‘Great Day for Clean Energy’ as Supreme Court Gives Renewables a Boost

SCOTUS upholds rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand

— by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

“Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable,” says Earthjustice. (Photo: Image Catalog/flickr/cc)

In a decision heralded as “great news for consumers and the environment,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a rule meant to incentivize electricity conservation and idle dirty fossil fuel power plants normally used during periods of high demand.

As Timothy Cama explains for The Hill, the court ruled (pdf) that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “did not exceed the authority Congress gave it when it wrote its ‘demand response’ rule, mandating that electric utilities pay customers to reduce use during peak demand periods.”

At the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, senior attorney Allison Clements offered further background:

In 2011, FERC (the agency that regulates our country’s high voltage electric transmission grid) issued a landmark rule called Order 745, which set compensation for demand response in wholesale energy markets. Under the rule, grid operators are required to pay demand response participants the same rates for reducing energy use as those paid to power suppliers for producing energy from resources like coal, natural gas, and wind and solar power. FERC said the rule reflected the common sense view that “markets function most effectively when both supply and demand resources have appropriate opportunities to participate.”

With its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court essentially affirmed FERC’s position—and in turn, gave clean energy “a huge boost,” Clements said in a press statement. That’s because, she explained, “[i]f grid operators can count on fast-acting customer responses rather than plants that need more advanced notice to come online, they will have greater flexibility to meet electricity demand in situations when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.”

What’s more, said Sierra Club staff attorney Casey Roberts, “demand response programs make energy cheaper, ensure the reliability of the grid, and protect our air and water from fossil fuel pollution.”

As Politico points out:

The agency’s win is seen as a big loss for large “baseload” power sources like coal, natural gas and nuclear in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, which have seen their profits decline over the last several years as electricity consumption has eased and renewables grew. Now they have to compete with industrial customers and others who will at times be paid at market rates to reduce their electricity use without having the costs of operating and maintaining a power plant themselves.

“This is a great day for clean energy and the health of a more affordable, stronger power grid,” added Earthjustice managing attorney of clean energy Jill Tauber on Monday. “Demand response provides tremendous benefits to our environment, helps consumers save money and makes our electricity grid more reliable.”


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Obama’s Rejection of Keystone XL Is Victory, But That’s Not the Whole Story

‘The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!’

(Photo: tarsandsaction/flickr/cc)

President Obama’s official rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday was met with grand applause from those who opposed the project and organizers who worked tirelessly, despite long odds, to force the administration’s hand.

However, even as celebrations were enjoyed and an evening rally was scheduled outside the White House, there’s more to this story than the simple rejection of a single pipeline and the ultimate climate legacy of a president who has announced a ‘historic’ decision.

Mass Movements Work

Through years of unprecedented campaigning, ordinary people in the United States and Canada turned what could have been an unremarkable rubber stamping of yet another fossil fuel pipeline into an internationally-watched fight to stop climate change. Since 2011, communities across the United States have staged over 750 direct actions and protests across the country—from mass sit-ins at the White House to a tens-of-thousands-strong march on the National Mall. Farmers, workers, students, Indigenous peoples, and communities on the frontlines of oil refineries and extreme weather put their bodies and relationships on the line—risking arrest, talking to their neighbors, and taking to the streets.

“The black snake, Keystone XL, has been defeated and best believe we will dance to our victory!” —Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network

“We stood our ground and today President Obama stood with us, the pipeline fighters,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska. “Tonight landowners can finally go to sleep knowing their family is safe and sound. Our unlikely alliance showed America that hard work and scientific facts can beat Big Oil’s threat to our land and water.”

Those interested can sign an online Thank You Card to the Movement that will be delivered to every single person who has participated in an action against the Keystone XL pipeline since over the past four years. And people across the United States are holding rejection parties to relish in “one golden well-deserved moment” of celebration.

Canada’s Win, But Trudeau’s “Disappointment”

Even as they celebrated the KXL rejection, Canadian climate activists on Friday seized on President Barack Obama’s statement that freshly sworn-in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—who publicly supported the project on the campaign trail—had “expressed his disappointment” about the U.S. State Department’s decision on the pipeline.

“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines.” —Mike Hudema, Greenpeace Canada

Social activist Naomi Klein, for example, tweeted that Trudeau’s reaction was a “BAD way to enter the climate conversation,” because “dirty pipelines are the way of the past.”

The Keystone development came as Canadian environmentalists entered their second of four days of civil disobedience, aimed at convincing Trudeau to freeze tar sands development and commit to a justice-based transition to a clean energy economy.

They took Friday’s news as a chance to double down on their message: “Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sets a new standard for political climate action,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, Stop it at the Source Campaigner with 350.org Canada. “Justin Trudeau needs to take note that it is time now to listen to the science, to Indigenous Peoples, and to freeze tar sands expansion.”

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“President Obama just sent a message that Prime Minister Trudeau should heed—you can’t be a climate leader while supporting tar sands pipelines,” added (pdf) Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “The prime minister needs to follow the president’s lead and recognize that science demands and the public wants action on climate change and that can’t be done while expanding the tar sands.”

