To a dogged Michigan township supervisor, the recent decision by a Texas company to scrap plans to run a natural gas pipeline across the property of hundreds of landowners shows that people can fight—and win.
Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she believes the voices of outraged residents were heard loud and clear by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners when it decided to abandon plans for its ET Rover pipeline in six central Michigan counties.
"Never underestimate the power of determined people," she said.
With muted expectations for immediate progress but an increasing sense of urgency, United Nations negotiators convened Sunday in Geneva for a week of talks aimed at reaching a broad climate treaty by the end of this year.
The fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement is marshalling forces for this week's Global Divestment Day—an event organizers hope will strengthen the crusade's reach around the world and prove that it's "a force to be reckoned with."
Fossil Free, which has sister groups in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, said divestment day will feature a day-long series of actions on Feb. 13 in the U.S. (which will be Feb. 14 in some regions). So far, the schedule includes 326 events spread across six continents and 48 countries, including flash-mobs, street theater, elaborate props, sit-ins, vigils, dancing, a huge parade of bicycles, social media blitzes and more.
"There are going to be folks in a multitude of countries demanding action on the climate in the form of divestment," said Jay Carmona, a California-based community divestment campaign manager with 350.org, a nonprofit group that sponsors the Fossil Free divestment campaign as well as other climate-related initiatives.
"We want to send one clear message, that now is the time to end the age of fossil fuels," Carmona said.
Bridger Pipeline LLC was so sure its Poplar oil line was safely buried below the Yellowstone River that it planned to wait five years to recheck it. But last month, 3.5 years later, the Poplar wasn't eight feet under the river anymore. It was substantially exposed on the river bottom—and leaking more than 30,000 gallons of oil upstream from Glendive, Montana.
An ExxonMobil pipeline wasn't buried deeply enough for the Yellowstone River, either. High floodwaters in 2011 uncovered the Silvertip pipe, leaving it defenseless against the fast-moving current and traveling debris. It broke apart in July, and sent 63,000 gallons of oil into the river near Laurel, Montana.
Both companies underestimated the river's power and its penchant for scouring away the earth that's covering and protecting their pipelines. That miscalculation led to the Exxon Silvertip spill and it's likely to be declared a significant factor, at a minimum, in the Poplar spill.
Such misjudgments have potentially troubling implications nationwide, since pipelines carrying crude oil and petroleum products pass beneath rivers and other bodies of water in more than 18,000 places across America. Many of them are buried only a few feet below the water.
"There were a lot of people who wanted to think that the last pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River in 2011 was a freak accident that would never happen again. After this most recent spill, no one believes that anymore," said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers. "The truth is, there are probably hundreds of pipelines across the country that are at considerable risk of rupturing under our rivers."
Thirty-seven Republican senators voted against protecting the environment 19 different times—every single opportunity they had—during last week's contentious vote to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Across the aisle, 32 Democrats voted pro-environment 100 percent of the time.
That assessment was released Thursday by the political advocacy group the League of Conservation Voters, which tracked senators' votes on 18 different environment-, climate- and energy-related amendments attached to the Keystone XL bill, as well the Keystone bill itself. The report's results demonstrate the sharp partisan divide likely to rule Congress' climate-and-energy decisions for the next two years.
In a largely symbolic move, West Virginia legislators have repealed a law that required utilities to generate a quarter of their power from renewable or alternative sources by 2025. The bill repealing the state's energy portfolio standard passed 95-4 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday. The law leaves intact one provision that provides rebates to people who generate their own electricity.
The repeal, which was the first piece of legislation to come out of the GOP-led legislature this session, is seen by the environmental community as political theater orchestrated entirely to placate constituents.
"This whole thing is a charade," said Bill Howley, a citizen activist following energy policy in West Virginia. "The Republicans had made it a big issue in the elections and they want to be able to say, 'See, we told you we were going to do something about it and look, here it is.'"
Prior to the November 2014 elections, both the House and Senate in West Virginia were controlled by the Democratic Party. But in an unexpected sweep last year, Republican candidates running primarily on a pro-coal platform seized control of the House for the first time in eight decades, winning 64 of the 100 seats. In the Senate they gained control by a two-seat majority.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable-housing plan for New York City announced Tuesday calls for thousands of new residences to be built in low-lying neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The Environmental Protection Agency has called on the State Department to reconsider a key finding that led its Keystone XL review team to suggest that the pipeline wouldn't worsen climate change. The EPA said the recent sharp decline in oil prices makes it more likely that the project would significantly increase emissions of greenhouse gases.
In a memo filed Tuesday as President Obama's decision on the Keystone seemed to be drawing near, the EPA challenged the year-old environmental review's assertion that with oil prices relatively high, no single pipeline would significantly affect tar sands production or greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA said that finding "was based in large part on projections of the global price of oil"—projections made a year ago that have not held up.
"Given the recent variability in oil prices, it is important to revisit these conclusions," the EPA said.
The EPA is charged by law with reviewing the environmental impact statements issued by other federal agencies, and each time it has reviewed the State Department's work on the pipeline, it has found weaknesses.
President Barack Obama's latest executive order looks to curb future damages from one of the nation's most common and costly forms of climate-related disasters: flooding.
The order, issued Jan. 30, creates a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that requires current—and future—flood risk assessments to be rolled into the planning and construction of federally funded projects in and around floodplains.
Today, most agencies determine a new construction project's flood hazard based on historic flood data, not future flood projections. In fact, the latest flood hazard maps designed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency do not currently account for future risks—although the agency is working on this.
U.S. wind energy installations grew more than four-fold in 2014, according to a new report, but the growth was well short of its 2012 peak, and uncertainty over a key industry tax credit is dampening prospects for growth beyond this year.
New onshore wind energy projects added 4,850 megawatts to U.S. power supplies during the year, up from an increase of 1,087 megawatts in 2013, according to a report this week from the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group. With those additions, the U.S. has 65,879 megawatts of wind power capacity.
The big year-over-year increase in 2014 is partly a function of being compared to 2013, a down year for the industry because many projects weren't started until after Congress belatedly extended a critical tax credit to the end of 2013. To qualify for the reinstated credit, wind projects had to begin construction in 2013. That led to a rush to get projects underway before that deadline, and the 2013 construction push, in turn, led to the surge of completed wind projects in 2014, according to the Washington-based industry group.
Texas, already the nation's largest wind energy producer, installed more than 1,800 megawatts of new capacity last year—more than the nationwide total in 2013. The state will host the majority of the 12,700 megawatts of wind energy under construction at the beginning of 2015, but 21 other states had projects underway, according to trade group's report.
"Wind is gaining strength, but as recent history shows, we can do a whole lot more," said Tom Kiernan, AWEA's chief executive officer.