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Mar 132014

GRN Reports:

Dozens of national and regional groups — Sierra Club, 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Greenpeace, Bold Nebraska, Tar Sands Blockade — have been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it could contaminate groundwater and will ratchet up carbon emissions, hastening climate change.

Some health organizations have weighed in as well. The National Nurses United recently marched against the project (see the video below), arguing that it threatens water and the public health.

But a poll this past weekend by the ABC News and the Washington Post shows that the general public has conflicting views about the 1,700-mile cross-continental project.

The poll of 1002 Americans found that the majority — 65 percent — said they believed the pipeline should be approved.

At the same time, the poll also found that 47 percent believed it “would pose a risk” to the environment, and 44 percent found that it “would not pose a risk” to the environment.

Unfortunately, the poll was not in-depth, and did not tease out these conflicting views, though it suggested that the reason Americans seem willing to incur some environmental damage on behalf of this project lies with the fact that they believe it will create jobs.

Those polled overwhelmingly (85 percent) said they believed that the pipeline will bring “a significant number” of jobs to the United States.

The number of jobs that will be created has been hotly debated however. One study by Cornell University found that the pipeline would produce 2,500 to 4,600 jobs, most of which would be temporary. That study rebutted claims by pipeline supporters, who had been saying that the project would bring 20,000 jobs to the United States.

A few years earlier, when the project was first presented to the public, Keystone supporters had suggested the construction and allied work around the pipeline would create 100,000 American jobs, a big carrot that turned out to be a fiction.

The Cornell study, called “Pipe Dreams: Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained by Construction of Keystone XL”, also noted that pipeline steel was not being manufactured in the U.S. but coming from India and Russia, confining the jobs generated in the U.S. to the laying of the pipeline.

Again, it’s unfortunate that the ABC/Washington Post poll did not define “significant number” of jobs, nor did it ask those polled how many jobs those being queried thought the pipeline would create. So there’s no way to tell if the support for Keystone XL the poll uncovers is based on a realistic estimation or a misperception of its employment/economic benefits.

The Washington Post did report that the segment of those polled that opposed the project were the self-defined “liberal Democrats.” This group told pollsters that they believe the oil carried by Keystone XL would not help the U.S. because it’s destined for foreign markets, and that it would extend the world’s dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

Which leaves us to wonder. Is the American public accurately informed on the topic of the Keystone XL pipeline?

Outside of the poll, a reported 2 million Americans signed petitions opposing Keystone XL. A group called Moms Clean Air Force delivered many of these petitions in boxes to the State Department on Friday, the last day to comment on the project.

About 500,000 have sent petitions in support of the project, according to news reports.

And more than 50,000 comments — pro and con — also are posted online at Regulations.gov, where any citizen could register their opinion.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil from mines in Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas coast, cutting through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, along a 1,700 mile route. That route has been challenged in Nebraska, where opponents fear a leak could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, which is tapped for agriculture and drinking water across the US heartland.

The route through Nebraska remains in question after a judge ruled that it the state did not follow its Constitution in quickly approving an alternate route in Jan. 2013.

The project needs a permit from the Obama Administration to go forward, because it crosses an international boundary.

Mar 042014

By Barbara Kessler
GRN Reports

This past weekend, some 500 or more students protested in Washington D.C. against the Keystone XL pipeline, which is poised to carry a thick crude oil from the tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas if it wins approval from the Obama Administration.

Students protest Keystone March 2

Students stage an oil spill “die in” at the protest in Washington March 2. (Photo: M. Scott Mahaskey @smahaskey)

About 300 of these students tied themselves to the White House fence and were arrested for blocking the walkway. They posted bond and were released.

This moment of civil disobedience seems small compared to the recent large, boisterous and sometimes violent uprisings in Ukraine and Venezuela.

Yet, it shares much with these protests around the world. When society fails to deliver hope for the future, young people grow restless.

We should listen to them.

In the US, these students are not facing the same hardships that confront their peers in Ukraine, where poverty and unemployment are driving people to the streets. But are we, in our comfortable, affluent and democratic US, inching in that direction? Unemployment remains high among many US sectors, and salaries and wealth are falling for the vast majority of Americans.

But let’s look at just one aspect that’s clouding the future, indeed, it is threatening to make salaries and bank accounts seem like the small stuff.

For 40 years, officials in the US have been saying we need to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and diversify our energy sources. This was to make the US more secure and keep the cost of living affordable.

We have made progress on both counts, though not nearly enough. Our economy continues to be fossil-fuel dependent and today many people believe that our fossil fuel habit doesn’t just imperil our geopolitical standing, it represents the potential erasure of our children’s future.

