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August 27 2012

19:41

Fuel Economy Standards To Save U.S. Consumers Billions, Create Jobs, Yet Republicans Say Too Expensive

A proposed rule by the Obama Administration to raise fuel economy standards for cars and “light-trucks” is facing mounting attacks by Republican lawmakers. The proposed rule would require all newly manufactured automobiles that fall under the car or light truck category to achieve a minimum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

The crusade against the new CAFE standards is being led by Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa claims that the new standards amount to “coercion” of the auto industry. Rep. Issa has received more than $188,000 from the oil industry during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Issa’s statements show how out of touch he truly is with both economics and business, as the new standards were the result of cooperation between the Obama Administration and the auto industry itself.

The new fuel economy standards have been approved by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo, who together control 90% of the United States’ auto sales market.

U.S. News and World Report details the contention over the standards, as well as the benefits for consumers:
  

Fuel economy standards have become a surprising example of tougher government rules that benefit practically everybody. In 2007, the Bush administration raised the gas mileage requirements automakers had to meet. Then in 2009, the Obama administration raised them further. Those rules, which are about to be finalized in detail, will require each automaker's fleet to average a lofty 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—roughly double the mileage requirement of just five years ago.

The aggressive new standards are controversial, especially among Republicans opposed to activist government. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, for one, characterizes the new rules as just another effort to "insert the federal government into the life of the private sector." He has suggested that if elected, he'll roll back or even seek to eliminate federal mileage standards.

Yet so far, the new mileage rules have generated tangible benefits for consumers, with few of the downsides opponents have predicted. "Without a doubt, the new rules have been a win-win for everybody," says Jesse Toprak, of the car-research site TrueCar.com. "It's a win for consumers, a win for manufacturers, and a win for the environment."

Boosting fuel economy by four or five miles per gallon might not sound earth-shattering—until you bank the savings. A 5 mpg improvement would save about $525 per year for a motorist who drives 15,000 miles annually, if gas were at $3.50 per gallon. With gas at $4 per gallon, the savings would amount to $600 per year.
 

But the benefits of the new standards extend far beyond personal bank accounts. Reports show that the new fuel standards would create an estimated 700,000 new American jobs.

Republicans like Darrell Issa claim that the $192 billion price tag that the standards impose on industry is too lofty to incur right now, but that view is incredibly short-sighted and dishonest.

The new standards will save a projected $1.7 trillion for U.S. consumers by the time of full implementation, meaning that the investment will pay off tenfold. Additionally, by the year 2025, reports show that consumers will be saving an average of $8,000 a year per vehicle.

Issa is not alone in his crusade against the new standards. Joining him in the fight is Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania, who happens to have amassed his $11.9 million personal fortune from the car dealerships that he owns in Pennsylvania. Kelly made the following statement about the new standards: “The new CAFE standards will limit choice, compromise safety, and increase costs to millions of Americans.”

Unfortunately for Kelly, there are no numbers or statistics to back up any of these claims, particularly his statement about compromising the safety of consumers. Safety and fuel economy aren’t two things that are directly related, so it would be interesting to find out where he pulled that from.

Again, all of the major automobile makers have signed onto the new standards, and agree they are necessary to save consumers money, to help their businesses survive in a competitive economy, and to help reduce air pollution emissions.

The only people who stand against the new standards are the politicians beholden to the dirty energy industry.

August 23 2012

10:00

US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”
 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

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March 27 2012

19:12

Breaking News: EPA Issues First Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Power Plants


The EPA proposes its first rule limiting GHG emissions from power plants. The rule could effectively end new construction of coal-fired plants in the USIn a move that could effectively end construction of any new conventional coal-fired power generation in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today has proposed the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

“Today we’re taking a common sense step to reduce pollution in our air, protect the planet for our children, and move us into a new era of American energy,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollution that future power plants will be able to put into our skies–in the health and economic threats of a changing climate continued to grow.”

The average US coal plant today emits about 2249 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced. The new EPA rules will limit those emissions to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour or at about the level of a modern natural gas plant.

“This is an important common sense step towards tackling the ongoing threat of climate change,” said Jackson. “We build on where the industry is going and lock that trend in, which we believe is an important signal for investors.”

The initial impact of the emissions rule on utilities is expected to initially be negligible; with natural gas prices at 10 year lows most utilities are shutting down coal plants, not building new ones. By the end of 2011 the share of electrical power generation from coal-fired plants dropped below 40 percent, the lowest share since 1978 according to the Energy Information Administration.

