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Guest Writers's articles

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 2

The pace was frantic. People were exhausted and cranky. Some spent nights in their offices. At times they felt they'd never get all the work done.

Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 19, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments on our website (read Part 1), but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter Three: Assemble the Team

An Essential Recruit 

Rohit Aggarwala knew next to nothing about the debate brimming in New York City over how to accommodate a million more New Yorkers by 2030. The 34-year-old transportation buff, who goes by Rit, was a rising star at the global consulting behemoth McKinsey & Company. He was working on a big project and starting the run to make partner.

Still, Aggarwala was intrigued by the call he got in March 2006 from Marc Ricks, a former McKinsey colleague who was now Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff's chief of staff. For more than six months, Doctoroff had been creating a strategic land use plan to accommodate the extra people. But the project had become so complex that he and Bloomberg decided it needed its own staff and office. Would Aggarwala consider leading the transportation piece of the plan, Ricks asked?

"As an intellectual challenge, what could be more appealing for somebody who was interested in transportation, who is from New York and loves New York?" Aggarwala said, looking back at the chain of events that pulled him into Bloomberg's fold.

Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City, Part 1

The plans they had crafted over the past five years were only the beginning of what NYC needed. Sandy showed them they had to do much more, much faster.

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Nov 18, 2013

Global warming experts around the world say New York City's plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard itself from the perils of climate change are a model for other cities. But most Americans, including New Yorkers, know little or nothing about this achievement, or that it was driven by Michael Bloomberg, who next month ends his third term as New York's mayor. Bloomberg's Hidden Legacy: Climate Change and the Future of New York City helps fill that gap.

It is being published in five installments beginning here today, but we encourage our readers to download our ICN Books App and purchase a full copy of the e-book. The ICN Books version is enhanced with video, audio and other extras, and 70 percent of the purchase price comes back to us to support our ongoing work.

Chapter One: The Storm

On the night of Oct. 29, 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hunkered down in the command room of New York City's Operations and Emergency Management headquarters, waiting for the full force of Superstorm Sandy to hit. Hurricane-force winds were ripping across the city, tearing trees from their roots and snapping utility poles in half. Surges of water turned streets into rivers, flooding subway tunnels and washing away homes, storefronts and cars. 

City, state, federal officials, utility company representatives—all were typing furiously on laptops, phones pressed against their ears, trying to figure out what was happening and where, who was in danger and how.

A vending machine cranked out cereal bars and potato chips. Dirty coffee cups piled up. Giant, flat-screen TVs on every wall flashed images of rising floodwaters and heavy winds wreaking havoc outside the command center. Phones rang incessantly. Computers hummed and whirred.

In the middle of it all was Bloomberg, absorbing the news and conferring with his top officials about what to do next, how to respond.

A Year After Sandy, Climate Change Nearly Absent From NYC Mayoral Race

Neither candidate has said how they plan to rebuild Sandy-stricken communities and make New York more resilient to extreme weather events if elected.

By Katherine Bagley and Maria Gallucci

Oct 29, 2013
Mayoral candidates Joseph Lhota, a Republican, and Democrat Bill de Blasio

The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy a year ago today thrust the issue of climate change into the center of the presidential campaign and to the top of the national political agenda.

And yet in the mayoral race for New York City, one of the epicenters of the tragedy, talk of climate is practically nowhere to be heard. 

In nearly all of the mayoral debates and forums held this year, the issues of global warming and Superstorm Sandy have not come up. That is despite New York's struggles to recover from the storm, the city's vulnerability to future climate disasters and its reputation as a global warming leader under Michael Bloomberg.

Study Delivers Good News, Bad News on Methane Leaks from Fracking Operations

Methane leaks from ‘well completions’ were significantly lower than EPA's numbers, but equipment leaks were much higher than expected.

By Lisa Song and Jim Morris

Sep 16, 2013
Natural gas production in Colorado's Piceane Basin.

