Environmentalists suffered a setback on Tuesday when British Columbia re-elected a premier who left the door open for approval of two oil pipelines that would carry tar sands oil across B.C. to the Pacific Coast, where it could be exported to the world market.
Despite trailing in the polls, incumbent Christy Clark, the leader of B.C.'s Liberal Party, defeated Adrian Dix and his New Democratic Party. Dix had opposed both pipelines, and environmental groups had hoped his win would signal the end of the projects.
The two Canadian pipelines—along with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline across the United States—are crucial to the expansion of Canada's oil sands industry, which is based in the province of Alberta. The industry hopes to double in size over the next decade, but because Alberta is landlocked, more pipelines are needed to get the oil to the coast.
Like the Keystone project, the Canadian pipelines face grassroots opposition from local landowners and environmental groups.
Shareholders of one of the country's biggest hotel chains have struck down a resolution that would force the company to consider replacing energy-guzzling shower heads with more efficient ones—yet its backers are claiming victory.
Although only nine percent of Choice Hotels shareholders voted in favor of the resolution, the proposal is one of a handful of global warming resolutions that companies tried to dismiss in this year's proxy season—but that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said must be put to a vote. The trend reflects continued concerns by the SEC about the business risks of climate change.
"They're enforcing their rules in a way that allows a lot more climate-related resolutions to go through to a vote," said Rob Berridge, program manager at Ceres, a coalition of sustainability focused investors with $11 trillion in assets.
As if the public debate about global warming wasn't complex enough, a new field in climate research is coming of age, grabbing media attention and spawning seemingly contradictory headlines.
The work, called attribution research, doesn't challenge the scientific consensus that climate change is happening. Instead, it strives to understand the regional effects of global warming by determining whether increased greenhouse gas levels did—or didn't—cause a particular weather event. But the findings can be confusing. For instance, scientists say that climate change made Hurricane Sandy worse, but that it had nothing to do with historic floods in Thailand. Warming probably didn't cause this year's severe winter storm, Nemo, but it may have supercharged it. It caused some droughts, but not others.
Adding to the confusion is a trend that worries some experts: People on both sides of the climate divide tend to promote only those attribution studies that support their beliefs. Whether a conscious decision or not, this selective use of research is further polarizing the national conversation on climate change, experts told InsideClimate News.
Congressional lawmakers from both parties are taking a step to catalyze the nation's clean energy economy: After 32 years of restricting a crucial investment tool to expanding fossil fuels, they're pushing to open it to renewables.
Legislation is moving through both houses to tweak the tax code to let clean energy developers form a master limited partnership, or MLP, a type of publicly traded company structure not subject to corporate taxes.
For three decades, coal, oil and gas companies have used MLPs to raise hundreds of billions of dollars for pipelines, refineries and other projects. The financing vehicle is credited with helping sustain the nation's current drilling boom.
In the latest show of force by opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, a group of 150 major Democratic donors sent a letter Friday to President Obama, urging him to reject the controversial application from TransCanada for permission to send more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The signatories comprise business leaders, philanthropists and celebrities—including clean energy entrepreneurs Vinod Khosla, Jigar Shah and Steve Kirsch, long-time Obama bundler Wendy Abrams and actress Blythe Danner.
Rep. Tim Griffin, a staunch supporter of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, recently asked ExxonMobil to move another, smaller oil pipeline away from a major water source in his home state of Arkansas.
It's a contradiction that grates on opponents of the Keystone, which would run through a critically important aquifer that supplies irrigation and drinking water to Nebraska and seven other states.
"What's good for Arkansas is good for Nebraska," anti-Keystone activist Jane Kleeb said in an email. "Rep. Griffin showed courage and common sense asking Exxon to move the tar sands pipeline away from the water. The same request should apply to all pipelines, especially Keystone XL that lies [in] the Ogallala aquifer and crosses over 200 bodies of water and family wells."
For more than a month, residents of Mayflower, Ark. have been told not to worry about lingering fumes from a March 29 oil spill that shut down a neighborhood and forced the evacuation of 22 homes.
"Overall, air emissions in the community continue to be below levels likely to cause health effects for the general population," Arkansas regulators wrote on a state-operated website that tracks Mayflower's air monitoring data.
Despite these reassurances, residents have suffered headaches, nausea and vomiting—classic symptoms of short-term exposure to the chemicals found in crude oil.
"Figuring out how to protect people after a disaster like this is very hard," said Aaron Bernstein, a public health expert and associate director of Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment. "People living near the spill early on could definitely have gotten sick" from the concentrations present in the air.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to ExxonMobil Tuesday seeking clarification about the "troubling and apparently conflicting information" given by the company regarding its March 29 pipeline rupture that dumped at least 210,000 gallons of Canadian oil in an Arkansas neighborhood.
A key piece of data related to the biggest tar sands oil spill in U.S. history has disappeared from the Environmental Protection Agency's website, adding to confusion about the size of the spill and possibly reducing the fine that the company responsible for the accident would be required to pay.
The July 2010 accident on an Enbridge Inc. pipeline dumped thousands of barrels of Canadian dilbit into the Kalamazoo River and surrounding wetlands. But almost three years and two federal investigations later, one of the most important questions about the spill remains unanswered: Exactly how much oil spilled from the pipeline?
The same question is being asked about a more recent dilbit spill—a March 29 accident on ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark. Estimates for that spill, which is still being cleaned up, have risen from 80,000 gallons to more than 200,000 gallons.
Determining the size of an oil spill is important, because every barrel of oil that reaches a navigable waterway triggers a statutory fine of $1,100 per barrel under the Clean Water Act. The fine rises to $4,300 per barrel if a company is proven to have acted with gross negligence.
It has been more than a month now, and Amber Bartlett has had enough of hotels and apartments and trailer homes. Of crowded rooms whose thin walls amplify the bickering of her four children. Of piles of toys and clothes overflowing from drawers and suitcases. Of not knowing, day to day, where her life is headed.
She wants to be back in her five-bedroom, three-bathroom home at 16 Starlite Road North in Mayflower, Ark.
Ryan Senia, the Bartletts' next-door neighbor, is plenty ready to go home, too. For the past month the 29-year-old electrical engineer has been sleeping on a friend's couch instead of in his bed at 20 Starlite Road North. His power tools and equipment are gathering dust in his garage. His grill sits in his backyard, unused.
The Bartletts and Senia are among 21 families who were evacuated from their homes on March 29, after an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled at least 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into their neighborhood.