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U.S. State Department to Assess Keystone XL Pipeline Next Month

State Dept. said Friday it will issue its final environmental review in August on TransCanada's controversial oil sands pipeline

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Jul 22, 2011

The U.S. State Department will issue a final environmental report next month on TransCanada Corp's pipeline that would ship Canadian oil sands crude to Texas refineries, keeping the project on track for a final decision by the end of this year.

The $7 billion line has faced opposition from many lawmakers and environmentalists for greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil sands production, and because the line would run across the one of the world's largest freshwater resources, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Bloomberg, Sierra Club Make $50 Million Anti-Coal Move

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

By Reuters

Jul 21, 2011

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined with the Sierra Club on Thursday in a $50 million, four-year plan to campaign for replacing one-third of aging U.S. coal-fired power plants with clean energy.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal," Bloomberg, founder of the news service that bears his name, said in a statement.

"Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption," he said. The partnership with Sierra Club was announced outside a coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia.

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which is budgeted at $150 million for four years.

Climate Change Peacekeeping on Agenda of UN Security Council

A special meeting of the Security Council this week will consider adding a 'green helmets' force to intervene in climate change-related conflicts

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jul 20, 2011
A UN peacekeeper helps hurricane victims in 2008

A special meeting of the United Nations Security Council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the Security Council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force — green helmets — which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is expected to address the meeting on Wednesday.

But Germany, which called the meeting, has warned it is premature to expect the council to take the plunge into green peacemaking or even adopt climate change as one of its key areas of concern.

"It is too early to seriously think about council action on climate change. This is clearly not on the agenda," Germany's ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, wrote in the Huffington Post.

"A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security," he wrote.

World Body Approves First-Ever Measures to Cut CO2 from Ships

But environmental groups warn that the rules only apply to new ships replacing older ones — and that developing countries have a six-year waiver

By John Vidal, Guardian

Jul 18, 2011
Cargo ship

Countries have taken a first step towards reducing climate emissions from shipping with a global agreement to reduce energy use in new vessels from 2013 onwards.

The belated action on Friday by 55 of the world's biggest sea-faring nations meeting at the UN's international maritime organization in London will force all ships over 400 tons built after 2013 to improve their efficiency by 10 percent, rising to 20 percent between 2020 and 2024, and 30 percent for ships delivered after 2024.

The first ever regulation of emissions in shipping is expected to lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 45-50 million tons a year by 2020.

But China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have secured a six-and-a-half-year delay for new ships registered in developing countries, which could mean the first guaranteed effective date of the reform will be in 2019.

Shipping accounts for 3-4 percent of man-made CO2 emissions worldwide, and this figure is expected to rise to 6 percent by 2020, with emissions doubling by 2050 if no action is taken. Shipowners, who traditionally do not pay for the fuel that their ships use, have long resisted any regulation despite increasing pressure from environmental groups and reformers within the industry.

Environmental NGOs welcomed the tightening of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) standard but cautioned that because it only applies to new ships replacing older ones at the end of their long lives, the full effects of today's decision will take a long time to have any major impact. There is a significant danger, said some, that many shipowners will elect to have their new ships flagged in developing countries that provide a waiver.

Montana Spill Pipeline May Have Carried Oil Sands Crude

Federal inspectors are trying to determine if transport of tar sands could have triggered internal corrosion that may have played a role in the rupture

By Laura Zuckerman, Reuters

Jul 15, 2011
Cleanup of Exxon Mobil's July 2 oil pipeline spill along Thiel Rd in Laurel

An Exxon Mobil pipeline that ruptured, leaking oil into Yellowstone River, may have sometimes carried a heavier and more toxic form of crude than initially thought, federal regulators said on Thursday.

The U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokeswoman Patricia Klinger said her office had learned that the pipeline may have been used to carry heavier crude.

"I just found out that apparently, and the regional folks just found out, there is an interconnect on the pipeline that possibly does carry some oil out of Canada," she said in response to a question about tar sands crude in the pipeline.

That a pipeline thought to transport only "sweet," low sulfur crude could have carried so-called tar sands crude from Canada raised concerns by health and environmental officials, even as Exxon officials said the heavier oil was not flowing through the Silvertip pipeline when it broke on July 1.

"The actual crude in the line at the point of the incident was a blend of crudes from Wyoming," Exxon spokesman George Pietrogallo told Reuters in an email on Thursday.

Exxon was responding to a question about whether tar sands crude had ever flowed in the pipeline. Almost all the oil produced in Canada's Alberta fields is from tar sands.

AEP Puts Carbon Capture on Hold, Citing Climate Policy Uncertainty

The company, one of the nation's biggest emitters of CO2, ended its agreement today with the U.S. DOE to commercialize CCS technology

By Scott DiSavino, Reuters

Jul 14, 2011
AEP generating station in Conesville

American Electric Power Co Inc. said on Thursday it was putting on hold plans to commercialize carbon dioxide capture and storage technology (CCS), ending an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The company, one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, cited uncertainties over U.S. climate policy and a weak economy as contributors to its decision.

"We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward," Michael Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive, said in a release.

In 2009, the department had picked AEP to receive funding of up to $334 million to help pay for the installation of a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage system at AEP's Mountaineer coal-fueled plant in New Haven, West Virginia.

The system was designed to capture at least 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from 235 megawatts of the 1,300-MW plant.

