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June 21 2011


Heritage Foundation Wastes No Time Spinning Court Ruling On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against plaintiffs yesterday in a lawsuit (American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut) brought by six states against several utility companies and the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority. The states (California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont) were attempting to force the utility companies to cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the grounds that the emissions were a “public nuisance.” The Court unanimously declared that the judiciary should stay out of the matter because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) already has the authority to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act.

President Obama previously stated that he stood with the utility companies in this suit, as well as in a similar suit being decided in a lower court. The utility companies in the suit included Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Southern Co, Excel Energy, and the aforementioned Tennessee Valley Authority.

The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation wasted no time yesterday in claiming that the Court’s ruling was a major blow to environmentalists, and managed to take a cheap shot at some of the liberal members of the court:

In a coherent and entirely rational argument that one does not always see from a liberal justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the opinion pointed out the fallacy of what the plaintiffs were trying to do – convince the federal courts to step into the role of environmental regulators and take the first stab at making complex scientific decisions. [emphasis added]

Heritage writer Hans von Spakovsky also pointed out that Justices Alito and Thomas disagreed with the Court’s previous ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHG emissions:

Justice Alito wrote a very short concurrence, joined by Justice Thomas, that consisted of just one paragraph. Alito joined in the judgment of the court, but did so “on the assumption (which I make for the sake of argument because no party contends otherwise) that the interpretation of the Clean Air Act adopted by the majority in Massachusetts v. EPA is correct.” In other words, Alito and Thomas were questioning what many have previously disputed – the erroneous conclusion of the Court that carbon dioxide is even a “pollutant” that is covered under the Clean Air Act.

The Heritage Foundation has a long history of denying climate change and attempting to downplay the effects. Earlier this year, the group wrote about how environmental activists were attempting to use the courts to pursue their agenda:

The recent spate of global warming lawsuits is an attempt to circumvent the political process and implement public policy by judicial fiat. Unable to advance their policies through Congress, global warming activists have turned to the judiciary to implement their agenda. Although this legislation-through-litigation violates the Constitution’s separation of powers principles, some federal judges are receptive to such lawsuits.

There is also a certain element of greed driving climate change litigation. The plaintiffs’ bar earned literally billions of dollars in attorneys’ fees in the court fight against tobacco companies, and the latest generation of plaintiffs’ attorneys sees the current battle over climate change as an opportunity for another legal fee bonanza—one that could easily eclipse the windfall from tobacco lawsuits. The personal injury bar is interested only in deep-pocket American energy and utility companies, even though any of the many producers of “greenhouse gasses” like carbon dioxide could be a target.

Last year, Ben Lieberman, the Senior Policy Analyst for Energy and Environment at The Heritage Foundation, wrote an op-ed claiming: “What I conclude from a policy standpoint is that global warming is clearly not a crisis and should not be addressed as one…None of the scary stuff about global warming is true, and what is true about global warming, what the science actually tells us about man’s role in changing the climate, is far from terrifying.

It should come as no surprise that some of the biggest financiers of the Heritage Foundation include oil giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco. In addition, Greenpeace has pointed out that the organization received more than $2 million from Koch foundations from 1997 – 2009. Greenpeace and DeSmogBlog have also noted that Heritage has been involved in a strategic cover up of climate science and that the group has been leading the misinformation campaign on climate change for years.

The Court’s ruling might seem like a setback, but there is clearly a silver lining. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who wrote the opinion in the ruling, said that the plaintiffs were simply making their case in the wrong forum.

Furthermore, this ruling reaffirms the Court’s previous ruling that EPA has the authority to regulate this air pollution under the Clean Air Act. While some politicians are working to repeal the EPA’s authority, the U.S. Supreme Court just gave the agency a much-needed boost.

April 14 2011

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September 14 2010


U.S. EPA Coal Ash Hearings Intensify, Tennessee Hearing Added Following Controversy

Reversing its embarrassing oversight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added one final public hearing on coal ash regulatory proposals, to be held fittingly in Tennessee, the state that suffered the worst coal ash disaster in U.S. history in December 2008.

An EPA spokesperson confirmed that the final public hearing will take place the week of October 25th in Knoxville, Tennessee, although the exact date and location have yet to be announced.

So far, the public hearings on proposed coal ash regulations have been well-attended. ENS reported that the Dallas hearing last Wednesday was "packed" with "hundreds of residents from four states... urging the agency to adopt the stronger of two plans to regulate the waste from coal-fired power plants."

But the intensity of the hearings picked up significantly today in Charlotte, NC, where the comments kicked off with a standing-room-only crowd ready for a marathon 13-plus hour hearing that could possibly stretch until midnight as hundreds of concerned residents, and a handful of coal industry lobbyists, voice their opinions.
As of 5pm EST, only 120 of the 453 people signed up to comment had been heard from, ensuring a late night ahead. According to hearing attendees I spoke to earlier, the EPA has been very accommodating of walk-ins who did not pre-register to comment, and appears to be making every effort to hear from anyone who shows up.

I have heard several examples of some of the powerful testimony offered by coal ash victims so far today, including a Pennsylvania woman who presented homemade jam and garden vegetables that were grown with water from her coal-ash-contaminated well, asking the EPA officials whether they would eat the products knowing about the contamination.

And of course, Duke Energy, headquartered in Charlotte, has been a hot subject among commenters. Most of the 13 coal ash ponds in North Carolina belong to Duke Energy, and Duke has two coal ash ponds near Mountain Island Lake, the main source of Charlotte's drinking water.

