Sun, 2014-11-16 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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Walton Family, Owners of Walmart, Using Their Billions To Attack Rooftop Solar

A recent trend has seen utilities deciding that since they haven't been able to beat back the rise of rooftop solar companies, they might as well join them (or at least steal their business model). But the Walton Family, owners of Walmart as well as a stake in a manufacturer of solar arrays for utilties, aren't ready to give up the fight.

A new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that, through their Walton Family Foundation, the Waltons have given $4.5 million dollars to groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and Americans for Prosperity—groups that are attacking renewable energy policies at the state level and, specifically, pushing for fees on rooftop solar installations. The head of ALEC has even gone so far as to denigrate owners of rooftop solar installations as “freeriders.”

But support for groups seeking to halt the rise of clean energy is only half the story. According to Vice News, the Waltons own a 30% stake in First Solar, a company that makes solar arrays for power plants as “an economically attractive alternative or complement to fossil fuel electricity generation,” per its 2013 annual report, which also identifies “competitors who may gain in profitability and financial strength over time by successfully participating in the global rooftop PV solar market” as a threat to First Solar's future profitability.

Perhaps it was that threat to its long-term strategic plan that led First Solar CEO James Hughes to publish an op-ed in the Arizona Republic voicing his support for a proposal by Arizona Public Service, the state's biggest energy utility, to charge owners of rooftop solar installations a fee of $50 - $100 a month, which would effectively wipe out any economic benefits of generating one's own power. A compromise was eventually reached to adopt a lower fee of roughly $5 per household, but even that has had a chilling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in Arizona, as residential solar installations subsequently dropped 40% in APS territory.

Bryan Miller, president of the Alliance for Solar Choice, said at the time that First Solar's move was unprecedented: “no solar company has publicly advocated against solar until First Solar did it.”

Having collected its scalp in Arizona, First Solar is now attacking policies that foster rooftop solar in California and Nevada, according to the ILSR report.

Sun, 2014-11-16 11:54Sharon Kelly
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Prosecution of Don Blankenship a Historic Moment for Coal Industry

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.

Sat, 2014-11-15 15:53Erin Flegg
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Meet the Kid Who Chained Himself to the Kinder Morgan Vehicle to Protest the Trans Mountain Pipeline

Jakub Markiewicz, self portrait, kinder morgan, trans mountain pipeline expansion, burnaby mountain

On Friday, community members from across Vancouver converged on Burnaby Mountain, the site of conflict surrounding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, after the B.C. Supreme Court approved an injunction to remove a group of protesters, who call themselves the Caretakers of Burnaby Mountain, by Monday at 4 p.m. This article takes an in-depth look at Jakub Markiewicz, an artist, filmmaker and the youngest member of the Caretakers, who recently made headlines after chaining himself to a Kinder Morgan vehicle.

Living in the city, amidst streetlights and headlights and shop signs left on all night, it’s easy to forget just how dark the night can be. Burnaby Mountain isn’t far from its namesake city, or downtown Vancouver for that matter, but by the time six o’clock rolls around (thank you, daylight savings), the darkness feels like a vacuum. The moon, one day past full, is barely enough for me to see where I’m putting my feet in the wet grass.

“After a few nights of not using a headlamp, your eyes really do adjust to the darkness,” Jakub Markiewicz tells me, perched on a boulder the evening of Nov. 7.
Sat, 2014-11-15 12:00Justin Mikulka
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Government Accountability Office Report on Oil Export Ban Based On Industry-Funded Studies

oil exports

Earlier this year, at CERAWeek, the must-attend energy conference for industry players, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) made an interesting statement while advocating for lifting the oil export ban in her keynote speech.

This year – 2014 – will be the Year of the Report. Think tanks and research institutions across the country are examining the possibility of crude exports and the potential ramifications. Working groups are assembling, writing papers, crunching numbers.  And that’s a good thing,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Murkowski made this statement as part of prepared remarks described as a “roadmap” for lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Murkowski’s prediction would make it seem like she already knew the reports would reach the conclusion that lifting the ban on crude oil exports was “a good thing.” Perhaps it was just a lucky guess for her back in March, but she was right.

In October, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) reached just that conclusion in its report, Changing Crude Oil Markets: Allowing Exports Could Reduce Consumer Fuel Prices. It should be noted that the GAO undertook this effort at the request of none other than Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The GAO concluded that lifting the crude oil export ban was a positive because it could potentially lower consumer fuel prices in the U.S. However, when it came to analyzing the environmental impacts of increased oil production and exports, the Congressional agency was unable to reach any quantifiable conclusions.

Sat, 2014-11-15 08:00Brendan DeMelle
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DeSmogCAST 3: Historic US-China Climate Deal, Pipeline News and Scientists Standing Up to Harper

This week’s episode of DeSmogCAST covers the two major developments from Washington, D.C. this week — the historic climate deal between the United States and China and the upcoming GOP majority leaders' plans to attack the EPA’s carbon emission standards — along with new developments in the Kinder Morgan and Keystone XL tar sands export pipelines and the coalition of Canadian scientists standing up to Harper's attacks on science.

Hosted by DeSmogBlog contributor Farron Cousins, the DeSmogCAST guests this week are Carol Linnitt, Brendan DeMelle and Steve Horn. 

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