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Lisa Hymas' Posts

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

pipeline delayed
Public Citizen

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay -- and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, "A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana."

The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay:

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Who had the best one-liners at the Senate’s climate slumber party?

pillow fight
Shutterstock
Sens. Brian Schatz and Maria Cantwell share a light moment during the all-night talkathon. OK, not really.

Thirty U.S. senators pulled an all-nighter on Monday. They did not, sadly, wear PJs, paint toenails, or fight with pillows.

Instead, they talked about climate change -- and talked and talked and talked. They cited studies and stats. They showed photos and graphs. They warned about climate impacts in their home states. They promoted the economic benefits of clean energy and the job-creating potential of innovation. They made strained analogies about baseball and the rise of the Nazi regime. Altogether, they talked for nearly 15 hours, right through to 8:55 a.m. Tuesday morning.

There aren't enough votes in Congress right now to pass strong climate legislation, or any climate legislation (though an energy-efficiency bill might squeeze through). But at least nearly a third of senators care enough about the problem to stage the 35th all-nighter in Senate history.

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You can thank Warren Buffett for many of those exploding oil trains

Warren Buffett
Asa Mathat / Fortune MPW

We've written a lot about the dangers of shipping extra-flammable oil in flimsy rail cars that are prone to puncture and explode. Turns out you can blame a fair bit of the problem on billionaire investor Warren Buffett. As the Sightline Institute's blog reports, "Arguably, he is the single most important person in the world of oil-by-rail." More from the post:

Most people don’t realize it, but the tank cars that carry crude oil are not owned by the railroads that run them and are only rarely owned by the shippers who use them. In fact, roughly 80 percent of all the tank cars registered in North America are owned by companies that lease the tank cars to shippers. ... These lessors ... are the ones ultimately responsible for the fact that that the vast majority of oil trains today are largely composed of older models so riddled with obvious flaws that federal safety investigators have for years urged the entire fleet be retrofitted. ...

Not only have they avoided pulling the hazardous DOT-111 tank cars out of service to retrofit them, but they have opposed and delayed meaningful federal regulation at every turn.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment group is the biggest player in the tank car leasing business with around 40 percent of the market ... The next biggest player, GATX Corp, is scarcely more than half the size. ...

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Bummer for anti-Keystoners: Report finds no conflict of interest, despite obvious conflicts of interest

Keystone protest
Michael Fleshman

Environmental Resources Management, the consulting firm hired by the State Department to review the potential environmental effects of the Keystone XL pipeline, did all sorts of dodgy and deceptive stuff, but none of it amounted to serious rule breaking -- at least according to the State Department's inspector general.

The Office of Inspector General today published a report that found ERM did not violate the State Department's conflict-of-interest rules as it bid for the Keystone contract and wrote its study. Climate activists and environmentalists had requested the investigation by the inspector general, and now they're none too pleased with the results.

Last month, the State Department released the environmental impact study written by ERM. It found that Keystone would not have significant climate impacts, even though sections of the study actually contradict that top-level finding. Grist's Ben Adler recently highlighted the top three flaws with the study.

Bloomberg has compiled a handy list of questionable behavior by ERM:

Beginning in June 2012, ERM failed:

• to disclose a possible conflict of interest to the State Department until two months after it won the contract, as reported by ... Jim Snyder at Bloomberg News;

• to reconcile why ERM listed TransCanada as a client in its marketing materials the year before it began the Keystone contract, even though ERM and TransCanada had both told State that they had not worked together for at least five years;

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John Podesta, climate hawk and Keystone opponent, joins Obama team

John Podesta
Center for American Progress

This post has been updated below with news that Podesta will recuse himself from the Keystone XL decision.

President Obama is getting a new high-level adviser who cares a lot about climate change and doesn't care much at all for the Keystone XL pipeline.

John Podesta is no stranger to the White House; he served as chief of staff to President Clinton. And he's no stranger to the Obama team; he led the president's transition into office after the 2008 election. Since then, he's served as an "outside adviser," The New York Times reports, and "has occasionally criticized the administration, if gently, from his perch as the founder and former president of the Center for American Progress, a center-left public policy research group that has provided personnel and policy ideas to the administration."