Consider the tar sands oil the students were protesting. It takes so much more energy to wring useable fuel from these dirty, strip-mined fields that it begs the question of why we’d pursue this type of energy, instead of looking toward newer, cleaner ways of powering our vehicles and infrastructure.

Tar Sands Blockade tree sitters

In 2012-13 Tar Sands Blockade, tried to stop the pipeline in Texas, once building a tree village in its path. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

Obviously, the oil industry still stands to profit from tar sands oil, which will pay for jobs in the mines and refineries and still earn a profit at the point of sale, most likely in fuel-strapped Asia where prices are headed up.

But at what cost? The margins for tar sands extraction are getting tighter, even before the unimaginably large environmental debt of this project is factored. Should the oil magnates have to pay for the rivers and forests they pollute, the toxic waste leaching from the lakes of waste or the cancer downstream, the profitability of tar sands oil would vanish like oil down a drain.

The big debt arrives, however, when the tar sands oil is sent out into the world, pumping a huge load of carbon emissions into the already burdened atmosphere. If just 35 percent of the Canadian tars sands are extracted and burned, it will create 361 Gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions – more than the US, a heavy carbon emitter, put into the air from 1850 to 2008, according to the World Resources Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT).

Young people see this dark horizon and how it threatens their future. But it’s a story to which those entrenched oil interests have turned a blind eye. The evidence that they’re not looking: None of the world’s major oil companies are devoting much money to developing alternative fuels and energy sources. They’re going full-speed ahead after the last reserves of oil, and even eyeing the arctic as climate change, ironically, opens this area to exploration.

Building the Keystone XL pipeline may not immediately be “game over” for the climate as the NASA climatologist Dr. James E. Hansen famously said. The earth has shown a wondrous resilience in coping by storing carbon in her oceans and forests as humans churn out more and more warming greenhouse gases. Perhaps electric cars, methane gas reductions, reforestation, coal plant closings and other bright spots on the horizon will push the tipping point a few years out.

But do we want to walk to the edge at all? Who’s crazy here? The young people chaining themselves to the White House fence, or the established interests willing to dangle them over a boiling pot?

The responsible response must be to search our souls and ask if we are failing future generations by not scrambling to do all we can to lower carbon emissions and proactively build new energy scaffolding for a peaceful, democratic future.

They say the best tree to plant is the one you planted 20 years ago, and the second best tree to have planted is the one you plant today. We can apply that thinking here, to pipelines and fossil fuels. The time to switch from business as usual is now.

Young people the world over have been marching in the streets over a common complaint, the loss of opportunities. In the US, a small band of them has drawn their line in the sand over the Keystone XL pipeline. They’re saying, please, help us rescue our future.

Let’s listen to them.
Copyright © 2014 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Dec 202013

Green Right Now Reports

Wonderbag womanHere’s one brilliant idea out of Africa that can have a huge impact on climate emissions, and help you do some social good.
The Wonderbag accomplishes all this by capitalizing on the age-old art of slow cooking. Heat a stew, rice or casserole dish on the stove to get it hot and bubbly, simmer briefly and then turn off the flame or heating element, or in the case of those cooking in developing communities, the soot-producing wood fire, and move the pot into this insulated, pillow-like bag to slow cook for the coming hours.

Later, if you followed directions, you’ve got a piping hot entree, and a much lower carbon footprint for the day.

Wonderbag in use 2

Buy a Wonderbag and another is sent to a household that can benefit.

But wait, there’s more. This bag not only helps you reduce your energy consumption, is even more meaningful for households in villages in Africa or Asia, where women still rely on wood cookstoves that create unhealthy indoor air and require constant refueling. For them, the Wonderbag a represents cleaner air, more economical cooking, a time saver and a way to improve the safety of the women and girls who must forage for wood.

When you buy a Wonderbag, the company sends another one to a family in need, a la the Tom’s Shoe model.

Sep 202013

From Green Right Now Reports

The US EPA today released its proposal to restrict carbon emissions from new power plants, a major step toward curbing the greenhouse gases forcing climate change.

Environmentalists, including Al Gore, speaking as founder of the Climate Reality Project, praised the move:

This is a critical achievement for President Barack Obama and his administration. In the face of an intransigent and inactive Congress, the President has made halting the climate crisis a priority. The policies announced today, combined with the rest of the President’s Climate Action Plan, will put us on the path toward solving the climate crisis, but Congress must also soon face the reality of the situation.

Three years ago, Congress failed to put a price on carbon and, in doing so, allowed global warming pollution to continue unabated. We have seen the disturbing consequences that the climate crisis has to offer — from a drought that covered 60% of our nation to Superstorm Sandy which wreaked havoc and cost the taxpayers billions, from wildfires spreading across large areas of the American West to severe flooding in cities all across our country — we have seen what happens when we fail to act. We need a price on carbon. We need it now.