Jackson said that the EPA has no plans to set rules on existing plants, and the new limit will apply only to the construction of new power plants. Fifteen plants with pending instruction permits are exempt from the proposed rule.

Joe Mendelson, climate policy director for the National Wildlife Federation characterized the new EPA rule as a “milestone in the fight to rein in climate change. The EPA is taking a big step toward protecting the world our children will inherit.”

Additional sources and reading:
Washington Post
Bloomberg

February 02 2012

20:21

Exporting Emissions: Coal Supplies Heading Overseas, But Pollution Will Hurt Everyone

The coal industry in the United States has found a way to increase their profits, while at the same time avoiding the cumbersome environmental standards in place to protect American citizens from coal emissions – they can just ship their filthy products overseas where regulations are scarce. As coal consumption in the U.S. has fallen in recent years, the dirty energy industry has hardly noticed, thanks to the increased demand from foreign buyers.

While the fact that the U.S. is burning less and less coal is a good thing, shipping the excess coal to foreign countries could more than negate the emissions reductions in the U.S. As Ezra Klein from The Washington Post points out:

The U.S. is burning less and less coal each year, thanks to cheap natural gas and new pollution rules. From a climate perspective, that’s a huge deal — less coal means less carbon. But here’s the catch: if the U.S. just exports its unused coal abroad, the end result could actually be more carbon…

So here’s one possible future: If we’re not going to burn our coal, someone else will. One Tokyo shipping company, Daiichi Chuo Kisen Kaisha, says that U.S. coal exports could double in the next three or four years. In Washington state, coal companies are proposing two large export terminals that would help ship tens of millions of tons of coal from the Powder River Basin to countries like China. That, in turn, could make coal even cheaper in places like China — which might spur the country to build even more coal power plants than its current, already hectic pace. And, since carbon-dioxide heats up the planet no matter where it’s burned, this outcome could cancel out many of the global-warming benefits of the U.S. coal decline. (emphasis added.)

read more

December 10 2011

15:15

North American Air Pollution Statistics Will Take Your Breath Away

Two separate reports released this week offer a grim look at the state of air quality in North America. The continent already produces 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants, resulting in an array of health and environmental problems.

According to a joint report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), EarthJustice, and the Sierra Club, the situation in America is getting worse. Their report rated the top 5 worst states for toxic power plant emissions. Some of the chemicals used to rank the states’ emission status included chromium, arsenic, lead, and mercury. These represent four of the most toxic heavy metals found in power plant emissions.

The report, titled "AMERICA’S TOP POWER PLANT TOXIC AIR POLLUTERS" listed the 5 worst states as follows:

Pennsylvania (#1 rankings for arsenic and lead)
Ohio (#2 rankings for mercury and selenium)
Indiana (#4 rankings for chromium and nickel)
Kentucky (#2 for arsenic)
Texas (#1 rankings for mercury and selenium)

This report comes as the U.S. EPA is working on new standards for power plant emissions. The agency is under a court order to establish new emission standards, but action on air pollution standards has stalled, thanks to an attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to strip the EPA of their court-granted authority to regulate air pollution.


In addition to the toxic metal rankings, the report made numerous other startling discoveries:

Electric power plants comprise a relatively small number of facilities, but, their toxic emissions dwarf other industrial sectors.

Whereas literally thousands of chemical plants and other industries reported toxic emissions to EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory in 2010, only a few hundred power plants reported mercury and hydrochloric acid emissions, and only 59 power plants reported selenium emissions. Yet, despite the relatively small number of facilities, electric utilities emit more arsenic, mercury, selenium, and hydrochloric acid than any other industrial sector, and the utility industry emits the second highest total emissions of chromium and nickel of all industry sectors.

The electric power industry emits almost two-thirds of the nation's industrial arsenic emissions.

Only 59 power plants representing the entire electric utility sector reported selenium emissions in 2010. Yet, the utility industry is still the top selenium emitter of all industry sectors, releasing 250,220 pounds, or 125 tons, of selenium into the nation’s air. That’s 76.3 percent of all industrial selenium emissions.

Some states have seen major drops in reported emissions of dangerous heavy metals, while other states have made little progress to reduce these air toxics.

From 2009 to 2010, power plant lead emissions actually increased in 16 states.

Pennsylvania – by far the largest state in terms of power plant arsenic emissions – has actually increased its reported power plant arsenic emissions over the past decade, from 15,861 pounds reported in 2001, to 17,666 pounds of arsenic reported in 2010.

