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Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

2014-03-17 EUC and RMC Hearing on Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection PlanAustin Energy customers turned out in force to support renewable energy last night.  Over 100 people packed the Shudde Fath Conference room at Austin Energy headquarters for a joint hearing in front of the Electric Utility and Resource Management commissions.  Not prepared for the enthusiastic turnout, Austin Energy staff provided additional chairs, but many attendees were left with standing room only.

Over 50 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which extended well past the scheduled ending time of 8:00 pm to about 9:30 pm, forcing some to leave before they had a chance to voice their concerns.

Citizens expressed passionate concern about climate change, water availability, water contamination, air quality, health, job creation and equity.  The common theme was overwhelming support for a rapid transition away from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy resources, including wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage.

Climate change was brought front and center as an issue that cannot be ignored and which demands immediate action.  The commissions heard from numerous citizens that Austin will be judged by future generations based on what we do to mitigate our impact on the climate.

One point of contention between Austin Energy and advocates has been whether or not goals, including the carbon reduction and renewable energy goals, will be expanded as part of this update of the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Austin Energy’s current goals were set as a starting point, but they aren’t nearly strong enough to protect our climate.  Last night, with climate change already impacting our communities, Austin Energy ratepayers spoke clearly in favor of substantially expanding those goals.

With the ongoing drought still weighing on many minds, the connection between water and energy was repeatedly brought up throughout the evening.  Citizens talked about water used in generating electricity at the Fayette coal plan and the billions of gallons used in Texas fracking jobs each year.

Austin Energy’s recent announcement of the 100-150 megawatt solar deal up for City Council approval this week added to the enthusiasm about renewable energy.  That project will provide Austin Energy with energy at around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and is projected to slightly reduce customer bills.  Many ratepayers made the point that since wind and solar are already affordable, Austin Energy should support calls for increasing its renewable energy goals and should continue purchasing more wind and solar.

Click here if you want to watch the archived video recording of the meeting.

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2014-03-10 Climate change means less guacamole - WikimediaWhen we think of the effects of climate change, we typically think of rising sea level, heat waves, drought and volatile weather. What we don’t often think about is guacamole. Or to be more specific, foods that are in danger because of climate change.

In its 2014 annual report, the popular Mexican food chain Chipotle warned investors that, “Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients”. The report went on to add “in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients”.

While Chipotle would be largely affected by a drop in avocado production, which is expected to drop by 40% over the next three decades, other crops are in danger too, such as almonds, walnuts, oranges and grapes. A common thread between all of these crops is that they are grown in California, which has been through a particularly brutal drought this year. While California has always been susceptible to droughts, climate change is making them worse and more frequent and can be expected to do so to an even greater extent in the future.

In November of this past year, news outlets reported on a leaked draft of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report noted that food production could drop as much as 2% per decade in the coming century compared to production estimates before climate change. All the while, the population on the planet is expected to reach between 8 and 11 billion people by 2100.

The bottom line is that climate change has effects beyond the most salient weather changes – climate change can negatively affect our ability to produce food. This is particularly dangerous as the diets of the world’s citizens become more similar – scientists note that this makes our food supply even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  A decreased ability to produce food can cause increased food prices, limited access to fresh food, global food shortages, and in turn, political turmoil.

Can we really afford to not address climate change?

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Photo by Max Anderson

Photo by Max Anderson

Above All Else had their world premiere to a full audience at South by Southwest in Austin on Monday, March 10, 2014. The film takes an intimate look at a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The film focuses on David Daniel, a former circus performer who settled down with his family in the woods of East Texas. David and his family wanted to settle down for a quiet life in the country when something unexpected happens: TransCanada tells him they want to put a pipeline through his property. David begins to build a tree-sit on his property with the help of organizers from the Tar Sands Blockade. The film takes a personal look at how David begins to rally his neighbors and allies to try and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

After the film John Fiege, director, his crew and several people featured in the film answered questions about the film from a lively audience.  Julia Trigg Crawford, one of the landowners featured in the film, said, “It is an unbelievable travesty what happened with David. They’ve taken away his First Amendment right.”

