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In Climate Push, Obama to Tout Renewables, Announce Solar Panels Back at White House

May 8, 2014
(Los Angeles Times)

President Obama will promote his record on energy efficiency on Friday by touting several initiatives he says are taking hold across the country – as well as the completion of one very close to home.

After years of delay, solar panels have been installed on the first family's residence at the White House, according to aides, who say Obama will make the announcement at a speech in Mountain View, Calif., on Friday.

The news makes good on a nearly four-year-old promise to return the renewable energy source to the most high-profile roof in the country. (President Carter had solar panels installed there, but President Reagan had them taken down in 1986.)

U.S. Regulator Orders Bakken Oil Shippers Not to Use Older Rail Cars

May 8, 2014
(Wall Street Journal)

The Transportation Department's nonbinding safety advisory, which carries less weight than an emergency order, said shippers should use the sturdiest cars in their fleets to transport crude from the Bakken shale.

The advisory effectively applies to about 66,500 tank cars--68% of the total commonly used to transport oil and other flammable liquids. Shippers instead should use the roughly 31,000 cars that have been retrofitted to improve safety or were built to higher standards.

The call to get the older tanker cars off the rails drew immediate criticism as too weak.

"Making it voluntary is not going far enough," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) told Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Mr. Foxx assured her that the federal government was moving as quickly as possible to issue new rules.

MORE: Too Much Propane Could Be a Factor in Exploding Oil Trains

INFOGRAPHIC: Oil Train Explosions: The Importance of Removing Volatile Gases

Stanford to Divest $18 Billion Endowment of Coal Stock

May 7, 2014
(New York Times)

Stanford University announced Tuesday that it would divest its $18.7 billion endowment of stock in coal-mining companies, becoming the first major university to lend support to a nationwide campaign to purge endowments and pension funds of fossil fuel investments.

The university said it acted in accordance with internal guidelines that allow its trustees to consider whether "corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury" when choosing investments. Coal's status as a major source of carbon pollution linked to climate change persuaded the trustees to remove companies "whose principal business is coal" from their investment portfolio, the university said.

Stanford's associate vice president for communications, Lisa Lapin, said the decision covers about 100 companies worldwide that derive the majority of their revenue from coal extraction. Not all of those companies are in the university's investment portfolio, whose structure is private, she said. Over all, the university's coal holdings are a small fraction of its endowment.

Natl Climate Assessment: 'Climate Change Has Moved Firmly Into the Present'

May 6, 2014
(New York Times)

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more likely and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.

Such sweeping changes have been caused by an average warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over most land areas of the country in the past century, the scientists found. If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, they said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the scientists declared in a major new report assessing the situation in the United States.

Keystone XL Vote This Week Remains Up in the Air

May 6, 2014
(Roll Call)

Senate Democrats are offering Republicans a vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, but are demanding an energy efficiency bill pass in return.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., remained confident Monday that the Senate would vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline regardless of the outcome of the energy bill, but a senior Democratic aide threw cold water on that idea.

"We are ready to give them a vote if they give us Shaheen-Portman," a senior Senate Democratic aide said, referring to the energy efficiency legislation’s authors, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Reid last week offered Republicans a vote on a separate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline the week following consideration of the efficiency legislation. But Republicans are pushing for four amendments to the bill, one of which would include language deeming the controversial pipeline approved.

Democrats argue that seeking the four amendments is the latest effort of the GOP to move the goalposts in the negotiations.

Climate Change Is a Clear and Present Danger, Landmark U.S. Report to Say

May 4, 2014

Climate change has moved from distant threat to present-day danger and no American will be left unscathed, according to a landmark report due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The National Climate Assessment, a 1,300-page report compiled by 300 leading scientists and experts, is meant to be the definitive account of the effects of climate change on the US. It will be formally released at a White House event and is expected to drive the remaining two years of Barack Obama's environmental agenda.

The findings are expected to guide Obama as he rolls out the next and most ambitious phase of his climate change plan in June – a proposal to cut emissions from the current generation of power plants, America's largest single source of carbon pollution.

The White House is believed to be organising a number of events over the coming week to give the report greater exposure.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," a draft version of the report says. The evidence is visible everywhere from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean, it goes on.

"Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between."

The final wording was under review by the White House but the basic gist remained unchanged, scientists who worked on the report said.

On Sunday the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said the world needed to try harder to combat climate change. At a meeting of UN member states in Abu Dhabi before a climate change summit in New York on 23 September, Ban said: "I am asking them to announce bold commitments and actions that will catalyse the transformative change we need. If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone."

Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University and vice-chair of the NCA advisory committee, said the US report would be unequivocal that the effects of climate change were occurring in real-time and were evident in every region of the country.

"One major take-home message is that just about every place in the country has observed that the climate has changed," he told the Guardian. "It is here and happening, and we are not cherrypicking or fearmongering."

The draft report notes that average temperature in the US has increased by about 1.5F (0.8C) since 1895, with more than 80% of that rise since 1980. The last decade was the hottest on record in the US.

Temperatures are projected to rise another 2F over the next few decades, the report says. In northern latitudes such as Alaska, temperatures are rising even faster.

"There is no question our climate is changing," said Don Wuebbles, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois and a lead author of the assessment. "It is changing at a factor of 10 times more than naturally."

56 Senators Back New Keystone Fast-Track Bill

May 1, 2014
(The Hill)

Keystone XL supporters on Thursday introduced legislation they said was backed by 56 senators that would immediately greenlight the controversial oil pipeline.

"I have 56 hard yeses," Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who introduced the bill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), told reporters Thursday.

"Beyond that I've got six or seven maybes. Our challenge is going to be to get to 60 votes," he said.

Eleven Democrats are among the 56 senators backing the bill, which would immediately give pipeline developer TransCanada the green light on a permit to begin construction of Keystone XL, according to a release from Landrieu's office. 

Dutch Arrest 40 Greenpeace Activists Protesting Gazprom Arctic Oil Shipment

May 1, 2014

More than 40 Greenpeace activists have been arrested in Rotterdam protesting against the first delivery of oil extracted from offshore Arctic waters.

According to a report from the NGO, Dutch security agents also took control of Greenpeace's flagship Rainbow Warrior, which was trying to prevent Gazprom oil tanker Mikhail Ulyanov from docking.

The tanker is carrying 70,000 tonnes of crude oil extracted by the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, located in the Pechora Sea, 60 kilometers off the Russian coast.

French oil giant Total has bought this shipment, which it will distribute to European markets.

Last year 30 Greenpeace activists were jailed in Russia for 100 days after staging anti-drilling protests alongside the Prirazlomnaya oil rig.

Last year 30 Greenpeace activists were jailed in Russia for 100 days after staging anti-drilling protests alongside the Prirazlomnaya oil rig.

Oil Train Derails in Fiery Blast in Virginia, Leaks Into River

May 1, 2014

A CSX Corp train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, on Wednesday, spilling oil into the James River and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

In its second oil-train accident this year, CSX said 15 cars of a train traveling from Chicago to Virginia derailed at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Fire that erupted on three of the cars was extinguished several hours later, the company said.

The three cars, each weighing 100 tons, fell down an embankment into the river and were still leaking oil on Wednesday evening, city mayor Michael Gillette told Reuters.

There were no injuries, and the nearly 350 residents who were evacuated earlier in the day were allowed to return to their homes, he said.

Harvard Carbon Divestment Activists Blockade Entrance to President's Office

Apr 30, 2014
(Boston Herald)

Harvard students have blockaded the main entrance to university President Drew Faust's office, calling for an open meeting with Harvard's governing body about fossil fuel divestment.

The protest began at 6 a.m. outside the administrative offices in Massachusetts Hall with about 30 members of the Divest Harvard campaign, part of a global movement with more than 400 campuses calling for endowments to divest from the top 200 publicly traded oil, coal and gas companies that own the majority of the world's carbon reserves and are responsible for the climate crisis, the students said. No arrests have been made.

"Lots of students feel that Harvard investing in fossil fuel companies is not socially responsible, both for the damage fossil fuels cause through climate change and the political activities the industry engages in to block climate change legislation and to fund climate change misinformation," said graduate student Ben Franta, one of the protesters.