Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Oil, gas, coal

Sen. Barbara Boxer seeks climate-change action from summit

Sen. Barbara Boxer at climate change summit

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stepped up Wednesday to deliver an appeal from Capitol Hill for action at the mostly lackluster U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which wraps up this week in Durban, South Africa. Her speech was delivered to an almost-empty Senate TV/radio gallery, which is indicative of the low priority given ongoing greenhouse gas treaty negotiations by the federal government and the media.

Audience shortfall be damned, Boxer soldiered on, registering her support for urgent action in Durban and beyond, and attacking climate deniers who have slowed progress toward reform. She and 15 other senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looking for a “strong and ambitious outcome” in Durban.

“Although I am not there with you in person, it in no way lessens my commitment to the work that you are doing in Durban and the importance of your mission to address climate change,” Boxer said. A text of the speech was also provided to the media.

“This massive threat to the environment and human health that is posed by climate change requires us to put aside partisan differences, to find common ground and to demand immediate international action.”

The speech was delivered against a backdrop of years of failed attempts by Congress to pass meaningful legislation that would curb greenhouse gas emissions, or to even set targets for those reductions. The comments addressed directly the United States’ refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which did set reduction targets and which is regarded as a failure of leadership on the part of the U.S., especially in Europe. Key provisions of the Kyoto treaty will expire in 2012 without further action.

Boxer had two main points in her presentation: one, that climate change is already costing us huge money, and two, that global-warming deniers are endangering lives.

On the first point, she cited National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies that have tracked the cost of large storms and found that from January to August 2011, 10 or more weather disasters caused over $1 billion in damages — a record — and that the country is plagued by widespread drought and wildfires.

She also cited a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists tagging the public health consequences of increased ozone pollution caused by higher temperatures by the year 2020, including: $5.4 billion in increased health costs, 2.8 million more acute respiratory symptoms, and several other startling figures.

Boxer seemed to save particular ire for global-warming deniers, however, saying, “The message I have for climate deniers is this: You are endangering humankind.”

To punch this home, she quoted a Pentagon study saying climate change was real and would have serious impacts on defense, diplomacy and economics.

“It is time for climate deniers to face reality, because the body of evidence is overwhelming and the world’s leading scientists agree,” Boxer said.

The Durban conference ends Friday.


Illinois sequestration project is first in the U.S. for man-made CO2

NPR reports Kyoto Protocol in trouble in Durban

Brown cloud might be intensifying storms over Indian Ocean

— Dean Kuipers

Photo: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the Senate TV/radio room calling for ambitious and credible action at the U.N. climate change conference that ends this week in Durban, South Africa. Credit: U.S. Senate Photo Studio.

Inupiat whaling, drilling at stake in recent Alaskan mayor’s race

Independent photojournalists Will Rose and Kajsa Sjölander were on Alaska’s North Slope in November to document traditional whaling by the native Inupiat people and found themselves at the height of a highly charged mayoral election season, with whaling and a gargantuan new Shell oil drilling project at stake.

Check out a fascinating photo gallery of images from their trip, exclusive to the Los Angeles Times.

The two were on hand as Charlotte Brower became the first female mayor for Alaska’s North Borough, a regional municipality that covers the north part of the state, a vast terrain with only eight small communities comprising about 10,000 mostly Inupiat Eskimos. The North Borough mayoralty, including the town of Barrow, has significant influence regarding federal decisions about offshore oil drilling and other resource uses affecting the area.

Royal Dutch Shell has already received some permits to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2012 but has been dogged by resistance such as a 2007 lawsuit by outgoing mayor Edward Itta that challenged the environmental effects of drilling and any potential spill –- all very real in the wake of the large Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 and BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Drilling in Arctic waters is subject to many technical hurdles, but receding ice packs resulting from global warming have made drilling more enticing.

Though Brower is expected to continue to have relatively friendly relations with Shell, ConocoPhillips and other oil companies who are looking to drill off the coast, there were marked differences between her and the second-place finisher, former five-term mayor George Ahmaogak Sr. Notably, Brower made a point of declaring that she was anti-drilling and the borough needs someone to “stand up to the oil companies.” Her husband works with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Ahmaogak, who says he too is against drilling but wants to make sure the community continues to receive millions of dollars in oil revenue, was a former Alaska community affairs manager for Shell. In the North Borough, however, lines of allegiance are quite hard to draw; Ahmaogak’s wife is a former head of the whaling commission. Subsequently, the race was tight, with Brower winning 1,022 votes to Ahmaogak’s 960.

