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Today's Climate

April 24, 2014

(Al Jazeera America)
A Texas jury has awarded nearly $3 million to a family for illnesses they suffered from exposure to contaminated groundwater, solid toxic waste and airborne chemicals generated by natural gas fracking operations surrounding their 40-acre ranch, attorneys on the case said. The verdict delivered Tuesday is seen as a landmark decision for opponents of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing—a process in which high-pressure fluid is injected into the ground to fracture shale rock and release natural gas.
(West Virginia Gazette)
Hundreds of West Virginia residents who sought emergency-room care in January were treated for symptoms that were "consistent" with exposure to MCHM, the primary chemical that leaked from the Freedom Industries tank farm into the region's Elk River drinking-water supply, according to a review made public Wednesday.
Keystone XL watchers take note: Canada's oil industry is moving on. While TransCanada Corp. had its biggest tumble in close to five years yesterday after the U.S. said it would delay a decision on the company's $5.4 billion pipeline to the Gulf Coast, Canadian oil stocks barely flinched and are off to the best start to the year since 2006.
(Rolling Stone)
President Obama is not even halfway through his second term yet, but you can almost feel the cement hardening around his feet. The glory days of hope and change have faded, his approval rating has flat-lined below 50 percent, and jockeying for 2016 has begun in earnest. But for Obama, the game ain't over yet. In the next few months, he will take one of the biggest gambles of his presidency by testing the radical proposition that even SUV-loving Americans believe that global warming is real and are ready to do something about it.
(Washington Post)
Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer plans to spend big money making an impact in the 2014 midterm elections. Like $100 million big, according to a report. But in an interview Tuesday, Steyer suggested that elevating the most crucial climate and environmental issues of the day in the eyes of the public might require even more money.
(The Hill)
New Hampshire's congressional delegation is urging the State Department to thoroughly review any proposal by the operator of the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line to use it carry oil from Canada's oil sands to the United States. The pipeline is currently permitted to carry oil from Portland, Maine, on the Atlantic coast, to Montreal, via New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune)
The Canadian government ordered that nation's rail shippers Wednesday to use sturdier tank cars for crude oil and ethanol trains within three years, putting pressure on U.S. regulators to address the same problem. Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said older tankers, known as DOT-111s, carrying hazardous liquids must be phased out or retrofitted to meet new safety standards within three years. She also put new speed limits on such trains.
Fracking in Colorado has been an ongoing debate for several years but after Longmont passed a ban on fracking the debate has heated up once again. This time voters could see a proposal for a state-wide ban on the November ballot.
(Globe and Mail)
China's pollution epidemic has finally spurred the country's leadership to declare a war on smog. It's about time. Chinese citizens are angry about what's going into their lungs, while a recent government report says pollution has left 16 percent of the country's land unfit for use. Much of that pollution can be traced back to the billowing smoke stacks attached to China's fleet of coal-fired power plants. If Beijing is indeed sincere about taking the fight to pollution, then these ageing plants will be on the front line. Global coal producers are already sitting up and taking notice.
(Miami Herald)
Miami Beach became ground zero for climate change Tuesday when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson convened a rare field hearing to draw national attention to the dangers posed by rising seas. "For those who deny sea level rise and climate change, here is the proof," Nelson said halfway through the two-hour hearing at Miami Beach City Hall, and one of several times he pointedly called out colleagues in Congress who deny that climate change is occurring.
(Climate Central)
When a storm, such as Hurricane Sandy, sets waters in New York Harbor rising, those sloshing seas are now 20 times more likely to overtop the Manhattan seawall than 170 years ago, a new study finds.
(National Geographic)
As sea ice melts and the oil industry prepares to exploit the Arctic's vast resources, the United States faces big gaps in its preparedness for an oil spill in the region, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Research Council (NRC). The 183-page report marks the first time in more than ten years that the NRC, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has taken a comprehensive look at the impact of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

