under the Alien Tort Claims Act (“ATCA”), 28 U.S.C. in which plaintiffs claimed that the defendant's conduct violates the “law of nations”-commonly referred to as “international law” or, when limited to non-treaty law, as “customary international law.” They brought personal injury claims “alleging that pollution from SPCC's copper mining, refining, and smelting operations in and around Ilo caused plaintiffs' or their decedents' severe lung disease.  Plaintiffs in this case are residents of Ilo, Peru, and the representatives of deceased Ilo residents. In particular, they asserted that defendant infringed ---upon their customary international law “right to life,” “right to health,” and right to “sustainable development.”  
Harvard Forest logging operation
Anti-biomass activist Margaret Sheehan is a native of Plymouth and former Executive Director of the Sheehan Family Foundation which has also provided grants to the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars to environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Massachusetts Audubon Society, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, and Earthwatch among others. 

In 2008, with Sheehan serving as Executive Director, the Sheehan Family Foundation lists their “net value of non-charitable use assets” at $7,655,764, according to their 2009 tax return.  A significant portion of these assets were derived from sales of coal, oil and gas industry stocks.  In 2007, the Foundation’s 24,970 shares of Exxon Mobile stock sold for $2,016,55; their 1,295 shares of Chevron Corporation stocks commanded a sale price of $104,718, while their 1,240 Occidental Petroleum Corporation shares netted $61,510.  


By 2008, the Sheehan Family Foundation sold 5,125 shares of Yanzhou Coal Mining Co Ltd stocks, which they had held since 2006, for $77,573, but the sale listed a net loss of $21,758.  The Chinese-based company, the forth largest in China, is mainly engaged in coal production, preparation and processing, marketing and railway transportation.  According to their website, two large coalfields of Yanzhou and Jinig East owned by the Company contain six large-scale modern coal mines. In 2007, the Company produced 34.66 million tones of raw coal, of which 7.25 million tones were exported.  Though China’s coal mining industry is considered to be the largest and deadliest in the world in terms of human safety, the Yanzhou Company claims that they are in compliance with all safety regulations; however, pollution emanating from China’s coal burning power plants is notorious.


Despite the 2007 coal, oil and gas divestments, the following year the Foundation lists 4,400 shares of ConocoPhilips corporate stock with a book value of $348,844.  ConocoPhilips boasts of extracting hydrocarbons from Canada’s oil sands which constitutes “one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world,” according to their website.  


On the topic of oil sands, Joseph J. Romm, author of Hell and High Water, the Global Warming Solution points out, "Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil." Bob Weber, writing for the Moose Jaw Herald, is even more pessimistic.  "If combustion of the final products is included, the so-called "Well to Wheels" approach, oil sands extraction, upgrade and use emits 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude," he wrote.


In 2009, The Nature Conservancy received a $110,000 contribution from the Foundation, while the Massachusetts Audubon Society received a $160,000 grant.  This was in addition to the hundreds of thousands from years past. For example, in 2008, The Nature Conservancy received $210,696 from the Foundation, and MA Audubon received $80,000; whereas, in 2007, The Nature Conservancy received $85,000, and MA Audubon received $80,000.  Whether or not these funds impacted their receptivity to Sheehan’s anti-biomass message and whether or not these environmental organizations knew of the source of much of the Foundation’s wealth can only be assessed by the many agencies who were the recipients of the Foundation’s largess.


In addition to coal, oil and gas companies, the Sheehan Family Foundation maintains millions of dollars worth of shares in companies that provide infrastructure and transport to these industries.  Their vast holdings include DryShips, Inc., owner and operation of a world-wide drybulk carrier and offshore oil deep water drilling operations; National Oilwell Varco, a multinational, Texas-based corporation which manufactures land-based and off-shore oil drilling rigs as well as all the major mechanical components for such rigs; Pioneer Natural Resources Co., an Irving, Texas-based oil and gas company that has expanded internationally and has made major investments in Tunisia and South Africa and is also active in Alaska; and Pride International, Inc., which provides contract drilling and related services to oil and gas companies worldwide and operates a global fleet of 26 rigs. In 2009, SeaHawk Drilling was added to the Sheehan Family Foundation assets.


On November 10, 2009, Sheehan sent a letter addressed to the president of the Manomet Center, John M. Hagan regarding the “Biomass Study.”  The Manomet biomass report was released seven months later on June 10, 2010, without peer review, and became the basis of the Administration’s about-face regarding their support of biomass as a green, renewable energy resource. 
In her letter to the Manomet director, Sheehan closed with the following, “...As I indicated in my phone message to you, I am a native of Plymouth and former Executive Director of the Sheehan Family Foundation of Kingston, which has provided grants to MCCS over the years.  It would be unfortunate if MCCS proceeded with this study without an understanding of full range of public health and environmental impacts of biomass burning as a means of generating electricity.  Even though these impacts may be beyond the scope of work for the study, the study is intertwined with critical policy and regulatory issues that effect the future of our citizens and the planet.”
An electronic copy of the Sheehan correspondence to the MCCS director was submitted to Ian Bowles, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by electronic mail, and to his Chief of Staff at EOEEA, Jane Corr.  The correspondence has since circulated widely.
Following the firestorm of support and protest which erupted after the release of the Center’s “Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study,” Manomet released a statement which reads, in part, “There has been much press coverage of our study about using forest biomass for energy in Massachusetts.  This study was commissioned and funded by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER).  Many of the resulting press articles have oversimplified the results.  Indeed, a key lesson of the study is that understanding the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts and benefits of using wood for energy is more complex than most people have assumed, and that a lifecycle assessment is needed in order to assess these GHG costs and benefits...”
“One commonly used press headline has been ‘wood worse than coal’ for GHG emissions or for ‘the environment.’  This is an inaccurate interpretation of our findings, which paint a much more complex picture.  While burning wood does emit more GHGs initially than fossil fuels, these emissions are removed from the atmosphere as harvested forests re-grow.  ....the timing and magnitude of the recovery is a function of forest productivity, land management choices, and technology and fuel characteristics...”
Despite the Manomet Center’s attempt to clarify the report and end the controversy surrounding its release. The Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign collected over 130,000 signatures from Massachusetts’ voters after spending about $270,000, mostly to collect signatures.  