John Fiege and his crew made an excellent film that tells the personal stories of individuals who risked financial ruin, their personal safety, and the security of their families. Above All Else will give anyone interested in the Keystone XL and tar sands issue a different perspective of the fight on the ground.

Above All Else will have two more showings at SXSW this week. The next showing is today, March 11, at SXSatellite: Alamo Village from 4:30 PM to 6:04 PM. The final showing will be Saturday, March 15, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH from 2:00 PM to 3:34 PM. Check out the Above All Else website and the film’s SXSW page.

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Senator Brian Schatz will lead the Talkathon  Photo by Audrey McAvoy, AP

Senator Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii) will lead the Talkathon
Photo by Audrey McAvoy, AP

Tonight, 28 US Senators will stay up discussing climate change all night to get Congress to ‘wake up’ to the realities of the issue.

The so-called talkathon is scheduled to begin after Senate’s last votes today and continue until 9 AM tomorrow morning. During the night the Senators, comprised of 26 Democrats and 2 Independents, will be tweeting from the talkathon using the hashtag #Up4Climate, hoping to get the attention of Congress and the American people.

The talkathon is organized by the Climate Action Task Force, a group launched in January whose goal is to take an aggressive stance on climate in Congress, and led by Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii).

You can follow the Senate’s Climate Change Talkathon on Twitter with the hashtag #Up4Climate and sign the Climate Action Task Force’s petition here.

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Blog post by Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson

2014-03-07 No KXL Austin March

KXL protesters march to the Austin Club
Photo by Kaiba White

The heat has been turning up on the State Department and President Obama this past week from KXL Dissent. Nearly 400 youth were arrested while protesting against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in front of the White House this past weekend, which was the largest youth act of non-violent civil disobedience at the White House in more than a generation. On Monday, nine people were arrested at the State Department building in San Francisco during a youth led protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. The momentum to stop this climate-killing pipeline has been building all across the country, and yesterday people in Austin made their stand against toxic tar sands.

People gathered at the south gates of the Texas Capitol and marched to Austin Club to have a welcoming demonstration for Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, who was in town to give a speech promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, among other things.  Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Austin Climate Action Network, and Environment Texas organized the event, but opposition to the pipeline extends well beyond environmental groups and includes many conservative landowners.

Banner pointing to the Austin Club Photo by Kaiba White

Banner pointing to the Austin Club
Photo by Kaiba White

Banners hung from the parking garage next door to the Austin Club greeted the protesters.  People carried signs and marched to the sounds of djembe, pots and pans, cornet and chanting.

Attendees for Ambassador Doer’s luncheon had to walk through the crowd of about 30 chanting protesters who formed a picket line in front of the entrance.

2014-03-07 No KXL Austin ProtestYesterday marked the end of the public comment period with the State Department for the Keystone XL pipeline. This was the last chance for citizens to officially weigh in on the issue. President Obama still has 60 more days to hear from the different government departments as to whether they think the pipeline will be in our national interest. President Obama is expected to make a final decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline by the middle of summer.

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hands raisedGood governance advocates got a win at City Hall today when the Austin City Council approved a resolution to create the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force.  The task force will examine energy options and make recommendations regarding the 2014 update to the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which will be approved by City Council later this year.

A similar task force was instrumental in developing the original Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which was approved in 2010 and advocates representing a variety of interests where dismayed to discover that a task force wasn’t part of the panned process this time around.  Luckily though, City Council saw the need for greater public involvement and worked quickly to approve a task force.  The resolution was sponsored by Council Members Tovo, Spelman and Morrison and passed on a 6 to 0 vote (Mayor Leffingwell was absent).

In addition to providing greater transparency and public involvement in the update process, the task force will afford an opportunity to more thoroughly analyze the the energy options available. The full costs and benefits of Austin’s energy choices, including climate change, air quality, water use, water contamination, health impacts, local economic development, and short and long term impact on rates need to be considered.

The task force will also provide a value able opportunity to examine what goals are being set and what programs are being implemented in other cities and states that could be favorably applied to Austin Energy. Carbon reduction and renewable energy goals and community solar and energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for low income customers deserve a closer look. Likewise, the task force will be able to gather more information on energy sources that are viable in Texas, but have been underutilized, such as concentrating solar power (CSP), thermal energy storage, compressed air energy storage, and geothermal energy.

