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Energy Transfer Partners in Hot Water Again Over Rover Pipeline Construction

By Steve Horn

After taking heat last fall for destroying sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline finds itself embattled anew over the preservation of historic sites, this time in Ohio.

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Spectra Energy Got to Edit Its Air Pollution Permit for Atlantic Bridge Gas Project

By Itai Vardi

Massachusetts environmental officials allowed Spectra Energy to quietly review and edit a draft approval of an air pollution permit the state plans to grant the company for its Atlantic Bridge gas project.

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690,000 Contiguous Acres in Alaska May Soon Be Open to Fracking

By Steve Horn

Hydraulic fracturing's horizontal drilling technique has enabled industry to tap otherwise difficult-to-access oil and gas in shale basins throughout the U.S. and increasingly throughout the world. And now fracking, as it's known, could soon arrive at a new frontier: Alaska.

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New York Times Defends Hiring Climate Science Denier

By Graham Readfearn

The New York Times has been defending the paper's hiring of a climate science denier, fighting off its critics with what it claims is a standard fashioned from hardened "intellectual honesty."

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6 Reasons Why Trump Will Never Stop the Renewable Energy Revolution

By Emma Gilchrist

The solar industry was responsible for creating one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. last year and the country's fastest-growing occupation is wind turbine technician—so no matter one's feelings on climate change, the renewable energy train has left the station, according to a new report.

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Pipeline under construction in Alberta, Canada. Photo credit: Rblood / Flickr

3 Reasons Why Keystone XL Pipeline May Never Get Built

By James Wilt

Almost a full decade since first applying for a presidential permit, TransCanada looks set to finally receive go-ahead in the U.S. for its massive $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline.

But here's the thing: U.S. approval, while a great leap forward for TransCanada, doesn't guarantee the Keystone XL pipeline will ever be built.

New U.S. President Trump was elected with the explicit promise to get the 830,000 barrel per day pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska built, under the conditions that the U.S. would receive a "big, big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights" and it would be built with American steel; his administration has already flip-flopped on the latter pledge.

On Jan. 24, Trump signed an executive order, inviting TransCanada to reapply for a presidential permit, which the company did two days later. It's now in the hands of the State Department, which has to issue a verdict by the end of March.

Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Not so fast. Here are three key reasons why.

1. Economics

Even Enbridge CEO Al Monaco recently stated that Canada only needs two more export pipelines.

"If you look at the supply profile and you look at our expansion replacement capacity for Line 3 and one other pipeline, that should suffice based on the current supply outlook, out to at least mid-next decade," Monaco said on a fourth quarter earnings call last week.

Wood Mackenzie analyst Mark Oberstoetter seconded that: "There's not an evident need to get three or four pipelines built."

Add to that the rapidly declining long-term prospects in the tar sands.

Those include Exxon's writing off of 3.5 billion barrels in bitumen reserves, ConocoPhillips' cutting of 1.2 billion barrels in reserves and Shell's forecasting of global peak oil demand in 2021.

Just last week, Shell sold off almost all of its tar sands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Limited. This follows divestitures by Statoil and Total SA in recent years.

"There will be no more greenfield projects if the price of oil stays at what it is," said David Hughes, expert on unconventional fuels and former scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada.

Hughes adds that Western Canadian Select already sells at a discount of around $15/barrel due to transportation and quality discounts.

Pipeline companies thrive on long-term contracts with producers, with lower rates for longer terms (such as 10 or 20 years).

Such contracts are huge financial gambles, especially given uncertainty about oil prices. In a low oil price scenario, tar sands take a hit because of the high cost of production.

"The economic case is not there for the three pipelines," said Amin Asadollahi, lead on climate change mitigation for North America at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "And should the massive expansion happen, I don't think the financial benefits for the sector … would be there."

2. Landowners

We've already seen what lawsuits and protests can do to proposed oil pipelines, including crippling Enbridge's Northern Gateway and seriously delaying Energy Transfer Partner's Dakota Access Pipeline.

