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EPA Smacks State Department Again: Oil Sands Pipeline Analysis 'Insufficient'

State Department also draws fire for scheduling public meetings to take place only after it issues its final environmental review

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 9, 2011

WASHINGTON—EPA authorities are still far from satisfied with the State Department’s ongoing environmental review of a controversial 1,702-mile pipeline that would pump diluted bitumen from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands mines to Gulf Coast oil refineries.

The department’s second effort not only falls short by failing to fully address safety and oil spill risks along a less-than-satisfactory route of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, but it also misses the mark on calculating lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, potential damage to wetlands and migratory birds, and the dangers to at-risk communities along the six-state route, according to an Environmental Protection Agency .

EPA gave the State Department its lowest grade of “inadequate” back in July 2010 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team issued its first draft of the environmental review on Keystone XL. That harsh dressing-down forced the department to collect more data before completing a revamped draft in mid-April.

But evidently the State Department still hasn’t done enough homework.

GOP Ally for Senator Sanders's 10 Million Solar Roofs Bill

Sen. John Boozman, a Republican with little 'green' cred, has become an unexpected ally for efforts to spark installation of rooftop solar power systems

Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 8, 2011
Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas

WASHINGTON—With members of Congress up to their armpits in acrimony on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bernie Sanders figures bipartisanship isn't enough to advance ideas anymore.

So he is trying a broadened approach to lift legislators out of that muddled morass: tripartisanship.

The adept Vermont independent has lured New Mexico Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman into co-sponsoring his reinvented measure aimed at sparking installation of solar power systems atop 10 million homes and businesses within the next decade.

Sanders expects his "" (S. 1108) to have its first public airing this month at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, a panel Bingaman chairs.

His measure is designed to be executed in tandem with SunShot, a Department of Energy initiative unveiled in February. SunShot is geared at dropping the price of homegrown solar so it is competitive with coal and other conventional fuels. In a nutshell, Sanders's bill would recognize and reward communities intent on streamlining cumbersome solar energy permitting processes into economical and efficient models.

Fukushima Plant May Have Suffered Worst-Case 'Melt-Through'

Fuel rods have probably breached containment vessels — a more serious scenario than core meltdown — according to a new report by Japanese authorities

Justin McCurry,

Jun 8, 2011
Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan

Molten nuclear fuel in three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant is likely to have burned through pressure vessels, not just the cores, Japan has said in a report in which it also acknowledges it was unprepared for an accident of the severity of Fukushima.

It is the first time Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel suffered "melt-through" — a more serious scenario than a core meltdown.

The report, which is to be submitted to the (IAEA), said fuel rods in reactors No 1, 2 and 3 had probably not only melted, but also breached their inner containment vessels and accumulated in the outer steel containment vessels.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), says it believes the molten fuel is being cooled by water that has built up in the bottom of the three reactor buildings.

The report includes an apology to the international community for the nuclear crisis — the world's worst since Chernobyl in 1986 — and expresses "remorse that this accident has raised concerns around the world about the safety of nuclear power generation."

The prime minister, Naoto Kan, said: "Above all, it is most important to inform the international community with thorough transparency in order for us to regain its confidence in Japan."

Rep. John Sullivan's TRAIN Act Takes Aim at EPA

The TRAIN Act would create a multi-million dollar committee to conduct cost-benefit analyses of 10 EPA regs aimed at curbing GHGs and other pollutants

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 7, 2011
Rep. John Sullivan

WASHINGTON—Those perceiving the Clean Air Act as a lumbering locomotive intent on flattening U.S. jobs, economic competitiveness and energy reliability hope the "TRAIN Act" makes more than a whistle-stop tour through Capitol Hill.

Conservationists, however, have an opposite take.

For them, the wheels can't come off soon enough from House legislation that is saddled with a cumbersome name — — to create a cutesy but memorable acronym that lends itself to ridicule.

Listen to 's Frank O'Donnell.