Rose, who is English, and Sjölander, who is Swedish, have spent the last three years documenting the effects of climate change on the polar regions. They call their project 70°, because most of their work has turned out to be along the 70th parallel -– cutting through parts of the Arctic Ocean, Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States and north Scandinavia.

“The trip to Alaska seemed a logical progression, as Shell have received the preliminary permits to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2012,” wrote Rose and Sjölander in an email to The Times from their home outside Gothenberg, Sweden. “At the same time, the Inupiat hunters are noticing changes in climate, sea ice and increasing numbers of polar bears are coming to shore around Kaktovik.

“Every autumn, polar bears come to Kaktovik in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to feed on the remains of bowhead whales from the traditional Inupiat harvest, but in recent years they have come in much larger numbers. Scientists are using DNA from hair snares to determine which bears show up in Kaktovik, and for how long. This information can help wildlife managers minimize human-bear conflicts, and understand how the animals are faring as climate change reduces the amount of time they can spend on the sea ice hunting their preferred prey, seals.”

The Inupiat hunt bowhead whales and are allowed 80 strikes on the whales during the fall hunt. A strike is an attack on a whale, though an animal sometimes escapes. In 2010 the community took 46 whales, which they split among themselves for food according to traditional distribution formulas.

Environmental concerns and protection of the traditional whaling culture are definitely top of mind in the region. The two journalists found that the small town of Point Hope was particularly active in fighting offshore drilling plans.

“The tribal government of Point Hope, backed by a group of 12 environmental organizations and Earth Justice, have challenged the validity of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s conditional approval of Shell’s exploration plan. The decision has now been delayed in the courts again till December. The petition states that the BOEMRE decision violates the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Former president of the Point Hope tribal government, Caroline Cannon, has fought the offshore plans for over five years,” write Rose and Sjölander.
The pair penned a story about their travels in the region and the politics around the election, which may be part of their upcoming 70° website. In that story, Point Hope city Mayor Steve Oomittuk told them, “The animals make us who we are; they’re our clothing, our shelter, our food, our spirituality, a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Without the animals, we aren’t who we are, we are not the people of Point Hope.”

Rose said he felt that an embezzlement charge swung the election. “I think that Ahmoagak’s wife, Maggie, being charged with embezzling $475,000 from the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission played a part,” he wrote. “She served as the group’s executive director for 17 years until 2007. When she got fired after the financial irregularities were uncovered, George was working for Shell at the same time. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission is supposed to protect the interests of the subsistence whaling community.”

The amount of money at stake is enormous. A Shell-commissioned study by consulting company Northern Economics and the University of Alaska Anchorage estimates that new drilling plans could generate $176 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue over a 45-year period from 2012 to 2057. Of that, $3.7 billion would go to the North Slope Borough.

Both Rose and Sjölander hope their futures includes a lot more snowy photos: “Our original idea was to circumnavigate the 70th parallel in 1 – 2 years, by skiing, sled or whatever means necessary. That sadly remains a dream, but we do our best by saving up and hoping to get commissions that allow us to continue with our project.”


Doug Brinkley, Rep. Don Young squabble over Arctic refuge

Mysterious orange good in Alaskan Arctic identified as tiny eggs

Obama proposal would open Arctic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling

--Dean Kuipers

Photo: The Brower family of Barrow, Alaska, welcome community elders for a feast in their home after taking a bowhead whale during the fall subsistence hunt. Recent North Slope Borough elections reflected concerns over new proposed offshore oil drilling that could threaten sea life. Credit: Will Rose and Kajsa Sjolander

Illinois sequestration project is first in U.S. for man-made CO2

A demonstration project in Illinois is the first in the U.S. to begin pumping over a million metric tons of man-made liquid CO2 into permanent underground storage. The Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium announced this week that its project in Decatur, Ill., had begun injecting carbon dioxide into sandstone formations 7,000 feet below ground.

Carbon dioxide capture and sequestration is a key strategy for combating the industrial emissions that contribute to global warming. In this case, the carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol production in a nearby plant run by Archer Daniels Midland. The project is a joint project by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) of the Prairie Research Institute, ADM and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy.

Robert J. Finley, leader of the project and director of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative at the ISGS at the University of Illinois, was excited to talk about it, saying: “In the Midwest, and specifically here in Illinois, we’re beginning to document that the geology is very suitable for the storage of carbon. The production of biofuels from crop products can be a very effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of our liquid fuels because you’re taking that liquid CO2 and putting it in the ground.”