Gore wants a price on carbon pollution, others have called for a carbon tax. Both approaches aim to reduce carbon emissions faster, and both are controversial.

Today’s move by the EPA simply exercises the agency’s regulatory authority to set carbon pollution thresholds, just as it sets limits for other forms of pollution, such as mercury and arsenic emissions. The EPA has not previously set limits on carbon, but the U.S. Supreme Court settled a lawsuit over the issue, confirming that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is within the EPA’s authority.

With the new carbon rule, the EPA takes aims at the biggest single emitter of greenhouse gases, the electricity sector. Power plants running on fossil fuels account for about 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide.

GreenHouse Gases graphic EPA

GreenHouse Gas Emissions (Image: EPA)

The carbon limits released today would apply only to new power plants burning coal or natural gas. Still, they are expected to slow emissions by pushing  power producers to install carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants, switch to cleaner-burning natural gas or build more non-polluting renewal energy into their plans.

The new standards will “spark the innovation we need to build the next generation of power plants, helping grow a more sustainable clean energy economy,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the new rules — subject to a 60-day public comment period — new large natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while new small natural gas-fired turbines would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. New coal-fired units would need to meet a limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour.

Currently, coal-fired plants in the U.S. emit about double that amount of emissions, on average, according to EPA documents, which report that coal-fired generation plants emit about 2,249 lbs/MWh.

In tandem with today’s release,  officials also launched a “broad-based outreach” campaign to help states, non-profits, governments and labor work together to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

Here’s more information for those who want to file a public comment about this proposal.



Aug 292013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Bike-sharing has been building momentum in the past few years, with programs in New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Minneapolis and other cities providing quick temporary low-cost transportation to tourists and the young and car-less.

CitiBike New York

Citibikes stand ready in Greenwich Village, NYC.

This year, though, the concept has practically exploded in the U.S. The Earth Policy Institute reports that the U.S. now has 34 bike-sharing operations with more than 18,000 bikes, which represents a doubling of the fleet just this year.

The institute’s tally takes into account the San Francisco Bay Area bike share which opens this week.

Researcher Janet Larsen reports that the largest bike share is in New York City, which boasts 6,000 bikes in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The bikes are much in evidence and appear to be quite popular in the Big Apple, where we were nearly sideswiped by riders at least two or three times during a couple recent long walks through the city.

Major cities such as New York, where a car is simply a financial and mental burden, are perfectly suited to bike sharing. Dozens of stations make it possible to pick up a bike in Chelsea and drop it in the East Village, or take a spin through Central Park, or along the Hudson or…well, the possibilities are endless.

Earth Policy Institute reports that the NYC bikes are being used seven times a day, a “remarkably high” use rate, especially considering the program just opened.

There’s really no downside, as long as cities do what they can to protect the safety of riders with bike lanes. In many congested cities, biking is a faster, affordable and healthier way to get around.

And there’s no arguing that it can be a major low-carbon transportation solution.

See Larsen’s full report here.

Bike Sharing Largest Programs -- Earth Policy Institute

(Graphic: Earth Policy Institute)

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Aug 292013

Green Right Now Reports

In his first major policy address since taking over at the Department of Energy, Dr. Ernest J. Moniz sought to explain the administration’s “all of the above” energy plan and answered critics who accuse Obama supporting natural gas development despite concerns that fracking contaminates air and water.

You can see Moniz’  hour-plus full talk Monday at Columbia University here, or read the synopsis of the highlights below.


The topic actually didn’t come up until the end of the address, when the moderator explained that about half of the question cards turned in by the audience dealt with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, a hugely controversial topic in New York and elsewhere where citizens are worried about the effects of intensive fracking operations on community water supplies and local air quality. Residents living near intensively fracked areas have reported problems with well water as well as skin rashes and respiratory issues.

Asked what the role for natural gas should be in the new energy economy, Moniz was clear that it has its place.

“It is a fact that in these last years, the natural gas revolution as they say has been a  major contributor to reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

Moniz Energy Address Aug. 2013 smallAbout half of the progress so far toward reducing overall U.S. carbon emissions under the Obama Administration has been due to the substitution of natural gas for coal in power plants, he continued.

“In my previous life at MIT when we did a study on natural gas, if you asked the question up front — is natural gas a part of the problem or part of the solution for climate change? — we reached the conclusion that yes, that certainly in the near term and potentially for some years  out, this substitution of natural gas for coal combustion, without carbon capture [for coal], would be a major contributor to reducing carbon emissions.”

Down the road if the U.S. is really cracking down on carbon emissions that might change, he said, then “gas itself would have to have carbon capture or it would be too carbon intensive.”

