Mon, 2015-04-20 03:58Steve Horn
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Emails: How State Department Secretly Approved Expanding Piece of Enbridge's "Keystone XL Clone"

State Department Enbridge Emails

DeSmogBlog has obtained dozens of emails that lend an inside view of how the U.S. State Department secretly handed Enbridge a permit to expand the capacity of its U.S.-Canada border-crossing Alberta Clipper pipeline, which carries tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta to midwest markets. 

The State Department submitted the emails into the record in the ongoing case filed against the Department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Collectively, the emails show that upper-level State Department officials hastened the review process on behalf of Enbridge for its proposed Alberta Clipper expansion plan, now rebranded Line 67, and did not inform the public about it until it published its final approval decision in the Federal Register in August 2014.

According to a March 17, 2014 memo initially marked “confidential,” Enbridge's legal counsel at Steptoe & Johnson, David Coburn, began regular communications with the State Department on what the environmental groups have dubbed an “illegal scheme” beginning in at least January 2014. 

Enbridge State Department Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Environmental groups have coined the approval process an “illegal scheme” because the State Department allowed Enbridge to usurp the conventional presidential permit process for cross-border pipelines, as well as the standard National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which allows for public comments and public hearings of the sort seen for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

Further, the scheme is a complex one involving Enbridge's choice to add pressure pump stations on both sides of the border to two pipelines, Enbridge Line 3 and Enbridge Line 67, to avoid fitting under the legal umbrella of a “cross-border” pipeline.

Hastening the approval process — and thus dodging both the conventional presidential permit and NEPA process — came up in a June 6, 2014 memo written by Coburn and his Steptoe co-counsel Josh Runyan. Enbridge's legal argument centered around ensuring profits for its customers “consistent with its obligations as a common carrier.”

State Department Enbridge Emails
Image Credit: U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota

Mon, 2015-04-20 00:01Brendan Montague
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Secret Papers Reveal Lawson's 1981 Plot to Use Army Against Oil Workers

Lord Lawson asserts that his attack on climate change policy is motivated by deep concerns for the working classes – fears environmental measures will cost jobs and undermine prosperity.

Environmentalists claim that Lawson is acting in the interests of the oil industry even if he is not directly funded by any oil companies.

A secret government document published today after 34 years hidden in the archives provides new evidence that Lawson when a cabinet minister acted in the interests of the oil companies – but not their workers.

Sun, 2015-04-19 18:25Julie Dermansky
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Five Years After the BP Oil Disaster: A Barrier Island for Nesting Birds Devoid of Life

by Julie Dermansky

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.


Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. 
March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Sun, 2015-04-19 06:58Sharon Kelly
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As Researchers Tie Fracking and Radon, Pennsylvania Moves to Keep Drilling Radioactivity Data Under Wraps

Last week, research into the connection between fracking and radon, an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas, drew international attention, making headlines in English, German and Italian.

The study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that buildings in Pennsylvania counties where fracking is most common had significantly higher radon readings than the levels found in counties with little shale gas drilling — a difference that emerged around 2004, when the shale rush arrived.

The potential link between fracking and radon in people's homes was surprising, the researchers, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.

“We found things that actually didn’t give us the reassurance that we thought it would when we started it,” Brian S. Schwartz, MD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins told the Baltimore Sun.

In a little-noticed move just one day after the Johns Hopkins report was released, a Pennsylvania court allowed the state's environmental regulators to keep the public from reviewing data from radioactivity testing at oil and gas drilling sites.

Sat, 2015-04-18 10:58Guest
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These 5 Energy Technologies Could Revolutionize the Economy

This is a guest post by Nathan Empsall of Care2

When Congress debates whether to pour money into new tar sands and oil pipelines, and the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee uses snowballs to “prove” that climate change is a “hoax,” it can sometimes feel like we’re losing the war to keep our planet healthy and habitable.

But if you look outside the public sector, there’s reason for hope. Green technology actually pays. Here are five growing tech markets that should give anyone hope for the future:

Sat, 2015-04-18 08:18Mike Gaworecki
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Maryland To Become Latest State To Adopt Community Solar Legislation

Following the lead of ten other states that have already adopted similar legislation, Maryland lawmakers this week passed two bills that aim to create community solar projects and increase access to clean energy in the state.

The bills, which still must be signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan, would launch a three-year pilot project to allow the state to assess the benefits of community solar and establish best practices.

