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Report: Obama Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

3:40 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large.

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean’s Magazine and Bloomberg BNA.

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama’s Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Dirty Details

Some of the numbers crunched by Greenpeace USA make the jaw drop.

For example, one chart shows the amount of coal leased by the BLM during Obama’s time in the White House. During that time, the BLM has leased off billions of tons of coal from Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming alone.

As Greenpeace points out, “This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 825 million passenger vehicles, and more than the 3.7 billion tons that was emitted in the entire European Union in 2012.”

Further, in crunching the numbers on the social cost of carbon metrics, Greenpeace estimates producing all of this BLM-leased coal will cause between $52-$530 billion in damages.

recent major, precedent-setting federal court decision chided BLM for not taking the social cost of carbon into account in leasing out a plot of land for coal production. It remains unclear whether or not this will impact BLM’s future coal leasing activities, however.

Germany’s “Clean Break” or Greenwashing?

Interestingly and perhaps shockingly to many, much of this coal is being exported to Germany, home of what some have hailed the epicenter of the global green energy revolution. Though German coal mining is going by the wayside, imports are rising.

“German coal mining has been a dying tradition. The government will end subsidies in 2018, effectively killing it,” explained the Associated Press story.

“However, Germany is experiencing a resurgence in coal-fired power. Five German coal plants have been built since 2008, and more are coming…The result: In 2013, Germany’s emissions of carbon dioxide grew by 1.2 percent.”

Dirk Jansen, spokesman for Friends of the Earth-Germany, called the situation at-large tantamount to “greenwashing” in an interview with the Associated Press.

“Obama pretties up his own climate balance, but it doesn’t help the global climate at all if Obama’s carbon dioxide is coming out of chimneys in Germany.”

Beyond Obama, though, it raises equally troubling questions about just how “clean” Germany’s clean break will be when all is said and done.

Obama Admin. Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

11:27 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Natural gas drilling

On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

BLM will utilize an iteration of ALEC’s “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” – a bill The New York Times revealed was written by ExxonMobil - for chemical fluid disclosure of fracking on public lands and will do so by utilizing FracFocus.org‘s voluntary online chemical disclosure database.

In a way, it’s all come full circle. As we covered here on DeSmogBlog, the original chemical disclosure standards and the decision to utilize FracFocus’ database came from the Obama Dept. of Energy’s (DOE) industry-stacked Fracking Subcommittee formed in May 2011. DOE gave a $1.5 million grant to FracFocus.

The Texas state legislature soon thereafter adopted the first bill making FracFocus the fracking chemical disclosure database at the state level in June 2011. Since then, it’s been off to the races, with the Council of State Governments adopting the TX bill as model bill in Aug. 2011, ALEC adopting it as a model bill in Oct. 2011, and the bill becoming state law in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

Both the Illinois and Florida state legislatures have also tried to push through this model, but it died dead in its tracks.

FracFocus has been an anemic and failed effort by the Obama Admin. to alter the George W. Bush Admin. “Halliburton Loophole” standards for fracking chemical disclosure, which allowed the recipe of fracking chemicals to remain a “trade secret.” It’s amounted to nothing more than the same game by a different name, with a Harvard study recently giving FracFocus a “failing grade.”

The FracFocus Façade: “Truck-Sized” Disclosure Loopholes

Almost two years after FracFocus‘ debut, it is important to scrutinize its disastrous performance.

“Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August,” explainedBloomberg in a Dec. 2012 investigation. “Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms.”

One representative from Texas – the original FracFocus state – said it allows “truck-sized” loopholes in chemical disclosure. An earlier investigative effort by Bloomberg explained just how big these 18-wheelers are.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.”

This moved U.S. Rep. Diane DeGette, author of the FRAC Act – which would mandate actual fracking chemical disclosure, although it’s never garnered more than a handful of co-sponsors - to say FracFocus offers nothing more than the mirage of transparency.

FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure,” she said.

“Fig leaf” is a generous way of putting it. After all, FracFocus is merely a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

FracFocus‘ domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include industry lobbying tour de force America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation – a front group for Chesapeake Energy.

ALEC Model Bill Gone U.S. Public Lands in BLM Rules

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Former Clinton and Bush Cabinet Members, Now Oil and Gas Lobbyists, Expect Keystone XL Green Light

12:18 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Tar Sands Blockade of TransCanada Corporation’s “Keystone XL South” continues in Texas, but former members of the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets believe the northern half will soon be green-lighted by President Barack Obama.

In a Nov. 13 conference call led by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an oil and gas industry front group, CEA Counsel John Northington said he believes a “Keystone XL North” rubber stamp is in the works by the Obama Administration.

“I think the Keystone will be approved in fairly short order by the administration,” Northington said on the call.

Northington has worn many hats during his long career:

[He] served in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with energy policy responsibility for the former Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington began his government service at the Department of Energy, where he served as White House Liaison, Chief of Staff for the Office of Fossil Energy and Senior Advisor for Oil and Natural Gas Policy.

After his tenure working for the Clinton Administration, he walked through the revolving door and became a lobbyist, representing many clients over the past decade, including the oil and gas industry. Northington has represented ExxonMobilDevon EnergyCONSOL Energy, and StatoilExxonMobilDevon and Statoil all have a major stake in the tar sands.

Northington was joined on the call by Michael Whatley, CEA’s Executive Vice President. Whatley seved as senior policy advisor for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of Energy under George W. Bush and as Chief of Staff of former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC).

CEA fronts for HBW Resources, a lobbying firm run by David Holt, Andrew Browning and Whatley (hence the “HBW”), with a developed speciality of lobbying on behalf of the tar sands industry.

Whatley, above and beyond working for the Bush Administration, Sen. Dole and CEA, has also lobbied on behalf ofExxonMobil and General Electric (GE). GE, like ExxonMobil, also has a fiscal present and future interest in tar sands production.

Win, Win for Some; Lose, Lose for Most: Tar Sands With Or Without Keystone XL

Though outfits like CEA are working overtime to ensure “Keystone XL North” is built soon, there are other ways to skin the cat and bring tar sands crude to market. The most important one, covered here on DeSmogBlog and in a recent story published by the Calgary Herald, is freight rail.

Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Obama,” has a major financial stake both in tar sands production, as well as in moving tar sands to market via the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) freight trains he owns under the auspices of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett gave over $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee during the 2012 election cycle, as well as another $70,000 to President-elect Barack Obama, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings.

“Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg in January 2012.

BNSF isn’t the only rail company eager to move tar sands crude to market. Southern Pacific also envisions a major market opening for freight rail transport. A recent Calgary Herald story explains,

While Canadian and U.S. railways are scrambling to meet demand, opening small terminals close to production in locations such as the Bakken area of southern Saskatchewan and North Dakota, the Athabasca oilsands have not been part of the rush. Until now….Unlike pipelines, that means no public hearings and no environmental protests.

The verdict is in.

Chock it up to yet another win-win for the oil and gas industry and a lose-lose for all who have to suffer the consequences of the ecological damage in Alberta, as well as the climate change amplified disasters it’s engendering around the world.