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Big Bank Adopts Groundbreaking Oil Sands Lending Policy, but Will It Have Teeth?

A leading oil sands lender adopts policy language considered the gold standard for protecting rights of indigenous peoples, but is it just rhetoric?

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 6, 2011
mining equipment

The (RBC) — one of the world's biggest financiers of Canadian oil sands — has expanded its environmental policy to give more say to indigenous peoples when considering underwriting mining projects and pipelines blamed for polluting their lands.

The decision to consult First Nations on "high-impact" investments, such as Alberta's oil sands, was hailed by environmental and indigenous groups as a sign of how far financial institutions have come in acknowledging the risks of fossil fuel development to Native Americans — and to their own bottom lines.

"This is certainly one of the strongest commitments we have seen from a bank of RBC's size in terms of indigenous rights," said Brant Olson, campaign director for advocacy group (RAN). "The bank has made real progress."

The decision was disclosed by RBC on its website on December 22, in a from President and CEO Gordon M. Nixon.

High Court Ruling Could Sideline Judiciary Branch from Key Role in Climate Change Debate

The regulation of greenhouse gases needs to have as many institutions addressing it as possible, experts say

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 6, 2011

WASHINGTON—Ask environmental advocates for their reaction to the Supreme Court decision to hear arguments in American Electric Power v. Connecticut case and you won’t hear much applause.

Instead, you’ll witness plenty of hand-wringing powerful enough to set flesh afire.

So, what’s all this fretting about?

Judge Moved to Spare Convicted Coal Protestors from Jail Time

Judge says activists acted out of "a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth"

Paul Lewis and Nidhi Prakash,

Jan 5, 2011

Environmental activists who planned to shut down a coal-fired power station near Nottingham were spared jail today after a judge declared they acted with "the highest possible motives".

The campaigners were in what would have been one of the most audacious protests by green activists in the UK.

Handing down sentences to 18 activists ranging from 18 months' conditional discharge to 90 hours' unpaid work, judge Jonathan Teare conceded the public may consider his sentencing "impossibly lenient". But he said he had been put in a highly unique position given the moral standing of the campaigners.

"You are all decent men and women with a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth in something resembling its present form," he said.

Cleantech Crystal Ball Sees Rash of IPOs, Energy Efficiency Focus

State regulations, especially renewable portfolio standards, will continue as the main drivers of cleantech growth in the U.S., experts say

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 5, 2011

Cleantech startups could give investors considerably more to cheer about in 2011, if market conditions do not deteriorate, according to industry analysts.

Startups involved in everything from energy efficiency to renewable power and algae-based biofuels are looking to launch initial public offerings in the coming months to raise funds for growth.

"I'm a big believer in a rash of IPOs assuming the equity markets stay open," Scott Smith, partner and head of cleantech at in the U.S., said in a telephone interview. "That's something I'm pretty optimistic about for what's going to happen in cleantech ... And there are a lot of companies preparing for spring IPOs."

Courts Wrestle with Texas Revolt Against EPA’s New Greenhouse Gas Rules

Every other state has complied with the tailoring rule that kicked in Jan. 2, even if officials have filed lawsuits challenging the EPA

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 4, 2011
Power plant at night

WASHINGTON—It took a somewhat fancy legal two-step, but Texas has managed to become the sole state to dance around this week’s long-anticipated start-up of the Obama administration’s modest efforts to curb heat-trapping gases.

That makes the Lone Star State the only place nationwide where factories and electricity-generating plants that emit a lot of greenhouse gases can’t apply for the necessary permits to make modifications or begin new construction. Now it’s up to federal judges to figure out how long this peculiar arrangement lasts.

Qantas on Brink of £200m Biojet Fuel Joint Venture

Commercial-scale plant would produce green biojet fuel from household and industrial waste

Tim Webb,

Jan 3, 2011
Qantas plane landing at airport

The Australian airline Qantas will this month announce a deal to build the world's second commercial-scale plant to produce green biojet fuel made from for its fleet of aircraft.

Its proposed partner, the US-based fuel producer Solena, is also in negotiations with , and Aer Lingus about building a plant in Dublin, although this project is less advanced.

