Sierra Daily: January 2012

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10 posts from January 2012

Jan 31, 2012

California Leads the Electric-Car Charge...Again

Focus electric use this one
In November, the Obama administration announced proposed rules that would strengthen fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for new cars and light trucks to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The rules would build on the administration's current standards, which raise the average to 35.5 mpg ending with the 2016 model year. 

Last week, California went one step further, adopting new rules that require 15 percent of all cars sold in the Golden State to be electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen-powered by 2025. The result, according to the Christian Science Monitor, is that there could be “some 1.4 million electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen cars on California roads within 13 years. Today, there are 10,000 such vehicles in the state.”

The new rules also rein in emissions from conventional cars. By 2025, smog-producing pollutants must be cut by 75 percent and greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent compared to today's levels. “It’s a trifecta for America’s economy, competitiveness, and security that depletes our dependence on foreign oil, protects human health, and saves families money during a devastating economic downturn,” Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Monitor.

Some of the best news seems to be that oil companies and the auto industry, which sued the state to stop its 1990 zero-emission rules (rules that were drastically scaled back in 2003), are cooperating this time around. “The new regulations ushered in what appears to be a new era of cooperation between automakers and the agency,” according to Bloomberg News. “Automakers testifying at the public hearing that preceded the board's vote voiced strong support for the rules even though they called on [the California Air Resources Board] to tweak various provisions in the regulations.”

However, some plug-in car advocates believe that California created a loophole that will allow a far less impressive implementation of the cleanest vehicles. Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America, an electric car advocacy group, points to the new rule’s “greenhouse gas overcompliance provision,” which allows automakers to only produce about half the number of required pure electric cars it needs to produce between 2018 and 2021 under the new rule in exchange for reducing the carbon emissions from its entire fleet by 2-gram-per-mile beyond established targets. “This will result in a gaping loophole, which will cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of plug-in cars in California,” Friedland says. The Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Natural Resources Defense Council also objected to the overcompliance provision.

-- Reed McManus

Image:  Ford Motor Company. The all-electric Ford Fusion, available Spring 2012.

Sunflower Shakeout

Sunflower Electric's existing 360-megawatt Holcomb Station power plant in Garden City, Kansas Its operators sought to sextuple its output. --Joies Images

Sierra has tracked the ups and downs of Sunflower Electric for years, ever since Scott Martelle's two-part series in 2009, "Killing King Coal" and "King Coal in Court." They told the story about how Sierra Club lawyers and activists were able to blunt the nation's "coal rush" by getting Kansas to deny a proposed new coal plant at Holcomb in 2007 because of its climate-changing potential--the first time this had ever happened in the U.S. That turned out to be only the beginning of the story, though. Six days after replacing Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who left to join the Obama administration, incoming Governor Mark Parkinson made a deal with Sunflower to permit its 895 megawatt coal-fired plant. In a series of complex moves, the Sierra Club--represented by Earthjustice--has blocked the expansion at every turn--most recently today, when U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the project needs a new environmental impact study--which could add at least another year and a half to the process. (You can read the opinion here.) In a separate case before the Kansas Supreme Court, the Club is trying to overturn a pollution permit issued by the state last year.

While Sunflower's dirty energy plans lie mired in court, the American Wind Energy Association reports that Kansas has more wind projects under construction than any state in the nation. The answer, my friend . . .

--Paul Rauber

Jan 24, 2012

"Coal Industry Losing Steam"

All together now: Awwwwww! Here's the lede to today's story in the Wall Street Journal:

This year's outlook is grim for the U.S coal industry, which after two years of rising profits has begun closing mines, signaling a new wave of production cutbacks and, possibly, another round of industry consolidation.

Reasons: cheap natural gas, Europe's shaky economy slowing its steel mills (and thus demand for metallurgical coal), and "tougher federal emissions rules for U.S. utilities, resulting in more planned closures of coal-fired generating plants and eroding the market for thermal coal."

