Figures…after all, they’ve only had what, five, six years now?
The State Department will “extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections,” Reuters reported on Friday afternoon. The organization credited the information to a 1:30 call with Congressional staff.
The decision of whether or not to approve the northern leg of TransCanada’s pipeline, connecting the tar sands of Alberta to oil refineries and export facilities in Texas, will enter its sixth year in September.(Think Progress)
Here’s a suggestion to the geniuses at Foggy Bottom: tell Canada to keep their damn tarsands north of the border, period; the oil’s going to the international market, not to U.S. markets, so why should we shoulder the burden of dealing with it?
Given America’s energy needs at present, this is good news…
The U.S. Army announced plans on Monday to begin construction on the Department of Defense’s largest solar array on a military installation. Groundbreaking for the 20-megawatt project will take place on April 25, with commercial operations slated to begin late this year. It will provide about a quarter of the annual electricity use for Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona.
“The project establishes a new path for an innovative partnering opportunity among the U.S. Army, other federal agencies, private industry and the utility provider,” said Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability. “I applaud the significant efforts and teamwork to bring this project to fruition — and set the example for other large scale renewable energy opportunities.”
The project is being installed under a purchase power agreement in which the solar installer, in this case Tucson Electric Power, pays for installation, operation, and maintenance and then pays down costs and generates revenue through sales of electricity. The project is an example of public-private industry collaboration in which no taxpayer dollars will be spent. The installation, design, engineering and construction of the project will be overseen by E.ON, a multinational investor-owned energy supplier.(Think Progress)
From an economic standpoint, this kind of plan makes sense: it is a private-public partnership with no taxpayer funds at stake…in addition, from a national security standpoint, it makes sense in that no fossil fuels will have to either be used to build said project or be used to supply energy needs for Ft. Huachuca; even if power supplies elsewhere were disrupted, the base would continue to have a reasonable power supply system. As one analyst put it:
“The military’s clean energy installation initiatives are gathering momentum, enhancing base energy security,” Phyllis Cuttino, who directs Pew’s project on national security, energy, and climate, said when the study was released in January. “These improvements are possible even as the Pentagon’s budget is shrinking because the armed services are harnessing private-sector expertise and resources. This is a win-win-win proposition: The military gets better energy infrastructure, taxpayer dollars are saved, and the clean energy industry is finding new market opportunities.”(Think Progress)
…a win-win-win proposition indeed…
On transportation, manufacturing and environmental grounds, this is good news indeed, even though its’ only (for now) the Illini State doing this:
The Illinois Department of Transportation signed a contract to bring a total of 32 hybrid electric-diesel trains to the United States last month. The trains will start running by 2016. And the project, when all is said and done, will cost the United States $225 million — a number that may sound enormous but that will actually save a significant amount of both money and the carbon pollution that drives climate change.
“The Charger locomotives will be used exclusively in passenger service,” a release from Siemens, the company manufacturing the locomotives, says. The trains “will be manufactured in the U.S. by Cummins Inc., headquartered in Columbus, Indiana,” and, will run in Illinois, California, Michigan, Missouri and Washington. Should all go well with the original 32, there’s an option for an additional 225 locomotives down the line. The hybrid electric engines will make the trains more efficient.(Think Progress)
In terms of both transportation and environmental concerns, this decision by IDOT should be seen as a good thing; given the current need to reduce greenhouse emissions, these new hybrid electric trains should cut both nitrogen oxide & particulate matter emissions by up to anywhere from 25-30% from current emission levels. These reductions, coincidentally, will also make these new trains some of the most efficient in usage today. In terms of manufacturing…well, anytime you can bring jobs back to the United States – particularly factory jobs – that’s a good thing for America’s overall economic health.
Now can we begin discussing America’s addiction to fossil fuels?
On the weekend of the 25th anniversary of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, officials announced that a collision of a barge and a ship in the busy Houston Ship Channel spilled as much as 168,000 of its nearly million-gallon cargo of thick, sticky marine fuel called RMG 380, “a special bunker fuel oil often used in shipping that doesn’t evaporate easily.” The channel was still closed at the moment this was written, leaving at least 80 ships unable to get in or get out. The U.S. Coast Guard said part of the channel could be reopened soon, but they offered no timeline for that or for containing the spill. Cause of the collision is under investigation.
Two of the six-member barge crew were treated from exposure to fumes. Such exposure can irritate lungs, eyes and skin, and the “vapor may contain hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which can be harmful or fatal if inhaled,” states the Material Safety Data Sheet.(Daily Kos)
Even if the spill doesn’t turn into another Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon, the effects are already starting to be felt…
…Richard Gibbons, conservation director for the Houston Audubon Society, said he had already received reports and photographs of oiled birds at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary near the spill. Staff there reported smelling the oil on shore, but had yet to spot the oily sheen on the water.
Oiled birds that have flown into the sanctuary, Gibbons said, include ruddy turnstones, laughing gulls and American white pelicans, and some shore birds have also appeared with oil — a sign the oil has made it to shore.
The sanctuary attracts 50,000 to 70,000 shorebirds annually to its shallow mud flats. Gibbons said he was working with state officials responding to the spill to ensure the environmental effects are limited.(Los Angeles Times)
For years I used to be an ardent supporter of fossil fuel consumption, regardless of the consequences…nowadays, not so much.
Uhh..is the Pope Catholic?
News broke last week that Duke Energy and its North Carolina regulator had worked together to minimize penalties the utility would have to pay for leeching chemicals into the drinking water. And this was before a coal ash spill last month dumped thousands of tons of poisonous coal slurry into the Dan River.