Making ethanol, then, becomes a carbon pump. Plants such as corn fix CO2 that is taken from the air. Then, during the production of ethanol for fuel, the CO2 is released and captured, dehydrated and compressed into a liquid, then run through a short pipeline and directly into the ground.

Finley points out that, as a demonstration project, working with an ethanol plant has distinct advantages. With a coal-fired power plant, for example, much of the expense of a sequestration project involves separating the CO2 from the other gases in the smokestack emissions, which are about 12% to 14% carbon dioxide. The fermentation tanks in ethanol production, however, produce about 99.9% carbon dioxide, which is then easily gathered at low cost at the rate of about 1,000 metric tons per day.

“The research that we’re doing is very much on the subsurface geologic environment, to make sure that we can do this safely and effectively, and that we can monitor the CO2,” says Finley. “So we’re using our research dollars to answer these important questions about safety and effectiveness, and we don’t have to use our Department of Energy-funded dollars to just try to get our flow of CO2.”

The Illinois project is one of seven regional partnerships studying sequestration around the country, and the first to use a man-made CO2 source. The project takes advantage of the massive Mt. Simon Sandstone, which is below several layers of shale that serve as a cap to keep the liquid in place. The storage capacity of Mt. Simon is estimated at 11 to 151 billion metric tons.

Establishing that million-metric ton projects are feasible is important because a medium-sized 500 MW coal-fired power plant produces about 3 million metric tons of CO2 per year, and are a key target for sequestration projects.

Finley points out that the Decatur project is not related to the troubled FutureGen project, which sought to build an advanced coal-to-gas power plant in Illinois and sequester its emissions, then was revised to refit a Meredosia plant after Obama took office. That project has been plagued by cost overruns, and major partners have pulled out at various points of the project. He does say, however, that some of the technology that would be used to do that sequestration, and the actual sandstone formation used, would be the same.

The Decatur experiment is expected to continue injecting CO2 for the next three years, and has drawn significant interest from other scientists and industrial concerns around the world.

[For the record, Dec 2, 2011, 11:45 AM: This post has been corrected. The photograph and photographer were miscredited, and the original text failed to identify the Illinois State Geological Survey of the Prairie Research Institute as a partner in the consortium.]


UN Durban climate conference wrangles funds for poor countries

Brown cloud might be intensifying storms over the Indian Ocean

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium verification well in Decatur, Ill. The project is the first to sequester 1 million metric tons of man-made CO2 in limestone formations below ground. Credit: Daniel Byers for the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium

Doug Brinkley, Rep. Don Young squabble over Arctic refuge

Musk ox in the Arctic refuge
Famed biographer Doug Brinkley has written exhaustively on the history of Alaskan wilderness, but Alaskan Rep. Don Young was having none of it recently when it came to the issue of drilling for oil at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The two men clashed bitterly last Friday as Brinkley, a professor at Rice University and the author most recently of “The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom 1979-1960,” testified at a House Natural Resources Committee meeting regarding the effects of drilling in the refuge. Young interrupted Brinkley’s testimony, calling him “Dr. Rice” and saying his testimony was “garbage.”

“Dr. Brinkley. Rice is a university,” Brinkley shot back. “I know you went to Yuba College and you couldn't graduate.”

Young, getting visibly upset, retorted: “I'll call you anything I want to call you when you sit in that chair. You just be quiet.”

"You don't own me," Brinkley said. "I pay your salary.”

Young sat through the testimony of several environmentalists at the panel, and when he got his chance to speak he noted in another YouTube clip featured on his congressional website that the Alaskan acreage they were talking about “is not the pristine area with wolves laying next to caribou, it’ll be a cold day in Saudi Arabia when that happens,” and added: “We’ve heard from environmentalists, and I understand their beliefs, but they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

After the exchange, he said he was “pissed” about Brinkley’s comments.

Brinkley got the last word when he expressed his surprise to “hear a congressman today say there’s nothing in his district. It’s boring. It’s flat. It’s not exciting. I don’t know a representative who doesn’t love their district. Every state in America’s landscape is beautiful if you love it. But some people love money more than their homeland or where they live, and I’m afraid that that’s why this fight has to keep coming up 50 years later, we’re still trying to tell people the Arctic refuge is real. It belongs to the American people.”


