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Southern section of Keystone XL pipeline is already halfway done

President Obama and the State Department haven't approved the northern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would cart tar-sands oil down from Canada, but the southern leg, which Obama blessed last year, is trucking right along. TransCanada says construction on the southern section, from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, is about halfway complete.

pipeline-flickr-Travis_S

From the Associated Press:

Nearly 4,000 workers in Oklahoma and Texas are aligning and welding a 485-mile section, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson told The Associated Press.

“We’re right at peak right now,” he said. “We hope to have it in operation by the end of this year.”

Where there's oil there's money, and where there's money there are job creators, right? At least so says TransCanada -- and in the short term, that's not wrong.

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Canadians are feeling cocky about Keystone approval

"I heart Keystone XL" sign
Shutterstock/Grist

A week after climate activists rallied in Washington, D.C., against plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline, Canada’s tar-sands salespeople arrived in the nation’s capital with the opposite pitch.

And the fossil-fuel hawkers from up north seem to think it’s their message that will win over America's decision makers.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford arrived Friday with her environment minister to attend the National Governors Association winter meeting, where the duo gauged the mood of officials and pitched the proposed pipeline, which would carry tar-sands oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries and ports.

The way Redford tells it, things went smashingly. “I’m very optimistic,” she told Canada's Postmedia News. “There is strong bipartisan support for this project.”

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It’s too hot and muggy to work this century

It's getting too hot to get any work done
jalalspages
It's getting too hot to get any work done.

Think back to summer. No, no, don't think about the good times. Instead, try to remember what it was like when it was too stinkin' hot to get any work done.

Humans don't work so well when it's stinking hot. And that means that as the globe warms around us, we're doing less work. How much less? According to results of a study published Sunday in Nature Climate Change, humanity's summertime productivity has already fallen 10 percent since before the Industrial Revolution. And it's going to get worse.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Multibillion dollar question: How gross was BP’s negligence?

Image (1) bp_logo_425.jpg for post 42921The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was gross. Really gross. But what about BP’s negligence in creating that gross oil spill? Was that negligence also gross?

If you’re already tired of hearing the word "gross" over and over, you might want to tune out news of a trial that began today in New Orleans. The U.S. government and Gulf Coast states are seeking billions of dollars from BP in damages and fines. One of the key decisions that the federal judge must make in the case is whether BP was grossly negligent in causing the deadly explosion and subsequent oil spill, or whether the company was merely negligent. The stakes are big -- big with a capital B. Billions of dollars are at stake.

The government says the company’s negligence was totally gross. But, like somebody who farts in an elevator and then asks everybody to please stop whining because they didn’t try to make it smell so gross, BP is denying that claim. From a statement issued by BP:

“Gross negligence is a very high bar that BP believes cannot be met in this case,” said [BP General Counsel Rupert Bondy]. “This was a tragic accident, resulting from multiple causes and involving multiple parties. We firmly believe we were not grossly negligent.”

If U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rules that the company was grossly negligent, then it could be fined up to $4,300 per barrel spilled under the Clean Water Act. (Barbier is hearing the case without a jury.) The government says 4.1 million barrels spilled, having reportedly backed away from an earlier estimate of 4.9 million barrels. If the judge accepts that figure, and also rules that BP was grossly negligent, the company may have to fork out $17.6 billion to the American people in Clean Water Act fines alone.

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For Open Data Day, green hacks and snacks

Image (1) earth_computer_connected_green.jpg for post 39445Civic-minded hacktivists, you best brush off those keyboards and pick out a cute outfit, because tomorrow is International Open Data Day.

Cities around the world will be hosting hackathons to turn government data dumps into useful interactive applications for citizen engagement. Check the map for info on a 'thon near you.

For this special holiday occasion, San Francisco's Climate Corporation is hosting EcoHack. "EcoHack is about using technology to improve and better understand our natural environment," say the event's organizers. "Based on the hacking model of quick, clever solutions to problems, EcoHack is an opportunity to make a difference while having fun!" Woo, nerds!

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Permafrost is even less perma than we thought

Hey, so, about that layer of long-frozen soil covering almost a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere's land surface? You know, the stuff that's started melting and freaking out climate scientists but often isn't calculated into global warming metrics?

Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost breaks off into the Arctic Ocean
U.N./Christopher Arp
Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost breaks off into the Arctic Ocean.

