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If taxpayers are going to foot the bill for the time and effort it takes to come up with a conspiracy theory it should at least be a good one.

If that is the case, then taxpayers should be demanding a refund for the government employee time spent producing Environment and Public Works (EPW) minority chair Republican Senator David Vitter’s “Billionaire Club" report.

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The bloggers over at Powerline, led in this case by the Koch-cozy John Hinderaker, are all in a tizzy this week after the New York Times reported that Tom Steyer, a major political force in the fight for climate justice, used to invest heavily in coal mining operations.

I think Powerline has either misread the Times story or has conveniently ignored the fact that Tom Steyer used to invest in coal, but since transitioning from his career as a hedge fund manager to his new role as a full-time climate action crusader, he has divested himself of interests in carbon-intensive industries. 

This nothingburger story is being trumped up by Powerline and the right-wing echo chamber as proof of hypocrisy in Steyer's commitment to fighting climate change.

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The Guardian, now famous for its abilities to get a hold of damning secret documents, has released a pile of of files today that outline major funding issues at the right-wing lobby group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Most interesting, is ALEC's operation called the "Prodigal Son Project" outlining the organization's financial troubles and the plan to woo back more than 40 corporate members.

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A new study released today at the UN climate conference underway in Warsaw, Poland finds that new coal plants cannot be built if we are to keep global warming below the 2° Celsius threshold.

That is, unless the coal industry can deploy commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

The report, titled: New unabated coal is not compatible with keeping global warming below 2°C, finds that of all the fossil fuels, coal is the easiest to substitute with renewable technologies and that:

   

"The current global trend of coal use is consistent with an emissions pathway above the IEA's [International Energy Agency] 6°C scenario. That risks an outcome that can only be described as catastrophic, beyond anything that mankind has experienced during its entire existence on earth."

In other words, CCS better work and work fast.

Down the road from the UN conference, the Polish government (of all people) is hosting the "International Coal and Climate Summit" which heavily features CCS experts and discussion panels. 

There will likely be little talk at the coal summit of just how ridiculous the idea of commercially deployed CCS is becoming.

CCS technology has been a "future" solution for many years now, with governments abandoning experimental projects due to cost overruns and lack of progress. Governments like the United States, at the behest of the coal lobby, have pumped billions into CCS technologyexperiments, yet it continues to fail as a commercially viable option. 

A recent study by the Global CCS Institute found that the number of large scale CCS projects has dropped to 65 from 75 over the last year. If this was the grand solution to the urgent issue of climate change, you would think we would be seeing more projects coming on line, not fewer.

Even if we saw a breakthrough in CCS, huge issues remain. The first hurdle is finance.

As renewable energy technology prices continue to drop and reach parity with fossil fuels like coal (something we are already seeing), CCS begins to make less and less sense from a financial point of view. Coal prices will inevitably go up to cover the costs of CCS development making it uncompetitive with renewable energy. 

A second big hurdle is regulation of carbon storage. CCS can only work as a solution to climate change if the captured carbon stays safely in the ground forever. So who is in charge of ensuring that all that carbon stays underground? Coal companies? If a coal company takes on that responsibility, what happens when that company goes under? Who then is responsible? Taxpayers?

What if there's an earthquake near a carbon storage facility? A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes that,

   

"even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making "large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

In the United States, the coal industry argues that the government (read: taxpayers) should take on the responsibility and the liability for stored carbon - a convenient stance for the coal industry.

Finally there are the logistics of capturing carbon and moving it either by pipeline, train or truck to a designated storage facility.

2008 article on CCS by author Jeff Goodell describes the challenge of transporting carbon best:



   

"Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, Canada, argued recently in Nature that 'carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge [of global warming].' Smil pointed out that to sequester just 25% of the CO2 emitted by stationary sources (mostly coal plants), we would have to create a system whose annual volume of fluid would be slightly more than twice that of the world’s crude-oil industry." 

Smil's own words, to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions:



   

"... we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build."

Any practical thinker should by now be asking themselves: Wouldn't it just be easier to put up a bunch of solar panels and wind turbines? 