Economics of Tar Sands

The pipeline rejection comes amid a continuing plummet in crude oil prices, which has forced some oil giants to ditch certain projects and means dwindling enthusiasm for tar sands production, because, as “the world’s most expensive crude,” it just doesn’t make economic sense.

Bloomberg reported the rejection was just a confirmation that “there’s less appetite for expensive Canadian oil sands in an era of $45 crude.”

Yet the falling price of oil has left TransCanada “undeterred,” and as Christine Tezak, an energy market analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told the New York Times, “How long it takes [to move tar sands crude] is just a result of oil prices. If prices go up, companies will get the oil out.”

A ‘Historic’ Decision? Yes. But Not So Fast on Obama’s Climate Leadership

Obama took the occasion of the Keystone announcement to tout his administration’s environmental track record—but should rejection of this one project be allowed to overshadow his adminstration’s numerous shortcomings when it comes to climate?

“America is leading on climate change by working with other big emitters like China to encourage and announce new commitments to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” Obama said, adding that “if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.”

However, Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline comes only months after he approved offshore drilling in the Arctic, an affront to climate activists and a near-fatal blow to vulnerable communities and marine life that was only avoided when Royal Dutch Shell called off its exploration project in September.

Through his presidency, Obama has repeatedly been criticized for bragging that he has expanded domestic oil and gas production, and critics say his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy proves he simply does not understand the dangers posed by runaway climate change nor the urgency needed for a rapid and just transition to renewables.

As climate experts have pointed out ahead of the United Nations-sponsored COP21 talks in Paris, beginning later this month, the U.S. is far from a leader in climate action and is one of several wealthy nations that is not meeting its potential to reduce greenhouse gases. Though it has historically been the planet’s leading polluter, the U.S. under Obama has continued to evade its financial obligations to help developing countries deal with the immediate impacts of global warming.

Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-nation agreement and “corporate power grab nightmare” that Obama has pushed for strongly even as experts warn the deal is an absolute “nightmare” when it comes to environment and, in fact, never even mentions the term “climate change.”

In The Shadow of KXL, A Troubling Network of Pipelines, Oil Trains, and Climate Denial

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, the fight over Keystone XL has not prevented the fossil fuel and pipeline industries on both sides of the U.S./Canada border from aggressively—if quietly—planning, proposing, and building a network of infrastructure projects that collectively “dwarf” KXL in their capacity.

“While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty.” —Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog

From the “zombie-like” Northern Gateway pipeline that refuses to die in western Canada to the massive eastward proposal known “Energy East,” the major pipeline companies in Canada continue to show their determination in upping the nation’s ability to transport their vast reserves of dirty oil. In addition to the those larger and well-known projects, there are numerous others that continue to threaten communities and the climate across Canada.

In the U.S., a vast network consisting of thousands of miles of new pipelines has been built in recent years. As Steve Horn, a freelance investigative journalist who writes for DeSmogBlog, said on Friday: “While the Obama White House Keystone XL decision has been touted by most environmentalists and criticized by Big Oil and its front groups, the truth is much more complex and indeed, dirty. That’s because for years behind the scenes the Obama Administration has quietly been approving hundreds of miles-long pieces of pipeline owned by pipeline company goliath Enbridge.”

And Daphne Wysham, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy in Washington state, added, “The Pacific Northwest is facing the carbon equivalent of five Keystone XL pipelines in the form of coal, gas, and oil via rail and pipeline.”

Meanwhile, the exponential growth of oil-by-rail has become an area of serious concern for environmentalists and community members who have done their best to squelch the false argument that we must choose between the inevitable destruction of a pipeline disaster or the wreckage of the next firey oil train derailment.

As Stephen Kretzmann, of Oil Change International, told Common Dreams in 2013, “There is no use talking about the best way to transport a product which climate science tells us shouldn’t even be being produced … It’s like debating whether or not menthol or regular cigarettes are worse for you. They both kill, and that’s the point.”


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UN Report Shows World’s Pledges for Paris Are Recipe for Climate ‘Disaster’

— by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams Staff Writer

New analysis by UNFCCC finds wealthiest countries must step up efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to stave off extreme warming

Developing nations are first in line to experience extreme weather events like drought, floods, and rising sea levels. (Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/flickr/cc)

The latest United Nations (UN) analysis of the climate pledges of world governments reveals the commitments are not enough to avert “climate catastrophe,” green groups warned on Friday.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and German State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth presented in Berlin on Friday their report (pdf) on the effects of 146 participating countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—representing 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—submitted ahead of the UN’s upcoming COP21 climate talks in Paris.

“While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4°C catastrophe to a 3°C disaster.”
—Tim Gore, Oxfam

Their conclusion: the pledges will not be sufficient “to reverse by 2025 and 2030 the upward trend of global emissions. Furthermore, estimated annual aggregate emission levels resulting from their implementation do not fall within least-cost 2°C scenarios levels.”

“The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7°C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs,” Figueres said.

