EPA

Tue, 2014-07-29 05:00Sharon Kelly
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EPA Internal Audit Finds Flawed Pipeline Oversight Adds $192 Million a Year to Gas Bills, Harms Climate

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog, the inspector general released a scathing report on the agency's failure to control leaks from the nation's natural gas distribution system.

The report, titled “Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines,” describes a string of failures by the EPA to control leaks of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, from the rapidly expanding natural gas pipeline industry.

“The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector,” the report begins. “The EPA has a voluntary program to address methane leaks — Natural Gas STAR — but its efforts through this program have resulted in limited reductions of methane emissions from distribution pipelines.”

To date, the industry has faced little binding regulation on leaks, in part because the EPA assumes that pipeline companies will not allow the product they are attempting to bring to market to simply disappear. But the reality is that when gas is cheap and repairs are expensive, pipeline companies often put off repairs unless there's a threat of an explosion.

Under many state policies, pipeline companies would have to pay upfront costs for pipeline repairs — or they simply choose to pass the cost of lost gas from unrepaired leaks on to consumers, an issue that the audit faults the EPA for failing to take into account.

Nationwide, the Inspector General report concluded $192 million worth of natural gas was lost from pipelines in 2011 alone.

Mon, 2014-07-28 14:57Steve Horn
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Greenpeace Report: Obama Administration Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large. 

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean's Magazine and Bloomberg BNA

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama's Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Fri, 2014-07-25 13:00Mike G
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States Led By Climate Deniers Stand To Gain The Most From New EPA Carbon Rule

A rising tide lifts all boats — even boats that, contrary to all evidence, openly doubt the moon's gravitational influence.

A new study released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group concludes that the EPA's proposed carbon rules for existing power plants will benefit states like Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma the most — states where climate denial is not just rampant but often a policy officially boosted by high-ranking officials.

In fact, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who once dismissed climate change as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart,” led a group of Republican governors in blasting the EPA's regulation, which assigns states greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and mandates that they devise a plan for achieving those cuts.

The group sent a letter to President Obama decrying the regulations as bad for the economy. “This is such a dangerous overreach in terms of the potential threat to our economy,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said.

But as the New York Times reports:

The study… concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.


States like Wyoming and Kentucky that have economies still largely dependent on coal production will certainly take a hit. But these are the growing pains of the emerging clean energy economy, and polls show not only that a “lopsided and bipartisan majority of Americans support federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions” but also that Americans are “willing to stomach a higher energy bill to pay for it.”

Wed, 2014-07-23 14:16Steve Horn
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Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf Acres for Offshore Drilling

Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama's Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves.

It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Superdome. 

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  announced the lease in the name of President Obama's “all of the above” energy policy

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, BOEM…today announced that the bureau will offer more than 21 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale that will include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area,” proclaimed a July 17 BOEM press release.

The release says this equates to upwards of 116-200 million barrels of oil and 538-938 billion cubic feet of natural gas and falls under the banner of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement

That Agreement was signed into law on December 26, 2013. It served as a precursor to the recently-passed Mexican oil and gas industry privatization reforms, which have opened the floodgates to international oil and gas companies to come into Mexico for onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration and production.  

Wed, 2014-07-02 10:38Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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For Oil-By-Rail, a Battle Between “Right to Know” and “Need to Know”

Lac Megantic train explosion

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they've learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin. 

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It's also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn't know about it. 

Often, oil companies are only required to get state-level air quality permits to open a new oil-by-rail facility.

Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in Washington, recently explained to Reuters why there was no opposition to the first three oil-by-rail facilities in the area.

“There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren't aware they were in formal permitting,” he said

The same thing unfolded in Albany, N.Y., where there is an ongoing battle over expansion of the major oil-by-rail facility set to process tar sands crude sent by rail from Alberta. The initial permits for the oil rail transfer facility, which would allow two companies to bring in billions of gallons of oil a year, were approved with no public comment

Thu, 2014-06-26 14:22Farron Cousins
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Obama Administration Secretly Weakening EPA Rules

One of highest hopes that environmentally-minded Americans had for President Obama when he first entered office was that he would finally put an end to the secrecy that marred the former Bush administration when it came to environmental policy. 

The image of then-Vice President Dick Cheney meeting in secret with dirty energy industry leaders was still fresh in our heads as we went to the polls in 2008, and we were all but certain that the country chose a leader that would leave those dark days in the past.

Sadly, those hopes for a policy change were dashed before the end of Obama’s first year.  He talked a big game on the campaign trail, but when it came to acting on those promises, that rhetoric proved to be just as hollow as his predecessor’s. 

Obama doubled down on coal, oil, and fracking, while allowing renewable energy investments to fall.  But the most disturbing part of the story is that Obama and his officials have been working in secret to weaken environmental standards that his administration has been patting themselves on the back for in public.

Recently, a federal judge expanded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was filed against the Small Business Administration (SBA), which claims that officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been working to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power plant pollution standards.  The administration has been dragging its feet in providing the information requested, even after the court ruling, which has led environmental groups to file a complaint against the White House.

