Environment Forum

The Green Gauge: Vedanta, Sterlite ordered to shut smelter

A bird flies by the Vedanta office building in Mumbai August 16, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

This month, Vedanta Resources and subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. made headlines for posing a public health risk to the surrounding community in southern India with pollution from a large copper smelter. They share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies recently in the news for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Vedanta Resources, Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd.
Vedanta Resources faces a new environmental setback in India after a Madras High Court ordered the closure of a large copper smelter at Tuticorin belonging to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Claiming that “the right to have a living atmosphere congenial to human existence is part of the right to life,” the Madras court argued that toxic emissions from the copper smelter, the 9th largest in the world, posed a public health risk to the surrounding community. The Indian Supreme Court granted permission for the facility to continue to operate while Vedanta appeals the verdict.

bot25 Murphy Oil Corp.
Murphy Oil recently reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department as a result of violations of the Clean Air Act at its refineries in Meraux, Louisiana and Superior, Wisconsin. The settlement, which resulted from high emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and benzene at the facilities, requires Murphy to pay $1.25 million in a civil penalty, $1.5 million for a supplemental environmental project as well as to spend $142 million for upgraded pollution control equipment at the facilities. The total settlement amount of $144.75 million represents 16 percent of the company’s FY 2010 net profit.

bot25 Target Corp.
A California judge has ordered Target to stop disposing of defective goods that should qualify as hazardous waste following a lawsuit filed by several cities and the state of California that could eventually result in significant fines against the company. The lawsuit contends that Target has routinely disposed of items such as pesticides, bleach, and electronics improperly throughout the state, including 5,000 pounds of unsalable hazardous waste that was sent to a local food bank in Los Angeles. Target denies the charges and claims that it has a comprehensive program to ensure that its waste disposal is compliant with California state laws.

from Commodity Corner:

Getting down to business at U.N. climate talks a hard task

A U.N. concession to delegates at this week's climate talks in Bonn to take off jackets and ties due to recent high temperatures may be going to some participants' heads.

Breaking the back of negotiations for a new climate pact after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 is proving hard work even though the talks' chair hopes to have a new negotiating text on the table by the end of the week.

Developing nations are still blaming the rich for global warming and the issue of who will contribute most to climate financing is still a matter for debate.

Brazen disregard, from the wellhead to the tap


– Erin Brockovich is an environmental investigator and activist and Ben Adlin writes social commentary and is a former Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. Any opinions expressed here are their own. —

As the wreckage of the now-infamous wellhead continues to spew oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico, evidence of environmental fallout comes streaming in.

Pictures of oil-soaked pelicans and dying dolphins emphasize our blight on land and sea.

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP’s spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed “overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation,” with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority — 54 percent — of respondents said they’d be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC’s pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

Factbox: Rich nations’ greenhouse emissions down 2.2 percent

Greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations fell by 2.2 percent in 2008, the steepest fall since 1992 as the world economy slowed, a Reuters compilation shows.

Following are official national greenhouse gas emissions data submitted to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat in recent days.

A few are not yet available. (Thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent unless stated, excludes land use, land use change and forestry):

Newsweek’s Green Rankings: Perception meets reality

Three Greenpeace activists wearing bio-hazard suits, hold old laptops and wear face masks depicting Hewlett-Packard (HP) Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd during a protest outside the computer company's China headquarters in Beijing June 25, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

Newsweek, encroaching on territory usually mined by activist groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, has unveiled its innaugural NEWSWEEK Green Rankings, which ranks the 500 biggest U.S. companies based on their “actual environmental performance, policies, and reputation.”

The magazine pointed out that compiling such a list was a challenge “because comparing environmental performance across industries is a bit like analyzing whether Tiger Woods or LeBron James is the world’s greatest athlete—there’s an inevitable apples-and-oranges element.”

Still, it believes it’s system makes sense. To come up with the greenest company, the magazine assigned each a “Green Score” that was then compared to the average score of the collective group. You can find out more about Newsweek’s methodology here. But, in terms of weighting, Impact and Policies were each given 45 percent and Reputation received 10 percent.

U.S. metals firm in row with Peru’s government

By Madelyn Fairbanks

U.S.-based company Doe Run Peru and the government of President Alan Garcia are locked in a dispute over how to balance environmental health with saving thousands of jobs at the company’s La Oroya metals smelter.
La Oroya, high in the Andes east of Lima, has been called one of the most contaminated places in the world by the Blacksmith Institute, but it is a top 10 metals exporter in Peru and the economic engine of the central region of the country.

The smelter has been shut down since June after banks worried about plunging metal prices cut credit lines, strangling not only the plant’s ability to buy mineral concentrates for its refinery, but cutting off its ability to pay back other debts. Workers are restless and environmentalists are worried.

Doe Run’s parent company, U.S.-based Renco Group, bought the smelter from Peru in a 1997 privatization auction. The smelter opened in 1922. At the time of the privatization, Doe Run said it would scrub the smelter, while the government said it would mitigate decades of pollution that dusted the town’s hills before Doe Run came to town.

from Shop Talk:

Molson Coors-sponsored survey finds water pollution key concern

molsoncoorsWhat is the latest and most important environmental concern these days? Global warming? Disappearing ice caps and rain forests? Reliance on non-renewable energy?

Wrong. According to a new survey sponsored by Molson Coors Brewing Co, water pollution ranked No. 1, followed by fresh water shortages, depletion of natural resources, air pollution and loss of animal and plant species.

The survey was commissioned by Circle of Blue, a nonprofit affiliate of the Pacific Institute, a water and climate think tank. It polled people in 15 countries, including the United States, Mexico, China and India, about their views on water issues including sustainability, management and conservation.

The other plan to cut car pollution? Drive less

The feds are taking on California’s plan to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases and discussing the idea of low carbon fuel, but California has one other major idea to curb vehicle pollution, says the state senator who pushed through the tailpipe emissions law, Fran Pavley. The idea: drive less.

“No matter what we do on the clean car regs, with the gross of the state… and the sprawl out into the suburbs and the rural areas, we are going to be going in the wrong direction. And that’s something the federal government hopefully will eventually look at — land use,” she said by phone, when asked about next steps for vehicle pollution.

2008′s Senate Bill 375 by Darrell Steinberg set up targets for coordinated planning of transportation, land use and housing with regional reduction targets for greenhouse gases. At the time the bill passed, California was expecting its population to rise to 46 million by 2030 from 38 million.

Obama says greenhouse gases are hurting us — now what?

The Obama administration’s move to declare climate-warming carbon pollution a danger to human health was quickly hailed by environmental groups and leading liberals as a long-overdue shift from the Bush era and a historic first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In making the announcement, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that solving the problem would not only clean up the air but also “create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

She says the way to do it is for Congress to pass comprehensive climate change legislation while at the same time averting a “regulatory thicket” that unduly burdens governments and businesses.