Sierra Club member Bill Gupton testified today that, "These aging coal ash ponds - one built in 1957 - are both still unlined, both are still leaching hazardous substances into the ground and contaminating our ground water - a fact documented by Duke Energy's own data."

Upper Watauga Riverkeeper
Donna Lisenby told me that comments so far have leaned roughly 60-40 in favor of Option C, which would label coal ash as "hazardous waste" and require more federal oversight of coal ash operations. But Lisenby expects that proponents of the industry-friendly Option D will become sparser as the coal lobbyists punch their timecards and head home.

Lisenby reported excellent representation from minority communities in South Carolina who are living with the effects of coal ash every day, and a strong showing of youth traveling from local universities to take part in the hearing. The faith community is also present, including a minister who blessed some people on the forehead with coal ash, Lisenby says.

Appalachian Voices released a statement
this afternoon noting that one of the victims of the 2008 TVA coal ash spill - Steve Scarborough, who owns a house that was damaged in the massive Tennessee coal ash disaster - traveled to Charlotte to testify.

The EPA will hear from a lot more Tennessee victims of the TVA spill, thanks to the belated but wise decision to host the final coal ash hearing in Knoxville, just over an hour's drive from the site of the spill.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has applauded EPA's last-minute change of heart.

"The EPA made exactly the right decision. Having hearings on coal ash without asking Tennesseans what they think would be like having hearings on Katrina without asking people in New Orleans what they think, or on the oil spill without asking people who live on the Gulf what they think," Alexander said in a statement.

The Knoxville hearing is sure to have an emotionally-charged atmosphere, since it is closest to the site of the TVA disaster. It is still a 350-mile, six-hour drive away for Uniontown, Alabama residents who live near the landfill that is receiving the coal ash from the TVA spill, but perhaps some will make the journey to comment in front of EPA representatives.

The public comment period closes November 19th, so anyone is welcome to tell EPA what you think about the proposed coal ash regulations.

In the meantime, follow the action in Charlotte by checking out Charlotte Business Journal's live blogging, and follow the action on Twitter via the hashtag #coalash.

August 06 2010


July 19 2010


Utilities and Environmentalists Haggle Over Climate Bill

Intense negotiations have been unfolding between publicly owned utilities and environmental groups over the possible architecture of a Senate energy and climate bill.

June 14 2010


The Inside Scoop on the "Climate War"

The first question I had for author Eric Pooley after I finished reading his new book, The Climate War, was whether he had set up hidden cameras all over Washington, DC.

He didn't of course, but the insider information he weaves into his story about the ongoing battle for effective climate policy both in the United States and internationally will make even the insiders feel inadequate.

The Climate War puts you at the power-broker's table, with much of the book following two main characters who have been at the center of the debate and the controversy around climate policy for more than a decade - Fred Krupp, Executive Director of Environmental Defense Fund and Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy.

Both Krupp and Rogers are polarizing figures within the climate advocacy community, with Krupp being accused of "selling out" to the big corporate machine and willing to accept inadequate policy fixes and Rogers being accused of greenwashing the company he heads which is one of the largest electrical generation companies in the United States.

Krupp and Rogers act as the central characters and around them Pooley wraps the history of how we have gotten to where we are today on the issue of climate change, ending with the failure to come to an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, Denmark in late December, 2009.

We learn more about the "deniers" and the corporate flaks that back them, like Myron Ebell at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who toasted a crowd with Fiji Water because,

"It comes to you direct from Fiji, so it's very energy inefficient: the only thing that could improve it would be to carbonate it.

<!--break-->In this book you learn about the roots of Al Gore's high profile organization, the Alliance for Climate Protection, the dirty coal lobby's presidential campaign push, Van Jones and Green for All, the United States Climate Action Partnership and many of the other big players, like John Podesta, the head of the influential Center for American Progress who is quoted in The Climate War as telling the leaders of the major environmental organizations that they were losing the war on climate because,

"the enviros' extreme focus on the fine print of climate policy was preventing them from seizing this opportunity to communicate with the public. They had to pull themselves 'out of the weeds' and connect to things that mattered in people's lives. 'You guys are focused on the footnotes and the amendments and you're blowing this whole year! if you're not arguing this in big, transformational terms, you're going to get killed."

While much has been written about these people, groups and the issue of climate change, the difference is that Pooley, who is also the Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Business Week, writes it in a true investigative reporting style with lots of detail and little judgment.

It is a book for anyone active on the issue of climate change to better understand why things have unfolded the way they have and it also a book for the lay person looking to understand why things have become so complicated.

The Climate War was three years in the making and Pooley deserves a lot of credit for actually finishing the book, given the fact that witnessing first-hand the politics of climate change would leave most people doing nothing more than banging their against the wall.

June 09 2010


May 20 2010


A Battery That Stores Wind Juice

Mountaintop wind turbines produce most of their energy at night, when electricity demand and prices are low. That limits revenue. But batteries that store bulk amounts of energy during those hours could solve the problem.

December 02 2009


Communities Have Right to Know About Toxic Coal Ash Impoundments

  Industry seeks to protect “trade secrets” in waste December 2, 2009   View of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill, appx. 1 mile from the retention pond. This view is from just off Swan Pond Road. The pile of ash in the photo is 20-25 feet high, and stretches for two miles or so along this inlet. Photo: [...]
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