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Australia Kills Off Its Climate Change Policy

Jul 17, 2014
(Guardian)

Australia's carbon price has been repealed, leaving the nation with no legislated policy to achieve even the minimum 5 percent greenhouse emissions reduction target it has inscribed in international agreements.

After eight years of bitter political debate, during which climate policy dominated three election campaigns and contributed to the demise of two prime ministers, after last week's Senate drama in which the repeal was again defeated and this week's lengthy last gasp debate, the Senate has now finally voted to make good Tony Abbott’s "pledge in blood" to "axe the tax."

The government was backed by seven of the new crossbench senators, including the three Palmer United party senators, Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, Family First senator Bob Day, Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir, DLP senator John Madigan. Independent senator Nick Xenophon was unwell.

Only the Australian Labor party and the Greens voted against repealing the carbon pricing scheme they introduced, which came into effect two years ago.

Leader of the government in the Senate and former climate change minister Penny Wong said repealing the bills meant “this nation will have walked away from a credible and efficient response to climate change”.

Wong said the prime minister Tony Abbott had "staked his political career...on fearmongering and scaremongering and that is what this debate has been about for years."

"“I think future generations will look back on these bills and they will be appalled...at the short-sighted, opportunistic selfish politics of those opposite and Mr Abbott will go down as one of the most short-sighted, selfish and small people ever to occupy the office of prime minister."

Government backbencher Ian Macdonald accused opposition parties of being hypocrites for refusing to accept the will of the voters and said that while he had “an open mind”, he would like to point out that Brisbane had recently had its coldest day in 113 years.

Greens leader Christine Milne said it was "a vote for failure" amid interjections from government backbenchers that she should "get over it" because the parliament was "respecting the will of the Australian people."

Texas City Rejects Fracking Ban; Sends Issue to Voters This November

Jul 16, 2014
(AP)

The council governing a North Texas city that sits atop a large natural gas reserve rejected a bid early Wednesday morning to ban further permitting of hydraulic fracturing in the community after eight hours of public testimony.

Denton City Council members voted down the petition 5-2, sending the proposal to a public ballot in November.

Fracking involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and gas. While the method has long stirred concerns about its effects on the environment and human health, proponents argue that fracking can be done safely and is cleaner than other forms of energy extraction. And industry groups and state regulators had warned such a ban could be followed by litigation and a severe hit to Denton's economy.

White House Unveils Climate Change Adaptation Initiatives

Jul 15, 2014
(New York Times)

President Obama will announce a series of climate change initiatives on Wednesday aimed at guarding the electricity supply; improving local planning for flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges; and better predicting landslide risks as sea levels rise and storms and droughts intensify.

The actions, involving a variety of federal agencies, were among the recommendations of the president’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness, a group of 26 officials who have worked since November to develop the proposals.

One of the projects involves shoring up the power supply during climate catastrophes, and the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday will award $236.3 million to improve electricity infrastructure in the rural areas of eight states. A government study released in May concluded that climate change will strain utility companies’ ability to deliver power as extreme weather damages power lines and hotter temperatures drive surges in demand.

Canada: Study Cites 'Chill' From Harper Govt's Tax Audits of Environmental, Other Groups

Jul 15, 2014
(The Canadian Press)

The Harper government's "ramp-up of anti-activist rhetoric," as it's been called, has drawn criticism in media and academic circles since 2012, but the targets themselves — environmental charities and others — have been muted and self-censored.

That's largely because they've been subject to new, high-stakes tax audits into their political activities that could strip them of their coveted charitable status.

But perhaps for the first time, some of their voices are being heard unfiltered.

World Council of Churches Pulls Fossil Fuel Investments

Jul 11, 2014
(Guardian)

An umbrella group of churches, which represents over half a billion Christians worldwide, has decided to pull its investments out of fossil fuel companies.

The move by the World Council of Churches, which has 345 member churches including the Church of England but not the Catholic church, was welcomed as a "major victory" by climate campaigners who have been calling on companies and institutions such as pension funds, universities and local governments to divest from coal, oil and gas.

In an article for the Guardian in April, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that "people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change" and events sponsored by fossil fuel companies could even be boycotted.

