International News

Faith, Culture and the Climate Movement by Koreti Tuimalu

350.org - April 19, 2014 - 7:34pm

Koreti Tuimalu delivering her speech at the NZ- Pacific Power Shift in 2012

 

At the end of 2012, I spoke of faith at the NZ-Pacific Power Shift.  I talked about a few things but it was my mentioning of faith that copped me some criticism in a survey of participants that stood out for me.  And it hurt.  It was only one or two comments from a largely positive reaction but it’s the bad things about you that you remember, right?

At the time, this made me question my place in the climate movement: can someone with faith in God be part of a climate change movement – which is derived by proven scientific fact?  I was new to the climate movement – a baby climate activist – so I took this knock-back fairly hard as I was trying to connect to my new passion and if it rejected one of the core aspects of my being, would it reject the other important part?  My culture?

Well I decided it couldn’t ignore either.

Pacific people are at the front line of climate change – MY people are at the front line and we are all the same.  Our faith and our culture go hand-in-hand and climate change is just as much our problem as it is for the rest of the world.  Therefore, embarking on this Pacific Climate Warrior journey, it was important that we made this clear in our trainings – that our values and beliefs were important in this fight.

Koreti and the Pacific Climate Warriors in Istanbul, Turkey

 

When we talk about “building a grassroots movement to fight the climate crisis”, grassroots means exactly that – people who are working to cultivate the land in villages and the provinces who have no political affiliations or anything to do with the large corporations of “Super Power” nations.  People who just live every day working the land to provide for their families and whose existence depends on respecting the harmony between their environments, land and ocean.

What enables them to have that balance is their faith and culture.

What I have learned during these trainings is sobering.   Pacific people are wise to the fact that while big consuming nations provide aid money to assist in adaptation and mitigation work in the Islands, they know a large percentage is returned to donor countries in “consultation” fees before, if any, is spent on the real need.  What’s the point?  Besides giving donor countries the opportunity to pat themselves on the back for “doing their bit”, it doesn’t really serve the people of the Pacific who suffer the injustices of a problem that they have not created.

In the Solomon Islands, one of the participants said that the biggest problem was that leaders were not taking it seriously enough.  I couldn’t agree more.  One of the things I have asked myself again and again is how do we make climate change just as important as religion and sport?  I keep coming to same conclusion.  It has to start at the top – and if that isn’t happening, then the people have to demand it.

Koreti at the recent Pacific Climate Warriors Training in the Solomon Islands

 

So we are encouraging our people to demand it.  We are planning extreme measures because we are in extreme times.  The plans that the Pacific Warriors have for the coming year have been met with wide-eyed shock – but end with resounding excitement.  There is a growing belief and resolve that what we are doing is not only possible, but necessary.  None of that has stemmed from the findings of the IPCC or scientific fact etc. – although it’s a very important part of the puzzle.

Rather, it has come from a place of a deep love and care for their people and their homelands.  At one of my first Pacific workshops in Wellington, a Samoan girl brought her two young siblings who were no older than six years of age.  They joined in the workshop with everyone else and when given the opportunity to share their thoughts, the younger of the two sisters said “I want to do what I can to save my Pacific Island.”  While she was born and raised in Wellington – like me – she, too, has inherited the love that we have for our cultural heritage.

Koreti with Pacific Climate Warriors in Istanbul, Turkey

 

With every training I have been a part of, we have begun and ended with prayer.  Faith – of any denomination – binds us together.  It is what we lean on in times of hardship and it is God whom we give glory and thanks for the strength to withstand the impacts of climate change in the Pacific.  While I was raised in the Catholic faith, in the past 10 years I have become more spiritually open, acknowledging that fundamentally, Pacific people share a belief in the Almighty regardless of the way in which we practice.

I believe that without faith, I would not be able to have a genuine connection with those I have met along this journey.  I have drawn strength from it at times when I have felt alone or weary, but more importantly it has enabled me to have the boldness to stand before our people and be real about climate change and the cost that it will incur on our future generations.  It has eased my fears and frustrations and keeping God at the centre of this work, has given me strength to do things I never thought I was capable of.

In the next phase of our work, my faith is also a big driver.  In tackling the issue of climate change for the Pacific, our area of focus is in our region – our neighbour who contributes so greatly to the threat.  The Australian fossil fuel industry is profiting from the demise of the Pacific Islands.  Being the world’s largest coal exporter feels like Australia is giving the Pacific a big middle finger.  The Solomon Islands suffered flash floods last week and while here, I watched a piece on the news of some Australian secretary or other in the Solomon’s making the announcement that they would be giving $3 million dollars in aid because “the Solomon Islands is a good friend to Australia”.

This was followed by what I felt was a condescending comment about how the Solomon’s was such a resilient people.  It was an embarrassment and came across as shameless self-promotion.  That amount is appalling in comparison to the billions in profit that the Australian fossil fuel industry will make in 2014.  I can no longer stand the phrase “Australia is the big brother to the Pacific” because big brothers usually act as protectors to their younger siblings – not participate in activities that bring them serious harm.  The Australian government’s denial of climate change is hurting the Pacific Islands fight for climate justice and it cannot continue.

Our Pacific Climate Warriors in Fiji, Samoa, Tokelau, Nauru, Vanuatu, Tonga, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, American Samoa, Tuvalu, Palau and the Marshall Islands are preparing to send a message to the Australia fossil fuel industry that will be clear and difficult to ignore.

Pacific Climate Warriors of the Federated States of Micronesia

 

We will continue to reach out to other Pacific nations to join us and will be supported by friends and allies in Australia, New Zealand and around the world.  It will be a bold and impassioned plea that will embody all the positive and peaceful attributes of true Pacific Warrior traditions.  Our people ARE resilient but they are also fiercely protective and willing to do all they can to protect and preserve all that we hold dear – our land, our ocean and our future generations.

Being able to journey through the Pacific to roll out the Pacific Warrior trainings has been very humbling and a great honour.  Travelling to Istanbul for Global Power Shift (GPS) last year and sharing our story with people working for climate justice all over the world was an absolute privilege.  Being the Pacific coordinator for 350.org is a huge responsibility and I take none of the opportunities I have had for granted.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with friends and colleagues throughout the world fighting for climate justice in their own regions.  Sharing that connection with our Pacific Warriors fills them with a stronger sense of pride, that we are not only doing this for the Pacific, but contributing to a truly global movement.  But it also reminds us that this is something that we cannot do alone.  To be successful, we need to work with everyone fighting this global climate crisis and share ideas, action plans, triumphs and trials because one size does not fit all.

At the NZ- Pacific Power Shift in 2012

 

What is working for us here in the Pacific may not work for those in Europe or in the USA but it might be useful to another country like the Philippines or India.  The climate change movement has had to make a cultural shift because it runs the risk of excluding vulnerable at-risk communities who are desperately in need of support if it doesn’t.  This has been the strength of 350.org – championing a climate movement that is culturally diverse and enabling us here in the Pacific to fight the climate crisis in a way that makes sense and is genuine, focussing on what is important to our people.  And this has given rise to something very powerful.  Hope.

