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Oil Change International: Single Subsidy to Tar Sands Costs Taxpayers $610 Million per Year

Posted By Lowell F. on October 16th, 2014

Oil Change International (OCI) has been doing superb work in recent months, detailing the damage done by taxpayer-funded subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. For instance, in Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison, OCI reports that “federal and state subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries result in a $21 billion windfall for carbon polluting companies every year,” and that “risky drilling projects like those undertaken by BP would most likely never occur without this type of corporate welfare.”

Another OCI report focuses on subsidized fracking, and how “this experiment of exposing people to toxics released by natural gas development would not occur without billions in subsidies from the federal and state governments.” Also see OCI’s “Cashing In On Carbon: How Taxpayer Dollars Greenwash Dirty Energy,” which argues that “[t]hrough grants, tax breaks, and loan guarantees, the public is paying the financial costs––while shouldering the consequences––of re-shaping the carbon cycle to justify the continued use of dirty fuels and dangerous methods under the auspices of mitigating climate change.” In short, taxpayer subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are harming the environment and people’s health, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Now, OCI is out with yet another example of the tremendous cost of fossil fuel subsidies and the damage they do, with the article “Subsidy Spotlight: Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion.” The focus of this piece is the subsidies supporting upgrades to refineries, which allow them to more easily (and profitably) process tar sands, and also the adverse health impact that dirty tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”) have on communities. Here’s a short excerpt, but we most definitely recommend that you read the entire article, as this is a terrific piece of journalism.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

It was now a tar sands refinery, capable of refining 350,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil per day. And it was paid for, in large part, by U.S. taxpayers.

A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

Last but not least, if you’re interested in helping “put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and extreme energy extraction,” please click here.

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe Invited to Join People’s Climate March on Sunday

Posted By Lowell F. on September 19th, 2014

The following letter has been sent to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, inviting him to join with tens of thousands of others in New York City this Sunday for the People’s Climate March.

September 18, 2014

The Honorable Terry McAuliffe
Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Dear Governor McAuliffe:

As you are well aware, climate change is a crisis that requires urgent and effective action. Earlier this year, the authoritative National Climate Assessment (NCA) found “unambiguous” evidence that human activities – particularly the burning of coal, oil and natural gas – are causing climate change. And, although it might feel cool and pleasant in Virginia right now, according to data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, last month was the hottest ever recorded worldwide.  Clearly, with the threat of surging seas on the Virginia coast, stronger storms, more intense heat waves, and many other problems, this is an issue we no longer have the luxury of ignoring.

Fortunately, we are starting to see action. In June, as you know, the Environmental Protection Agency issued much-needed draft rules on carbon pollution, rules that will require Virginia and other states to develop compliance plans in coming months. This represents a tremendous economic opportunity for states like Virginia, with its abundant offshore wind resources, and tremendous opportunities for energy efficiency, distributed solar power and cleantech innovation generally. We presume that we are preaching to the converted on this, as your own 2009 gubernatorial campaign’s energy plan laid out a vision for requiring Virginia power companies to generate 25% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. The fact is, from a business and economic perspective, this is a win-win-win proposition for Virginia and for the country as a whole. As your friend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently argued, ”If we come together to make the hard choices, the smart investment in infrastructure, technology and environmental protection, America can be the clean energy superpower for the 21st century.” We couldn’t agree more.

In addition to action by government agencies and politicians, we are also excited to see a powerful grassroots movement pushing for immediate action to combat global warming. A superb example of this will take place on Sunday, September 21 in New York City, with the largest climate march in history — tens of thousands of people participating in the People’s Climate March. This historic event will include representatives from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, the Virginia Tech University Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club, 350.org, and many others.

Given that you will be in New York this weekend, we invite you to join us at the march. You can show true leadership and add your voice as we demand immediate, strong action to combat climate change. As Hillary Clinton explained earlier this month, global warming constitutes “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.”  She’s absolutely right, of course. Now it’s time for action.

Thank you very much.

Best,

350 Loudoun
Alliance for Progressive Values
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Climate Action Society at the University of Virginia
Coalition for Smarter Growth
eNRG – Energizing Renewable Growth in Holston Valley
Environment Virginia
Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions
James Madison University Earth Club
Organizing for Action VA
Old Dominion University EcoReps
Old Dominion University Social Entrepreneurs Council
Old Dominion Environmental Health and Safety Department
Our Task, Inc.
People’s Climate March Students of the College of William and Mary
Piedmont Environmental Council
Sierra Club Mt Vernon Group
Sierra Club Shenandoah Group
Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Sierra Club Great Falls Group
Sierra Club York River Group
VCU Environmental Coalition
Virginia Organizing
Virginia Student Environmental Coalition
Wild Virginia

Posted in Environment
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“Better Growth, Better Climate” Report Says “Next 15 Years Are Crucial” for Switch to Clean Energy

