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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

9:20 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The White House

The White House

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years.

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask.

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions.

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy.

In February 2010, Obama’s CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period. Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Documents: ALEC’s Looming Attacks on Clean Energy, Fracking Laws, Greenhouse Gas Regulations

4:05 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The Guardian has released another must-read piece about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), this time laying bare its anti-environmental agenda for 2014.

The paper obtained ALEC’s 2013 Annual Meeting Policy Report, which revealed that ALEC — dubbed a “corporate bill mill” for the statehouses by the Center for Media and Democracy — plans more attacks on clean energy laws, an onslaught of regulations pertaining tohydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and waging war against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations.

“Over the coming year, [ALEC] will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action,” explained The Guardian. “Details of ALEC’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage, from the individual rooftop to the White House, are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.”

The documents also reveal ALEC’s boasting of introducing myriad “model resolutions” nationwide in support of fast-tracking approval for the northern half of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, along with another “model bill” — the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” already introduced in Utah — set to expropriate federally-owned public lands to oil, gas and coal companies.

Attacks from Household to White House

Among the more interesting discoveries by The Guardian: ALEC has plans to attack clean energy from the household-level to the White House-level, working in service to its utility industry members’ unfettered profits.

John Eick, legislative analyst for ALEC’s Energy, Environmental and Agriculture Task Force, told The Guardian that ALEC is closely scrutinizing “how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.”

“As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system,” Eick told The Guardian. “They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised.”

Yet, far from a “free ride,” a report commissioned by the Arizona Public Service found household solar panels offer a “range of benefits.” Distributed energy generation defers the need for capital allocation into utility investments, saving ratepayers money in avoiding investments into expensive utility projects.

Not limiting itself to penalizing those installing solar panels on their homes, ALEC has also joined the right wing echo chamber in waging war against President Barack Obama’s push to regulate coal-fired power plants and has a model resolution that will be voted on at its States and Nation Summit taking place this week in Washington, DC.

“ALEC is very concerned about the potential economic impact of greenhouse gas regulation on electricity prices and the harm EPA regulations may have on the economic recovery,” the resolution reads.

This effort is in line with its previous efforts, coining EPA regulations of greenhouse gases a “regulatory trainwreck” and calling for a two-year regulatory moratorium.

ALEC’s Frack Attack

Read the rest of this entry →

Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

9:35 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Norman Hackerman Building, University of Texas

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking.

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study – based on the oddly rosy findings – it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.

Steering Committee: PR Pros, Lobbyists, Policy Wonks

The following is a list of Steering Committee members working for Big Oil.

1.) Ted Wurfel, Health, Safety, Environment and Operational Integrity Manager for Talisman Energy: Wurfel is one of two Steering Committee members besides lead author Allen with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an engineering academic background, according to LinkedIn.

He’s also a registered lobbyist in Pennsylvania - a state located in the heart of theMarcellus Shale basin – and formerly lobbied for Chief Oil and Gas.

2.) Paul Krishna, Manager of Environmental, Health & Safety Issues at ExxonMobil/XTO Energy: Krishna is the other Steering Committee member with a science degree relevant to onshore drilling, with an undergraduate degree in geology and a masters in geosciences.

3.) David McBride, Vice President of Environmental and Human Services at Anadarko Petroleum: McBride earned a degree in Marine Biology before going to law school and pursuing his career in the oil industry.

4.) Jeffrey Kupfer works as a non-registered lobbyist for Chevron – officially titled a “Senior Advisor for Government Affairs.” Kupfer sits on the Executive Board of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry’s lobbying arm in Pennsylvania.

He sits on Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s industry-stacked Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission alongside one of the industry’s first “frackademics,”Terry Engelder of Penn State University.

Kupfer also sits on Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission.

Prior to working for Chevron, Kupfer passed through the government-industry revolving door and worked as Deputy U.S. Secretary of State for President George W. Bush from 2006-2009 under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also spent time as the State Department’s Chief Operating Officer under Rice.

Chevron is one of the dues-paying members of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development - described as the “Big Green Fracking Machine” by Public Accountability Initiative - alongside EDF.

