Energy & Environment

Carbon Pollution a By-Product of Keystone XL Pipeline Project

A new report from the National Resources Defense Council indicates that an increase in tar sands-derived gasoline could undermine efforts to reduce carbon pollution.

EcoNews: “The NRDC report … found that under current plans, tar sands-derived gasoline supplies in 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (plus the District of Columbia) will soar from less than one percent in 2012 to 11.5 percent of the total by 2020, due to increased imports from Canadian refineries, fresh supplies of refined tar sands products from the Gulf Coast and production from East Coast refineries that would obtain tar sands crude via rail and barge.”

“If the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. is approved by President Obama, the region’s share of gas from tar-sands crude could rise even further, according to the report.”

Corporations Begin to Fight Climate Change

The New York Times reports that industry giants, such as Coca-Cola, are beginning to recognize the “economically disruptive force” of climate change.

“Coke reflects a growing view among American business leaders and mainstream economists who see global warming as a force that contributes to lower gross domestic products, higher food and commodity costs, broken supply chains and increased financial risk.”

“Their position is at striking odds with the longstanding argument, advanced by the coal industry and others, that policies to curb carbon emissions are more economically harmful than the impact of climate change.”

The threat of climate change will be a key discussion topic among corporate heads and politicians at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.

Even the wealthy and powerful are tackling climate change issues: “The California hedge-fund billionaire Thomas F. Steyer … is working with Michael R. Bloomberg … and Henry M. Paulson Jr. to commission an economic study on the financial risks associated with climate change. The study, titled “Risky Business,” aims to assess the potential impacts of climate change by region and by sector across the American economy.”

Latest Setback for Shell Oil in Offshore Drilling Plans

ClimateProgress: “Shell’s ambitions to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska received another blow Wednesday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Interior Department had failed to adequately assess the scale of oil production that could result from the 2008 sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea.”

“The appeals court called the estimate ‘arbitrary and capricious,’ and said that under the National Environmental Policy Act, the government must ‘base its analysis on the full range of likely production if oil production were to occur. It did not do so here.’  The case was sent back to U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline in Alaska for additional review.”

Keystone XL’s Southern Leg is Operational: What’s Next?

The Obama administration has yet to announce its decision on the controversial northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which requires cross-border approval to transport tar sands from Canada to the U.S.

But now that the southern leg is operational, activists are concerned it’s only a matter of time before the final leg gets the green light.

Tara Lohan points to a conflict of interest in the approval process: “The draft environmental impact statement that the State Department reviewed was not done by the agency itself but by a contractor, Environmental Resources Management, and paid for by TransCanada itself.”

“Contractors who worked on the statement also worked on previous TransCanada pipelines as well as for companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Koch Gateway Pipeline Company — all of whom could benefit from the project. It was later found that the State Department intentionally kept the public in the dark about the connections.”

Southern Leg of Keystone Pipeline is Operational

The Washington Post reports that “TransCanada will start shipping crude oil through the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline Wednesday, easing the bottleneck at the sprawling storage-tank farms in Cushing, Okla., and feeding refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.”

TransCanada is still waiting for final approval from the State Department on the northern portion of the the pipeline.

“The outlook for a State Department decision remains murky. Last week, before a meeting with Canada’s foreign minister, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the department still had to complete its final environmental-impact statement.”

This is the second EIS after “controversy discredited an earlier version and after TransCanada submitted a revised pipeline route to avoid more of the ecologically sensitive parts of Nebraska and more, but not all, of the enormous Ogallala Aquifer.”

Meanwhile, oil transport by rail has soared but has been mired by a number of dramatic accidents.

“The Association of American Railroads reported that in 2013 the number of carloads of petroleum and petroleum products jumped 31 percent over the previous year.”

Report: Obama Doesn’t Need Congress to Enforce Climate Agenda

A new report spearheaded by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter concludes that much of President Obama’s climate agenda can be accomplished using his executive authority.

The Hill: “Ritter met with the administration last week to discuss the 207-page report, which includes roughly 200 recommendations on how Obama can utilize his executive authority to push clean energy standards that are in line with the his climate plan.”

“The five core areas the report focuses on are energy productivity, financing renewable energy, responsible natural gas production, developing alternative fuels and vehicles, and helping electric and gas utilities to adapt.”

Obama’s former climate czar Heather Zichal agreed that despite attempts by the administration to work with Congress on formulating climate regulation, legislative action was sluggish and “we started to focus on what we can do legally” under the president’s existing powers.