The task force will be appointed by the end of March and will have three months to complete its work.  It’s meetings will be open to the public, so all will be welcome to attend.

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KXL Climate ChangeThe deadline is fast approaching for the public’s last chance to register an official comment against the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department’s public comment period will end on Friday, March 7th. Right now is your last chance to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. Secretary Kerry’s opinion will weigh heavily in President Obama’s decision.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Now President Obama must choose whether he wants to take us down the road of expanding the use of dirty fossil fuels, like tar sands, or fight for a sustainable future. The Keystone XL is central to increasing production of the Alberta tar sands, which will significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive infrastructure would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades to come. Last June, standing in the sweltering heat before an outdoor audience at Georgetown University, President Obama pledged that he would not approve the pipeline if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Now, he should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Keystone XL Youth Protest in Washington D.C. Photo credit: Nicholas Kammafp, Getty Images

March 2nd Keystone XL Youth Protest in Washington D.C
Photo credit: Nicholas Kammafp, Getty Images

From Coast-to-Coast People Are Standing Up Against Tar Sands 

  • Last Sunday, more than 1,200 youths from across the country marched from Georgetown University to the White House to protest the Keystone XL. Nearly 400 youths were arrested for zip-tying themselves to the White House fence and staging a mock oil spill. This protest is the largest youth act of non-violent civil disobedience in front of the White House in more than a generation.
  • On Monday, nine people were arrested at the State Department building in San Francisco during a youth led protest of the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Last month, thousands of people got together and held more than 280 vigils in 49 states across the country to say NO to Keystone XL.

Crash the Keystone XL Party: No KXL in ATX

The momentum to stop this pipeline is building all across the country. On Friday, March 7th, Austin will join Washington D.C. and San Francisco in telling President Obama that we do not want the Keystone XL. Join us at 10:30 a.m. at the South Gates of the Texas Capitol (11th and Congress). Be sure to bring your signs, pots-n-pans, walking shoes and conviction to stop this climate killing pipeline.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7th. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

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Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

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Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

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While we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing the words “natural”, “healthy” and “environmentally-friendly” thrown around in advertisements for a variety of consumer goods, it’s important to remember that household items are not the only things capable of being greenwashed – case in point, natural gas.

The word “natural” has been used to connote things such as ‘green’, ‘healthy’, ‘non-toxic’. Many people’s cursory understanding of natural gas is that if it’s “natural”, it must be good, right? Unfortunately the truth about natural gas is more complicated. While it is true that natural gas emits far less CO2 than coal upon combustion, there are a host of other ‘fine-print’ problems that come along with the switch, most notably, fugitive emissions.

Leaky pipes and valves allow methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere.  Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, escapes from wells and leaky pipes and valves into the atmosphere.
Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT.

Fugitive emissions are the emissions not intended to take place and that usually result from pressurized equipment leaks. While these leaks are relatively tiny, when expanded to a large enough scale the amount of methane being leaked into the atmosphere can have a large impact on climate. While the EPA originally reported that average leakage rate in natural gas production was somewhere around 1.5%, a collaborative study by scientist from several universities and government agencies released this past October revealed that the figure should be much closer to 3%. Even worse, there have been reports of methane leakage upwards of 12% at some production sites.

Many climate change mitigation plans focus on reducing CO2 emissions, but methane and its effects should not be overlooked. The IPCC has reported that over a 100-year period, methane is 35 times more potent of a heat-trapping gas than CO2. When looking at the effects of methane over 20 years, this figure jumps to 87. Suddenly, that comparatively small amount of methane being leaked out of wells, pipes and valves is incredibly important. In other words, 1 ton of methane being released into the atmosphere has the same heat-trapping effect over a 20 year period as releasing 87 tons of CO2.

