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Tue, 2012-07-17 05:00Brendan DeMelle
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Scientists Tell US State Department Excluding Climate Impacts in Keystone XL Review 'Neither Wise nor Credible'

Ten of the nation’s top climate scientists penned a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today questioning why the State Department isn't considering the enormous climate change impacts of developing the Alberta tar sands in its review of the controversial Keystone XL export pipeline project

“At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on ‘recreation,’ ‘visual resources,’ and ‘noise,’ among other factors,” the scientists wrote. “Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible.” 
 
The State Department is currently accepting comments on the scoping evaluation that will determine what environmental considerations will be included in the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) required for the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.The public comment period ends July 30.
 
The department’s previous draft EIS downplayed the climate risks of Keystone XL, arguing that the Alberta tar sands would be developed with or without it, so therefore the Obama administration has no accountability for the additional global warming pollution that will result from burning dirty tar sands oil. 
 
Wed, 2012-07-11 03:00Brendan DeMelle
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Science Trumped by Politics In Cuomo's NY Fracking Plans?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that, in making the decision on whether to allow horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, he wants to rely on “science, and not emotion.” He is relying on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give him that science - but an array of documents suggest the Governor is being badly served.

Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group shine a unique spotlight on privileged access granted to gas industry lobbyists by DEC officials with regards to fracking.

Some of the most important conversations revealed in those pages have little to do with debate over the science of fracking’s environmental footprint – and everything to do with the politics of ending New York’s temporary moratorium and allowing shale gas fracking to move forward in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to present the course his state will take with regards to fracking as the opposite of Pennsylvania’s drill-baby-drill approach, which has left regulators scrambling to keep up and allowed a growing list of problems to emerge. By contrast, New York will make an incremental, guarded entry into fracking, Cuomo alleges. And his regulators will take an approach that rises above the fray of conflicts between industry and environmentalists.

We have a process. Let’s get the facts,” Governor Cuomo said last year, with regards to ending the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking. “Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

But it’s increasingly clear that the process has actually been based on anything but science. Politics, legal considerations and economic concerns have instead predominated. Most tellingly, documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives allowed access to drafts of the state’s permit plans, and used that information to lobby hard against testing for radioactivity in wastewater, for example.

But the documents also show a regular pattern of behind-the-scenes communication between the industry and regulators, at the same time as environmental advocates and others were struggling to be heard through public comments and similar official channels.

Sat, 2012-06-30 08:00Brendan DeMelle
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Aspen Ideas Festival Fracking Debate Livestream - Tune in Sunday

This Sunday, July 1, FORA.tv is hosting a free, online debate at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “No Fracking Way: Is The Natural Gas Boom Doing More Harm Than Good?

The debate will feature Deborah Goldberg and Katherine Hudson arguing for the motion, Joe Nocera and Susan Tierney arguing against. (See below for brief bios.)

The debate will be streaming live online at 6pm PDT (3pm EDT), and you can tune in here at DeSmogBlog to watch as well.

Wed, 2012-06-27 22:09Brendan DeMelle
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Fracking Industry Enjoyed Privileged Access To Controversial New York DEC Environmental Review

Documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show that bureaucrats within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) granted the oil and gas industry premature access to highly controversial draft regulations for shale gas fracking in the state. New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas in order to evaluate the science on the risks posed to drinking water, air quality and the health of New York's citizens and the environment. 

The documents, obtained by EWG through New York's Freedom of Information Law, show that the fracking industry received an unfair advantage thanks to DEC officials who provided detailed summaries of their proposed rules exclusively to oil and gas industry representatives. This allowed industry a six-week head start to lobby state officials to weaken the proposed standards before the public was granted access to the plan.

Of particular concern, a lobbyist for scandal-ridden gas giant Chesapeake Energy used the exclusive access to the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) to attempt to weaken the proposed rules restricting discharges of radioactive wastewater.

Thomas West, a prominent oil and gas industry lobbyist representing Chesapeake and other industry clients, made “one last pitch” – in an email to DEC Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Steven Russo – to “reduce or eliminate radionuclide testing” of fluids that could migrate from drilling sites during storms, according to the documents.