***Koreti Tuimalu is the 350.org Pacific Coordinator***

Categories: International News

60 Years of Solar Cells

Climate Crocks - April 19, 2014 - 8:56am
“Let it Shine” by Amory Lovins, via NewEnergyNews: Bell executives presented the first practical solar cell to the world at a press conference on April 25, 1954. At the time of Bell’s announcement in 1954, all the solar cells in the world delivered less than one watt. Today, more than 120 gigawatts of generating capacity of […]
Categories: International News

What just happened on Keystone XL:

350.org - April 18, 2014 - 7:27pm

Friends,

Today’s Keystone XL news from DC is both important and murky. In brief, the Obama administration announced yet another delay in their decision about the pipeline, meaning it may be past the midterm elections before a final call is made.

Three things strike me:

  1. In pipeline terms it’s a win. Every day we delay a decision is a day when 830,000 barrels of oil stays safely in the ground. Together we’ve kept them at bay for three years now, and will continue to until perhaps the beginning of next year it seems.
  2. In climate terms, it’s a disappointment. Since the State Department can’t delay floods and droughts and El Ninos, we actually need President Obama providing climate leadership. If he’d just follow the science and reject the stupid pipeline he’d finally send a much-needed signal to the rest of the planet that he’s getting serious.
  3. In movement terms, it’s a sweet reminder that when we stand up we win. Three years ago this pipeline was a done deal, and thanks to you it’s come steadily undone. We can’t match Exxon or the Koch Bros with money; we can and have matched them with passion, spirit, creativity, and sacrifice.

So the Keystone fight goes on — we hope many of you will be in DC next weekend for Reject and Protect, joining the Cowboy Indian Alliance to say “hell no” to the pipeline.The Alliance members coming to DC next week are some of the strongest leaders in this fight.

If you can’t be there yourself, can you show your support for the Cowboy Indian Alliance by telling Pres. Obama and Sec. Kerry to use this delay to meet with them? act.350.org/sign/cowboy-indian-alliance/

The decision to delay was made — supposedly — account for the impact of a possible new pipeline route in Nebraska. As it happens, next week Nebraskans and members of US Tribes and Canadian First Nations will be in Washington — it seems to me that it would be prudent for the President and Sec. Kerry to make plans to meet with the Cowboy Indian Alliance at their encampment and get their story of what this pipeline would mean on the ground.

The climate fight can’t be delayed. We need to keep building the movement, and we need to keep putting heat on leaders like President Obama till we win not delay but action. Today’s DC decision just reinforces the message that if we stand together we will make a decisive difference — and there is an important opportunity on the horizon to do that in the biggest way yet, to be announced soon.

The last thing to say is thank you. You are the strength in this movement, and together we will make even more amazing things possible.

Forward,

Bill McKibben for 350.org

Sources:

“Keystone Decision to be Delayed” USA Today, April 18 2014.

www.usatoday.com/story/news/2014/04/18/obama-keystone-xl-pipeline-congress-canada/7874199/

Categories: International News

Vanishing Pearls: How BP forced this community to the brink of extinction

350.org - April 18, 2014 - 3:55pm

A film documenting the David and Goliath struggle between BP and the oystermen of Pointe a la Hache premiers in theaters today. Watch the trailer below:

Via African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM)

Categories: International News

State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November

Climate Progress - April 18, 2014 - 2:33pm

President Barack Obama arriving at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez

The State Department will “extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections,” Reuters reported on Friday afternoon. The organization credited the information to a 1:30 call with Congressional staff.

The decision of whether or not to approve the northern leg of TransCanada’s pipeline, connecting the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries and export facilities in Texas, will enter its sixth year in September.

State made the decision to give more time for 8 federal agencies to weigh in on the project. This would move the end of the review process, originally scheduled to end in May, to a date “likely” after the 2014 midterm elections, according to the Wall Street Journal. State Department officials cited a February district court decision that struck down a Nebraska law that aimed to put decisionmaking power over the pipeline in the hands of the governor.

Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled that the law, which allowed pipeline companies to choose to submit their plans to either the governor’s Department of Environmental Quality or the more rigorous Public Service Commission, was unconstitutional.

Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb told ClimateProgress that the Nebraska Supreme Court will likely not issue a decision on the case until about January 2015. She also noted that South Dakota’s permit granted for the pipeline would expire on June 20, 2014 — meaning that TransCanada would have to reapply for a state permit after that date.

“The State Department is following Pres. Obama’s lead who has said all along he wants to follow the process,” Kleeb said in a statement. “The basic fact that Nebraska has no legal route is reason to delay any decision until our state can analyze a route using process that follows our state constitution.”

“Nebraska landowners will not give up their property rights with bad contract terms and unknown chemicals risking our water. This delay is yet more proof this project is not permit-able and not in our national interest.”

Update

This post has been updated to reflect information from the call with State Department officials.

The post State Department To Delay Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Until After November appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Science 1. Thought Police 0.

Climate Crocks - April 18, 2014 - 11:59am
Critical battle won against yet another Koch funded “think” tank. Significant because it involves the attempt too use the Freedom of Information Act as a bludgeon against free thought and inquiry. Rick Piltz has a good wrap with links at Climate Science Watch. Climate Science Watch: The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected the American Tradition Institute’s […]
Categories: International News

The fight against fracking continues and I'm proud to rejoin it | Caroline Lucas

Guardian - April 18, 2014 - 11:30am
From UN reports to community protests, opposition to fossil fuels is plentiful. But we won't stop until the government changes tack

It could be a village fete. There are rugs spread out, bunting, and several green gazebos. People are sitting on folding camp stools, and knowledgeable locals are keeping an eye on the Sussex skies for the first sign of rain. Only the placards and banners strike the wrong note. Because the villagers and visitors gathered together are here not to raise money for the church roof, but to try to stop a plan to drill for fossil fuels under their homes and fields.

That was my first experience of the protest at Balcombe, last summer. It's been a long journey since then, via five hours in the cells of Crawley police station, months of preparing our case, and finally six days at the magistrates court in Brighton.

Continue reading...






Categories: International News

Connecticut Takes A Step Closer To Keep Fracking Wastewater Out Of The State

Climate Progress - April 18, 2014 - 11:15am

CREDIT: A.P. Images

Activists on Wednesday delivered petitions with over 5,600 signatures to Connecticut lawmakers in support of legislation that would ban the disposal or storage of wastewater from fracking anywhere in the state. Supporters of the prohibition warn that Connecticut could become the next dumping ground for waste from Pennsylvania’s over 6,000 gas wells.

On Monday, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee approved the proposed ban, SB 327, by an overwhelming 34-6 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate floor.

If the bill is not passed by both the Senate and the House by the end of the current legislative session, May 7, it will die by default.

Last year, three similar bills to ban fracking waste disposal in the state were introduced. Only two of the bills ever made it out of committee and none ever made it any further in the legislative process.

The House is currently considering a competing bill, HB 5308 that would place a two-year moratorium on the disposal or storage of fracking wastewater in Connecticut while officials at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection study the issue and come up with regulatory rules regarding the waste byproducts.

