Here are five recommended reads for today (12/10/13).
Todd Woody of The Atlantic writes about “The Carbon Time Bomb in Your Retirement Account.”
Climate Progress lists “4 Reasons The Supreme Court Might Want To Uphold The EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.”
InsideClimate News reports: “In Pennsylvania, concerns about these [natural gas] pipelines are growing because many of them are being built in the state’s 16 million acres of forest, which include some of the largest contiguous blocks of forestland east of the Mississippi River. Nearly 700,000 acres of forestland already have been leased for drilling, allowing companies to cut paths through pristine stretches of trees, fragment forests, decrease biodiversity and introduce invasive species.”
According to Greentech Media: “The U.S. installed 930 megawatts of photovoltaics (PV) in Q3, 2013, up 20 percent over Q2 2013 and 35 percent over Q3 2012. This represents the second-largest quarter in the history of the U.S. market and the largest quarter ever for residential PV installations. Even more importantly, 2013 is likely to be the first time in more than fifteen years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader Germany, according to GTM Research forecasts.”
The Guardian reports: “Neil Young has announced four benefit concerts in aid of a Native Canadian group that are battling oil companies over Albertan tar sands. Accompanied by jazz singer Diana Krall, Young will raise funds toward the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal challenge to Shell Canada’s Jackpine Mine expansion.”
We know that burning fossil fuels emits a wide variety of nasty pollutants – particulates (which increase the the risk of respiratory illnesses), sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain), mercury (which contaminates fish), lead (which can lead to learning disabilities), carbon monoxide (which can cause shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness), carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming), and many others. We also know that the process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels causes significant environmental damage, including enormous oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As if all that’s not bad enough, how about a list of the top 10 toxic ingredients used by the fossil fuel industries, courtesy of The Raw Story? Here’s a sampling.
Benzene: A “well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers,” benzene is “a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal, and gas.”
Formaldehyde: A “carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers,” formaldehyde “is commonly used in ‘fracking’ — although, the industry does not report the details of its use.”
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Many of these are “known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens,” as well as being “linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes including heart malformations, and DNA damage.” It turns out that “[t]he rapid development of the Alberta ‘tar sands’ oil fields in Alberta, Canada, has coincided with both the discovery of dangerous levels of PAHs in the region and multiple reports of significantly higher rates of cancer and other diseases in the adjacent communities.”
Silica: A “known human carcinogen; breathing silica dust can lead to silicosis, a form of lung disease with no cure.” Silica “is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations.”
Radon: “About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure.” Radon “is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations.”
Hydrofluoric Acid: “[C]an immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure.” It is “a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction.”
Nasty, nasty stuff that none of would want anywhere near our families, friends, or ourselves, right? Yet the fossil fuel industry dumps these dangerous pollutants into the environment every day, basically with impunity. It’s outrageous, and it should be completely unacceptable. So why isn’t it? Simple: these are immensely profitable and powerful industries with enormous clout in our political system, not to mention the ability to buy access and influence in the media. Which, as former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pointed out in his interview with Tigercomm President Mike Casey, is exactly what they do.
The AP reports, “A memo released quietly by regulators earlier this year has carved a major loophole in West Virginia’s rules restricting the amount of waste that can be accepted by the state’s landfills, all with the intent to ease a burgeoning problem caused by the boom in gas drilling, environmentalists say.”
Todd Woody of The Atlantic writes that “France’s Total is hedging against a low-carbon future by investing in solar and biofuels.”
Greentech Media reports, “More efficient technologies, combined with low costs and strong wind resources, are making wind cost-competitive with some of the cheapest forms of fossil energy in the Midwest.”
“Despite claims to the contrary, Keystone XL is the key enabling infrastructure that the Canadian tar sands industry needs to ramp up production.”
“The carbon footprint of the tar sands development enabled by Keystone XL is equivalent to 35-40 million cars.”
Offsetting the increased carbon pollution would be extremely difficult if not impossible, require new government agencies that do not exist, and would need to be done at a scale unprecedented in history.”
Scaling Green was there to cover the event, including “live tweeting” the event at our Twitter feed. Here are a few highlights.
According to Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate Action, “climate change is the defining issue of our generation,” with potentially catastrophic results if we don’t act to stop it, and the Keystone XL pipeline is simply not compatible with protecting the climate.
In Steyer’s view, Keystone would commit us to carbon-based energy for decades, when we instead need to be cutting carbon pollution. Keystone would do this by shifting the economics of Canadian tar sands production in a way that would unlock more tar sands oil reserves (up to 3.1 trillion barrels) and production, while locking in a lot more carbon pollution. As such, it would be disastrous for our climate — although highly profitable to the oil companies, to the province of Alberta, and to foreign investors.
