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Posts Tagged ‘Keystone XL’

Hi all!

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I think everyone was busy last week worrying the NSA is judging them for not calling their grandmother more often.  I know I was.  Which is why it took me a bit to get this post up, and also why so many fascinating things happened in the energy and climate world that I had to talk about them all in one post.

First of all, our least favorite pipeline that doesn’t even exist yet is back in the news.  The Sierra Club has quietly taken the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline over to the judicial branch.  The litigious environmental nonprofit (for those of you who don’t know, Sierra Club has acted as plaintiff for some of the nation’s most pivotal and groundbreaking environmental lawsuits – it’s one of their specialties as an organization) filed suit against the State Department last week regarding the sketchy-as-all-hell (from what I’ve read) environmental impact statement that the agency issued about the pipeline.  The impact statement – which suggests the pipeline will have no negative impacts – was prepared by a third-party contractor that has an active membership in the American Petroleum Institute, which Sierra Club and other environmental groups widely regard as evidence of a conflict of interest.  Perhaps more critically, the State Department did not respond to requests to produce documentation proving that the department screened for such a conflict of interest.  The lawsuit is seeking access to those documents and extension of the public comment period for the agency to finalize the determination so that the documents can be considered.  In the continued debate, Al Gore weighted in on the pipeline in a recent interview, stating that the project was ‘an atrocity.’  

Meanwhile, climate change is happening, you guys.  A five year study by FEMA that was just released has predicted a 45% increase in flooding in the United States during the coming decades – as a result of climate change.  (Except in North Carolina, of course, where flooding and climate change is illegal.  I suppose all the hurricanes will have to stick to Florida and South Carolina this year?) FEMA, which manages disaster relief, is expecting to have to insure 80% more properties, with a 90% increase in the average cost of a claim when filed.  But, this is all totally worth it, because it was definitely too expensive for us to regulate carbon through a cap-and-trade or tax system, and it was also definitely too expensive to make some of those fossil fuel companies maybe pay a little instead of collecting government subsidies.  What? Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

Fine. I’ll end on a good note.  Behold, Robert Redford for NRDC:

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Still better looking than you.

Redford, an environmental activist and partner to National Resources Defense Council, has put together a series of short ads calling for action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.  You should watch them.  Because it’s Robert Redford.  And, he’s got something really important to say.  And then you should send them to everyone you know.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll be less cranky.

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We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:

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I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

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I appreciate the recent blog post by the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. First, because it is outgoing Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recap on her top priority while she was at EPA and second, because it pays homage to a great community leader.  Though I may not be the protesting type, I strongly support those who organize and stand up for fair treatment, which all U.S. citizens deserve.  When it comes to environmental protection I support those who stand up for fair treatment even more.

In her final video message, Lisa Jackson spoke about the work of Hazel Johnson.  A founder of a Chicago nonprofit called “People for Community Recovery”, Hazel Johnson was often called the “Mother of Environmental Justice.”  If you’re new to the term of environmental justice (you haven’t been reading my old posts) it typically refers to the fair and equal treatment of all races so that people do not bare disproportionate environmental impacts such as air, water, and soil pollution.

During Lisa Jackson’s term as Administrator I too have seen a renewed focus on environmental justice.  The EPA Office of Environmental Justice released Plan EJ 2014, and 17 federal agencies have continually met to form the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.  I presume Hazel would have been very supportive of Lisa Jackson’s work on EJ, but still concerned that these issues are ongoing.  Hazel coined the term “toxic donut” a term referring to encircling industries that were polluting in her Chicago neighborhood.  Lisa Jackson saw (as did I during my undergraduate degree) a similar pattern in Cancer Alley, a stretch of industries from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; many of these types of patterns are all across the U.S. from Texas to California to New Jersey.