Same goes for Keystone XL. Lawsuits have plagued the company for years. In 2015, more than 100 Nebraska landowners sued TransCanada over the proposed use of eminent domain; the company eventually withdrew from the case and its plans for eminent domain, but it appears such conflicts will reignite with the federal approval. Landowners have already started to meet to plot out how to resist the pipeline.

TransCanada requires a permit from Nebraska in order to proceed. Last week, two-thirds of Nebraska's senators signed a letter petitioning the state's Public Service Commission to okay the proposed route; the original route was altered in April 2012 due to public opposition.

Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada, said: "They'll probably get the federal approval, but state-level and other legal challenges will go ahead to try to stop it."

Adam Scott of Oil Change International noted that he expects a lot of resistance to the Keystone project on the ground in Nebraska, especially given that the project still doesn't have a legal route through the state.

There's also growing resistance from Indigenous people, especially in the wake of Standing Rock. Thousands of Indigenous people recently gathered in Washington, DC for a four-day protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In 2014, the Cowboy Indian Alliance united potentially affected farmers and Indigenous people to protest against the Keystone XL project. The recently signed continent-wide Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion specifically identified Keystone XL as a proposed pipeline to be stopped.

3. Environment and Climate

Then there's the fight north of the border over greenhouse gas emissions and climate obligations.

The Canadian government's approvals of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain and Enbridge's Line 3 added a bit more than one million barrels per day in potential capacity to the tar sands network.

Unless there are significant breakthroughs in technology to cut per-barrel emissions, those two pipelines alone will allow for tar sands production and associated greenhouse gases to hit Alberta's 100 megatonne (Mt) cap; Stewart said companies have been talking about the possibility of emissions-cutting technologies such as solvents since 2007, but they still haven't materialized in a commercial setting.

Unconventional fuels expert David Hughes has calculated that if the 100 Mt cap is reached and a single LNG export terminal is built, Canada will need to cut non-oil and gas emissions by 47 percent cut in order to meet the 2030 target, which will be impossible "barring an economic collapse."

Adding an additional 830,000 bpd of export potential via the Keystone XL—allowing for the kind of expansion hoped for by the National Energy Board and Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers—could result in the breaching of Alberta's emissions cap and the country's climate targets.

Stewart points to Chevron's recent submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which acknowledged the increasing likelihood of climate-related litigation as a related sign of looming danger for companies.

It's a rapidly growing trend. Climate-based litigations are grounding fossil fuel projects around the world. A lawsuit based on constitutional rights to a healthy environment filed on behalf of 21 children during the Obama administration threatens to bring a similar precedent to the U.S.

"We're actually looking at a variety of ways to put pressure—including possible legal challenges—on companies that are basing their business model on the failure of the Paris agreement," Stewart said. "If you're telling your investors, 'We'll make money because the world will not act on climate change' are you actually engaging politically to try to produce that outcome? Are you lobbying against climate policy?'"

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmog Canada.

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Who's Killing the Electric Car?

By Ben Jervey

As federal support for electric vehicles (EVs) is expected to wither under the Trump administration, state-level policies will play the biggest political role in how quickly battery powered motors replace the internal combustion engine.

Yet, at this critical moment when state governments should be supporting zero-emission vehicles, many states are cutting their incentives, while others are penalizing EV drivers outright.

In a recent article for the New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi explores a number of efforts underway in state capitals across the country that are making the transition to electric cars a steeper uphill climb.

These speed bumps take two main forms:

1. The canceling of tax credits that support EV sales and leases.

2. New registration fees that disproportionately penalize battery-powered vehicles.

These legislative attacks on EVs bear the fingerprints of Big Oil, which sees the electrification of the transportation sector as the biggest single threat to the oil industry. Groups funded by the likes of ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers are supporting the measures and in some cases, even writing the bills.