"It ought to be called the 'Train Wreck Act' because it's such a thoroughly bad idea," the president of the Washington-based advocacy organization told SolveClimate News in an interview. "This just shows you that the spirit of George Orwell is alive and well in Washington."

But Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan evidently thinks the name reflects the serious legislating the House must undertake now that the GOP wields power once again.

The Republican says he is sponsoring such a measure because Congress desperately needs "an honest accounting of how much the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory train wreck is costing our economy and American consumers."

Midwest Convenience Stores Out in Front on Electric Car Charging

Kwik Trip is installing electric car charging stations at stores in three Midwestern states. But will the effort be anything more than a symbolic gesture?

By Kari Lydersen, Midwest Energy News

Jun 7, 2011

A Midwest convenience store chain is installing electric vehicle charging stations in three states. But will the stations — essentially standard household outlets with a sign attached — really make a difference?

The family-owned chain is installing the stations at all its new stores, a total of 25 so far in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. But the outlets only provide 110 volts. Charging up at that voltage for the few minutes it takes to grab coffee and use the bathroom would barely get someone out of the parking lot and down the block.

Charging for an hour might allow a typical electric vehicle to run three to five miles.

Kwik Trip officials and electric vehicle proponents acknowledge the limitations, but say the charging stations are a significant symbolic move and also lay the groundwork for more powerful charging stations in the future.

With the infrastructure laid for 110-volt stations, Kwik Trip spokesman Dave Ring said the company can more easily upgrade the stations to higher voltage if demand increases.

New York Assembly Extends Fracking Ban for Another Year

The NYS Assembly passed a one-year ban on new drilling permits that would run through June 1, 2012, replacing the current ban set to expire this summer

By Dan Wiessner,

Jun 7, 2011
Speaker Sheldon Silver

ALBANY, New York—The New York State Assembly on Monday passed a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a method of natural gas drilling already under a temporary ban in the state due to concerns that it might pollute drinking water.

The moratorium on new drilling permits would run through June 1, 2012, replacing the current ban set to expire later this summer, when state environmental officials are expected to release a report on potential hazards of "hydrofracking."

The measure must also pass the Republican-controlled state Senate to become law.

Opponents say fracking, which involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into rock to release the gas trapped inside, pollutes water and air.

Industry officials say opponents have exaggerated the environmental impact, while economic benefits to the state would be significant. New York is home to a large piece of the Marcellus Shale, a massive formation believed to be one of the richest natural gas deposits on the planet.

Wisconsin's Struggling Wind Sector Could Suffer Another Legislative Blow

Some advocates see a new bill that would end expiration of energy tax credits as strike three against Wisconsin's wobbly wind industry

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 6, 2011
Blue Sky Green Field Wind Farm

Includes correction added June 6

Wisconsin's clean energy industry is facing another rollback measure that could further stymie wind farm development and undermine the state's ability to meet renewable energy goals if it passes, advocates say.

would eliminate the four-year expiration date for renewable resource credits, also called renewable energy credits (RECs), that electricity providers can trade to meet state energy requirements within a given year. The measure would mean the RECs would never expire.

Wind industry officials say that a limited "shelf life" for RECs is necessary to encourage energy companies to commit to ongoing renewable energy development in the state. If RECs never expired, electricity providers could make a one-time purchase of credits and hold on to them indefinitely, they warn.

Under Wisconsin's (RPS), 10 percent of electricity must come from renewables by 2015. Each credit represents 1 megawatt-hour of electricity generated from a cleaner energy source.

Supporters of the bill, which the Assembly's energy and utilities committee proposed in late May, say that the four-year cap is an unnecessary cost to ratepayers now that lawmakers have moved to restrict the location of wind turbines, essentially closing the door on new construction.