Unlike Pennsylvania and New York which sit atop of the natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale, Connecticut has no such resources and will probably never see a fracking well dug within its borders. Environmentalists, however, fear that that does not necessarily make Connecticut immune to the hazards of the industry. Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t have fracking wells either, but both states are undergoing radical changes and suffering certain environmental consequences thanks to new booming sand mines that provide a key ingredient in fracking fluid.

Activists in Connecticut don’t want the process to end in their state. Fracking is a drilling technique which uses sand, water, and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas inside. The process produces millions of gallons of waste containing a cocktail of chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive material. The exact composition of fracking fluid is considered a trade secret in most states and is not public information. In 2012, Pennsylvania produced 1.2 billion gallons of fracking wastewater. Much of that waste got shipped out of state to neighboring Ohio, which has experienced a dramatic increase in seismic activity in part related to wastewater that is injected deep underground for storage.

“This is a proactive step to protect the water, soil and residents of Connecticut,” said Chris Phelps, Campaign Director at Environment Connecticut. “For us it makes perfect sense to, for once, close the barn doors while the horses are still inside.”

Connecticut is not the only state to consider such a ban.

Vermont also has no significant shale oil or gas resources but in 2012 became the first state to ban fracking and fracking wastewater. Massachusetts is also considering legislation that would impose a 10-year moratorium on fracking and would ban wastewater from treatment, storage or disposal in the state.

In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature approved a measure prohibiting the treatment, disposal, and storage of fracking wastewater. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it on the grounds that fracking wasn’t happening in the state and was unlikely to in the near future. Lawmakers are trying again with a similar bill introduced in January.

Last summer Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation greatly expanding Connecticut’s natural gas distribution system to lower heating costs in the state. Some 280,000 customers are expected to be connected to natural gas over the next decade.

Gov. Malloy’s office did not directly respond when asked if the governor would support either bill. In a written statement the press office said “We are actively monitoring the proposals, and will continue to do so as they go through the legislative process.”

Tom Foley, the favorite Republican candidate to challenge Gov. Malloy in this year’s gubernatorial race, was also unavailable for comment on the legislation.

The post Connecticut Takes A Step Closer To Keep Fracking Wastewater Out Of The State appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

A Nuclear Power Plant Goes On The Auction Block

Climate Progress - April 18, 2014 - 10:06am

In late March, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in southern California hosted a three-day nuclear auction, the first step in a decades-long decommissioning process for the recently shuttered generating station that will cost over $3 billion dollars, account for more than 1,500 jobs lost, and require the replacement of 2.2 gigawatts of power. Forced to close due to the failure of expensive equipment upgrades, the closure of the plant is illustrative of the turning point at which many nuclear power plants in the U.S. find themselves as they confront aging infrastructure, expensive repairs and upgrades, environmental risks, and price competition from natural gas, wind and solar power.

Available to the highest bidder at the auction was everything from overflowing toolboxes to heavy machinery to control panels reminiscent of the one Homer Simpson uses at his job as a nuclear technician. Community members joined seasoned dealers in scouting out turbine heat exchangers, eye-washing stands, and some 2,700 other items for personal use, professional use or resale on the 130-acre site about 50 miles north of San Diego.

CREDIT: screenshot/Machinery Resources International

SONGS was a powerful community presence long before its guts were sold off and dispersed throughout the region, and it will continue to influence local decision-making for many years to come. The first reactor went into operation in 1968, the decommissioning process will go on for at least two decades, and the radioactive waste will be stored onsite for the foreseeable future. Southern California Edison (SCE), the co-owners of the nuclear plant along with San Diego Gas & Electric Company, organized a Community Engagement Panel to keep residents engaged in the decommissioning process beyond the activity of the auction — there are around 100,000 people living within ten miles of SONGS and nearly nine million within 50 miles.

Around 300 people attended the first meeting held in late March, which was overseen by David Victor, director of the UC-San Diego Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, who was chosen to chair the panel because of his proven leadership abilities and experience bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders.

“We had almost an hour of community input, and almost all the comments were civil,” Victor told ThinkProgress about the first meeting. He believes that with decisions to close more nuclear plants across the U.S. in the next few years, people can learn from the process going on at SONGS.

“One of the most important things is that different communities find strategies that work for that community,” Victor said. “Whenever you do a big engineering project, you need a mechanism for getting community input in a serious way. That’s what we’re doing.”

How Do You Close A Nuclear Plant?

Decommissioning a nuclear plant — an arduous and expensive process — is permitted to take up to 60 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), though officials at SONGS hope to have it done in a third of that time. Simply dismantling the plant will take several years, and then there’s the issue finding long-term storage for the spent fuel, which is radioactive. Storage of high-level radioactive waste remains a political quagmire with no resolution in sight, and for now the fuel rods remain on site at SONGS stored in specially made casks. SONGS closed down last year when a radioactive leak led to a shutdown shortly after a series of expensive upgrades had been made to two of the reactors. Upon further inspection, a number of repairs and safety concerns were noted, and SCE, 80 percent owners of the plant, made the decision to retire it rather than pursue the prolonged and expensive process of bringing it back online.

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 2 and 3.

CREDIT: flickr/SoCal Edison

While SONGS must deal with certain unique challenges in the decommissioning process due to its proximity to urban populations and location along an earthquake fault line, other plants across the country looking at decommissioning face similarly daunting challenges. The recent closure of several nuclear power plants was the first in 15 years, and represents a departure from the buzz of a nuclear renaissance over the decade leading up to the March 2011 nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant.

“In the years following the major accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power fell out of favor, and some countries applied the brakes to their nuclear programs,” wrote Ernest Moniz, now Secretary of Energy, in a November 2011 essay for Foreign Affairs. “In the last decade, however, it began experiencing something of a renaissance.”

Concerns about climate change and air pollution, as well as growing demand for electricity, led many governments to reconsider their aversion to nuclear power, which emits little carbon dioxide and had built up an impressive safety and reliability record. Some countries reversed their phaseouts of nuclear power, some extended the lifetimes of existing reactors, and many developed plans for new ones.

Moniz concludes that it would be a mistake to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits, a sentiment he stands by after becoming head of the Department of Energy last May. In February, Moniz announced the approval of a $6.5 billion loan to build two reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating nuclear site in Georgia. The plants mark the first new nuclear facilities in the U.S. to begin construction and receive NRC license in nearly 30 years. Cost overruns and delays have led to an organized resistance to the power plants, with Tea Party groups confronting Georgia Power last year over the monopoly’s reluctance to increase its use of solar power and for charging customers for the nuclear project’s finance costs before it produces power.

CREDIT: flickr/colinwood0

New nuclear power plants will take years to construct, so in the meantime, keeping old plants producing power for longer is a lot more economically appealing than building new ones.

“There’s talk about operating existing reactors from 60 to 80 years,” Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “Existing reactors have largely had their construction costs paid off. While there are still operating and maintenance costs to cover, and aging tends to increase costs and more and more components and structures must be replaced or refurbished, it is still often worthwhile.”

