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Supreme Court Gives Qualified Support for EPA to Set Carbon Emissions Limits

Feb 24, 2014

Environmental campaigners drew solace from a Supreme Court hearing on greenhouse gas controls on Monday that left justices appearing to support the US government’s broad role in setting emissions limits for power stations.

The case, brought by power companies and 13 states including Texas, argued that the Environmental Protection Agency was overstepping its powers by using air quality rules to tackle climate change.

But a majority of court justices who spoke during Monday's 90 minute oral arguments did not appear willing to re-open a 2007 Massachusetts case upholding the broad power of the EPA, according to experts following the case.

David Doniger, the Climate and Clean Air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "Chief Justice Roberts made that clear early on, saying that even though he was a dissenter in 2007, the court isn't going to reconsider Massachusetts, or the follow-on decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, which establish EPA's authority to set Clean Air Act standards for both vehicles and factories that emit carbon pollution that drives dangerous climate change."

Doniger added: "Now more than ever, it's clear that EPA's authority to set standards for carbon pollution—the basis of Obama’s Climate Action Plan—is firmly settled on solid ground."

The results of the latest and narrower challenge to EPA powers may not be known for several months and industry lawyers argued the agency should not be able to use permits to tackle climate change.

"Greenhouse gases are not included within the [permitting] program at all," said Peter Keisler, representing the American Chemistry Council, which is among two dozen manufacturing and industry groups that want the court to throw out the rule.

But solicitor general Donald Verrilli, arguing for the administration, urged the court to leave the permitting program in place. "This is an urgent problem. Every year that passes, the problem gets worse and the problem for future generations gets worse," Verrilli said.

The Supreme Court justices also appeared unwilling to hear challenges to basic science of linking carbon pollution and climate change.

"None of the petitioners tried to pick a fight there," said Doniger. "Justice Antonin Scalia asked sarcastically if sea level rise was occurring anywhere but in Massachusetts, but no one seriously challenged EPA on scientific issues this time."

Supreme Court experts expect a decision in the case, called Utility Air Regulatory Group v Environmental Protection Agency, may narrowly come down in favor of the EPA based on Monday's arguments.

"As is so often the case when the Court is closely divided, the vote of Justice Anthony M Kennedy loomed as the critical one, and that vote seemed inclined toward the EPA," said Lyle Denniston of the legal website Scotusblog.

Enbridge Line 9: Canadian Program Unearths Unreported Spills, Alarming Communities Along Route

Feb 24, 2014
(Toronto Star)

An aging Enbridge pipeline that runs across Ontario has had at least 35 spills—far more than reported to federal regulators—but many municipalities along its route have never been informed of the incidents, a CTV W5 investigation reveals.

The National Energy Board, which regulates pipelines in Canada, has records of seven spills, while Enbridge told the investigative program there had been 13.

But W5's analysis of information from the energy board, the company and Ontario's Ministry of the Environment showed 35 spills associated with the 830-kilometer Line 9. (The Quebec government refused to provide W5 with any information).

Houston Chronicle Investigation of Texas Oil Field Safety Finds Failures, Deaths, Injury

Feb 24, 2014

Injury claims, government data and public records of oil field accidents since the start of the onshore drilling and fracking boom in 2007 show the federal government failed to implement safety standards and procedures, according to a Houston Chronicle investigation.

The examination also shows a lack of government inspections and shoddy practices by many oil and gas companies. The newspaper says the result is a toll of badly injured or killed workers.

Texas accounted for about 40 percent of the 663 workers the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said were killed nationwide in oil field-related industries between 2007 and 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday

Deal Reached to Slow Freight Trains Carrying Crude

Feb 22, 2014
(The Hill)

The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced an agreement Friday to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil.

They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort.

The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile December derailment of a train in Casselton, N.D., that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and prompted a push for more stringent federal regulation of freight rail shipments involving hazardous materials. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said increasing the safety of freight rail oil shipments was a goal for both the DOT and the freight rail industry.

