The number of anti-science decisions the federal government has made in recent years is staggering: axing the...
A report assembled by an industry-centric US Department of Energy committee recommends the nation start exploiting the Arctic due to oil and gas shale basins running dry.
In the just-submitted report, first obtained by the Associated Press, the DOE's National Petroleum Council — many members of which are oil and gas industry executives — concludes that oil and gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) will not last beyond the next decade or so, thus the time is ripe to raid the fragile Arctic to feed our fossil fuel addiction.
The NPC just launched a website and executive summary of the report: Arctic Potential: Realizing the Promise of U.S. Oil and Gas Resources.
Confirming the thesis presented by the Post Carbon Institute in its two reports, “Drill Baby, Drill” and “Drilling Deeper,” the National Petroleum Council believes the shale boom does not have much more than a decade remaining.
The NPC report appears to largely gloss over the role of further fossil fuel dependence on climate change, or the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill in the Arctic.
The first mention of climate change appears to refer to “concern about the future of the culture of the Arctic peoples and the environment in the face of changing climate and increased human activity,” but doesn't mention the role of fossil fuels in driving those changes. Instead, the report immediately pivots to focus on “increasing interest in the Arctic for tourist potential, and reductions in summer ice provide an increasing opportunity for marine traffic.”
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a National Petroleum Council member, chimed in on the study in an interview with the Associated Press.
“There will come a time when all the resources that are supplying the world's economies today are going to go in decline,” remarked Tillerson. “This is will [sic] be what's needed next. If we start today it'll take 20, 30, 40 years for those to come on.”
The National Petroleum Council also deployed the energy poverty argument, utilized most recently by coal giant Peabody Energy in its “Advanced Energy For Life” public relations campaign, to make its case for Arctic drilling as a replacement for fracking.
“But global demand for oil, which affects prices of gasoline, diesel and other fuels everywhere, is expected to rise steadily in the coming decades — even as alternative energy use blossoms — because hundreds of millions of people are rising from poverty in developing regions and buying more cars, shipping more goods, and flying in airplanes more often,” reads the report. “In order to meet that demand and keep prices from soaring, new sources of oil must be developed, the council argues.”
Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., deployed one of the lawyers on its payroll to Congress last week to argue against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon rule.
This is so common that it normally wouldn’t rate a mention, but in this case it happened to be Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who now works for Peabody and is critical of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, saying it is tantamount to “Burning the Constitution.”
But then, even that ranks pretty low in terms of newsworthiness given that, as a new analysis by Greenwire E&E reporters Corbin Hiar and Manuel Quiñones puts it, “The highest profile practitioner of targeted climate messaging is Peabody Energy Corp.”
The Greenwire analysis shows that many coal companies are, in fact, frequently talking out both sides of their mouths when it comes to climate change, and uses Peabody in particular as a case study of the legal and shareholder risks involved.
Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School and of-counsel at the firm Massey & Gail LLP, recently testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce against the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule.
Currently working as legal counsel for coal industry giant Peabody Energy and helping the company write comments, Tribe submitted a 57-page legal memo to accompany his five-minute testimony (starting at 22:43). In December 2014, Tribe submitted 35 pages worth of comments to the EPA on its proposed rule.
Joining Tribe were both New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz and Hunton & Williams attorney Allison Wood, who testified for and against the Clean Power Plan, respectively. But Tribe served as the star witness and fielded most of the questions from the Committee during the question-and-answer session.
Fittingly given his distinguished legal background, Tribe argued against the Clean Power Plan on constiutional law grounds.
“Burning the Constiution should not become part of our national energy policy,” Tribe wrote in the early pages of the legal memo he submitted to the Committee. “At its core, the issue the Clean Power Plan presents is whether EPA is bound by the rule of law and must operate within the framework established by the United States Constitution.”
He also proposed a solution — favored by his client Peabody — in a section titled, “There is a Better Way.”
“The United States could…support carbon capture and storage technologies,” Tribe wrote, not mentioning Peabody's advocacy for so-called “clean coal.”
“An 'all of the above' energy policy can support all forms of domestic energy production that will minimize carbon emissions, protect consumers and American jobs, and ensure that the U.S. remains independent from unreliable foreign sources of energy.”
While every year is crucial when it comes to reducing the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases polluting our atmosphere, 2015 is looking to be a super year and a possible turning point in which a few big decisions could make all the difference.
Here are five big things to watch in 2015:
1. Paris UN Climate Conference
Let's start at the end of 2015, when global leaders are expected to show up in Paris, France, in early December to negotiate a new global agreement on global warming pollution reductions. A preview of what is to come was on display in Lima, Peru, in early December when environment ministers and their delegations cobbled together the draft of what will be negotiated in Paris. The major sticking points in the negotiations were the same as they have been for a while now.
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.
“Mr Kellow will not be doing any interviews,” came the message into the media room at an unofficial G20 side event in Brisbane earlier this week.
Glenn Kellow is the chief operating officer at Peabody Energy – the world’s biggest privately owned coal company.
Perhaps Kellow was anticipating a hostile reception over his company’s spearheading of the coal industry’s new message that the climate changing fossil fuel is the answer to global poverty?
If this was his expectation, then it came true – if only for a few fleeting seconds – when a group of seven campaigners from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) rose to their feet in the middle of his keynote speech inside the lavish auditorium of the Brisbane City Hall.
“Peabody: we don’t want you coal. You don’t belong at the G20,” came the bellowing shouts, before the group joined hands to walk out.
Outside, the protestors rode bikes outside the forum entrance with billboards that spoofed Peabody Energy’s “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign developed with the help of Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s biggest PR firms who previously worked with the tobacco industry.
“Climate Impacts for Life – Peabody Coal… the only kind of ‘Advanced Energy’ is Renewable Energy,” the billboards read.
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.
No doubt a few eyebrows were raised and possibly some palms smashed against faces earlier this year when the richest person on the planet came out in qualified support of policies to burn massive amounts of coal in the developing world.
Gates opined that “as we push to get serious about confronting climate change” it was wrong for rich countries to tell developing countries that they should cut back on burning fossil fuels. He wrote:
For one thing, poor countries represent a small part of the carbon-emissions problem. And they desperately need cheap sources of energy now to fuel the economic growth that lifts families out of poverty. They can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them wait for the technology to get cheaper.
Gates urged people to consider the view of Lomborg and his think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Alongside the blog post were two “GatesNotes” branded videos where Lomborg presented his arguments.
In the videos Lomborg said it was “hypocritical” for the developed world to try and deny poor countries access to fossil fuels when so much of the developed world is still fueled on them. Lomborg also linked the issue of reducing the impacts of indoor air pollution to increasing use of fossil fuels.
In the video, Lomborg said:
The solution to indoor air pollution is very, very simple. It’s getting people access to modern energy and typically that’s electricity and that’s going to mean fossil fuels for those three billion people who don’t have access. We have a very clear moral imperative to make sure that people don’t cook with dirty fuels and make sure those people get out of poverty and have a decent life.
The World Health Organization says indoor air pollution caused by the burning of fuels like wood, dung and coal (Lomborg didn’t mention coal) kills about four million people a year.
While Lomborg argued that the “simple” solution to indoor air pollution is access to coal-powered electricity, the more immediate solution is access to cleaner-burning cooking stoves, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
Radha Muthia, the executive director of the alliance, wrote to the New York Times in December last year after the newspaper had published a column where Lomborg had again argued that while more efficient cooking stoves “could help” what the world really needed were “low cost fossil fuels” – chiefly, coal.
Muthia wrote that “fossil fuels are not the only solution” and that the “stakes are too high” to rest on Lomborg’s assumption.