According to Lochbaum, risk failure over the lifetime of a plant reflects a “bathtub curve” in which material defects, assembly errors, and user error are highest early on during the break-in phase and later during the wear-out phase. At SONGS, management replaced expensive steam generators that were nearing wear-out in an attempt to manage risk — only to have the new generators break during the break-in phase. Lockbaum thinks good management can deal with the aging challenge effectively, as evidenced by the more than two-thirds of U.S. reactors that have been relicensed for 20 more years.

So, the greenfields will have large concrete casks holding spent fuel as a legacy or monument to the federal government’s enduring ineptitude.

“But the aging challenge can also spell doom, as it did at San Onofre,” said Lochbaum, and now the focus is on decommissioning. “The two main goals of decommissioning are to return the site to greenfield status without running out of decommissioning funds first.” Greenfields are areas of undeveloped land that can be used for agriculture, landscaping or just left to naturally evolve. “This goal cannot be met at most sites because the federal government has not provided a repository for spent fuel to go,” Lochbaum explained. “So, the greenfields will have large concrete casks holding spent fuel as a legacy or monument to the federal government’s enduring ineptitude.”

Nuclear Waste And Storage

High-level waste from a nuclear reactor is the used nuclear fuel left after it has spent several years in the reactor generating heat for electricity. This waste, which makes up about three percent of total radioactive waste from a nuclear plant but 95 percent of the radioactive content, is stored underwater in a storage pool for about five years before being transferred to a cask. The fuel can also remain in water for many decades awaiting more permanent storage in a geologic repository or reprocessing into recycled fuel in some cases. These repositories must be contained and isolated enough to minimize releases of radioactivity into the environment for tens of thousands to a million years.

In Sweden the Onkalo repository, in which a three-mile tunnel leads 1,200 feet underground to bedrock, will begin taking high-level nuclear waste in 2020 before being sealed 100 years later, not to be opened for 100,000 years. It’s hard to imagine building anything to last more than 20 times as long as the Egyptian pyramids have so far, and it turns out legislating that process can be nearly as challenging.

No state wants to be home to high-level radioactive waste, but every state with a nuclear reactor has to deal with it.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act, meant to develop repositories for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, passed in 1982 and chartered the DOE with examining ten candidate sites across the country. Then, in 1987, it was amended to redirect the agency to only evaluate one single site: Yucca Mountain.

Around $15 billion has been spent by the federal government assessing Yucca Mountain as a place to store nuclear waste in the ground and it has been a rocky road all along. In 2002, President George W. Bush approved the dump site, with DOE submitting an application to the NRC to begin construction in 2008. However, under the Obama Administration, the DOE tried to withdraw the application from the NRC and Congress has since suspended funding for the program. The NRC denied the DOE’s request to withdraw the license application but did suspend work on the application, citing Congress’ move to defund the program. In the latest turn of events, last year the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a writ of mandamus to compel the NRC to resume the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The entrance to the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository site under construction in 2007.

CREDIT: flickr/nuclear regulatory commission

There is widespread local opposition to the facility in Nevada that fuels political push-back. Nevada has no nuclear power plants. No state wants to be home to high-level radioactive waste, but every state with a nuclear reactor has to deal with it.

Victor said that in California some people are so frustrated with the lack of federal action that they are looking for options at the state level. However, considering all the political, legal and technical challenges surrounding the storage of nuclear waste — not to mention the cost — he thinks plants will have to deal with storing fuel onsite for quite a while.

“Speaking as an analyst, my guess is that a combination of lawsuits by utilities for the federal government failing to provide a permanent facility, fuel backing up at the sites, and community concerns will lead to more pressure for action,” Victor said.

Leaving Big Shoes To Fill

The closure of SONGS can be viewed as a microcosm of the broader debate going on across global governments and within energy and environmental communities about the pros and cons of nuclear power. In 2012, the year SONGS shut down, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in California rose 35 percent. This was no coincidence, according to the California Air Resources Board, which attributed the jump partly to the natural gas coming online to generate electricity previously provided by SONGS, as well as a reduction in hydroelectric generation due to the drought. The plant’s closure also impacted wholesale electricity prices in the state — they rose 59 percent, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration ascribed largely to the SONGS outage.

When it was fully operational SONGS produced 2.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 1.4 million homes. Most of this power will be replaced, although there are efforts reduce demand and increase efficiency as much as possible. Everyone from legislators to local ratepayers have expressed concern over what the new power sources will be –- coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, wind, solar, or even wave power are all under consideration. In March, the California Public Utilities Commission gave some clarity to the future by unanimously approving SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric to procure up to 1,500 megawatts of new generation capacity by 2022. Just over a third of that power, 575 megawatts, must come from so-called “preferred sources,” which include anything other than fossil-fuel generation. The remainder, however, will be available for “any source” procurement, likely meaning the commission of some new gas-fired power plants, even though California does have regulations requiring utilities to consider preferred resources before fossil-fueled power plants.

While at SONGS the discussion revolves around what to replace nuclear power with, the broader nuclear debate focuses on using nuclear power to replace fossil-fuel powered generation. Some see it as an environmentally friendly power source that can be safely managed to provide clean, affordable power to millions, while others view it as an unwieldy and unnecessary gamble fraught with potential danger and complications that distracts from other renewable energy technologies. It’s part of the oft-touted “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, but what part?

In the fall, four prominent climate scientists wrote an open letter urging the environmental community to support the development of safe nuclear power to cut fossil fuel production, arguing that other renewables won’t be enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product.

“Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires,” Kenneth Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, James E. Hansen, and Tom Wigley state in the letter. “While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.”

While the scientists argue that the risks associated with expanded use of nuclear energy are far smaller than those associated with fossil fuels, ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm thinks that in the real world this isn’t what matters. In response to their letter, he wrote that the scientists miss a key point about nuclear power, “because it is so expensive, especially when done safely, the industry has no chance of revival absent a serious price on carbon.”

While solar power and wind power continue to march down the experience curve to ever lower costs — solar panels have seen a staggering 99 percent drop in cost since 1977 — nuclear power has been heading in the opposite direction … environmental groups have had little impact on the collapse of nuclear power in America. The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product.

The Nuclear Generation

100 nuclear reactors across 31 states in the U.S. generate about 19 percent of the country’s total electrical output and account for about one-third of worldwide nuclear power capacity. While cheaper electricity generation alternatives and costly maintenance and safety demands are putting the future viability of nuclear power plants in the U.S. in jeopardy, new nuclear plants are on the rise globally — especially in China where 28 are under construction, around 40 percent of the total number currently being built worldwide.

Guangdong nuclear power plant, Guangdong, China, 2007.

CREDIT: flickr/ Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Co.

