washington post

Mon, 2014-01-13 01:30Sharon Kelly
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New Carbon Rules for Power Plants A Missed Opportunity To Rein in Natural Gas Emissions, Critics Say

One of the linchpins of the Obama administration’s high-stakes plan to address climate change moved one step closer to implementation this week, as the EPA officially published proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants, drawing fire from environmentalists who say the rules for natural gas power plants are too lenient.

The proposed rules cover both natural gas and coal-fired electrical plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The rules would make it virtually impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be built, unless carbon capture and sequestration technology is used, but sets standards that can be easily achieved by natural gas power plants without using any similar tools.

This has led to an outcry from environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing greenhouse pollution from all power plants — regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal,” Bill Snape, the senior counsel for the Center said in a statement. “The bottom line is that we can do better.”

The rules for coal plants are not expected to have much direct impact on new power plant construction plans—utilities planned to build very few coal plants even before the EPA proposed its rule.

But once they are finalized, the standards for new power plants will trigger a key clause of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA will next be required to create similar carbon dioxide emissions guidelines that would govern the existing 6,500 coal and natural gas power plants nationwide.

It’s important because it establishes the form that these regulations will take,” John Coequyt, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign told ThinkProgress.

The EPA move is part of Mr. Obama’s overall climate strategy, which disappointed many observers who criticize its support of fracking and its underwhelming effectiveness. “The Obama administration is aiming for reductions by 2020,” Brad Plumer wrote in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog earlier this week. “But that's not nearly enough to avert a 2°C rise in temperatures, which is the broader goal.”  

Mr. Obama’s climate plan calls for a heavy reliance on natural gas, which produces roughly 50 to 60 percent as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned, to help transition away from coal. But there is strong evidence that natural gas, which is primarily composed of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, may be worse for the climate than coal. The Obama climate plan, in that case, would represent a move from the frying pan into the fire.

Tue, 2012-09-11 10:37Farron Cousins
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As BP Tar Balls Litter Gulf Coast, Oil Giant Sells Off Gulf Of Mexico Assets

It’s been a little over two weeks since Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast, leaving flooding and wind damage in its wake. But one of the side effects of the storm that has gone largely under-reported are the tar balls that are now littering beaches all along the Gulf Coast.

Beaches from Louisiana to Florida have seen the toxic, sticky tar balls rolling in with the surf, and while some have questioned whether the tar balls are actually from BP’s Macondo well blowout, Auburn University researchers have confirmed today that they are a match.

The tar balls began washing up only days after the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo blaming BP’s gross negligence for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and subsequently caused close to 5 million gallons of oil to leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the wake of the DOJ’s accusations, and the continuous presence of tar balls that are linked directly back to BP’s negligence, it comes as no surprise that the oil giant has decided to sell off billions of dollars worth of their assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mon, 2012-03-05 07:28Chris Mooney
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Don’t Blame the Victims: Why Public Outreach By Climate Scientists is More Vital Than Ever

In the last few years—and especially in the wake of the ClimateGate pseudo-scandal—climate researchers have become much more politically engaged. They’ve sought to become better at communication, and to have a greater influence on public policy. They’ve tried to establish rapid response capabilities, and also, better ways of protecting themselves from political harassment and lawsuits.

This didn’t happen by accident. It happened because there has been a long term campaign to attack and discredit climate science, and obscure what we actually know. Ultimately, researchers decided that they couldn’t just be silent as their knowledge was distorted, or as their colleagues were attacked.

So what did they do? Just what Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan would have done—and in fact, did repeatedly on the public issues of their day. They spoke out.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is essential. Scientific knowledge is a powerful thing, which is precisely why it is of vital importance that it gets communicated, accurately, in such a way as to influence public policy. If that isn’t happening, then not only is it natural for scientists to step up—they have a moral obligation to do so, and to do so effectively.

Sun, 2011-11-06 10:46Farron Cousins
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Bogus Job Numbers Used To Sell Keystone XL Pipeline

As thousands of protestors gather at The White House today to voice opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline plan, one of the major selling points from the pipeline proponents is revealed as flawed and perhaps completely bogus. According to The Washington Post, the prospect of job creation – the reason so many people in America support the pipeline – isn’t as rosy as TransCanada would have us believe. In fact, their numbers don’t add up at all.

TransCanada threw out a figure of 20,000 jobs (13,000 construction, 7,000 for suppliers) that would be created directly and indirectly through the pipeline construction process. This is the figure that politicians have used to sell the pipeline to their constituents. But as The Washington Post points out, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling admits the 20,000 figure is far from honest:

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future.

A TransCanada statement Sept. 30 said the project would be “stimulating over 14,400 person years of employment” in Oklahoma alone. It cited a study by Ray Perryman, a Texas-based consultant to TransCanada, saying the pipeline would create “250,000 permanent jobs for U.S. workers.”

But Perryman was including a vast number of jobs far removed from the industry. Using that technique in a report on the impact of wind farms, Perryman counted jobs for dancers, choreographers and speech therapists.
Thu, 2011-08-25 23:19Emma Pullman
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Breaking: State Department Calls Keystone XL Environmental Impact "Limited," Ignoring Evidence

The State Department just released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 27-page document does not flag any significant environmental concerns. The EIS suggests that construction of the pipeline as proposed is preferable to alternatives considered, including: not building the pipeline, rerouting the proposed location, and transporting the oil through alternative means.