Nebraska Lawmakers Plead with Secy. Clinton to Delay Keystone XL Decision

The Nebraskans say that extending the deadline to May 2012 would give the Legislature another session to beef up its oil pipeline safeguards

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 3, 2011
Nebraska senator Colby Coash

WASHINGTON—Five Nebraska senators are asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delay a decision on a controversial oil sands pipeline until they have extra time to address outstanding safety, routing and oversight issues.

The U.S. State Department is expected to issue a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the 1,702-mile, $7 billion Canada-to-Gulf Coast Keystone XL pipeline by the end of the year. However, the Nebraskans emphasized that extending the deadline to May 2012 would give the recently adjourned state Legislature another session to beef up safeguards.

"We respectfully ask you to give the State of Nebraska this additional opportunity to enact state legislation to protect our land, our water and our children's future," the mix of Republicans and Democrats — Sens. Colby Coash, Annette Dubas, Tony Fulton, Ken Haar and Kate Sullivan — wrote in dated May 25.

"In stark contrast to the mature federal regulatory scheme for natural gas pipelines, federal regulation for oil pipelines is thus far inadequate," the letter continues. "This has created widespread uncertainty among members of the Nebraska Legislature regarding Nebraska's rights and responsibilities in the complex arena of pipeline regulation as we have wrestled with the Keystone [XL] pipeline over the past year."

Meanwhile, in a related matter, 34 U.S. House Democrats signed on to a penned by fellow Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee that asks the State Department to specifically drill down on a half-dozen Keystone XL issues, including an analysis of the impact of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions during a 50-year lifecycle span.

People's Tribunal Questions Safety of India Nuke Complex, World's Biggest

The massive Indian nuclear complex would comprise six controversial third-generation reactors and cover five villages in a known biodiversity 'hot zone'

By Ranjit Devraj, SolveClimate News

Jun 2, 2011

NEW DELHI, India—The Indian government has said it is determined to push ahead with the world's biggest nuclear power plant on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra in western India. But popular opposition to the project is unlikely to die down anytime soon.

In August, the People's Tribunal on the Safety, Viability and Cost Efficiency of Nuclear Energy will present its eagerly awaited findings on the safety of the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project. The roughly $12 billion complex will include six controversial Evolutionary Pressurized Reactors (EPR) built by French power developer Areva SA and generate 9,900 megawatts of electricity.

The independent people's tribunal has many notable members and could wield moral authority on the matter, but has no legal power to enforce its judgments and findings. Observers agree an uphill battle awaits opponents.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh — who appeared to have a rethink over the project in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in Japan — has in recent weeks reiterated an earlier position that constructing the plant is "not an environmental concern," perhaps under pressure from the prime minister's office.

Ramesh has said that, as far as he is concerned, the environmental clearance accorded to the nuclear mega-complex by his ministry on Nov. 28, 2010, stands.

But critics argue that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) for the plant was rushed through in time for a Dec. 4-7 state visit by French President Nikolas Sarkozy.

Climate Action Faces Legal Gap, No Deal This Year

The postponement ends hopes of a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol before its current round expires at the end of 2012, leaving a gap possibly for years

By Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle,

Jun 2, 2011

The world will again fall short of a full climate deal this year, after two past attempts, say developed countries which want a narrower focus on forests and funds at resumed U.N. talks next week.

A fresh postponement will all but end hopes of a binding U.N. deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol before its present round expires at the end of 2012, leaving a legal gap and possible makeshift arrangements for years.

A summit in Copenhagen two years ago was blown off course by world recession and political wrangling and hopes are now dimmed for a conference in Durban, South Africa later this year.

Developing countries want to extend Kyoto, which binds only rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012. But Japan, Russia and Canada reject that, preferring a new, wider deal in a rich-poor deadlock which echoes world trade talks.

"In Durban it's almost impossible to see a legally binding agreement, if we take into consideration the positions of many countries including the United States and China," said Akira Yamada, who will head Japan's delegation at the next round of talks at a two-week meeting in Bonn, Germany, from June 6-17.