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Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

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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Most of us, when watching “the big game” do not really stop to think about the enormous amount of energy it takes to power such an event. This year, the Super Bowl, as well as the parties and events surrounding it, are going to use about 18 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 12,000 homes, according to the San Francisco Gate.

That article also points to efforts that the National Football League has been making efforts over the years to “green” the big game. The league has even gone as far as to hire an environmental communications firm to oversee the process of reducing the footprint of the game. This year they will be using several different innovative solutions to reduce the footprint of the game. A couple of the big efforts are biodiesel and composting. The biodiesel will be used to power the events around the game, and the composting will be for the food waste in the stadium.

Solar Panels on an NFL stadium (http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2012/03/02/Facilities/Eagles.aspx)

Solar panels on an NFL stadium
(Sports Business Daily)

This is not the only step the NFL has taken towards becoming greener. There are at least five NFL stadiums that use solar power in some capacity. The San Francisco 49er’s new stadium will be the first net-zero professional sports arena in the United States. Net zero means that its power generation will offset its consumption over a year.

So, while watching the big game this year, keep in mind the efforts the NFL and its teams are making to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce waste.

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During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to have it both ways on climate change and energy – taking action on climate change while touting an “all of the above” energy strategy.

Obama SOTU - credit Larry Downing,AP

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.
Larry Downing/AP

On the one hand, President Obama renewed his commitment to reducing carbon emissions and battling climate change. But on the other hand, he pushed for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel extraction and pledged his support for natural gas as part of his “all of the above” energy plan. He said, “The ‘all the above’ energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.”

The president threw his weight behind natural gas, saying, “If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” He promised to “cut red tape” to spur the construction of natural gas fired factories and fueling stations for cars and trucks.

Even though natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when combusted, the primary component, methane, is also released into the atmosphere during production. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and traps significantly more heat in the short term than carbon dioxide. New reports are concluding that fugitive methane emissions from extraction, processing and transportation could be much worse than previously thought. An article from OilPrice.com says, “If the latest figures are accurate, it could mean that the greenhouse gas advantage that natural gas has over coal could be a mirage.”

The president also gave a shout-out to solar energy, saying, “It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.” “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” said Obama. “But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Although the president has made tremendous strides to address climate change, his administration is still encouraging the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas from our public lands and water. (Click here to see a report from the EIA: Sales of fossil fuels from Federal and Indian Lands) Fossil fuel industries are also looking to expand coal and liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals. All of this on top of recent proposals to end a 40 year ban on crude exports extracted in America.

Sometime this year the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will come across the president’s desk. If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline will provide tar sands producers in Canada a supply line to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast and an export strategy. Although the president made no mention of the pipeline in his speech, he will have to make a decision on the project later this year. He has said his decision will be based on whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline “significantly exacerbates” carbon pollution and is in the national interest. On Friday, the State Department released its environmental assessment that says the Keystone XL pipeline would cause minimal climate impact because the tar sands would get to market some other way without the Keystone XL pipeline – a strikingly fatalist position.

Both sides of the president showed up on Tuesday to address the nation. His “all of the above” energy side showed up to cheerlead the fossil fuel industry, while at the same time tossing a bone to environmentalists, pulling from his Georgetown Speech he made last summer. President Obama’s climate legacy still has yet to be shaped, and if wants be viewed by future generations as the president that made a firm commitment to fighting climate change, then he needs to quit talking out of both sides of his mouth.
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unacceptable levels Unacceptable Levels examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes of filmmaker Ed Brown, a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children. To create this debut documentary, one man and his camera traveled extensively to find and interview top minds in the fields of science, advocacy, and law. Weaving their testimonies into a compelling narrative, Brown presents us with the story of how the chemical revolution brought us to where we are, and of where, if we’re not vigilant, it may take us.
According to Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club, 80,000 – 100,000+ toxic synthetic industrial chemicals are made by large oil refineries-chemical-petrochemical plants, which in Texas is the largest group of such toxic plants in the nation (in the hundreds of plants!). Their air/water pollution and synthetic chemicals end up everywhere and their toxic synthetics are used in thousands of consumer products with little or often no testing as to toxic health effects.
A screening of this film is scheduled for Austin, TX on Feb. 03 , 7:30PM At AMC Barton Theater, but only if an additional 50 tickets are reserved by Sunday, January 27th.  Click here if you wish to reserve your ticket now.

