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Sun, 2014-04-20 13:01Farron Cousins
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Deepwater Horizon: BP’s Toxic Legacy

It has now been four years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and leaking an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The media attention has disappeared, but the oil that continues to wash up along the Gulf Coast is a constant reminder to those who call this area home of BP’s toxic legacy.

In spite of the massive evidence of fraud and malfeasance on behalf of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, only one set of criminal charges was filed in the four years since the disaster.  Those charges were filed against BP engineer Kurt Mix, who has since been found guilty of obstruction of justice for deleting text messages about the true size of the oil leak.  However, Mix has yet to be sentenced, and the judge is currently weighing a defense motion to dismiss the charges altogether. 

The three companies involved — BP, Transocean, and Halliburton — have paid criminal fines for their actions, money that is supposed to go to states and individuals for the damage they suffered as a result of the spill.  But thanks to the dirty tricks employed by BP, those payments have slowed to a trickle.

Late last year, as their fines and legal payments began to exceed their original expectations, BP launched a massive PR blitz to demonize “greedy” oil spill victims who were seeking compensation.  The oil giant took out full-page ads in major newspapers like the Washington Post claiming that the spill claims process was riddled with fraud, and that the company was being raked over the coals by fraudulent payments.  The company successfully managed to stall payments for a while, with a judge recently ordering the company to continue making payments.

But for all of their crying over allegedly unfair payments, BP has made out like a bandit in the years since the company destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.  For starters, they avoided charges of manslaughter for criminal negligence that led to the death of the 11 rig workers.  Since the spill, the company has pulled in a net income of $38 billion over the last three years, and was recently granted the ability to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  For BP, everything has returned to normal.

Tue, 2014-02-25 05:00Farron Cousins
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Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

Tue, 2014-02-04 10:13Kai Nagata
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Is Keystone in the National Interest? Of Canada, That Is?

keystone xl

It's up to the U.S. President to decide whether the cross-border leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest of his country. Ultimately, his criteria are less scientific than political. Does he stand to lose more by alienating those who support or oppose the project?

With midterm elections coming up in November, Obama doesn't have time to worry about Canada's hurt feelings. Our economy, environment and opinion are very low on his list of priorities.

But the strongest pro-Keystone arguments on the American side raise an uncomfortable question: if the pipeline is approved, who benefits a little bit — and who benefits a lot? In other words, who gets the short end of the stick?

Tue, 2014-01-14 20:52Farron Cousins
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First On 2014 Congressional Agenda: Dismantle EPA Protections That Save Lives

After nearly a month off, U.S. elected officials returned to Washington, D.C. this week.  And just as they so often do after returning from vacation, one of their first legislative actions was to dismantle portions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a legislative packet that will greatly reduce the EPA’s ability to monitor environmental and health violations, leaving that responsibility to the states, many of which are constrained in their ability by tight budgets. 

The package, known as the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, is a compilation of three separate bills, each attacking a different area of the EPA.

One of the biggest changes stemming from the legislation is a requirement that EPA update its rules for solid waste disposal every three years, and the agency will no longer be able to impose any regulations on solid waste disposal that interfere or attempt to supersede state laws. 

Other parts of the legislative package compel the EPA to consult with states before imposing rules on the cleanup of Superfund sites, in addition to language that requires the President to consult with state leadership before enforcing environmental laws.

The three separate pieces of legislation included in the packet were proposed by Republican representatives Cory Gardner of Colorado and Bob Latta and Bill Johnson of Ohio.  Altogether, the three Republicans have received more than $1,190,000 from the dirty energy industry.

Mon, 2014-01-13 01:30Sharon Kelly
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New Carbon Rules for Power Plants A Missed Opportunity To Rein in Natural Gas Emissions, Critics Say

One of the linchpins of the Obama administration’s high-stakes plan to address climate change moved one step closer to implementation this week, as the EPA officially published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants, drawing fire from environmentalists who say the rules for natural gas power plants are too lenient.

The proposed rules cover both natural gas and coal-fired electrical plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The rules would make it virtually impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be built, unless carbon capture and sequestration technology is used, but sets standards that can be easily achieved by natural gas power plants without using any similar tools.

This has led to an outcry from environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better.”

The rules for coal plants are not expected to have much direct impact on new power plant construction plans—utilities planned to build very few coal plants even before the EPA proposed its rule.

But once they are finalized, the standards for new power plants will trigger a key clause of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA will next be required to create similar carbon dioxide emissions guidelines that would govern the existing 6,500 coal and natural gas power plants nationwide.

It’s important because it establishes the form that these regulations will take,” John Coequyt, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign told ThinkProgress.

The EPA move is part of Mr. Obama’s overall climate strategy, which disappointed many observers who criticize its support of fracking and its underwhelming effectiveness. “The Obama administration is aiming for reductions by 2020,” Brad Plumer wrote in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog earlier this week. “But that's not nearly enough to avert a 2°C rise in temperatures, which is the broader goal.”  

Mr. Obama’s climate plan calls for a heavy reliance on natural gas, which produces roughly 50 to 60 percent as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned, to help transition away from coal. But there is strong evidence that natural gas, which is primarily composed of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, may be worse for the climate than coal. The Obama climate plan, in that case, would represent a move from the frying pan into the fire.

Tue, 2013-10-29 14:15Carol Linnitt
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US State Department Considers Rail Transport of Crude in Keystone XL Decision

keystone xl pipeline oil by rail

A decision on the proposed northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline - under review since 2008 - hinges on a final environmental review by the State Department now taking into consideration the importance oil-by-rail transport might have on growth of Alberta's tar sands.