Court ruling keeps Yellowstone Grizzlies on 'threatened' list

Group launches online environmental accident map

Obama proposal would open Arctic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Musk ox move across an area of coastal plain inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that could be considered for oil exploration in Alaska. Credit: Associated Press/Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Obama pipeline decision courts youth vote

When President Obama announced Thursday that he was delaying a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline for at least a year, it was partly the result of significant youth lobbying, says Courtney Hight, 32, co-director of the Energy Action Coalition.

The action also may have re-energized a 30s-and-under youth vote that was drifting away from his campaign.

“We are the generation that elected Barack Obama,” said Hight, formerly a staffer with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “Most of the organizers on the [Obama] campaign were under 30, and believed in this vision that President Obama put out. We were a little frustrated by not seeing the leadership on climate change that we wanted. So the XL Pipeline issue was an opportunity.

“He had been risking young people’s votes, and he showed us that he cares about our vote,” she added. “A lot of us are reinvigorated by the fact that he delayed this pipeline, which essentially kills it.”

A protest action on Sunday, Nov. 6, may have been the game-changer on the Keystone Pipeline decision. That day, about 12,000 people formed concentric rings around the White House to express their outrage over the environmental effectsof the project. Those people, says Hight, were organized by youth organizers from the EAC, the climate change group and Tar Sands Action, which focuses resistance to the development of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada, where oil for the pipeline originates. Rather than be described as a protest, the action was seen as giving support to Obama, to show him physically by surrounding his house that he had the political backing to say no to this project. Heavy lifting was also done by mainstream groups the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, but the youthswere kept out front.

The EAC is a national coalition of about 50 youth environmental organizations, including the Sierra Student Coalition (the youth arm of the Sierra Club) and many other statewide student groups.

Over the summer, the EAC and many of these groups considered the pipeline a done deal -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said as much -- but students realized that this was one decision the president could make without congressional approval because it was being handled at the State Department. Groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network in South Dakota had been fighting an existing version of the pipeline (it extends into the Dakotas already) for more than four years.

So, in August, students gathered at the White House to express their disapproval, and 1,253 of them were arrested. Hight’s friends inside the White House acknowledged to her that the issue hadn’t really been on the president’s radar until that point. So she and others dug in.

Students in Missouri raised money and bought tickets to Obama campaign fundraisers, at which they asked pointed questions about the pipeline and the tar sands. Soon, students were dogging the campaign, asking questions at Obama for America offices, campaign events, fundraisers and debates. Then, the big action on Sunday.

“I haven’t seen this level of youth involvement in the movement since the Obama campaign,” said Hight. “We’re not done, but we had a win.”

Keystone Pipeline delay draws cheers, dismay

NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Youth demonstrators are prominent among the 12,000 demonstrators against the Keystone XL Pipeline project who surrounded the White House on Nov.6, 2011. Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood/

Keystone pipeline delay draws cheers, dismay

President Obama's decision Thursday to put off the decision of whether to permit the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico drew cheers from his environmentalist supporters but heightened criticism from opponents eager for jobs and fuel for the ailing U.S. economy.

The 1,700-mile pipeline would carry oil extracted from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing plains states and the enormous Ogallala aquifer. It has been the target of increased protest and opposition from environmentalists and residents of those states, who complain that the corrosive oil poses a spill threat. In addition, extracting tar sands oil requires a great deal of energy, making the fuel's carbon footprint high, environmentalists say.

To be built, the pipeline requires approval of the U.S. State Department, which on Thursday announced it would study alternative routes, effectively delaying the permit process until after the presidential election next November.

Leading environmental groups said the pipeline proposal was effectively dead, while labor, energy and Republican factions decried the loss of an opportunity to boost supplies of oil and create jobs.

“The lobbying groups pushing for delay are using a whole raft of phony arguments, like air quality. They are ignoring the obvious: Every barrel of oil from Canada means one less from OPEC –- improving national security and reducing the risk of oil spills from tankers," said S. Fred Singer, a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative group that casts doubt on climate change.

"This will merely show voters that the Obama administration cares more about appeasing its environmental activist allies than doing what is right for our economy and our nation’s energy security," said James Taylor, another senior fellow at the policy group.

Courtney Hight, a former Obama White House staff member and co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, said the move encouraged the mostly young protesters who had pressed the administration to stand up to oil companies and meet its environmental promises made during the 2008 campaign.

"For the last three months, young voters have been calling on President Obama to stand up to Big Oil and deny the Keystone XL pipeline," the group said in a statement. "In this next round of review, young voters  will continue to hold the Obama administration accountable to their commitment to fully consider the climate and environmental justice concerns surrounding Keystone XL. This is a major step in President Obama fulfilling his campaign promises to end the tyranny of oil in the United States and usher in a clean energy economy." 