As part of China’s relentless drive to power a growing economy and urbanizing populace — and to limit debilitating local air pollution when possible — the country is planning to increase nuclear power capacity by nearly ten-fold by 2030 and to keep the growth going into mid-century. Another country in the region had a similar plan to rely on nuclear power for more of its electricity as a way of weaning itself off fossil fuels and creating a more sustainable, domestic supply of energy. That country was Japan, and those plans changed dramatically on March 11, 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to destabilize and go into meltdown.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 24, 2011, almost two weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

CREDIT: AP/ AIR PHOTO SERVICE

Before the disaster that sent radiation leaking into the region, Japan got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and had plans to raise that to about half by 2050. Since then, the area surrounding the Fukushima plant has been struggling with radioactive water leaks, radiation-tainted soil, a hopelessly delayed cleanup schedule, and a disenchanted public. Even so, Japan’s current government is arguing that restarting many of the country’s currently disabled 50 nuclear reactors is critical to powering Japan’s future.

Radioactive contamination from the Fukushima fallout is expected to reach the U.S. West Coast sometime this year. Eventually the radioactive plume will reach the southern California coast and brush up against the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station. This will temporarily bridge the ocean-wide gap between two coastal communities caught in the crosshairs of one of the twenty-first century’s biggest dilemmas: how to provide everyone with power while at the same time managing climate change responsibly. Right now in the U.S. this question is playing out one nuclear reactor at a time, without a clear, long-term plan in sight.

The post A Nuclear Power Plant Goes On The Auction Block appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

High Levels Of Mercury Found In Fish In Remote National Parks

Climate Progress - April 18, 2014 - 9:27am

A NPS researcher holds a brook trout in Mount Rainier National Park.

CREDIT: Collin Eagles-smith, USGS.

Unhealthily high levels of mercury have been found in fish in national parks in Alaska and the West, proving that even the most remote lakes and streams in the U.S. aren’t immune to mercury pollution.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service released a report Thursday that found 5 percent of the freshwater fish sampled in 21 western national parks had levels of mercury that were high enough to trigger toxic responses from the fish themselves, potentially endangering their health and lives. In addition, 35 percent of the fish sampled had enough mercury in them to impact the health of some predatory birds, and 68 percent of fish had mercury levels above the recommended amount for “unlimited consumption” by humans.

The researchers said in their report that the levels of mercury in some national parks were alarming because they occurred in small fish — organisms that should have the least amount of mercury in their systems, because the higher fish are on the food chain, the more mercury they’re expected to have.

Zion, Capital Reef, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Lake Clark National Parks all contained sites in which most fish exceeded benchmarks for the protection of human and wildlife health,” the report reads. “This finding is particularly concerning in Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks because the fish from these parks were speckled dace, a small, invertebrate-feeding species, yet their Hg [mercury] concentrations were as high or higher than those in the largest, long-lived predatory species, such as lake trout.”

The report illustrates the widespread effect human activity has on even the most far-flung regions of the planet. Mercury is produced through the combustion of coal and other fossil fuels, as well as by cement and metals manufacturing and mining operations. Half of the U.S.’s mercury air pollution is produced by power plants and other industrial sources, and if the mercury originates far from remote areas like national parks, it can be carried through wind currents and fall to the ground through rain, snow or dust particles.

“This is a wake-up call,” Colleen Flanagan Pritz, co-author of the report and NPS ecologist said in a release. “We need to see fewer contaminants in park ecosystems, especially contaminants like mercury where concentrations in fish challenge the very mission of the national parks to leave wild life unimpaired for future generations.”

Already in the U.S., more than 16 million lake acres and one million river miles are under fish consumption advisories because of their high levels of mercury, according to USGS data, and 81 percent of all EPA-issued fish consumption advisories are due to mercury contamination.

The post High Levels Of Mercury Found In Fish In Remote National Parks appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Global warming can't be blamed on CFCs another one bites the dust | Dana Nuccitelli

Guardian - April 18, 2014 - 9:00am
Nuccitelli et al. (2014) rebuts the argument that global warming is due to chlorofluorocarbon rather than carbon emissions

A paper published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B by the University of Waterloo's Qing-Bin Lu last year claimed that solar activity and human chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions, not carbon dioxide emissions, could explain the observed global warming over the past century. The journal has now published a rebuttal of that paper by myself and my colleagues Kevin Cowtan, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, Robert Way, Anne-Marie Blackburn, Martin Stolpe, and John Cook.

As I recently discussed, contrarian climate research blaming global warming on Anything But Carbon (ABC) tends to receive disproportionate media attention. Lu's paper was a prime example, being trumpeted by a University of Waterloo press release and Science Daily and Phys.org articles, all of which used exaggerated language like "Lu's theory has been confirmed." ABC News did a better job covering the paper, talking to climate scientist David Karoly, who expressed appropriate skepticism about a paper which purports to overturn decades and even centuries of well-established physics and climate science in one fell swoop. Characteristically, Rupert Murdoch's The Australian then criticized ABC News for failing to be "fair and balanced" because they interviewed an actual climate expert about the paper.

"We therefore conclude that the hypothesis of [Lu] is not only inferior to the mainstream explanation of the present climate change, but that it is based on unphysical and fundamentally flawed premises."

"They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

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Categories: International News

Easter weekend weather off to a sunny start as butterflies and bluebells abound

Guardian - April 18, 2014 - 1:30am
Warm spring after mild winter proves a boon for wildlife across Britain but Met Office warns of more unsettled weather moving in

Good Friday and Easter Saturday will bring the best weather of the Easter bank holiday weekend, with forecasters predicting dry and sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-teens across the UK.

But the outlook on Sunday and the bank holiday Monday is for cloudier conditions with the chance of rain across England and Wales.

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Categories: International News

Mining lobby may join industry push to ban environmental boycotts

Guardian - April 17, 2014 - 7:23pm

Opposition to escalating grassroots movement calling for banks and super funds to divest from fossil fuel companies

The powerful mining lobby is considering whether to join the push by resource industries to ban environmental boycott campaigns as it battles an escalating grassroots movement calling for banks, superannuation funds and institutions to ditch fossil fuel investments.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which this week began its own Australians for Coal social media and lobbying campaign to argue the benefits of continued coalmining, has previously attacked green extremists who have moved from genuine protest to dangerous and unlawful civil disobedience, saying the "extremists" would be facing the full force of the law if they were not exempted from the ban on so-called secondary boycotts under competition laws.

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Categories: International News

Australian endangered species: Largetooth Sawfish

The Conversation - April 17, 2014 - 5:49pm

Sharks and rays are some of the world’s most threatened animals, with a quarter of all species at risk of extinction. Among the sharks and rays, sawfish are some of the most threatened, with all five species listed as Critically Endangered or Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Largetooth Sawfish (Pristis pristis), previously known locally as the Freshwater Sawfish, is one of the planet’s largest fish, growing to over 6.5m in length.

The Largetooth Sawfish is a “euryhaline” species: capable of moving freely across a range of salinities from pure freshwater to the oceans. Its life cycle is complex and fascinating, encompassing a wide variety of habitats – floodplains, billabongs, creeks, rivers, estuaries and marine waters.

Young Largetooth Sawfish are born in estuaries before migrating upstream to spend their first 4-5 years of life in river systems. Locally they have been recorded up to 400 kilometres from the coast in the Fitzroy River. Upon nearing maturity they move back to coastal and marine waters.