Sheehan, as Chair of the Campaign issued a statement on July 7, 2010.  “Today, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles issued a letter saying his agency will change our state laws to bring them in line with current science and public policy requiring biomass incinerators to meet strict standards for forest protection, greenhouse gas emissions, and efficiency,” Sheehan stated. 

“This is a groundbreaking development that means an end to commercial biomass electric power plants in Massachusetts.  Science confirms that the greenhouse gas emissions of burning forests are worse than coal and there’s no reason to subsidize this form of energy,” Sheehan said.  Sheehan had won the battle and so withdrew the 2010 Ballot Petition from consideration.

On May 2, 2011 Final regulations were issued by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources which would severely restrict Renewable Energy Credits (RECs)—a taxpayer and ratepayer funded subsidy under the state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)—for biomass electricity.  Meg Sheehan once again took credit for the DOER restrictions.

Proposed Palmer Renewable Energy: Springfield Biomass Plant
On May 17, 2011, union laborers were out in force to jeer biomass opponents who were holding a protest rally on the steps of Springfield City Hall during a public hearing on a proposal to revoke a special permit granted in 2008 to Palmer Renewable Energy (PRE).  Despite a written legal opinion presented by City Solicitor Edward Pikula — who warned the 13-member City Council that it doesn’t have “just cause” to revoke a special permit issued in 2008 for a proposed 35-megawatt biomass power plant — the City Council voted 10-2 against the project.

“We’ve got $5 million in development costs invested here,” Lawyer Frank Fitzgerald, speaking for Palmer Renewable Energy stated. “And we’ve played by the rules.” The economic benefits to the City of Springfield were estimated to be in excess of one million dollars a year, and would have provided 50 full-time employment opportunities.  PRE plans to litigate the matter which may prove quite costly to the city.

Along with creating havoc within the biomass industry, the regulatory restrictions have had a significant economic impact on the wood products industry which claims that if they are to avoid “high grading,” cutting only the most valuable trees, they need to integrate forest improvement cuttings to the mix.  Biomass, when harvested within the forest is typically low grade wood that can be costly to remove unless there is a market for it. The use of biomass as a fuel source creates an economic value that helps justify the cost of its removal. 

Foresters and the wood products industry also argue that sustainably harvested wood allows for new growth and provides vitally needed wildlife habitat.  Most species are wholly or partially dependent on early successional or young forest growth.  Also, diseases and insects are now infesting the forest.  Over 90% of the Massachusetts forest is now mature forest cover (older trees).  These woods are badly in need of thinning with infested wood burnt and destroyed, not left in place or transported and sold as wood chips or other products.

Biomass is also created from power line and roadside cuttings as well as land clearings for development.  When disposed of in landfills, woody biomass generates methane, a major greenhouse gas.  Decomposition in forests also releases CO2.

Meanwhile fossil fuels, which are not sustainable because they were created eons ago and are not a living, breathing part of our atmosphere, continue to spew carbon, hydro-chemicals, radionuclides and heavy metals that impact air quality, soil and water.  Though renewables such as hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal are now part of the energy mix, for the most part, fossil fuels still power electrical generation, cars, buses, trucks, trains, planes, boats, plus most of our homes and industry in the United States and across the globe.   

According to a recently released report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history.”
“After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt. In addition, the IEA has estimated that 80% of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today,” the report stated.

In terms of fuels, 44% of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36% from oil, and 20% from natural gas, according to the IEA.

And though Margaret Sheehan talks an environmental talk, she has, through the Foundation, financially supported to the tune of millions and millions of dollars, companies that pollute the earth in every conceivable fashion. 

Take for instance the Foundation’s 100,000 shares of the Geon Company, the leading producer of vinyl compounds, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), that have been linked to exposures in the womb.  Hyperactivity, learning disabilities, asthma, reproductive health issues, obesity and a host of other ills including cancer are believed to be linked to these products. 

As for the environmental impact of coal, oil and natural gas extractions which destroy forests, remove mountaintops, and pollute our waters, these concerns have been the subject of thousands of research projects, books and articles, and now movies such as “Gasland” which explores the many problems associated with choosing natural gas as an alternative to oil.  Yet the Sheehan Family Foundation supports these and other industries such as the cigarette giant Philip Morris (SFF owned 5,147 shares valued at $223,945 in 2008) that have pitted adverse impacts to human health and the planet against the greater good of increased profits.

What Sheehan’s real motives are only time will tell. But for the record, humans have been building with, cooking with, and heating with wood since the dawn of creation. Our homes, furniture, paper and a myriad of other products are created with wood.  If the impact of woody biomass is as bad as Sheehan and her cohorts claim it is, man would be extinct!



3 comments:

  1. I agree with the last your sentence. Man would be extinct if the impact of wood biomass is bad. Now I understand what her motives are.

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  2. Very interesting info! Perfect just what I was looking for! Thanks for share...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Now if only Commonwealth Magazine would give you, Genevieve the space for this story as they did Meg Sheehan. Politics at its worst isn't it?

    ReplyDelete