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Tue, 2014-07-22 10:55Guest
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BNSF Nears Shift To One-Member Crews, Possibly Even on Dangerous Oil Trains

This is a guest post by Cole Stangler.

For decades, the U.S. railroad industry has successfully shed labor costs by shifting to smaller and smaller operating crews. Now, it’s on the verge of what was once an unthinkable victory: single-member crews, even on dangerous oil trains.

A tentative agreement reached by BNSF Railway and the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) union would allow a single engineer to operate most of the company’s routes. It would mark a dramatic change to a labor contract that covers about 3,000 workers, or 60 percent of the BNSF system.  

It’s not just bad news for workers. The contract has major safety implications—especially amid North America’s dangerous, and sometimes deadly, crude-by-rail boom. Last year’s Bakken shale oil train derailment and explosion in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, brought increased scrutiny to oil trains. 

In response, Canadian regulators outlawed one-person crews on trains carrying hazardous materials. (A single engineer was in charge of the ill-fated train, although it was unmanned when it rolled into the town center.) 

BNSF spokesperson Roxanne Butler told DeSmogBlog the new contract would not apply to so-called “key trains” — loads of crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials.

As it stands, she says, the company mandates two-member crews for such shipments , and those are the terms of BNSF’s existing labor agreement.

But there is no federal law on the books that requires two-person rail crews for shipments of dangerous goods. The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) is expected to issue a proposed rule on the subject by the end of the year.

Workers worry that without contract guarantees, and no federal protections in place, BNSF will make the cost-cutting shift to one-person crews.

If you look at the contract, there’s nothing that shows they will exempt oil trains,” says Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of Railroad Workers United, a labor group that opposes single-employee freight trains.

[BNSF] will do whatever they want to do,” says Robert Hill, a BNSF engineer based in Hauser, Idaho, roughly twenty miles east of Spokane, a major rail hub for the Northwest. “At some point, you eventually will see a one-man crew on these oil [trains]. There’s nothing specific in their company policy that says they have to have two-man crews on oil trains.”

Mon, 2014-07-14 08:57Guest
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Richard Tol Dons Cloak of Climate Denial

This is a guest post by Cindy Baxter.

They were all there.  A veritable octopus of conflicting climate denial arguments, from “it’s not happening” to “satellite data says it’s all the forests’ fault” to “it’s the sun,” “we can adapt” - and everything in between. 

This small gathering of climate science deniers, including Conservative MP and member of the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Climate change, oilman Peter Lilley, and Conservative MP for Monmouth, David Davies, met in a small room buried on the third floor of the UK’s House of Commons in London last week.

They were there to hear Professor Richard Tol, advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation and IPCC Working Group II economics chapter Coordinating Lead Author. 

The meeting was organized by Irish MP and climate denier Sammy Wilson, on behalf of “Repeal the Act” a group that argues the “climate is always changing.”

For someone who claims he’s not a climate denier, Tol certainly managed to belt out a number of the classic denier arguments in the next two hours. 

Wed, 2014-07-09 09:32Guest
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The Fish Are Fine, Kinder Morgan Says

Chinook salmon

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right   Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

The motion Ecojustice lawyers filed on behalf of our clients, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, asks the Board to order Kinder Morgan to fully respond to our clients’ first round of information requests about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Kinder Morgan received more than 10,000 questions from intervenors. As we wrote last month, the company asked for an extension of the time limit to respond, but got only 14 of the 23 days they asked for. Our clients supported the request, in the interest of allowing Kinder Morgan time to provide as much information as possible.

Kinder Morgan's slippery responses

But now that the responses are in, we wonder whether the extra nine days would have made a difference. Responses from the company have ranged from vague to incomplete to non-existent. In short The information provided by Kinder Morgan is not nearly good enough. Of the 253 responses our clients received from the company, at least 77 – approximately 30 per cent – were inadequate. 

In 20 responses, Kinder Morgan refused to answer the question in whole or in part, by:

  • Claiming it was “not relevant” to the review (including the record of leaks and ruptures on Kinder Morgan’s other pipeline systems, and the make and model of clean-up equipment); or
  • Stating that it did not have the information (including air monitoring information), because the data do not exist, because the answer was not in the documents they relied on in the application, or because they had not done the necessary work to answer.

In five responses, Kinder Morgan gave a response which only partially answered the question or provided an answer but not the supporting data requested.

