It has been 35 years since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last performed an environmental review of its coal leasing program.
Two environmental groups are suing the BLM to force a review of the program.
Given advances in scientific knowledge of the risks posed by mining and burning coal to human health and Earth’s climate made since 1979, the groups argue that the review will “compel the Bureau of Land Management to deliver on its legal obligation to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands on behalf of the citizens of the United States.”
Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed the lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze as lead defendants, along with the Department of the Interior and the BLM.
It has been 35 years since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last performed an environmental review of its coal leasing program.
This is a guest post by Climate Nexus.
A recent opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Rupert Darwall paints efforts to address climate change through international policy as doomed from the start, ignores recent progress and dismisses mounting public support for action.
As countries negotiate in Lima, Peru, this week, long-time climate change skeptic Rupert Darwall seizes the moment to rehash tired critiques of past international efforts on climate.
In fact, the U.S.-China deal will deliver real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the costs of climate impacts clearly outweigh the costs of climate change mitigation and initial national pledges to the Green Climate Fund are meant to spur additional, substantial private sector investment.
On the fringes of Brisbane’s G20 summit inside the Queensland capital’s grand city hall, Peabody Energy president Glenn Kellow made a remarkable claim.
Almost half a million people in countries across the globe had supported his coal company’s PR campaign to urge the world to act on “energy poverty”, claimed Kellow.
Kellow was referring to the company’s “Lights On” project run under his firm’s Advanced Energy for Life (AEfL) campaign.
The AEfL campaign was created with the help of Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest PR firms and a specialist in crisis communications.
In a press release, Peabody Energy again claimed about “half-million citizens from 48 nations” had “urged G20 leaders” to have a greater focus on energy poverty through its campaign.
Peabody Energy, the world's biggest privately owned coal company, has been the leading voice in the coal industry’s attempts to hijack the term “energy poverty” for its own ends.
Recent revelations that the Walton Family, majority owners of Walmart, are funding attacks against the rooftop solar industry called into question the big-box retailer’s very public “100% renewable energy” commitment. A new report by the Institute on Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) documenting Walmart’s massive carbon emissions is likely to add even more fuel to that fire.
According to ILSR, which also exposed the Walton Family’s anti-rooftop solar initiatives, Walmart is one of the heaviest users of coal-fired electricity in the United States, resulting in 8 million metric tons of carbon pollution produced every year by the mega chain’s operations.
Since making its environmental commitments in 2005 with great fanfare, Walmart has done little to honor its pledge to transition to renewable energy and “be a good steward of the environment.”
Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at ILSR and co-author of the new report, wrote in April that Walmart's use of renewables peaked in 2011 and has slipped since then.
“Walmart’s progress on renewable power is particularly pitiful when you look at other retailers,” she added. “Staples, Kohl's, and Whole Foods, along with numerous small businesses, have already passed the 100 percent renewable power mark.”
Today, just 3% of the electricity powering Walmart’s U.S. stores comes from renewable sources.
The U.S. Senate failed to get the necessary 60 votes to approve the northern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) already promised it will get another vote when the GOP-dominated Senate begins its new session in 2015.
Though the bill failed, one of the key narratives that arose during the congressional debate was the topic of whether or not the tar sands product that may flow through it will ultimately be exported to the global market. President Barack Obama, when queried by the press about the latest Keystone congressional action, suggested tar sands exports are the KXL line's raison d'etre.
Obama's comments struck a nerve. Bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and supporter U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) both stood on the Senate floor and said Keystone XL is not an export pipeline in the minutes leading up to the bill's failure.
“Contrary to the ranting of some people that this is for export…Keystone is not for export,” said Landrieu, with Hoeven making similar remarks.
But a DeSmog probe into a recent merger of two major oil and gas industry logistics and marketing companies, Oiltanking Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, has demonstrated key pieces of the puzzle are already being put together by Big Oil to make tar sands exports a reality.
This week's indictment of former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, was as much a political turning point for West Virginia as it was a moment of reckoning economically for the coal industry writ large. It marked the wane of one of America's last great robber barons and yet another ominous warning for the country's dirtiest and deadliest of fossil fuels.
The decision represented a political shot across the bow by a smart, dogged and politically ambitious US attorney, R. Booth Goodwin II. For several years now, Goodwin has systematically worked his way up Massey’s hierarchy, convicting not only low-level supervisors, but also executives higher and higher within the corporate hierarchy. Goodwin has based his prosecutions on conspiracy charges rather than on violations of specific health and safety regulations, which means he can reach further up into the corporate structure.
Goodwin's pursuit of Blankenship was politically daring — and, if the indictment is to be trusted — based on solid evidence. But it was also a welcome development for the state's democrats since for over a decade Blankenship had single-handedly dismantled the mine workers union and bank-rolled a resurgent GOP movement in the state, altering the make-up of the state Supreme Court and funneling funds to astro-turf 501c drives for pet issues like “tort reform”.