Though the sun falls everywhere, access to solar energy is not universal. According to non-profit group Vote Solar, more than 75 percent of US homes and businesses can’t install a solar system on their property, because their roof isn’t suitable or they rent their home or office, among other barriers.

Community solar allows multiple people to pool their resources and invest in or subscribe to a shared solar energy system.

“Community solar will enable all Marylanders to generate renewable solar energy,” Maryland Delegate Luke Clippinger, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and sponsor of one of the bills, says in an Earthjustice press release. “Solar is no longer a potential future prospect for energy generation here in Maryland, it is the here and now.”

Fri, 2015-04-17 04:58Steve Horn
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"Carbon Copy": How Big Oil and King Coal Ghost Write Letters for Public Officials, Business Groups

The Billings Gazette has revealed that coal mining company Cloudpeak Energy ghost wrote protest letters to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) on behalf of allied policymakers and business groups. 

Reporter Tom Lutey examined numerous letters written to DOI from Montana-based stakeholders and noticed something unusual: the language in every single letter was exactly the same. That is, the same except for a parenthetical note in one of them instructing the supposed writer of it to “insert name/group/entity.”

The “carbon copied” (pun credit goes to Lutey) letters requested for the DOI to give states a time extension to begin implementing new rules dictating the coal industry give states a “fair return” on mining leases granted to industry by the states. DOI ended up giving King Coal the 60-day extension.

“Last month, coal proponents scored a major victory by convincing the Department of Interior to hold off on its rule making for 60 days so that more people could respond,” Lutey wrote. “Members of the Montana Legislature, along with county commissioners and mayors from Montana and Wyoming communities put the weight of their political offices behind letters asking the DOI for more time. What they didn’t offer were their own words.”

Among those who submitted a “carbon copied” letter originally written by Cloudpeak Energy include the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Billings Chamber of Commerce, Montana Coal Council, Montana Sen. Debby Barrett and the Yellowstone County Board of Commissioners.  

Unlike others, the Montana Chamber of Commerce embarassingly forgot to take out the boilerplate “insert name/group/entity” language. 

Montana Chamber of Commerce Ghostwriting Coal Letter
Image Credit: Quit Coal

Cloud Peak responded by saying this was a “sample letter…included as part of…briefings,” but did not clarify if those allied stakeholders were supposed to send them to DOI in verbatim fashion, as did the Montana Chamber.

Thu, 2015-04-16 04:58Farron Cousins
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Coal Funded Congressman Takes Lead In Dismantling Coal Ash Safety Standards

In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash safety standards designed to increase the reliability of coal ash disposal sites. These standards had been years in the making, but stopped short of classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste material, which many advocates had been hoping for.

The new standards enacted by the EPA require stricter structural integrity standards for new coal ash disposal sites, and mandate that the ash ponds not be located near sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands or near fault lines. They also ramped up the inspection and compliance standards for existing disposal sites. The new standards also require coal companies to publicly disclose disposal operations.

While all of these new requirements are fairly common sense steps, coal industry-funded politicians in Washington are not happy, and one month after announcing the new standards, they began launching their attack to undo them.

Leading the charge is Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia. McKinley sponsored legislation earlier this year that would strip the public disclosure portion of the rules and allow states to take over the permitting process for coal ash disposal site construction, effectively pushing the EPA out of the way.

Thu, 2015-04-16 00:01Brendan Montague
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How ExxonMobil Reacted When Environmentalists Crashed its First Annual Meeting 15 Years Ago

The DeSmog UK epic history series continues with a look at what happened when environmentalists attended an ExxonMobil meeting in Dallas, Texas.

ExxonMobil and other industry hardliners came together in 1998 to create an “Action Plan” to combat America’s growing fondness for fighting climate change.

This plan would provide a blueprint for undermining the climate movement over the next four years.

But, the environmentalists were well-organised. Having bought shares in ExxonMobil, they attended the corporation’s first annual meeting, held in Dallas in May 2000, and used it as a platform to attack Exxon boss Lee Raymond and the corporation’s policies.

Wed, 2015-04-15 16:01Guest
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Newly Released Documents Provide Further Indication That Florida Officials Were Directed Not To Talk About Climate Change

This is a guest post by Jesse Coleman that originally appeared on Greenpeace Blogs

In an email exchange from April of 2014 obtained by a records request, a communications official working for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Florida instructed a scientist to “make no claims as to cause” of Florida’s sea level rise. The scientist responded “I know the drill,” suggesting that a prohibition on mentioning climate change was well established in the department.

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