Status

Historically the Largetooth Sawfish was a wide-ranging species of tropical regions with four distinct populations – eastern Atlantic, western Atlantic, eastern Pacific and the Indo-west Pacific. It is now extinct or severely depleted across much of this range and is globally listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.

Northern Australia represents one of the only remaining population strongholds for this sawfish and although it has also declined significantly here, it is holding on.

The relatively pristine nature of large northern Australian rivers are essential for juvenile Largetooth Sawfish. We have some understanding of the importance of rivers such as the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley and the Daly River in the Top End. However, we know little about the adult population.

Is the species still declining, or are protection and fisheries-management measures working? A research project is focusing on this question, using new genetic techniques to understand the species’ status.

Northern Australian is the last stronghold for the Largetooth Sawfish. Peter Kyne

Threats

Unregulated and unmanaged fisheries, and habitat loss and degradation, all threaten sawfish across the globe. Their long-toothed snout (or “rostrum”) is easily entangled in nets, making them susceptible to capture in a variety of fishing gear. Sawfish products, particularly their fins (used for shark fin soup) and their rostrum (sold as a curio) are highly valued.

Sawfish have not been commercially targeted in Australia, but have suffered from incidental capture (“bycatch”) in northern Australian gillnet and trawl fisheries. This has severely impacted Australian populations. Some fisheries now have a code of conduct to release sawfish alive, but large individuals can be difficult to handle and death from commercial fishing is an ongoing issue.

The Largetooth Sawfish is encountered on occasion by recreational fishers and there have been instances of illegal harvest, including retaining the rostrum as a trophy. Fishers can follow simple guidelines to release sawfish safely.

There is considerable pressure to develop the freshwater resources of northern Australia, but proposals will firmly need to consider impacts on Largetooth Sawfish. Structures such as dams and barrages in rivers are barriers to sawfish migration, while dry season water extraction could reduce available river habitat. Connectivity from estuaries through to upstream reaches of rivers is essential for allowing the species to complete its lifecycle.

Sawfish survival from Northern Biodiversity on Vimeo.

Strategy

Globally, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group will soon release its Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy which outlines a series of global objectives and actions to meet its vision: “a world where sawfishes are restored to robust populations within thriving aquatic ecosystems.”

These include improved fisheries management, strategic research, species and habitat protection, trade limitation, capacity building, outreach and fundraising.

Nationally, Australia has shown a strong commitment to sawfish conservation, particularly important given the significance of our waters for sawfishes. The Largetooth Sawfish, along with the Dwarf Sawfish and the Green Sawfish are completely protected throughout Australia.

The Narrow Sawfish has not been afforded that level of protection but its global threatened status warrants it, and Australia has an opportunity to continue its leadership in sawfish conservation by fully protecting this species.

A multi-species recovery plan for sawfishes and endangered river sharks is currently available for public comment. The challenge will be to turn these actions into real conservation benefits.

Conclusion

The importance of northern Australia for Largetooth Sawfish and the other three species of threatened sawfishes which occur here cannot be overlooked. Northern Australia is like a “lifeboat” for sawfish; if they have disappeared elsewhere, Australia may be their last hope.

Peter Kyne receives funding from the Marine Biodiversity Hub and the Northern Australia Hub, collaborative partnerships supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP). He is Regional Vice-Chair of the Australia and Oceania IUCN Shark Specialist Group.

Categories: International News

After Dry Winter In California, Preparations Begin For Harsh Wildfire Season

Climate Progress - April 17, 2014 - 5:07pm

National Forest Service crew members work to restore terrain that was bulldozed for a firebreak in the battle against Rim Fire near Tuolumne City, California in September, 2013

CREDIT: AP/Rich Pedroncelli

It’s been a long, dry winter for California, with record-low snowpack and ideal wildfire conditions to show for it. At the beginning of the month, during the time when snowpack usually peaks, the state snow survey showed it to be at 32 percent of average, one of the lowest years on record. In some areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains — where snowpack provides crucial water supply over the summer — nearly half the snowpack has melted in just the past week due to soaring temperatures according to reporting done by Andrew Freedman at Mashable.

And with the latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released on Thursday showing the drought persisting or intensifying throughout the state until August, precipitation figures will continue to trend negatively. One area where figures will grow is wildfires, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is already warning that it will be a long and challenging fire season. And its not like its been easy so far — between January 1 and April 5, Cal Fire responded to approximately 900 wildfires, around triple the average for that period.

With that in mind, Cal Fire hired nearly 100 additional seasonal firefighters to be stationed in the north and middle part of the state starting this week.

“Over the last several months we have seen an unseasonable number of wildfires across Northern California,” Chief Doug Wenham, Cal Fire northern region chief, said in a statement last week. “Our weather forecast continues to show an increased potential in Northern California for large wildfires.”

This is all part of a long-term trend in the state as the region becomes more arid as climate change models have predicted.

“Over half of the state’s largest wildfires have occurred in just the past decade,” said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. “We are seeing longer summers and hotter summers. And so this year with the drought, stressed vegetation, with the grass and brush being drier than it ever has been, the likelihood of large and damaging wildfires is even higher.”

While California is a leader in efforts to mitigate climate change, and has a nascent cap-and-trade program as well as a goal of achieving one-third renewable energy by the end of the decade, a new study shows there are many ways to improve forest fire mitigation in the state as well.

Conducted by scientists at the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service, the study found that forest management can substantially reduce costs associated with fighting and cleaning up fires as well as reducing their size and intensity by over half. It says this can be achieved in two steps. First, by thinning undergrowth to prevent fire from being carried into the canopy, and second, using prescribed burns to clear the underbrush.

“By having frequent low-severity fires the underbrush and small trees cleared out, and the risk of these kinds of destructive megafires was much lower,” David Edelson, the Sierra Nevada Project Director at the Nature Conservancy and a primary author on the report, told KQED Science about the history of the state. “Currently, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. When there’s a huge fire, we take the money away from the pots that are used to reduce wildfire risk. We are in a negative feedback loop, and we’ve gotta stop doing that.”

A combination of inadequate budgets and a century of fire suppression has left forests teeming with tinder, according to the study. Some forests have as much as ten times the number of trees they had historically. But as the mindset of the forest service changes from suppression to mitigation, this could change.

“We’re carrying these forests that are incredibly vulnerable forward into climate change,” Scott Stephens, a fire scientist at University of California, Berkeley, told KQED Science. “It’s a disaster really.”

In his 2015 budget, President Obama calls for shifting the costs of fighting the biggest wildfires to the same emergency fund that handles other natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes. It is designed to avoid making the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior drain fire prevention budgets to pay for big wildfires.

A shorter prescribed-burn season due to climate change is not the only challenge to reducing the toll of these fires, however. Many residential areas encroach on forests, making it harder to employ controlled burns.

