Oregon

Oregon First to End Coal Era: Landmark Ban Sets National Standard for Clean Energy

The Oregon legislature just put another nail in the coffin of the coal era.

On Friday, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed into law one of the most ambitious and sweeping pieces of energy legislation in the country’s history, one which will eradicate the use of coal for electricity generation entirely within two decades.

The pioneering law makes Oregon the first state in the nation to legislate a ban on coal for the electric supply, while also mandating that utilities provide half of their electricity from new renewable sources by 2040.

Add those new renewables to Oregon’s existing hydropower resources and, in less than 25 years, the state’s electric sector will be between 70 and 90-percent carbon-free, one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the country.

Warren Buffett's Quieter Quest to Kill Solar in the West

There are solar battles blazing all across the west right now, as utilities anchored to fossil fuel power plants strain to avoid the inevitable spread of solar across their areas of operation.

Not a month goes by without a story of some assault on solar-friendly policies by utilities, or by the Utility Commissions that are often in their pocket.

During the holidays at the end of 2015, it was Nevada’s utter dismembering of its net metering policy. Nevada is—or was—one of 42 states that offered net metering, a program through which customers with solar arrays are compensated for the energy they produce on their rooftops or in small installations connected to the electric grid.

NV Energy Inc. unleashed this full frontal attack on the program that—in one quick vote of three unelected commissioners—pulled the rug out from under 17,000 solar customers and eviscerated at least 8,000 solar jobs. And the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) was happy to oblige.

Is Intel Fighting To Keep Oregon Hooked On Coal?

coal trains wyoming

This is a guest post by Nick Abraham, originally published on Oil Check Northwest
 
As you are reading this, a crucial compromise is making its way through the Oregon legislature: the state could finally transition completely off coal power and double its renewable energy portfolio.

Currently, Oregon still gets about 30% of its electricity from coal. This all comes from the state’s two largest utilities: PGE and Pacific Power. PGE purchases power from massive coal fired plants in Coalstrip, Montana as well as Boardman, Oregon (set to be shutdown in 2020), while Pacific Power pulls from their whole western grid, which is fed by 20+ coal plants.

Despite these two utilities historic reliance on coal, they’ve come to an unprecedented agreement with environmental groups and consumers to wean themselves off dirty energy over the next 30 years.

The Citizens Utility Board, an electricity ratepayer advocacy group, is championing the deal, which it calls, “best for consumers, best for utilities and best for the environment.” This trifecta of groups rarely sees eye-to-eye on small issues, much less a massive leap like this agreement. It’s one of those rare moments where everyone seems to be on the same page. That is except one rarely heard of regional association.

American Youth Sue Politicians To Force Action On Climate Change

Meaningful action to mitigate the impacts of climate change have been slow to materialize in the United States, and that lag in leadership is allowing the threat to grow much worse for future generations of Americans.

But political inaction has led to citizen action, particularly among the generations that will face the consequences of inaction. And they are making the case, literally, that the government needs to take action.

Teenagers Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik have filed a lawsuit against Democratic Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and the entire state government of Oregon, alleging that they are not doing enough to address the threats of climate change.

After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

Documents Reveal Calvert County Signed Non-Disclosure Agreement with Company Proposing Cove Point LNG Terminal

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD.  The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland's Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion's interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

Congressmen Supporting LNG Exports Received $11.5 Million From Big Oil, Electric Utilities

On Jan. 25, 110 members of the U.S. House of Representatives - 94 Republicans and 16 Democrats - signed a letter urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve expanded exports of liquified natural gas (LNG).

It was an overt sign of solidarity with the Obama Administration Department of Energy's (DOE) LNG exports study, produced by a corporate consulting firm with long ties to Big Tobacco named NERA Economic Consulting (NERA is short for National Economic Research Associates), co-founded in 1961 by the “Father of Deregulation,” Alfred E. Kahn. That study concluded exporting gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process - sent via pipelines to coastal LNG terminals and then onto tankers - is in the best economic interests of the United States.  

A DeSmogBlog investigation shows that these 110 signatories accepted $11.5 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil and electric utilities in the run-up to the November 2012 election, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

Big Oil pumped $7.9 million into the signatories' coffers, while the remaining $3.6 million came from the electric utilities industry, two industries whose pocketbooks would widen with the mass exportation of the U.S. shale gas bounty. Further, 108 of the 110 signers represent states in which fracking is occuring.  

White House Holds Meeting to Address Coal Export Terminals

It was barely two weeks ago that we reported on the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to “fast track” approval of the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal export terminal on the Columbia River that would move over 8 million tons of coal from rail to barge every year.

This Morrow Pacific Project is one of a handful of proposed export terminals that the industry hopes to build to help link coal from the strip mines of the Powder River Basin to overseas markets. As American demand for coal falls, companies (many foreign owned) are scrambling to access the growing Asian markets.

At issue with the export terminals is the process of review and approval, specifically with regard to the environmental impacts. As we wrote about the Morrow Pacific Project, the Army Corps has, at present, the final word in determining whether or not a terminal can be built. This is due primarily to the “dredge and fill” rules established in section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the origin of Army Corps decisionmaking harkens all the way back to the Rivers and Harbons Appropriation Act of 1899.

Here’s the problem: in determining whether or not to approve a new facility such as a coal transfer terminal, the Army Corps is only compelled legally to look at the immediate environmental impacts at the site itself. These site-specific reviews wouldn’t take into account any broader of cumulative impacts, like, say, the impacts of coal dust along the route of the rail or barge traffic, nor the even broader and inevitable impacts of the coal’s combustion on mercury pollution and global climate disruption.

Exporting Coal: Struggling U.S. Coal Industry Trying to Stay Relevant By Shipping Through the Northwest

coal train exporting coal pacific northwest

U.S. coal companies are facing some tricky math these days. Production levels have remained more or less the same since 2005, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), but during that time domestic consumption has dropped nearly 11 percent.

Where is all that extra coal going? Some is piling up at power plants, but increasingly, more and more of it is being shipped overseas.

The coal industry is hoping to accelerate that export trend, but their ability to keep delivering steady volumes of coal is entirely dependant on their ability to open up new export terminals at coastal ports around the country, particularly in the Pacific Northwest where the dirty rock could be more directly shipped to the burgeoning Asian markets.  

Still, aside from some regional coverage and some incredible work from organizations like the Sightline Institute and Climate Solutions, these Northwest export terminals aren’t getting nearly the amount of attention from environmentalists and climate activists as, say, tar sands pipelines.

This post will serve as a basic overview of the current state of coal production and exports, and what the industry hopes to accomplish in coming years.

Coal Train to Boardman: EPA Warns of "Significant" Public Health Threats in Northwest Coal Export Proposal

As demand for coal in the United States has cooled off in recent years, coal mining companies have been scrambling to deliver their dirty loads to customers abroad. But what does this mean for communities along the transportation routes, particularly at the ports and export terminals where the coal is offloaded from trains and onto boats?

The U.S. EPA, for one, is warning of the potential for “significant impacts to public health” in one such port town.

Coal exports have more than doubled over the past six years, and are at their highest levels in over two decades. According to an Associated Press evaluation of Energy Information Agency coal data, more than 107 million tons of coal were exported in 2011.

But that’s a small drop in the bucket (or lump in the stocking? sorry, couldn’t resist) of what coal companies hope to export in the very near future. (Farron Cousins covered the coal export trend here on DeSmogBlog earlier this year.)

Nowhere is the push to export coal being felt more than in the Pacific Northwest, where there are currently plans to ship more than 100 million tons each year, according to the Sightline Institute.

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