Posts Tagged ‘fossil fuels’

I wrote recently about the difficulty of “blaming” any particular storm on global climate change. I pointed out there that scientists don’t usually reach conclusions in the form of: “X definitely caused Y.” Particularly when complex global systems are involved.

That remains true, but research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes a pretty strong claim about the link. Researchers assert that climate change made a storm such as Harvey six times more likely. That’s a startling figure.

We are also gaining insight about the causes of climate change–more specifically, about who caused climate change. A recent report by researchers at the Climate Accountability Institute asserts that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all man made carbon dioxide and methane emissions since 1854. The report found that Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP were each individually responsible for 2 to 3 percent of all carbon emissions for the period 1880-2010. Only the country of Saudi Arabia had a larger contribution, with more than 3 percent.

These recent findings lead us to one conclusion: if we know climate change is causing major storms, and we know which companies are responsible for climate change, shouldn’t we start holding them accountable?

Harvey will cost taxpayers in excess of $100 billion. The City of Houston, the state of Texas, and the federal government have all committed millions to the cleanup effort. But it won’t be enough. Houstonians are already paying for Harvey. When will climate polluters pay their fare share?

We launched WhoPaysForHarvey.com with our colleagues at the Center for Climate Integrity to ask that question? Together we’ve started a pledge that we’re asking you to sign? Do you believe its fair for the entities that caused climate change to pay for its effects? Do you think fossil fuel companies have gotten off the hook, despite knowing for decades (#ExxonKnew) about the harm they were causing?

If you agree with us, please sign our pledge. This won’t be the last severe storm Texas endures. It’s time we started planning for the future, instead of rebuilding the mistakes of the past.

Who Pays for Harvey?

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After Monday’s deadly explosion of a pipeline in Johnson County, there was another explosion in the Panhandle today.  From the Austin-American Statesman:

The blast near Darrouzett, just south of the Oklahoma border, was the second fatal natural gas explosion in Texas in as many days. On Monday, a worker was killed when a utility crew accidentally hit and ruptured a natural gas line in rural Johnson County, about 30 miles south of Fort Worth.

Tuesday’s blast involved a crew that was removing clay for a dirt-contracting company, Lipscomb County Sheriff James Robertson said in a news release. The explosion happened when a bulldozer struck a pipeline.


Three other workers were injured. One was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Oklahoma City. Two others escaped with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

The utility crew involved in Monday’s explosion worked for Oklahoma-based C&H Power Line Construction Services. Fred Haag, the company’s chief operating officer, said the crew followed the proper procedures in locating the line before digging. It used a survey map and made calls verifying the line location, he said.


“Even at night, the soles of their shoes were melting because it was still extremely hot,” said Jack Snow, Johnson County’s emergency management coordinator.

At least seven of the other 13 workers who had been close to the site were treated at hospitals, mostly for burns to their necks and arms as they ran away from the massive fireball, Haag said. Only one worker remained hospitalized Tuesday, he said.

A 23-member crew that had been working in the area for several months was drilling a hole Monday for an 80- to 120-foot utility pole when the gas line was struck and ruptured, sending a massive fireball into the air that burned out about two hours later after the gas flow was shut off.


After investigators finish looking over the site, workers will repair the ruptured pipeline, which is expected to take several days, said Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP, which partially owns the 36-inch-diameter line. It is a 395-mile segment of a pipeline extending from western to eastern Texas, the company said in a Tuesday news release.

Unlike other cases (BP oil spill, Massey mine explosion, etc) this does not look like a problem of lax oversight, but merely the inherent dangers of fossil fuels.  As I wrote in a editor’s note in Ali’s post:

All of this comes back to our reliance on fossil fuels and regulation. Whether it’s oil, coal, or even natural gas, there are inherent risks in extracting these fuels from the earth and dangerous, toxic emissions that come from burning them.  To date, no one has been killed in a “wind spill” or “solar spill.” We ultimately need less of the fossil fuel resources, no matter their source, and more renewables.  Oftentimes small government advocates and conservatives warn against regulation because of the cost it can create.  We never advocate for regulation merely for the sake of regulation, but we NEED smart regulation that places a premium on human life and quality of life over the search for more corporate profits. All of these stories have this theme in common: common sense regulation through a smart regulatory agency, which is something we have lacked from TCEQ.

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Dallas Morning News journalist Elizabeth Souder shares the Six things economists wish journalists knew about greenhouse gas reduction on the DMN’ Energy and Environment Blog.  They sound a lot like the 6 things EVERYONE should know about greenhouse gas reduction, so I thought I’d share them.  Kudos to Elizabeth Souder, and be sure to keep up with her work on the Energy and Environment Blog.

I’m attending the McCormick Energy Solutions Conference for journalists this week at Ohio State University. Andy Keeler, an economist with the John Glenn School of Public Affairs here at the university, offered six things journalist should know about greenhouse gas reduction.

1. It makes economic sense to reduce greenhouse gases. Even though doing so costs money, it will end up costing us even more if we do nothing. Dealing with the effects of global warming, of seeing Texas and the Southwest become a dustbowl, could be financially devastating.

2. Cap and trade, which is the method Congess is considering to regulate greenhouse gases, does two distinct things. By issuing tradable allowances for greenhouse gas emissions, the system raises the price of energy produced from greenhouse gas-heavy fossil fuels. It also generates revenue for the government by selling those allowances, and the money can be used for anything.