The industry analysts cited by the Journal do, however, see growing coal use in the future, largely because of China's insatiable demand. BP PLC, in fact, believes that coal will account for the largest share of the world's energy consumption by 2030, at 27.7% (compared to oil at 27.2%, natural gas at 25.9%, and renewables at a paltry 6.3%). Domestically, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its new Annual Energy Outlook, predicts flatlining coal usage through 2035:


Coal's market share of U.S. electricity production is expected to continue to drop, from 44 to 39 percent. But even that projection, says Bruce Nilles of the Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, is way too rosy:

While the EIA estimates that over the next 25 years approximately 33,000 megawatts of existing coal power will retire, the Sierra Club has identified over 38,000 megawatts of existing coal power that has retired or announced an upcoming retirement since January 2010 – and more are expected soon. There are about 340,000 megawatts of coal in the United States as of January 2010. 

Coal is not only killing us; it's a dying industry. It's up to us to hasten it to the graveyard.

--Paul Rauber

And The Nomination Goes To…

Tree falls press_picEM 2If a Tree Falls — A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, the much-lauded documentary about the extreme environmental group that made its mark with a series of arson fires starting in the mid-1990s, is a finalist for Best Documentary (Feature) in this year’s Oscar awards. The film was universally received as an unflinching look at an incendiary topic -- in the words of the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin, a “fearless exploration of complexity in a world drawn to oversimplified depictions of events and problems, heroes and villains.” You can read reviews of the film here, here, and here, and Revkin's interview with director Marshall Curry here.

-- Reed McManus

Image: If a Tree Falls--A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (www.ifatreefallsfilm.com)

Jan 18, 2012

Get inspired to take a hike. Or grow a big beard.

Kk4Looking for inspiration as you plan hiking adventures for the coming year? Avid hiker Kolby Kirk recently posted this video documenting his increasingly hirsute five-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011. “Condor” (as he calls himself on the trail) “hiked 1700 miles, lost 90 pounds, and gained an epic beard.” (If facial hair brings out the inner Delilah in you, you may prefer the video that inspired Kolby.)

The modern Muir promotes hiking on his Web site, thehikeguy.com. Don’t miss the snippets from his elaborate trail journals here.

-- Reed McManus

Image: Kolby Kirk

Jan 13, 2012

New Seal Slaughter

CutesealOver the years, grisly images of hunters clubbing defenseless baby seals for their pelts have moved thousands to protest the Canadian seal hunt. This resulted in tighter regulation by the Canadian government, and, most recently, a ban by Russia--until recently the largest market for seal pelts--on the import and export of harp seal skins.  

Today sealers with clubs are replaced by a more fearsome but less photogenic force: climate change. According to a new article in the journal PLoS ONE, declining sea ice in the North Atlantic is leading to a dramatic plunge in harp seal numbers. “Entire year classes may be disappearing from the population in low ice years” says lead author David Johnston of Duke University. “Essentially all of the pups die.” Lack of sea ice may have killed as many as 80 percent of the seal pups born in 2011--a far greater slaughter than sealers ever wrought.

--Paul Rauber

Image by IFAW

Jan 11, 2012

Greenhouse Gas Sources By Neighborhood

UntitledThe EPA rolled out a fun new widget today that lets you search for the major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) across the country. It's just a first approximation: It doesn't purport to reflect all emitters, for example, only the large facilities in 9 industry groups that reported their climate-altering output in 2010. Oil and natural gas plants don't show up yet--their 2011 data should be available later this year. Nor does it include emissions from agriculture, land use, or from sources that emit less than 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent a year. For total U.S. GHG emissions, you want to see the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Happy hunting!

--Paul Rauber

Jan 10, 2012

‘Round Midnight

AtmospheToday the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists pushed its iconic Doomsday Clock, since 1947 a measure of the potential for global disaster, one minute closer to an apocalyptic midnight: 11:55. In 2010, the clock was moved from 11:55 to six minutes to midnight in response to the worldwide reduction of nuclear weapons and attempts to limit climate change. 

While the original clock focused on the risks of nuclear Armageddon, these days it more generally assesses threats to human civilization, including climate change.

