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Human Activity Has Pushed Earth Beyond 4 of 9 'Planetary Boundaries'

Jan 16, 2015
(Washington Post)

At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a "safe operating space" for human beings. That is the conclusion of a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

The paper contends that we have already crossed four "planetary boundaries." They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

Obama Administration Unveils New Methane Emission Rules

Jan 14, 2015

The Obama administration today officially unveiled a new initiative to cut methane emissions in the energy industry, including plans for the EPA to regulate future oil and gas wells.

The plan, the details of which were leaked out on Tuesday, falls well short of the cuts that activists say are needed to reach the administration's international climate change pledges. But the rules, which are expected to be finalized in 2016, will leave the door open to further regulation of the powerful greenhouse gas.

The plans, the latest executive action in President Barack Obama's effort to combat climate change, are an offshoot of last year's methane emission strategy that is designed to tackle the gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing climate change.

Obama to Call for Increased Methane Regulation in State of the Union Address

Jan 13, 2015

Barack Obama will unveil a new plan to cut methane from America’s booming oil and gas industry ahead of the State of the Union address, in an attempt to cement his climate legacy during his remaining two years in the White House.

The new methane rules – expected ahead of the State of the Union speech next week – are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change, campaigners said.

"It is the largest opportunity to deal with climate pollution that this administration has not already seized," said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air programme at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change, after carbon dioxide. On a 20-year timescale, it is 87 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.

US officials acknowledge that Obama will have to cut methane if he is to make good on his promise to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 26% to 28% by 2025.

"It is the largest thing left, and it’s the most cost-effective thing they can do that they haven't done already, and all the signs are there that they intend to step forward on that," Doniger said.

U.S. House passes Keystone XL bill, Senate to debate next week

Jan 9, 2015

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite a threat by the White House to veto legislation on the project. 

The bill passed, 266-153, with 28 of the House Democrats voting for the pipeline, down three from a similar vote in November. The Senate will debate a similar bill early next week. 

President Barack Obama has said the State Department should finish its assessment of the project before he decides whether to approve it. TransCanada Corp's pipeline would help transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of mostly Canadian tar sands oil to refineries along the Gulf Coast. (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Trott)

Nebraska Supreme Court Backs Keystone XL Pipeline Route

Jan 9, 2015

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday approved the route for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, reversing a lower court that had blocked the proposal and clearing the way for a U.S. State Department ruling on the plan. 

The court said it was divided and could not reach a substantive decision, leaving in place legislation that favored TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO) and its claim to build a crude oil pipeline across the state.

"(B)ecause there are not five judges of this court voting on the constitutionality of (the legislation), the legislation must stand by default," the court said in its ruling.

Oil Sands Must Remain Largely Unexploited to Meet Climate Target, Study Finds

Jan 8, 2015
(Globe and Mail)

As U.S. President Barack Obama and a Republican-led Congress spar over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a new analysis of worldwide fossil-fuel reserves suggests that most of the Alberta oil the pipeline is meant to carry would need to remain in the ground if nations are to meet the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, does not single out the Alberta oil sands for special scrutiny, but rather considers the geographic distribution of the world’s total fossil fuel supply, including oil, coal and natural gas reserves, and their potential impact on international efforts to curb global warming.

Advocates of Keystone XL point out that the oil sands are not as large a contributor to climate change as other fuel reserves elsewhere in the world, particularly coal. The study does not disagree with this assessment, but makes clear that a concerted global effort will be needed to maintain at least a 50-per-cent chance of staying under the two-degree limit – a goal agreed to by the majority of nations, including Canada, under the 2009 Copenhagen accord.

White House: Obama Will Veto Keystone XL Bill

Jan 6, 2015
(Fuel Fix)

President Barack Obama will not sign legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday, even as congressional Republicans advanced the bill.

The comment came hours after Sens. John Hoeven and Joe Manchin on Tuesday introduced legislation to approve Keystone XL, formally kicking off the latest congressional push to authorize the pipeline.

Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, and Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said the TransCanada Corp. project is essential to keep crude moving through North America.

2014 Officially the Hottest Year on Record

Jan 6, 2015
(Climate Central)

It's official: 2014 has taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the first of four major global temperature recordkeepers to release their data for last year.

The upward march of the world's average temperature since 1891 is a trademark of human-influenced global warming with 2014 being the latest stop on the climb. All 10 of the hottest years have come since 1998.

The average temperature was 1.1°F above the 20th century average according to JMA’s data. That edges 1998, the previous warmest year, by about 0.1°F.

One big difference between 2014 and 1998 is that the latter was on the tail end of a super El Niño, which has the tendency to spike temperatures. In comparison, 2014 was the year of the almost El Niño.

Instead, record warmth in other parts of the Pacific as well as the hottest year on record in Europe were some of the main drivers in fueling the heat. Joe Romm of Climate Progress also notes that heat in Australia early in the year and California’s hottest year further contributed to the heat.

Seasonal temperatures also paint a picture of a planet that didn’t get a break. Spring, summer and fall were all record-setting hot. Last winter was the only season not to set a record, and even that was still the sixth-warmest winter.

JMA is one of the four major groups that use both ground measurements and satellites to compute the planet’s average temperature. The other three include NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. and the Hadley Center in the U.K. There are subtle differences in how they analyze temperature data, but there’s generally broad agreement, particularly the upward trend in temperatures over the past century.

The other groups are expected to release their data in the coming weeks and confirm that 2014 was indeed the hottest year on record. And some scientists think it could get even hotter sooner. Strong trade winds in the Pacific have likely had a dampening effect on the global average temperature by essentially allowing the ocean to store more heat, but those winds are expected to weaken in the near future as part of a natural fluctuation.

Democrats Plan Keystone XL Counterattack

Jan 5, 2015
(Fuel Fix)

Senate Democrats are vowing to counter Republicans' campaign for Keystone XL by trying to attach buy-American requirements, clean energy proposals and export restrictions to legislation authorizing the pipeline.

The Democratic proposals could be offered as amendments when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee votes on the Keystone XL legislation Thursday, or next week, when the bill is expected to see floor debate.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the amendments are designed "to make it more of a jobs bill."

U.S. Senate Panel to Introduce Keystone XL Bill Thursday

Jan 4, 2015

The head of the Senate energy committee plans to introduce a bill next week to force approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, though the full chamber faces a battle in obtaining needed votes to overcome any veto by President Barack Obama.

Keystone supporters say they picked up votes for TransCanada Corp's $8 billion project in November's midterm elections, including Republicans Shelley Moore Capito, from West Virginia, and Joni Ernst, from Iowa.

That means this year's bill will likely have a few more than the 60 votes needed to pass, but lack the 67 votes needed to overcome any presidential veto.