In fact, if emissions continue to go unchecked, current trends indicate that the global temperature rise could be by as much as 4.5°C by 2100, the UN reported—well above the threshold climate experts say would bring catastrophic floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

A 2°C goal is still within reach, the report said. But climate activists warned that meeting such a goal will require much more aggressive action by wealthy nations, many of which have recently come under fire for their lackluster pledges and attempts to evade financial obligations to developing countries.

“We’re going to need to see more ambition in Paris,” 350.org strategy and communications director Jamie Henn said on Friday. “The targets currently on the table still aren’t enough to prevent climate catastrophe. To close the gap, politicians must settle on a clear mechanism to increase ambition, make real financial commitments, and agree to a unifying goal of completely decarbonizing the global economy.”

However, the current inadequate pledges are “still enough to send a clear signal to investors that the age of fossil fuels is over—there’s no way to meet these targets, let alone the stronger ones necessary, without a full scale transition to renewable energy,” Henn said.

Tim Gore, head of food and climate policy at humanitarian aid group Oxfam, added, “The UN’s verdict reveals that, while the world is making progress, much more needs to be done. While this round of pledges is a step in the right direction, they only take us from a 4°C catastrophe to a 3°C disaster.”

“The targets currently on the table still aren’t enough to prevent climate catastrophe.”
—Jamie Henn, 350

The Least Developed Countries (LDC), a coalition of frontline nations taking part in the climate talks, were even more critical of the findings, which come just days after preliminary negotiations in Bonn ended without a concrete plan for rich countries to step up their part.

“Today’s analysis shows the urgent need to address the lack of ambition within the INDCs,” said LDC chair and Angolan diplomat Giza Gaspar-Martins. “Governments must do more in Paris, but the work does not end there. For the INDCs to succeed they must be adjusted before 2020 and reviewed in five year cycles from 2020 to ensure national actions quickly and rapidly progresses, or we all face a grim and uncertain future.”

Small island nations are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, Gaspar-Martins continued. “For 48 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, economic development, regional food security and ecosystems are at risk in this 2°C ‘safe zone’. So we once again call on the world to grow its ambition for a 1.5°C target,” he said.


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Big Oil Knew—Big Oil Lied—And Planet Earth Got Fried

— by Jon Queally, staff writer at Common Dreams
New report exposes why fossil fuel companies didn’t need the warning from the public scientific community to start a decades-long campaign of denial. They already knew their business model was a threat.

Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

A new report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, chronicles how Exxon and other major fossil fuel companies did not take action to disclose or reduce climate risks in the ensuing years, but instead actively misled the public and policymakers about them.

They knew. They lied. And the planet and its people are now paying the ultimate price.

It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry—the set of companies and corporate interests which profit most from the burning of coal, oil, and gas—have been the largest purveyors and funders of climate change denialism in the world.

Now, a new set of documents and a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) answers the age-old question always asked when it comes to crimes of corruption, cover-up, and moral defiance: What did they know and when did they know it?

As it turns out, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” shows that leading oil giants such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell—just like tobacco companies who buried and denied the threat of cancer for smokers—knew about the dangers of global warming and the role of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions long before the public received warning from the broader scientific community. And what’s worse, of course, is not only that they knew—but how they have spent the last nearly thirty years actively denying the damage they were causing to the planet and its inhabitants.

The new report, explains UCS president Ken Kimmell, “is a sobering exposé of how major fossil fuel companies have … neither been honest about, nor taken responsibility for, the harms they have caused by extracting and putting into commerce the fossil fuels that now place our climate in grave danger. Instead, either directly or indirectly, through trade and industry groups, they have sown doubt about the science of climate change and repeatedly fought efforts to cut the emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases.”

And as this video shows:

The new report reviews internal documents from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell—spanning the course of 27 years. UCS obtained and reviewed memos that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The documents show that:

  • Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades;
  • Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science—that their products were harmful to people and the planet—but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm;
  • The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.

UCS has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos—totaling more than 330 pages—available online.

As part of its research, UCS discovered that as early as 1981—nearly seven years before NASA scientist James Hansen made his famous testimony before Congress about the dangers of human-caused global warming—internal discussions about the reality of the threat were already occurring inside the corporate offices of ExxonMobil and others.

In the case of Exxon, an email by one of the companies key scientists explains that, “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia.” The email explains that the company knew the field was rich in carbon dioxide and that it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for 1 percent of projected global CO2 emissions.

The email in question was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.

Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, director of the Institute Alyssa Bernstein said the email makes it clear “that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation.”

Though stating she did not want to appear “melodramatic,” Bernstein told the Guardian that Exxon’s behavior amounts to a supremely larger moral offense than even the tobacco industry’s obfuscations on smoking “because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilization.”

Given the scale of their crime, UCS says the “time is ripe to hold these companies accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused.”

Offering recommendations for what the industry should be doing, the group said companies must:

  • Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
  • Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
  • Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
  • Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
  • Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent.

“These companies aren’t just trying to block new polices, they’re trying to roll back clean energy and climate laws that are working and are widely supported by the public,” said Nancy Cole, a report author and UCS’s campaign director for climate and energy. “Climate change is already underway – and many communities are struggling to protect their residents and prepare for future changes. The deception simply must stop. It’s time for major carbon companies to become part of the solution.”


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