Other upcoming locations in Texas are in Dallas, Plano and Webster.  Tickets can only be reserved online.  Click here for a full list of upcoming screenings.
Watch the trailer

 

 

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TX Keystone Tar Sands - Carbon BombKeystone XL’s southern half is scheduled to start operating for commercial purposes tomorrow, Wednesday, January 22nd. As much as 700,000 barrels per day of bitumen extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, could be pumped through Oklahoma and Texas, igniting the fuse to the greatest carbon bomb on the planet.

The southern leg, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Project” by TransCanada, stretches 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur and Houston. Last month, on Saturday December 7, 2013, TransCanada began injecting crude oil into the Gulf Coast Project. Spokesman Shawn Howard said they planned to “inject about 3 million barrels of oil into the system” in the weeks leading up to the start of commercial operation. In an interview with Reuters, TransCanada’s CEO Russ Girling said that they are now connected from Canada to Texas through the existing Keystone pipeline.

“We are now actually connected all the way to the Gulf Coast,” Girling said. “So we actually have …a contiguous system that has the ability, once Gulf Coast is up and running, to deliver 600,000 barrels per day to the coast.”

TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Project may very well be up and running by tomorrow, but questions about the safety of the pipeline remain, as do concerns for those living along the path of the pipeline and in refining communities.

Full of Flaws

Since Public Citizen came out with its report last November (TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline), PMHSA, the federal agency that oversees pipelines, has not re-inspected Keystone XL South. Public Citizen’s report details hundreds of anomalies at over 125 sites along the Texas route, which includes: dents, sags, faulty welds, coating damage, insufficient support of pipe in trench and improperly handled soil. (See also CBS report)
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The Keystone XL pipeline in Texas is slated to start up next week, pumping toxic tar sands to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, unless Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott steps up to protect our land and water.

Now is the time to email Texas Attorney General Abbott and ask him to use his broad powers to demand the federal government conduct safety inspections of the Keystone XL before it starts.

Junk pipe with signLast November Public Citizen came out with a report detailing hundreds of anomalies at over 125 sites where pipeline was dug up along the route in Texas. CBS News reported on Public Citizen’s report and on warning letters (click here and here to see two from last September) issued by PHMSA, the federal agency that oversees pipelines, to get TransCanada to fix their faulty pipes.

We already know the dangers that communities face from toxic tar sands, whether it’s the land owners whose property is at risk from a spill or the fence line communities that live adjacent to the referies and have to breathe the toxic emissions .

Director of Public Citizen Texas Tom “Smitty” Smith says, “Attorney General Abbott claims to believe in private property rights. If he really does, he should take action now to protect landowners in East Texas from tar sands contamination.”

Click here now to help pressure Attorney General Abbott to protect Texas landowners and water supplies before it is too late.

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As promised, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its proposed standards to limit toxic carbon pollution from new power plants in the Federal Register.  Today, January 8, 2013, starts the 60-day period for public comment period.  Click here to read the proposed standards.

Power plants are responsible for much of our country’s air pollution. In fact, coal- and gas-fired plants emit more than 2.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions, approximately 40 percent of U.S. energy-related carbon pollution. These dangerous emissions make their way into our air, food, and bodies, threatening the health of our children and communities. As if that weren’t bad enough, carbon pollution is also the main contributor to climate disruption.

Strong carbon pollution protections, will help us clean up and modernize the way we power our country — a move that will make for healthier kids, families, and workers, while creating badly needed jobs, fighting climate disruption, and keeping America competitive in the global economy. Several states and foreign countries already have limits on carbon pollution from new power plants, including Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Illinois, Maine, Australia, and the European Union. It’s time for the first-ever national standards for coal-fired plants to be set in place.

The proposed carbon pollution standards will be a powerful tool to keep our air clean, but they could be even better. Now it’s your turn to take action. The fossil fuel industry and its political allies are doing everything they can to block the EPA’s efforts, but you can push back and make your opinion count.

The official public comment period starts today and won’t last long. Make your voice heard by submitting a comment here to the EPA in support of strong standards for reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Your voice matters!

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Remember sitting at home during February 2 of 2011 as the temperatures dropped and the power kept getting turned off. As millions of Texas sat in the cold and dark Luminant, Texas largest power generator, wasn’t able to get its power plants running along with other generators.

Luminant Energy Company, LLC’s, recently was fined $750,000 as part of a settlement agreement with the Public Utility Commission of Texas stemming from the alleged failure of several Luminant power generating units on February 2, 2011 (when record low temperatures caused a spike in power demand and rolling blackouts were implemented throughout the state).