While the findings of that report do not bode well for the United States, the situation throughout the rest of North America doesn’t look better. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s (CEC) new report - North American Power Plant Air Emissions – examines the emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and particulate matter from coal-burning power plants across the continent. CEC’s report details emissions on a plant-by-plant basis, examining which areas are at a higher risk based on what nearby power plants are pumping into the atmosphere.

From CEC’s report:

These pollutants—especially sulfur dioxide, mercury and greenhouse gases—are linked to a range of environmental and public health problems facing the people of North America today, including acid rain, smog, asthma, and global climate change. For sulfur dioxide alone, the major contributor to acid rain, fossil-fuel power plants are responsible for 71 percent of reported emissions from industrial facilities across North America.

North America’s fossil-fuel electricity generating sector is a major contributor to emissions of greenhouse gases, representing 33 percent of North American and six percent of global emissions, mainly carbon dioxide. The combustion of coal accounts for the bulk of these emissions. Coal-fired power plants in Canada and the United States, along with Mexican oil-fired facilities, produced the largest emissions overall of greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly CO2, although in Canada and Mexico, natural gas-fired power plants were major sources of methane as well as nitrous oxide, both extremely potent greenhouse gases.


The information contained in these reports is nothing to be hopeful about. And when coupled with information about agencies being prevented from doing their jobs to control these toxic emissions, they paint a very bleak picture for the future of North American public health.

September 18 2011

19:18

As The World Warms, Environmental Protections Put On The Back Burner

After a year that has so far produced record-breaking snowstorms, droughts, floods, and violent hurricanes and tornadoes, environmental protections are once again being scaled back. Against the best advice of experts, the U.S. EPA has decided to delay issuing new rules for greenhouse gas emissions, the deadline for which is September 30th. This marks the second time in three months that the EPA has missed a deadline for issuing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards.

In their announcement, the EPA said that they are aware that it is their responsibility to move forward with new GHG standards, but they want to consider all of the available information before issuing a final ruling. According to an EPA spokesperson, one factor that the agency is still trying to figure out is the cost of the new measures.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is legally required to put restrictions on any air pollutant that is deemed unsafe for the American public. Thanks to a recent decision that GHGs are a threat to the public, this means they are required to put new standards in place. In addition to legally being required to regulate, the EPA is also not allowed to consider costs when making their decisions, meaning that their current “evaluation” period should not be extended to examine costs.


This new announcement comes on the heels of President Obama’s recent decision to roll back smog standards that the EPA had already put in place. The White House succumbed to a tremendous amount of pressure that the Republican Party had placed on the administration to curb the power of the EPA. The smog standards in place would have reduced ground level ozone levels, which have been shown to cause asthma and other respiratory problems.

Experts are not just concerned about the health problems that delays in EPA action will cause, but also the environmental impact we could face as a result. NOAA has warned that delays in regulating pollutants could lead to even more extreme weather events, which is especially devastating considering the cadre of natural disasters that have swept across America in 2011 so far.

While scientists and environmentalists are upset over the recent anti-environment decisions, the Republican Party couldn’t be happier. Climate change denier James Inhofe celebrated the recent announcements saying, “This announcement, as well as President Obama's recent request that E.P.A. withdraw the ozone standard, makes one thing clear: not only will E.P.A.'s barrage of regulations cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs, they may cost President Obama his own job, and he knows it all too well.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said that removing the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.

Tom Donahue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also had praise for the decisions: (This is) “an enormous victory for America's job creators, the right decision by the president and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses.”

These comments reflect a growing trend among the Republican Party, which is to ruthlessly and baselessly attack the EPA and environmental protections. Their talking point du jour is “job killing regulations,” a talking point that has been debunked by numerous scholars and studies (the best available research shows that regulations actually help create jobs, rather than destroying them.)

This crusade against the EPA has included attacks on the agency as “inefficient,” as well as calls from elected officials and GOP presidential hopefuls to completely abolish the agency.

Both the White House and the EPA want us to be reassured that they are “very committed” to protecting the environment and issuing new standards. But as we’ve seen so far this year, both the president and the EPA are at the mercy of a political party that is doing everything in their power to completely abolish the EPA and destroy any and all regulations that have been put in place over the years.

June 21 2011

18:10

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.

June 07 2011

17:14

Top Republican Wants To Weaken EPA, Fast Track Environmental Destruction

Republican Congressman Ed Whitfield from Kentucky, who serves as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, has made it clear that he will do everything in his power to push several bills that will strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to protect the public from pollution spewing from utility plants. Whitfield joins the chorus of Republicans and industry leaders who claim that emission standards are too costly for businesses and, as a result, will cost the economy desperately needed jobs.