The Center for American Progress praised the State Department's new caution toward the pipeline.

"The State Department’s announcement that it will take the time to carefully examine alternative Keystone XL pipeline routes is essential to protect the Sand Hill region over the Ogallala Aquifer from pipeline leaks. The aquifer is life blood for farmers in eight states. Any analysis of alternative routes must ensure that the entire Ogallala is protected, as well as other vital water resources, particularly the Missouri and Mississippi river watersheds," the groups said in a statement.

"The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that we’ve been fighting for months has been effectively killed," said Bill McKibben, head of, an international climate group. "The president didn’t outright reject the Keystone XL pipeline permit, but a few minutes ago he sent the pipeline back for a thorough re-review that will delay it til 2013. Most analysts agree: The pipeline will never get built." 

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted the decision as a job killer.

“By punting on this project,” Boehner said, “the president has made clear that campaign politics are driving U.S. policy decisions at the expense of American jobs.”

TransCanada, the pipeline developer, appeared to hold out hope that the State Department would agree to a revised route.

“This project is too important to the U.S. economy, the Canadian economy and the national interest of the United States for it not to proceed,” said TransCanada President Russ Girling.


Obama proposes CO2 regulations

NOAA greenhouse gas index climbs

Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed by State Department

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Protesters in front of the White House recently voiced opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Obama proposal would open Arctic and Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling

Arctic waters would be open to new oil and gas development under an Obama administration proposal that keeps the Pacific and Atlantic coasts off limits to new drilling.

The Interior Department’s plan steers a middle course, going too far in the view of environmental groups and not far enough in the eyes of House Republicans.

The proposal, which outlines offshore oil and gas leasing from 2012 to 2017, omits areas on the West and East coasts that the Bush administration planned to open to drilling. But it also calls for three lease sales off the coast of Alaska in environmentally fragile areas that have become a much contested frontier of energy production.

“This five-year program will make available for development more than three-quarters of undiscovered oil and gas resources estimated on the [Outer Continental Shelf], including frontier areas such as the Arctic, where we must proceed cautiously, safely and based on the best science available,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Environmentalists condemned the Arctic leasing, warning there is no proven way to clean up oil spills in the remote far north, a place of ice floes, towering waves and winter darkness. “The risk to the fragile Arctic area and Alaska communities is clear,” said Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club. “Spill prevention, containment and response systems are not equipped to work in challenging Arctic conditions.”

GOP House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, on the other hand, complained the proposal “places some of the most promising energy resources in the world off-limits.”


Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed

Are birds getting bigger because of global climate change?

Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists

-- Bettina Boxall

Photo: A family of polar bears on the Beaufort Sea, where Shell plans to drill for oil and gas. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Obama proposes CO2 regulations

The Obama Administration announced Tuesday its intention to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants for the first time. The new rule, nimbly titled “Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standard for Electric Utility Steam Generating Units,” would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to create emissions standards for new power plants.

It is another end-run around a Congress that has balked at passing cap-and-trade legislation or other remedies to curb greenhouse gases.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the right and responsibility to determine whether greenhouse gases endangered public health, making them subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The agency released its "endangerment" finding, a prelude to such regulation, just before the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change.

Since then, however, the White House and the EPA have delayed proposing new regulations, under intense pressure from Republican lawmakers, who have tagged the agency as a source of "job-killing regulation."

The White House has said that if Congress failed to act on carbon emissions, it would eventually step in.

The move could appeal to the president’s base at a time when he is taking many other unilateral steps to move his agenda, and as his reelection bid kicks into high gear.

David Doniger, policy director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, “Setting carbon pollution standards for new power plants is an important first step. President Obama campaigned on moving America to a clean energy future. Cutting dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s dirty power plants is an essential part of fulfilling that pledge.”

It is likely that the appearance of the rule in the White House agenda will only intensify the political slugfest over the regulation of greenhouse gases. When the EPA first announced that curtailing these gases would fall under its purview, the business community erupted in a fury that continues today.

"We don’t believe that unelected bureaucrats should be doing what Congress was elected to do," said Nicolas Loris, policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, which has battled the EPA regulation of carbon from the outset. “The economic costs of regulation by the EPA or by a cap-and-trade system far outweighs any environmental benefit we would get from these measures."