Posted By Lowell F. on September 18th, 2014

A new report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is well worth reading. Entitled “Better Growth, Better Climate,” its bottom-line conclusion is a powerful and compelling one:: “Investments to help fight climate change can also spur economic growth, rather than slow it as widely feared, but time is running short for a trillion-dollar shift to transform cities and energy use.”  A few more key points are:

  • The next 15 years are crucial – and require urgent action – for transforming the world’s energy system in order to head off disastrous global warming. These 15 years “could be an era of great progress and growth.”
  • “We have the technological, financial and human resources to raise living standards across the world.” Now we just need good policies to make that happen.
  • “US$45 trillion will be required in 2015–2030 for key categories of energy infrastructure. How that money is spent is critically important: it can help build robust, flexible energy systems that will serve countries well for decades to come, or it can lock in an energy infrastructure that exposes countries to future market volatility, air pollution, and other environmental and social stresses.”
  • “Much of the needed investment in low-carbon infrastructure can be handled through existing structures and mechanisms, with the help of effective policy, regulation and market signals. But for some investments – most notably a low-carbon transition in the power sector – creating efficient finance structures and attracting finance is more challenging and may require dedicated policy.”
  • Among the key recommendations are things we’ve been advocating for years: “Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels;” “Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies and remove barriers to entrepreneurship and creativity;” and “aim for a global phase-out of  unabated fossil fuel power generation by 2050.”

Given the plummeting cost of clean, renewable energy, these goals are now more doable than ever. The big question is: how long fossil fuel industries will keep national and state-level governments in their grip, slowing and otherwise impeding progress towards the vision laid out in this excellent new report?

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Will AEP President Nicholas K. Akins Eat Some “Safe Enough to Eat” Coal Ash on Camera for Us?

Posted By Lowell F. on September 10th, 2014

When it comes to dirty energy’s attempts to excuse, ignore, minimize, deny and disregard their industry’s multitude of problems, this has got to be an instant classic.

A lawsuit filed last month on behalf of 77 people claims that the plaintiffs were exposed to dangerous chemicals in coal ash, which led to several illnesses and deaths. The dispute is focused on American Electric Power‘s Gavin Landfill site in North Cheshire, Ohio, which is used for collecting and sipping of 2.6 million cubic yards of coal combustion waste byproducts from the Gavin Power Plant every year.

Repeatedly, individuals were not provided with protective equipment, such as overalls, gloves or respirators when working in and around coal waste,” the lawsuit says. “These working men and women, already exposed to the contaminants at the job site, then, in turn, carried the coal waste home to their families on their clothes and shoes, thus even exposing family members to the deadly toxins.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim that they asked supervisor Doug Workman whether it was safe to work with coal ash. “By sticking his finger into the coal waste and then placing his fly-ash covered finger into his own mouth,” the lawsuit reads, “[Workman] then misrepresented to the working direct claim plaintiffs that coal waste was ‘safe enough to eat.’”

So, we’re wondering: Where does the President of AEP, Nicholas K. Akins, stand on his employee’s “safe enough to eat” guarantee? If he’s good with it, will he eat some coal ash on camera for us? And if he won’t, because he knows this stuff contains deadly toxins, then why does his company expose its employees to it?

Posted in Environment, coal
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MIT Study Finds Health Benefits of CO2 Reductions Can Save 10x the Cost of Policy Implementation

Posted By Lowell F. on August 25th, 2014

Clearly, we believe it makes sense to slash the air and water pollution that is inextricably linked to fossil fuel extraction, processing, and consumption.  We also strongly believe that moving from a dirty to a clean energy economy makes sense on a whole host of levels — economic, environmental, national security, health, etc.  Yet opponents of a clean energy transition invariably raise claims that it will cost too much to do so, even though research has shown that fossil fuels are actually FAR more expensive than they appear to be, in large part because they are allowed to pollute without having to pay for doing so. Thus, the full “lifecycle cost” of coal to the U.S. public is actually upwards of $500 billion a year, but you won’t find that $500 billion a year incorporated into the price of coal, making it artificially cheap, and strongly skewing U.S. energy markets in favor of fossil fuels. Incorporate all the health and environmental “externalities” associated with fossil fuels, while taking away the enormous subsidies they receive from taxpayers, and it’s a totally different story — one in which clean energy would win by a wide margin.

Just in case you wanted even more evidence along these lines, a new study is out from researchers at MIT which finds that policies aimed at cutting fossil-fuel pollution can more than pay for themselves.

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

…The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program…Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program…The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.

In sum, by implementing smart policies to cut CO2 emissions, not only do policymakers help head off disastrous global warming, they also reduce other forms of pollution in the process, saving enormous amounts of money on health care costs. How much money? Enough, depending on the policy, to more than pay for the policy’s implementation. Who ever said you can’t get something for nothing? In this case, you actually get MORE than that — cleaner air and water, a habitable planet for future generations, sharply lower health problems and associated healthcare costs, as well as lower energy bills for consumers and a more competitive country in the world economy. If that’s not a “win-win-win” situation, it’s hard to know what is.