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InsideClimate News

KXL and the National Interest: Obama Is in Uncharted Territory

When two previous presidential pipeline approvals were made, America's energy and climate change future looked a lot different.

May 12, 2014
Barack Obama in White House

Whenever President Obama eventually decides on a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, it will be safe to say this: A lot has changed since Washington's previous two big pipeline decisions.

As part of the research for "Keystone and Beyond," a new InsideClimate News e-book on the history of the Keystone XL decision, I examined Bush's 2008 granting of a permit for the first Keystone  pipeline, the initial step in TransCanada's plans to link Canadian tar sands oil with American refineries. And I looked at Obama's 2009 granting of a permit for the Alberta Clipper, a similar cross-border pipeline built by Enbridge.

It's not easy to see either as a meaningful precedent for the Keystone XL verdict, even though all three pipelines are meant to expand energy supplies of Canadian crude into U.S. markets.

To read the decision papers on the first Keystone and on the Clipper is to step back in time. Expectations for oil supply and demand were dramatically different from today. So was the thinking about how to control the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Describing changes like these is the main thrust of "Keystone and Beyond."



Keystone XL: Bush's No-Brainer, Obama's Dilemma

New book published by ICN traces pipeline’s origins to earliest days of Bush-Cheney era, and shows how KXL has become a test for Obama’s climate legacy.

May 8, 2014

Editor's note: Today InsideClimate News is publishing a new e-book, Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change.

It is available for one week as a free download here.

A year in the making, the book was written by John H. Cushman, Jr. who worked in the Washington bureau of the New York Times for 27 years before joining the ICN staff.

"Keystone and Beyond" provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga. It also upends the national debate over the pipeline by tracing its origins to policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the first months of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that have turned out to be wrong. The result of an exhaustive re-examination of the historical record, the book is enhanced with infographics, photos, audio and video.

Below is an excerpt of the first pages of the book, which is available for FREE on our free ICN app. "Keystone and Beyond" can also be read in any web browser.

Click here to get the book now.

The Thinking Behind 'Keystone and Beyond': Author's Note

Author of new ICN book explains why and how he used the past to illuminate Obama's historic Keystone pipeline decision, and what he learned.

May 8, 2014

Editor's note: Today InsideClimate News is publishing a new e-book, Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change. A year in the making, the book was written by John H. Cushman, Jr. who worked in the Washington bureau of the New York Times for 27 years before joining the ICN staff.

More than a year ago, when the publisher and editors of InsideClimate News asked me to write about President Obama's looming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, my evening reading happened to be Neustadt and May's political science classic, "Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers."

The 1986 book by two Harvard scholars, required reading for presidents and their advisers, uses case studies to show how presidents ought to approach important decisions. In brief, it should be done not with a short list of options already in hand, but with a timeline of events retracing the history that brought them to the brink of decision.

Presidents should ask, "What's the story?" Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May wrote. "When did it start?"

In particular, they advised that "putting all presumptions on the table and then testing them is one defense of laymen against experts."

As a layman besieged by experts weighing in on the Keystone XL debate, I saw before me a mountain of contradictory analysis and heard a cacophony of firmly voiced assertions from all sides.

Keystone XL: Bush's No-Brainer, Obama's Dilemma — In Infographics

By John H. Cushman Jr. and Paul Horn

May 8, 2014

Today InsideClimate News is publishing a new e-book, Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change. The book provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga.

It is available for one week as a FREE download here, and can also be read in any web browser.

The book includes several infographics to illuminate the major issues and history behind the Keystone XL decision, including: the Bush-Cheney energy strategy; the changing economics of U.S. energy production; the emerging science on the social costs of carbon and the global carbon budget; and more.

Here is a sampling of the graphics (all enlargeable and attached for download below):

Brazil and the Battle Against Deforestation: A Short History

It wasn't that long ago that Brazil saw deforestation as a measure of progress. Now scientists, officials and police try to end the daily destruction.

May 5, 2014
Dalton Valeriano

Jeff Tollefson is reporting from the Brazilian Amazon for eight weeks and exploring Brazil's efforts to protect the world's largest rainforestand the earth's climate.

Dalton Valeriano rolled into Brazil's space agency in frayed jeans and a casual blue polo around 10 a.m. After a few pleasantries he sat me down in a small conference room and set the stage for the project that has consumed his life for more than a decade.

"The whole thing starts a very very long time ago..."

Valeriano leads the satellite-monitoring program at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) north of Sao Paulo, and it is his job to maintain a record of annual deforestation in the Amazon that dates back to 1988. His team also issues the daily deforestation alerts that law enforcement officers use to track down criminals who are busy cutting down protected rainforest.

Before delving into his own work, Valeriano switched on a projector and commenced with a brief history of the Amazon. Soon enough we were reviewing the papal edicts, treaties and disputes that have guided, if not governed, the settlement of the Amazon by Europeans.



New Ad Links U.S. Oil Industry's Anti-Biofuel Campaign to Saudi Arabia

In high-stakes battle over renewable fuels, pro-biofuels camp takes a page out of the playbook used by the oil industry repeatedly—and successfully.

