coal

Wed, 2014-03-19 12:41Farron Cousins
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Coal Exporter United Bulk Sued For Polluting Mississippi River

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit earlier this week against United Bulk, alleging that the company is responsible for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting the Mississippi River.  United Bulk operates coal export terminals along the Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.

The suit alleges — along with plenty of photographic evidence to back up the allegations — that United Bulk has left piles of coal debris and petroleum coke (petcoke) along the banks of the river for the last five years.  These piles are left unattended, unsecured, and uncovered in the elements, allowing wind and rain to easily sweep these pollutants into the Mississippi River and nearby marshes. 

A press release from the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition lays out the basics:

The suit contends that United Bulk has illegally discharged coal and petcoke into the river every day that it has operated for at least five years. It points out that coal and petcoke—an oil-refining byproduct with high levels of arsenic, mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and aquatic life—have been discharged into the river in enough quantities to produce visible spills on a regular basis. The suit also cites the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that stormwater runoff from coal piles “can flush heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water.”

As mentioned above, the Gulf Restoration Project and the Sierra Club have released photographs of United Bulk’s contamination of the Mississippi River:

 photo UnitedBulk2.jpg

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:20Ben Jervey
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Italian Judge: Coal Plant Caused Over 400 Deaths, Orders Shutdown

An Italian judge has ordered the shutdown of a coal-fired power plant that has been blamed for at least 442 deaths. Public prosecutors had argued that pollution from the plant in Italy’s Liguria region caused the premature deaths and between 1,700 - 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.

On Tuesday, police followed the judge’s orders and shut down the two 330-Megawatt coal-fired units of the Vado Ligure plant. Francantonio Granero, the chief prosecutor in Savona, the government seat in Liguria, indicated in a February interview with United Press International that he was investigating the plant and its operators, Tirreno Power,  for “causing an environmental disaster and manslaughter.”

The judge, Fiorenza Giorgi, agreed with prosecutors that Tirreno Power hadn’t complied with emissions regulations, citing “negligent behavior” by the company and claiming that Tirreno’s emissions data was “unreliable.”

It is unclear whether Tirreno Power will be allowed to turn back on the coal-fired units if better emissions controls are implemented. The coal plants were built in 1971 and according to Savona prosecutors had emitted enough pollution to cause at least 442 premature deaths from 2000 to 2007. Investigators also found evidence that roughly 450 children were hospitalized with asthma and other respiratory ailments between 2005-2012, with the coal plant emissions to blame.

Thu, 2014-02-20 15:22Mike G
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Peabody Energy Faces Popular Revolt at Illinois EPA Coal Hearing

Last night, at an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a water quality permit for the expansion of a Peabody Energy strip mine in Rocky Branch, IL, local residents made it clear that they've had enough of the coal industry's destructive presence in their community.

According to writer Jeff Biggers, residents outnumbered Peabody supporters four-to-one among those willing to make public comments, and they had one overriding message: “We the people of Rocky Branch,” one resident, Jennifer Dumberis, said, “we will decide what happens to us and our civil rights—not Peabody.”

This is not the first time Illinois residents have taken their concerns directly to Peabody and the regulatory bodies who are failing to protect Illinois communities from the impacts of the company's mining operations. Residents have presented ample evidence of what has been done to Cottage Grove township, which is adjacent to the strip mine Peabody is seeking to expand: blasting that is like “small earthquakes”toxic coal dust that seeps through cracks in their homes caused by the blasts, and polluted waterways that some residents fear will eventually make their homes uninhabitable altogether.

Peabody had already started clearcutting the area intended to become its Rocky Branch Mine, just south of the Cottage Grove strip mine, but federal regulators stepped in and ordered Peadody to stop logging immedately because it was being done in violation of the law.

It's unclear what, if any, benefits Peabody can offer the residents of Rocky Branch should its strip mine be allowed to expand. No jobs are expected to be created, and the state already loses an estimated $20 million annually to support the coal industry.

Citizen action to hold coal companies and regulators accountable is more important than ever in Illinois, as the coal industry does not seem to be waning in the state. Even while coal is losing market share across the country and renewable energies like wind power are rapidly achieving cost parity (in fact, wind is already cheaper than coal in Iowa, Illinois' neighbor), Illinois just received a $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue the controversial “clean coal” project FutureGen.

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.

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