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In San Bruno Gas Blast Case, Cozy Emails Between Judge and Defendant

Loss of confidence in important utility regulator adds pressure for accountability from overseers of pipelines, drilling operations and oil-by-rail.

Aug 4, 2014

The release last week of possibly improper emails between a utility and the California Public Utilities Commission has caused further damage to the credibility of the state's energy regulator and sparked a renewed push to oust the commission's powerful longtime president.

The mounting crisis of confidence at one of the nation's most influential state utility commissions comes as communities around the country are demanding more transparency and accountability from the regulators who oversee pipelines, oil and gas hydraulic fracturing wells and oil-filled trains.

Pressure on California's utility commission intensified last Monday, when the City of San Bruno—site of a horrific gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in 2010—released emails and documents that appear to show illegal communications about the ongoing San Bruno case and a pattern of coziness with Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility responsible for the tragedy.

IMF's Blunt Message to Nations: Raise Fossil-Fuel Taxes to Fight Climate Change

'Many energy prices in many countries are wrong. They are set at levels that do not reflect environmental damage, notably global warming.'

Aug 1, 2014

Countries all over the world, including the United States, should be collecting much higher pollution taxes on fossil fuels—stiff enough to reflect the long-term cost of global warming's damage, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday in an important new study.

The IMF, one of the world's leading development institutions, has long favored putting a price on carbon as an essential defense against the mounting damages of climate change.

But its advice has never been so blunt, or so detailed.

"Many energy prices in many countries are wrong," said the report, entitled Getting Energy Prices Right. "They are set at levels that do not reflect environmental damage, notably global warming."



$1 Groupon Coupon for Rooftop Solar Energy Finds 800+ Takers

The discount was offered to customers in 15 states, and comes at a time of rising popularity of 'distributed' solar generation.

Aug 1, 2014

Over 800 people across the United States took advantage of a novel online deal to get a discount setting up solar panels on their rooftops.

One of America's top solar companies, SolarCity, partnered with the coupon website Groupon for the offer. For $1—the price of a regular cup of coffee at McDonald's—buyers could get $400 off a solar contract that includes solar panel consulting, surveying, custom design installation and ongoing customer service. It works out to getting three to four months of free electricity.

The deal ran through June and July, and put solar on the radar for millions of online shoppers who might normally visit Groupon's website for deals on hotels or manicures.

"The Groupon program preformed very well and the response exceeded our expectations," said Jonathan Bass, vice president of communications for SolarCity, a California-based company chaired by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and Paypal fame.

The deal wasn't Groupon's first foray into solar campaigning—but it was the largest. The discount was offered to customers in 15 states, and comes at a time of rising popularity of solar power, especially the residential version.

Q&A: Why First Nations Are Stopping Enbridge's Tar Sands Pipeline

'We're serious about our economy. We want to make sure that it's self-sufficient and doesn't harm the environment—so it lasts forever.'

Jul 31, 2014

British Columbia's First Nations have fought the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline that would cross their land for years, and they have no intention of letting up just because the federal government recently approved it. They've ignored the wishes of Canadian Prime Minister Harper, shrugged off oil industry promises of local jobs, and rejected offers of part ownership in what could be a lucrative and long-lived project.

In short, they've been impervious to the kinds of political pressure and financial enticements that routinely succeed in smoothing the way for oil-related projects in the United States. How come?

A big part of the defiance comes from the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal groups in British Columbia that has no interest in allowing diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to pass through their territories or get shipped through their fishing grounds. The environment is too important to their culture, to their economy and to a succession of generations to come.

A Public Wiki Shines Light on North America's 4 Million Oil & Gas Wells

'We're not doing anything the regulators can't do themselves if they were so inclined,' says the founder of WellWiki.

Jul 30, 2014

When residents of America's fracking communities want to know if a particular oil or gas well in their neighborhood has a good environmental track record, they usually face the cumbersome task of searching through state records, which can take hours.

Now, a new website called WellWiki is trying to eliminate that frustration by making user-friendly data just a click away. Created by Joel Gehman, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta's business school, WellWiki currently lists data on more than 250,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859.

But Pennsylvania is just the beginning. Gehman plans to expand the site, which was launched in March, to cover all North American wells drilled since 1859—about four million. He expects to add data about West Virignia, Ohio and New York by September. 

The goal is for WellWiki to grow into "the Wikipedia of everything oil and gas-related," Gehman said.

FERC Commissioners at Hearing Agree on Need for U.S. Climate Action

In a surprise, several FERC commissioners at a Tuesday hearing went easy on EPA's new power plant rule, and all supported global warming action.

Jul 30, 2014

There are many reasons why members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the regulator of the nation's electric grid, might bristle at the Obama administration's new climate rule for power plants.

It could happen out of dismay at the complexity of a regulatory scheme that the Environmental Protection Agency proposed—but FERC must help untangle. It could stem from sympathy for power plant companies, which the agency is charged with not just regulating, but also nurturing. It could be as simple as protecting bureaucratic turf.

But at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers who were counting on the commission to bolster their case against the rule, heard just as much sympathy for the EPA as hostility.



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, 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.