Hazel’s top priority was for communities to be brought to the decision table when siting industrial facilities.  To me that seems like common sense. Sometimes that’s not the case and many community residents are ignored. But progress has been made and toxic sites have been cleaned up, so that should be applauded.  However the work is never done.  Not until Americans take a strong unified stance on how they use and obtain energy.  Open conversations about consumption and energy sources are the only ways to prevent things that Hazel and Lisa have so commonly seen.  You can see the EPA Blog post and video here.

A few weeks ago, the largest environmental march to date was organized in Washington D.C.; it was a march from the Washington Monument to the White House to tell President Obama to deny the Keystone Pipeline and reduce our use of fossil fuels.  It was organized by the Sierra Club and many local environmental groups across the nation.  I wanted to see it for my own eyes so I braved the cold and watched for 30 minutes.  The march was organized and civil, and many had signs to reject the Pipeline.  After the State Department’s release of a draft environmental impact statement, I don’t think pro-enviros are too happy.  I took a couple photos just so you could feel like you were there:

"Obama how dare you frack your momma" - said the crowd

“Obama how dare you frack your momma” – said the crowd

En route to the Washington Monument

En route to the Washington Monument

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

I presume warmth was the motivation for the get up.

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Spinach fans  – Happy New Year!  We hope you enjoyed the holidays (please, no more Christmas cookies).  The Team is back and we’re ready to enlighten you in the next week with issues we think are a priority for 2013 and with a wrap up of 2012’s successes/issues of concern.

With that idea in mind, let me get things started.  If you have not heard, the current Administrator (head honcho, el presidente for my fellow spanish spinach writers, commander in chief) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa P. Jackson (LPJ), has announced that she is going to resign from her post for President Barack Obama’s second term. It has left a few people saying

Momma No!!

While others, maybe some with the business and industry sectors, are doing

The Carlton dance. I bet they’re wearing pleated chinos too.

Regardless of the reactions to her departure, there is no doubt that LPJ came to EPA with an agenda.  LPJ grew up in New Orleans and went to Tulane University (shout out to Nola and TU!) and then worked for the State of New Jersey’s Department of the Environment after completing her graduate degree at Princeton (hi Pam).  I presume having connections to both of those states were eye openers to how industry-environment relations function (in those states probably favoring industry).  What LPJ sought to do however, and I as the Greenlight could not agree more, was to show how protecting the environment relates back to our health.  Under LPJ’s direction, when new EPA rules were proposed so were the number of asthmas and premature deaths prevented, human lives saved, and the number of tons of carbon removed from the atmosphere (I bet even more figures were included!).

But most importantly, LPJ sought to eliminate toxic exposures felt by vulnerable communities – this term is called environmental justice (ej, or as the movement recently says environmental injustice).  Traditionally these are minority, low-income communities that disproportionately bare the impact of toxic air and water from nearby facilities; they typically have little political clout to voice their concerns and as a result face serious health impacts, such as cancers.  LPJ reinvigorated the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (started under Bill Clinton, then stopped by George W. Bush) which convened 17 federal agencies to include EJ into their agency missions and programs. The EPA Care program, and other new federal agency program offices have issued new grants and trainings on technical assistance and research tools to aid communities obtain the basic rights to clean air and water they deserve.  Just like many other community leaders have done for decades.

In LPJ’s term at EPA, the agency issued environmental penalties to not only be monetary, but restorative (e.g., tree planting, technology retrofits), and to me passed three big things that could be tied to her agency legacy (I’m always the legacy tribute writer here).  Though there are other successes, the mercury and toxics standard for power plants, the new auto fuel standards for 2025, and the soot rule for boilers and cement kilns were, to me, LPJ’s and EPA’s three biggest rules.  The Natural Resources Defense Council did a nice write up on LPJ’s legacy too.

So, what about 2013 and 2014, and the next EPA Administrator?  My personal thought is that the next Administrator could be Bob Perciasepe (LPJ’s current Deputy Administrator) or Gina McCarthy at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation.  Since the person must be approved by Congress, these are no easy shoes to fill, Bob and Gina could be the least controversial.

