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InsideClimate News

White House: $150 Billion a Year Will Be Cost of Climate Inaction

Damage to public health and biodiversity, as well as physical impacts from rising seas and more severe storms, droughts and wildfires will add up quickly.

Jul 29, 2014

Seeking to blunt Congressional criticism of its climate agenda, and in particular its new power plant rule, the White House released a report on Tuesday that argues the world could face severe economic consequences if it doesn't act now to curb global warming.

Allowing warming to pass safe levels and reach 3 degrees Celsius could cause damage amounting to 0.9 percent of global economic output each year, according to the new report from the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, a three-member group that counsels the president on economic policy.

That level of warming would cost the United States about $150 billion a year in today's dollars. It will come in the form of damage to public health and biodiversity, as well as physical impacts from rising seas and more severe storms, droughts and wildfires.



InsideClimate News Responds to Steve Everley of Energy in Depth

The ploy to manufacture an imaginary public enemy called the 'anti-fracking industry' is not a substitute for controlling fracking's toxic air emissions.

Jul 29, 2014

Last week an oil and gas industry public relations front group called Energy in Depth published a lengthy criticism of InsideClimate News and our partner for the past year, the Center for Public Integrity, of stories we've been publishing together about toxic air emissions from unconventional gas and oil production in Texas.

We believe we've aroused the group's displeasure because our work shines an unwelcome spotlight on these toxic air emissions and the manner in which they are released, with little regulation or regard for neighboring homes and communities. As our stories point out, regulators in Texas claim that the emissions are within safe levels, even though they don't have enough data to make that assertion. Our investigations have also shown that people who believe they have been sickened by the nearby emissions are left to fend for themselves.

Energy in Depth did not dispute the evidence we presented. Instead, it published a litany of allegations charging journalistic malfeasance. Not one of the allegations touched on the substance of our reporting, which is based on interviews with more than 30 scientists and technical experts, including some who work for the industry.

Obama Coal Sales to Cost Society Billions in Global-Warming Damage, Study Says

Greenpeace estimates that coal leases approved under Obama would impose future costs of between $52 billion and $530 billion.

Jul 28, 2014

The global-warming damage caused by burning coal leased from federal lands under President Obama will eventually cost society tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars—far outweighing any economic benefit of coal leasing to taxpayers, a Greenpeace report concludes.

The leasing program charges companies only about a dollar a ton on average to mine coal, but the pollution from each ton burned is estimated to cost between $22 and $237, Greenpeace said.

The report uses the federal government's method of estimating the social cost of carbon, or SCC. The SCC is a calculation devised by economists to express in today's dollars the price future generations ultimately pay for the damages caused by carbon pollution.



Maine Port Votes to Block Tar Sands Exports. But Will It Matter?

South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance may block pipeline plan, but industry vows political and legal fight and may have other options.

Jul 28, 2014

Environmentalists claimed victory last week when a small coastal town in Maine voted to block heavy crude exports from its harbor. The South Portland city council's decision is the result a long-running campaign by green groups to prevent the flow of oil from Canadian tar sands through a pipeline to the port.

While petroleum industry groups have vowed a political and legal fight to overturn the town's ban, securities analysts dismissed the significance of the measure, known as the Clear Skies Ordinance, altogether. They argued that there are other routes to get the oil to the East Coast.

"It is a hollow victory, almost meaningless," said David McColl, an analyst who focuses on oil sands and pipelines for the investment research company Morningstar.

Obama's Safer Oil Train Plan Faces Rulemaking Hurdles

It could take more than three years to fully halt the shipment of the most flammable liquids in the most dangerous rail cars.

Jul 25, 2014

The Obama Administration's proposal Wednesday for making oil-laden railcars safer runs 203 pages and includes a host of new rules for carrying flammable fuels by train—but they come with caveats.

The most important caveat is that they're not final regulations, and it's not uncommon for proposed safety requirements to get weakened and postponed following objections from the industries involved.

What comes next is a 60-day period for accepting comments from the public and the various industries that will be affected by the Department of Transportation's proposed rules. Then the government has to issue the final versions and give the industries time to comply. It could take more than three years to fully halt the shipment of the most flammable liquids in the most dangerous railcars.

The government's "comprehensive rulemaking proposal" also leaves two critical elements unsettled. The DOT offers three different safety standards for making new oil railcars stronger—and asks for public comments on which one should prevail. The agency also offers several variations on rail speed limits, leaving that issue unresolved.