In Battle to Ban Energy-Saving Light Bulbs, GOP Defends 'Personal Liberty'

A new breed of Tea party conservatives has cast the promotion of efficient lights as an example of government interference

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian 

Jul 11, 2011
Michele Bachmann

Republicans in Congress are pressing for a vote on Monday on one of the stranger elements of their environmental agenda — a ban on the adoption of energy-efficient light bulbs. A bill championed by presidential contender Michele Bachmann and others would repeal a law phasing out incandescent bulbs from 2012.

According to some reports, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives was pressing to introduce the bill under rules that would limit debate, but also require a two-thirds vote to pass. Energy-saving bulbs were seen as an entirely harmless innovation — even by the same Republicans who now oppose them — when the lighting efficiency measure was signed into law by the then president, George W Bush, as part of a broader energy package.

The 2007 law would have started phasing out old-fashioned 100-watt bulbs starting in January 2012, with an aim of making light bulbs more than 25 percent efficient. Incandescent bulbs emit most of the energy they consume as heat.

Fred Upton, now the chair of the energy and commerce committee, supported the law — a vote which has come back to haunt him in a more conservative Congress. The initiative also had the support of lighting manufacturers.

But the new breed of Tea party conservatives, encouraged by chat show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, have cast the promotion of the more efficient LED and CFL lights as a shining example of needless government interference.

They also argue that the bulbs cost more than the old-fashioned variety and are health hazards, because they contain mercury. But their most passionately voiced argument is freedom. Hanging on to the old-style bulbs is really about personal liberty, they say.

Possible Indian Point Nuke Shutdown Heightens Economic Fears

For more than half a century Indian Point has been a prime employer and tax-revenue generator in the Westchester County region of New York

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

Jul 11, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines the feasibility of closing the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y. The plant, now up for relicensing, faces demands for a shutdown by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many environmental groups. This is part three. (Read parts one and two.)

Danny Carey, a third-generation steamfitter at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, sits on his porch in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., reminiscing about his family's decades-long contribution to the facility in Buchanan, about 15 minutes north. 

Carey's grandfather, Tom, helped build Indian Point 1, which was shut down 37 years ago. His father, Tom Carey Jr., worked on the current active reactors, units 2 and 3. And for the past three decades, Danny, 51, has welded pipes and repaired valves at the controversial nuclear complex that serves up to a quarter of New York City's electrical needs.

"So many families lived and made careers out of that plant," he said, his muscled arms and sun-etched face bearing witness to a lifetime of labor. "It's provided a lot of work for a lot of years."

For more than half a century Indian Point has been a prime employer in the region, providing work to nearly 1,000 contractors and 1,100 salaried workers each year, said Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for the plant. 

Nappi estimated that the plant's total annual payroll is $137 million, putting the average yearly income for employees at roughly $125,000.

Has Time Run Out to Replace Indian Point's Nuclear Power?

There are 'very limited options' for new sources of generation before Indian Point 2's operating license expires in 2013, says state offical

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

Jul 8, 2011
Indian Point nuclear plant

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines the feasibility of closing the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y. The plant, now up for relicensing, faces demands for a shutdown by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many environmental groups. This is part two. (Read part one.)

Renewed backlash against New York's Indian Point nuclear plant in the wake of Japan's disaster has forced politicians and energy experts in the state to again confront tough questions about how to permanently replace the facility's electricity.

Now, with the plant up for relicensing, some observers warn that time may have run out for a well-managed and gradual shutdown of the complex, located just 24 miles from America's most populous city.

The 40-year licenses for Indian Point's working reactors, units 2 and 3, are set to expire in 2013 and 2015. The plant's owner, Entergy Corp., is awaiting final word from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on its applications for 20-year renewals.

The complex fills a significant portion of the downstate area's energy needs, generating about 2,160 megawatts of clean-burning electricity — enough to power 3.2 million households or 25 percent of New York City and Westchester County's combined electrical needs. 

Three options to replace Indian Point stand out. One, local fossil fuel sources such as natural gas could generate more electricity. Two, excess hydroelectric power or wind power generated upstate or in Canada could be transported downstate. And three, consumers could drastically cut their electricity use.

All appear relatively simple and, together, offer promise. But closer inspection shows there is a great deal of complexity involved.

Underwater Rare Earths Likely a Pipe Dream, Say Analysts

Recently discovered undersea deposits of rare earth metals — crucial to new clean energy technologies — could take decades and cost billions to develop

By Julie Gordon, Reuters

Jul 7, 2011

An underwater bonanza of rare earth deposits discovered by Japanese scientists poses little threat to miners already developing major rare earth projects on solid ground.

Companies such as Molycorp, Lynas and Avalon Rare Metals may rest assured that developing the offshore bounty could take decades and cost billions, making it little more than a pipe dream, analysts say.

"'Desperado,' that's the first word that comes to mind," said Jacob Securities analyst Luisa Moreno. "It makes for some nice headlines, but I don't think it would really be feasible to do this."

The discovery of the vast deposits, located on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 3,500 to 6,000 meters (11,500 to 20,000 feet) below sea level, marks the latest bid by the Japanese to secure their own supply of rare earths, which are critical ingredients in the production of high-tech products.

Prices for rare earth metals have skyrocketed over the last year as China, producer of some 97 percent of the global supply, has repeatedly clamped down on exports.

Dysprosium, which is used to make magnets for hybrid cars and smartphones, has soared to $3,600 a kilogram, up from $300 a kg a year ago, while neodymium, also used in magnets, is hovering at about $450 a kg, up from $45 late last year.