Energy & Environment

Fossil Fuel Industry’s Scheme to Mislead the Public

Washington Post: “Fossil fuel companies and their allies are funding a massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.”

“Their activities are often compared to those of Big Tobacco denying the health dangers of smoking. Big Tobacco’s denial scheme was ultimately found by a federal judge to have amounted to a racketeering enterprise.”

“In the case of fossil fuels, just as with tobacco, the industry joined together in a common enterprise and coordinated strategy. In 1998, the Clinton administration was building support for international climate action under the Kyoto Protocol. The fossil fuel industry, its trade associations and the conservative policy institutes that often do the industry’s dirty work met at the Washington office of the American Petroleum Institute. A memo from that meeting that was leaked to the New York Times documented their plans for a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign to undermine climate science and to raise ‘questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change.’”

“A 2013 paper published in the journal Climatic Change, … [describes] a complex network of organizations and funding that appears designed to obscure the fossil fuel industry’s fingerprints … It was ‘a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate.’”

Wind Power Could Become Nation’s Largest Energy Source

Eco Watch: “Wind power could become even more prevalent in the U.S. than previously expected, according to a new report released last week from the Department of Energy (DOE), Enabling Wind Power Nationwide. The new report, which was announced at the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER Conference in Orlando, Florida, finds that there is wind power potential in nearly the entire U.S., even in places that were previously thought to have insufficient wind to generate electricity.”

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“According to the report, the U.S. has the ability to ‘unlock the vast potential for wind energy deployment in all 50 states’ because of next-generation wind turbines. These taller turbines with longer blades, which are currently under development by the DOE and its private industry partners will be able to capture the wind more effectively at higher altitudes where the wind is usually stronger and more constant, says the report.”

Coal Power Faces a Steady Decline

Inside Climate News: “Coal’s future as a major energy source is being attacked by a variety of pathogens: government regulations, market forces and moral arguments. As a result, government charts plotting coal’s life expectancy look like the flat vital signs of a very sick patient.”

“The Energy Department’s statistical arm, the Energy Information Administration, forecasts in its its latest annual energy outlook that U.S. coal production ‘remains below its 2008 level through 2040.’ And that is without weaving in the impact of the Clean Power Plan, because it hasn’t yet taken effect.”

“For the next 15 years or so production might creep up, it said, but only by a fraction of a percent each year. Considering that production has dropped 16 percent between 2008 and 2013, that’s hardly a robust recovery.”

“And then the tepid growth evaporates away. From 2030 on, the report said, demand for coal from its main users, electric power companies, would be essentially flat.”

“Coal’s dwindling prospects reflect several main factors: the increasing weight of other environmental regulations, including new standards limiting mercury emissions and other toxic pollutants; the availability of cheap, relatively clean natural gas; steadily increasing energy efficiency, and the surging installations of renewable energy plants, especially wind and solar.”

Climate Scientists Are Also Susceptible to Denialist Campaigns

The Hill: “President Obama in a speech on Wednesday cast climate change as a growing national security threat, accusing Republican skeptics of harming military readiness by denying its effects.”

A recent study shows that climate denial campaigns also take a toll on climate scientists and their findings.

Inside Climate News: “Scientists spend time and resources addressing denialists’ debunked claims in a way the scientific community has never done, said Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in England and lead author of the new study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Researchers also often downplay future climate risks to avoid being labeled an ‘alarmist’ by climate contrarians.”

“The study reviewed dozens of psychological and social science papers to understand why scientists are susceptible to denialist campaigns and provided a real-world example of this impact from the climate science literature. The authors concluded that scientists are as vulnerable as anyone to persuasive messaging and fear being stereotyped (in this case, as a global warming alarmist), and that when enough people criticize or question their work they, too, may begin questioning their findings.”


Avoiding the Truth on Climate Change

David Roberts in Vox: “The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.”

“Here is a plotting of dozens of climate modeling scenarios out to 2100, from the IPCC:”

“We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius. That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, ‘extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,’ the effects of which will be ’tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions,’ stalling or reversing decades of development work. ‘A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,’ said the World Bank president.”

“That’s where we’re headed [but] nobody wants to say that. Why not? It might seem obvious — no one wants to hear it!”

“The sad fact is that no one has much incentive to break the bad news … Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat — there is a powerful craving for the message that things are, basically, okay, that the system is working like it’s supposed to, that the current state of affairs is the best available, or close enough.”

The Decline of Coal?

US Energy Information Administration: “EIA’s most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasts that the amount of electricity generation fueled by natural gas in April and May will total just 3.5% less than the projected amount of coal-fired generation. This convergence has occurred only once before, in April 2012, when natural gas fueled just 1.5% less generation than coal. Power generation from the two fuels is expected to rise at similar rates over the next couple months, and then diverge again later in the summer as demand rises and coal unit capacity utilization continues to rise.”

graph of U.S. net electricity generation by energy source, as explained in the article text

“Natural gas-fired generation has been rising over the past few months, as the cost of natural gas has fallen to levels not seen since 2012. These low fuel costs have made natural gas combined-cycle generating units in some areas of the country cheaper to operate than coal-fired plants. The increase in natural gas-fired generation has largely come at the expense of coal generation. Generation from both fuels generally falls during the spring months as power plant operators take units offline for maintenance when electricity demand is relatively low.”