The specific rule that Whitfield is working to repeal involves standards that would require utilities to install devices to capture as much CO2 as possible from industrial boilers and waste incinerators, a move the EPA estimates would prevent thousands of premature deaths from heart attacks and respiratory illnesses every year. The American Petroleum Institute successfully lobbied the EPA in April to postpone the rule until the public and industry leaders had a chance to air their concerns, which the EPA will be receiving until July 15th. Whitfield is hoping that new legislation will kill the proposal once and for all. <!--break-->
It should come as no surprise that Whitfield is working so diligently to protect the energy industry from paying to reduce their pollution. Over the course of his 13-year career in the House of Representatives, Whitfield has received a total of $305,115 from electric utilities, $238,247 from oil and gas companies, and another $161,177 from mining interests - $704,539 in polluter money. His position as Chair of the Energy and Power subcommittee allows his dirty energy benefactors to reap untold rewards for their industries.

His record before being Chair of the Energy and Power Subcommittee shows a clear preference towards the energy industry. He voted in favor of creating more oil refineries and speeding up the permit approval process for facilities. He voted against the offshore oil drilling moratorium, and against repealing oil industry subsidies. He’s also voted against raising vehicle fuel economy standards, and against providing tax incentives and subsidies for renewable energy projects.

Whitfield is planning to fast track his disastrous plans when Congress returns from a summer break in July.

June 02 2011

23:15

UK Opposed to Europe’s Tar Sands Import Ban

While most European countries are working on a proposal that would effectively ban the use of Canadian tar sands in the European Union, the United Kingdom has made it clear that they will not support any measure to reduce their reliance on tar sands. Britain joins the Netherlands as one of only two countries that want to continue to have the option to use oil derived from Canadian tar sands.

The EU is working to produce a new “fuel directive” this year that would reduce the amount of emissions acceptable from fuels used for transportation. The directive would require a 6% reduction in the amount of emissions from vehicle fuel over the next 9 years. Because the emissions from tar sands run about 23% higher than those from traditional fossil fuels, this would mean that their use in the EU would be effectively prohibited.
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From The Independent:

To date, the UK and the Netherlands, two nations with the strongest connections to oil giants BP and Shell, are the only two states wishing to remove reference to tar sands from the draft proposal, according to the coalition of green groups working on the directive.

Canada's tar sands contain the world's largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, but extracting the oil can release up to three times more greenhouse gases.

It is estimated the sands hold about 175 billion barrels of recoverable oil, but the trapped crude is in such thick form that large amounts of energy and water are needed to refine it. The development of Canada's tar sands has led to a push by oil companies to set up similar ventures in Russia and Congo.

European leaders and activists are afraid that if countries like Britain and the Netherlands continue to court tar sands imports from Canada, their entire climate initiative will fail.

Emma Pullman pointed out recently that the Canadian government has been actively, and secretly, working with EU leaders to help push the use of tar sands. From her report:

The Canadian government has carried out a secret plan to boost investment and keep world markets open for Alberta's filthy tar sands oil. Their strategies include collaboration with major oily allies to aggressively undermine European environmental measures.

In December 2009, the federal government "oil sands advocacy strategy" was launched out of fear that growing opposition could curb European investment in the industry and that the EU restrictions on tar sands imports could be mimicked globally.

While very little of Alberta's tar sands oil is actually exported to Europe (the lion's share goes to the U.S.), entrenched tar sands defenders in Canadian government and the oil companies who stand to profit from it were concerned that European efforts to favor low-carbon fuel sources could influence other countries seeking ways to reduce global warming pollution.

Check out DeSmogBlog's extensive coverage of the tar sands and our fact sheet about the dangers of this dirty energy source.

May 31 2011

21:57

Carbon Emissions Spike to Historic High


Carbon Emissions Spike to Record Levels in 2010The International Energy Agency (IEA) released estimates on Monday showing that CO2 emissions have soared to record highs after a lull in 2009 due to the global recession. 30.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide where emitted into the atmosphere in 2010, mostly from burning fossil fuels, a rise of 1.6 gigatons over 2009 according to estimates from the IEA, and up 5 percent over 2008 emissions.

Though the drop in 2009 emissions is generally attributed to the economic downturn, but at the drop in emissions was greater than the decline of GDP, at least in the United States, suggesting that gains in efficiency might be “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth – an essential element for future economic and environmental sustainability.