5.) Dick Francis serves as Manager of Regulatory Policy for Shell Oil, anotherdues-paying member of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

6.) James Bolander serves as Senior Vice President Resource Development for Southwestern Energy.

7.) Susan Spratlen serves as head of Communications at Pioneer Resources and has an accounting undergraduate academic background.

8.) David Keane is BG Group’s Vice President of Policy and Corporate Affairs and has a business school academic background.

Keane testified on behalf of the Alaska Gas Pipeline (now known as the South Central LNG project) - co-owned by Transcanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips - in front of the Alaska state legislature in February 2008.

He also serves on the Board of Directors of Center for Liquefied Natural Gas.

9.) Jill Cooper serves as Group Lead for the US Division of the Environment for Encana. Her academic background is in environmental law and she also has a masters in business.

Steering Off the Climate Cliff?

EDF’s study has already won praise from the American Petroleum InstituteEnergy in Depthindustry-funded propaganda film “FrackNation,” and the right-wing news website founded by Glenn Beck, The Blaze.

Greenpeace USA Executive Director Phil Radford’s worst case scenario has come true.

“At worst, [the study] will be used as PR by the natural gas industry to promote their pollution,” Radford wrote soon after the study’s release.

“In fact, methane is 105 times more powerful than carbon pollution as a global warming pollutant [during its first 20 years in the atmosphere], so figuring out its real climate impacts has very real consequences for us going forward.”

This raises the key question: could the Steering Committee’s agenda steer us all off the climate cliff? Read the rest of this entry →

North Carolina Renewable Energy Initiatives Under Attack by ALEC

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Duke Energy

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Renewable energy is under attack in the Tar Heel State. That’s the word from Greenpeace USA‘s Connor Gibson today in a report that implicates King Coal powerhouse, Duke Energy and the fossil fuel industry at-large.

The vehicle Duke Energy is utilizing for this attack is one whose profile has grown in infamy in recent years: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is described as a “corporate bill mill” by its critics. It’s earned such a description because it passes “model bills” written by corporate lobbyists and to boot, the lobbyists typically do so behind closed doors at ALEC’s annual meetings.

The ALEC-Duke Alernative Energy Attack

Gibson puts it bluntly in his exposé, explaning that North Carolina Republican Rep. Mike Hager “says he is confident that he has the votes needed to weaken or undo his state’s [renewable] energy requirements during his second term.” 

Hager is a former Duke employee, where he worked as an engineer. Duke maintains its corporate headquarters in Charlotte, NC. 

The model bill Hager appears likely to push is called the Electricity Freedom Act,” a piece of legislation calling for the nullification of any given state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Passed in October 2012 by ALEC, the bill was actually co-written with the fossil fuel-funded think tank, the Heartland Institute (of “Heartland Exposed” fame). 

“We wrote the model legislation and I presented it. I didn’t have to give that much of a case for it,” James Taylor of Heartland told The Washington Post in a November 2012 investigative report.

Taylor’s claims are backed by economic analyses of a sort.

That is, the sort one would expect from a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry (Heartland) teaming up with a group receiving 98 percent of its funding from corporate interests (ALEC). As The Post explained back in November:

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

Gabe Elsner of the Checks and Balances Project described ALEC’s game plan as a deceptive “one-two punch” against renewable energy to The Post.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding,” he said back in November.

North Carolina’s GOP (which according to the Center for Media and Democracy‘s (CMD)  SourceWatch has 45 ALEC members) appears set to go on the offensive against the state’s existing renewable energy standards. 

More to Come?

There’s far more of this to come in the weeks and months ahead in statehouses nationwide.

As Gibson explains, “According to its own documents, ALEC spent the last couple years monitoring states attempting to introduce state-level renewable energy portfolio standards in West Virginia, Vermont and Virginia as well as legislative attacks on REPS laws in New Hampshire and in Ohio.”

Renewable energy is under attack. That is, of course, unless its advocates fight back.

Photo by Rainforest Action under Creative Commons license