Asked about fracking’s methane gas emissions, which are greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, Moniz noted that these could be captured and put to use, and that an Obama-decreed task force of multiple federal agencies would be looking at the problem of methane gas leakage from hydraulic fracturing.

The “War on Coal”  

The administration has had to walk a fine line on fossil fuels, on the one hand supporting natural gas for reducing carbon emissions by replacing coal (and also cracking down on pollution from coal-fired power plants) and on the other hand, arguing that it has not launched a “war on coal.”

Moniz stayed on the tight rope.

Directing the EPA to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants was Obama ‘s best open route to bring down the carbon emissions that are driving climate change, he said.

“It is the most significant step the president can take with executive action, absent legislative action, but the charges of it being a  ’war on coal’ is a misunderstanding or a misstatement of what is being called the all-of-the-above approach to US energy.”

The All-of-the-Above Energy Plan

In addition to addressing criticism from the right that the administration has started a war on coal, Moniz addressed critics on the left who quibble that Obama’s oft-described “all of the above” energy plan is soft on fossil fuels.

“The idea is that ‘allof the above’ means we will invest in the technology, research and demonstration so that all of our energy sources can be enabled as market place competitors in a low carbon energy world.”

“That’s what we mean by all of the above”

But while fossil fuels are included in the “all of the above” vision, it’s a plan that still begins with the core goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels, he said.

Moniz also suggested that in a nation dependent on transportation, which is largely dependent upon oil, would be foolish not to challenge the fossil fuel industry to come up with its own lower carbon solutions.

U.S. policymakers, he said, must be “pragmatic” and “practical”.

On Climate Change

“I’m not here to debate what’s not debatable. The evidence is  overwhelming, the science is clear, certainly clear for the level that one  needs for policy making in terms of the real and urgent threat of climate change. . . .”

“Prudence demands strong commonsense near term policy actions to minimize the risks of global warming and that’s what the president’s  Climate Action plan does in the absence of legislative remedies.”

On Renewables

Moniz waxed hopeful, and sounded most passionate, discussing green energy technologies.

U.S. wind power, he noted, had tripled in capacity since 2008, accounting for 44 percent of new electricity capacity in 2012 and dropping in price to a “levelized” 6 cents per kilowatt.

Solar PV modules, he said, cost about 1 percent of what they did 30 years ago and utility-scale solar is creating a disruptive, but positive force on the grid.

LED lights have advanced with lightning speed and offer a lifetime savings of $100 for every incandescent 60 watt bulb they replace.

“The future,” Moniz said, “may not always be 10 years away.”

Aug 142013

From Green Right Now Reports

For the past 7 years, Sierra magazine has ranked the “Coolest Schools” in the U.S.

Farming at the University of Connecticut, the No. 1 Cool School.

Farming at the University of Connecticut, the No. 1 Cool School. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

This has nothing to do with the concentration of hipsters or chilled beer kegs on campus, however. It’s all about cooling the planet and applauding the colleges that are taking major strides toward fighting climate change and resource depletion by reducing their carbon footprint.

The contest rates the participating schools on a wide range of programs, giving points for waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, green power, verifiable carbon emissions reductions, energy efficient buildings, local food programs, sustainability course offerings, sustainability “literacy” and research into carbon-lowering strategies that can be used on campus and in the wider world.

The University of Connecticut, which won this year’s top spot, has embedded green ideas in its curriculum and daily activities, according to Sierra magazine which today released its rankings of 162 participating schools.

UConn offers nearly 600 sustainability-related classes, which are taught by a faculty that’s focused on the environmental  aspects of  research that spans many topics.

Cool School 2, Solar at Dickinson College

Installing a solar panel at Dickinson College, the No. 2 Cool School. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

The Sierra contest gives a lot of weight to a college’s green curricula because, as Sierra blogger Avital Andrew says, “the most powerful renewable energy resource these campuses generate is freshly educated young people.”

In addition, UConn has cut its water use by 15 percent in two years, retrofitted 13 buildings to be more energy efficient and converted its cafeteria menu options to be 30 percent vegetarian (because commercial livestock production contributes heavily to carbon pollution and forest loss). Some of the food is harvested on campus and more than 25 percent is processed locally.

What’s more, the University of Connecticut has risen on the Cool Schools list from No. 49 three years ago, showing that any campus can transform itself into a green community if chooses to make sustainability a priority.

Campus size also is no hindrance to going all out for the planet. Tiny Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, is the No. 2 Cool School this year. It has a student population of just 2,380, but has been pursuing big plans for recycling and energy reduction for several years.