But that hope appears to be dashed with the IEA most recent emissions estimates.

Climate scientists warn that avoiding “potentially dangerous climate change” requires limiting global temperatures to within a 2 degree Celsius rise this century, something that IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says is now likely just a “nice Utopia.”

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol said. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

In the IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook (pdf) set a pathway to a 2 degree Celsius rise with its  450 Scenario by limiting carbon emissions to 450 parts per million through century’s end. The scenario is based on emissions targets to which nations pledge to reach only by 2020. Given the current rate of emissions, those targets could be met within as little as two years. For the targets outlined in the 450 Scenario to be met, emissions will have to rise less in the next decade than they did between 2009 and 201o. Without a change to the current trajectory, there is little choice but to shift the burden of signinifcant emissions reduction onto future generations, when it will be even more difficult to achieve under worsening climactic conditions.

“Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,”  saidBirol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for maneuver in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.”

The situation is make even more difficult because much of the energy sector has already “locked in” 80 percent of its 2020 emissions from plants already in operation or currently under construction. Most of these plants will burn fossil fuels, virtually guaranteeing that 2020 targets will never be met.

Economist Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics, author of the 2006 Stern Report on climate change, warns that the latest numbers from the IEA combined with projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show a 50 percent chance that global temperature could rise by as much as 4 degrees Celsius by 2100 – double what is generally considered “safe.”

“Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict,” Stern said. “That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol still hangs to some hope that a climate disaster can be avoided, but the door is fast closing.

“If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

That’s exactly what I heard nearly two years ago in Copenhagen.

Sources and further reading:
ARS Technica

Ecologist

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April 30 2011

20:12

Business Groups Lobby EPA to Drop Gas Emission Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has only been regulating greenhouse gas emissions for four months, but business groups are already tired of the increased oversight. According to new reports, some of the largest business groups in America are fighting back, urging the President and Congress to strip the EPA of its new authority.

The powerful business group known as the Business Roundtable is trying to convince the White House that the EPA does not need to be involved with the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, at least not right now. The Roundtable insists that imposing new standards for emissions will hurt their industries and impose what they consider unfair costs on member corporations. In addition, the Roundtable claims that these new standards would plunge our economy back into another recession and cause massive job losses, as corporations attempt to recoup their expenses of “going green” by firing employees.

The Business Roundtable’s sentiments on the new EPA standards have been echoed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as Congressional members from both major political parties.

The Business Roundtable is made up of business leaders from all types of corporations doing business in America. Members include Exxon, General Electric, Southern Company, and various other energy, manufacturing, defense, banking, and pharmaceutical companies. According to investigative journalist David DeGraw, the Business Roundtable is the most powerful business lobby in America, and has their hand in almost every piece of legislation that effects a member of the Roundtable:

The Business Roundtable is the most powerful activist organization in the United States. Their leaders regularly lobby members of Congress behind closed doors and often meet privately with the President and his administration. Any legislation that affects Roundtable members has almost zero possibility of passing without their support.

For three major examples, look at healthcare and financial reform, along with the military budget. The healthcare reform bill devolved into what amounts to an insurance industry bailout and was drastically altered by Roundtable lobbyists representing interests like WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson…Almost every aspect of financial reform has been D.O.A. thanks to Roundtable lobbyists representing the interests of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America, HSBC, Master Card and American Express…The drastic rise in military spending is also a result of Roundtable lobbyists pushing the interests of large military companies like Boeing and Bechtel, along with the largest oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, Hess and Chevron.

So what do these companies do in order to ensure that they receive special favors from their friends in Washington? Again from DeGraw:

On financial reform alone, those representing Wall Street firms gave “$42 million to lawmakers, mostly to members of the House and Senate banking committees and House and Senate leaders.” During the 2008 election cycle, they gave $155 million: $88 million to Democrats and $67 million to Republicans. Keep in mind, this is the spending on just their financial reform initiative. When it came to health reform, they gave even more.

To be sure, these business interests are not used to being told “no.” So why is the Roundtable so upset about the EPA’s new standards? After all, they not only acknowledge the fact that global climate change is real and poses a significant threat, but they also give the appearance that they are working to help solve the problem. Their objection stems from the fact that it will cost them money to meet the new EPA guidelines, and this group doesn’t like spending money, unless it is to purchase a politician.

The EPA says that meeting the new guidelines will cost the industries represented by the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a combined $90 billion over the next ten years, a hefty price tag no matter how you slice it.

But what about the flip side? What happens if these industries continue with business as usual?

