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Tue, 2013-09-24 13:00Ben Jervey
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SaveCanada: Using TransCanada's Playbook to Fight the Energy East Pipeline

As their proposed Keystone XL pipeline faces ever-increasing opposition – and as the State Department continues to push back official decisions on whether to approve the pipeline's permit – TransCanada has turned at least some of their attention east. The Canadian company has proposed and is now seeking permission to build out their so-called Energy East pipeline system (which DeSmogBlog has covered here), which would funnel tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta to refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick, on a point of land jutting out into the Bay of Fundy. The project would involve converting roughly 1,864 miles of natural gas to handle diluted bitumen and constructing roughly 870 miles of new pipeline from the Ontario-Quebec border to the coastal refinery. In all, Energy East would travel over 2,700 miles across Canada, through hundreds of cities and townships and across hundreds of rivers and streams.  

To sell the Energy East vision to the communties that could potential be affected by a Kalamazoo or Mayflower-type of spill, TransCanada has foregone the “town hall” model – where concerned citizens or community activists can take the floor to raise concerns – instead opting for an open house, “trade show” model of community meeting, where TransCanada reps take their talking points and shiny PR materials directly to attendees in one-on-one settings. 

Enter: SaveCanada

Fri, 2013-09-20 06:00Ben Jervey
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Should We Wait 300 Years for Clean Air in U.S. National Parks?

If you’ve been planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park, and are hoping for a perfectly clear, crisp day, you’ll have to wait awhile. Like 150 years or so.

You see, Yellowstone, like many of the United States' national parks, suffers from some pretty serious air pollution. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, at current rates of progress, it’s going to take until 2163 for Yellowstone to clear the haze and once again have natural air quality.

Yellowstone isn’t alone. The NPCA crunched the numbers of ten flagship national parks, and found some disappointing results. According to their research, natural air quality in these popular and prestigious parks wouldn’t be achieved until these dates:

  • North Cascades National Park (Washington) – 2276
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota) – 2265
  • Voyagers National Park (Minnesota) – 2177
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming/Montana/Idaho) – 2163
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) – 2158
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas) – 2155
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) – 2127
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado) – 2119
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California) – 2106
  • Sequoia National Park (California) – 2096

Play around with this startling interactive graphic from the NPCA:

Thu, 2013-09-19 14:37Ben Jervey
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An End to Powder River Basin Coal Leases? Second Auction in Two Months Fails to Seal a Mining Deal

The Bureau of Land Management is having a hard time getting rid of our publicly owned coal. For the second time in two months, a federal coal lease auction resulted in no sales.

On Wednesday, the BLM announced that it was officially rejecting the lone bid on the Hay Creek II coal lease tract in Wyoming. The lone bidder, Kiewit Mining Properties, had offered a measly $0.21-per-ton of the estimated 167 million tons of mineable coal in the Hay Creek II tract. The BLM declared that the bid “did not meet fair market value” and rejected it.

Hey, at least we can’t accuse the BLM of literally giving away coal on public lands.

This failure to secure a suitable bid comes on the heels of last month’s stunning news that there were absolutely no bids for the auction of the Maysdorf II tract, also in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

If these two failed auctions represent a larger trend, it is that the market for coal has gotten so bad that even the BLM’s bargain bin prices are too high for industry to pay. And, yes, the BLM’s prices are cheap, as they’ve leased over 2 billion tons of coal in the Powder River Basin alone since 2011 at an average of around $1-per-ton.

That price point was criticized in a recent report by the Interior Department’s own Inspector General, which accused the BLM of failing to factor international markets and coal exports into their “fair market values,” and which calculated that for every cent that publicly-owned coal deposits are undervalued, American taxpayers get stiffed by $3 million.

Tue, 2013-09-10 06:00Ben Jervey
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Dealing in Doubt: Greenpeace Report Exposes Fossil Fuel Funded Climate Denial Machine

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to release its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) – the latest installment of its comprehensive assessment of climate science – early next year, the science is already under attack. As the U.S. Global Change Research Program puts the final draft of the third National Climate Assessment together, also due out in early 2014, its conclusions are already under siege.

In an updated report released today, Greenpeace explains how these attacks on the science of climate change – on the reports, on the scientists themselves, and on the rigorous scientific process itself – are part of a decades-old, well-organized, and richly-funded campaign to discredit the science of climate change and to intentionally pollute public discourse on climate change.

In Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science, an update of their 2010 report, Greenpeace exhaustively describes the fossil fuel funded climate denial machine, tracing its Exxon-funded, tobacco industry-inspired roots in the 1990s to the intricate and secretive web of disinformation that exists today. 

Tue, 2013-08-20 14:02Ben Jervey
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Maysdorf II By the Numbers: BLM's Big Coal Giveaway Tomorrow

Update Aug 23: In a stunning development, there wasn't a single bid at the BLM auction, with Cloud Peak Energy passing up the chance to bid out of fear that it would not be profitable.   

Tomorrow, the Bureau of Land Management will sell off roughly 148 million tons of coal. The BLM is opening the sealed bids for the so-called “Maysdorf II” tract in the heart of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The coal will likely be sold to Cloud Peak Energy, which operates the adjacent Cordero Rojo mine, one of the nation's largest strip mine operations. 

Cloud Peak Energy's Tesoro Rojo mine, soon to be expanded. Video by Greenpeace.  

According to Joe Smyth of Greenpeace, who penned a great post putting this sale (and another, even larger coal lease scheduled for next month) in the context of President Obama's recent climate announcements, the coal will be sold for roughly $1-per-ton. That represents a deep discount below market rates, which is what you'd expect from a lease auction with only one bidder.

Mon, 2013-07-22 10:00Ben Jervey
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Oil On The Tracks: The Crude-by-Rail Boom By the Numbers

The tragic oil train explosion earlier this month in Lac-Megantic, Quebec has focused a spotlight on the growing role of rail in the transportation of North American crude. But even after that tragedy, the extent of rail’s expansion in transporting oil is still little understood by the typical driver at the pump.

So DeSmog is going to dedicate a couple of posts expanding on an earlier post about this staggering boom in crude-by-rail – why it's happening, where the oil is going, what the risks are, and who stands to benefit most from the trend.  

On November 7, 2011, the Bakken Oil Express loaded up its first railcar with North Dakota crude and started churning south towards a Gulf Coast refinery. This wasn’t the first crude-by-rail shipment in U.S. history (John D. Rockefeller might have something to say about that), nor the first time in recent history that shale crude was shuttled out of the Bakken by rail.

But if you’re looking for a pivot point in the transportation trends of North American crude, the christening of the Bakken Oil Express is a fitting one.

The Bakken Oil Express is just one piece of a rapidly expanding network of North American oil tanker trains, but it's a particularly symbolic one, quickly brought online to handle the spiking production of North Dakota sweet crude. 

According to the Association of American Railroads (PDF), “In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated just 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2012, they originated nearly 234,000 carloads. Based on the more than 97,000 rail carloads of crude oil in the first quarter of this year, another big jump is expected in 2013.” 

That’s nearly a 2400-percent increase in five short years, and the upward trend looks to be growing even faster in 2013.

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