TJ Scolnick

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Senator Rockefeller Takes A Turn At Subverting EPA Authority To Use The Clean Air Act

Advocates of congressional action on global warming had a “case of the Mondays” this week. Not to be outdone by his Republican colleaguesSenator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced his own legislation to freeze federal efforts to curb carbon emissions.

If enacted, bill S.231 will not be as disastrous as Senator John Barrasso’s (R-WY) Defending Affordable Energy and Jobs Act, but it will nonetheless prevent (or suspend) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from stationary sources like power plants and refineries, for two years.

While Rockefeller has described the perils of global warming pollution: “Greenhouse gas emissions are not healthy for our Earth or for her people, and we must take serious action to reduce them,” he has also led the charge amongst centrist and dirty energy funded Democrats to prevent the EPA from using clean air laws to protect public health and the environment from global warming pollution. Indeed, for his efforts, Rolling Stone named him no.9 on its list of 12 politicians and executives blocking progress on climate action.

Since 1999, he has received some $368,850 from coal and oil interests, and during the 2005-2010 period $130,300 from the Mining industry and $107,550 from Electric Utilities He has also received close to $40,000 from Peabody Energy, the world’s largest publicly held coal company, and whose CEO Gregory Boyce ranked no.4 on the Rolling Stone list.

American Petroleum Institute’s Tar Sands Ad Campaign Pressures State Department To Approve Keystone XL

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and natural gas industry trade group, is set to launch a new misleading advertising campaign trying to convince the State Department to approve TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry dirty tar sands crude from Alberta to U.S. refineries.

Why Wait For The US? Report Recommends Unilateral Canadian Action On Climate Change

Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), a panel composed mainly of government appointees from industry and former Conservative politicians, has released a new report assessing whether Canada should “lead, lag, or harmonize” climate policies with the US, and the consequences of doing so.

In recent years, the Canadian federal government has opposed unilaterally acting on climate change, instead committing to harmonize greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions with the US in a continental approach. This has been a favourite position for Canadian Environmental Ministers wishing to postpone acting on climate change for fear of locking Canada into GHG emissions reductions, and notably for Jim Prentice who quit as Environment Minister late last year:

“Our determination to harmonize our climate change policy with that of the United States also extends beyond greenhouse gas emission targets: we need to proceed even further in aligning our regulations.”

“We will only adopt a cap-and-trade regime if the United States signals that it wants to do the same. Our position on harmonization applies equally to regulation…Canada can go down either road — cap-and-trade or regulation — but we will go down neither road alone.”

GOP Lawmakers Submit First Attempt To Limit EPA Oversight

On Wednesday, West Virginia and Ohio politicians David B. McKinley (R-WV), with co-sponsors Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Bob Gibbs (R-OH), filed legislation (H.R. 457) restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to revoke permits issued by the Secretary of the Army.

The proposed bill amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and specifically Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (which has only been used 13 times since 1972 - including two weeks ago when the EPA vetoed Spruce Mine No.1 in West Virginia). Retroactive to January 1, 2011, the EPA would lose oversight authority to revoke or veto a permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Despite the fact that the EPA never signed off on Spruce Mine No.1 and it was Arch Coal’s subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co. which refused to compromise with the EPA to limit excess pollution and stream destruction, the Republican freshman McKinley claims that his legislation is going after EPA for years of bullying coal companies.

A “Dash For Gas” Will Threaten Renewable Energy Development And Climate Action: British MPs

A new report from Britain’s House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee warns the government that proposed energy reforms may have the perverse effect of encouraging companies to focus on building cheap gas power plants, limiting investments in renewable energy. As well, the Committee agreed with testimony from Friends of the Earth arguing that a “dash for gas” [80],  could prevent the country from reaching its climate action targets, especially since gas plants are expected to rely on unproven carbon capture and storage technology.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has said that £200 billion of new investment in energy infrastructure is needed by 2020 to meet rising demand and achieve renewable energy and climate change targets. First published in November 2009, and revised in October 2010, six draft National Policy Statements on energy (NPSs) laid out the importance of building and funding new electricity infrastructure, to include renewables, nuclear, fossil fuels and improved grid connections. The NPSs aim to increase confidence for investors and to speed up the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.

New Mexico's Supreme Court Overrules Climate Skeptic Governor: Greenhouse Gases Will Be Regulated

On Wednesday, New Mexico’s newly elected Governor Susana Martinez, a climate change skeptic, suffered a major defeat. After suspending global warming regulations on her first day in office, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the Governor, requiring the state to regulate global warming emissions and to implement a carbon reduction program.