“Criticism of cap and trade which mixes these two together is deliberately misleading,” Keeler said.

3. Cap and trade creates broad and efficient incentives. Using market signals as part of our response to climate change risk is good public policy.

4. Who gets the money the government makes by selling allowances is a public expenditures question, not an environmental question.

5. A carbon tax and a cap and trade program have strong similarities. But the details of the program are more important than the choice between the two.

Keeler concludes that, even though economists tend to agree that a tax is cleaner and more elegant than a system of trading allowances, the current bill includes reasonable goals. Therefore, rather than starting from scratch and renegotiating the cap, which leads to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050, Keeler prefers to stick with the current bill.

6. Trade and competitiveness concerns exist, but are neither broad nor large. The bill could have significant effects on the iron, steel, aluminum, cement and paper industries, but those problems could be solved with targeted rules, rather than broad regulations.

“It’s not to belittle the problem for people in these industries, but it’s misleading to cast it as an overall disaster from a trade point of view,” he said.

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water header

I’ve been thinking (and worrying) about water a lot lately.  I suppose that the drought has brought all this concern along.  Just a few months ago, folks were comparing this drought to the one that devastated Texas agriculture in the ’50s (when crop yields dropped by as much as 50%, all but one county in Texas was declared a federal drought disaster area, and grasslands were scorched and ranchers that couldn’t afford high hay prices resorted to a mixture of prickly pear cactus and molasses), but now folks are saying that this drought is well on its way to being worse, and certainly more costly, than any other dry spell in Texas history.

We’re already seeing ranching and agriculture suffer substantially from this drought.  Agricultural officials are now pinning crop and livestock losses at $3.6 billion.  Just 12% of the cotton acreage planted this year will be harvested, and many gins won’t open up this season because there isn’t enought work to justify it.  Ranchers are also buying high priced hay and feed supplements because their own pastures haven’t produced enough to feed their herds.  Ranchers are selling off calves younger and thinner than usual, and even letting go of the mature females that sustain their herds.  In the last week, Bastrop County alone lost 12,000 cattle from the drought.  As Roy Wheeler, an Atascosa County rancher told the San Antonio Express-News, “We’re selling the factory, so they say.”

So why worry about the weather,  you may ask.  Haven’t farmers and ranchers been scraping by and beaten by the weather since the first man stuck a seed in the ground?  Perhaps, but during the dust bowl and in this last great drought in the ’50s, we could still shake our fists at the sky and vow never to go hungry again — but now we can only shake our fists at ourselves.  There’s not a doubt in my mind that this drought is a result of human interference.  I’m no scientist, just an educated girl with a blog, but I’d bet the farm that we’re seeing global warming in action.

But you don’t have take my word for it.  Take the word of Dr. Gerald North, a climate scientist at that notorious liberal holdout Texas A&M, who says that this drought is the beginning of a permanent trend for Texas.  He cites the 2007 IPCC report, which shows trends toward hotter and drier summers.  In reference to this weather pattern, North told the Environment News Service that, “It could be just a fluke that persists for a decade… But my guess is that it’s here to stay, but with fluctuations up and down.”

Of course we can’t point at any one weather event and say that it is a direct result of global warming, but we can take events as indicative of what is to come as global warming progresses.  Just as Hurricane Katrina woke up the world to the devastation that will ensue as storms of increase in frequency and severity from climate change, this current drought can give Texans a hint of what the future of Texas weather will look like.

There’s a terrible element of irony here.  Our current trajectory of unsustainable growth and energy consumption increase the likelihood that drought in Texas will become the new norm.  AND those same industries and energy sources which have poisoned our atmosphere and raised global temperatures… use enormous amounts of water.  Coal, natural gas, and nuclear — which propents are trying to sell as “the low-carbon cure we need” — are incredibly, enormously, despicably water intensive. (more…)

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Over the weekend we had a little more time to look over the language in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and have found it wanting.  Check out this thoughtful statement from our Energy Program Director for the skinny on the bill and what went wrong:

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director of the Energy Program at Public Citizen

The climate change legislation that will be debated this week is a huge disappointment. Not only will it prove a boon to energy industries, but it won’t protect consumers and may very well not even curb global warming. The first draft, penned months ago, was on track to accomplish these goals, and we applauded it as a great start. Since then, however, lawmakers have met in secret with representatives of the coal and oil industries and facilitated industry efforts to gut the bill.

The Obama administration got it right when officials released a budget that would auction 100 percent of pollution allowances. As long as pollution allowances are auctioned, the government will have the revenue necessary to mitigate energy price increases through rebates while having money to invest in the sustainable energy infrastructure we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels.

This was further reinforced by President Obama’s selection for the new chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, who said that “we may not need any” new nuclear or coal power plants because we have yet to harness the capacity of renewables and energy efficiency.

But the House of Representatives has not followed the administration’s lead.

When Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a draft climate bill in March, we praised it as a great first step but noted that it needed to be improved during the committee mark-up process.

But instead of a transparent process involving debate and voted-upon amendments, committee leadership conducted closed-door negotiations with polluters. The result: The bill was radically altered to accommodate the financial interests of big energy corporations while giving nothing new for the environment or for working families. This is hardly the transformation this country needs to jump-start its economy and curb climate change. This is more of the same old wait-and-see, special-interest-bailout approach that has gripped Washington for ages. (more…)

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