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June 07 2011

23:44

EPA Again Faults State Department Keystone XL Assessment as "Insufficient"

The controversial Keystone XL project proposed by Canadian dirty oil giant TransCanada was dealt a potentially devastating blow on its quest for federal approval after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blasted the State Department's draft analysis on the pipeline’s environmental impacts. The EPA calls the State Department's revised draft assessment “insufficient”. 

EPA identified a laundry list of omissions in the State Department’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), ranging from lack of adequate consideration for oil spills and impacts on low income and First Nations communities, to lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on water and wildlife. They also provided a list of critical areas that need expansion in the Final EIS. 

The EPA's analysis raises considerable concerns about the proposed project that would carry 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and across numerous water bodies including the Yellowstone, Missouri, Neches and Red Rivers, as well as the Ogallala aquifer.

The State Department is again in hot water for neglecting a thorough analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline, and now has received a second failing grade from the EPA. 

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According to EPA's assessment, the State Department failed to provide the necessary analysis and information to respond to concerns raised in the first Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Based on their recommendations, the State Department needs to:

  • Improve analysis of community impacts along the pipeline and those adjacent to refineries. In particular, many of the communities that would be affected have limited emergency response capabilities and are therefore more vulnerable to impacts from spills. The groups most likely to be affected are minority, low-income and Tribal communities along the route. The State Department's assessment that there are no adverse impacts to minority or low income populations located near refineries is also problematic. Many of these communities are already burdened with large numbers of high-emitting air pollutants and clearly the additional 830,000 barrel a day pipeline would have effects on emissions.
  • Improve TransCanada's spill detection systems: Relying solely on pressure drops and aerial surveys to detect leaks may result in smaller leaks going undetected for some time resulting in potentially larger spill volumes. They also recommend that the EIS consider additional measures to reduce the risks of undetected leaks including ground-level inspections, and aerial patrols.
  • Provide additional information on the feasibility of alternative pipeline routes to reduce the impacts to the Ogallala acquifer by re-routing the line so it does not cross the acquifier. If a spill did occur, the potential for oil to reach groundwater in these areas is relatively high, and crude would remain in the environment for decades.
  • Provide more information on global warming pollution: The EPA believes annual lifecycle GHG emissions to be even higher than the State Department’s 12 to 23 million metric ton estimate. That's a big difference when you consider that over the pipeline’s lifespan, over one billion metric tons of global warming pollution could be produced. The draft analysis fails to use social cost of carbon estimates to analyze the damages that would be caused by that much pollution.
  • Account for wetlands destruction: There will be several hundred acres of wetlands affected along the pipeline route.
  • Document risk to migratory bird populations: The pipeline project puts numerous species of migratory birds at risk, and recommends more information on the potential impacts to specific migratory species, and an emphasis on already-vulnerable species. 

Based on the EPA's review, they categorize the State Department's Environmental Impact Statement as "Category 2", meaning it contains insufficient information for the EPA to make an assessment. 

The State Department's shortcomings could lead to a decision to transfer the pipeline decision to the White House. According to Solve Climate Newswhen an environmental impact statement receives an adverse review like this, a federal agency can force a review by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), part of the executive office of the president.

As
 the EPA keeps giving the State Department a failing grade, will the Obama administration finally recognize the fatal flaws of the misguided tar sands pipeline? 

February 21 2011

14:13

Top EIA Energy Trends Watcher Agrees: We Do Not Count Damage to Public Property in Price of Fossil Fuels

Scaling Green recently wrote about the insights shared by energy trends analyst Chris Namovicz of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), who spoke at our “Communicating Energy” lecture series recently, and his comments regarding the lack of a definitive count on fossil fuel subsidies in this country. Today, we return to Namovicz’s lecture, this time to ask him about the economics of fossil fuel companies’ exploitation of resources on public property.

Here’s our question:

Their price drops in part because we’re not charging them to ruin public property. I mean, we basically are letting them contaminate water, we don’t charge them for that, and they don’t have to pay it. Your assumptions don’t include any price we would impose on them for hurting public waterways, is that accurate?

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Now, here’s Namovicz’s response:

I think it’s easier to figure out the costs to mitigate the issue than it is to figure out the value of mitigation…[or of the loss of an asset], right.

This answer highlights a major problem with the way we account for the costs – or, more accurately, fail to do so - of fossil fuel production in this country. Attempts at accounting for these costs have been made, and have given us an idea of the scope of what we’re dealing with. For instance, a new study by Harvard researchers estimates the costs involved in the “life cycle coal production” in the United States. The answer is staggering: “between a third and over half a trillion dollars each year in health, economic, and environmental impacts.” That includes “damages from climate change (like weather events and rising seas, public health damages from toxins released during electricity generation, deaths from rail accidents during coal transport, public health problems in coal-mining regions (in Appalachia, mountaintop removal contaminates surface and groundwater with carcinogens and heavy metals), government subsidies, and lost value of abandoned mine areas.” And that’s just coal. The same type of analysis can and should be done for oil and natural gas, as well, with what you can expect to be similarly eye-popping results.