The post After Dry Winter In California, Preparations Begin For Harsh Wildfire Season appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Virginia High Court Rules Deniers Have No Right To Climate Scientists’ Emails

Climate Progress - April 17, 2014 - 4:54pm

Two years ago, VA Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan ruled that the University of Virginia (UVA) doesn’t have to release the private emails of climate scientists like Michael Mann to the anti-science American Tradition Institute (ATI).

Now, the Virginia Supreme Court has unanimously upheld Sheridan’s finding in favor of UVA. Prof. Mann, one of the country’s most distinguished climate scientists, writes on his Facebook page, “This is a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists explains the legal finding in detail here. They sum it up this way: “The Court’s decision signals to scientists at public universities that the pursuit of scientific knowledge will be protected in Virginia, no matter how their research results might be received.”

Significantly, the VA Supreme Court found that the legal justifications for exemption from disclosure in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act include preventing “impairment of free thought and expression.” As the UCS notes:

It’s a big deal that the Court recognized the fact that excessive disclosure can have a significant chilling effect on researchers’ ability to communicate frankly with each other…. [D]emanding private email correspondence among scientists is the 21st Century equivalent to eavesdropping on conversations around the water cooler. All of us need safe space to develop ideas and open them up to scrutiny so that we can make them better.

The high court quotes at length a brief submitted by UVA Provost John Simon: “For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia, compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century.”

The anti-science crowd knows that they can’t win on the science, as I’ve said many times. Indeed they apparently have written off smart people entirely. But like someone addicted to cigarettes, they have been trying to reproduce the high from the massive Climategate exercise in smoke blowing.

To do that, the deniers need fresh emails to dazzle the gullible so they won’t see the climate change that is all around them.

How extreme is ATI? Three years ago they were singled out for criticism by the traditionally staid American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS Board issued a statement on “Personal Attacks on Climate Scientists” that said, “We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public.” The accompanying AAAS news release made clear the Board was talking about ATI.

Anyone who wishes can help climate scientists in their quest to provide humanity the information we need to save ourselves by supporting the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.

The post Virginia High Court Rules Deniers Have No Right To Climate Scientists’ Emails appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

What if everyone in the UK did this incredibly simple thing?

350.org - April 17, 2014 - 4:54pm

We all know that LED bulbs are more efficient than standard, incandescent ones. But by how much, and to what effect? Check out a couple fun facts from Energy Saving LED below, or see the full infographic here.

Categories: International News

Communities Find That Oil Trains Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen

Climate Progress - April 17, 2014 - 3:12pm

In this Dec. 30, 2013, file photo, a fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Bruce Crummy

When a freight train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation derailed and exploded in the middle of the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying half of the downtown, no one knew it’d mark the start of a new era of train disasters, or that so little would be done to keep more from happening.

Less than a year and 10 oil train derailments later, it’s largely luck that has prevented another deadly disaster. Trains carrying crude travel through an unknown number of American cities on a daily basis, endangering countless residents, and safety efforts move slowly and with industry opposition. And Wednesday, the freight rail industry revealed that mandatory safety technology to prevent derailments and collisions will only be installed on 20 percent of tracks on deadline at the end of 2015.

Examples of inaction on rail safety are plentiful. Firefighters say they aren’t trained to deal with derailments or explosions. Trains travel in secret, in one instance passing through a town for over a year before residents had any say. Thin-shelled railcars continue to carry crude oil even after their contribution to multiple fiery derailments, and new railcar safety standards still aren’t final. And the Bakken crude oil that’s driving the need for train shipments was only discovered to be especially flammable after several explosions and fires had occurred.

The pace of oil drilling at North Dakota’s Bakken formation has created new need for sending oil by rail. Drilling companies are developing oil sources at a breakneck speed, meaning there’s no time to address worker safety or the wasteful flaring of a third of natural gas produced as a byproduct. A haphazard approach toward preventing disastrous crashes is just another consequence of prizing speed above all, despite the fact that the oil has been underground for millions of years, and isn’t going anywhere on its own.

Transporting oil by rail is a fairly new issue, which can obscure the fact that dramatic accidents shot up right with the volume of oil transported. As recently as 2010, only about 30,000 carloads of crude oil originated in the United States. By 2012 that number was 233,819 carloads, and 2013 saw 407,642. In the entire period from 1975 to 2012, railroads only spilled 800,000 gallons of crude. The Casselton, North Dakota spill alone spilled about 400,000.

But there’s hope, as communities take matters into their own hands, opposing hazardous oil-by-rail terminals even as industry officials throw a fit. An attempt to build the Pacific Northwest’s largest oil train terminal in Vancouver, Washington has come up against significant opposition from the city council over concerns for the safety of the city’s 165,000 residents. The terminal could take in 131 million barrels of oil a year, in the form of four trains a day, and Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., the companies behind the terminal, are scrambling to push it through. The Port of Portland already said no to oil train terminals over safety concerns. And Californian communities are having some success in stopping efforts to bring oil-laden trains through major population centers like Berkeley and Oakland.

Meanwhile, the rail industry is counting on further oil train gains in 2014 to offset declining coal and container traffic and make 2014 a good year. And as CSX Corp. Chairman, President, and CEO Michael Ward warned the industry publication Progressive Railroading, “excessive” safety regulations related to oil train explosions could put a damper on things.

Prior to 2013, derailments that resulted in explosions or fires typically involved ethanol, and they were uncommon. If the country is going to reduce the likelihood of a disaster caused by moving oil by rail, it will be led by communities fighting to protect themselves.

Of course, pipelines are a dangerous way to transport oil as well. Fiery pipeline explosions can leave people without heat and level homes. Even when they aren’t so dramatic, leaks are commonplace, and can leak huge amounts of oil before they are discovered — if they are discovered at all. To keep warming limited to two degrees celsius, most of it is going to need to stay in the only safe place for it: buried deep underground.

The post Communities Find That Oil Trains Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Vast Gulf Between Texas Gubernatorial Candidates’ History With Oil And Gas Industry

Climate Progress - April 17, 2014 - 1:12pm

CREDIT: AP Images

What do Texas Democratic candidate for governor Wendy Davis and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson have in common? They both wanted to limit hydraulic fracturing in their neighborhoods in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — but for very different reasons. During her time on the Fort Worth City Council, Davis oversaw the early days of the fracking boom and worked with residents and industry to shape the local ordinances, limit noise, keep drilling a safe distance from homes, and set up inspection duties now imitated throughout the country. Tillerson, whose day job is to promote oil and gas development and stave off regulatory oversight, didn’t want his $5 million property value to be harmed.

Where does Texas State Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott fit into all of this? He received large sums of money from oil and gas companies shortly after Davis announced her intention to run for governor last fall.

According to analysis by the Burnt Orange Report, several Texas oil companies gave large sums to the Republican Governors’ Association last October, with ConocoPhillips giving $50,000, Valero PAC giving $15,000, and Texas Oceanic Petroleum giving $25,000. While these sums of money alone will not swing the election, they are indicative of the broader scope of both candidates’ dealings with the booming fossil fuel industry in Texas, where more than 800 drilling rigs comprise almost half the total number in the U.S., and nearly a quarter worldwide, according to a Baker Hughes Rig Count from late 2013.