Asked how the Heritage Foundation would like to see this problem addressed, he added: "First we need to step back and look at what the real problem is: CO2 isn’t black smoke that is emitted from factories; it’s a colorless, odorless gas. Does it contribute to global warming and climate change? Sure. But it’s the role of Congress to figure out the best way to address those effects in a way that protects our economy."

Charlotte Baker, press secretary for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, stated, “The committee plans to review the rules recently submitted to OMB and remains focused on finding ways to promote common-sense regulations that will protect our environment without destroying jobs or driving up electricity prices for families and job creators."

The committee is chaired by Congressman Fred Upton, who spearheaded a House effort to block the EPA from regulating CO2 and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.


EPA's secret list shows pollution unchecked

Judge restricts release of emails among climate scientists

Are birds getting bigger because of global climate change?

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The Encina Power Power Station in Carlsbad, Calif. Proposed EPA rules would regulate CO2 emissions from new power plants. Credit: Sandy Huffaker/Bloomberg News.

EPA’s secret list shows pollution unchecked

A secret EPA “watch list” unearthed by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that hundreds of the nation’s worst industrial air polluters violate toxic air emissions standards with little or no action by state agencies, sometimes for decades. Several of the plants on the list are in Southern California.

NPR reports that about 1,600 power plants and other industrial facilities were flagged as requiring urgent action to reduce emissions, and nearly 300 were marked as “high priority violators” of the Clean Air Act for more than a decade.

If a facility is noted as needing urgent action, and no enforcement action is taken within nine months, it is automatically bumped onto a watch list, which now includes more than 450 plants. It’s unclear why the list was kept secret, although a former Environmental Protection Agency official noted in the story that it was to prevent tipping off the facilities that were the targets of criminal investigations.

Not all the plants on the list are being investigated, and some end up there for bureaucratic reasons not directly related to the seriousness of the violations.

The upshot is that some big polluters skate by for years without any remediation. CPI used this data to put together its “Poisoned Places” report, telling the story of communities across the U.S. that are wrestling with elevated incidence of cancer and other illnesses thought to be related to high concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and other toxic substances released by industrial plants.

In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, NPR and CPI received watch lists from July and September 2011. California companies on those lists are noted below. In notes included on the lists, several of the companies explain why they do not belong on the list or how they ended up there due to administrative error.

Aera Energy, San Ardo (Monterey County).
Big West of CA, LLC, Bakersfield.
Blue Lake Power, Blue Lake.
CA Portland Cement Co., Mojave.
Cold Canyon Landfill, San Luis Obispo.
ConocoPhillips Santa Maria Refinery, Arroyo Grande.
ConocoPhillips SF Refinery (Phillips 66), Rodeo.
E&J Gallo Winery and Brandy, Modesto.
Forward Inc. Landfill, Manteca.
Red-Scotia, LLA (Town of Scotia Co.), Scotia.
Shell Oil Products U.S., Martinez Refinery, Martinez.
Tamco, Rancho Cucamonga.
Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co., Martinez.
TXI Riverside Cement, Oro Grande.
Valero Refining Company, California, Benicia.


Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed by State Department

Burning oil from BP spill produced carbon plumes

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Oil refinery near Martinez, Calif. Several area refineries are on an EPA watch list with unaddressed Clean Air Act violations. Credit: Ray Saint Germain/AP Photo/Contra Costa Times

Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed by State Department

The State Department's inspector general's office will launch an inquiry into the department's decisions regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry oil from Canada's tar sands formation across the Plains states to the Gulf of Mexico.

The inquiry, in response to a congressional request, will center on whether the department followed laws and regulations in preparing its environmental assessment and statement of national interest for the  1,700-mile-long pipeline.

The investigation was announced in a letter dated Friday but released Monday.

Among the complaints from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) are allegations that the pipeline company, TransCanada, was allowed to review applicants to prepare the environmental impact statement. A company that had done work for TransCanada was chosen. The request also asks the office to look into potential improper communication between the State Department and TransCanada.

Opponents of the project, including environmentalists and citizens in the states affected by the route, say the oil poses a spill threat to the massive Ogalalla aquifer, and that the extraction method creates large amounts of greenhouse gases. Proponents say the oil will help meet U.S. needs and produce jobs at a time of economic recession.


Keystone pipeline decision could be delayed

Former Keystone lobbyist hired by Obama campaign

Nebraska Legislature plans special session on Keystone XL project

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline protest at the White House on Sunday. Credit: Evan Vucci / Associated Press


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