Ben Jervey

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Ben Jervey has been covering and working in the climate, energy, and environmental fields for a decade. He is regular contributor to DeSmogBlog. He was the original Environment Editor for GOOD Magazine, and wrote a longstanding weekly column titled “The New Ideal: Building the clean energy economy of the 21st Century and avoiding the worst fates of climate change.” He also contributes to National Geographic News, Grist, OnEarth Magazine, and many other online and print publications. His book–The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City–has been called the “bible of green living for NYC.” A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.

Oil On The Tracks: The Crude-by-Rail Boom By the Numbers

The tragic oil train explosion earlier this month in Lac-Megantic, Quebec has focused a spotlight on the growing role of rail in the transportation of North American crude. But even after that tragedy, the extent of rail’s expansion in transporting oil is still little understood by the typical driver at the pump.

So DeSmog is going to dedicate a couple of posts expanding on an earlier post about this staggering boom in crude-by-rail – why it's happening, where the oil is going, what the risks are, and who stands to benefit most from the trend.  

On November 7, 2011, the Bakken Oil Express loaded up its first railcar with North Dakota crude and started churning south towards a Gulf Coast refinery. This wasn’t the first crude-by-rail shipment in U.S. history (John D. Rockefeller might have something to say about that), nor the first time in recent history that shale crude was shuttled out of the Bakken by rail.

But if you’re looking for a pivot point in the transportation trends of North American crude, the christening of the Bakken Oil Express is a fitting one.

The Bakken Oil Express is just one piece of a rapidly expanding network of North American oil tanker trains, but it's a particularly symbolic one, quickly brought online to handle the spiking production of North Dakota sweet crude. 

According to the Association of American Railroads (PDF), “In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated just 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2012, they originated nearly 234,000 carloads. Based on the more than 97,000 rail carloads of crude oil in the first quarter of this year, another big jump is expected in 2013.” 

That’s nearly a 2400-percent increase in five short years, and the upward trend looks to be growing even faster in 2013.

Resilient Communities for America: City Mayors Prep for Climate Chaos

As international bodies and national governments fail to do anything significant to curb the ever-rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, local governments are taking it upon themselves to get prepared for the perilous impacts of unmitigated climate change.

Last month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious, sprawling $20 billion dollar plan to do everything from gird the city with levees to fortifying infrastructure to hurricane-proofing buildings.

Then a group of 45 mayors from many of the nation’s largest and most vulnerable cities gathered in the nation’s capital to announce an agreement to create more climate resilient communities.

The elected officials – from Denver, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Sacramento, to name a few – pledged “to prepare and protect their communities from the increasing disasters and disruptions fueled by climate change.” You can see the growing list of signatories, which stands at 58 as of today.

Enemies of Science Want to Confuse You About The 97-Percent Consensus Study

Earlier this month, John Cook of Skeptical Science and his team of volunteers at the Consensus Project released the latest definitive study of global warming scientific consensus, revealing that 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers with a clear view on the subject agree that global warming is occurring and that humans are the primary cause.

Ever since, we've seen the predictable pushback from fossil fuel industry apologists and climate deniers.

The loudest response comes from the Alberta-based Friends of Science, a shadowy non-profit with a history of Canadian oil company ties, which DeSmogBlog has covered extensively over the years.

From their press release:

Pegasus Pipeline Spill: Mayflower Residents Find Conflicting Advice from Arkansas Agencies

It’s been over five weeks since ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline burst beneath a Mayflower, Arkansas subdivision, spilling diluted bitumen born of tar sands throughout the neighborhood. Five weeks later, and still the air carries noxious fumes. Residents complain of headaches, nausea, and worse.

Meanwhile, these residents of Mayflower are getting mixed signals from various state agencies, as well as the EPA and ExxonMobil.

While Exxon, the EPA, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), and the Arkansas Department of Health are assuring the community that the air is safe, Arkansas’s Attorney General Dustin McDaniel isn’t so sure.

As we met with residents and groups that represent them, like Remember Mayflower, I heard time and time again about their health, especially the health of their children,” McDaniel said last week. “Many continue to suffer from headaches and nausea and air sampling continues to show that the carcinogen benzene remains in the air.”

Koch Brothers, ALEC Attack Maine Renewable Energy Standards

Maine’s clean energy legislation has spurred more than $2 billion in local investment and created at least 2,500 jobs in the Pine Tree State. That isn’t stopping some state lawmakers from trying to weaken and kill these laws, as the local political puppets do the will of their fossil fuel masters, the Koch brothers.

A quick reminder: there’s a coordinated national campaign to dismantle renewable portfolio standards (RPS) at the state level. Behind the campaign is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), who we’ve covered quite a bit before. Behind ALEC is the Heartland Institute and the Koch brothers.

It’s a scene playing out in State capitols around the country – from Kansas to Missouri to Michigan to North Carolina. And now in Maine. State legislators, who typically receive hearty contributions from the Heartland Institute, Big Fossils, and local front groups who are wholly funded by the former, introduce legislation that was drafted by ALEC (a “corporate bill mill”) with the help of Heartland and the Big Fossils. The state legislators then present biased studies created by compromised think tanks that are funded by Heartland and the big fossils to support this boilerplate legislation. The legislation, of course, written to benefit Big Fossils – and the Koch brothers – and not the people of the respective states, where renewable portfolio standards are having great positive economic and environmental impact.

