By inviting four former Republican heads of the Environmental Protection Agency to testify in favor of prompt climate change action, Democrats on a Senate committee hoped to highlight some degree of bipartisan support for the EPA's crackdown on carbon emissions from power plants.
The four duly defended the agency and disputed the notion that air pollution regulations are harmful to the economy. They also declared their acceptance of the established science on man-made global warming as an increasingly compelling reason to cut emissions.
"We have a scientific consensus around this issue. We also need a political consensus," said Christine Todd Whitman, who was George W. Bush's EPA administrator, but who quit after the White House decided against controlling CO2 under the Clean Air Act, as the Obama administration is doing now.
ExxonMobil intends to restart the southern portion of its Pegasus oil pipeline on July 1, ending a 15-month shutdown that began when the pipeline ruptured and flooded a residential street in Arkansas with crude.
The move is a disappointment to Texans like Barbara Lawrence, who said the 1950s-era southern leg of the Pegasus runs under the Richland-Chambers Reservoir, where she lives on the shore. She and others worry about potential oil spills in reservoirs and other waterways, and have questioned the safety of reopening any part of the Pegasus line without extensive testing.
"I think that's too bad, and I really think it's short-sighted," Lawrence said of the pipeline restart. Noting that the Richard-Chambers Reservoir is a source of drinking water, she added, "You'd think that other people, particularly in a drought situation, would want to protect the water supply."
A Texas judge will soon decide whether to accept a jury's $2.9 million award to a Wise County family who claims to have been sickened by emissions from the gas and oil wells surrounding their home.
In April, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba Petroleum, a Plano, Texas company, "intentionally created a private nuisance" that affected the health of Jim and Lisa Parr and their daughter. It appears to be the first successful U.S. lawsuit alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production sickened people living nearby.
More than 100 wells have been drilled within two miles of the Parrs' Decatur, Texas ranch, 60 miles northwest of Dallas. One of Aruba's arguments is that it owns only 22 of those wells, so the emissions could have come from one of its competitors' wells.
If County Judge Mark Greenberg decides in the Parrs' favor, legal experts say the case could establish new legal standards that would benefit people who are fighting the industry. But another Texas case, decided nearly two decades ago, is cause for caution.
The Canadian government's decision Tuesday to approve the $7 billion Northern Gateway pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the coast of British Columbia does not guarantee that the pipeline will be built in the end—or that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will find it any easier to advance his Conservative party's energy agenda, which also includes getting the Keystone XL pipeline approved in the United States.
Politically, Canada's Northern Gateway debate has eerie parallels with the U.S. debate over the Keystone—but with some of the roles reversed.
In Washington, Republicans who strongly favor the Keystone have been pressuring vulnerable Senate Democrats from fossil-fuel or swing states to support legislation that would approve the pipeline without waiting for President Obama to weigh in. If enough of them abandon the president, the Senate could vote to ram the pipeline through. (A committee vote is set for June 18.)
Public protests, legal tussles and delays have plagued the Keystone XL pipeline for years.
Now TransCanada, the company behind the project, faces another hurdle when the permit it needs to build in South Dakota expires on June 29.
The reapplication process will open the door for public comments and could lead to a hearing—adding further delays to the pipeline's review, now in its sixth year.
Much is up in the air, but pipeline opponents are cheering.
Alarmed by a string of explosive and disastrous oil spills, two states recently passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government.
The moves by New Hampshire and Minnesota reflect a desire for more control over in-state hazards, as well as mounting frustration over gaps in federal law involving oil pipelines and oil trains, superficial federal reviews and the secrecy surrounding spill response plans submitted to U.S. regulators.
"At this point, lots of states are looking at oil-by-rail and thinking about how they would respond—whether they have the resources, whether their first responders have the resources, and whether their laws are sufficient to protect their communities," said Rebecca Craven, program director at the Pipeline Safety Trust, a safety advocacy group based in Washington State.
As the Obama administration inches toward a major expansion of natural gas exports, one of the thorniest questions is how that growth will affect greenhouse gas emissions, possibly worsening the problem of global warming.
Although gas contains less carbon than other fossil fuels, it emits more methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 in the short term. Methane leaks into the atmosphere from gas production wells, and from the pipelines that deliver the gas to export terminals. Then you have to count CO2 emissions from the significant amount of energy needed to liquefy the gas so it can be shipped abroad. Finally, exports would likely boost natural gas prices—and that could encourage burning dirtier coal instead.
Quantifying all this pollution is enormously complicated, and attempts to do so can lead to some surprising results, as shown by a new study from the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory. It reached the startling finding that in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, for China to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States might be no cleaner than for China to keep on burning its own coal.
OTTAWA—When you combine climate change, an unlikely partnership between Californians and French-speaking Canadians—and the prospect of an 8-cents-a-gallon rise in gasoline prices—what do you get?
The energy industry vs. California. And Quebec.
Last year, California and Quebec launched the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a system that makes businesses pay for carbon pollution. When it comes to climate change, that puts California and Quebec well ahead of their national governments in Washington and Ottawa. It also puts California and Quebec squarely in the sights of the oil-and-gas industry, which strongly opposes action by sub-national governments enforcing polluter-pay regimes on their own.
The first phase of the system, now under way, covers large industrial facilities, but on Jan. 1, the cap-and-trade scheme will expand to cover pollution from companies that distribute oil, natural gas and gasoline. With that deadline less than six months away, energy companies are urging the two governments to pull back.
Federal pipeline regulators and ExxonMobil lawyers will spar Wednesday in Houston over a proposed $2.7 million fine and allegations that the company delayed crucial inspections, skewed risk data and ignored warning signs before its Pegasus oil pipeline ruptured in Arkansas last year.
The two sides are presenting evidence for and against the fine and allegations in an "informal" administrative hearing that's closed to the public. It is being heard by a presiding officer from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), according to Damon Hill, spokesman for the regulatory agency. A final ruling could take six months or longer.
PHMSA's Pegasus case is being closely watched by pipeline opponents who question the government's ability to stand up to oil company pressure and protect the public from harmful—and sometimes deadly—incidents involving oil pipelines and railroad cars filled with crude.
"What gets everybody really suspicious is that you don't have access to watch it, which raises all kinds of issues about transparency," said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant who serves on PHMSA’s safety standards advisory board for oil pipelines. "The pipeline is owned by the company, but it's running through public assets, so [the closed process] tends to be frustrating."
Jeff Tollefson is reporting from the Brazilian Amazon for eight weeks and exploring Brazil's efforts to protect the world's largest rainforest—and the earth's climate.
The morning after I landed in the Brazilian state of Pará, I joined a pair of state government officials heading to an event in a municipality of Terra Alta, located 70 miles inland from the capital of Belém. It turned out they were honored guests, and as we approached we discovered that a parade was literally waiting for them on the side of the road before rolling into town. A man was shooting fireworks out the back of one truck, and a stack of concert speakers belted music out of another.
The occasion? Several dozen properties were formally being entered into the new "rural environmental registry," and the local government was using the occasion to persuade more landowners to register their land and protect their remaining forests. Terra Alta Environment Secretary João Batista do Nascimento told me that the municipality needs to get its environmental documents in order so its producers can remain competitive in a market that punishes environmental negligence.
"Our challenge is to bring this message to people who have to produce and respect the forest," Paulo says.