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Wed, 2014-11-05 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Climate Deniers In Congress Take 3.5 Times As Much Money From Dirty Energy Interests

As the US Environmental Protection Agency attempts to draw down emissions from power plants via its Clean Power Plan, fossil fuel interests are, of course, fighting back. A new special report from Earthjustice exposes the “unparalleled political spending by dirty energy industries” intent on defeating the EPA's climate initiative.

Power plants, especially those that burn coal and natural gas, are responsible for nearly one-third of all global warming emissions in the US, making electricity production the single biggest source of climate change pollution. There are currently no limits on how much carbon dioxide power plants can dump into the atmosphere.

Burning coal for electricity in particular has also been found to have dire impacts on human health at every stage of its life cycle. But those who live nearby coal-fired power plants suffer some of the worst of it: children are more likely to have asthma if they live by a plant burning coal, and mercury pollution from coal has been linked to higher incidence of autism and other developmental issues.

There's a social justice angle to consider too: coal-fired power plants are much more likely to be situated near a low-income community or community of color, forcing people who have done the least to contribute to the problem to deal with a disproportionate share of the impacts. According to Earthjustice, 40% of the US's Latino population lives within 30 miles of a power plant.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions from US power plants some 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, but it will have a host of other economic and health benefits as well. Earthjustice says that imposing emissions limits on power plants could prevent as many as 100,000 asthma attacks in children every year, and by cutting their climate pollution Americans could save $13 billion a year on their energy bills.

Which begs the question Earthjustice set out to answer: “When acting on climate change has the added benefits of cleaner air that’s easier to breathe, healthier communities, safer people and homes, economic protection and even growth, why would elected officials oppose it?”

As the saying goes, just follow the money.

Thu, 2014-09-04 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

In Texas and North Dakota, where an oil rush triggered by the development of new fracking methods has taken many towns by storm, drillers have run into a major problem.

While their shale wells extract valuable oil, natural gas also rises from the wells alongside that oil. That gas could be sold for use for electrical power plants or to heat homes, but it is harder to transport from the well to customers than oil. Oil can be shipped via truck, rail or pipe, but the only practical way to ship gas is by pipeline, and new pipelines are expensive, often costing more to construct than the gas itself can be sold for.

So, instead of losing money on pipeline construction, many shale oil drillers have decided to simply burn the gas from their wells off, a process known in the industry as “flaring.”

It's a process so wasteful that it's sparked class action lawsuits from landowners, who say they've lost millions of dollars worth of gas due to flaring. Some of the air emissions from flared wells can also be toxic or carcinogenic. It's also destructive for the climate – natural gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and when methane burns, it produces more than half as much CO2 as burning coal.

Much of the research into the climate change impact the nation's fracking rush – now over a decade long – has focused on methane leaks from shale gas wells, where drillers are deliberately aiming to produce natural gas. The climate change impacts of shale oil drilling have drawn less attention from researchers and regulators alike.

Thu, 2014-06-05 13:00Mike Gaworecki
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California State Senators Who Voted Against Fracking Moratorium Took 370% More From Oil Industry

Even though a sizable majority of Californians favor a moratorium on fracking until its impacts on the environment and human health are better understood, California's fracking moratorium bill, SB 1132, died in the state Senate last week, voted down for the final time on Friday evening.

Four Democrats joined all 12 Republicans in voting nay on Friday, while five more Dems abstained, making the final vote 16 to 16. A simple majority of the 40-member body was needed to pass (three Senators are currently suspended and unable to vote).

Big Oil spent big to defeat this bill. The Western States Petroleum Agency, widely regarded as the most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, spent $1.5 million lobbying the state government in the first three months of 2014 alone (and according to Truth Out, the WSPA spent $4.7 million in 2013, more than any other group). A statewide coalition of environmental groups called Californians Against Fracking estimates that, all told, the oil industry has spent $15 million lobbying state legislators to stop SB 1132 from becoming law.