20 Year Climate Impact of Natural Gas vs CoalWhile the CO2 emissions from burning natural gas are about half what is produced by burning coal plant to produce the same amount of power, after accounting for fugitive emissions and converting leaked methane into CO2 equivalent (using the IPCC 87x factor referenced earlier), natural gas climate change impact is almost as bad as coal.

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Enbridge storage tank - photo from Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

Enbridge storage tank – photo by Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

A second Canadian pipeline company has its permit tied up in the State Department’s approval process. Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper line, but is now facing delays.

Enbridge started up its first phase of the line, which has a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), in 2009, after obtaining a U.S. federal permit from the State Department. Enbridge is now looking to expand its capacity, but the State Department says it needs to do further environmental analysis before granting Enbridge the go ahead to expand its Alberta to Wisconsin pipeline.

Enbridge is not looking to build another pipeline; rather, they are trying to increase capacity by 120,000 bpd for a total of 570,000 bpd. Beyond that, they would like to expand from 570,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd in the near future, which is almost as much tar sands oil as the proposed Keystone XL would carry.

“Obviously, things take longer in this environment that we’re in. I don’t think we want to draw any conclusions about the political environment. It’s not something that we can control. What we control is the fullness of our application,” CEO Al Monaco told reporters and analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results, which included a net loss. “In this case, this is a fairly routine matter. The pipeline’s already in the ground, so we’re hoping that we move this along as quickly as possible.”

Another Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, has been seeking U.S. approval of their Keystone XL pipeline since 2008. The Keystone XL would cut across the heartland of America bring up to 830,000 bpd of Canadian tar sands into the U.S. The Keystone XL has become highly politicized with many environmental groups lobbying and taking direct action against the pipeline.

Although Enbridge has managed to escape the same level of scrutiny as their competitor TransCanada, they have still faced opposition from activists in Canada and Michigan.

Enbridge is also the company behind the largest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge spilled more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit, or tar sands oil) into Talmadge Creek in Marshall, MI, which then flowed 30 miles downstream into the Kalamazoo River in the late summer of 2010. Enbridge has spent nearly a billion dollars trying to clean up the spill over the last three years, but latest reports confirm that there is still oil in the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge also owns several other tar sands pipelines aroung the country, including the Seaway pipeline system in Texas. Enbridge is currently expanding the Seaway pipeline system by the process of twinning. The new twin Seaway line will be a 30-inch diameter pipeline, and havea capacity of 450,000 bpd. Company officials are expecting a service date in 2014.

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KXL Climate ChangeWith the release of the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there has been a lot of buzz about the project. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create carbon pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants. Last Week the State Department began accepting comments from the public, and with only a few weeks (until Mar 07, 2014 11:59 PM ET) left the need for citizens to weigh in has never been more urgent. Now is the time to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that this dirty pipeline is not in our national interest.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Here are some facts to consider including in your comment to Secretary Kerry and the State Department:

  • The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we need to go in the other direction.
  • Beyond the effects on our climate, this dangerous pipeline would also put the water supply of millions of Americans at risk, including the precious Ogallala Aquifer, Platte and Niobrara rivers, and hundreds of individual families’ wells. After a year in which many communities were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic oil on earth to spill into our lands and waterways.
  • The jobs numbers touted by industry are exaggerated. Oil industry lobbyist and pro-pipeline politicians claim that the Keystone XL would create 20,000 to half a million jobs, but these jobs numbers are grossly exaggerated. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will only create about 3,900 jobs over a two year period, and after that the project would only provide jobs for 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.
  • The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. According to presentations to investors, Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks. Therefore, not reducing gas prices for Americans.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

In addition to submitting your comment electronically, comments may also be mailed directly to:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

#NoKXL

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After years in the making, this past Tuesday the Senate voted 68-32 in favor of the new Farm Bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama in the next few days. While the nearly trillion dollar bill has received a lot of media attention on its relation to its cut of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which composes 80% of the bill’s budget, it’s crucial to look at the other 20% of the bill and its environmental implications.

