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Fri, 2015-02-27 11:19Ben Jervey
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Fossil Fuel Industry's Global Climate Science Communications Plan in Action: Polluting the Classroom

In 1998, representatives from a number of fossil fuel companies and industry front groups, led by the American Petroleum Institute, gathered to craft a plan to undermine the American public’s understanding of climate science, and submarine any chances of the United States ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

Weeks after the private meeting, an eight page memo including a draft “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan” was leaked and reported by The New York Times, exposing the group’s plan to create public doubt about climate science.

When contacted at the time, industry representatives who were in the room claimed that the plan was “very, very tentative,” and emphasized that none of the groups represented at the meeting had officially agreed to do or fund anything further.

And over the years, whenever members of the then-called “Global Climate Science Communications Team” were asked about the plan, they have repeated that the plan was long ago abandoned.

Yet, as fellow DeSmogBlog contributor Graham Readfearn explained today in a must-read article in The Guardian, practically every key element of the “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan,” as laid out in the leaked 1998 memo, was executed in some form in the years following the meeting.

Using research from the Climate Investigations Center and DeSmogBlog, Readfearn follows up on all of the plan’s stated goals, strategies, and tactics. You can find an annotated version of the 1998 memo, with “then and now” updates on the careers of the team, on Document Cloud.

Wed, 2015-02-18 10:58Justin Mikulka
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Exploding Trains, No New Regulations, Record Industry Profits: The Oil-by-Rail Story

A month ago there was a close call for the oil-by-rail industry. As part of the Cromnibus bill that President Obama signed in December, new oil-by-rail regulations were supposed to be finalized and implemented by regulators by January 15th.

Two days before that deadline, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the agency responsible for new regulations, posted new documents on their website related to recent meetings between PHMSA and various oil and rail industry lobbyists.

They did not issue a press release about these meetings, unlike the meetings a year ago when the industry volunteered to try improving its safety record and there was plenty of publicity.

And then it was announced that new regulations would once again be delayed, this time until May 2015.

Since that delay an ethanol train has derailed resulting in burning rail cars and ethanol spilling into the Mississippi River. An oil train derailed and caught fire in Gogama, Canada. And another oil train of Bakken crude oil derailed, exploded, and leaked oil into the Kanawha River near Mount Carbon, West Virginia.

Fri, 2015-02-13 05:58Justin Mikulka
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Singing Industry’s Tune: How Rep. Jeff Denham Plans to Delay Oil-by-Rail Safety Improvements

Vintage effect applied to fast moving freight train

I just want to make sure that we are all singing the same tune that we have a very safe industry and we want to work together on improving that industry.”

Those were the words of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on February 3rd at a hearing titled “How the Changing Energy Markets Will Affect U.S. Transportation.” He was directing this advice to Greg Saxton, chief engineer for rail tank car manufacturer Greenbrier.

Denham obviously had a bone to pick with Saxton because prior to the hearing the Modesto Bee, a newspaper in Denham’s home district, ran an editorial making a strong case that the existing tank cars used to transport crude oil are unsafe. The editorial, “Delays on safer rail cars are unacceptable,” didn’t mince words. It was clear on what should happen: “The DOT [Department of Transportation] should adopt rules for those cars then set deadlines to replace every single tank car in America. Our elected representatives should insist on it.”

In Modesto, the elected representative who should be insisting on that is Jeff Denham.

Modesto is also home to Greenbrier’s manufacturing facilities and the editorial quoted Saxton for its conclusion noting his position on the lack of new regulations. “We just need a decision. Twenty years is too long.”

This is not the tune that Chairman Denham wants everyone to be singing. In his comments to Saxton at the hearing he explained his intent.

Thu, 2015-02-05 08:14Mike Gaworecki
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The War On Solar Is Real, Unlike the "War on Coal"

You’ve most likely heard of the so-called “war on coal,” especially given how eagerly mainstream newspapers have helped conservatives in pushing this bogus meme. But there’s another war going on, one you probably haven’t heard of even though the outcome has major implications for the future of our planet.

That would be the “war on solar,” a concerted effort by vested fossil fuel interests and their political allies to hinder the progress of solar power, and more broadly attack all efforts to convert our society to run on clean, renewable energy sources.

Solar is a fast-growing clean energy industry that now employs 174,000 people, more than the coal industry. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. now has more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, enough to power four million American homes while contributing more than $15 billion to the American economy.

The aggressors in the war on the solar industry include some familiar names: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform and the Koch Brothers’ own Americans for Prosperity, organizations that are intent on rolling back policies — including the solar investment tax credit — designed to encourage solar energy development. These front groups for fossil fuel interests are determined to restrict the growth of the clean tech industries in favor of the dirty energy interests they’re beholden to for funding.

As Karl Cates of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis writes, “the war on solar remains starkly underreported, and vastly deserving of much more and better coverage than it’s gotten so far.”