The clock was at its most nail-biting (11:58) in 1953, reflecting the fact that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of each other. In 1991, the clock gave us the most breathing room ever, when it was set to 11:43 after the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the two superpowers. 

Writes the Washington Post: “In moving the clock ahead on Tuesday, the BAS cited the failure of world leaders to achieve significant progress on the reduction of nuclear weapons and in developing a comprehensive response to climate change. Just two years ago, following global talks on climate change in Copenhagen and international pledges to reduce nuclear stockpiles, the BAS moved the clock backward by a minute. 'Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leaders are failing to change business as usual,' said Lawrence Krauss, co-chairman of the group’s board of sponsors.”

The silver lining department: According to the Post, “The group’s members say they were heartened by the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and political protest in Russia.” Those developments, said Bulletin of Atomic Scientists executive director Kennette Benedict, “indicated that people are waking up, and want to have a say in their future.”

-- Reed McManus

Image: Nevada Department of Environmental Protection

Canada Flips Out Over Tar-Sands Opposition

Tarsands-smallerCanada is having a difficult time adjusting to its rapid conversion from the Land of Nice to Sinister Petro-State. Considered a worldwide environmental leader only a few short years ago, Canada has now abandoned the Kyoto Protocol and is pushing its dirty tar-sands oil as fiercely as any Middle Eastern sultanate. Here's Bryan Walsh in Time:

Canada's oil reserves are second only to those in Saudi Arabia, and last year it exported over 480 million barrels of crude oil. Where does a lot of that oil go?  Try the United States of America, which gets more crude from Canada than any other single country. And as unconventional oil sands --which have a larger greenhouse-gas footprint than conventional crude --in Alberta continue to grow, so will Canada's carbon emissions.

What's different with that story today is that, following President Obama's decision to postpone action on the Keystone XL pipeline until 2013, Canada is wondering whether the United States will continue to be a reliable market. Hence this remarkable screed from Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, in which he asserts the urgency of seeking new energy markets and blames Guess Who for blocking that goal:

Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade.  Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry.  No mining.  No oil.  No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.  They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.  They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources.  Finally, if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further. They do this because they know it can work.  It works because it helps them to achieve their ultimate objective: delay a project to the point it becomes economically unviable.

At issue here, explains the UK Guardian, is the proposed 730-mile-long Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta tar-sands fields to a new port at Kitimat, British Columbia, where it could be sent to U.S. west coast ports or to Asia.

The conservative government's hardball tactics come ahead of Tuesday's public hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline. More than 4,300 people have signed up to comment on the project; environmental groups believe most want to block the pipeline.

In Petro-State thinking, opposition to environmentally destructive projects is not democracy in action, it's "stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects." Oil doesn't only corrupt the climate.

--Paul Rauber

Jan 06, 2012

"I Vote for Dirty Energy"


"There's nowhere to go but up!" That's the lesson Big Oil apparently took from the recent University of Texas at Austin poll showing that only 16 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way they're addressing energy issues. On Wednesday, the American Petroleum Institute announced its new "Vote 4 Energy" campaign, in which they plan to spend an undisclosed [read: "massive"] amount of money to promote their dirty energy agenda and the Keystone XL pipeline. In a charming touch, API President Jack Gerard threatened President Barack Obama should he fail to greenlight the proposed pipeline, carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas:

“I think it would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Gerard said during the powerful oil industry trade association’s annual 'State of American Energy' event Wednesday. “Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.”

"Vote 4 Energy" will target politically important states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia later this month with ads including scripted "testimonials" from ordinary citizens supporting their agenda:

An e-mail from API advertised an open casting call for “all ages and races to express their views” in a commercial spot. The basic qualifications read: “You are willing to go on camera and state your beliefs” and “You are comfortable portraying YOURSELF! They want REAL PEOPLE not Actors!”

Except that when one participant (Gabe Eisner from the Checks and Balances project) tried to express his support for clean energy, he was quickly shown the door. Our friends at Greenpeace have already responded with their own delightful parody:


It's gonna be a fun campaign.

--Paul Rauber


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