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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 Patron Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

President Obama bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett — the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 – may soon get a whole lot richer.

That’s because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making.

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett’s no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest.

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It’s through Berkshire that he’s making a killing – while simultaneously killing the ecosystem – through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett’s BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

“BNSF is the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That’s enough to light up 10 percent of the nation’s homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy,” Dickinson explained.

Beyond MidAmerican Energy, Buffett also owns the coal-burning PacifiCorp and his BNSF freight trains are largely responsible for the coal export boom unfolding in the northwest corridor of the United States.

“PacifiCorp…owns the most coal plants in the West and recently unveiled a long-term energy plan that did not include a single wind project over the next ten years,” explained a recent blog post written by the Sierra Club. “And Warren Buffett is still involved with one of the biggest coal-burning schemes of all — ongoing plans to export coal…to…Asia.”

“Buffett’s BNSF Railway would be the primary transporter of that coal, and the company has tried to get the coal export terminals approved over the objections of thousands of activists across the Pacific Northwest.”

And as his slam dunk, Buffett also has plans to convert BNSF’s freight trains to utilize fracked shale gas. He then plans to use those same shale gas-powered trains to transport fracked shale oil from North Dakota (5-percent of BNSF’s total shipments and 190,000 cars/week), a win-win for Buffett and a lose-lose for the ecosystem and the climate.

“We have a couple locomotives we’re experimenting with this year on it. The railroads are definitely experimenting with converting to natural gas,” he told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a March 2013 interview. “[Y]ou’ve got to look at converting any kind of an engine to natural gas.”

‘Tis quite the list of “dirty deeds” by the man coined the “Oracle of Omaha.” And relative to his uber-wealth – to cue up the AC/DC – they’re “done dirt cheap.” Read the rest of this entry →

Tar Sands Coal Export Boom: Petcoke Exports Second Highest Ever in April

9:51 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Petroleum Coke

Petrocoke is a profitable and filthy byproduct of Tar Sands production.

With many eyes honed in on the Powder River Basin coal export battle in the Northwest, another coal export boom is unfolding on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Although no coal production is actually taking place here, a filthy fuel with even more severe climate impacts than coal is leaving port bound for foreign power plants.

Meet petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” what Oil Change International described in a Jan. 2013 report as “The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands.”

Petcoke “is a byproduct of coking, a process that takes very heavy oil and produces gasoil (a precursor to diesel or vacuum gasoil) and naphtha,” Platts explains. ”The coke is used as a fuel for power plant, in a kiln in the production of concrete or, for some specialty grades, in the production of aluminum or other metals.”

As relayed by Platts, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is reporting the U.S. exported the second-highest amount of petroleum coke in U.S. history in April. EIA’s April data show export levels of 17.78 million barrels, second only to Dec. 2011′s 20.44 million barrels of petcoke.

With the tar sands’ expansion has come an accompanying petcoke export boom of historical proportion.

“The US exported a record 184.17 million barrels of petroleum coke in 2012, a record up over 20 million barrels compared to 2010,” Platts explained.

According to the EIA report, China is the current top beneficiary of the U.S. petcoke export boom, importing 3.20 million barrels of petcoke in April, the third most it’s ever imported from the U.S.

China imported 4.93 million barrels of petcoke from the U.S. in Dec. 2011 and another 3.64 million barrels in Jan. 2013.

Climate Costs of Petcoke: Worse Than Coal

Petcoke, put bluntly, is dirtier than King Coal.

“Petcoke is over 90 percent carbon and emits 5 to 10 percent more CO2 than coal on a per-unit of energy basis when it is burned,” explains Oil Change International’s report. ”As petcoke has high energy content, every ton of petcoke emits between 30 and 80 percent more CO2 than coal, depending on the quality of the coal.”

Making matters worse, refineries nationwide have the capacity to manufacture petcoke, which could fuel a new global coal power plant boom.

“Of 134 operating U.S. refineries in 2012, 59 are equipped to produce petcoke including many of the largest refineries in the country,” wrote Oil Change International. ”The proven tar sands reserves of Canada will yield roughly 5 billion tons of petcoke – enough to fully fuel 111 U.S. coal plants to 2050.”

The Keystone XL Connection

If Keystone XL is built to full capacity, it “would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year,” according to Oil Change International’s report.

While Keystone XL is a tar sands crude export pipeline, it would also boost petcoke exports. Many petcoke refineries sit on the Gulf Coast, where the petcoke would then be exported to the global market.

“Nine of the refineries close to the southern terminus of Keystone XL have nearly 30 percent of U.S. petcoke production capacity, over 50,000 tons a day,” the report continues.

As the recent EIA report makes clear, the petcoke production boom and its accompanying petcoke export boom are the new elephant in the room in the debate over tar sands production, marketing, and most specifically, Keystone XL.

“Petcoke is a seldom discussed yet highly important aspect of the full impacts of tar sands production,” wrote Oil Change International. ”Factored into the equation, petcoke puts another strong nail in the coffin of any rational argument for the further exploitation of the tar sands.”

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As You Sow: Coal Investments, Shale Gas, a Bad Bet

12:58 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Two lumps of coal

Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr

In a missive titled “White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal,” As You Sow concludes that coal is becoming an increasingly risky investment with each passing day. The fracking boom and the up-and-coming renewable energy sector are quickly superseding King Coal’s empire as a source of power generation, As You Sow concludes in the report.

As You Sow chocks up King Coal’s ongoing demise to five factors, quoting straight from the report:

1. Increasing capital costs for environmental controls at existing coal plants and uncertainty about future regulatory compliance costs

2. Declining prices for natural gas, a driver of electric power prices in competitive markets

3. Upward price pressures and price volatility of coal

4. High construction costs for new coal plants and unknown costs to implement carbon capture and storage

5. Increasing competitiveness of renewable generation resources

Prong one pertains to what groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Republican Party at-large, and the conservative media echo chamber have coined a “War on Coal” and a “Regulatory Train Wreck,” echoing what the shale gas industry’s PR squad has coined a “War on Shale Gas.”

According to As You Sow, regulations have tied the hands of the coal industry to a sufficient level that it’s no longer as lucrative of a venture to make a capital investment into coal as it is to invest in the shale gas and renewable energy industries. “Uncertainty about future regulations plagues coal plant operators who face the incremental imposition of more stringent standards over time,” As You Sow explained.

Shale Gas “Killing” Coal Power Plants

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