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Thu, 2014-04-10 12:52Ben Jervey
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Campus Discontent: Washington University Students Sit-In Against Peabody, Harvard Faculty Call for Divestment

It's a busy week in the campus fossil fuel divestment movement. 

A “sit in” by students at the Washington University of St. Louis enters its third day today. The protestors have camped out underneath their campus's Brookings Archway since Tuesday, demanding that the school cut ties with Peabody Energy — the world's largest private coal company — and its CEO Greg Boyce. 

Boyce was named to WU's Board of Trustees in 2009. One year earlier, Peabody gave the university millions of dollars to help create the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. (Along with Arch Coal, who also kicked in, the investment was roughly $5 million.) 

According to Caroline Burney, a senior at Washington University, the sit-in only became necessary after many other attempts for dialogue with the school's administration were exhausted. Burney writes: 

Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce also holds one more distinction: member of the Washington University Board of Trustees. Since Boyce was placed on the board in 2009, students have been actively organizing against Peabody Energy’s presence on campus. We have demanded that Boyce be removed from the Board of Trustees and that the University change the name of the “Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization,” a research entity to which Peabody and Arch Coal donated $5,000,000. We have met with the Chancellor – multiple times. We have dropped banners at coal events, peacefully disrupted speeches by Greg Boyce on campus, marched through campus and taken our demands to Peabody’s headquarters. We have protested with residents from Black Mesa, collected signatures for the Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative and rallied with the United Mine Workers in their fight against Peabody.

But, five years later, Boyce is still on the board, the name of the Clean Coal Consortium remains unchanged, and Chancellor Wrighton continues to stand behind Peabody Energy. Indeed, just this week he emailed us saying, “your opinion that peabody energy behaves in an ‘irresponsible and unjust manner’ is not one that I share.” The Administration has successfully used a “deny by delay” process by holding town hall meetings and developing task forces around renewable energy and energy efficiency while ignoring the role that coal plays on the campus.

Sun, 2014-03-16 06:00Ben Jervey
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The "Significance" Trap: New Economic Analysis Finds that Keystone XL Would Increase Tar Sands Production, Carbon Emissions

In its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department severely underestimated the project’s impact on oil production, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s according to a rigorous economic analysis published in a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Researchers found that, if constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a whopping 5 gigatons over the course of its lifetime. For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of the annual emissions from 1,400 coal-fired power plants or 1 billion automobiles, according to the report’s authors.

As you may recall, in a speech last June at Georgetown University, President Obama explicitly stated that he would approve the pipeline “only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

In its recent environmental assessment, the State Department’s suggested that the pipeline is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” thereby implying that it would pass President Obama’s stated climate test.

However, the Carbon Tracker report, called Keystone XL: The “Significance” Trap (pdf), proves otherwise.

Using the State Department’s own numbers, Carbon Tracker researchers determined that the Keystone XL pipeline, if constructed, would increase the rate of extraction of tar sands, to the tune of roughly 510,000 barrels per day of bitumen (or roughly 730,000 barrels per day of DilBit, after dilution to allow it to flow through the pipeline). As Carbon Tracker researchers put it, “There is over 510kbpd of bitumen production which would benefit from even the narrowest improvement of margins.”

Tue, 2014-03-11 21:20Ben Jervey
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Italian Judge: Coal Plant Caused Over 400 Deaths, Orders Shutdown

An Italian judge has ordered the shutdown of a coal-fired power plant that has been blamed for at least 442 deaths. Public prosecutors had argued that pollution from the plant in Italy’s Liguria region caused the premature deaths and between 1,700 - 2,000 cases of heart and lung disease.

On Tuesday, police followed the judge’s orders and shut down the two 330-Megawatt coal-fired units of the Vado Ligure plant. Francantonio Granero, the chief prosecutor in Savona, the government seat in Liguria, indicated in a February interview with United Press International that he was investigating the plant and its operators, Tirreno Power,  for “causing an environmental disaster and manslaughter.”

The judge, Fiorenza Giorgi, agreed with prosecutors that Tirreno Power hadn’t complied with emissions regulations, citing “negligent behavior” by the company and claiming that Tirreno’s emissions data was “unreliable.”

It is unclear whether Tirreno Power will be allowed to turn back on the coal-fired units if better emissions controls are implemented. The coal plants were built in 1971 and according to Savona prosecutors had emitted enough pollution to cause at least 442 premature deaths from 2000 to 2007. Investigators also found evidence that roughly 450 children were hospitalized with asthma and other respiratory ailments between 2005-2012, with the coal plant emissions to blame.

Sun, 2014-03-09 06:00Ben Jervey
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Canada Approves Enbridge Line 9 Reversal: Tar Sands Crude to Flow to Montreal

Alberta’s tar sands crude has a new route east. 