For the coming year, he'll be advising from the inside. He will help out on health care and "will focus in particular on climate change issues, a personal priority of Mr. Podesta’s," according to the Times. Podesta is expected to encourage Obama to take action through his executive authority, as Congress is unwilling and unable to pass legislation on climate change or much else. "Podesta has been urging Obama for three years to use the full extent of his authority as president to go around Congress," Politico reports.

Podesta is also an outspoken opponent of Keystone, and his move to the White House is making some Keystone boosters nervous, National Journal reports.

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Triple threat: Obama orders federal agencies to boost clean energy use threefold

Obama and solar panels
Nellis Air Force Base

Two bills in the Senate would require the country to get at least 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025, but neither has a chance in hell of making it to Obama's desk. Thanks, Republicans! So the president is doing what he can without approval from Congress: requiring the federal government to get more of its power from renewable sources.

From NPR

Read more: Uncategorized

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Nancy Sutley plans her White House exit

Nancy Sutley
Howard SIlverman, Ecotrust

Another member of Obama's environmental team is headed for the door. The administrator of the EPA and the secretaries of energy and interior departed soon after the president's second term began, and White House climate adviser Heather Zichal left last month.

Now Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, plans to step down in February.

From National Journal:

Sutley, appointed at the outset of Obama's presidency, has kept a lower political profile than some other top officials. But she played a crucial role in several major administration policies, the White House said. ...

Obama, in a statement, thanked Sutley for her five years with the White House, calling her a vital part of such policies as the second-term climate agenda he rolled out in June.

"As one of my top advisers, Nancy has played a central role in overseeing many of our biggest environmental accomplishments, including establishing historic new fuel-economy standards that will save consumers money, new national monuments that permanently protect sites unique to our country's rich history and natural heritage, our first comprehensive National Ocean Policy, and our Climate Action Plan that will help leave our children a safer, healthier planet," he said.

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Times are tough for the fossil-fuel lovers at ALEC

"end ALEC laws" light display
Light Brigading

Pity the poor right-wing schemers at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Things are just not going their way.

ALEC is a corporate- and Koch-funded group that pushes conservative bills in state legislatures around the country. Among many others, it's promoted bills to roll back renewable energy standards (unsuccessfully so far), and now it's trying to undermine net-metering rules that benefit solar-panel owners. In the first seven months of this year, ALEC helped get at least 77 anti-environmental bills introduced into 34 statehouses, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

But it was ALEC's advocacy for so-called "stand your ground" laws, made famous in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, that started scaring off corporate donors.

Now, as The Guardian reports, ALEC has a big budget hole. And as a trove of internal ALEC documents reveals, the group is also facing declining membership among state legislators and potential concerns that it could be targeted for improper lobbying.

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Jerry Brown keeps getting heckled by anti-fracking protesters

Jerry Brown
Steve Rhodes

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is finding the fracking issue to be increasingly irritating. Or more to the point, he's finding anti-fracking activists to be increasingly irritating.

Brown is a long-time environmental champion with a strong record of advancing clean energy and climate action, but he doesn't mind the fracking that's going on in his state. In fact, he kinda likes it.

The San Jose Mercury News reported a month ago on Brown's "most extensive remarks yet defending his administration's fracking policy":

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Obama OKs pipeline that will help Canada’s tar-sands industry

pipeline
Shutterstock / Oleinik Dmitri

The week before Thanksgiving, the Obama administration quietly approved a pipeline project that will cross the U.S.-Canada border and benefit the tar-sands industry. But not that pipeline.

This 1,900-mile pipeline will carry gas condensate or ultra-light oil from an Illinois terminal northwest to Alberta, where it will be used to thin tar-sands oil so it can travel through pipelines. Without this kind of diluent, tar-sands oil is too thick and sludgy to transport. "Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers," reports DeSmogBlog.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan is the company behind the $260 million Cochin Reversal Project, which will reverse and expand an existing pipeline. The pipeline will be fed by fracking operations in the Eagle Ford Shale area in Texas.

Yes, fracking and tar sands, together at last.