NY DEC has previously found concentrations of cancer-causing radioactive pollution at shale gas drilling sites that exceeded safe drinking water standards by hundreds of times or more, according to EWG's report “Inside Track: Cuomo Team Gives Drillers Jump Start to Influence Fracking Rules.” 

“This is like giving the drilling industry three laps around the track while everyone else was left waiting on the starting block,” said Thomas Cluderay, EWG assistant general counsel. “The public needs to know whether New York regulators compromised the integrity of the state's drilling plan months ago, despite promises of keeping the process fair and transparent.”

Mon, 2012-06-25 21:51Brendan DeMelle
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Heartland Institute, ALEC and More Gearing Up to Undermine Renewable Energy

One of the environmental movement’s biggest accomplishments over the past decade has been convincing states to adopt so-called renewable portfolio standards (RPS). RPS require a state’s energy supply to diversify, gradually shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources like geothermal, wind and solar.

At least 30 states now have these measures which set deadlines to ensure that a certain amount – sometimes as much as 40 percent – of energy consumed in the state comes from renewable sources. As climate change, air pollution and the broad-based political attacks on renewable sources of energy grow worse by the day, these RPS are more crucial than ever.

But they’re in jeopardy.

State legislatures have introduced a handful of bills over the past year seeking to repeal state RPS altogether or to expand the definition of renewable energy in ways that will weaken their climate change benefits. In the past several months, two major conservative groups – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform  – said they plan a full-scale legislative push to remove the mandates.

Fri, 2012-06-22 17:32Brendan DeMelle
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Christopher Monckton Described as "Loose Cannon" "17th Century Pamphleteer" By UKIP, Party Cuts Ties With Him

The Guardian reports that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has distanced itself from “Lord” Christopher Monckton, the crazypants climate denier who thinks President Obama's birth certificate is fake, compared youth climate activists to “Hitler Youth” and a litany of other crazy stunts well-documented here at DeSmog over the years. 

The Guardian's Leo Hickman reports today from Rio, where Monckton is pulling his usual shenanigans: 
  

As has become the norm at such international gatherings in recent years, the eccentric climate sceptic Lord Monckton has flown in to Rio to perform his party piece about how environmentalists are trying to establish a “world socialist government”, and such like. What is less clear these days is whether his colleagues at the UK Independence Party (Ukip) approve of such interventions.

Under Lord Pearson, the previous Ukip leader, Monckton was the party's deputy leader and was also variously the head of the party's policy unit, as well as its spokesman on energy and the environment. But ever since fellow eccentric climate sceptic Roger Helmer defected from the Conservatives to Ukip earlier this year, he has assumed the latter role. So what, if any, role does Monckton now have at Ukip?

Gawain Towler, Ukip's press spokesman, has confirmed to me this morning that Monckton “no longer has any formal role” with Ukip. Towler described Monckton as an “outlier” who is now “semi-detached” from the party, partly because he's “barely in the country these days”. (Before arriving in Rio, Monckton had been touring the US Tea Party circuit casting doubt on the origins of Barack Obama's birth certificate.) [See DeSmog's coverage of Monckton's birther tour]

I asked if there had been a falling out between Monckton and the current Ukip leader, Nigel Farage. Towler said not, but said that Monckton - whom he described as a “17th century pamphleteer” - was sometimes the source of “frustration” and was “very much Lord Pearson's man - they own contiguous shooting estates in Scotland”. Towler added that Monckton had been active in the party at a time when it was “not drowning in talent”, but the recent surge in popularity for the party had seen a fresh influx of personnel. Monckton was a “loose cannon”, said Towler, but Helmer is a “tied-down cannon, pointed in the same direction”.

With his political prospects looking increasingly bleak, “Lord” Monckton is slipping further into irrelevancy. Look for him to continue trying to outdo the Heartland Institute in increasingly insane stunts. Let's just hope he's given up skydiving because that was a scary sight

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