Yeah, so, uh, according to a new study published this week in the journal Science, that may be melting way faster than we thought. From Climate Central:

If global average temperature were to rise another 2.5°F (1.5°C), say earth scientist Anton Vaks of Oxford University, and an international team of collaborators, permafrost across much of northern Canada and Siberia could start to weaken and decay. And since climate scientists project at least that much warming by the middle of the 21st century, global warming could begin to accelerate as a result, in what’s known as a feedback mechanism. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy

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How the environmental movement can save the environment

The environmental movement's challenge isn't energy, it's power.

Power is what prompts political change. Shifts in power, application of power. Not necessarily power on Capitol Hill, but at least enough power to force Capitol Hill to act. Environmentalists lack the power necessary to effect any major change because there are only a few environmental champions in positions of power in the United States: a few in the private sector, a few in Congress, a very few in the administration, almost no one in the media.

In order to make change, the movement needs to build political power. But instead it's consumed with building energy in an already-energetic base.

Image (1) power-shift-04.jpg for post 44251
Young people protest during Powershift 2011.

As David Roberts notes here and as I've noted before, passion and energy are critical to change. Without passion and a desire to make the status quo snap, nothing happens. But that passion has to exist within the powerful. And right now it doesn't.

Last weekend, tens of thousands of protestors met on the Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand that the president reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Organizers celebrated the turnout, hailing it as the largest climate rally in history.

That may be, but it's certainly not the largest environmental rally in history. On the first Earth Day in 1970, an estimated 1 million people rallied just in New York City, and nearly 20 million across the country. In 2000, a large Earth Day rally in D.C. was mirrored throughout the country. While those were more broadly focused on the environment, they likely matched last weekend’s crowd in energy. And large swaths of every such crowd shared a similar message: Take action to protect the Earth. Only the specifics varied.

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USDA says crops will do better but food prices will do worse

Maybe not growing crops, but growing in value regardless.It's more cold comfort for drought-stricken farmers this week, and I don't mean the snow.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber was all sunshine this Thursday in announcing that normal spring weather is expected to improve corn and soybean yields by huge percentages over last year's tiny drought-stricken crops. Bigger yields mean tinier prices -- Glauber said corn would be down about a third from last year, soy would drop more than a quarter, and wheat would be down about 11 percent.

From the South Dakota Argus Leader:

The recovery should send prices for most oilseeds and grains sharply lower, providing a much-needed reprieve for livestock, dairy and poultry producers struggling with high feed costs, and relief down the road for consumers who have paid more for food at their local grocery store. ...

“The critical factor that people will be following is weather,” Glauber said at the department’s annual outlook forum. “While the outlook for 2013 remains bright, there are many uncertainties.”

Way to bury the lede, Glauber. No matter how many times Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says "American agriculture is quite resilient," there still remains the fact that American agriculture is also in crisis, and forecasters are expecting more hot and dry weather this year.

Read more: Food

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Tar Sands Blockaders tell their own story in a new documentary

If this past Sunday's Forward on Climate rally showed a lot of love for President Obama, it showed even more for the nonviolent direct action going down in East Texas. Throughout the day, activists blockading construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline received big support from even the most law-abiding demonstrators.

But though their civil disobedience might seem mainstream within the climate movement, the blockaders are taking some seriously big risks out there, and a new documentary shows just how big. The nearly hour-long film by Garrett Graham was produced in collaboration with the blockaders and includes footage they shot themselves, from some places where journalists might fear to tread lest, you know, pepper-spray, choke-holds, etc.

You can watch the whole thing right here:

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Pipeline companies will get a $7 billion tax break through 2016

pipeline-flickr-Travis_S

There are people in Washington, D.C., right now scratching their heads and writing memos and trying to figure out how on earth we might possibly avoid budgetary doomsday, the sequestration that will lop some $1.2 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade. Again, this is only happening because Congress tried to threaten itself. It's like you threatening to rob yourself by holding a gun to your head and then trying to figure out how to keep from being robbed.

But while all of this is happening, something else is going on in Our Nation's Capital™: Pipeline companies are getting an even larger tax break than expected. From Bloomberg:

A tax break used by oil and gas pipeline companies such as Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP) will cost the U.S. government $7 billion through 2016, about four times more than previously estimated, Congress’s tax scorekeepers said this month.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation quadrupled its cost estimate for exempting the fast-growing “master limited partnerships” from corporate income tax in the year ended in September to $1.2 billion from $300 million. The annual cost will rise to $1.6 billion by fiscal 2016, the committee said.

$7 billion. $1.6 billion a year. Tack on the estimated $4 billion in tax breaks the oil industry receives each year, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.