That February other generation companies saw the cold front coming and got their plants up hot and running keeping this cold snap from being an even bigger disaster than it was.

In ERCOT the state’s power grid operator generation companies are under an obligation to run their power plants and a $750,000 fine in an almost $30 billion dollar market is not much of a fine at all.

Now things are looking dark, gloomy and a bit chilly for EFH Luminants parent company. In November 2013, Energy Future Holdings (EFH) made a decision not to file for bankruptcy saying they believe the company can reach a deal with creditors next spring to avoid a contentious court fight. But with a looming balloon debt payment of $3.8 billion next fall, and a subsidiary of EFH, things are stacking up against the beleaguered Dallas based company.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) member and Sierra Club Conservation Director, Cyrus Reed weighed in on this development in a statement, saying, “Hopefully, this rather modest fine will send a message to Luminant and other coal and gas generators that when they are paid money by ERCOT to be available in times of emergency — such as the freeze of February 2011 — they must be available. This means utility companies like Luminant must properly maintain their generating units so that breakdowns and emergencies don’t take place when people need electricity the most, such as times of extreme temperatures.”

David Power, Deputy Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen and also an ERCOT member said, “As ERCOT and the PUC consider further changes to ancillary services and potentially to the wholesale energy market, they must make sure that those paid for performance can realistically perform, or face stiff penalties. Texas doesn’t need new, expensive power plants to meet our needs and power our economy, but we do need responsible utilities following the letter of the law and taking responsibility for its assets. What did perform well in both in February and August 2011 was demand response, a method of reducing electricity demand, by large and small industrial and commercial entities.  As Texas considers changes to our market we should prioritize resources like demand response that we can depend on.”

For it’s part, a representative of Luminant said in an email to FierceEnergy that “with this settlement, Luminant resolves all alleged violations of ERCOT protocols and PUC rules from the cold weather event in 2011.The agreement represents an amicable settlement of disputed issues in which Luminant admits no violations.”The email continues, “The severe unprecedented cold in February, 2011 was a trying yet learning experience for ERCOT, the PUC, state lawmakers, electric generators and transmission and distribution companies. Some 225 generation resources in ERCOT, more than 40 percent of the total generation, experienced a trip, failed start or derate. Since 2011, Luminant has joined other generators, electric transmission firms and state agencies to take measures to better prepare for future extreme weather.”

But trouble just seems to keep cropping up:

A prior and unrelated Department of Justice Clean Air Act complaint that was recently unsealed alleged that Luminant made major modifications to Units 1, 2, and 3 at their Martin Lake coal plant in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 and continues to operate the plant without installing pollution controls for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The complaint also alleges that Luminant has improperly withheld information from the government requested by EPA under Section 114(a) of the Clean Air Act.

According to the claims, Luminant made “major modifications” at its Big Brown and Martin Lake coal plants that increased sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions without updating air pollution permits or installing pollution safeguards. The Clean Air Act requires plants to obtain permits and install modern pollution controls before making modifications that will increase emissions.

In regard to the DOJ lawsuit, Luminant made this statement via email to FierceEnergy: “There’s no change in our position.  We firmly believe that we have complied with all requirements of the Clean Air Act for the Big Brown and Martin Lake Power Plants and our other generation facilities and look forward to proving this in court.”

The company contends that the complaint has not been unsealed, but appears to be playing a game of semantics, saying, “The DOJ simply filed a version of its complaint with information that we agree can be public.”

This prime example of Texas business just leaves us out in the cold.

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TransCanada had announced start up dates for the southern section of Keystone XL for January 3rd, then changed that to mid to late January, then announced startup began on Saturday, December 7th.

Keystone pipeline southern leg - 1Following reports of hundreds of flaws that could lead to spills in the southern segment of the Keystone XL, Texas residents and environmentalists today called for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to halt the start-up of the pipeline.

According to media reports, on Saturday, TransCanada started pumping oil through Keystone XL’s southern leg, which runs nearly 500 miles from Oklahoma to the Texas coast.

“Pumping highly toxic tar sands crude through that line is an irresponsible act that shows a complete disregard for both public and environmental safety,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

The grassroots organization Nagadoches County STOP, which has campaigned against the pipeline’s southern segment, said: “The problems associated with the pipeline’s construction directly impact our sense of security, the lives of our children, and where we live. For those of us along the pipeline, the struggle is personal. We have to protect the places and people we love. There have been far too many problems with this pipeline, and it’s running through our community without any clear, local preparation for addressing a spill or leak.”

