Sen. John Kerry made it clear Thursday that he will play a pivotal role in deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline if he is confirmed as secretary of state.
“I’ll make the appropriate judgments about it,” he said, referring to the State Department’s ongoing review of the 1,200-mile tar sands oil pipeline. “There are specific standards that have to be met with respect to that review, and I’m going to review those standards and make sure they’re complete.”
For the past decade, the people of Boulder, Colo., have pursued an elusive goal: getting more clean energy into their grid. To do so, they pushed and prodded utility company Xcel Energy to give them a say in electricity decisions.
But nothing satisfied citizens and politicians, so several years ago they organized themselves into a movement for "municipalization," in which the city would split from Xcel and become its own utility. In April, the City Council is expected to vote in favor of pursuing the controversial idea, putting coal-heavy Boulder on the vanguard of efforts to break the monopoly of corporate utility companies.
"Somebody has to stick their neck out and try this," said Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum, who believes Boulder will inspire other cities. Already, residents in Minneapolis are preparing a ballot measure by November for municipalization, and advocates in Santa Fe, N.M., are not far behind.
When Amy Hargroves made the rounds in Congress last fall to lobby for an extension of the wind production tax credit, she was often greeted with confusion: Why was she here talking about wind power?
That's because Hargroves wasn't fighting for the credit as a representative of a turbine manufacturer like Vestas or an interest group like the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Instead, she was representing Sprint Nextel, a telecommunications giant with no direct ties to the wind game.
Sprint is among dozens of seemingly unrelated corporations, including Starbucks, Levi Strauss and New Belgium Brewing, who lobbied to save the wind tax credit. It's hard to gauge how much effect they had on lawmakers' last-minute decision to give the tax credit a one-year reprieve by putting it in the fiscal cliff tax package. But their involvement shows that the business community has identified a need for renewables and could become an important lobbying force in promoting clean energy.
"This signals a change in the coalition structure," said Clyde Wilcox, a professor in the government department at Georgetown University. "In the past, it would be green energy companies or environmental groups that have either a business interest or a public interest in these issues. But people look up when a new series of players lines up."
The news last week that the New York Times is dismantling its environment desk and reassigning the reporters throughout the newsroom provoked an outpouring of reaction, much of it suggesting that now isn't the time to take risks that could diminish the coverage of climate change.
In an essay after superstorm Sandy, Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law At Columbia University, proposed that instead of thinking about what Sandy was, we should focus on "what Hurricane Sandy was not," as his title put it.
The question of how an oil spill from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline might affect the Ogallala aquifer was raised again this month, in a report the U.S. State Department will use to help it decide whether to approve or reject the controversial project.
The report concluded that a spill would have little effect on Nebraska's primary source of drinking water, because the oil would spread less than a thousand feet within the High Plains/Ogallala aquifer. The impact on the Ogallala aquifer would be "local," not "regional," said the report, which was prepared by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and HDR Engineering, an Omaha-based consulting firm.
Scientists interviewed by InsideClimate News agreed with the report's conclusions that an underground spill probably wouldn't travel far and that a single accident wouldn't damage the entire Ogallala aquifer. But they also said the report didn't take into account other important factors:
The New York Times will close its environment desk in the next few weeks and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor are being eliminated. No decision has been made about the fate of the Green Blog, which is edited from the environment desk.
"It wasn't a decision we made lightly," said Dean Baquet, the paper's managing editor for news operations. "To both me and Jill [Abramson, executive editor], coverage of the environment is what separates the New York Times from other papers. We devote a lot of resources to it, now more than ever. We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."
On Dec. 3 the Times announced that it was offering buyouts to 30 newsroom managers in an effort to reduce newsroom expenses. But Baquet said the decision to dismantle the environment desk wasn't linked to budgetary concerns and that no one is expected to lose his or her job.
A fast-spreading movement to persuade universities to rid their endowments of fossil fuel assets is now taking root in America's churches.
"With the civil rights movement, the youth led and the churches followed," said Fred Small, minister of the Unitarian Universalist First Parish Church in Cambridge, Mass. The church is one of dozens of congregations across the country exploring how to divest their portfolios of coal, oil and gas companies.
"If young people see divestment as a key issue in the climate fight, then it is important for us to get involved," Small said.
The furthest along is the 1.2 million-member United Church of Christ, which will hold a national vote in June to adopt a fossil fuel divestment measure. Since November, divestment campaigns have spread to 210 universities in the United States and Canada, and to the city of Seattle, the first municipality seeking to divest its $1.9 billion pension fund.
The campaign is organized by 350.org, a grassroots climate organization founded by author turned activist Bill McKibben. It is part of a larger effort to boost the moral case for action by drawing attention to what McKibben calls global warming's "terrifying new math." Based on peer-reviewed science, the numbers say energy firms must keep 80 percent of their carbon reserves in the ground to limit the global temperature rise to the critical 2-degrees Celsius mark.
A committee that advises the federal government on how to make offshore oil drilling safer could be disbanded next month, even as the recent grounding of a Shell rig in Alaska is drawing new attention to the dangers of deepwater drilling.
The Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee (OESC), an advisory panel to the Department of Interior, was created after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill to gather input from a variety of stakeholders about the government's drilling policies. The 15-member panel—composed of government officials, academics, industry representatives and environmentalists—will meet today and Thursday for what could be its last meeting.
The committee is expected to vote on recommendations that its six subcommittees have been working on for almost two years, including a subcommittee focused on Arctic drilling. The recommendations will then be sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and to Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement director James Watson.
The committee will also discuss whether to ask to keep the panel alive after its two-year charter expires in February, said chairman Tom Hunter, a former president of Sandia National Laboratories. Salazar will make the final decision.
After years of protests and lobbying, the Obama administration is expected to decide within months on the fate of the 1,200-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The State Department is finalizing a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the project, which would ship tar sands oil from Canada, through America's heartland, and to the Gulf Coast via other pipelines.
The agency will use the SEIS—expected any day now—to help determine whether the project is in the "national interest," a term that includes economic, energy security and climate change considerations. Due to the pipeline's high profile, President Obama will play an important role in the decision.
Uncertainty and rumors are rife, partly because Hurricane Sandy reignited concern about human-caused climate change and fossil fuels, but largely because the two top officials who bear main responsibility for the decision will soon be replaced. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will step down this month.