Sun, 2014-08-31 08:00Steve Horn
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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years. 

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask. 

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House's Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions. 

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

Magna Carta; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy. 

Sun, 2014-08-31 05:00Farron Cousins
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Swapping Farmland For Coal Trains: Union Pacific’s Texas Land Grab

Railroad giant Union Pacific has some big plans for a tiny Texas community.  According to locals in the Brazos River Valley, the railroad company is hoping to turn some of the most fertile farmland in Texas into a massive, 72-line rail yard.

Union Pacific’s plan would consume as much as 1,800 acres of farmland in the region, effectively putting numerous family-owned farming operations out of business.  The toxic loads that Union Pacific’s trains would be hauling in and out of the area on a daily basis would then threaten the remaining farms in the region.

The Brazos River Valley, named after the Brazos River, is considered some of the richest farmland in the state, thanks to the city’s namesake river feeding fresh water and nutrients to the area.  Taking this land out of the hands of farmers — many of whom are the descendants of early generation of farm settlers in the area — would not only have devastating effects on the local economy, but they could also put a huge hole in the nation’s food supply.

But Union Pacific is not concerned with the well being of the Brazos Valley community or their environment, and they are hoping to move forward with their plan.  And the land grab only represents half of the danger. 

According to a letter from the Brazos River Bottom Alliance that was sent to state and federal representatives, there will be no environmental review of the project:

Sat, 2014-08-30 10:47Mike G
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Feds To Resume Oil And Gas Leases Despite Fracking Report That Raised "Grave Concerns"

Jim Kenna, the California Director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told reporters on a conference call last Thursday that a new scientific report commissioned by the agency to study the environmental impacts of fracking has cleared the way for the leasing of public land to oil and gas companies in the Golden State.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, say that the report is anything but a solid basis on which to forge ahead with opening up more land to fracking.


“This report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to California’s air and water,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “But it also highlights the fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine the extent of the damage in our state. Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.”

The report itself does not try and hide its own shortcomings. One section reads: “Investigators could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred.”

Another part of the report says: “No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Sierra Club, sued the federal government last year, arguing that the Obama Administration had broken the law when it decided to lease some 2,500 acres of public lands in Monterey County to oil and gas companies without properly studying the environmental risks of fracking.

A federal judge agreed with the green groups and ordered a halt to the leases.

Sat, 2014-08-30 10:32Graham Readfearn
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Australia's Climate Change Conspiracy Theorists Get Angry Over Radio Interview That Never Happened

In the space of six days, Rupert Murdoch's The Australian newspaper has published five news stories and an opinion piece attacking the credibility of the Australian government's weather and climate agency, the Bureau of Meteorology.

I've covered the guts of the early stories over on my Planet Oz blog for The Guardian.

But the core of it is that Dr Jennifer Marohasy, a former Institute of Public Affairs free market think tankerer, is claiming that the BoM has, in her words, “corrupted the official temperature record so it more closely accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming”.

Marohasy is a researcher at Central Queensland University with her work funded by another climate change “sceptic”.

She has has not published her analysis in any journal, yet The Australian's Graham Lloyd has deemed the claims of a climate science sceptic on blogs worthy enough of five news pieces.

I just want to deal with his latest story here, that comments on the BoM's process of transparency.  The story includes this bit:

The bureau has been under fire for not making publicly available the methodology used for homogenisation. Michael Asten from the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University said confidence in BOM’s data would increase “if and when BOM publishes or supplies its homogenisation algorithms, a step which would be quite consistent with existing ­requirements of the better peer-reviewed journals.’’ BOM said its methods had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals but did not say where or in what form.

This claim is - oh what's the word - bolloxxs (sorry kids).

Fri, 2014-08-29 05:00Mike G
Mike G's picture

Stealth Carbon Bombs Stopped In Their Tracks

North America is now the biggest producer of oil in the world thanks largely to Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and West Coast refineries are looking to cash in.

But not all crude is created equal, and oil companies hoping to import tar sands oil and Bakken crude — known as “cost-advantaged crude” in industry parlance — are deliberately disguising the true nature of upgrades they’re making to their facilities in California when seeking the necessary permits from regulatory agencies or speaking about the projects to the public.

“We’re seeing this all over the state,” says Yana Garcia, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

CBE, which is one of several green groups calling out refineries that appear to be acting in bad faith, was notified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District last Friday that the permitting process for a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, CA had been put on hold after the group filed numerous comments in opposition to the “negative declaration” the SCAQMD had made.

A “negative declaration” is essentially a rubber stamp ruling from the regulatory body, meaning it agreed with Tesoro that no significant impacts to the environment and human health were likely and the oil company could go ahead with its plans to build a new shipyard pipeline which, the company said, was only intended to speed up offloading of crude from ships to shore-based storage tanks.

In a press release, CBE explains:

There was no mention of the corrosive and explosive crude oils Tesoro plans to import, or its plans to combine its Wilmington refining operation with its newly acquired BP refinery in Carson; omitting major increases in greenhouse gases that result from tar sands crude oil refining, and other key impacts. Based on Tesoro’s omissions, the environmental document for the project incorrectly concluded that there was not even the potential for significant impacts.


At its best, it’s just business being business, they want to get these crudes out to the refineries and start profiting from them,” Yana Garcia says. “At its worst, that gaming of the system is essentially about lying to the public and letting these pretty nasty projects go through in predominantly low-income communities of color.”

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