In the remainder of the responses, Kinder Morgan simply didn’t answer the questions it was asked. Here’s a snapshot of the ways the company answered questions with non-answers:

  • Cited a large document or report rather than provide an clear answer;
  • Referred to a document that did not contain any answer to the question; 
  • Said it would file an answer later; or
  • Cited a legal standard rather than address facts. 

As we mentioned above, when our clients asked if there was evidence from cold water oil spills, beyond evidence from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, of marine fish communities or habitat being impacted for more than two years after a spill, this was Kinder Morgan’s response: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.” 

In support of that mystifying non-answer, Kinder Morgan cited a 264-page report from Enbridge’s reply evidence in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. 

We’ve written about how, in the wake of the 2012 omnibus budget bill, reviews of major pipeline projects have been scaled back dramatically, sacrificing good science and process for “efficiency.” The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project hearing, with its 15-month time limit and lack of oral cross-examination, is a prime example of how this shift is deeply problematic. 

We are now halfway through the two rounds of intervenor information requests, which are intervenors’ only chance to ask Kinder Morgan questions about its 15,000-page application. Our clients are increasingly worried that they will be unable to meaningfully challenge Kinder Morgan’s evidence, particularly given its evasive approach to our information requests. 

But as for the fish, according to Kinder Morgan, they will be just fine.

- See more at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/blog/the-fish-are-fine-kinder-morgan-says#sthas...

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right   Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

The motion Ecojustice lawyers filed on behalf of our clients, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, asks the Board to order Kinder Morgan to fully respond to our clients’ first round of information requests about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Kinder Morgan received more than 10,000 questions from intervenors. As we wrote last month, the company asked for an extension of the time limit to respond, but got only 14 of the 23 days they asked for. Our clients supported the request, in the interest of allowing Kinder Morgan time to provide as much information as possible.

Kinder Morgan's slippery responses

But now that the responses are in, we wonder whether the extra nine days would have made a difference. Responses from the company have ranged from vague to incomplete to non-existent. In short The information provided by Kinder Morgan is not nearly good enough. Of the 253 responses our clients received from the company, at least 77 – approximately 30 per cent – were inadequate. 

In 20 responses, Kinder Morgan refused to answer the question in whole or in part, by:

  • Claiming it was “not relevant” to the review (including the record of leaks and ruptures on Kinder Morgan’s other pipeline systems, and the make and model of clean-up equipment); or
  • Stating that it did not have the information (including air monitoring information), because the data do not exist, because the answer was not in the documents they relied on in the application, or because they had not done the necessary work to answer.

In five responses, Kinder Morgan gave a response which only partially answered the question or provided an answer but not the supporting data requested.

In the remainder of the responses, Kinder Morgan simply didn’t answer the questions it was asked. Here’s a snapshot of the ways the company answered questions with non-answers:

  • Cited a large document or report rather than provide an clear answer;
  • Referred to a document that did not contain any answer to the question; 
  • Said it would file an answer later; or
  • Cited a legal standard rather than address facts. 

As we mentioned above, when our clients asked if there was evidence from cold water oil spills, beyond evidence from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, of marine fish communities or habitat being impacted for more than two years after a spill, this was Kinder Morgan’s response: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.” 

In support of that mystifying non-answer, Kinder Morgan cited a 264-page report from Enbridge’s reply evidence in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings. 

We’ve written about how, in the wake of the 2012 omnibus budget bill, reviews of major pipeline projects have been scaled back dramatically, sacrificing good science and process for “efficiency.” The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project hearing, with its 15-month time limit and lack of oral cross-examination, is a prime example of how this shift is deeply problematic. 

We are now halfway through the two rounds of intervenor information requests, which are intervenors’ only chance to ask Kinder Morgan questions about its 15,000-page application. Our clients are increasingly worried that they will be unable to meaningfully challenge Kinder Morgan’s evidence, particularly given its evasive approach to our information requests. 

But as for the fish, according to Kinder Morgan, they will be just fine.

- See more at: http://www.ecojustice.ca/blog/the-fish-are-fine-kinder-morgan-says#sthas...
Dyna Tuytel, staff lawyer

This is a guest post by Ecojustice staff lawyer Dyna Tuytel.

Ecojustice lawyers were among the many to file motions to the National Energy Board late last week regarding Kinder Morgan’s poor and non-existent responses to questions posed to it by intervenors. And while we were generally disappointed by Kinder Morgan’s evasive approach, we were shocked at one reply in particular.