It would appear that Big Oil got what it paid for. According to a DeSmogBlog analysis of contributions from fossil fuel interests to California State Senators, those who voted no have taken some 370% as much money in campaign contributions from the oil industry as did those voting yes.

Over their lifetime, the 16 Senators who voted against SB 1132 have taken $590,185 from the oil industry, while the 16 who voted no have taken $159,250.

This data is via Oil Change International's Dirty Energy Money database, and only tallies contributions made through 2012, the last year campaign contribution numbers are available.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59Sharon Kelly
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Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It's our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We're expecting to hear the same conclusion that we've heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

Fri, 2011-07-15 10:21Farron Cousins
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GOP Coal Ash Bill May Be Hazardous To Your Health

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted this week to allow a new bill on the regulation of coal ash to be considered for a full House vote. The bill, known as The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, would prevent the E.P.A. from classifying coal ash (or fly ash) as a toxic substance, and instead would allow individual states to make their own rules regarding the storage and re-use of coal ash waste.

The bill passed the committee by a vote of 35 – 12, with all Committee Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor of the bill. The E.P.A. ruled in 2000 that coal ash was not a hazardous substance, but proposed a rule last summer that would change the classification to “hazardous.” The agency is still debating which rule will stand, and announced recently that the decision will not be made this year.

The bill was put forward by freshman Republican David McKinley from West Virginia. West Virginia is one of the country’s leading producers of both coal and coal waste. Under the guise of “saving jobs,” McKinley introduced the bill earlier this year. But a look beyond the surface reveals McKinley’s true intentions for putting forth the legislation.

During the course of his short career, McKinley has already received more than $205,000 from the mining industry, which includes donations from some of the largest coal companies in West Virginia – Alpha Natural Resources (a leading company in mountaintop removal mining,) International Coal Group, and Patriot Coal. The following chart is from OpenSecrets, showing McKinley’s top donors:

Tue, 2011-05-10 19:39Brendan DeMelle
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350.org Launches Crowd-Funded Ad Campaign To Hold Polluter-Friendly Politicians Accountable

350.org and CREDO Mobile are testing a new tactic to turn up the heat on polluter-friendly politicians who receive large campaign contributions from dirty energy interests and then turn around and vote against public health and the environment. Kinda like the Senators who recently voted to gut the Clean Air Act, like Scott Brown (R-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), for example.

Making phone calls and signing petitions to Congress are tried and true grassroots organizing tactics, but there are other tools that might have an even greater impact. That’s why 350 and CREDO are experimenting with crowd-sourcing - asking a few Senators’ constituents to crowd-fund ads connecting the dots between their Senator’s vote to gut the Clean Air Act and their campaign contributions from polluters.

Fri, 2010-11-12 09:51Mitchell Anderson
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Assessing the Midterm Damage in DC

As the dust settles on DC, many are now wondering what toll the midterm results will take on climate science and energy policy. The initial signs are ominous.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is angling for chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee where he could further favor his friends in the fossil fuel industry. Barton strongly apposes Congressional efforts to cut carbon emissions, telling NPR last week, “There will be no cap-and-trade bill … It’s not just endangered, it’s extinct.” He also accepted almost $400,000 in contributions last year from electrical utilities and the oil and gas industry.

Barton embarrassed even some of his Republican colleagues when he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward during his testimony to Congress after the Gulf oil spill. If the optics of Barton chairing the energy committee are too odious, the runner up will likely be Fred Upton of Michigan - perhaps not a major improvement.

Both men voted against clean energy legislation. Upton has also vowed to kill the Congressional Select Committee on Climate Change, saying “the American people do not need Congress to spend millions of dollars to write reports and fly around the world. We must terminate this wasteful committee.”

But is Congress considering the implications of climate change really such bad investment? The climate committee cost about $8 million per year. This is less than one percent of what scientists believe climate change could cost the US economy - about $1.8 trillion per year - if we chose to ignore it.

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