When the dirty energy lobby makes the Palin-esque claim that it’s not really subsidized, or hardly at all, it’s OK to laugh, or admire them for working so hard to believe their own nonsense. But it’s important to point out that it’s a lie, and a big one at that. The fact is, the direct and indirect underwriting to this industry - including an almost complete failure to account for damages to public land, water, and health – has been wildly underestimated, not overestimated.

In stark contrast, clean energy doesn’t engage in wholesale wreckage of public property. We keep reading about the devastation caused by oil spills, natural gas “fracking,” mountaintop removal coal mining, etc., because we are renting our property to bad renters – people who aren’t charged a market rate, don’t give a security deposit, and who can absolutely counted on to wreck the house. Maybe a deficit-conscious country could do better.

 

 

 

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February 15 2011

17:46

Top EIA Energy Trends Watcher: No Definitive Count on Dirty Energy Welfare

The national conversation about wasteful welfare for highly profitable dirty energy corporations has gone from the dramatic statement by the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency that fossil fuel subsidies are one of the biggest impediments to global economic recovery (“the appendicitis of the global energy system which needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future”), to a speech by Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch (in which he called the fossil fuel industry “grotesquely oversubsidized”), to a call by President Obama to cut oil company welfare by $4 billion. Not to be outdone, House Democrats are now calling for a $40 billion cut.

Dirty energy welfare defenders have, predictably, responded with ridiculous, Palin-esque denials of reality, but the voter demands that wasteful spending be cut begs the question: just how much of our tax money is going to ExxonMobil, Massey, etc.? With the new deficit hawks in Congress going after insignificant items like bottled water expenses, you’d think they’d want to know the size of the really wasteful stuff, right?<!--break-->

The problem is, we’ve long suspected that no one really knows how much of our money goes to dirty oil executives like Rex Tillerson and Gregory Boyce. There have been counts, ranging from $10 billion a year by the Environmental Law Institute, to the more comprehensive, $52 billion a years by Doug Koplow of EarthTrack.  But, do taxpayers even have a widely accepted, comprehensive inventory of how of our money is being handed to the dirty energy lobby by politicians?  That includes state-level subsidies, by the way, such as the $45 million that Virginia gives to the coal industry.

Energy trends analyst Chris Namovicz of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) was the latest speaker in our “Communicating Energy” lecture series. We took the opportunity to ask one of the top, neutral energy trends analysts in the country the question, “Do you know if someone has actually done a credible, comprehensive, definitive count of how much taxpayers underwrite fossil fuels in this country?” We added the thought that “there's no one really widely available number where average citizens can say, yeah, this much of my money goes to pay ExxonMobil.

According to Namovicz, there really isn’t such a widely available, definitive, comprehensive number.

Right…we're not accounting for the nuclear insurance subsidy, we're not accounting for military oil shipping, we're not even accounting for the tax depreciation benefits that some resources get over others...

 

The fact is, there is a wide array of government subsidies, both implicit and explicit, that are doled out every year to fossil fuel companies. One estimate, by the Environmental Law Institute, finds that dirty energy companies in the United States alone have run up a $72 billion tab at the taxpayer’s bar from 2002 to 2008. Worldwide, it’s far worse; as this study by the OECD explains:

The [International Energy Agency] estimates that direct subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by artificially lowering end-user prices for fossil fuels amounted to $312 billion in 2009. In addition, a number of mechanisms can be identified, also in advanced economies, which effectively support fossil-fuel production or consumption, such as tax expenditures, under-priced access to scarce resources under government control (e.g., land) and the transfer of risks to governments (e.g., via concessional loans or guarantees). These subsidies are more difficult to identify and estimate compared with direct consumer subsidies.

As I pointed out in a recent post, these subsidies aren’t just reckless and stupid, they aren’t even what people want. In fact, only 8 percent of Americans prefer their tax money be given to highly profitable, mature industries such as ExxonMobil and Massey Energy.

Shouldn’t there be a definitive count of energy subsidies? As we’re looking at cutting waste from our federal (and states’) budgets, shouldn’t there be a credible accounting of all the ways we pay to grease the way for these mature, highly profitable industries? We’re not talking about one done by dirty energy lobbyists or their hired “experts,” by the way, but a real inventory done by those who wouldn’t profit by a lower or incomplete count. Such an accounting should include:

  • Tax breaks
  • Dirty subsidies
  • The costs of government agencies that are set up to perform functions that these industries should pay full cost for doing – such as figuring out how to stuff their pollution underground instead of wasting it on exorbitant, fantasy projects like “FutureGen.”
  • Military expenditures to protect oil shipping lanes.
  • Pollution forgiveness or remediation
  • Rock-bottom priced access to public property – mountains, subsurface property, aquifers, ocean waters -- which fossil energy companies routinely wreck and pay comparatively little to fix.

