Whiskey and Willow

Another town succumbs to whiskey fungus; NRDC union forms; running in place


‘Thirst quenched, I hope?’ said the Queen.

Fed by the angel’s share, whiskey fungus is on the march in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Michael Levenson has great fun evoking the creeping menace of Baudoinia compniacensis:

For months, some residents have complained that a sooty, dark crust has blanketed homes, cars, road signs, bird feeders, patio furniture and trees as the fungus has spread uncontrollably, fed by alcohol vapors wafting from charred oak barrels of aging Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Other writers are a bit more matter-of-fact about this problem of industrial pollution, as local homehowners fight the distillery’s expansion plans, which have been put on hold after a contentious zoning commission meeting.

You can’t see the tree limbs anymore. Our house, we have to have it pressure-washed four times a year now,” local resident Patrick Long told Insider’s Michelle “Maker’s” Mark.

Corbin Hiar wrote a great piece in 2019 about a whiskey fungus outbreak in Greendale, Indiana, the home of a giant Seagram’s Seven Crown whiskey distillery. He interviewed James Scott, “a mycologist by training who is perhaps the world’s foremost — and only — whiskey fungus expert.”

“In the northern temperate climate zones, the threshold seems to be 20,000 to 30,000 barrels of storage. And beyond that, we start to see the problem spreading out beyond the fence around the bond warehouses.”

While the whiskey fungus menace is boozier than most, it’s part of a larger trend of lax pollution enforcement on behalf of industry interests across the country. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is empowered to limit ethanol pollution, which can also cause ground-level smog, but passed on enforcement under the Trump administration.

Whiskey fungus takes over a tree. Credit: Patrick Long

I’ve seen gardens, compared with which this would be a wilderness.’

ConocoPhillips is sponsoring one of my competitors, the Axios Generate newsletter, this week to promote its planned Willow Project in northwest Alaska. Last month, the Biden administration signaled it would greenlight this climate bomb, with an expected footprint of nine million tons of carbon dioxide a year. But, as the Washington Post’s Timothy Puko reports, furious pushback from the climate community against this environmental disaster is causing the White House to seek some slices of climate bread to make the crap project go down easier:

White House officials suggested to environmental groups in recent days that they may pair approval for a controversial Arctic oil project with new conservation measures in Alaska, but have failed to convince activists the idea is an acceptable compromise, according to three people involved in or briefed on the calls. The compromise measures under discussion would include a new ban on drilling in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s North Slope and more habitat protections for other parts of the state…
Administration officials are seriously considering shrinking the Arctic project to just two approved drilling pads, a size so small that officials for ConocoPhillips — the company that has spent nearly five years pursuing federal approval — have suggested it would cause them to back out.

Within the White House, Puko indicates, climate hawk John Podesta is contesting with neoliberal drill-baby-drill advocates Steve Ricchetti and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed. On the Hill, climate hawks such as Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are challenged by the Alaska delegation, which newly includes Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, who are backing the oil project as the permafrost disappears.

‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen.

The 2023 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook released yesterday finds that “2022 was another record-breaking year for the growth of renewable energy, electric vehicles and other key decarbonization technologies” in the United States but it’s “just not happening fast enough to forestall the worst impacts of climate change.” It looks like we’re a slow sort of country!

Emily Atkin and Arielle Samuelson discuss an International Energy Agency report that found global fossil-fuel subsidies doubled in 2022 to over $1 trillion as climate pollution reached new global records:

This isn’t the first time countries have failed to deliver on promises to stop artificially inflating the price of fossil fuels. The G20 pledged to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies at the Pittsburgh Summit in 2009, and never followed through. The G7 also reaffirmed a commitment to do the same at the Ise-Shima Summit in 2016, and did not do it.

We’re going to have to start running faster if we even want to stay in place.

‘Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say, it saves time.’

Equatorial Guinea oil lobbyists are using copyright takedowns to muzzle journalists trying to hold them accountable.

Municipal wastewater treatment plants emit nearly double the amount of methane into the atmosphere than scientists previously believed.

The presidents of U.S. railroad unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration administrator Amit Bose yesterday, telling them that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio.

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The staff at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the nation’s most powerful environmental organizations, are unionizing with support from the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. NRDC president Manish Bapna has responded in a polite but noncommittal letter to all staff:

The Executive Leadership Team is carefully reviewing this letter and will be giving it the close consideration it deserves.  

As an organization rooted in progressive values, we support the role of organized labor in promoting economic justice and protecting workers and their families. We also respect the right of NRDCers to explore union representation.

This is an important institutional conversation, and one that is at the heart of the culture of dignity and belonging that we strive to create at our organization. I look forward to continuing our dialogue. 

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