Senate Votes On 2014 Farm Bill

Senate votes on 2014 Farm Bill
Photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images

The bill, for the most part, has drawn a lot of praise in regards to its environmental provisions . So-called ‘highlights’ of the bill include :

• Provisions for farmers to meet certain standards of environmental protection if they wish to be eligible to receive federal crop insurance
• Funding for farmers to create wildlife habitats on their land
• Funding for on-farm renewable energy
• Removal of so-called ‘anti-environmental’ riders

However, it is possible that one of the non-environmental provisions of the bill will have an unintended consequence – stripping soils of their nutrients and increasing runoff . Perhaps the most popular provision of the bill is the fact that it cuts ‘direct payments’ to farmers, or what many people have called “welfare for farmers” . These payments are subsidies for farmers based on how many acres of land they have, regardless of whether or not that land is farmed.

To cease what many see as handouts, the government as slashed this program and expanded its crop insurance program, one where the government pays the difference to farmers when slips in revenue and/or crop yield occur. While this is particularly useful in ensuring that there is ‘stable’ agricultural production, it also continues to incentivize producers (including many mega ‘agribusiness’ conglomerates) to produce as much as possible. Such large scale agricultural production can and has led to increased fertilizer runoff (causing aquatic ‘dead zones’ and contaminated drinking water ), nutrient-depleted soil and increased greenhouse gas emissions , due to insufficient environmental protection requirements.

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Duke Energy said on Monday afternoon that between 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from a pond at its retired coal fired power plant in Eden, NC, and spilled into the Dan River.

2014-02-04 Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.Joseph Rodriquez - News & Record

Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.
Photo by Joseph Rodriquez, News & Record

Duke said a 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined 27-acre ash pond broke Sunday afternoon, and tens of thousands of tons of coal ash and water drained into the pipe before spilling into the Dan River. Duke Energy says that the dam along the river remains secure and has not been affected.

Duke did not issue a press release to inform the public until Monday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the spill occurred.  Duke said it notified local emergency managers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sunday afternoon. Duke says the leak has been temporarily stopped and they are working on a permanent solution. Duke has 14 coal fired power plants in the state, seven of which have been retired.

The closest community downstream from the spill is Danville, VA, which takes its water from the Dan River only six miles from the pond. Officials are saying that water samples confirm that the water leaving the city’s treatment facility meets public health standards.

“All water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards,” said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities. “We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River.”

Coal ash, the toxic waste material left after coal is burned, contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and more than a dozen other heavy metals. Studies from the EPA have found that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer.

This coal ash spill is the third-largest in U.S. history. In 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal plant in Tennessee.

The Dan River coal ash spill is the latest in a string of industrial accidents that have jeopardized the environment and health of citizens downstream.

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Stop Keystone XL ObamaNow is the time to stand up and tell President Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline fails his climate test and he must reject it. People from across the country have mobilized to plan more than 230 vigils in 47 states to protest Keystone XL.  Join us tonight, Feb. 3rd, in Austin.

With the release of the State Department’s final environmental impact statement last Friday, this is a vital moment to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline. A 30-day public comment period begins on February 5, 2014 and will close on March 7, 2014. Let’s do all we can to make our voices heard.

What: Tell President Obama to reject Keystone XL
Where: Pickle Federal Building, 300 East 8th Street, Austin, TX (click here for MAP)
When: Tonight – Monday, February 3rd, 6 PM
RSVP

If we do not stop it, Keystone XL pipeline will cut through the breadbasket of America and transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands diluted bitumen (tar sands) everyday for 50 years or more. In addition to the climate impact it will have, the pipeline will ruin some of the last habitat for endangered species like the whooping crane and swift fox. It will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to farms in eight states, accounting for a quarter of the nation’s cropland, as well as drinking water for millions of people. For the people living along the route of the pipeline it is all risk and no reward.

This is our moment to say “No Keystone XL.” Please join us tonight. Be sure to bring candles, signs and noise-makers.

The No KXL protest vigils are organized by CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra Club, and supported by 350.org, The Other 98%, Center for Biological Diversity, Oil Change International, Bold Nebraska, Energy Action Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Hip Hop Caucus, Overpass Light Brigade, Environmental Action, League of Conservation Voters, Waterkeeper Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Forest Ethics, Forecast the Facts, Public Citizen, Environmental Texas and others.

#NoKXL

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