Unfortunately, the mythical distraction of 'clean coal' and still unrealized CCS commercialization remain a shiny penny for the technocentric crowd.

Discuss

A new study released today concludes that Koch Industries and its subsidiaries stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits if the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is given the go-ahead by U.S. President Obama. 

The report, titled Billionaires' Carbon Bomb, and produced by the think tank International Forum on Globalization (IFG), finds that David and Charles Koch and their privately-owned company, Koch Industries, own more than 2 million acres of land in Northern Alberta, the source of the tar sands oil that will be pumped to the United States via the Keystone XL pipeline.

   
“The Kochs have repeatedly claimed that they have no interest in the Keystone XL Pipeline, this report shows that is false.” Said Nathalie Lowenthal-Savy , a researcher with IFG. “We noticed Koch Funded Tea Party members and think tanks pushing for the pipeline. We dug deeper and found $100 billion in potential profit, $50 million sent to organizations supporting the pipeline, and perhaps 2 million acres of land. That sounds like an interest to me.” Nathalie continued, “We all know they will use that money to fund and expand their influence network, subvert democracy, crush unions like in Wisconsin, and get more extremists elected to congress."
Download a PDF copy of the study here: Billionaires' Carbon Bomb: The Koch Brothers and the Keystone XL Pipeline
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Originally posted on DeSmogBlog.

With the release of a major climate science report by the United Nations coming this week, the self-proclaimed climate "skeptics," better referred to as the climate deniers or flat-earthers, are kicking it into high gear for their fossil fuel clients and right wing ringleaders.

The likes of Tom Harris, better known for his lobbying work on behalf of the Canadian energy industry, and Fred Singer, formally a tobacco company expert-for-hire, are trying to make headlines again claiming that the warming of our planet has significantly slowed down. As Harris, a man with absolutely no scientific background in climate change, reassures us like a bunch of schoolchildren, "don't be scared."

I wish it were the case that the rate of global warming has significantly slowed and that we don't have to "be scared" of more extreme weather events, droughts and flooding.

But according to the scientific community, the experts who have decades of training in the field of atmospheric and climactic study, our planet continues to warm. In fact, this has been the hottest decade ever recorded. Not only has it been the hottest decade recorded, it has occurred despite the presence of major cooling factors, like La Nina's and reduced solar activity. Such events should result in a significant dip in the earth's temperature, but they are only having a relatively slight cooling effect.

Not good. And not at all what the flat earth society is trying to tell you.

For more on Tom Harris, see hisprofile on DeSmogBlog.  And for a look at Fred Singer, check out this handy sharable graphic from the Climate Denial Playbook series:

And for a look at Fred Singer, check out this handy sharable graphic from the Climate Denial Playbook series: 

(click here to see a larger version)

Discuss

Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 01:05 PM PDT

Sorry About All This, Eh

by KGrandia

It wasn't too long ago when Canadians were shouting at the top of their lungs about George Bush, the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay, Gay Rights and a myriad of other "American" issues.

But the tides have turned quickly. Canada is now what the US was in the George W. Bush days. I can't point to exact moment, but all I can say it happened really fast.

Look no further than a series of over 200 community protests against Canadabeing organized for this weekend across the US. This is just the latest anti-Canada protest and I for one am getting more embarrassed each time this happens. I used to get no end of pleasure making fun of my American friends and their crazy backwards politics. I mean, come on, Fox News! Need I say more!

I lived in the United States for the last three years and only moved back 8 months ago. When I first moved there, people would snigger and say something like: "Hey, did you move here to run away from the right-wing nuts running your country!" At first it was in jest, but by the time I left folks were saying: "You're not seriously moving back there are you? Canada is a mess right now."

I might have missed the exact moment the devil horns were passed from South to the North, but what I do know is who is to blame, and it can be summed up in two simple words: Stephen Harper.

Our Prime Minister, who was elected into office by less than a majority of voters, is running recklessly over Canada's image. We were once this mighty gem in the crown of the world, with untouched natural wonder. A country who was so polite that it became the butt of jokes! A country that punched way above its weight class when it came to international diplomacy - more than once I have heard it said that America is good at taking over countries, but it is the Canadians that are the best at rebuilding a country.