Since  2006 Dickinson students have been collecting grease from local restaurants to power the campus vehicles. The school aims to be carbon neutral (net zero emissions) by 2020, and has already bought enough wind power to offset all its electrical use. It has also reduced its paper consumption by 60 percent since 2009, an issue some campuses are still just beginning to address.

Other campuses on the 2013 top 10 list include several that appear perennially near the top of the Cool School rankings. These  include the University of California at Davis (#4)…at Irvine (#3) and at  Santa Barbara.

UC Irvine students study Mono Lake, and how to save it.

UC Irvine students study Mono Lake, and how to save it. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

UC Irvine is a hot bed of green energy experimentation, with solar panels, a 19 megawatt cogeneration facility and a requirement that all new buildings be Silver LEED certified by the US Green Building Council.

UC Davis, which was last year’s No. 1, is known for agricultural research and its on-campus farmer’s market. The school diverts 60 percent of its trash from the landfill and is aiming for 100 percent diversion by 2020.

UC Santa Barbara boasts 44 LEED certified buildings and 321 classes pertaining to sustainability. About half of the food served is grown locally (albeit by leveraging the California advantage) and 75 percent of the waste is diverted to recycling and composting.

These campuses have shown a consistent commitment to green living, as have others that made the Top 10 this year, such as Green Mountain College (#6) American University (#9) and Georgia Institute of Technology (#8).

Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT, bases its entire curriculum on environmental sustainability, and has already achieved carbon neutrality with the help of a biomass plant that burns local wood chips, heating and powering much of the small campus of 637 students. It also powers itself via methane from cow waste, a green two-fer that harnesses methane gases instead of letting them rise into the atmosphere.

Georgia Tech in Atlanta is a Tree Campus USA, a builder of energy efficient LEED certified buildings and a believer in mass transit. Students car pool, ride natural gas-powered buses and bike to the urban campus of 21,000 students. In addition, students have been recycling for a couple decades, diverting 600 tons of waste annually.

American University won plaudits for its campus-wide composting program and its goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. The university of 12,700 students, nestled in the nation’s capital, was last year’s RecycleMania national champion and also counts 30 buildings on track for LEED silver designation.

Cool School 5 Cornell

Cornell students collecting recyclables. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

Just one Ivy League college made this year’s Top Ten (though Harvard University put in a respectable appearance at #15).

Cornell University (#5), which can now lay claim to being the greenest Ivy (per Sierra anyway), makes a return appearance in the Top 10. The Ithaca, NY, university offers 340 sustainability-related classes across many disciplines as well as a minor in climate change. The campus has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 and has recently added 1 million square feet of new buildings without increasing energy consumption, due to energy reduction programs.  Cornell students also grow food at a campus farm, where they also try out sustainable agriculture techniques, an exercise vital to those studying agriculture, forest and land management at this land grant college.

Stanford University (#7) also makes a return appearance on the list, cited for its plans for a new energy facility that will halve campus’ carbon emissions and reduce water use by 20 percent. This selective university has only about 15,000 undergraduates and graduates, but still offers about 700 sustainability-related classes. “The Farm” as it’s known, has its own farm for local food production, as well as an ambitious food reclamation program that involves donating excess to hunger relief.

Check for your school on the full listing at Sierraclub.org.

Jul 182013

From Green Right Now Reports

smokestack pollution promoA poll of Americans reveals that a majority support President Obama’s plan to attack climate change by cracking down on carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Americans also support the other aspects of Obama’s climate action plan, which he outlined in a major address on June 25, according to the poll, conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that:

  •   79 support increasing fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles.
  •  78 percent support increasing investment in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
  •  78 percent support stronger energy efficiency standards for appliances and new buildings.
  • 76 percent support the United States taking a lead role in encouraging countries such as China and India to expand their efforts to curb carbon pollution.
  •  75 percent support strengthening communities against the effects of climate change, such as creating new flood reduction plans for areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, and drought and wildfire preparation plans for the Midwest and West.

Democrats and Independents most strongly favored of curbing carbon emissions from the America’s 1,500 power plants, which are the nation’s single biggest contributor to planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

But even about half (49 percent) of Republicans, whose party has blocked climate laws in Congress, said they endorse limits on carbon pollution from power plants. All told, the poll suggested that 65 percent of Americans favor cutting this type of pollution, which has never been regulated, though mercury and arsenic emissions from power plants are controlled.

Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, transportation and other sources has been blamed for triggering worldwide climate change, which is melting glaciers, raising sea levels, spreading drought and triggering more powerful hurricanes.

The poll by Hart Research Associates found that overall 61 percent of Americans back the full Obama climate action plan unveiled last month.

Support crossed generational and regional boundaries, said Jay Campbell, senior vice president at Hart Research Associates.

“Simply put, Americans want to see something done to counteract climate change, and they say setting limits on power plant emissions is an important step,” he said.