But these emails are just the latest evidence of a problematic coziness between the politically influential utility and the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DENR).
In this case, a coalition of environmental groups headed by the Southern Environmental Law Center sued Duke Energy for violating the Clean Water Act. The groups hoped to bring Duke before a federal court, but DENR intervened, filing its own lawsuit in a state court so that it could control the outcome. The result: Duke was fined $99,000 — a negligible sum for a company with an operating revenue of $19.6 billion in 2012.(Moyers & Company via Crooks & Liars)
What happened here is probably the one cruel part of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, namely what, for lack of a better word, could be described as ‘state preemption’. Basically, as the law is written, from the moment an environmental lawsuit is filed (such as the one above), the state where the alleged violations occurred has 60 days to intervene in state court; otherwise, the case goes before a federal court. In the case above, the state environmental agency, DENR, intervened right before the 60-day cutoff, thus ‘preempting’ the federal case and bringing the case into state court, where the state basically gave Duke Energy a slap on the wrist.
If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, read on…
Internal emails the [Southern Environmental Law] center released include one from an NC Department of Justice lawyer in March of last year, seven weeks after the law center had filed a 60-day notice of its intent to sue Duke.
The lawyer wrote that she needed to learn under what corporate name the state would file its own lawsuit against Duke. Duke merged with Progress Energy in July 2012, combining two fleets of coal-fired power plants.
“I need to check with (DENR general counsel Lacy Presnell) about how Duke wants to be sued,” she wrote.
The next day, according to the emails, the same lawyer wrote Presnell: “I need to know from you if Duke is expecting us to sue them or Progress.”
DENR spokesman Drew Elliot said he didn’t know whether Duke asked regulators to sue.
“But the point is, Duke is not our legal counsel,” he said. “We had a choice to make: Do we enforce the Clean Water Act, or do we let a citizens group enforce the Clean Water Act? There was only one choice, and that’s what we did.”(Charlotte Observer)
Now, here’s the rub in the above quote…in most places, the state’s environmental regulators are, in theory, supposed to work alongside and/or with environmental watchdog groups…however, here in the Old North State, the state’s regulatory agency of note – DENR – has a not-so-aboveboard relationship with the companies they’re supposed to regulate, namely Duke Energy.
Now, that’s bad enough in terms of regulatory coziness with the companies they’re supposed to be regulating…then this happened:
But then disaster struck. A pipe running under a 27-acre toxic waste pond collapsed and poured — by company estimates — 39,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River, which serves as a source of drinking water for a number of towns and cities. It was the third worst spill of its kind in US history.(Crooks & Liars)
Moyers & Company have been following the whole sordid mess of how a perfect storm of dark money interests, conservative lawmakers and various corporate-lef interests have combined to roll back policies and laws that have long benefitted the people of North Carolina; it’s well worth going over there and watching. It’s also a reminder that elections have consequences; I, for one, just wish that I had known a lot of this before voting for Pat McCrory back in 2012…
Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Steyer:
Retired billionaire financier Tom Steyer intends to raise up to $100 million this election cycle “to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers,” according to the New York Times. The California Democrat is currently building a liberal political network to rival the conservative groups financed by Charles and David Koch.
According to the Times, Steyer hosted “two dozen of the country’s leading liberal donors and environmental philanthropists” at his ranch in Pescadero, Calif., earlier this month. There, he pitched his plan to raise $50 million from donors, a sum he pledged to match. That money would be used in specific midterm elections, such as the Florida gubernatorial race or the Iowa U.S. Senate race.(Real Clear Politics)
This makes sense, on the surface: with the gads of money the Right is pouring into the 2014 midterms, any support that can be used to offset their money, by-and-large, is a good thing. On the other hand, you might be wondering why I opened this blog post with the line about being careful what you wish for….I can think of one example off the top of my head: the 2010 U.S. Senate election in Arkansas.
What happened in that election is pretty much why I opened this post with the line above; going into the election season, it would be very fair to say that incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln was vulnerable; a Blue Dog ConservaDem in an (a)increasingly conservative state and conversely (b)an increasingly progressive Democratic Senate caucus. These two factors led to Lincoln essentially getting turfed out of that seat thanks to former Lt.Gov. Bill Halter, who just about defeated her in the Democratic primary, forcing a runoff election that weakened her even further so that, by the time the general election rolled along, then-Rep. John Boozman pretty much won going away, with a margin of 59-36 over Lincoln.
The lesson here (a lesson I really hope someone tells Mr. Steyer at some point) is that, while its’ a good thing to challenge elected officials at times, sometimes the result isn’t what we want to see….instead of Sen. Lincoln, who might’ve kept that seat in Democratic hands even with the wave election of 2010, the two-round primary campaign agst. her effectively killed any chance the Dems’ had to hold that seat and consequently, given Arkansas’s increasingly conservative tilt, now makes it even harder to make gains and/or hold onto Democratic seats now. Smooth move, progressives…let’s just hope Mr. Steyer’s efforts don’t repeat those results this go-round…
I’m of two minds when it comes to the subject of hydraulic fracturing, a/k/a “fracking”, and I’m still of two minds after reading this National Journal article on whether Democrats’ could fracture over the issue…
On the one hand, we still don’t know all the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, so we need to be careful and cautious in regards to where we employ this emergent technology as we continue to broaden our energy resources. On the other hand, I don’t think Democrats’ are going to fracking fracture over the issue; while environmentalists and union workers may be on opposite sides of the issue, they have too many damn things in common to let this split them up and the sooner they can set aside their differences here, the better the party’s fortunes will be in the long run…