A long-awaited study led by the University of Texas at Austin shows that methane emissions from natural gas drilling sites are about 10 percent lower than recent estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The research adds fresh fuel to the debate over whether natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal. Although natural gas power plants emit smaller quantities of greenhouse gases than coal-fired plants, the production and distribution of natural gas release large amounts of methane, creating uncertainty about the fuel's overall climate impact. Methane is 20 to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The new study is significant because the scientists had direct access to production sites, allowing them to measure methane emissions from hundreds of wells across the United States. Previous studies by independent scientists largely relied on data gathered on publicly accessible land close to company property.

The study had been viewed with skepticism before its release because 90 percent of the $2.3 million in funding came from nine energy companies, including Encana, Chevron and a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. The remaining 10 percent came from the Environmental Defense Fund, which, unlike many other environmental groups, has a history of working with the oil and gas industry.

The participating companies gave the researchers access to their facilities, but the scientists controlled the study design, data collection and analysis. The results were published today in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Exclusive: Pipeline Safety Chief Says His Regulatory Process Is 'Kind of Dying'

With 'few tools to work with,' PHMSA's Jeffrey Wiese says he is creating a YouTube channel to persuade industry to voluntarily improve safety.

By Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones

Sep 11, 2013
Jeffrey Wiese, PHMSA's associate administrator for pipeline safety

Jeffrey Wiese, the nation's top oil and gas pipeline safety official, recently strode to a dais beneath crystal chandeliers at a New Orleans hotel to let his audience in on an open secret: the regulatory process he oversees is "kind of dying."

Wiese told several hundred oil and gas pipeline compliance officers that his agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), has "very few tools to work with" in enforcing safety rules even after Congress in 2011 allowed it to impose higher fines on companies that cause major accidents.

"Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.

Because generating a new pipeline rule can take as long as three years, Wiese said PHMSA is creating a YouTube channel to persuade the industry to voluntarily improve its safety operations. "We'll be trying to socialize these concepts long before we get to regulations."

Wiese's pessimism about the viability of the pipeline regulatory system is at odds with the Obama administration's insistence that the nation's pipeline infrastructure is safe and its regulatory regime robust. In a speech last year, President Obama ordered regulatory agencies like PHMSA to help expedite the building of new pipelines "in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people."

In the Path of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline Across Arkansas: People, Water, Farms (Part 2)

The broken pipe snakes through a crucial Ark. watershed where there's only one shut-off valve for the line, a fact that is making state officials nervous.

By Sam Eifling, David Koon and Elizabeth McGowan

Sep 4, 2013

This is Part 2 of a series looking at the people and scenery along the route of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline, which spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark. Read Part 1.

MAYFLOWER, Ark.—At sunset one evening, Ryan Senia, a displaced former resident of the Northwoods subdivision, walks around his side yard, and into a wide orange clayscape. This area used to be backyards, until crude oil swamped it and Exxon's crews stripped away trees and exhumed tons of earth.

"This is all new dirt," Senia says over the thrum of a generator powering a tall light. He walks behind a neighbor's empty home where the remnants of a former yard—a bike, a hose, a lawnmower, a propane grill, part of a birdbath—clutter the back porch. "Come up over here, you can see they've dug up under the slab," he says. "You can see how deep they've dug it. So you know the oil is underground."

Senia turns to another home's foundation. There, in a grey puddle a foot beneath the brick, floats a glossy black blob the size of a fried egg. "It's eye-opening to see the oil right there," he says. "I know it's not a large amount, but that's only what you can see. The oil's under the house."

In the Path of Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline Across Arkansas: People, Water, Farms (Part 1)

The burst pipeline runs through a golf course, a berry farm, a daycare center, rivers. People along the route wonder, What if it had happened to us?

By Sam Eifling, David Koon and Elizabeth McGowan

Sep 3, 2013
Conway resident Megan Brown with a Pegasus map.