State Financial Support for EV Sales Slacking

Over the past decade, nearly half of all of the states and the District of Columbia have had some kind of financial incentive for EV sales on the books—typically in the form of an income tax credit or a straight-up rebate. But this support is fading, as some states cancel the incentives and others let them expire.

Today, only 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) still offer tax credits or rebates and at least two states are voting in the current legislative session on whether or not to extend or repeal the benefits.

In Utah, a bill that would have extended the state's EV tax credit (of up to $1,500) through 2021 was just voted down, failing by a single vote. Meanwhile, in Colorado, which had offered the country's most generous EV incentive, legislators will soon vote on a bill that would cancel the $6,000 tax credit for purchasers of EVs.

As Tabuchi noted:

"The measure in Colorado has been backed publicly by Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by the conservative billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch, whose wealth is founded on their petrochemicals empire."

The rollback of sales incentives has come at the same time as many states are introducing new fees that directly penalize plug-in owners for their choice to drive zero emission vehicles that charge off the local electric grid.

Registration Fees for EVs

Coming into the 2017 state legislative sessions, 10 states impose extra fees to register electric vehicles.

National Conference of State Legislatures

This year, policymakers in nine states have introduced legislation that would charge a higher rate for EV registrations than for conventional internal combustion vehicles. (Another state, Illinois, is debating a bill that would raise the EV registration rate, which is currently lower, to match gas-powered vehicles).

Kansas and Indiana are both debating a $150 annual fee. Montana started out with a bill featuring a $300 annual fee, but that was negotiated down to $95 per year, which passed their house and has moved into the state senate. New Hampshire, South Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona and even California have some sort of EV fee winding through the legislature.

Proponents of higher EVs fees say that they are necessary to ensure that plug-in cars pay their fair share for the roads. Typically and universally within the U.S., highway funds are raised from revenue from gasoline taxes. Because EV drivers don't buy gas, they aren't chipping in for those highway funds.

However, the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicles Initiative director, Gina Coplon-Newfield, told DeSmog that this argument fails the tests of basic math, saying, "When you look at the financial numbers, they don't add up at all."

First of all, Coplon-Newfield noted, "conventional vehicles have become far more efficient" and aren't consuming as much gasoline and therefore aren't generating as much revenue for the highway funds. Second, "gas tax charges have not been in sync with inflation."

Coplon-Newfield gives the example of North Carolina, where the state is hoping to raise millions for their highway fund. If you raised the gas tax by one cent per gallon, the state would raise an extra $7.5 million. Contrast that with the total revenue raised from EV registration fees in 2014: $440,000. Even if the state is registering three times as many EVs today, it's still millions short of the goal.

There are other reasons that EVs should be given a break on registration fees—they actually cause less road damage given their light weight and improve air quality and benefit public health because they don't have tailpipes.

Georgia: A Cautionary Tale

For a look at what happens when a state both kills incentives and starts charging EV drivers extra fees, you only have to look to Georgia.

Just three years ago, Georgia was an unlikely national leader in electric vehicle sales, boosted by one of the nation's most generous state-level EV tax incentives that offered drivers a tax credit of up to $5,000 when buying a plug-in vehicle. By early 2014, Georgia trailed only California in EV registrations. Then, in January 2015, a new measure slipped into the state's $1 billion transportation bill which killed the credit and added another $200 annual fee for EV drivers.

Electric car sales immediately fell off a cliff.

Overall EV sales dropped by 90 percent and sales of the Nissan LEAF are off nearly 95 percent, according to Don Francis, the coordinator of Clean Cities-Georgia and executive director of the Partnership for Clean Transportation.

Here's how Atlanta Magazine described the history of the legislation:

"In January 2015, state Representative Chuck Martin, an Alpharetta Republican, introduced a bill to kill the state credit partly on the argument that it gave electric vehicles an unfair advantage over other low-emission cars such as the Chevrolet Volt. Martin's measure got lumped into the $1 billion transportation bill, which raised the state's gas tax to pay for road improvements. As if that weren't enough, lawmakers slapped electric vehicle owners with an additional $200 annual fee on the logic that it wasn't fair to make drivers of gas-powered vehicles bear the entire cost of road maintenance. When the new laws went into effect on July 1, the emerging electric vehicle market was immediately eviscerated. Statewide registrations plummeted from 1,338 in June to 115 in October."

