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InsideClimate News

What the U.S. Climate Assessment Has to Do With the KXL Decision

The pipeline originated in the Bush era, when similar climate reports had the status of orphan or pariah. Times have changed.

May 15, 2014

The Obama administration's National Climate Assessment published last week after several years of work by 13 federal agencies is a striking example of the differences between Barack Obama and his predecessor on global warming science and policy.

Obama is emphasizing that climate change is now here and that action to confront it cannot be delayed. George W. Bush, in sharp contrast, put the accent on uncertainty and delay.

In "Keystone and Beyond," a new e-book published by InsideClimate News, I explore such differences between Obama and Bush as a way of examining the Keystone XL decision in historical context—to see what's changed since the pipeline was proposed under Bush, and how these changes may influence Obama's decision on whether the project is in the nation's interest. The two presidents faced starkly different oil markets, for example. They also took opposite views on whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant, whether it should be controlled under either the Clean Air Act or under a new cap-and-trade bill, and whether the United States should commit itself to steeply reducing carbon emissions under a new global treaty.

When it comes to how they dealt with the science of climate change—including the national climate assessments—the difference between the two presidents could not be sharper.

Understanding this is especially useful now, given the role the new NCA report is expected to play in the Obama administration's decision-making from now on. As John Podesta, Obama's special counselor, put it: "This assessment is about presenting actionable science."



Texas Judge Gives No Restitution to Citgo's Victims in Pollution Case With Wide Implications

Restitution would have included screenings for cancer and other diseases for victims exposed to chemicals from Citgo's illegally operated refinery.

By Priscila Mosqueda

May 14, 2014

A foreign oil company convicted of polluting a Texas community's air with dangerous chemicals has gotten off easy in a criminal case that could undercut the prosecution of environmental crimes in the United States. The case revolves around Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum's decade-long violation of the federal Clean Air Act at its refinery in Corpus Christi.

In 2007, the Citgo refinery became the first to be criminally convicted of violating the Clean Air Act by a U.S. jury. The refinery had spent a decade illegally operating two giant oil-water separator tanks without any emission controls. Every day for 10 years, nearby residents breathed noxious fumes emitted from the roofless tanks, including the carcinogen benzene.

It took another seven years, until February, before the judge in the case finally sentenced the company. U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey fined Citgo a little more than $2 million—a penalty prosecutors said would not deter Citgo from committing future crimes since, they argued, the company made $1 billion in profit as a result of its illegal operation. Corpus Christi residents were disappointed with the fine, but disappointment quickly turned into fear and confusion when the judge refused to announce in court his ruling on how much restitution must be paid to the refinery's neighbors.

On April 30, people who had been awaiting a decision for years finally found out what they would receive from Citgo: absolutely nothing.

"When I walked out of [the courtroom] I knew what it was gonna be: he was going in Citgo's favor," says Thelma Morgan, who lived two blocks away from Citgo for more than 35 years and whose husband and son were also exposed to toxic chemicals. "When he said 'I'll notify you all by letter' I said then, 'You're against us, so we can forget it.'"

EPA Asked to Regulate Fracking's Toxic Air Emissions

Petition filed by 64 groups outlines concerns about air pollution from drilling in populated areas and demands robust regulation under the Clean Air Act.

By Jim Morris

May 13, 2014

Seeking to close what a lawyer called "serious gaps" in regulation, 64 environmental and community groups on Tuesday petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on toxic air emissions from oil and gas operations.

The 112-page petition, filed by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, asks the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to develop "robust emission standards" limiting the amounts of benzene, formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals that can be released by wells and associated equipment.

"Some of the documented health effects of the many types of [hazardous air pollutants] emitted during oil and gas production include increased risks of cancer, respiratory diseases, and birth defects, among others," the petition says.



New Amazon Forest Law: Will It Stick?

Attempting to better understand Brazil's controversial new forest code and its future results in wildly different interpretations.

May 13, 2014
Jeff Tollefson

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.

BRASILIA, Brazil—Gazing out the window of the National Library of Brazil, across the concrete plaza, past the concrete dome of the National Museum and on to the most wondrous concrete Congress complex, I couldn't help but marvel at the audacity of Oscar Niemeyer and the band of architects that designed this city.

It's a city of bold and orderly forms where human activities are zoned with remarkable efficiency: government ministries here, housing there, all connected by an impressive network of roads, green spaces and pedestrian corridors. Everything is black and white—quite literally, in the case of the monumental concrete structures designed by Niemeyer himself. Here we see theory put into practice, then accosted by reality in the form of traffic, urban blight and suburban sprawl.  

The same could be said for Brazil's vaunted "Codigo Florestal," or Forest Code. Enacted in 1965, this is the law that limited the amount of forest that could be cleared in any given area—up to 20 percent of the total area for large properties in the Amazon, more for smaller properties and in other regions. It also prescribed how much forest must be retained along riverbanks and set standards that protect slopes. From an ecological perspective, it was hard to beat.

But the Forest Code, like the carefully planned architecture of Brasilia, has been utterly overwhelmed by reality.



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.