Abbott has always been a lapdog for the oil and gas industry. It only takes a quick glance at his campaign contributions to understand that he’ll dance with the ones who bought him.

“Abbott has always been a lapdog for the oil and gas industry,” Sharon Wilson, a spokesperson for Earthworks and author of the popular Blue Daze: Drilling Reform blog, told ThinkProgress in an email. “It only takes a quick glance at his campaign contributions to understand that he’ll dance with the ones who bought him.”

Wilson said that Davis, for her part, has written a number of common sense bills that would protect private property and help lessen impacts to the families who have to live with unconventional oil and gas development while still allowing development to take place. Not many of those bills where allowed out of committee though. As the Burnt Orange Report points out, oil and gas companies spread the wealth around Texas at the state level, barring a Democratic party registration.

Both Davis and Abbott declined to be interviewed for a recent New York Times’ article on their oil and gas records. Davis submitted a statement saying her record shows that “we promoted the industry while making sure drilling in urban areas was safe and respected individual property rights and communities.”

Kinnan Golemon, an oil company lobbyist who dealt with Davis’s Senate office, told the New York Times that Davis “developed an understanding of the industry and some of its wants and needs” and that “she never closed us out from having meaningful discussions.”

Matt Hirsch, the campaign’s spokesman for Abbott, came to a different conclusion, saying Davis’s “record makes it clear she has more in common with radical environmentalists than the people of Texas.”

As Texas Attorney General, Gregg Abbott has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 17 times and the Obama administration at least 25 times. Last year, Abbott was quoted telling a tea party group that on a typical workday, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”

Abbott’s campaign has not yet released detailed oil and gas proposals, but his history of environmental lawsuits indicate that fossil fuel interests are rarely out of sight or mind. Hirsh even told the New York Times that Abbott’s legal record shows that he would have the industry’s best interests at heart.

Davis has been taking on good ole boys in Texas like Rex Tillerson and Gregg Abbott for her entire political career. While her rise in popularity was centered around her stance on women’s rights and abortion, she’s also helped citizens fight for clean water and against contaminating chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. In 2011, she filed a bill the would’ve required companies drilling for natural gas to include a “tracer” fluid that would “protect the gas drilling industry from false claims of groundwater contamination in the same manner that DNA evidence is used to prove (guilty) or exonerate defendants in criminal court cases.”

Innocent until proven guilty; Davis did attend Harvard Law School. Abbott, on the other hand, knows the EPA is guilty to start with.

According to Amy Silverstein in the Dallas Observer, when oil and gas companies in Davis’s Fort Worth area became more aggressive around 2005 council members initially went along with their demands. A couple years later it became clear the situation was getting out of hand, and Davis started having second thoughts about the city’s approach to urban drilling. At a meeting, she said “I’m not an anti- gas-well person. The dialogue gets characterized: If you express concerns, you’re against it.”

“As much as I like Wendy Davis, she was not a good advocate for my side,” Don Young, a Fort Worth local who started an early anti-fracking group, FwCanDo, told the Dallas Observer. “She was better than others but not tough enough. Still I’m a supporter, even though I don’t expect her to be anti-fracking or -drilling.”

The post Vast Gulf Between Texas Gubernatorial Candidates’ History With Oil And Gas Industry appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Western Re-Run: Nevada Rancher Versus The Feds

Climate Progress - April 17, 2014 - 12:57pm

CREDIT: AP Photo/Toby Brusseau

In the West, we’ve seen this Cliven Bundy movie before. And with every re-run, the worn out story line of the heroic independent rancher standing up to the dictatorial federal government gets more tiresome.

Bundy, for those who have been paying attention to more important news, is the southern Nevada rancher who, after two decades of refusing to pay the ridiculously modest fees for grazing his cattle on federal land, provoked an armed standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management when the agency’s employees came to confiscate Bundy’s cows. His stand attracted hundreds of self-described militiamen and other fringe-dwellers who couldn’t resist the siren call of what was portrayed as an honest-to-God western range war.

The notion of a range war is irresistible. It’s like an intravenous injection of the cowboy mythology that runs so deep in American history and which continues to distort our public lands policies to this day. Google “Cliven Bundy and range war” and you get close to a quarter million hits.

Google “Wayne Hage and range war” and you get almost 6.5 million hits. Some of them lead to stories I wrote in the 1990’s when I covered public lands issues for the Washington Post and Hage, another Nevada rancher, was in a long-running cattle battle with U.S. Forest Service and maniacally playing the range war card.

One of those stories began like this: “Cattleman Wayne Hage — rhymes with rage — is one angry cowboy.” Other than the rhyme, you could substitute Cliven Bundy for Wayne Hage and have pretty much the same story.

Hage ranched near the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, and leased grazing allotments on about three-quarters of a million acres of public land in the forest. He sparred over and over again with the Forest Service during the 1980s over his treatment of that federal land. The agency eventually canceled some of his permits and confiscated and sold more than 100 of his cows.

Hage then filed a lawsuit claiming compensation of $28 million for what he termed an unlawful taking of his property by the federal government which he said included his rights to water and forage on public land. Hage died in 2006, but his lawsuit lived on until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit put an end to it and overturned an earlier $4.2 million judgment in Hage’s favor by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

As all of this legal tussling was going on, Hage wrote a book, “Storm Over Rangelands: Private Rights in Federal Lands.” One memorable line from the book: “Range War! Here and now!” was one I couldn’t resist putting in my story, too.

As High Country News reported in a chronology of the Hage case, he inspired other lawsuits and the Nevada ranchers who filed them all lost. Among them was Cliff Gardner from Elko County who fought all the way to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after the Forest Service revoked his grazing permit for abusing public land. Likewise Cliven Bundy, who was first ordered by a federal court to remove his cows from federal lands in 1998.

Some of the particulars of all these range war cases differ, but the basics are the same: ranchers who stubbornly insist the federal government doesn’t have the authority to tell them what they can do on public lands, that someone else — the state or the ranchers themselves — actually owns those lands.

This notion has been thoroughly discredited over and over again in the courts. The simple fact is, the hundreds of millions of acres managed by agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are owned by the public and how they are used is determined by laws approved by Congress and carried out by the agencies.

When renegade ranchers don’t play by the rules — and the federal agencies have gotten better about requiring more environmentally sound grazing practices after decades of damaging ones — those ranchers get punished. It’s called the rule of law.

It’s not like the deal is so bad for public lands ranchers, either. Right now they are paying $1.35 a month for each cow/calf combination eating our grass. By comparison, the average grazing fee on private land in the West is $16.80 a month, according to the Congressional Research Service, and ranges between $2.28 and $150 on state lands in the region.

The federal lands grazing program is like supercharged food stamps for bovines. And it is massively subsidized. As the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2005, the program brought in $21 million in fees paid by ranchers, but cost $144 million to run.

If Cliven Bundy had paid his grazing fees, it would have narrowed that gap. But not by much.

The post Western Re-Run: Nevada Rancher Versus The Feds appeared first on ThinkProgress.

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