April 23, 2014

(The Hill)
Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on Tuesday sought to downplay the importance of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and said the Obama administration will continue to focus on the bigger problem of climate change.McCarthy tried to turn the attention toward climate change during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," less than one week after the State Department stopped the clock with 14 days left in the 90-day interagency review of the $5.4 billion project.
(Charlotte Observer)
Duke Energy's top North Carolina executive told state lawmakers Tuesday that digging up coal ash from disposal sites across the state and trucking the industrial waste to modern landfills, as critics are demanding, could cost as much as $10 billion. A cheaper option, which leaves the coal ash in place at most sites, would cost at least $2 billion.
Dr. Lyle Best traveled nearly 200 miles from the heart of North Dakota's oil patch Tuesday to tell state regulators one thing: "Slow down." The North Dakota Industrial Commission is considering a proposal that would cut back on the state's booming oil production as a means of controlling the amount of natural gas that's being burned off at well sites and wasted as a byproduct of the more valuable substance, oil.
(Broomfield Enterprise)
Oil and gas company Sovereign plans to sue Broomfield to bypass the city's controversial, voter-approved ban on fracking. Sovereign planned in 2013 to drill new wells in Broomfield but was not able to because voters in November narrowly approved a ban on fracking.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he can't personally block the frac sand industry from expanding in southeastern Minnesota, rebuffing a group of mining opponents who delivered a moratorium petition to St. Paul as part of an Earth Day rally at the Capitol. Bobby King, policy program organizer for the nonprofit Land Stewardship Project, said a rarely-used statute called the Critical Areas Act allows the governor to engage the state's Environmental Quality Board (EQB), without action by the Legislature, in a process that could lead to a two-year moratorium against frac sand development.
(Think Progress)
This week, the White House approved a long-awaited rule that limits how much coal dust miners can be exposed to, increasing the workers' protection against this dangerous byproduct of coal mining. The rule, approved Monday by the Office of Management and Budget, is expected to lower the the current limit on coal dust exposure, which has been in place since 1972.
The Obama administration's latest Keystone XL delay is having an unintended consequence: the revival of the effort in Congress to circumvent the White House by forcing approval of the project. While a plurality of U.S. senators are on record supporting Keystone, no bill relating to the pipeline other than a non-binding resolution has passed in the chamber. 
Conservative groups may have spent up to $1 billion a year on the effort to deny science and oppose action on climate change, according to the first extensive study into the anatomy of the anti-climate effort. The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires, often working through secretive funding networks.
(Houston Chronicle)
Rail industry representatives on Tuesday told federal investigators they need clear government guidance on how to boost the safety of tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol across the United States, lest they be penalized for making voluntary improvements that fall short of later mandates.
(StateImpact Texas)
If you follow local headlines in Midland-Odessa, it seems like there's a fatal car crash every couple of days. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the oil-booming Permian Basin saw a 13 percent increase in roadside deaths from 2012-2013. Last week, a victims' rights coalition in Midland held a panel discussion on how to deal with the region's increasingly dangerous roads.
(McClatchy DC)
The push to start drilling in the Atlantic Ocean is gaining momentum and dividing people along the grand coast of South Carolina, where some local leaders fear what it could mean for tourism. "If we had an event like they had in the Gulf it would be devastating for us," said Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin, referring to the April 2010 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 and gushed 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. "Our beach and our environment are our signatures. Our entire economy is built on hospitality."
(Los Angeles Times)
The California Environmental Protection Agency has released a statewide list of census tracts most burdened by pollution, providing a first-of-its-kind ranking certain to pressure regulators to clean up neighborhoods with long-standing health risks. Many of the worst pollution pockets identified and mapped by state officials are in the San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire. Their residents are largely low-income Latinos who have had little power to force improvements in their communities.

April 22, 2014

(The Hill)
The White House maintained on Monday that the decision to delay the review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline was not based on politics. The State Department said last week it would delay its recommendation on the project, and the White House said it was not involved in that decision."I know there's a great urge and has always been to make this about politics," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "But we've see along this process, along the way here, along the route, you know, a series of actions taken in keeping with past practice where the reviews are done out of the State Department."
A court challenge holding up TransCanada Corp. (TRP)'s Keystone XL pipeline should be dismissed, Nebraska's governor said, urging his state's high court to allow the project to move forward. The case's outcome is delaying the Obama administration's review of the international project, the State Department said 18. Nebraska's Republican Governor Dave Heineman yesterday asked the state's top court to throw out a trial judge's ruling that the route for the pipeline was approved without proper authority.
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Potentially dozens of gallons of fracking wastewater and diesel fuel spilled into Chartiers Creek at 3 a.m. Monday after a fuel tank truck caused a rear-end, chain-reaction collision with two wastewater tank trucks stopped at a traffic light on Henderson Avenue in Canton, Washington County. The tractor-trailer owned by 1923 Transportation LLC, owned by Zappi Oil of Washington and transporting off-road diesel fuel, was traveling south on Henderson Avenue (Route 18) when it slammed into the first tank truck owned by Highland Environmental LLC in Somerset.
(Toronto Star)
The Harper government, which never foresaw that pipelines would become the battleground in a frenzied struggle over climate change, is contending with a continentwide wave of political opposition that has imperilled plans to sell more Canadian petroleum in foreign markets. In British Columbia, a few thousand people in the small coastal town of Kitimat have given powerful symbolic momentum to the movement against pipelines designed to carry oilsands-derived crude for export.
(New York Times)
The Keystone XL pipeline is a great political symbol. The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels daily of carbon-heavy crude from Canada's Alberta oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, has galvanized environmental activists, who call it a litmus test for President Obama's commitment to fighting climate change. It is a political weapon against Mr. Obama for Republicans, who call it a symbol of job creation and energy security. It has motivated liberal donors, led by the California billionaire Tom Steyer, who has personally urged Mr. Obama to reject the pipeline.
(StateImpact Texas)
With budgets already reduced and with more cuts on the way,  federal environmental regulators are expected to be doing fewer inspections of industries that pollute. If state environmental regulators were expected to take up the slack, many of them—including those in Texas—are dealing with budget cuts of their own.