China and the United States, the world's two largest economies, are responsible for emitting nearly half the planet's carbon dioxide emissions. China overtook the United States in 2006 as the world's biggest CO2 polluter due to its hardening coal addiction. Per capita, however, America's carbon footprint is far bigger.
Both countries still have large fleets of coal plants and growing, but relatively tiny, renewable electricity sectors. Both have goals for lowering their global warming emissions—though none would match the scale of the climate threat. Scientists say the world's output of greenhouse gases must peak around 2016, and then decline to stop at the critical 2-degree Celsius temperature increase by century's end. Projections show both countries' emissions will peak sometime after the mid-2030s.
Using the latest figures available, InsideClimate News culled federal and international energy data to tell the story of the world's two biggest polluters.
In the northwestern corner of Indiana a major pipeline project is planned that will carry vast quantities of heavy Canadian crude oil across four rivers that flow into Lake Michigan, where 10 million people get their drinking water. The pipeline will cross one river just 11 miles from the lake. It crosses the other three rivers less than 20 miles from the lake.
Because the pipeline runs so close to Lake Michigan—and because it is being built by a company with a history of pipeline spills in the region—a growing coalition of environmental groups is demanding that it be given extraordinary oversight and protection.
But getting those protections will be almost impossible.
No federal or Indiana agency has authority to require the pipeline's Canadian operator, Enbridge, Inc., to move the line out of the Lake Michigan watershed—or to add extra safeguards, including sophisticated technology that can detect even minor spills.
A week after superstorm Sandy left a huge swath of the East coast without electricity, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unleashed a blistering critique of his state's utilities, calling their restoration efforts inadequate and deriding the electric system as "archaic and obsolete."
The vast and lengthy power outage isn't the first disaster to expose weaknesses in the nation's aging electric grid. But Sandy—and the prospect of climate change fueling more storms like her—has added a sense of urgency to fixing the power system and has drawn politicians and the public into the debate over how to do it.
"We need to seriously overhaul the energy regulatory and power distribution in this state," Gov. Cuomo said last month as he announced an investigation into utilities' storm preparations. "Let's make the changes we need to make, and let's do it while we are still in the moment."
Cuomo's post-Sandy wish list is sure to include transforming the state's antiquated power network to a smart grid that's capable of sensing, reporting and automatically adapting to problems anywhere in the electrical system. Such upgrades are a complex and costly undertaking. But the need for them—in New York and across the country—is becoming hard to ignore.
When the National Transportation Safety Board released a scathing report this month faulting Enbridge for its Michigan oil spill, speculation began instantly about whether it would harm the company's chances for its Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.
Even without the report, however, the project's prospects have long been slim at best.
That's because most First Nations in B.C.—where more than half the pipeline would pass—never signed treaties ceding their lands to the Canadian government. Despite offers from Enbridge that would give them a 10 percent equity stake worth millions of dollars and other cash benefits, many still refuse to give the needed right of way, setting up a legal clash that could end up at the Supreme Court.
A single holdout could delay the pipeline for many years, if not indefinitely—even if the project wins approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
The debate over the Gateway mirrors that of the Keystone XL pipeline fight in the United States, with one major difference: While U.S. opponents of the Keystone XL are in a David and Goliath contest with TransCanada, that pipeline's builder, the power wielded by the First Nations has made the battle over the Gateway much more even.
WASHINGTON—Efforts to beef up oversight of the nation's oil pipelines are progressing so slowly that it's unlikely any additional safeguards will be in place before construction begins on thousands of miles of new pipelines, including the proposed Keystone XL.
Part of the delay stems from how slowly the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)—the federal agency with the authority to issue new regulations—is moving on its rulemaking process. For instance, PHMSA began examining at least six safety regulations in October 2010, three months after a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. None of those changes is in effect nearly two years later.
Congress's latest pipeline safety bill, which was signed into law in January, did little to speed up the process.
The measure did not address two of the key regulatory failures that InsideClimate News found during a recent seven-month investigation of the Michigan spill. It did not force PHMSA to enforce deadlines for repairing pipeline defects or require that pipeline operators identify exactly what type of oil is flowing through their lines. Both of those failures were also detailed in a report released this month by the National Transportation Safety Board.
"Tens of thousands of miles of new pipelines are going into the ground, and there aren’t going to be regulations that make them safer for years," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash.
WASHINGTON—A popular and longstanding trade show that connects alternative energy contractors with federal projects is evidently a victim of government employees' past spending shenanigans, not election-year politics and ideological disputes over clean energy spending.