When asked whether there is any evidence from cold water oil spills to suggest marine fish are impacted, Kinder Morgan’s response was that: “Harm to marine fish populations seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, following marine oil spills.”

That’s right — Kinder Morgan’s view is that when oil is spilled in water, there is little harm to fish, and it is more likely the fish will be just fine.

Tue, 2014-07-08 15:56Guest
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Addressing Global Warming is an Economic Necessity

David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Those who don’t outright deny the existence of human-caused global warming often argue we can’t or shouldn’t do anything about it because it would be too costly. Take Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who recently said, “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

But in failing to act on global warming, many leaders are putting jobs and economic prosperity at risk, according to recent studies. It’s suicidal, both economically and literally, to focus on the fossil fuel industry’s limited, short-term economic benefits at the expense of long-term prosperity, human health and the natural systems, plants and animals that make our well-being and survival possible. Those who refuse to take climate change seriously are subjecting us to enormous economic risks and foregoing the numerous benefits that solutions would bring.

The World Bank — hardly a radical organization — is behind one study. While still viewing the problem and solutions through the lens of outmoded economic thinking, its report demolishes arguments made by the likes of Stephen Harper.

Thu, 2014-07-03 11:00Guest
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U.S. Gas Export Lobbyists Exploit DC's Revolving Door

lng lobbyists revolving door

This is a guest post by David Halperin, originally published at Republic Report.

Even as President Obama pursues an aggressive new public effort to fight global warming by regulating U.S. power plants, his administration is quietly advancing an energy policy — exporting America's liquid natural gas (LNG) — that may well raise the volume of climate-increasing greenhouse gases even more than emphasizing coal, while at the same time polluting U.S. communities through increased use of the controversial practice of hydraulic fracking. (The American Petroleum Institute notes that “a government-industry study found that up to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing.”) Worse, the policy also could hurt U.S. consumers by raising energy prices.

As awareness of the harms of LNG exports has grown, public protests areincreasing. Senator Ed Markey (D-MAcharged last week that gas exports may be illegal. But the gas industry is using highly-paid revolving-door Washington lobbyists, Democrats and Republicans, to push policymakers to accelerate these bad decisions. They also are using the Ukraine conflict as a hook, arguing that U.S. exports can reduce Europe's dependence on Russia.

While the coal industry, once heavily bipartisan in its friendships, has increasingly deepened its love affair with the Republican Party, natural gas has become the Democrats' fossil fuel of choice. White House senior adviser John Podesta earlier this year defended the decision to emphasize natural gas as a more-climate friendly source of power generation. But there's a difference between producing gas for the U.S. market, which, despite all the environmental hazards, helps reduce energy prices for U.S. consumers and businesses, and shipping that gas overseas, which could produce a bonanza for big energy companies but potential harms to most everyone else in the U.S.

That doesn't seem to concern the Democrats and Republicans alike who are cashing in as paid advocates for this gas rush.

Wed, 2014-07-02 13:00Guest
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Regulators and Industry Swap Spots: Lobbyists Pushing Natural Gas Exports Swing Revolving Doors

Paula Gant and Christopher Smith LNG exports lobbyists

This is a guest post by Lee Fang originally published at Republic Report. 

Expanded natural gas exports have wide repercussions, ranging from increased costs to American consumers to greater incentives for drilling companies to use controversial fracking methods for extracting their product. As numerous reports have shown, the gas boom means more methane, a greenhouse gas that is exacerbating our climate crisis, in the atmosphere.

But the discussion in Washington has not focused on the climate and environmental impact of rapidly approving LNG export licenses, a process controlled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. Instead, as Republic Report's David Halperin outlined last week, companies that stand to gain from building new terminals and engaging in the gas trade have hired an army of lobbyists to win regulatory approval. Heather Zichal, the former climate change adviser to the White House, recently left her government position to join the board of Cheniere, an LNG export company that won the first export license. As DeSmogBlog's Steve Horn reported, Zichal met with Cheniere executives last year.

How fair will the process be when the former regulators who until recently controlled the agencies at the center of the LNG debate are now working for industry, and the regulators in office are former industry staffers?

Republic Report worked with LittleSis to produce the following maps showing the nexus of influence. At the Department of Energy, for example, acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Enerrgy Christopher Smith, who now oversees the LNG export license process, formerly worked for Chevron's natural gas trading unit. Paula Gant, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Natural Gas who works under Smith, is a former vice president at the American Gas Association, a lobbying group for the industry. See below:

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