In two September warning letters to TransCanada, PHMSA identified hundreds of problems with the pipeline. In one of the letters, PHMSA said that nearly 50 percent of the welds – 205 out of 425 – in a single section of the southern segment needed repairs.

In another letter, PHMSA said 98 sites were excavated because of other problems with the pipe, and rocky backfill used around the pipeline may have caused dents found in the pipe.

In its own study, Public Citizen documented that TransCanada had undertaken 125 excavations for possible “anomalies,” welds, dents and other problems that could lead to leaks and spills.

PHMSA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office has not yet provided records in response to multiple requests for information about those flaws and any attempts to correct them, but it did not meet the requests before the weekend pipeline startup.

In an email to Public Citizen, PHMSA FOIA office said it would take weeks to process Public Citizen’s request.

“Now the pipeline is being filled, and we have absolutely no idea whether it’s safe,” Smith said. “Both PHMSA and Congress have shirked their responsibility to the public and the environment. There were 14 spills along the first phase of Keystone XL in the very first 14 months of its operation. Congress and PHMSA should have taken it upon themselves to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The southern segment crosses 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone, and it is located within miles of many cities and towns.

Public Citizen twice asked Congress to urge PMHSA to make sure that the flaws had been corrected and conduct other inspections to ensure that the pipeline is safe. “Now is the time for Congress to act before commercial operations begin,” said Smith.

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The third and final major new coal shipping proposal at the Port of Corpus Christi has been canceled, according to documents from recent Port Authority meetings reviewed by the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, a multistate campaign to halt expansion of coal exports from the Gulf Coast while promoting clean energy and businesses, that includes Public Citizen.

Check out ThinkProgress.org’s story that resulted from our post by clicking here.

Ambre Energy, a major Australian coal company struggling with the poor global market for coal, has terminated its lease and will not pursue development of the project. The failure of each of the major new coal export terminals in Texas casts further doubt on the viability of the international coal market and new export facilities in Gulf Coast ports.

According to minutes from a recent Port Authority meeting, “The coal export market has dramatically declined in the last three years and Ambre no longer considers a coal export terminal viable in this area.” (click here to read the minutes, this quote is from page 173)

“This is the third coal export project that has been canceled in this region,” said Hal Suter, chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and a lifelong Corpus Christi resident. “Ambre’s failure is a huge relief for Corpus Christi residents and it’s a clear sign of an accelerating shift away from coal. Texans don’t want coal, Gulf states don’t want coal and international markets don’t want it either.”

In August of this year, New Elk and its parent company, Cline Mining Corporation, terminated their lease for a planned coal export terminal, and development of the La Quinta Trade Terminal was put on hold after grassroots activists rallied against it and Sierra Club released a report in early 2012, The Port of Corpus Christi Gambles on Coal Export Development.

Along with financial troubles, the coal export industry faces resistance from community and environmental activists concerned about air and water pollution from coal dust and added rail and barge traffic. Coal-fired energy is also a primary cause of greenhouse gases, which  lead to climate disruption, extreme weather and rising sea levels.

“The people of course Corpus Christi have said no coal – no way,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “So the coal barons are beginning to pick on small communities, like Point Comfort about 60 miles north of here.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has made a preliminary decision to approve an air permit for a facility that will store, import and export coal, petroleum coke and limestone through Point Comfort.

The Corpus Christi Port Authority meeting minutes also predicted a poor future for coal exports.

“Currently, the export coal market has shrunk substantially,” the minutes reported. “The domestic market has seen older coal-fired power plants closed with some being refitted to burn natural gas. Wind and solar power…have created additional pressure on coal.” (Click here to read the minutes, this quote can be found on page 48)

Ambre Energy has encountered obstacles in trying to develop coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest as well. Last week, the company’s shareholders allowed Denver-based Resource Capital, a private equity firm, to increase its ownership stake in the company to avoid insolvency.

The coal industry has tried to offset the move away from coal-powered energy in the United States by stepping up exports, particularly to China. But recently China, too, has begun to shift away from highly polluting coal. Over the summer, China announced a ban on construction of new coal-fired plants around the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to control air pollution.

The Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, a multistate campaign to halt expansion of coal exports from the Gulf Coast while promoting clean energy and businesses,
includes Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), Air Alliance Houston, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and SouthWings.

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