Tar Sands Tailings Ponds Are Leaching Into Athabasca River, Federal Study Says

Feb 21, 2014
(The Globe and Mail)

New federal research has strongly backed suspicions that toxic chemicals from Alberta's vast oil sands tailings ponds are leaching into groundwater and seeping into the Athabasca River.

Leakage from oil sands tailings ponds, which now cover 176 square kilometres, has long been an issue. Industry has acknowledged that seepage can occur, and previous studies using models have estimated it at 6.5-million litres a day from a single pond.

The soil around the developments contains many chemicals from naturally occurring bitumen deposits, and scientists have never able to separate them from contaminants released by industry.

Court Strikes Down Nebraska Law That Allowed Keystone XL Pipeline

Feb 19, 2014
(Omaha World-Herald)

A judge has declared unconstitutional a Nebraska law used to reroute the Keystone XL pipeline.

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Wednesday that the 2012 law improperly gave the governor authority to approve the pipeline route, said David Domina, an Omaha attorney who represented plaintiffs in the case.

He said the ruling doesn't necessarily reset the clock on federal approval of the pipeline. President Barack Obama only has to decide whether to grant a permit to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. border, Domina said. 

The judge said regulatory control over pipeline companies rests with the Nebraska Public Service Commission. She granted a permanent injunction to prevent Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality from taking further action to advance the pipeline.

TransCanada Natural Gas Pipeline Ruptures in Alberta

Feb 19, 2014
(Calgary Herald)

The Calgary-based company reported Tuesday that a leg of its Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. pipeline system lost pressure at about 5 a.m. Tuesday morning and was shut down.

"We have been informed that the local distribution company has already made arrangements to have a temporary supply of compressed natural gas delivered into the area to maintain service for their customers," reported TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard Tuesday afternoon in an e-mail update.

He said TransCanada has secured the site and turned it over to the Transportation Safety Board and National Energy Board to conduct an on-site investigation. The cause of this line break is not known.

Obama to Tighten Fuel Efficiency Standards for Big Trucks Through Executive Order

Feb 18, 2014
(The Washington Post)

President Obama will announce Tuesday that the federal government will further tighten fuel efficiency for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, according to a White House official, as part of the president's ongoing effort to use his executive authority to address climate change.

Obama's directive to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which he will announce at the Safeway distribution center in Upper Marlboro, Md., marks the second time he has mandated a cut in fuel consumption and carbon emissions from larger trucks. This category, which encompasses all vehicles weighing more than 8,500 pounds, ranges from large pick-up trucks and school buses to massive 18-wheel tractor-trailers.

Methane Leaks Negate Climate Change Benefits of NatGas, Scientific Study Says

Feb 14, 2014
(New York Times)

The sign is ubiquitous on city buses around the country: "This bus runs on clean burning natural gas."

But a surprising new report, to be published Friday in the journal Science, concludes that switching buses and trucks from traditional diesel fuel to natural gas could actually harm the planet's climate.

Although burning natural gas as a transportation fuel produces 30 percent less planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions than burning diesel, the drilling and production of natural gas can lead to leaks of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Train Carrying Canadian Crude Derails & Leaks in Pennsylvania

Feb 13, 2014

A 120-car Norfolk Southern Corp train carrying heavy Canadian crude oil derailed and spilled in western Pennsylvania on Thursday, adding to a string of recent accidents that have prompted calls for stronger safety standards.

There were no reports of injury or fire after 21 tank cars came off the track at a bend by the Kiskiminetas River in the town of Vandergrift, according to town and company officials.

Nineteen of the derailed cars were carrying oil and two held liquefied petroleum gas, Norfolk Southern said. Three of the crude tank cars spilled after the incident, though the leaks have since been plugged. The company did not say how much oil spilled.

The train was heading from Conway to Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Some of the crude on board was destined for an asphalt plant in Paulsboro, New Jersey, owned by NuStar, a NuStar spokeswoman said.