coal

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40Sharon Kelly
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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

Thu, 2014-02-13 10:56Ben Jervey
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St. Louis Judge Cites Citizens United to Protect Tax Breaks for Peabody Energy

With the quick stroke of a pen, a circuit court judge in St. Louis has singlehandedly silenced more than 22,000 city residents, who had sought to bring a ballot initiative to end tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to a citywide vote in April.

Last summer, volunteers with the Take Back St. Louis coalition gathered over 22,000 signatures to put onto the ballot a measure that would amend the city’s charter to include a “Sustainable Energy Policy” and end taxpayer-funded support of fossil fuel companies.

According to Take Back St. Louis, the “proposed charter amendment would end public financial incentives, such as tax abatements, to fossil fuel mining companies and those doing $1 million of business with them per year, and requires the city to create a sustainable energy plan for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives on city-owned vacant land.”

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Dierker sided with Peabody Energy (in a decision you can read here) to grant a temporary restraining order that would, in essence, keep the initiative off the April 8th ballot.

First declaring the initiative “facially unconstitutional,” Judge Dierker proceeded to cite the Citizens United decision in explaining why the policy would represent a “patent denial of equal protection” to fossil fuel energy companies.  Specifically, Judge Dierker wrote:

business entities (which, after all, are a species of associations of citizens coming together in the exercise of economic freedom) are entitled to constitutional protection as citizens and may not arbitrarily be denied basic legal rights. See Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

The proposed initiative and judge’s decision have implications far beyond the city of St. Louis. Peabody Energy, the largest privately-owned coal mining company in the world, is headquartered in St. Louis, and received tax breaks of over $61 million from the city in 2010. The Take Back St. Louis coalition was hoping to target future giveaways, arguing that the public funds would be much better spent on underfunded local services like schools.

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:21Ben Jervey
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GAO Hiding Crucial Documents From The Public While Calling for More Transparency in BLM Coal Leases

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office released a much-anticipated report about the Bureau of Land Management's coal leasing program, revealing it has stiffed taxpayers over $200 million.

The GAO blames a lack of competition in the bidding process, reliance on outdated and incomplete methods to determine “fair market value” of the coal reserves, a disregard of coal exports and their impact on fair valuation, and a blatant lack of transparency in the leasing program.  

Senator Edward Markey, who had requested the GAO investigation in 2012 while he still served in the House, responded immediately to the report's findings. The GAO didn't address specifics on how much public revenue might have been lost by mismanaged leases and auctions.

Senator Markey explained that based on an examination of the report and other coal leasing documents that were not made public, his staff figured that the the BLM could have earned at least $200 million more for the American public if managed properly. 

Unfortunately, the coal leasing documents investigated by Markey's staff aren't available to the public, which the GAO claims is because of the inclusion of private business information. According to Ned Griffith of the GAO, the information in the report was labeled “sensitive but unclassified” by the Interior Department.

In other words, even though one of the major findings of the GAO report was a troubling lack of transparency, the office itself is shielding from public view these detailed documents about coal leases on public lands. 

Thu, 2014-02-06 19:34Graham Readfearn
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Coal Industry Report On Social Cost Of Carbon Relies On Climate Science Denial

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) seems a confusing and confused organisation of major coal miners and burners - even if you only consider its oxymoronic title.

When the industry group was launched in 2008, the message was that coal — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning globally — could be part of the future.

I believe we can limit greenhouse gases,” declared one of the wholesome American citizens depicted in the ACCCE television adverts.

One can only presume that the ACCCE has now dropped its hopes of limiting greenhouse gases, given that its latest “landmark report” claims the benefits to society of putting extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere massively outweigh the costs. Surely the message should be, “burn baby, burn”?

The Social Costs Of Carbon? No, The Social Benefits Of Carbon report by ACCCE claims the benefits of adding extra CO2 to the atmosphere are between 50 and 500 times higher than the costs.

But the report attacks climate change science using sources as ideologically tainted as the Heartland Institute – an organisation which once ran a billboard campaign with a picture of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to claim that the “most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

At its core, the ACCCE report is one long misrepresentation of the impact of coal on the planet, from its effects on growing food crops to raising sea levels to fuelling risk-laden climate change.

Wed, 2014-02-05 05:00Sharon Kelly
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At State and Federal Level, Regulators Continue to Struggle With Fracking Wastewater

The oil and gas industry often complains about the patchwork of rules that exist from state to state and county to county. They say that the rules are so variable that it’s like having to get a new driver’s license every time you drive across a state line. Public safety advocates suggest a simple fix: federal oversight of drilling. Standardize the rules. But the drilling industry recoils at the very notion.

Several recent developments illustrate exactly why. Witness the two diametrically opposed directions federal and state regulators are heading. Officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on the one hand, are considering strengthening rules on how oil and gas wastewater is handled by classifying some of it as hazardous waste. Meanwhile, state regulators in Pennsylvania, where the most active Marcellus shale drilling is currently underway, are considering a move to loosen wastewater rules.

Pennsylvania is currently poised to enact rules that would encourage oil and gas companies to use the heavily polluted wastewater from abandoned coal mines, called acid mine drainage, instead of fresh water. While supporters of this rule change say it’s a win-win situation for the environment and for drillers, opponents of the bill say that a key incentive in the bill goes overboard and could wind up creating worse problems down the road.

Sun, 2014-02-02 11:45Ben Jervey
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No Matter How You Count Them, Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are As High As Ever

The exact worth of massive global fossil fuel subsidies is incredibly hard to figure. There’s no real consistency in the definitions of subsidies, or how they should be calculated. As a result, estimates of global subsidy support for fossil fuels vary widely.

According to a new analysis by the Worldwatch Institute, these estimates range from $523 billion to over $1.9 trillion, depending on what is considered a “subsidy” and how exactly they are tallied.