But there's more to the story. Martin's bill looks similar to model bills that have been pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Koch-funded entity that pushes fossil fuel–friendly agendas through state legislatures.

As the Center for Media and Democracy has noted, ALEC recently began pushing the Koch's anti-EV agenda:

"At the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2015, the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force heard a presentation on 'State and Federal Subsidies for Electric Vehicles,' then voted on a resolution to discourage states from providing subsidies, the 'Resolution Regarding Subsidies for Electric Vehicles.' The Kochs have long funded ALEC. Koch Industries has had a seat on ALEC's 'Private Enterprise' board for years, while Koch network entities like Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity and Koch-funded 'think tanks' have seats on a number of task forces where they get a vote on bills."

Meanwhile, also in 2015, Georgia started charging EV drivers extra registration fees. The extra $200 per year to register the vehicle probably doesn't have the impact of losing the $5,000 tax credit. But it sure doesn't help.

As evidenced in the registration numbers pictured in the chart above, Georgia is no longer a national leader in electric car sales. In Georgia and nationwide, the transition to electric cars seems inevitable. It just might take a decade or two longer if left to market forces alone. In terms of public health and the climate, those years shouldn't be wasted.

As Coplon-Newfield put it, "Now is the time to be incentivizing, not penalizing, electric vehicles."

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

Communities Push Back on Koch Brother's 'Distasteful Effort' to Promote Fossil Fuels

By Ben Jervey

Religious leaders and environmental justice activists in Richmond, Virginia, are "pushing back" against the Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward campaign's efforts to target minority communities while promoting the "importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people's lives better."

One element of the strategy to win the "hearts and minds" (as Alex Fitzsimmons of Fueling U.S. Forward put it) of minority communities was on display in Richmond, Virginia, last December, when the group threw a gospel concert that included pro-fossil fuel propaganda and a surprise award payment of four attendees' electric bills.

As the New York Times described:

Though few in the crowd knew it, the concert had a powerful sponsor: Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group for fossil fuels funded by Koch Industries, the oil and petrochemicals conglomerate led by the ultraconservative billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch. About halfway through the event, the music gave way to a panel discussion on how the holidays were made possible by energy—cheap energy, like oil and gas.

The concert flier was adorned with a red car bearing Christmas gifts. "Thankful for the fuels and innovation that make modern life possible," it read.

At the time, commenting on the event and the campaign to the New York Times, Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, called it "an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy."

Many local environmental advocates from minority communities felt the same. Last week, the region's congressional representative, A. Donald McEachin, hosted an environmental justice roundtable at a Baptist church in Petersburg, Virginia, a suburb of Richmond with a strong majority of residents that are people of color.

As reported in the Progress-Index, a daily newspaper from Petersburg, Virginia, a manager of the Virginia Conservation Network—a diverse group of conservation organizations that among other issues supports clean energy—said that the roundtable with Rep. McEachin was an effort "to push back against the Koch brothers."

Conservation organizer Mariah Davis, also with the Virginia Conservation Network, described the Fueling U.S. Forward event as "a distasteful effort by Koch to sway low-income communities away from clean energy."

According to the Progress-Index, Rep. McEachin himself, speaking of the Fueling U.S. Forward concert, "equated the group's payment of citizens' electric bills with the '30 pieces of silver' Judas took to betray Jesus."

As Fueling U.S. Forward works to purchase the hearts and minds of minority communities with electric bill payments and college scholarships, the campaign promotes oil and gas as necessary and cheap sources of energy. Not factored into their definition of "cheap," however, are the multitude of public health and environmental costs that are inflicted upon the lower-income communities the campaign is targeting.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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