At issue is the EPA’s failure to update standards for existing power plants as required by the Clean Air Act — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously said was required of the agency.  The current rules have not been updated since 1982, and environmental groups say that the lack of updating is due to influence from the White House itself.

Sun, 2014-06-22 11:00Julie Dermansky
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A Forgotten Community in New Orleans: Life on a Superfund Site

Shannon Rainey

Shannon Rainey lives in a house that was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I bought my house when I was 25, and thirty years later, I still can't get out,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Rainey’s home in Gordon Plaza is part of a subdivision developed by the city in 1981 on top of the Agriculture Street landfill. No one disclosed to the buyers that their new homes were built on top of a dump that was closed in 1965.

Rainey has a view of two other city-owned properties also built on the landfill: the shuttered Morton Elementary School and Press Park, an abandoned housing project developed by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).

 “If it were white folks back here, this would be all gone,” Rainey says bluntly.

Fri, 2014-06-20 10:25Steve Horn
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Heather Zichal, Former Obama Energy Aide, Named to Board of Fracked Gas Exports Giant Cheniere

Heather Zichal, former Obama White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, may soon walk out of the government-industry revolving door to become a member of the board of directors for fracked gas exports giant Cheniere, who nominated her to serve on the board. 

The announcement, made through Cheniere's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 8-K and its Schedule 14A, comes just as a major class-action lawsuit was filed against the board of the company by stockholders.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Cheniere has delayed its annual meeting. At that meeting, the company's stockholders will vote on the Zichal nomination.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by plaintiff and stockholder James B. Jones, who alleges the board gave stock awards to CEO Charif Souki in defiance of both a stockholders' vote and the company's by-laws. 

Souki — a central character in Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Frackers“ — became the highest paid CEO in the U.S. as a result of the maneuver, raking in $142 million in 2013, $133 million of which came from stock awards.

Cheniere CEO Charif Souki; Photo Credit: Getty Images

Zichal was nominated to join Cheniere's audit committee of the board, and will be paid $180,000 per year for the gig if elected.

Among the audit committee duties: “Prepare and review the audit committee report for inclusion in the proxy statement for the company's annual meeting of stockholders,” which is now set for September 11 after the push-back following the filing of the stockholder class-action lawsuit.

“The audit committee’s responsibility is oversight, and it recognizes that the company’s management is responsible for preparing the company’s financial statements and complying with applicable laws and regulations,” Cheniere's audit committee charter further explains.

Thu, 2014-06-05 10:16Chris Rose
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Obama’s New Climate Regulations Could Bring More U.S. Coal to B.C. for Export

coal train, coal export, surrey fraser docks, BNSF

A new U.S. proposal to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants could result in more thermal coal being shipped to Asia through existing and planned port facilities in Metro Vancouver, people attending Port Metro Vancouver’s annual general meeting were told Tuesday.

[President Barack] Obama’s administration is changing the game,” Steven Faraher-Amidon said during a question period.

Faraher-Amidon also told the meeting that five schools in Delta and Surrey are within 700 metres of the contentious Fraser Surrey Docks coal handling proposal while medical studies in the U.S. have found that living within five kilometres of coal dust and diesel particulates presents significant health risks. A former Port Metro Vancouver environmental impact assessment that looked at the Fraser Surrey Docks terminal was criticized for being limited in scope and failing to adequately address public health concerns.

The 64-year-old retired Surrey teacher added a proper health impact assessment needs to be done before the Fraser Surrey Docks coal facility — which could eventually handle eight million tonnes annually — can be approved.

Wed, 2014-06-04 14:44Farron Cousins
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US Chamber Predicts Economic Apocalypse From New Carbon Rules Despite Opposite Reality

It has been less than a week since the EPA announced new rules for carbon emissions — rules that are being heralded as the most comprehensive effort to tackle climate change by any sitting U.S. president — but big business groups have been spreading misinformation about these new rules for weeks.

Leading the charge against the administration’s proposals is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business interest group in the country, and arguably the most well-funded. 

Just days before the new rules that will limit the amount of carbon that existing power plants can release were made public, the Chamber released a report predicting that any form of carbon regulation would result in economic chaos for the United States.  And this all happened before the Chamber even know what the rules would actually say.

The Chamber’s report issued these dire warnings to Americans, summarized by Think Progress:

Their study determined that it would cost American industry $28.1 billion annually to comply with EPA’s new regulations, that as many as 224,000 jobs would be lost between now and 2030, that the economy would average $50.2 billion lower a year, that Americans would cumulatively pay $289 billion more for electricity over that period, and that they’d lose $586 billion in disposable income.

The U.S. Chamber is attempting to strike at the heart of American fears that it will cost them dearly.  Whether it is their job or their hard-earned money, the Chamber wants Americans to be afraid of losing everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve in life.

Back in the land of reality, the Chamber’s claims are easily debunked.  To start with, as we’ve previously discussed here on DeSmogBlog, safety regulations create jobs rather than destroy them.  Even energy industry CEOs have been willing to admit that this is true in recent years.  The EPA’s estimates show that the new standards will create tens of thousands of new jobs, and the administration’s commitment to invest more in renewable energy will add hundreds of thousands of jobs, thus resulting in a net gain of U.S. jobs.

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