Worldwatch Institute research fellow Philipp Tagwerker, who authored the brief, explains:

The lack of a clear definition of “subsidy” makes it hard to compare the different methods used to value support for fossil fuels, but the varying approaches nevertheless illustrate global trends. Fossil fuel subsidies declined in 2009, increased in 2010, and then in 2011 reached almost the same level as in 2008. The decrease in subsidies was due almost entirely to fluctuations in fuel prices rather than to policy changes.

In other words, though the estimates vary widely, they all agree that fossil fuel subsidies are back up to the record levels they were at in 2008, before the financial crisis caused a temporary dip. So while world leaders, including President Obama, talk about ending subsidies that benefit one of the world's richest industries, there hasn't been any actual reduction. 

Thu, 2014-01-30 18:39Graham Readfearn
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Australian Report Trumpeted By Coal Bosses Does Not Say What They Want You To Think It Says

WHAT follows are some thoughts about coal from a report just published in Australia.

A longer-term concern relates to the environmental impacts of large-scale coal use, especially its climate consequences….

Coal is a carbon-intensive fuel and the environmental consequences of its use can be significant, especially if it is used inefficiently and without effective emissions and waste control technologies. Such environmental consequences include emissions of pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, particulates, mercury, and carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Indeed coal-sourced pollution remains the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Hence most forecasts show a very wide range of future coal demand, based on differing degrees of environmental policy implementation.

Now who might have written that?  An environmental campaigner?  An anti-coal activist in a less bombastic mood? Maybe they’re the words of an advocate for action on climate change?

Actually, these are the views of Ian Cronshaw, a long-standing advisor to the International Energy Agency who was commissioned by the Energy Policy Institute of Australia to write a report about coal and its future economic outlook.

The Energy Policy Institute of Australia’s board includes a number of figures who have spent their careers in and around the fossil fuel industry.

Tue, 2014-01-21 12:29Sharon Kelly
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In Push For Nuclear Power, Climate Change Concerns Overlooked

Three years ago the world was reminded of the dangers nuclear energy poses when catastrophe struck Japan at the Fukushima power plant. Since then the gravity of the disaster has grown more evident as cleanup efforts have turned into a debacle. In the last month alone we have seen news of radioactive water leaks at the site, lawsuits from U.S. Navy sailors who responded to the initial disaster and are now developing cancer and ongoing harm to the fishing industry.

The nuclear industry is often portrayed as a climate-neutral alternative to coal and natural gas. An industry-tied movie called Pandora's Promise, recently featured at Sundance and debuted through Netflix and iTunes, has been promoting this very perspective.

But nuclear power plants need cooling water, which means they are often situated on shorelines. That makes these plants more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise. They are also more at risk of being affected by the ever-growing number and severity of storms tied to climate change, such as Hurricane Sandy.

Case in point: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers recently concluded that a small six-foot-high miniature tsunami that hit near a New Jersey nuclear power plant this summer was not the result of a seismic event (as tsunamis usually are). Instead, the researchers concluded that the surge was caused by a sudden atmospheric pressure change. The nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, did not report any damage. But experts say there was a cautionary lesson on offer: expect the unexpected. Climate change will cause more destructive and seemingly freakish events like this. Emergency planners need to plan for them — especially when the risks are high as is the case with nuclear plants.

Sun, 2014-01-19 16:34Farron Cousins
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West Virginia Polluter Freedom Industries Files For Bankruptcy To Halt Lawsuits

Freedom Industries, the company that recently leaked thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia, quietly filed for bankruptcy this past Friday to shield themselves from the onslaught of lawsuits filed against the company.

The current owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, took control of the company about a week before the chemical spill occurred, and only a week later filed for bankruptcy.  According to the filing, the company owes more than $3.6 million to creditors (a fact that was known when Forrest bought the company in late December). 

What Forrest couldn’t have known at the time was that he was sitting on a time bomb, and that his newly purchased company had been skirting safety regulations and vital equipment upgrades in an effort to save a few bucks in the short term. 

The company is now facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, in addition to at least 20 separate lawsuits from residents. The number of lawsuits is expected to rise, as the chemicals spill is estimated to have poisoned at least one-sixth of West Virginia’s entire water supply.

But Forrest isn’t the victim in this case. His decision to file for bankruptcy protection had nothing to do with the prior debts that the company owed, and everything to do with preventing the millions of dollars his firm will be forced to pay out in lawsuit settlements. The bankruptcy filing will effectively temporarily “stay” the lawsuits, which prevents any payments from being made.

Forrest knew this, and this is why he had his company file bankruptcy. But this doesn’t mean that the company is no longer in business. To the contrary, Raw Story has revealed that Forrest is also the owner of a brand new firm called Mountaineer Funding LLC, which is funding the company to the tune of $5 million (more than enough to handle their current, non-lawsuit liabilities). So the liabilities of Freedom Industries can be handled by Forrest’s funding firm, as can the daily operations, but the lawsuits are now being held in limbo since Freedom Industries is technically “bankrupt.”

Fri, 2014-01-17 08:31Farron Cousins
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ALEC Plans Massive Environmental Attack For 2014

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a big year ahead of them, as they attempt to dismantle a slew of environmental protections from state to state.  More specifically, the corporate front group is hoping to pass dirty energy friendly legislation to ease the rules for electric utilities.

From state to state, ALEC is drafting legislation that would cut renewable energy, increase dependence on coal and dismantle energy efficiency standards.

ALEC specializes in crafting legislation at the state level and pushing it through legislatures that are often under much less scrutiny than the federal government.  This is what has made the group so successful in the past.

Utility Drive has outlined ALEC’s 2014 agenda:

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