This is Part 1 of a series looking at the people and scenery along the route of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline, which spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark. Read Part 2.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—The oil that erupted in the town of Mayflower back in March began its trip in an Illinois hamlet named Patoka, 90 minutes east of St. Louis. It shot down ExxonMobil's 20-inch Pegasus pipeline, under farms and forests, over the Mississippi River via a state highway bridge, through the Missouri Ozarks, across the Arkansas state line and, a few miles later, near the workplace of one Glenda Jones, whom you can find on a summer Saturday at her bar job, watching the Cardinals thump the Cubs.

The other bartender here at the Rolling Hills Country Club in the town of Pocahontas is named Brenda, so anyone visiting the golf course in far Northeast Arkansas is bound to meet one of the Endas, as they're known around the club. At 5 p.m. it's quiet in the 10-table lounge but for a Fox broadcaster making Jones's day: "Molina deep ... back to the wall ... it's gone!" Jones, the proud Enda and part-time house cleaner who refers to the Cardinals as "we," hollers, "Yes, finally!"

Exxon's Secrecy Over Ruptured Pipeline Could Mask National Dangers

Reports that would reveal whether Exxon properly maintained its Pegasus pipeline are being kept from the public. The data has national ramifications.

By Elizabeth Douglass and David Hasemyer

Jul 16, 2013
Tar ball on the edge of a cove in Mayflower, Ark. in the wake of Exxon's Pegasus

The 1940s-era construction process that ExxonMobil said caused an oil pipe to rupture in Arkansas earlier this year is a common and well-documented problem the pipeline industry has battled for decades—and one the industry believes can be detected and controlled with appropriate vigilance.

"With proper inspection and maintenance, these catastrophic events can be prevented," said Mohammad Najafi, a pipeline construction expert and engineering professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. "As pipelines exceed their design lives, they need more maintenance and a proper asset management strategy to prevent or minimize these ruptures."

That leaves the public and regulators with two critical questions: Did Exxon manage and test its broken Pegasus pipeline according to established guidelines? And, if it did, is the Arkansas accident a warning that other pipelines might be at risk?

Full Extent of Heavy Metal Contamination in Exxon Oil Spill Still Unknown

Levels of manganese, a neurotoxin, in the cove and in a nearby creek were 10, 20 or nearly 30 times above the EPA's safety standard for tap water.

By Lisa Song and Shruti Ravindran

Jul 15, 2013
Oil spill cleanup in the cove area of Lake Conway

When a broken pipeline spills oil into a residential neighborhood, the most immediate health concerns are those caused by volatile chemicals—airborne toxins that leave people complaining of symptoms like headaches and nausea and worrying about long-term problems like cancer.

But crude oil also contains small amounts of heavy metals that rarely evaporate into the air. Instead, they stay with the oil as it spills onto the ground and into waterways. These compounds, which include mercury, manganese, nickel and chromium, are toxic at high doses, and some, like arsenic and lead, can damage the nervous system even at relatively low doses. Yet little is known about the potential health risks to people who live near oil spill sites.

In Arkansas, regulators are testing for heavy metals in the city of Mayflower, where more than 210,000 gallons of Canadian oil spilled on March 29. But at this point there are still more questions than answers.

Artful and Delphic: Obama on Keystone Pipeline Is All Things at Once

As the media tries to make sense of Obama's obscure remarks on Keystone, the president becomes both an opponent and supporter of the project.

By Stacy Feldman and Maria Gallucci

Jun 27, 2013
President Barack Obama delivers climate speech

In a long-awaited, 50-minute speech Tuesday President Obama made clear what his plans are for tackling climate change—except on one major issue.

No one could divine what Obama meant when he talked about the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Both pipeline proponents and pipeline haters cheered his remarks—an unusual reaction," Reuters wrote.

Obama's roughly 150 words (about a minute and a half) on the pipeline—his most noteworthy discussion of the project to date—have been parsed by media outlets and pundits across the globe. It was the first time Obama linked the Keystone XL decision to global warming. Because of that, some observers said the president seemed to be considering rejection of the pipeline—a claim that puts a stake through the heart of a common narrative that has Obama trading a Keystone XL approval for carbon cuts at existing power plants. Others saw the speech as a pipeline greenlight.