Bill McKibben, the founder of climate campaign group 350.org, said in a statement: "The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves – and that there's no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels. This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today 'this far and no further'."

The report of the council's financy policy committee, published on Thursday on the final day of the council's central committee meeting in Geneva, says that: "The committee discussed the ethical investment criteria, and considered that the list of sectors in which the WCC does not invest should be extended to include fossil fuels."

350.org's European divestment coordinator, Tim Ratcliffe, said: “The World Council of Churches may be the most important commitment we’ve received yet."

It is not clear yet whether Thursday's decision will apply only to the council itself, which has a comparatively small investment fund, or its members as well, which have much larger investments.

The Church of England said it could not yet comment on what the decision meant for its own investments. The CoE has not moved yet to divest from fossil fuel companies but has set up a subgroup to take advice on climate change and investment.

In May, the UN's climate chief, Christiana Figueres, gave a speech to faith leaders at St Paul's cathedral in London, calling on them to show leadership on climate change. She also said religious groups should drop their investments in fossil fuels, and encourage their members to do the same.

South Portland, Maine Council Backs Tar Sands Ban

Jul 10, 2014
(Portland Press Herald )

The City Council overwhelmingly approved a first reading Wednesday night of a controversial proposal that would block tar sands oil from coming into the city.

The council voted 6-1 shortly after 11 p.m. in the South Portland Community Center gym, where nearly 500 citizens, energy company workers and others had gathered to show their support or opposition.

Councilors who supported the proposal called it a compromise alternative to the Waterfront Protection Ordinance that was narrowly defeated last November, saying the new proposal would protect existing jobs and industry.

ND Pipeline Leaks About 1 Million Gallons of Hazardous Saltwater

Jul 10, 2014
(AP)

Around 1 million gallons of saltwater has leaked from a North Dakota pipeline, some of it into a bay that leads to a lake that provides drinking water for an American Indian reservation, company and tribe officials said Wednesday.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall told The Associated Press that an underground pipeline near Mandaree leaked about 24,000 barrels, or just over 1 million gallons, of saltwater near Bear Den Bay, a tributary of Lake Sakakawea. The Missouri River reservoir provides water to communities on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes in the heart of western North Dakota's booming oil patch.

Nebraska Court Date Pushes Final Keystone XL Decision Past the Midterms

Jul 9, 2014
(The Washington Post)

The Nebraska Supreme Court will announce as soon as Thursday that it will hear oral arguments in the case over the Keystone XL pipeline's route in early September, effectively postponing any final federal decision on the controversial project until after the midterm elections.

In April, the State Department announced that it would not issue a determination on whether the pipeline was in the nation's interest until Nebraska resolved whether the project's path through the state complied with state law. A group of landowners is challenging the decision by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to sign legislation designed to speed the project by approving its route and letting the company use the power of eminent domain in negotiating right of way for the project.

Nebraska to High Court: Keystone Pipeline Route Is Legal

Jul 9, 2014
(Bloomberg)

The Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route through Nebraska was legally drawn, lawyers for the state told its Supreme Court in defending legislation, struck down by a state judge, that gave the job to the governor and the conduit's builder.

With President Barack Obama's approval of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)'s planned $5.4 billion pipeline still pending, Nebraska's attorneys in a filing yesterday reiterated their argument for reversing Judge Stephanie Stacy's February ruling in favor of landowners who challenged the route selection measure.

The judge said the law that allowed the company and Governor Dave Heineman to map Keystone's path breached a provision of the state constitution reserving that power to Nebraska's Public Service Commission.

Mysterious Blast at Chevron Plant Shakes Pollution-Weary Texas Town

Jul 9, 2014
(Grist)

A yet-to-be-explained explosion at a Chevron Phillips chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, last night has the community in a bit of an uproar, judging by Facebook updates I've been collecting throughout the day. Chevron referred to it as a "localized fire," in its statement to the media. Whatever the label, it injured two of the plant's workers, and badly enough that highway traffic was stopped so a medical helicopter could come take one to the hospital.

Hilton Kelley, the Port Arthur environmental justice activist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2011, got as close to the scene as possible to take pictures of the fires." These events are very common in this community (where) thousands of pounds of dangerous toxins are released when these emission events [sic] happen," he wrote on his Facebook page, where he posted the pics.