“The convergence is not expected to last, as EIA forecasts slowly rising natural gas prices through the rest of the year.”

FBI Spied on Keystone Protesters

The Guardian: “The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.”

“Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.”

“’Many of these extremists believe the debates over pollution, protection of wildlife, safety, and property rights have been overshadowed by the promise of jobs and cheaper oil prices,’ the FBI document states. ‘The Keystone pipeline, as part of the oil and natural gas industry, is vital to the security and economy of the United States.’”

A Gas Tax Hike Is Not Political Death

The Hill: “Almost all state lawmakers who have voted to raise gas taxes in states that increased their own fuel levies in recent years have been re-elected, according to an analysis that was released Tuesday by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).”

“Ninety-five percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats who voted to raise gas taxes in their states in 2013 and 2014 were re-elected in last fall’s election, according to the analysis.”

“The road builders group said the results show lawmakers in Congress could vote to raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax without facing any political repercussions.”

“The states were part of a series that have moved to increase their local gas tax in recent years as federal transportation funding has dried up.”

The Debate About the Keystone Pipeline? It’s Not About Climate Change

Washington Post: “Why do people support or oppose the pipeline? Among Americans who are familiar with the pipeline and oppose it, the most common reason wasn’t climate change. In fact, climate change ranked sixth. Just 6 percent of opponents listed climate change as their main concern with the pipeline. Even among Democrats, for whom climate change is usually a higher priority, that figure rises to just 7 percent.”

“In contrast, some 34 percent cited environmental degradation as their main concern, followed by water contamination (16 percent), hazardous chemicals (10 percent), “benefits Canadian consumers at the expense of US consumers” (10 percent) and “propagates dependence on fossil fuels” (7 percent).”

“Why do opponents in the general public diverge with environmental activists? It’s not immediately clear from these findings. But in general, opinion polls have found that climate change isn’t all that high on Americans’ priority lists. Other environment and energy issues, such as local pollution and energy prices, tend to get higher priority among Americans.”

“Maybe that’s because those issues tend to have consequences that are more immediate, direct and tangible … Meanwhile, many people may view climate change as more distant and feel that most benefits of tackling it wouldn’t arrive for many years.”

White House Gives Green Light to Arctic Drilling

The Hill: “The Obama administration gave its stamp of approval Monday to Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill for oil and natural gas as soon as this summer in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.”

“The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved the drilling plan, drawing intense criticism from environmental groups that say the risk of a spill or other disaster is too high.”

“The decision is a major win for the oil and natural gas industry, and it comes as the Obama administration works to demonstrate a balanced approach to energy production that takes into account both environmental and economic factors.”

“Other drillers are keeping a close eye on Shell’s lease as they weigh whether they should propose to drill in the United States’ portion of the Arctic, which has not seen drilling in decades. “

Global Carbon Dioxide Hits a Significant Milestone

The Guardian: “Record carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere were reported worldwide in March, in what scientists said marked a significant milestone for global warming.”

“Figures released by the US science agency Noaa on Wednesday show that for the first time since records began, the parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere were over 400 globally for a month … The current concentrations are unprecedented in millions of years.”

“’This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120ppm since pre-industrial times,’ [said Pieter Tans, lead scientist on NOAA’s greenhouse gas network]. ‘Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.’”

“Noaa used air samples taken from 40 sites worldwide, and analysed them at its centre in Boulder, Colorado. The agency added that the average growth rate in concentrations was 2.25ppm per year from 2012-2014, the highest ever recorded for three consecutive years.”

EPA Clean Power Plan Could Save Thousands of Lives

New York Times: “New carbon emissions standards that were proposed last year for coal-fired power plants in the United States would substantially improve human health and prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths per year, according to a new … study, led by researchers at Syracuse and Harvard Universities.”

“The researchers calculated three different outcomes using data from the Census Bureau and detailed maps of the more than 2,400 fossil-fuel power plants across the country.”

“The model with the biggest health benefit was the one that most closely resembled the changes that the Environmental Protection Agency proposed in a rule in June.”

“Researchers calculated that the changes in the E.P.A. rule could prevent 3,500 premature deaths a year and more than 1,000 heart attacks and hospitalizations from air-pollution-related illness.”

“The largest declines in pollution — and consequent benefits to health — would happen in states in the Ohio River Valley, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have some of the highest levels of emissions, researchers said.”

The Shale Boom Has Peaked

Bloomberg: “The meteoric rise in U.S. oil production has ended, easing a global glut and driving a rebound in crude prices from below $50 a barrel, according to crude trader and hedge fund manager Andrew J. Hall.”

“Oil production from Texas to North Dakota peaked at almost 10 million barrels a day in February and has been falling since then, Hall wrote. A drastic reduction in drilling rigs is starting to shrink U.S. oil output, according to government data cited by Hall.”

“That’s helped drive a 36 percent rally in the past six weeks, and prices will continue to rise because it will be harder for producers to ramp up than it was to cut back, Hall said in his letter. Lower crude prices have also boosted demand, while the risk of supply disruptions across the Middle East is growing amid sectarian tensions.”


Crude Production in the U.S. is Already Falling