Now we are being protested. Our country has become a rallying point for people in other countries who want to make things better. Stephen Harper wants to ram regressive policies down the throats of its own people, and down the throats of Americans. He quite literally wants to ram a pipeline through US homesteads in places like Nebraska and pump our dirty crude to waiting offshore oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. And the consequences be damned.

You know. That just isn't the polite thing to do. To my American friends, I hate to say it, but you have every right to be pissed at Canada right now. We're acting like total hosers. Sorry.

Discuss

A new report out today finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report [pdf], authored by the environmental non-profit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than fifteen years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand's companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines.

The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to the United States.

Of the more than 4,000 infractions reported, less than 1-percent (.09 to be exact) received an enforcement action (that would be less than 40 of 4,000). Compare this the US Environmental Protection Agency, who has an enforcement rate of 16% for similar infractions by companies under their Clean Water Act.

Global Forest Watch also found that the median fine for environmental infractions in the oil sands over the past 16 years was $4,500. If you were an oil sands player like ExxonMobil, who reported a profit last year of $44.9 billion, would you change your ways over a $4,500 fine?

Royal Dutch Shell Oil's CEO, another big player in the oil sands, probably spent $4,500 on golf and dinner yesterday.

TransCanada, the company trying to convince US president Barack Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, was out last week touting Canada as a world leader in environmental protection. TransCanada wrote in the Globe and Mail that:

"The only relevant question is whether the U.S. wants to source its heavy oil from Canada, a friendly and stable ally with strict environmental standards, or from other suppliers whose interests are not aligned with those of the United States and have limited or no environmental standards."
Relevant question indeed, and here's the answer: Canada does not have "strict environmental standards" at all and this report puts even more pressure on President Obama to not approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
Discuss

Five people are confirmed dead and 40 people remain missing in the small hamlet of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where a train with 73 carloads full of Bakken shale oil derailed explosively, incinerating 30 buildings on Saturday.

Local resident Henri-Paul Audette told the Huffington Post that his brother's apartment was next to the railroad tracks, very close to the spot where the train derailed.

"I haven't heard from him since the accident," he said. "I had thought ... that I would see him."

This is by all accounts, a major tragedy, lives have been lost, loved ones remain missing and a small town has been nearly wiped off the map. There are still a lot of unknowns about this disaster, but that has not stopped supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from using the horrific events in Lac-Megantic to promote the pipeline.

In a commentary piece published in the Globe and Mail on Sunday, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a "senior fellow" at the Exxon- and Koch-funded Manhattan Institute writes, 

   

"After Saturday’s tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it is time to speed up the approval of new pipeline construction in North America. Pipelines are the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas, and we need more of them, without delay."

No kidding, Furchgott-Roth wants no more delay in the Keystone XL pipeline, since she has been advocating on behalf of the oil industry in one form or another for more than 25 years, with stints as an economist at the American Petroleum Institute and the oil industry-backed American Enterprise Institute. 

Working for oil company front groups is one thing, but using the tragedy still unfolding in Quebec to argue for more oil pipelines is a whole new level of low.

Discuss

It has been discovered today that the company charged with writing the official Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is a member of the American Petroleum  Institute - the largest lobbying group for the US oil and gas industry.

The company hired by the State Department and at the center of this latest controversy, the Environmental Resources Management Group, has already come under fire for what many critics call an overly favorable report of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In the report, ERM stated that the pipeline project, "is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development" of the tar sands. Therefore, it will also have little impact on climate change.

On the heels of today's evidence of ERM's close ties to the American Petroleum Institute,six major environmental groups are calling for a new environmental assessment to be done by State on the Keystone Pipeline project.

To date, the American Petroluem Institute has spent over $22 million lobbying in favor of the construction of the Keystone Pipeline project.

Discuss

President Obama's climate action announcement yesterday relies heavily on carbon capture and storage technology eventually paying off as a commercially viable option. But carbon capture and storage (or CCS) continues to be more of a dream than reality. And a very expensive dream at that.

