Yesterday, Canadian pipeline behemoth Enbridge won government approval for its plans for 9B, one of the most contentious pipes in pipe business. While it doesn't get much press, 9B is important because it's part of a hot, new trend in trans-national pipe dreams: Skirting environmental review, and public scrutiny, by pumping dirty crude through existing pipelines rather than building new ones.
Enbridge wants to use 9B to carry up to 300,000 barrels of tar-sands oil per day to Quebec for refining and export. And it is determined to not repeat the mistakes of TransCanada, the company behind the much-maligned (and very publicly held-up) Keystone XL pipeline. Thus the tactic of reusing old lines, a game that it has already played with several other pipes.
Political junkies have become so accustomed to House Republicans’venomous hatredof environmental regulation that they could be forgiven for assuming that no environmental legislation would pass the House as long as the GOP controlled it. But on Wednesday, proving that one should never say never, the House approved a measure to improve energy efficiency in both the public and private sectors.
The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act, which overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 375-36, is similar to a bipartisan bill that was reintroduced in the Senate last week. The House bill calls for several steps to reduce electricity waste, including:
Create a “Tenant Star” program, modeled on Energy Star, that would establish best practices for efficiency in commercial tenant spaces and set up a voluntary certification system.
Are you feeling frustrated by the lack of action in Washington on the biggest problems facing the nation, such as economic inequality and climate change? Are you tired of watching a moderate Democratic president stuck in stalemate with Republicans in Congress? Well, help may be on the way, in the form of a left-wing presidential campaign that will make you feel good about yourself. Don’t worry that it could take votes from the Democratic nominee and potentially toss the election to the Republican. Ralph Nader did just that in 2000, and things worked out OK, didn’t they?
In an interview with The Nation, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, says, “I am prepared to run for president of the United States.” But he hasn’t made up his mind about whether to run in the Democratic primary or as an independent. He says, “I haven’t reached a conclusion on that yet. Clearly, there are things to be said on both sides of that important question.” And then he muses about how there's a record-high number of independent voters in the country, but getting in televised debates as an independent would be impossible. (Sanders must expect that like Nader, but unlike Ross Perot, he wouldn't have the polling numbers to qualify for the debates.)
Based on the experience of right-wing insurgent candidates such as Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, and Pat Robertson, it seems obvious that running in the primaries will attract the most attention to a candidate who is at one end of the political spectrum. By competing in the Republican primaries, conservative extremists have generated headlines and extracted concessions at the Republican convention.
But that's less important than the fact that presidential elections are not just an opportunity to advertise a platform. They result in the election of the most powerful officeholder in the world.
Leto, fresh off an Oscar win, has signed an open letter calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to recommend against building the pipeline. Twelve other young environmentalists signed the letter, including Svante Myrick, the 26-year-old mayor of Ithaca, N.Y.; Adam Gardner, the lead singer of Guster; and Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend. The Sierra Club identifies this group as “leaders of the millennial generation.” Speaking for my kind, more accurate representatives might have included 2 Chainz, Marissa Cooper, and Maru the Cat, but I’m not confident that those candidates would have been able to put together an equally compelling piece of writing.
The hallmark of a Republican policy proposal is that it can be adapted to virtually any circumstance. Just as George W. Bush advanced tax cuts as the appropriate response to both budget surplus and deficit, congressional Republicans believe that fossil fuel promotion is the appropriate response to, well, everything. And so they have looked at the vexing problem of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region and come up with a carefully calibrated answer: “Drill, baby, drill!”
First, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was struck with a brilliant insight: If Russia’s meddling in Ukraine is dangerous because Russia supplies Europe with oil and natural gas through pipelines that traverse Ukraine, then the U.S. should offer Europe an alternative source of fossil fuels. And so, she argues, the Obama administration should expedite approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. “Our ability to respond quickly and nimbly I think is somewhat hampered by the process that we have in place,” she told reporters at an energy industry conference in Houston on Monday. “If this was a situation in which we wanted to use as political leverage our natural gas opportunities here, we’re not in that place now, and quite honestly it may be some time.” In her speech to the gathering, she also called on Congress to repeal the ban on exporting crude oil, saying, “Lifting the oil export ban will send a powerful message that America has the resources and the resolve to be the preeminent power in the world.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), sensing an opportunity to portray generic Republican corporatism as a brave stand against Vladimir Putin’s bullying, issued his own statement Tuesday calling on Obama to approve LNG terminals. “The U.S. has a responsibility to stand up for freedom and democracy around the globe, and we have a responsibility to stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion,” said Boehner. “One immediate step the president can and should take is to dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas. ... We should not force our allies to remain dependent on Putin for their energy needs.”