More than anything, though, the indictment was a small vindication for the families of the 29 men who died at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010 in the worst explosion of the past 40 years. But the incident, a range of investigators concluded, was less an accident and more the outcome of deliberate wrongdoing by Massey.
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has been indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
According to a statement by US Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia: “The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and securities fraud.” You can read the full indictment online.
Blankenship has long been a controversial figure. News of the indictment validates charges that have been made against him by environmentalists for years, not only over the poor safety and environmental record of Massey Energy but also his union busting tactics, his opposition to government regulations on extractive industries, and his outspoken belief that climate change does not exist.
Blankenship donated to just one federal candidate in this year's midterm elections: future Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who infamously called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (h/t Lee Fang).
When the coal industry says its product is the only way the world’s poor can lift themselves from poverty, some people in Australia believe them.
Chief among the industry’s promoters has been the country’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who has said that coal is “good for humanity” and that the energy source and main driver of climate change shouldn’t be “demonised”.
But a new report from progressive think tank The Australia Institute (TAI) has put a looking glass up to the industry’s claims to a glistening future and found what it claims is little more than self-serving industry spin.
The industry has been pushing its supposed concerns for “energy poverty” in media statements, columns, industry presentations, reports and advertising campaigns this year.
According to the International Energy Agency, there are about 1.3 billion in the world without access to electricity and about 2.7 billion without access to clean cooking and heating. Almost all these people live in rural areas in either sub-Saharan Africa or Asia.
The coal industry – led by a PR campaign from the world’s biggest private-sector coal company, Peabody Energy – has been using the energy poverty issue as way to lobby investors and world leaders.
But the TAI report – All Talk, No Action – finds that the industry’s claim are largely misrepresenting the current economic climate and forecasts for the future.
Despite what you may have heard about the death of the coal industry, Peabody Energy is ramping up mining activities and going on the offensive, pushing “clean coal” on the world’s poor with a disingenuous but aggressive PR campaign. And for good reason: Peabody has got to sell the coal from the world's largest coal mine to someone.
Speculation is rife that the new GOP-led Senate will join with its similarly fossil fuel-beholden House colleagues to usher in a new era of coal. Peabody, the world’s largest privately held coal company, isn’t waiting around to find out.
The company has teamed with public relations firm Burson-Marsteller—the notorious PR giant that helped Big Tobacco attack and distort scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking tobacco—to launch Advanced Energy for Life, a desperate attempt to shift the discussion around coal away from its deleterious effects on health and massive contributions to climate change and instead posit the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty.
The aim of this PR offensive, according to a piece by freelance journalist Dan Zegart and former DeSmog managing editor Kevin Grandia (one of Rolling Stone’s “Green Heroes,” and deservedly so), the reason for Peabody’s charm offensive is simple: there’s money to be made selling coal in Asian markets, and Peabody aims to make it—as long as initiatives to combat global warming emissions don’t intervene. Which makes Burson-Marsteller the perfect ally:
Burson-Marsteller, which has a long history of creating front groups to rehabilitate the images of corporate wrongdoers, helped Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, tackle the Asian market, where Burson fought anti-smoking regulations and developed crisis drills for Philip Morris personnel in Hong Kong on how to handle adverse scientific reports.
As the US produces a glut of cheap natural gas, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan seeks to set emissions standards that would make building new coal-fired power plants all but impossible impossible, and the domestic demand for coal drops, Peabody’s value as a company has dropped as well, from $20 billion to just $3.7 billion in the space of three years. The company is in desperate need of new business if it’s to even stay afloat.
Across the U.S., the shale gas industry's arrival has been marked by wariness, not only of the environmental impacts associated with fracking, but also due to the oil and gas industry's long history of flashy booms followed by devestating busts.
In towns across the state, the lingering effects of past economic downturns – the flight of manufacturing, the 2008 financial collapse, the slow erosion of the auto and steel industries – have left communities eager for jobs, but also experienced with job loss.
Nowhere better illustrates the potential for a shale rush to heal old economic wounds, or communities' vulnerability to new ones, than Cameron County, Pennsylvania. At the eastern edges of the rust belt, Cameron County has been hit hard by the decline of the American auto industry.
Hopes for a shale renassiance are running up against some difficult realities. A report released Monday by the Post-Carbon Institute, titled “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on US Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” concludes that the Marcellus shale is unlikely to fully live up to government forecasts, and that natural gas prices will have to rise to keep drilling going across the state. The vast majority of the Marcellus shale is not the same high quality as the areas where drillers are currently focusing most of their efforts, referred to in the industry as “sweet spots,” making the gas there more expensive to produce.
The report also finds that shale gas production in the Marcellus is expected to reach it's peak in 2018 or 2019 – meaning that within five years, production will begin dropping. “These projections are optimistic in that they assume the capital will be available for the drilling treadmill that must be maintained to keep production up,” the report says. “This is not a sure thing as drilling in the poorer quality parts of the play will require higher gas prices to make it economic.”