"House Republicans have politicized this issue to the point where [people] are understandably asking these questions ... That's really too bad. Nowhere else in the world is clean energy controversial," said Josh Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way, a Washington-based, centrist think thank. "But sometimes a canceled conference is just a canceled conference."
Dan Tangherlini, acting chief of the General Services Administration, called off GovEnergy barely a month before the four-day gathering was scheduled to kick off Aug. 19 in St. Louis.
"After rigorous review ... GSA has found that the conference structure does not meet the standards that GSA has put in place for conferences and contracts," the agency said in a statement circulated to reporters last week. "There were many unanswered questions about how the conference was structured and there was not sufficient time to address the problems raised."
WASHINGTON—The most expensive oil pipeline spill in U.S. history could have been prevented if the pipeline operator had repaired known defects on the line, a federal agency said on Tuesday after a two-year investigation of the spill.
The accident occurred near Marshall, Mich. on July 25, 2010, when a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge, Inc. sent more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen (crude oil from Canada's tar sands) into the Kalamazoo River and surrounding wetlands. Cleanup of the river is ongoing, and total costs have reached more than $800 million.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Enbridge's integrity management program—the system used to respond to cracks and corrosion defects—was inadequate for pipeline safety.
NTSB investigators also cited factors that they said worsened the spill and increased the amount of oil that leaked into the river. Mistakes in the company's Alberta-based control room allowed the leak to go undetected for over 17 hours as oil continued to flow through the line. And once it was detected, the company's initial response was ineffective due to a lack of equipment and trained personnel.
"This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge," Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said during Tuesday's NTSB meeting. "Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment. Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline…they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures."
WASHINGTON—The federal government today proposed a record $3.7 million civil penalty against Enbridge Inc. for the 2010 oil spill that closed 36 miles of Michigan's Kalamazoo River for nearly two years.
At least 1 million gallons of diluted bitumen, tar sands oil from Canada, spilled into wetlands near Marshall, Mich., after pipeline 6B ruptured on July 25, 2010. A small section of the river remains closed while the cleanup continues.
In a document that was delivered to Enbridge Monday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, listed 22 probable violations and the penalty each could carry. The violations include failure to follow operational and management procedures, as well as failures to meet reporting and operator qualification requirements.
What fines could Enbridge face for its oil spill in Marshall, Mich.?
The size of any fines will depend, in part, on how much oil was spilled when Pipeline 6B ruptured.
The EPA's latest estimate, released on June 7, is that 1,148,229 gallons (or 27,339 barrels) have been recovered since the cleanup began on July 26, 2010.
Enbridge maintains that it spilled only 843,444 gallons (20,082 barrels), an estimate the company hasn't changed since November 2010.
The discrepancy between these numbers matters, because penalties levied under the Clean Water Act are figured on a per-barrel basis.
Enbridge's civil penalties could reach $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled if the government can prove gross negligence under the Clean Water Act. If gross negligence can't be proved, civil penalties could still be as high as $1,100 per barrel. Criminal penalties under the Clean Water Act could be up to twice the losses associated with the spill.
Defining those losses is a gray area because no case law exists, said David Uhlmann, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and former chief of the U.S. Department of Justice’s environmental crimes section. Losses incurred by victims of the spill and the cost of the cleanup are likely to be counted, but lost revenue to Enbridge would not.
As the fall of 2010 approached, John LaForge could still smell tar when he drove by his old house with the windows of his truck rolled down.
LaForge had lost hope that he and Lorraine would someday return to the house on Talmadge Creek where they had raised four children. Tire tracks from heavy equipment had scarred and muddied the lawn LaForge once tended so carefully.
The cleanup of North America's biggest dilbit pipeline spill was behind schedule and LaForge's property in southwestern Michigan, about a quarter mile from where an Enbridge pipeline had split open on July 25, was ground zero. More than 2,050 workers had flocked to Marshall, a community of 7,400. Parking was such a hassle at Kate's Diner, where he ate breakfast before work, that he worried regulars would stop patronizing the restaurant.
LaForge began negotiating with Enbridge for the company to buy his property. In September, he and Lorraine, along with their daughter and her three young children, left the two hotel rooms they'd shared for 61 days and rented a house while they looked for a place to buy. Enbridge footed the $12,000 hotel bill and agreed to pay their rent. All the moving was taking a toll on Lorraine. She was still recovering from the emergency gallbladder surgery she'd undergone while they were living in the hotel.
The LaForges salvaged photographs, dishes and hardwood furniture from their home of 28 years. But the oil stink had permeated their mattresses, clothing, books, toys, rugs and upholstered furniture. They left it all behind.