Highlighting years of climate action during his administration, and following two years of deliberation, members of former Governor Bill Richardson’s (D-NM) Environmental Improvement Board (EIB)  voted 4-3 in November to mandate global warming emissions reductions from large stationary sources (3% per year from 2010 levels, starting in 2013); and to approve a state cap and trade system.

Riding the Republican climate skeptic wave to power in the fall elections, however, Martinez wasted little time undoing her predecessor’s progress. She issued Executive Order 2011-001 on January 1st in an effort to halt proposed and pending science-based rules and regulations (including the EIB’s decision) for a period of 90 days. The new governor had no scientific reasoning for her position, however, it was purely based on ideological opposition to climate action.

Texans Fight Against TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline: Don't Mess With Texas

In East Texas, where pipelines are more a fact of life than a sight for sore eyes, defenders of property rights are teaming up with environmentalists to oppose TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

TransCanada, a Calgary-based company, is proposing 1,959 miles of pipeline destined to run from the tar sands mines of Hardisty, Alberta, by way of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and concluding its journey at Port Arthur, Texas refineries. The Keystone XL pipeline project is promoted as a promising solution for increased oil access and security for the U.S., which imports some 9 million barrels of oil per day.

The Keystone XL pipeline differs from the many other pipelines crisscrossing Texas since it is foreign-owned. TransCanada is still awaiting approval from the State Department to build it.

Perhaps underestimating Texans’ fierce ethic of individual property rights, TransCanada has taken a heavy-handed approach to gathering local support for this project, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times. In growing numbers, East Texans are becoming unnerved by a foreign company showing up on their properties unannounced, dictating terms and sending out land agents with complicated easement agreements ready for the landowner to sign. (TransCanada isn’t quite so kind in South Dakota, where the company has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against property owners in an effort to condemn land under “eminent domain.”)

British Government Continues Greenwashing Effort, Ignores Ecological Decline In UK

A recent Guardian article by John Vidal examines the misleading spin attempting to paint Britain’s leadership as the “greenest government ever.” 

With 2010 drawing to a close, UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced triumphantly:
“Over 95 per cent of England’s finest wildlife and geological sites, covering more than one million hectares of countryside, are now in favourable or recovering condition.”

Spelman’s overly rosy interpretation of the current state of Britain’s environment is at odds with an independent report from Professor Sir John Lawton and a team of leading conservationists who are much less enthusiastic about Britain’s environmental record. Measured according to the scale SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), Sir Lawton’s team found that just 30% of these sites were in favourable condition, with the rest in a mode of “unfavourable recovering.”

Indeed, most at-risk wildlife species have shown no improvement between 1999 and 2008, and 125 of 289 species are in decline. Birds, in particular, are struggling.

Britain Ignores Tyndall Centre Report Urging Shale Gas Moratorium At Its Own Peril

Despite the evidence of significant potential risks presented in a recent report by the Tyndall Centre, the British government says it will forge ahead with plans for shale gas development in the UK. The Tyndall Centre’s study, “Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts” [PDF], urged the UK to place a moratorium on shale gas in light of serious risks associated with shale gas development, including the contamination of ground and surface waters, the expected net increase of CO2 emissions, and substantial monetary costs which could delay major investments in clean energy technologies.

Shale gas extraction involves drilling into shale formations followed by a rock fracturing process which uses heavily polluting chemicals. Especially in the US with the introduction of drilling “refinements” known as hydrofracturing or “fracking,” shale gas extraction has become highly divisive, and ever more popular among natural gas producers (making up nearly 10% of production by some estimates). The significant water contamination and public health risks associated with shale gas are well documented in last year’s “Gasland” film.

Paul Monaghan, the Co-operative’s head of sustainability describes shale gas as “like tar sands in your backyard, both in terms of local pollution and in terms of carbon emissions.”

Arch Coal Ignored Low-Cost Alternative Coal Mine Design In Order To Save 55 Cents a Ton

Could West Virginia’s coal politics become even more absurd? Apparently, yes. Ken Ward Jr. reports in the Charleston Gazette that a formerly secret 48-page engineering report by Morgan Worldwide [PDF], confirms that Arch Coal’s subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co. could have cut its stream damage from the Spruce Mine project in half – meeting the standards set by the EPA under the Clean Water Act. And at what cost for a company which earned $700 million last year? For a mere 55 cents per ton, or around 1 percent of the expected per-ton sales price, Arch could have used existing technologies to avoid polluting and potentially burying 5 more miles of streams.

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