Fri, 2015-01-23 04:58Steve Horn
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Federal Court Order: Explosive DOT-111 "Bomb Train" Oil Tank Cars Can Continue to Roll

A U.S. federal court has ordered a halt in proceedings until May in a case centering around oil-by-rail tankers pitting the Sierra Club and ForestEthics against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). As a result, potentially explosive DOT-111 oil tank cars, dubbed “bomb trains” by activists, can continue to roll through towns and cities across the U.S. indefinitely.  

“The briefing schedule previously established by the court is vacated,” wrote Chris Goelz, a mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “This appeal is stayed until May 12, 2015, or pending publication in the Federal Register of the final tank car standards and phase out of DOT-111 tank cars, whichever occurs first.”

Order to Delay DOT-111 Bomb Trains Case
Image Credit: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Filing its initial petition for review on December 2, the Sierra Club/ForestEthics lawsuit had barely gotten off the ground before being delayed.

Thu, 2015-01-15 12:03Justin Mikulka
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Oil-by-Rail Reality: Watch What Industry Does, Not What They Say

In the past month, there have been numerous public relations efforts suggesting that much is being done to improve oil by rail safety. Unfortunately, it seems these efforts will not involve much more than press releases and hollow promises.”

Those words were first published on DeSmogBlog in March of last year in an article titled Why Nothing Will Happen On Oil by Rail Safety.

In that article, one particular public relations effort was highlighted:

“One of the more popular talking points in the recent PR effort was that BNSF, the railroad that is the largest transporter of oil by rail, had volunteered to buy 5,000 new rail tank cars that exceed any existing safety standard.”

This statement was referring to articles such as the one in the Wall Street Journal last February stating, “BNSF Railway said it plans to buy as many as 5,000 new tank cars to transport crude oil, an unusual move that marks the latest effort by the rail industry to improve safety after a spate of accidents.” Similar articles appeared in Reuters (“Exclusive: BNSF to move into tank car ownership with safer oil fleet”) and CNBC.

It was a clear message. The rail industry was not waiting on new regulations to improve safety and would take steps immediately to make the movement of oil by rail safer. Tough to argue with that, right?

Except it was nothing more than a public relations campaign.

Tue, 2015-01-06 04:00Mike Gaworecki
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California Governor Proposes Most Ambitious Renewable Energy Target In U.S.

California Governor Jerry Brown used the occasion of his fourth inaugural address to propose an ambitious new clean energy target for the state: 50% renewable energy by 2030.

“We are at a crossroads,” Brown said in announcing the proposal, according to Climate Progress. “The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative.”

Already the leader in installed solar capacity and third when it comes to wind power, the Golden State had previously adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard mandate to procure 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, a goal it was easily on pace to meet.

Environmentalists were quick to applaud Governor Brown’s 50% by 2030 proposal, which would give California the most ambitious renewable energy target of any US state, eclipsing Hawaii’s 40% by 2030 target.

But given the current growth rate of California’s renewable sector, even 50% by 2030 might not end up being that ambitious, according to Abigail Dillen, Vice President of Climate and Energy for Earthjustice.

Wed, 2014-12-24 15:00Julie Dermansky
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Christmas Parade in the Shadow of an Oil Refinery

The city of Norco, Louisiana, 25 miles from New Orleans, held its annual Christmas parade on December 7th. It is situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, along the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is known to some as “The Petrochemical Corridor” and to others as “Cancer Alley.”

The parade departed from River Road after Santa Claus arrived via helicopter, landing on the levee. A crowd lined Main Street to watch the parade and collect plastic beads and toys thrown from the floats and marchers passing by.

The parade’s backdrop, Shell’s chemical plant and Motiva’s refinery, was a reminder of our relationship to fossil fuels.

Those who live in communities like Norco may benefit from a new rule the Environmental Protection Agency will release in April 2015 in accordance with a consent decree approved by a federal judge earlier this year.

Implementation of the proposed rule “will result in project reductions of 1.760 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants, which will reduce cancer risk and chronic health effects,” according to the EPA.

Here are photos of the parade and a holiday video shot in Norco last year. 

Tue, 2014-12-09 06:46Carol Linnitt
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Shell’s Top Climate Advisor Says Company “Values” Relationship with Climate-Denying ALEC at COP20

David Hone, Shell’s top climate advisor told an audience at the COP20 climate negotiations underway in Lima, Peru today that the company enjoys its relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a contentious corporate ‘bill mill’ known for its climate change denial and aggressive efforts to counteract emissions reductions and regulations.

More than 90 companies have parted ways with ALEC since 2012, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, after ALEC’s contentious position on climate science drew the ire of shareholders, citizen groups and unions.

Perhaps most famously, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt accused ALEC of “literally lying” about climate science and publicly announced the company’s decision to forego renewing its ALEC membership. The decision prompted a ‘tech exodus’ from ALEC which saw companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo!, and AOL cut ties with the free market group.

Tue, 2014-12-02 19:54Graham Readfearn
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Coal Giant Peabody Energy Denies Social Media Poverty Campaign Is Bogus

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.

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