US officials are evaluating the impact Keystone XL will have on expansion of the tar sands and whether or not the pipeline will worsen climate change. According to a new report by Reuters the evaluation has created a balancing test, “zeroing in on the question of whether shipment by rail is a viable alternative to the controversial project.”

The test's crux: “if there is enough evidence that the oil sands region will quickly grow with or without the 1,200-mile line, that would undercut an argument from environmentalists that the pipeline would turbocharge expansion,” Reuters reports.

President Barack Obama's State Department is asking rail executives to report on logistics, market dynamics and what obstacles oil-by-rail alternatives face in delivering 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil to Cushing, Oklahoma - the “pipeline crossroads of the world” - where Keystone XL's northern half will link up with Keystone XL's southern half which is expected to be up and running by the end of October.

In other words, could rail realistically provide an alternative to the Keystone XL, aiding in the expansion of Canada's highly-polluting tar sands?

Thu, 2013-10-24 05:00Farron Cousins
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US Chamber President Tom Donohue Pushes Deceitful Dirty Energy Talking Points

Tom Donohue, the president of the massive business lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is once again doing the bidding of the dirty energy industry by claiming that America is on the verge of complete “energy security.”

On the pages of the U.S. Chamber’s Free Enterprise website, Donohue claimed that America has become an “energy rich” nation, no longer susceptible to problems like the gas shortage of the 1970’s.  In Donohue’s own words:

We’re sitting on a 200-year supply of oil and have enough natural gas to last us 115 years. And we’re discovering more resources every day. Thanks to new technology, entrepreneurship, and access to private lands, we’re able to develop more of it than ever—particularly the unconventional oil and gas, which was previously too costly to reach…

…Our national energy policy is still based on the false assumption that we are an energy-poor nation. The federal government continues to keep 87% of federal lands off limits for energy development. Our affordable and abundant coal resources are under constant regulatory threat by EPA. The administration is proposing new regulations on shale energy development, even though it is already stringently regulated at the state level. And some in the government still want to pick winners and losers among energy industries.

Donohue would have us believe that the United States is sitting on vast energy reserves that would quench our dirty energy addiction for centuries, but the pesky federal government is trying to keep those honest energy companies down. 

This is the same government that, a few paragraphs earlier Donohue inadvertently admitted, had allowed increased oil and gas drilling in the United States and reduced our need for imports:

Fri, 2013-10-18 07:41Sharon Kelly
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Fracking Coming to Washington D.C.'s Drinking Water?

Over the past several years, the battle over fracking has brought Congressional hearings, protests and huge industry money to Washington DC. But in recent months the topic has taken on a new, more local turn in the nation's capital as oil and gas companies push to drill in a national forest near in the city's backyard and an unusual cast of charaters are lining up to oppose it.

The fight is over access to drill for shale gas in the George Washington National Forest and officials from the Environmental Protect Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service have come out in opposition, even though some of these same federal agencies have in other contexts helped to promote expanded shale gas drilling.

The forest is one of the East Coast’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of its last old growth forests.

Horizontal drilling, key to shale gas extraction, has never before been permitted in the George Washington National Forest. But as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service prepares a new 15-year plan, drillers are pushing hard for the ban to be lifted despite the industry’s long record of spills, air pollution and water contamination on public lands.

Wed, 2013-07-03 11:00Farron Cousins
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Obama's War On Coal Doesn’t Exist…Says Coal Lobby?

During the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran ads and the party adopted as a platform the “war on coal” being waged by President Barack Obama.  While the platform failed when it came to securing votes for the Republican Party, it hasn’t stopped the GOP from re-launching the same talking points in the wake of President Obama’s recent climate change action speech.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was one of the first to voice his concerns for the coal industry, saying that the President’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants would have a devastating impact on employment and the industry itself

Boehner has fallen into the “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it” trap.  As it turns out, the coal industry and their lobbying groups have already admitted that the 2012 “war on coal” talking point was an abject failure.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association recently lamented the following in the industry publication “Coal Age” (courtesy of The Huffington Post):

Anyway, ‘war on coal’ never resonated with much conviction among ordinary Americans. For them, the EPA keeps the air and water clean, their kids safe. The Appalachian permits the EPA held up, the Spruce Mine permit the agency yanked, the regulatory standard it proposed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and stop new coal plant construction – all that flew over the head of most voters who, let’s face it, know far more about the Kardashians than they do about coal.

HuffPost goes on to note that the “war on coal” never really ended for the Republican Party:

Wed, 2013-06-26 09:43Kevin Grandia
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Is Obama's Faith in Carbon Capture a Technicolor Dream?

obama climate change 2013

President Obama's climate action announcement yesterday relies heavily on carbon capture and storage technology eventually paying off as a commercially viable option. But carbon capture and storage (or CCS) continues to be more of a dream than reality. And a very expensive dream at that.

According to a database maintained at MIT's Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies program, there are currently six large scale CCS projects underway in the United States. Five of the six projects are still in the planning phase, with one project listed as under construction. The current projected price tag of these six projects is a whopping $16.7 billion.

That's a lot to gamble on a risky technology that continues to struggle to prove it's even possible to deploy on a global scale. And $16.7 billion is only the opening bet. A full scale deployment of CCS technology across the entire US would likely be in the hundreds of billions. Estimates run as high as $1.5 trillion a year to deploy and operate enough carbon capture and storage worldwide to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the fossil fuels we consume.

President Obama announced his administration would make $8 billion available in loan guarantees for the development of enhanced fossil energy projects, which includes CCS technology. 

In a follow-up announcement today, the Interior department and the US Geological Survey released “the first-ever detailed national geologic carbon sequestration assessment.”

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