Colorado: Judge Strikes Down Town's Fracking Ban

Sixty percent of Longmont, Colo. voters favored the ban in a 2012 ballot measure. Activists say they will appeal.

Jul 25, 2014

A Colorado court has ruled that the city of Longmont's ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is invalid.

The Boulder suburb—and the affiliated local and environmental groups that later joined the case—now have 44 days to appeal the decision. During that time, fracking will be prohibited across Longmont's 22 square miles.

The city has not yet decided whether to appeal. However, the activist groups supporting the ban will appeal, according to their attorney from the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.

Kaye Fissinger, a Longmont resident who had worked on the town's frack-ban campaign, previously told InsideClimate News: "We are going to take it all the way to the [state] Supreme Court."

Longmont, a middle-class community of 86,000, is one of the first Colorado cities to push back against the controversial practice of oil and gas extraction that has becoming increasing popular in the state, and nationwide. Around 60 percent of the voters favored the ban in a November 2012 ballot measure. The town has already spent more than $61,000 in legal fees to protect the ban.

Runaround: Three Months of Correspondence With the EPA

EPA's non-responsiveness in the Texas air pollution story is troubling because it keeps taxpayers in the dark about a critical issue.

By Lisa Song and Jim Morris

Jul 24, 2014

For more than a year, InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity have been reporting on air pollution caused by the fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas. Despite hundreds of complaints from residents, many of them about noxious air emissions, we discovered that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution and rarely fines companies for breaking emission laws. On our 11 trips to Texas we encountered many residents who asked what seemed to be a reasonable question: If a state regulatory agency—in this case the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality—isn't doing much to curb the industry's air pollution, why isn't the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepping in? The EPA, after all, is ultimately responsible for enforcing the federal Clean Air Act.

In February, after we published our first stories on the Eagle Ford, we began trying to answer that question by seeking on-the-record interviews with EPA officials in Washington, D.C., and Texas. Five months later, no such interviews have been granted.

Instead, EPA press officers have told us to put our questions in writing, an increasingly common response from federal agencies under the Obama administration. The process usually goes like this: A journalist calls the press office to schedule an interview but instead is told to submit written questions. Once these are in, a press officer gets answers from scientists or other officials and then crafts a written response. In most cases, nobody involved in the process—not even the EPA press officers—will agree to be quoted by name.

New Data on Extreme Temperatures Underscore Planet's Warming Trend, Scientists Say

'It is more often the climate extremes that noticeably impact society, infrastructure, and ecosystems,' a new report warns.

Jul 23, 2014

This past June was the warmest ever recorded by scientists since record keeping began in the 19th century. The average surface temperature of the earth was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit, up 1.3 degrees from the 20th century's typical June.

May 2014 set a comparable new record. That month, too, the planet's average surface temperature was about 1.3 degrees above the normal warmth of May.

It's reasonable to expect that the whole year may end up with the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded—especially if El Niño, the periodic shifting of warm waters in the Pacific now thought to be incipient, develops robustly.

On the face of it, data like this, reported Monday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, might seem powerful enough evidence that climate change has indeed arrived, as is widely accepted by mainstream scientists.

But lately, climate scientists have felt the need to explore the emerging evidence in more sophisticated ways.



Families Sick From Fracking Exposure Turn to Concerned Scientists

Instead of waiting years for studies, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project is using best available science to help people with ailments.

Jul 22, 2014

This report is part of a joint project by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity.

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states have stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit—apparently the first of its kind in the United States—that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.

"As far as unconventional natural gas drilling goes, we are the public health service of the United States right now," said Michael Kelly, the media liaison for the EHP.

David Brown, a toxicologist and the group's co-founder, said government agencies haven't done enough to study, analyze and mitigate the risks people face from drilling.

Small Colorado Town Picks Big-Time Fight Over Fracking

Sixty percent of the people of Longmont voted to ban fracking, and they're being told by industry and state regulators they can't do that.

Jul 22, 2014

When the people of Longmont voted in 2012 to ban fracking in their Colorado community, they knew it would put them in the cross hairs of powerful oil and gas interests.

The City Council had already been sued by the industry's trade group as well as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's oil and gas regulator, for trying to restrict the controversial drilling technique.