According to a database maintained at MIT's Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies program, there are currently six large scale CCS projects underway in the United States. Five of the six projects are still in the planning phase, with one project listed as under construction. The current projected price tag of these six projects is a whopping $16.7 billion.

That's a lot to gamble on a risky technology that continues to struggle to prove it's even possible to deploy on a global scale. And $16.7 billion is only the opening bet. A full scale deployment of CCS technology across the entire US would likely be in the hundreds of billions. Estimates run as high as $1.5 trillion a year to deploy and operate enough carbon capture and storage worldwide to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the fossil fuels we consume.

President Obama announced his administration would make $8 billion available in loan guarantees for the development of enhanced fossil energy projects, which includes CCS technology. 

In a follow-up announcement today, the Interior department and the US Geological Survey released "the first-ever detailed national geologic carbon sequestration assessment."

While the Interior's asessment shows there is major potential to store carbon underground, mainly in the Gulf of Mexico region, the assessment does not look at the economics of CCS or the land management issues. Speaking at a press conference about the assessment, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, “if enough of this capacity also proves to be environmentally and economically viable, then geologic carbon sequestration could help us reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.” 

Price remains a huge issue for many fossil fuel companies looking at developing CCS technology. In fact, the current list of canceled projects in the MIT database is at eight in total for the US, two more than those listed as at least in the planning phase.

Many of the failed projects cite financial difficulties as the reason for cancelation. For instance, BP states that the expected cost of their now-defunct CCS project in Carson, California was, "...around $2 billion, twice the initial estimate."

Price aside, there remain two big unadressed issues when it comes to the idea of capturing and storing CO2 underground:

1. The Pipes

Right now, the most promising form of CCS involves burying carbon way down deep in the earth in natural saline aquifers. There remain many complications with saline aquifer injection, and I will leave many of those for another day. The biggest and most practical challenge of burying carbon in deep saline aquifers is that these aquifers do not span the entire US continent. Where much of the carbon will be extracted at coal plants, there is not a nearby saline aquifer to pump that captured carbon into. The carbon will have to be transported, which is no small task.

A 2008 article on CCS by author Jeff Goodell describes the challenge of transporting carbon best:


"Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, Canada, argued recently in Nature that 'carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge [of global warming].' Smil pointed out that to sequester just 25% of the CO2 emitted by stationary sources (mostly coal plants), we would have to create a system whose annual volume of fluid would be slightly more than twice that of the world’s crude-oil industry." 
In Smil's own words,to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions:
"... we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation- storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build."

That is an almost unimaginable amount of pipeline that would need to be constructed and the cost would be massive if it could even be done. To put this in perspective, consider that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline alone is estimated to cost about $6 billion to construct. 

2. Who is Responsible for all that Buried Carbon?

If carbon capture and storage is to work, the carbon needs to remain buried forever. Not one hundred years or five hundred years. Forever.

Will BP still be around in 100 years to deal with the carbon they buried? Even if the company is still around, are you going to trust that BP can keep carbon buried forever? Remember their big "junk shot" plan to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster by shooting golf balls and shredded tires into the ruptured pipe? Enough said. 

The solution to date, favored by fossil fuel companies not surprisingly, is that the US government would be responsible for the long term storage of the underground carbon. In a way, this makes the best sense, given that governments are typically longer lasting than corporations.

However, this transfers the liability and maintenance of carbon storage onto the backs of taxpayers, an inviting load for fossil fuel companies to shrug off their shoulders onto ours. 

Beyond the long term climate effects of this buried carbon being re-released back into our atmosphere at some point in the future, the short term impacts of such an event could prove deadly.

In 1986, a large natural pocket of carbon was suddenly released during volcanic activity at Lake Nyos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The concentration of carbon was enough to asphyxiate 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns. 

A 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes that even a small earthquake event in the US has the potential to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, making "large-scale CCS a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Some state governments have begun to look at the issue of the long-term liability of stored carbon, but to date the US government has not developed legislation to deal with this very large, and potentially deadly, question mark hovering over CCS technology.

