As the deadline for public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline arrived on Mar. 7, environmental groups told the Obama administration that the State Department's analysis of the project was based on flawed assumptions that clash with the nation's commitment to mobilizing global action against climate change.
In its final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued on Jan. 31, the State Department asserted that no single project would have much effect on the growth of Canada's tar sands industry. It based its conclusions partly on business-as-usual projections that oil demand and prices would rise amid continued worldwide inaction on global warming.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said in wide-ranging comments that the EIS "makes a fundamental error by relying on energy consumption scenarios which assume a global failure to address climate change."
If the State Department stuck with its predictions that energy consumption and prices were destined to remain high, it would "undermine the nation's credibility" during United Nations talks aimed at heading off the worst effects of global warming, the advocacy group said.
For U.S. homeowners and citizen investors, going solar—right now—is becoming increasingly within their grasp.
Solar startups are offering new ways to both pay for rooftop solar installations and invest in the sector—from solar loans and leases for houses, to crowdfunding, debt securities and bond issues for small-time financiers. With solar panel prices at historic lows, companies are pushing to reduce costs even further by reimagining the way that projects get financed.
The latest example is in Connecticut. There, Sungage Financial is launching a two-part program. First, homeowners can get loans that are structured specifically for buying and installing solar panels. The initiative is the first to base the terms of the loans on the customer's projected energy-bill savings—typically about $25,000 over three decades for Connecticut homeowners.
A new study has underscored just how little is known about the health consequences of the natural gas boom that began a decade ago, when advances in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and directional drilling allowed companies to tap shale deposits across the United States.
"Despite broad public concern, no comprehensive population-based studies of the public health effects of [unconventional natural gas] operations exist," concluded the report published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Last week, InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel reported on the health data gap in the Eagle Ford Shale, where a lack of air monitoring and research is aggravated by a Texas regulatory system that often protects the gas and oil industry over the public.
Leading environmental organizations are pressing the White House not to bow to industry pressure to abandon the government's main method for measuring the future costs of global warming pollution and the benefits of new pollution controls.
At issue is an economic calculation known as the "social cost of carbon," or SCC, which estimates the cost in dollars that society will ultimately pay for the harm caused by each ton of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.
That price tag helps policymakers decide how much economic sense it makes to impose costly emissions controls.
Oil, gas and other industry groups recently petitioned the White House Office of Management and Budget to prohibit the use of the cost-benefit tool, arguing that it was imprecise and needed additional peer review.
Two years ago, impatient advocates of the Keystone XL in Nebraska pushed through a series of hastily conceived laws to fast-track approval of the pipeline's route through that state.
Now it's clear that the legislative maneuvering has produced the exact opposite effect—threatening to delay a presidential decision even further and giving opponents more time to fight on.
On Feb. 19, Judge Stephanie Stacy of the Lancaster County District Court ruled that Gov. Dave Heineman's approval of the pipeline reroute by TransCanada, the project's builder, was executed under an unconstitutional statute he had signed into law in 2012, and "must be declared null and void."
The ruling has been seen as a slap at corporations' use of eminent domain powers to seize access to private land, and as a rejection of bills crafted to favor a single powerful special interest. But Judge Stacy's opinion makes clear that she did not intend it that way—nor as a verdict on the Keystone XL itself.
The world needs to invest tens of billions of dollars a year in beefing up shoreline defenses against rising oceans or it will face mind-boggling costs in the decades to come, according to new research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If nations don't build up dikes, levees and sea walls, harden existing infrastructure, and preserve natural sponges like wetlands and barrier islands—and if they also do nothing to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming and are driving sea levels higher—the damages could be almost beyond comprehension, the researchers warned.
In a worst case, almost five percent of the world's population could be exposed to flooding at the start of the next century, and the damage could surpass nine percent of future global GDP each year.
This future damage from floods, they wrote, "may be one of the most costly aspects of climate change."
The analysis of greenhouse gas emissions presented by the State Department in its new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline includes dozens of references to reports by Jacobs Consultancy, a group that is owned by a big tar sands developer and that was hired by the Alberta government—which strongly favors the project.
In the end, the environmental review took into account much of the Jacobs group's work—though not quite as much as the Alberta government wanted. The State Department report will play a crucial role in the Obama administration's decision about whether to approve the Canada-to-Texas tar sands pipeline.
The Jacobs Consultancy is a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering, a giant natural resources development company with extensive operations in Alberta's tar sands fields. The engineering company has worked on dozens of major projects in the region over the years. Its most recent contract, with Canadian oil sands leader Suncor, was announced in January.
It is not easy to measure the carbon footprint of the tar sands crude that would move through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to refineries in the United States.
There is no question that the oil extracted from Canada's vast bitumen reserves is dirtier than most—heavy with carbon and emitting even more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when it's produced or consumed.
That surplus carbon, and its implications for the fight against climate change, is one of the reasons for widespread opposition to the 830,000-barrel-a-day Keystone XL. And it is what led President Obama to declare last June that "the national interest will be served only if this project doesn't significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."
But how to put a number on the word "significantly"? That's tricky, because any such estimate is built on a matrix of assumptions, modeling methods and ever-shifting data about how the fuel is produced.
A significant new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that emissions of dangerous pollutants from the tar sands operations in Canada may be much higher than previously reported in official estimates collected and reported by the industry.
The pollutants, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, can increase the risks of cancer in people and are suspected of presenting other hazards, such as tumors and reproductive problems in wildlife.
The new study, by researchers at the University of Toronto, said the exposure risks may prove to be two to three times higher after including pollution from evaporation, such as fumes coming from the tailings ponds where tar sands wastes are stored.