For 2013 – Matt Damon already took a swing at the fracking debate (the natural gas industry so hates him right now(my film review to come next week)).  EPA announced that it will publish findings of its fracking study in 2014; however, I suspect information will be leaked on fracking before the final 2014 findings are released.  You can track the EPA Fracking Study here. The Keystone Pipeline is another pending issue that could get approved or denied this year.  President Obama said he would address the Keystone Pipeline after the November 2012 election.  Those are my top issues that will be addressed, while I think there are many others, to me, these are the most realistic that will be addressed this year.  We’ll let you know what happens!

Enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

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Spinach lovers.  It’s been a while since I’ve provided you with some munchies.  I’ve been lacking in a green diet myself lately, after having slipped into somewhat of a coma.  But I’ve emerged!  And boy, was there lots to catch up on.

It’s been a little like this.

I was quite tempted, for selfish purposes, to dedicate today’s post to catching you up on Congressional activity of interest–because there will be lots of interesting goodness this week.  We’ve got the transportation reauthorization conference kicking off on Tuesday.  Let me just say very quickly that while there is plenty to be concerned about there (coal ash regulation and NEPA “streamlining”), everyone’s favorite pipeline will also be back.  I’ve come to realize that Republicans believe that everyday is Halloween and therefore we should be constantly trying to resurrecting the dead. Good thing they brought me back instead.

ROAR! Or whatever zombies say.

The appropriations process is well under way, too.  For those who don’t remember, last year’s Interior-Environment bill was chocked full of nuts, particularly trying to strangle-hold the EPA.  House Interior-Enviro Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) doesn’t think this year will be any prettier.

I wish I was referring to these nuts.

Then of course, we’ll begin preparing for what is now being dubbed Taxmageddon.  Expiration of the Bush tax cuts, payroll tax reduction, sustainable growth repayment formula for physicians, and, for our purposes, many energy tax provisions = Taxmageddon.  (See my previous post “Year of the Tax” for more info.)

So I was in the middle of muddling through these waters when I stumbled across this.  Have your vomit bag near or finish eating, take a walk, and then read this.

You all may remember sometime back hearing about the infamous Heartland Institute (see El C’s post) and their funding of projects to debunk climate change.  Well, if that wasn’t bad enough, Heartland has apparently said, “To hell with our tarnished image,” and decided to be up front about their views.  With that, I leave you with this image.

For those with strong stomachs who want to know more, see this from Think Progress.

Welcome back to the battle lines friends.

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As we approach the two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill and as the war on the Keystone XL pipeline wages on, we are reminded of the actual and potential damage of chemical spills.

Not something we'd really like to witness.

The question is: How frequent are chemical spills?  These two scenarios, Deepwater and Keystone XL, represent two extremes—the worst-case scenario and a hypothetical.  To provide some middle ground perspective, I’d like to share with you data from a study conducted in Southern Ontario.

Yes.  I am aware Ontario is in Canada (though I have never visited our neighbor to the north).  So yes, it’s not perfectly applicable to the U.S.; however, it is still a notable longitudinal study that paints a realistic (and by that I mean not driven by the media) picture about chemical spills, particularly in energy-intensive regions.  Really, it’s not like Canada is the Galapagos Islands.

Of course, I wouldn't mind being in the Galapagos...

Researchers in Ontario collected data on spills covering the period 1988 to 2007.  What they found might shock you a bit.  Over this time period:

  • A total of 14,174 chemical spills occurred.  This averages out to 709 spills a year or 2 spills each day.
  • Spills most frequently resulted from: (1) Pipe/hose leaks; (2) Fuel tank/barrel leaks; (3) Process set up; and (4) Discharge/bypass to water course.
  • The sector most responsible for spills was the industrial sector (44.9%).  Within the industrial sector, the biggest contributors were (in order): metallurgy, chemical, and general manufacturing.
  • These spills have a wide range of environmental impacts, including surface water contamination, soil contamination, air pollution, and multi-media contamination.