Hart Research, which often works with Democrats, conducted the poll for NRDC jointly with Chesapeake Beach Consulting, a firm that often works with Republicans.

“The public wants Washington to address the issue of climate change, including Republicans who indicate strong support for each of the individual components of the plan. Not taking action is not an option the public will accept,” said Chesapeake’s President Robert Carpenter.

Pollsters read arguments for and against controlling power plant emissions to those being surveyed before asking their position. The arguments read were:

  • “SUPPORTERS of this plan say that cutting carbon pollution is essential to keeping our air and water clean, protecting our kids’ health, and reducing the devastating effects of climate change. President Obama’s plan represents a reasonable and comprehensive approach that will help our economy to continue to grow and recover while sparking innovation in energy technology and cutting our dependence on foreign oil.
  • “OPPONENTS of this plan say it will seriously harm our economy just as it is starting to improve. This plan will mean higher energy costs, making it more expensive for companies to do business and leading to thousands of job losses and higher prices for consumers. All this without having any real impact on climate change, because big polluters such as India and China do not limit pollution from their power companies.”

Afterward, the majority (59 percent) still said they supported the president’s climate plan; 32 percent said they oppose it.

Jun 262013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now blogs

What the President said yesterday about the Keystone XL pipeline sounded sensible and straightforward:

Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf.  And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal.  That’s how it’s always been done.  But I do want to be clear:  Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. 

And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.  (Applause.)  The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.  It’s relevant. 

But what did the POTUS really mean in his climate action address? Roll the words around, toss them into the 24/7 Internet news cycle mixmaster, and you’ve got massive speculation. Obama could be indicating yes, or no, to Keystone XL.

Keystone XL official map

Map shows proposed route for Keystone XL, and the route (in orange) of a precursor Keystone pipeline completed in 2010. State Dept. approval is needed because the pipeline crosses an international border.

Like a mechanical fortune teller with an electrical short, the prez remains inscrutable on this topic.

The subtext could be, ‘Obviously this massive carbon-spewing fossil fuel project will have to be turned down,’ as some environmentalists hopefully ventured after the speech.

Or the essence could’ve been, ‘Heck, if the State Department finds a way to justify it, and the pipeline offsets its carbon emissions, then it’s all good’ — as House Speaker John Boehner and other pipeline advocates took the statement.

Here’s a sampling of how people are running in opposite directions with Obama’s remarks:

  • Forbes reporter Christopher Helman, who covers energy from Houston, maintains that Obama signaled that Keystone XL will not be approved because one cannot possibly argue that it will “significantly impact” carbon emissions worldwide:

And then there’s the word “significantly.” What does that mean? To be significant means having a noticeable effect. Now Keystone XL, as designed, would have a daily transport capacity of about 800,000 barrels of oil. Is that significant? It is to you. It’s even significant to the United States, which uses about 20 million barrels per day. But in the scheme of the whole world — and we are talking about GLOBAL warming — it’s not really significant at all. That 800,000 bpd amounts to less than 1% of the world’s daily crude oil consumption. And when you include all the daily greenhouse gas emissions from coal and natural gas and humans breathing and cow flatulence, the emissions that could be linked to Keystone XL would amount to significantly less than half of 1% of total global emissions.

  • Environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org took a view that was 360-degrees from Forbes.

It “makes me think it’s more likely the White House will reject the Keystone Pipeline, which is the biggest environmental battle in a generation–the president is a logical man, and taking two steps forward only to take two back would make no sense.”

  • Sierra Club was simpatico with McKibben. “The President’s strong commitment to using climate pollution as the standard by which Keystone XL will be decided means his decision to reject it should now be easy.  Any fair and unbiased analysis of the tar sands pipeline shows that the climate effects of this disastrous project would be significant.”
Tar sands mine PROMO

An aerial view of tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada.

Is everyone just hearing what they want to hear?

Complicating the issue is the fact that the approval process for Keystone has been corrupted by the involvement of lobbyists with personal ties to onetime Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and also to President Obama (a story that’s significant but we don’t have time to tell here; read about it at Friends of the Earth).

Over the last few years, favorable findings by the State Department have led to a dejected feeling among many environmentalists that Keystone XL is headed toward approval, despite what they see as its highly damaging environmental effects and potential toxic leakiness.

Even the EPA flagged the State Department for a once-over-lightly approach to the environmental impacts of the pipeline. EPA called out its criticisms in a letter to State officials in April.

In offering its feedback, the EPA notes that tar sands oil is “significantly more GHG intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts.”

Yet, in advising State authorities to better explore the possible outcomes of turning down the pipeline — essentially by documenting how the oil could get to market anyway via rail or Canadian pipelines — the EPA seemingly draws a road map for how State could justify the pipeline.

