Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sticking up for styrofoam: chemical industry lobbyists oppose NYC styrofoam ban

This afternoon at Long Island City Partnership - my day job - the front desk of our office building called to say that some people from NYC Council were here to see us. This was surprising, as we know our local Council staff well and they would certainly call or email us in advance if they needed anything, let alone if they planned to visit. But we told security to send them up.

The two men introduced themselves as representatives of the American Chemistry Council. Wait, the front desk told us you were with NYC Council, I said. They apologized for any miscommunication, saying they told security they were here to discuss an issue before NYC Council. Uh huh. 

“We’re meeting with business groups like yours to briefly explain how the City’s proposed ban on styrofoam will drive up costs and is bad for business. We’d just like a few minutes of your time.” We said that we were busy, but took the flyer and said we’d call them if we had any questions.

In Mayor Bloomberg’s recent State of the City address, he outlined many, many new initiatives.  They included plans to start curbside pickup of yard and food waste in Staten Island, expand school food waste collection and composting, expand the types of plastic the City recycles, and to ban styrofoam in food packaging. A few weeks later, the American Chemistry Council has boots on the ground in NYC, sticking up for styrofoam.


In its flyer – check it out here - ACC claims that (1) paper products are twice as expensive as styrofoam products, (2) that styrofoam products function better than paper products, (3) that NYC Department of Sanitation can’t recycle most paper products because they have a wax or plastic coating, and (4) worst of all, it’s a missed opportunity to start a styrofoam recycling program.

Before researching any of these claims, our first question should be whether we can believe anything the American Chemistry Council says.

A quick visit to the ACC website shows that one of its top initiatives is promoting fracking for natural gas. North American natural gas supplies were in decline until a few years ago, when hydrofracking shale became the popular drilling technique. It’s the controversial procedure whereby water and a proprietary mix of corrosive chemicals are pumped into shale deposits deep underground at very high pressure, releasing natural gas.

According to ACC:

…Energy mavens from around the world met in Houston last week for IHS CERAWeek, where the economic benefits of natural gas from shale to America’s manufacturing sector proved a popular topic yet again. America’s chemical manufacturers are especially rebounding from the economic decline, courtesy of abundant and affordable sources of natural gas from shale that the industry uses as a fuel and a raw material, said several energy analysts. Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERAWeek, described to NBC News the “unfolding oil and gas revolution in the U.S. and the economic impact it has had on jobs, manufacturing and competitiveness.” …

Concerned citizens around the country are up in arms about it. One problem with this procedure is that drilling chemicals and natural gas leak into nearby water supplies, permanently contaminating them. Sometimes there's enough stray natural gas in tap water for it to be set on fire.

Another is that the amount of unconventional natural gas that can be fracked – leaving aside the health and environmental impacts – has been vastly exaggerated by industry. If we don’t have “100 years of natural gas” – then building out our infrastructure as if we did could turn out to be a very bad investment.  That's exactly what Post Carbon Institute says in its new report, "Drill Baby Drill: Can Unconventional Fuels Usher In a New Era of Energy Abundance?"

...Governments and financial analysts who think unconventional fossil fuels such as bitumen, shale gas and shale oil can usher in an era of prosperity and energy plenty are dangerously deluded, concludes a groundbreaking report by one of Canada's top energy analysts. In a meticulous 181 page study for the Post Carbon Institute, geologist David Hughes concludes that the U.S. "is highly unlikely to achieve energy independence unless energy consumption declines substantially."

Exuberant projections by the media and energy pundits that claim that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling "can provide endless growth heralding a new era of 'energy independence,' in which the U.S. will become a substantial net exporter of energy, are entirely unwarranted based on the fundamentals," adds Hughes in a companion article for the science journal Nature. Moreover it is unlikely that difficult and challenging hydrocarbons such as shale oil can even replace the rate of depletion for conventional light oil and natural gas.

The American Chemistry Council are primary boosters of the shale gas fracking scam.  When they sneak around NYC saying negative things about new recycling initiatives, I suggest you don't believe them. Please contact your real NYC Councilmember and ask them to support the proposed styrofoam ban.

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