These stats paint a good picture about the nature of spills, especially those that aren’t making headlines in the news (like Deepwater).  What is most frightening is to learn that of these spills, only 10 percent were cleaned up entirely.  Perhaps this is because most large cities in Canada do not have a spill management plan.  So whether it’s no plan or an outdated plan, seems like there needs to be some plan action going on in the world of chemicals spills—unless of course we want to enjoy ourselves a good dose of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.

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This post welcomes you back state side, with a nice hard landing.  Hope you enjoyed your trip to paradise—given that it may be quite different the next time you decide to go—because it’s back to a U.S.-centric mindset as we return our eyes to the U.S. Senate.  The Senate has been quite the hotbed of activity this week and last (shocking, I know)—and it will continue to be next week.

We're watching you.

Unfortunately, the activity is not taking place with regard to my last post, Senator Bingaman’s long-awaited 246th attempt (at least, right?) at an energy standard.  The action is taking place on another field—a field seemingly unrelated, or perhaps more tangentially related, to our beloved environment.

The Senate is debating a two-year reauthorization of the surface transportation act, which, among other things, provides a means of funding for the Highway Trust Fund, the means by which we support (or don’t) our roads and infrastructure.  Just to make sure we’re on the same page, the House is—very unsuccessfully—trying to consider a five-year extension. What has this fund done for you lately?  Not much.  For one, anyone who drives can tell our roads are certainly in need of a massive facelift (start taking public transportation, fool).  But, debate over this fund surprisingly has a lot to do with our beloved environment.

In bringing this bill forward for consideration on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is also conceding to consider 30 amendments.  These amendments are jam-packed with issues that tug at our heartstrings.  They include:

Expediting—by bypassing the president—approval of the Keystone XL pipeline—offered by Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

Not allowing the oil carried by the pipeline to be exported—offered by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).  This amendment would have also provided for an expeditious review of the pipeline and the assurance that it be constructed with parts made in the U.S.A.

Extension of the expired 106 Treasury Grant Program and other energy tax extenders—offered by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to revive the expired (as of last year) grant program that facilitated the development of numerous renewable (particularly solar) enterprises.

Simultaneously, a repeal of all energy tax provisions–offered by Senator Jim “Tea Party King” DeMint (R-SC).

Postponing implementation of the EPA’s Boiler MACT regulation—offered by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), this amendment would have given the EPA a 15-month extension to propose new “achievable” standards that were the “least burdensome.”

Expanding offshore drilling—offered by Senator David Vitter (R-LA).  State affiliation plus hound dog status equals need I say more?

The legislation itself also includes a lovely subsidy (read: big, fat handout) to the tune of $109 million for natural gas development and the development of natural gas vehicles.  Call it the T. Boone Pickens life support plan.  All else fails, T. Boone, the U.S. Gov got yo’ back.

Tycoon T. Boone

Fortunately, some of these amendments have already been defeated.  The Collins amendment to postponed boiler MACT went down 52-46 (the amendment required 60 votes to pass); same for the Vitter amendment.  Most notably, the persistent problem child, Keystone XL, rose from the dead only to be struck back down.  The Keystone amendment needed 60 votes to pass; it only garnered 56.  Note that 11 Democrats joined 46 Republicans in voting for the measure. Senator Wyden’s Keystone amendment also did not pass.  For a full vote list from last week, see the roll call vote list.

While greens have been scoring big, we’ve got more challengers next week.  Both Senator Stabenow and Senator DeMint’s amendments will be up for consideration next week. I’d like to say getting rid the Nat Gas provisions will be like a 5-12 upset, in that it actually has a good shot of happening, but I don’t think we’ll be that lucky amigos.  Oh, and then there’s this—Republicans are promising that the persistent problem child will once again rise from the grave when the transportation bill, inevitably, goes to conference.  Liken it to Duke telling UNC, “Y’all might have beat us on senior night, but you just wait for the moves we’ve got stored for the big dance… bitches.”

Suffice it to say Spinach lovers: your work week may be over, but this battle wages on.  Next week, we will pick up with the to-be-continued episode of transportation-environment tango.

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