(For a good overview of ALEC’s work to bully state legislators into weakening these laws that undeniably help the economies and environments of the states in which they’re passed, check out this NRDC Action Fund post.)

Up in Maine, some local groups are asking, “Why do two rich men from Kansas want to dismantle Maine's renewable energy policy?” A new report just published by the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine’s Majority Education Fund, and the Maine Conservation Alliance (PDF) seeks to answer that question for Mainers.

While Exxon Spins on Mayflower Tar Sands Spill Cleanup, Oil Threatens Fishing Lake and Arkansas River

ExxonMobil would sure like you to think that everything is just fine down in Mayflower, Arkansas. That the roughly 5,000 barrel tar sands crude spill was regrettable, but the town will be soon restored to its unspoiled state. That, in terms of clean up, they’re totally on it.

I mean, just look at their workers scrubbing away on the oiled ducks and turtles in this sleek little video:

Fracking Our National Parks: America's Best Idea Threatened By Oil and Gas Addiction

Teddy Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave. Elkhorn Ranch, where the great Republican conservationist sat on his porch overlooking the Little Missouri River and conceived his then-progressive theories of conservation, is at risk of being despoiled by fracking

Now sitting in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’d assume that Roosevelt's “home ranch” (as he called it) was protected from fossil fuel development. But the view from Elkhorn could soon be dominated by a new gas well staked just 100 feet from the site, a new bridge over the river and a new road to service nearby fracking fields. “Astronomers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park – which once offered some of the nation’s darkest, most pristine night skies – also see a new constellation of flares from nearby fracking wells,” writes the National Parks Conservation Association.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not alone. Around the country – from Big Sky Country to the water gaps and rivers of the East – National Parks and recreation areas are being threatened by rampant, fracking-driven oil and gas development.

EPA Again Slams State Department's Keystone XL Assessment as "Insufficient"

On Monday, the State Department’s public comment period closed for the Keystone XL pipeline draft environmental impact statement. Over one million comments were submitted by citizens opposed to the tar sands pipeline. Then came the most damning comment of them all: from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA submitted a letter faulting the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline for being “insufficient” and raising “Environmental Objections” to the project.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the very same thing happened roughly two years ago, when the State Department was first assessing the proposed tar sands pipeline project.

In June of 2011, the EPA first wrote to criticize the draft environmental impact statement as “insufficient.”

That EPA letter certainly played a part – as did sustained grassroots advocacy efforts, exposes on conflicts of interest between State and the pipeline’s profiteers, and relentless debunking of false jobs and energy security promises – in the State Department’s move to punt the decision for a year, take a fresh look at the proposals, and go back to the drawing board to create a new supplemental environmental impact statement.

Video: Climate Reality Project on the True Price of Carbon

Remember the climate disruption tax? It’s the public cost, actually paid by American taxpayers, of climate-driven extreme weather events. For the first time, the smart economists and public policy thinkers out there are actually crunching numbers and putting forth some jaw-dropping costs of these droughts and floods and superstorms.

Last month, I wrote about a smart new term for these costs – the climate disruption tax – as introduced by NRDC’s Dan Lashof and Andy Stevenson

It’s a fancy and technical way of saying that there is a price of carbon emissions. A price that isn’t being paid on the front end by primary consumers of fossil fuels, and certainly isn’t being paid by the fossil fuel companies themselves. Rather, it’s paid by American taxpayers, no matter how responsible any particular individual is for the problem.

The good folks at the Climate Reality Project released a video, narrated by the great Reggie Watts, that illustrates these costs in a way that a bland old blog post never could. While the video doesn’t apply the “climate disruption tax” label specifically, the principle it’s talking about it one in the same. Check it out:

Yet More Proof That Keystone XL Won't Reduce Gas Prices

There are four days left to submit a public comment to the State Department on the Keystone XL pipeline. As we’ve reported time and time again here on DeSmogBlog, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not improve America’s energy security as proponents of the pipeline insist. Nor would completion of the pipeline reduce gas prices here in America, another common claim.

Over a year ago, when the State Department was turning down TransCanada’s first bid, we took a look at why and how Keystone XL wouldn’t reduce gas prices here in the U.S.

This week, Public Citizen released a report that piles on a whole lot more evidence to support this fact. In fact, it makes a rock solid economic case that construction of the pipeline would almost certainly result in an increase in gas prices in the American Midwest. An increase

For the report, titled “America Can’t Afford the Keystone Pipeline” (PDF download here), Public Citizen analyzed an abundance of data and found that average U.S. gas prices over the past year would have been as much as 3.5-percent lower had there not been any exports of oil. Because Keystone XL would primarily be an export pipeline (as we’ve reported again and again, and as Canadian Energy Minister Ken Hughes has recently admitted), all evidence points to the fact that construction of the pipeline would actually increase gas prices.

Here’s a quick rundown of the report’s main takeaways.

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