Up is down and down is up.

If the next State Department impact report on the project (due anytime) shows that the tar sands impact on the world is inevitable, whether or not the U.S. allows the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, that could be interpreted to mean that the pipeline’s imprint will not be “significant” (in that tar sands oil escapes to emerging markets anyway, and maybe even causes more carbon pollution enroute).

Or will it? A really buttoned-up impact statement, showing the full greenhouse gas effects of Canadian tar sands oil extraction and consumption would detail multiple negative effects on the atmosphere, starting with the loss of carbon-holding boreal forests that are being cleared for tar sands mines and ending with the burning of the refined oil in countries across the world (affecting our shared skies).

That would clearly impact climate change. Would the effect be negative enough? Count us, at this point, significantly confused.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jun 252013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

President Barack Obama delivered a pointed speech on climate change today, which suggested that the Keystone XL pipeline will not be automatically approved and drilled down on the biggest source of carbon emissions, power plants.

Obama at Georgetown UThe highlight of The President’s Climate Action Plan, unveiled before an audience at Georgetown University, will be a move by the EPA to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the president said.

This type of pollution accounts for about 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions, and yet it has never been regulated because the U.S. Supreme Court only recently ruled that carbon pollution fell under the Clean Air Act.

“I’m directing the EPA to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from (mainly) coal-fired power plants, Obama told the Georgetown audience and those listening into a live stream.

The move to tamp down coal emissions delighted environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, which has made coal pollution a major focus in recent years.

“The Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters issued a collective cheer as they heard the President declare that the most effective defense against climate disruption will be by tackling the biggest source of carbon pollution: coal plants,” Sierra said in a statement.

Obama stressed that this action, and other moves toward a clean energy economy, does not mean that jobs will be lost.

Critics, he said, always predict that environmental protections will “crush the economy.

“That’s what they say every time America sets better standards for our water and air….and every time they’ve been wrong,” he said.

The president did give a nod to the “cleaner” energy from natural gas that some cities and states are switching to, a point that’s hugely contentious with anti-fracking forces, who say natural gas extraction takes too high of a toll on water resources.

But Obama spent more time explaining how the U.S. can get more energy efficient by using renewables, such as wind and solar power, and continuing to make and use more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

At a couple junctures, he expressed frustration with the opponents to change, saying that the climate crisis “is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. It demands our attention now.”

He has no time, he said, for climate skeptics, who argue that there’s no need to mitigate or prepare for climate change.

Coal fired power plants

“I don’t have much patience for anybody who denies this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said.

The naysayers who worry that a shift away from fossil fuels will hurt the economy have it wrong, he said.

“The problem with all these tired excuses for lack of action is it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American businesses.”

Don’t  bet against Americans, he said, they’ll figure a way, and “don’t tell us we have to choose between our health and our economy.”

“We have to look after our children, we have to look after our future and grow jobs and the economy. We can do all of that as long as we don’t fear the future, we seize it.”

Obama threw climate activists a surprise, when he signaled that the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not necessarily a done deal.

The pipeline, currently under construction in Canada and the U.S., will not be approved unless it is shown to be “in the national interest,” Obama said. And if it raises carbon emissions “significantly” it won’t be.

Climate activists have been fighting the transcontinental project because it will enable vast quantities of energy intensive tar sands oil from Canada’s vast oil sands fields to enter the world market, sustaining fossil fuel economies and raising carbon emissions.

350.org founder and well-known environmentalist Bill McKibben said afterward that Obama seems to be taking a reasoned approach to the pipeline.

It “makes me think it’s more likely the White House will reject the Keystone Pipeline, which is the biggest environmental battle in a generation–the president is a logical man, and taking two steps forward only to take two back would make no sense,” McKibben said.

“The president’s remarks today on the Keystone XL pipeline are deeply encouraging,” said Green for All   CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins. “He’ll say no to the pipeline if it proves to not be in America’s interest, and it is not. The evidence is clear—the pipeline would contribute to climate change.  Saying yes to Keystone would put the health and safety of our own communities at greater risk.

The president also piqued the interest of those who advocate divestiture in dirty fuels  as a way to hasten the clean energy economy, when toward the end of the speech he urged Americans to advocate for green power by telling people it won’t take away jobs.

“Invest. Divest,” he said, an apparent reference to the movement to push colleges and cities to divest from coal and oil power, and invest in green energy.

Though it was roundly applauded, the president’s speech did not call out all issues on the environmental agenda. Sierra Club summed up the remaining business in its statement:

“There is still more work to be done. The President’s climate commitment and his speech today gives us great hope that he will finally address some of the remaining, worst abuses of the fossil fuel industry, including dirty and dangerous fracking, ending the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, halting destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, and overhauling the sweetheart deal on public lands that pads the bottom line of coal companies at public expense”

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jun 142013

This video helps explain why fossil fuels are not just polluting, but inefficient.