Carbon capture and storage is in many ways President Obama's moonshot, but with one big difference. If America had not been the first to land on the moon, it would have been disappointing. But if the president's carbon capture and storage plans fail, the impacts could be devastating to the only planet we have.

Image credit: WhiteHouse.gov


Discuss

Google, the search giant with the famous motto: “Don’t be evil,” is boasting about its involvement in a 2012 coal industry lobbying effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to protect the public from dangerous and potentially lethal coal plant emissions, according to a recently discovered Google case study.

In February 2012, long time coal industry supporter, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a Congressional Review Act resolution proposing the elimination of the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants. The emissions from coal-fired power plants are the largest human-caused sources of the neurotoxin mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and a range of other dangerous pollutants, according to the EPA. Inhofe's proposal was ultimately voted down in the Senate by a vote of 53 to 46.

Legislative and policy experts close to the issue said that if Inhofe's proposal had been passed, it would have removed vitally important public health protections more than two decades in the making that every year prevent up to: 

        - 11,000 premature deaths;
        - nearly 5,000 heart attacks;
        - 130,000 asthma attacks;
        - 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits; and
        - 540,000 days when people miss work and school

 

The EPA regulations, approved under President Obama, are designed to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollution up to 90 percent by requiring plant owners to install pollution control mechanisms. Energy companies oppose the regulations for being too costly. The lobbying campaign was initiated by the American Coalition for Clean Coal electricity (ACCCE), whose membership includes electric utilities such as Southern Company and American Electric Power, two of largest air-borne mercury polluters in the country.

A Google promotional document, Four Screens to Victory[PDF], describes Google's involvement in the 2012 election cycle, and specifically highlights its role in garnering support for Inhofe's proposal to abolish the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:

    "In the spring of 2012, the U.S. Senate was considering legislation critical to the clean coal industry. As the industry’s voice in Washington, the American Coalition for Clean Coal electricity (ACCCe) sought ways to mobilize grassroots supporters of the legislation across the country to make their voices heard in the nation’s capital. The bill that the Senate would vote on was not on newspaper front pages or leading nightly newscasts, s ACCCE needed to find creative ways to identify citizens who backed its position – and then needed a mechanism to connect those people with their U.S. Senators."

A web version of Four Screens to Victory can be found on Google.com, however the mercury campaign case study is not included in that version.

The document describes how Google and New Media Strategies- since renamed MXM Social - worked together on the implementation of ACCCE's lobbying plan: 

   

"Social media marketing firm New Media Strategies (NMS) [now MXM] and Google implemented a groundbreaking click-to-call mobile advertising campaign on ACCCE’s behalf, connecting constituents with their U.S. Senators to support an amendment to stop regulation harmful to the clean coal industry. ACCCE’s campaign, which generated 3,000 phone calls to Senators over about two weeks, is the first time an issue advocacy organization has used mobile click-to-call advertising on Google to connect constituents to Senate offices at this scale."

An inquiry to MXM confirms as much. In response to my questions, Ross Parman, MXM's manager of insights and public affairs said,

   

The amendment supported by the click-to-call campaign was actually a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. CRAs are a gambit that rarely succeed – I believe it has only worked once – and in this case came up short, 46-53. Our goal was to move key Senate targets, and that was highly successful. The majority of our targeted senators voted in favor of the CRA."

The campaign garnered several PR awards for having effectively fused search, social media and Google’s “click-to-call technology” into what its participants are now heralding as ”the next progression in technology in the lobbying business.”

In response to our inquires, a source at Google told me that the company maintains a neutral stance when it comes to who uses their various platforms and for what purpose, especially on politically charged issues like US environmental policy. With the scale of clients and users Google needs to deal with, their politically neutral stance is understandable, and Google does have strict standards around using their platform for things clearly inappropriate to promote (i.e.. illegal drugs, sexual services, hate literature etc.). 

However, in the case of ACCCE, MXM and their efforts to stop the regulation of deadly chemicals in our air, Google has shown no qualms for having engaged in the implementation of the campaign. Maybe it was too focused on the medium, and not enough on the message. 

   

Discuss
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