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. ...
This is a story about natural gas leakage, and we’re not talking about what happens after your grandfather says, “Pull my finger!”
Recent reports in journals such as Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have carried some depressingnews: Natural gas, the “bridge fuel” touted by President Obama for its lower CO2 emissions and domestic abundance, may not actually be better for the climate than coal. Natural gas is mostly methane, which is half as carbon intensive as coal when it's burned, but when it's released directly into the atmosphere, it's 86 times worse for the climate than CO2 over a 20-year time frame. Rampant methane leakage in the fracking process and from pipelines raises natural gas’s total greenhouse gas emissions; the studies estimate that more than 2 percent of gas in the U.S. may escape through leaks.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The technology already exists to dramatically reduce methane leakage for a reasonable price. Environmental groups have put out reports outlining how. They could serve as a template for the oil and gas industry to follow voluntarily, or for the EPA to require under the Clean Air Act.
Maria Langholz hadn’t been to class all week. As a regional organizer for Sunday's big Keystone XL pipeline protest at the White House, she had transportation to Washington, D.C., to wrangle for 46 other people, with rumors of a snowstorm on its way to prettify and petrify the highways of the east coast. She had to pack a weekend bag suitable for sleeping in a church basement. She had to figure out how she was going to carry $10,000 in various denominations inconspicuously on her person, because she had been informed, in no uncertain terms, that the county lockup was cash only, and only took exact change. She had never been arrested before.
On Thursday morning, Langholz was still in Minnesota, where she is in the process of navigating that tricky balance between majoring in environmental science at Macalester College and trying to save the planet. “It’s so soon!” she laughed over the phone. “We’re leaving tomorrow! At least I have food covered. I made hummus. And scones. And cookies.”
All across the country, people like Langholz, mostly young, mostly college students, working with the group XL Dissent, were getting ready to get arrested on Sunday. Several of them, like Langholz, had signed a Pledge of Resistance months earlier to engage in peaceful civil disobedience to prevent Keystone from being approved. They would meet in Washington and march to the White House. Some of them would carry an enormous mock pipeline. Others would lay out an enormous, theatrical oil spill and pretend to die on it. Others would lock themselves to the fence surrounding the White House. They would hope, earnestly, for good weather and for the president to notice them.
On Monday morning, the EPA announced the adoption of new rules that will require oil refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline.
As The New York Timesexplains, “When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks pollution-control equipment in vehicle engines, which increases tailpipe emissions linked to lung disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravated heart disease and premature births and deaths. Proponents of the rule say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term, but opponents, chiefly oil refiners, say it is unnecessarily costly and an unfair burden on them.”
If oil refiners say it's costly and unfair, that's a good sign. If they were not complaining, it would probably mean the rules were too weak. Transferring the public health cost of pollution to the companies that produce it is exactly what EPA rules should do.
Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that she had some “dramatic new information” to share. The information: Heavy crude from tar sands isn’t just going to bring us back to the hot mess of the Cretaceous, it’s also going to make us sick. Or some of us, anyway.
The information is dramatic, though not new. Every time you’re around crude, heavy or light, it’s not great for you. Anyone who uses the EPA’s website to search for pollution near their zip code is going to find a lot of old gas stations and auto body shops. The health risks Boxer highlighted — asthma, respiratory ailments, increased risks of heart disease and cancer — are ones that community activists near oil refineries, power plants, and drilling operations have been warning about for years. But extraction of heavy crude releases more emissions than extraction of light. And when a pipeline carrying heavy crude ruptures, the resulting spill is much more difficult to clean up, meaning that -- so far, at least -- more of it stays in the ecosystem it spills in, up to and including the people in that ecosystem. So Boxer is not so much making a new argument as reformulating an old one and, in the process, giving anti-Keystone activists another line of attack: human health.