It will make you wish your car ran on anything but gasoline.

Nov 092012

From Green Right Now Reports

As they did in 2011, environmentalists will again gather at the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada across the U.S. to refineries in Houston.

A Tar Sands Blockade poster in Texas refers to the oil "peak" after which fossil fuels become harder and more expensive to access.

One segment of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast already has approval and is under construction in East Texas, where protesters have been staging successive actions against it, slowing progress.

The full pipeline, which would cross the international border at Alberta and Montana, has not been permitted, pending additional environmental review. It needs the approval of the U.S. State Department to move forward. Officials held up final permitting in November 2011 in deference to Nebraska where environmentalists, ranchers and the governor asked for time to re-route the pipeline around a delicate region known as the Sand Hills. A new route has been delineated.

Protesters object to the pipeline because tar sands operations have an outsized environmental impact. Unlike regular crude oil, tar sands oil is derived from tarry deposits in sandy rock. Access often requires strip-mining operations that destroy forests. The extraction needs large quantities of water to sluice the oil from the rock, rendering the water toxic and blighting the landscape with waste ponds. Next, the heavy oil must be heated to make it fluid enough to travel by pipeline, requiring the addition of chemicals that make the fluid toxic and more dangerous in a spill. The extra energy inputs also render the whole process energy intensive to the point where it’s  barely efficient.

For all these reasons, and the fact that continuing fossil fuel reliance contributes to carbon dioxide emissions, environmentalists have targeted the tar sands as a place to draw a line in the sand. At the White House protest last year more than 1,200 people from groups spread across the nation, and including several celebrities, were arrested for civil disobedience.

According to a statement from 350.org, which is leading a coalition of groups, the upcoming protest at the White House will help “show the president he has their support if he denies the permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

The demonstration will follow a 350.org “Do the Math” even at the Warner Theatre, featuring thousands of activists, a 500-foot pipeline and several speakers, including Bill McKibben, a co-founder of 350.org.

Several other groups have signed the letter announcing the protest:

Dear friends—

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as the warmest year in American history draws to a close, as the disastrous drought lingers on in the Midwest, everyone is looking for ways to make a real difference in the fight to slow climate change.  We’d like to ask you to come once more to Washington, to resume the battle to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, mid-afternoon on Nov. 18th.

This summer President Obama took the biggest step of any president to date when he raised fuel efficiency standards — a move that will cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 10% when fully implemented. Many of you worked to make this happen. Thank you. It’s an important step in the right direction. Let’s take a few more.

As you’ll recall, your efforts last year slowed down the decision, giving the State Department more time to consider the impacts of a dangerous export pipeline that will transport one of the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels. Although they did go ahead with the southern segment, where many of our colleagues are waging a remarkable fight against its construction. But now that the election is over a decision by the President is imminent—the administration has hinted a decision could come in the first quarter of 2013.

Here’s what’s changed since last year: the Arctic has melted disastrously.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: Keystone XL is still a crazy idea, a giant straw into the second biggest pool of carbon. Even if it doesn’t spill, it would add 900,000 barrels of oil worth of carbon each day to the earth’s atmosphere, or as much as the new auto efficiency regulations would save. It would, in other words, cancel out the whole long fight to increase auto mileage. Those tar sands are still the dirtiest energy on the planet.

And more and more people are realizing it. Our brothers and sisters in Canada have effectively blocked the so-called Gateway Pipeline to Canada’s west coast. It won’t be built anytime soon, depriving the administration of their only halfway decent argument—that the oil would just go somewhere else. No, Barack Obama is now even more the man who holds the fate of the tar sands expansion in his hands.

No one needs to get arrested this time—though that may come as the winter wears on. For now we simply need to let the President know we haven’t forgotten, and that our conviction hasn’t cooled. Please be there if you possibly can.

Many thanks,

Bill McKibben and May Boeve, 350.org
Michael Brune, Sierra Club
Naomi Klein, author
James Hansen, climate scientist
Tzeporah Berman, author
Jane Kleeb, BOLD Nebraska
Michael Kieschnick, Credo Mobile
Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network
Gus Speth, author and professor of law, Vermont Law School
Maura Cowley, Energy Action Coalition
Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network
Joe Uehlein, Labor Network for Sustainability
Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Michael Mann, Penn State University Earth System Science Center
Stephen Kretzmann, Oil Change International
Brad Johnson, Forecast the Facts
Phil Radford, Greenpeace US
Cherri Foytlin, Bridge the Gulf Project
Tar Sands Blockade