In typical agency beurocratic-speak, the main alternatives are described as such:

  • No Action Alternative – potential scenarios that could occur if the proposed Project is not built and operated;
  • System Alternatives − the use of other pipeline systems or other methods of providing Canadian crude oil to the Cushing tank farm and the Gulf Coast market;
  • Major Route Alternatives − other potential pipeline routes for transporting heavy crude oil from the U.S./Canada border to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast market.

None of the alternatives were considered by the State Department to be preferable to proposed construction.

Wed, 2011-06-08 16:04Brendan DeMelle
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Bill McKibben's Recent Op-Ed On Climate and Severe Weather Remixed Into Video

Check out this excellent video version of Bill McKibben’s recent Washington Post op-ed “A link between climate change and Joplin Tornadoes? Never!”

Narrated and illustrated by Stephen Thomson of Plonomedia.com, the video is a great visual representation of McKibben’s widely-circulated op-ed.

Watch here, and share this widely:

Wed, 2011-06-01 22:44TJ Scolnick
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ExxonMobil Drilling Plan Threatens Drinking Water In Delaware River Basin

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) held a public hearing today to review a proposal from ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy to remove massive amounts of water from the Delaware River Basin for unconventional gas exploration.

The dirty energy giant is hoping to withdraw up to 250,000 gallons per day of surface water from Oquaga Creek near the Farnham Road bridge crossing on Route 41 in Sanford, New York. Roughly 300 residents showed up to comment on the proposal, which has stirred public anger and concern over the potential impacts on the local environment and water supplies.
 
The Exxon subsidiary’s draft docket stipulates that the surface water will be used for unconventional gas drilling via hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). XTO says the clean water will be used to mix cement and create a “drilling mud/fluid” cocktail. No waste problem, of course.

Beneath the Exxon PR spin, the true costs of withdrawing a quarter million gallons of water per day are estimated at around $17,700 - just for a tiny patch of land.

Consider the fact that the fracking rush is exacting these very same direct costs on many North Americans.

Tue, 2011-05-31 07:06Chris Mooney
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The UVA Emails and Confirmation Bias: Seek and Ye Shall Find

You have to hand it to the American Tradition Institute. Unlike Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, they’ve found a way to get the University of Virginia to release at least some emails and other documents from climate researcher Michael Mann’s time working there–by using freedom of information requests for “public” documents. (News here, scathing Washington Post editorial here.)

The University of Virginia is complying, although its president says they will take advantage of every exemption allowed by the law. Still, though, it sounds as though a lot of documents are going to be released. So what will happen next?

For an answer, we can look to an important new book, Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. In it, Shermer discusses the phenomenon of confirmation bias, invoking the biblical line “seek and ye shall find” to describe this pervasive cognitive flaw. 

The American Tradition Institute–and indeed, conservative climate skeptics across the board–have gone seeking scandal among the ranks of climate scientists. That’s what Ken Cuccinelli did. That’s what happened in “ClimateGate.” That has been the strategy for some time.

So does anyone think that that, whatever these documents say, they are not going to be treated as a scandal by those who went searching for them?

Mon, 2011-01-03 15:20Brendan DeMelle
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Future of Coal Dims Further in 2010, But Dying Industry Still Killing and Polluting

2010 was a dark year for the dirty U.S. coal industry, with the deaths of 48 coal miners – the deadliest year in nearly two decades – and widespread recognition of the threat posed by hazardous coal ash waste to waterways nationwide. 

2011 hasn’t started off very well either, with a New Year’s Day article in the Washington Post noting the industry’s failure to begin construction on a single new coal-fired power plant in the United States for the second straight year.

An excerpt from the Post story:

“Coal is a dead man walkin’,” says Kevin Parker, global head of asset management and a member of the executive committee at Deutsche Bank. “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them… . And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

Not only are the coal barons failing to build new plants, but their aging fleet is also facing a huge wave of coal-plant retirements thanks to new and emerging EPA regulations, as Grist’s Dave Roberts summarized last month. 

Nevertheless, the coal industry’s best efforts to flood Washington with lobbyists and dirty PR tricks seem to have crippled President Obama’s campaign pledge to end mountaintop removal and stalled out EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s momentum towards regulating coal ash as the hazardous waste it surely is.

Wed, 2010-12-01 12:06Chris Mooney
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How Partisan is Climate Denial?

It was the chief environmental narrative of the 2010 midterm elections. The field of Republican Senate and House challengers, charged bloggers, were a bunch of “climate zombies.” Tea Party backed insurgents were knocking off GOP moderates who took climate science seriously—like Delaware’s Mike Castle—and it was becoming harder and harder to find a good Republican who did accept the scientific consensus on climate change.

Then, when Republicans swept into the House of Representatives, fears about the party’s denialist tendencies compounded further. There was word of “ClimateGate” hearings, aimed at prying loose additional emails and documents from mainstream global warming researchers. Whether or not such hearings actually take place, a vision of today’s U.S. Republican Party as monolithically in denial about what we’ve been doing to the planet has clearly taken root.

It was all, apparently, more than the stalwart Republican moderate Sherwood (“Sherry”) Boehlert could take.

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