May 2, 2014

The latest skirmish in the political battle over U.S. renewable fuels is playing out in new ad campaigns that begin Sunday with the appearance of one of this country's favorite energy villains: Saudi Arabia.

The Middle Eastern oil powerhouse stars in "The Kingdom," a new television ad warning viewers that the American Petroleum Institute's "smear campaign" against renewable fuels is being waged with the backing of Saudi Arabian oil interests.

"Saudi Arabia ... the kingdom. It's seven thousand miles away ... but they've got some good friends here at home. The American Petroleum Institute. A-P-I," the ad's narrator says. "Together, they're bankrolling these political ads attacking American-made fuels like ethanol…to keep you addicted to their oil.

The new ad, set to appear Sunday in Washington, D.C. during several popular news talk shows, was paid for by the progressive group Americans United for Change and VoteVets.org—two organizations that have produced other ads supporting the use of more renewable fuels. The groups said their new ad is based on the fact that API board members are typically large donors, and that executives from affiliates of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, have served on API’s board at least from 2008 through 2012.



Did TransCanada Try to Discredit a Pipeline Safety Whistleblower?

Email suggests TransCanada sought to sap the credibility of a former employee who accused the Keystone pipeline builder of lax safety.

By Mike De Souza

May 1, 2014

A newly released internal e-mail from TransCanada Corp. is raising fresh questions about whether its managers attempted to undermine the credibility of a former employee who questioned the company's commitment to safety, describing him as "disgruntled."

The email is the latest in a collection of thousands of pages of records released by the former employee, engineer Evan Vokes, who has been at the center of a dispute over the safety of TransCanada's operations in Canada. The emails also touch on TransCanada's record in the United States, where it hopes to build the multibillion-dollar Keystone XL pipeline project. Another TransCanada pipeline, which runs from Alberta, Canada to Cushing, Okla. and is known simply as the Keystone, has been plagued by at least 35 leaks or other incidents in the U.S. and Canada since it opened in June 2010.

The records Vokes released document internal safety concerns raised within the Alberta-based energy company, along with the responses from management. Vokes worked at TransCanada for five years, specializing in "non-destructive" examination, which uses tools or visual inspections of the infrastructure without damaging the pipeline.

A Reporter Travels to Brazil's Amazon: Can the Battle Against Deforestation Be Won?

ICN launches a new blog to follow his progress.

Apr 29, 2014

Jeff Tollefson will be reporting from the Brazilian Amazon for the next eight weeks and exploring Brazil's efforts to protect the world's largest rainforestand the earth's climate. This is the first blog post in a series.

As Portland recedes into the distance, my thoughts drift from my home in Oregon to the Amazon. There's a moment, as the urban grid gives way to rural farms and then forests, when these landscapes could be mistaken for one another; anybody who has peered out the window of an aircraft has witnessed this transition. But Oregon and the Amazon are worlds apart. Even setting aside their physical, biological and ecological characteristics, I'm leaving a land governed by laws that are more or less enforced, or at least feared. The world's largest rainforest, rivaling the contiguous United States in size and generating 20 percent of the world's freshwater, is a vast battleground where humans have yet to sign a meaningful accord with nature or each other.

But remarkable things have happened in the Brazilian Amazon over the past decade, leading many to believe that a fragile truce may at last be within reach. That is why I'm going—and why I'm writing this blog.



Federal Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulator Making 9% Staff Cut, Confounding Experts

Job cuts come at a time when PHMSA is struggling to regulate the nation’s aging pipeline network and new pipelines tied to the oil and gas boom.

Apr 24, 2014

The federal regulator for petroleum pipelines and oil-toting railcars is offering employee buyouts that could shrink the agency's staff by 9 percent by mid-June—a step that has confounded observers because the agency is widely regarded as being chronically understaffed.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) spokesman Damon Hill said the buyout offers are meant to "help the agency manage attrition in areas where a large and growing number of employees are eligible for retirement by offering an inducement for a limited number of employees to voluntarily retire or resign."

Hill said PHMSA is continuing to hire in key areas at the same time. "I understand how some folks may be looking at [the buyout effort], but it's part of an overall plan to retain expertise and plan for retention and things like that," he said. "There is some good that comes out of this."

Texas Yanks Funding From San Antonio Air Quality Program For Releasing Emissions Data

San Antonio loses 25% of its state-funded air quality grant after an employee makes some draft data on oil and gas drilling pollution public.

Apr 23, 2014

4/23/2014: An update has been added at the bottom of this story to include events at today’s AACOG meeting. 

A few casual words and the early release of some scientific data have cost the San Antonio region much-needed state funds to battle its growing air pollution problem. The misstep, which appears to have been unintentional, highlights the sensitivity of studying oil and gas pollution in business-friendly Texas.

The dispute began after the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG)—a coalition that oversees 13 counties in the San Antonio region—launched a two-part study to determine how oil and gas drilling was affecting the city's air quality.

San Antonio's air quality has been deteriorating since 2008, the same year drilling began in the nearby Eagle Ford Shale, site of one of the nation's biggest energy booms. The air pollution is now so bad that metropolitan San Antonio could soon be declared in nonattainment with federal standards for ozone, the main component of smog. If that happens, it could be subject to sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including increased EPA oversight for new development projects.