Airlines are trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels ahead of their entry into the EU's trading scheme in January 2012 and the introduction of other new environmental legislation. Under the scheme, any airline flying in or out of the EU must cut emissions or pay a penalty.

Solena's joint venture with Qantas – which could be announced within the next fortnight – follows a tie-up with , signed in February last year, to build the world's first commercial-scale biojet fuel plant in London, creating up to 1,200 jobs.

Budget Deficit Could Make Gov. Brown's 2011 Climate To-Do List Daunting

Democrats in the Legislature have introduced a bill to mandate a Renewable Portfolio Stamdard of 33 percent by 2020

By Robert Collier

Jan 3, 2011

For California, indisputably the nation’s leader on climate policies, 2011 is likely to be a year in which the state comfortably widens its lead. From auto emissions standards to the construction of solar and wind farms, California is expected to take major steps forward.

The first step will be decidedly backward, however. Soon after he is inaugurated today, Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to solve the state’s unprecedented $25 billion budget deficit by making deep, across-the-board spending cuts that include vital climate-related programs such as subsidies for mass transit.

Still, the state’s climate policy backers are hopeful.

“Jerry Brown has been visionary and consistent on this issue, especially renewables, since the 1970s, so we have high hopes,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, a Santa Monica Democrat who spearheaded the state’s strict auto emissions rules.

She noted that the chair of the powerful Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, held the same post during Brown’s previous time as governor, from 1978 to 1983, so California will enjoy in 2011 an unusual level of political continuity for climate and energy policies.

Top Ten Climate Events of 2010

by Alyson Kenward,

Dec 31, 2010

’s scientists, working in consultation with outside experts, have compiled their first annual “Top 10 Climate Events” list based on the events that had the greatest impacts, and which stood out most in the historical record. Here they are, in chronological order:

1. Mid-Atlantic Cities Break All-Time Snowfall Records

The year got off to a snowy start in the eastern U.S., with record-breaking storms along the Mid-Atlantic coast. The Nor’easter that struck in the first week of February — which quickly became known as “” – dumped so much snow that it helped Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Washington break all-time records for winter snow totals. For example, Washington’s Reagan National Airport received 56.1 inches of snow during the 2009-10 winter, compared to the average total of just 15.2 inches!

Statistically, each of the storm systems that passed through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast in early 2010 was quite rare. According to the (NCDC), for example, Philadelphia should expect a 22-inch or greater snowfall only once every 100 years. Yet the winter of 2009-2010 saw two storms of that magnitude. 

In China, Environmental Price Tag of Economic Growth is $200bn

Cost of pollution, deteriorating soil and other impacts surged to $200bn (1.3tr yuan) in 2008 - equivalent to 3.9% of country's GDP

by Jonathan Watts,

Dec 30, 2010

China's economic growth is inflicting more than a trillion yuan's worth of damage on its environment each year, according to a government report that increases pressure on planners to slow the breakneck speed of development.

In one of the longest-term accountings of ecological degradation, the China academy for environmental planning calculated that the cost of pollution spills, deteriorating soil, vanishing wetlands, and other impacts surged to 1.3tr yuan ($200bn) in 2008. This was equivalent to 3.9% of the country's GDP.

Most of these costs do not appear on corporate balance books or government budgets, but they are accumulating year by year to an environmental deficit that threatens the country's long-term prospects.

EPA and Congress Headed for Showdowns over Carbon Regulations in 2011

How acrimonious will the relationship between the 112th Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency become?

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 29, 2010

WASHINGTON—Rep. Fred Upton recently suggested that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson would soon be testifying at oversight hearings so often that she should reserve a personal parking place on Capitol Hill.

With that remark, the Michigan Republican poised to dictate the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s agenda set the tone for how acrimonious the relationship between the 112th Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency might become.

And EPA authorities likely added fuel to an incendiary situation by waiting until Dec. 23—the day after Congress adjourned for the year—to spell out what scientific standards refineries and power plants must meet relatively quickly to limit their prolific carbon emissions.