Professor Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University argued that the unfolding climate crisis actually accelerating, and that we need to slash CO2 emissions if we’re to have a 50/50 chance of stopping at a 2° C world temperature increase.
According to Jaccard, this 2° C path is only possible if ALL long-lived energy investments are CO2-free starting today. For that reason, unconventional oil is not something we’d be developing in a 2° C future. To the contrary, in Jaccard’s view, we wipe away the 2° C possibility with tar sands development.
Jaccard argued that, when it comes to climate, “Canada is a rogue state,” acting only out of “self-enrichment and disregard for the planet.” The US government, in Jaccard’s opinion, “should reject Keystone XL and explain to the Canadian government that it hopes to join with Canada in urgent action to jointly achieve our common national emission reduction promises for 2020, and to pressure other countries – China and other countries – to reduce their emissions.”
Dr. John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas argued that the Canadian tar sands are the dirtiest of the dirty, “the worst of the worst,” and that if we can’t stay “no” to Keystone, what can we say “no” to? In Abraham’s view, if President Obama approves Keystone, it would negate his otherwise excellent record and “become his legacy.” The good news, Abraham pointed out, is that if we just use our own energy more wisely, Keystone won’t even be necessary.
Dr. Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto explained that approval of Keystone would allow a large expansion of Canadian tar sands production. In turn, this would unlock potentially 200 billion tons of carbon, which is “diametrically opposed to the way we we need to go [on climate].”
Claire Demerse of the Pembina Institute pointed out that the Canadian tar sands are the country’s fastest-growing source of carbon emissions, to the degree that they will wipe out all of the other emission reductions that other parts of Canada’s economy are projected to make.
Demerse argued that the way the oil sands companies view it, a “yes” on Keystone XL means full steam ahead” for expanding tar sands production and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Demerse and others noted that Canada has tremendous potential for clean energy, and that tar sands are distracting Canada from focusing on that.
A panel examined whether it’s possible to “offset” Canadian tar sands oil. The short answer is that they wouldn’t even come close to doing so.
Erin Craig of TerraPass explained what carbon offsets are and how they work, and argued that it’s not at all clear how offsets could possibly be used to mitigate something as large as the tar sands.
Mark Trexler of The Climatographers argued that carbon offsets in the context of the Canadian tar sands don’t get us anything close to climate stabilization, and that “anything is better than nothing” is a very weak rationale.
Michael Wara of Stanford Law School explained that offsets to Keystone would need to be binding, enforceable, monitored, and with consequences for violations. The problem is that none of the legal authority exists for accomplishing these things; thus, carbon offsetting is not a credible or enforceable option with regard to Keystone XL.
The bottom line, according to the final panel of the day, was that Keystone does not pass President Obama’s climate test. By rejecting Keystone, President Obama would turn the U.S. from a climate laggard to a climate leader. It would also be doing Canada and the rest of the world a favor, by preventing huge amounts of money from being wasted and huge environmental damage from being done.
Earlier today, the Fish & Wildlife Service released its new rule on the eagle “take” permit. In response, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has issued a statement, in which AWEA’s Director of Siting Policy John Anderson argues that “[t]his permit program promotes eagle conservation.” Anderson adds that “Congress actually sanctioned it decades ago by specifically authorizing a permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.” A few more key points worth highlighting:
The new rule “will allow permittees, including wind farm operators, to provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting wind energy companies, and other potential permittees – such as oil and gas exploration and production, mining, military bases, airports, telecommunication tower developers, utility line owners, etc. – a degree of longer-term legal and financial certainty, which is important to the viability of any business.”
“The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts.”
“Wind energy already reduces carbon dioxide pollution by nearly 100 million tons per year in the United States, and expanding its development is one of the cheapest, fastest, most readily scalable ways available now to address climate change – which experts and the leading wildlife conservation groups widely view as the single greatest threat to eagles and other wildlife.”
Also worth highlighting is the following language from the Department of Interior:
…this rulemaking is not expected to have any potentially significant environmental effects on future protection of eagles or other environmental resources. Similarly, the effects of this rule are not highly controversial as they mainly involve procedural alterations to regulatory permit provisions that are not anticipated to have any meaningful or significant environmental effects on eagle populations.
All permits will be closely monitored to ensure that allowable take numbers are not exceeded and that conservation measures are in place and effective over the life of the permit. Steps taken today will increase transparency and accountability by making annual reports and five-year compilations of eagle fatalities available to the public.
The bottom line is that wind power development – done in an environmentally responsible manner, of course – is a crucial part of this nation’s efforts to move off carbon-based fuels which contribute to climate change, which destroy habitat, and which harm wildlife in a myriad number of ways. The goal should be to accelerate that (environmentally responsible) development, not to slow it down.