Report Fuels Crude Oil Export-Ban Debate

The International Energy Agency’s latest monthly report states that the ban on U.S. crude oil exports could eventually choke domestic production, despite the current production boom.

IEA: “The growing volumes of light tight oil that cannot leave North America are increasingly posing a challenge to industry, putting the spotlight on the U.S. crude oil export ban.”

Washington Examiner: “The report comes as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee plans to tackle the export issue at a Jan. 30 hearing, the first salvo in a hot topic that’s grabbed the attention of both chambers.”

Environmental Groups Push EPA on Smog

In an attempt to reverse President Obama’s 2011 decision that “scuttled” EPA plans to strengthen ozone standards, environmental and public health groups went to federal court Tuesday to demand the agency move forward on issuing tougher standards for smog-forming pollution.

National Journal: “The American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups in a court filing Tuesday, ask a federal judge to require EPA to propose new ozone standards by Dec. 1, 2014, and finish them 10 months later.”

“EPA, under the Clean Air Act, must review ozone standards every five years.”

“The green groups’ filing Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California says completion of that review is overdue.”

Report Bolsters Global-Warming Trend

A report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that 2013 tied with 2003 as the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880.

NOAA: “This marks the 37th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average.”

National Journal: “NASA, echoing a 2013 report by the World Meteorological Organization, noted the decade-over-decade averages continue to show warming.”

NASA: “Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous.”

China’s Pollution is Exported to the U.S.

The New York Times reports on a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences showing that “filthy emissions from China’s export industries are carried across the Pacific Ocean and contribute to air pollution in the Western United States.”

“The scientists wrote that ‘outsourcing production to China does not always relieve consumers in the United States — or for that matter many countries in the Northern Hemisphere — from the environmental impacts of air pollution.’”

“Powerful global winds called westerlies can carry pollutants from China across the Pacific within days, leading to ‘dangerous spikes in contaminants,’ especially during the spring.”

“Los Angeles experiences at least one extra day a year of smog that exceeds federal ozone limits because of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted by Chinese factories making goods for export.”

Law professor Alex Wang: “This is a reminder to us that a significant percentage of China’s emissions of traditional pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are connected to the products we buy and use every day in the U.S.”

Chart of the Day

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EcoWatch: “A new study aims to offer unique insights into countries’ historical responsibility for global warming, by translating their carbon emissions into a proportion of observed temperature rise… Unsurprisingly the research showed how a small number of countries account for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the UK have been responsible for 63 percent of emissions.”

The Greenest Super Bowl Ever

“Regardless who winds up in it, this year’s Super Bowl is sure to be the greenest one yet,” EcoWatch reports.

“All the waste oil generated from food production on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ will be converted into biodiesel fuel and all food scraps will be composted… The NFL and staff at the 80,000-plus-seat stadium pledge to recycle plastic, glass, aluminum and paper during and after the nation’s biggest sporting event. Styrofoam containers won’t be used, and all food will be made with Energy Star equipment.”

Global Warming Will Produce More Extreme El Niño Events

“A new study predicts that global warming will increase the frequency of ‘extreme’ instances of El Niño, the Pacific Ocean warming pattern that disrupts global weather,” National Journal reports.

From a summary published in the journal Nature Climate Change: “Potential future changes in such extreme El Niño occurrences could have profound socio-economic consequences.”

“It predicts that occurrences of unusually strong El Niño events will double in frequency, from once every 20 years to once every 10 years. The major El Niño in 1997-1998 caused an estimated $35 billion in damages, the researchers said.”

Growing Rift Between Obama and Environmental Groups Over Climate Change

In a letter to President Obama, 18 environmental organizations criticize the administration’s energy policy, “arguing that the White House needs to apply a strict climate test to all of its energy decisions [and must] confront the fossil-fuel industry or risk losing support from a critical part of its political base during an already difficult election year.”

Washington Post: “The criticism came on the same day that the fossil-fuel industry and its congressional allies began separate efforts to challenge the administration’s environmental policies.”

“The new pressure from both sides … could have an impact on critical permitting decisions on issues ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to natural gas exports and federal coal leases.”

“The groups suggested that Obama should apply a strict climate test ‘to all decisions regarding new fossil fuel development,’  including hydraulic fracturing and coal mining on public lands, as well as drilling in the Arctic Ocean.”