We need to force politicians to be aggressively honest about how much of our money is going to TillersonBoyceBlankenshipO’ReillyLesar, etc. Until they do, the anti-clean energy bigmouths in Congress who are bashing clean energy policy support need to back way off. And, the dirty energy lobby mouthpieces who propagandize how “cheap” dirty energy is, should do the same. Directly or indirectly, we’re paying their salaries.

December 27 2010

19:52

Latest EIA Report Shows Renewable Energy Production Continues Growth in 2010, Equals Nuclear Energy Output


Wind energy saw the largest growth in 2010The latest Monthly Energy Review released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) last week shows both nuclear and renewable energy sources provided roughly 11 percent each of primary energy production for the first nine months of 2010 – the latest period for which data is available.

The EIA report states that renewable energy sources, including biomass/biofuels, solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal contributed 10.9 percent of domestic energy production through the end of September, up 5.7 percent over the same period in 2009. Nuclear energy accounted for 11.4 percent of domestic production – down 0.5 percent from the same period last year.

Renewable energy statistics breakdown

Of the various sources of renewable energy, each contributed the following to the overall renewable portfolio:

  • Biomass/biofuel: 51.95 percent
  • Hydropower: 31.50 percent
  • Wind: 10.52 percent
  • Geothermal: 4.65 percent
  • Solar: 1.38 percent

Wind, biofuels shows biggest growth

Comparing those statistics with the same period of 2009 shows solar energy production expanding 2.4 percent and hydro declining by 5.2 percent. The big winners were biomass and biofuels, which grew by 10 percent in the first three quarters of 2010, and wind energy, which grew a full 26.7 percent. Combined non-hydro renewable sources grew 11.5 percent.

Overall, U.S. primary energy production rose 2 percent in the first nine months of 2010 over the same period last year. Fossil fuels accounted for 78 percent of primary energy production.

“Members of the incoming Congress are proposing to slash cost-effective funding for rapidly expanding renewable energy technologies while foolishly plowing ever-more federal dollars into the nuclear power black hole,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The numbers clearly show this would be betting on the obvious loser while ignoring the clearly emerging winner in the energy race.”

December 29 2009

13:27

Growth in U.S. Renewable Energy Production Remains Strong


Renewable sources now provide 10.5  Percent of  US energy production and 10.2 percent of net grid-connected electrical generation -

According to figures released in the latest issue of the Monthly Energy Review from the US Energy Information Administration renewable energy sources  - biofuel, biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and hydro) – supplied 10.51 percent of all domestic energy production during the first nine months of 2009 – the most recent period for which data is available.

Further, the EIA's latest Electric Power Monthly reports that 10.21 percent of net US electrical production for the same period came from renewable sources.

The latest data from the EIA confirms that growth in renewable energy sources remains strong. Domestic renewable energy production grew by 4.10 percent for the first nine months of 2009 as compared to the first nine months of 2008 – an increase of 0.228 quadrillion BTU (British Thermal Unit). Most of that increase came from wind and hydropower sources. Wind expanded by 28.46 percent and hydro by 4.73 percent for the first nine month of 2009, compared with the same period for 2008.

Biomass (comprised of 60 percent wood and waste, 40 percent biofuel) grew by 1.34 percent, reflecting a 10.96 percent increase in biofuels production. Solar and geothermal expansion remained generally flat.

The mix of renewable energy sources:

  • Hydropower – 35.16 percent
  • Biomass – 30.72 percent
  • Biofuels – 20.25 percent
  • Wind – 8.17 percent
  • Geothermal – 4.52 percent
  • Solar – 1.17 percent

Less coal

Even while energy generated from renewable sources has grown, net electrical generation from all sources for the first nine months of 2009 declined, compared to the same period for 2008, by 4.72 percent – with coal-generated electricity falling by 12.86 percent

When Congress resumes its debate on pending energy and climate legislation in 2010, it would do well to take note of the clear trends in the nation’s changing energy mix,” said Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.  “Renewable energy has proven itself to be a solid investment – growing rapidly and nipping at the heels of the stagnant nuclear power industry – while fossil fuel use continues to drop.”

——–

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released the "Monthly Energy Review" on December 23, 2009.   The relevant tables from which the data above are extrapolated are Tables 1.2 and 10.1.  EIA released its most recent "Electric Power Monthly" on December 16, 2009. The most relevant charts are Tables 1.1 and 1.1.A

Source:
The SUN DAY Campaign is a non-profit research and educational organization founded in 1993 to promote sustainable energy technologies as cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels.

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