While that $90 billion ten-year price tag seems lofty, it pales in comparison to the $1.9 trillion that experts predict it will cost us if we do nothing to control emissions by the year 2100. In the interim, the U.S. will end up spending $3.8 trillion over the next several decades just to combat the damage that has already been done. Having at least a moderate understanding of mathematics, it is clear that $90 billion is significantly less than $3.8 trillion.

But for American businesses, it is all about what’s happening today – the future be damned. And Congress doesn’t appear to be helping. Last year, a climate bill that would have reduced emissions failed to pass the Democrat-controlled Congress, and the new Republican-controlled Congress recently defeated another attempt to reduce emissions.

President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any bill that comes across his desk attempting to curtail the EPA’s new authority, but seeing as how the Business Roundtable is actually considered one of his closest allies, and given his penchant for compromise, EPA's mandate to protect the public from global warming pollution might well get scuttled this year.

Let's hope President Obama remembers the message he got first hand from youth climate activists he met with at the White House during PowerShift 2011 earlier this month. Otherwise, we're in for an expensive future.

February 01 2011

21:43

Republicans Aim to Limit EPA Power Through Polluter-Friendly Legislation

Republican U.S. Senators are following in the footsteps of House Republicans in their attempt to strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their ability to regulate carbon emissions. A total of eleven Republicans have signed onto the Defending America’s Affordable Energy and Jobs Act that would prohibit the EPA from regulating any global warming pollution without Congressional approval.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), a climate change denier who created the bill, claims that it will “shrink Washington's job-crushing agenda and grow America's economy.” Barrasso and his Republican co-sponsors believe that the EPA’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions are a backdoor effort to enact “cap and trade” policies.

Since he came to Congress in 2007, Barrasso has received $179,750 from oil and gas interests, and another $133,000 from electric utilities, for a total of $312,750 from dirty energy interests.
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Seven co-sponsors have joined Barrasso’s bill, including climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Since 2005, Inhofe has received $452,050 from oil and gas interests and another $216,654 from electric utilities. Notably Koch Industries is the Senator’s largest contributor since 2005 and has contributed $62,750 to him since 1999.

Kochtopus-funded organizations are lined up to support the legislation as well, including Americans for Tax Reform (which has received more than $60,000 from the Kochtopus), the Competitive Enterprise Institute (which has received close to $500,000), and Americans for Prosperity (which has received more than $5 million). Indeed, American’s for Prosperity’s Director of Government Affairs, James Valvo, already sent a letter commending the Senator’s efforts:

“The federal government should not undertake efforts to stem GHG emissions unless Congress instructs them to do so.”

“Your bill goes beyond the obvious threat of EPA action under the Clean Air Act and prohibits more clandestine—and thus more insidious—GHG regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.”

Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who last year sponsored the ill-fated American Power Act in the Senate, issued a statement saying that Barrasso’s proposal to limit the EPA’s power would “put the public health at risk and encourage the outsourcing of American jobs.”

As previous reports have shown, Kerry’s American Power Act would have created as many as 200,000 new jobs. A similar bill that passed the then-Democratic controlled House of Representatives in 2009 was projected to create as many as 1.9 million jobs, showing that the “job killer” mantra that the GOP has placed on emission controls rings hollow.

But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of Barrasso’s crusade against the EPA. Barrasso is in a very powerful position in Washington, serving on both the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Environment and Public Works. His role on these committees makes him a major threat to climate progress. As On The Issues has reported, Barrasso has consistently voted in favor of expanding fossil fuel development and exploration, while voting against almost every major piece of progressive environmental legislation that has come before him. According to his 2008 campaign website:

“Every bit of energy we produce here at home decreases the need for us to look overseas to supply our critical energy needs. I believe in smart, balanced energy policy that recognizes the importance of domestic energy production and reducing our reliance on foreign oil, as well as protecting our natural environment. With smart policy choices and wise investment, Wyoming will continue to be a world leader in coal production, natural gas, and other renewable energy sources.”

Barrasso has also voted against providing tax incentives for companies that practice energy conservation and the production of renewable energy sources – specifically hydroelectric power. He also voted in the past to open up the outer continental shelf for oil and gas drilling. His voting record and legislative priorities should come as no surprise given his extensive financial support from coal, oil, gas, and electric utilities.

Even if his current legislation fails, it would be wise to keep an eye on Barrasso in the coming months. I imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.

November 20 2009

14:44

India tells West to stop eating beef

India has urged the West to give up eating beef to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.
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