Canada’s National Energy Board announced on Thursday the approval of Enbridge’s request to reverse and expand a portion of the company’s Line 9 pipeline to allow for crude to flow east to Montreal, Quebec. This follows a July 2012 decision by the NEB to allow reversal of the western Line 9 segment from West Northover to Sarnia, Ontario. As a result, in the words of the NEB, “Enbridge will be permitted to operate all of Line 9 in an eastward direction in order to transport crude oil from western Canada and the U.S. Bakken region to refineries in Ontario and Quebec.”

Canadian activists urged the NEB to fully consider the high risk and small reward of reversing the pipeline, pointing to the “DilBit Disaster” — when another reversed-flow Enbridge pipeline spilled over 800,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River — as a warning for what could occur on the Line 9 route.

As DeSmog Canada has reported, Enbridge’s Line 9 shares the same design deficiencies as the company’s Line 6B, which burst in Michigan. Canadian environmental groups are crying foul over the agency’s non-transparent and restrictive public comment process.

It’s pretty obvious the entire regulatory system is broken,” Adam Scott, spokesperson for Environmental Defence, told the Vancouver Observer. “They restricted the public’s ability to even participate.” Language in a 2012 budget bill allowed the NEB’s decision to be made without a comprehensive environmental assessment, and the Canadian public was forced to complete a lengthy 10-page application (and given a short two week warning to do so) to even earn the right to submit a public comment.

There were roughly 150 folks who were actually even allowed to comment or write a letter, and this was also the first major energy project not to have to go through an environmental assessment, so it’s clear the whole system has been stacked against the public’s interest in favour of oil companies,” said Scott.

Sat, 2014-03-08 14:00Ben Jervey
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GAO: Climate Change Poses Serious Risk to American Energy Systems

America’s energy infrastructure is dangerously vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a new report released by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

The report, requested by a group of Democratic senators lead by Energy and Natural Resources Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon, breaks down in detail how all aspects of our energy infrastructure — from extraction through transportation through distribution — are even now being compromised by rising seas and water shortages and more extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change.

U.S. energy infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to a range of climate change impacts–particularly infrastructure in areas prone to severe weather and water shortages. Climate changes are projected to affect infrastructure throughout all major stages of the energy supply chain, thereby increasing the risk of disruptions,” the report explains.

The GAO describes as matter-of-fact the worsening domestic impacts of climate change — which so many elected officials in the Senate continue to stubbornly deny — and uses scientifically rigorous analysis to figure out just how much trouble it spells for our electricity and gasoline supplies.

While the report, Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts, does not explicitly note that the very energy system that is imperiled by climate change is also largely to blame for climate change, the tragic irony of that fact is clear throughout.

Wed, 2014-02-26 15:03Ben Jervey
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WHITEWASH: State Dept Keystone XL Inspector General Report Clears Botched Handling of Environmental Resources Management Conflicts

The State Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has finally weighed in on potential conflicts of interest in the environmental assessments of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Sort of.

The office just released its long-anticipated report, capping off an investigation on whether Environmental Resources Management, the contractor hired by TransCanada to conduct the environmental impact study, had too close a relationship with TransCanada, and whether it deliberately hid those ties in filings with the State Department. 

On first look, the inspector general report takes an extremely narrow view of the potential conflicts, but does declare that the department's procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest are weak and need to be improved. 
 

Specifically, from the OIG's findings:

  • OIG did find that the process for documenting the contractor selection process, including the conflict of interest review, can be improved.
  • OIG also found that the Department’s public disclosures concerning its conflict of interest review could be improved.

Finally, the Office of the Inspector General makes these specific recommendations:

  • OIG recommends that the Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, in coordination with the Office of the Legal Adviser, enhance its guidance to more fully articulate its selection and conflict of interest review processes.
  • OIG recommends that the Department explain in greater detail the definition of “organizational conflict of interest” relied upon by the Department.
  • OIG recommends that the Department specify in its guidance the documentation required in the contractor selection and conflict of interest processes and establish standard operating procedures to capture and retain this information.
  • OIG recommends that the Department enhance its guidance to integrate a process for public disclosure of

appropriate information.

Attention will now turn to the Government Accountability Office, which will begin an investigation on the State Department's environmental review process. Earlier this week, Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona requested a GAO review, suggesting that the Keystone XL environmental assessment has been corrupted by conflicts of interest. “Nothing should be glossed over; nothing should be ignored,” Grijalva said. “The questions that we posed to GAO had to do with the State Department process. And if this is a tainted process, I suggest the president at that point shouldn't trust that information,”

DeSmogBlog will take a closer look at all the details in the report and update this post throughout the evening. 

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