Category Archives: Keystone XL

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Statement on President Obama’s Climate Plan

obama-may-2013

For Immediate Release:
June 25, 2013

Contact:  Scheleen Walker, office: (512) 477-1729, ext. 115; mobile: (512) 481-1448

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Statement on President Obama’s Climate Plan

AUSTIN, TX –  Today President Barack Obama announced his administration’s next steps for building a legacy of action to fight the climate crisis. The plan includes new energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances, scales up responsible clean energy production on public lands with an ambitious new commitment to power 6 million homes by 2020, and uses the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Director Scheleen Walker released the following statement in response:

“This is the change Texans struggling with drought and pollution have been waiting for on climate.

“President Obama is putting action behind his words, which is exactly what the Lone Star Chapter, our thousands of Texas members and supporters, and coalition partners have worked mightily to achieve.  Today, we applaud him for taking a giant step forward toward meeting that goal. As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, Texas has a special responsibility to rapidly tackle carbon pollution.

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“Texas farmers, ranchers, and cities have been suffering through year after year of drought. Scientists at Texas universities are telling us that over time climate change is going to make the drought even longer and more severe. By committing to implement new energy efficiency standards, increase responsible clean energy production, and most importantly using the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, the President is stepping up to reduce the climate-disrupting pollution that is destabilizing our climate and threatening our agricultural economy and growing cities.

“The first step in the Presidents’ climate legacy were the clean car rules. Today he committed to tackle existing power plant emissions. To complete his legacy, we look forward to a day when the Administration takes the final step, and recognizes that natural gas and tar sands crude are dangerous fuels. Nevertheless, the President’s plan gives us hope that he will cement his climate legacy and protect future generations by ending destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, rejecting dangerous nukes, phasing out dirty fossil fuels in favor of clean energy – and by making the critically important decision to reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline.”

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From the Keystone XL Pipeline Blockade:

I hope this finds you enjoying the beginning of summer. Today we have a request for help and two very informative links from the Piney Woods Sierrans in East Texas.

The Keystone XL Pipeline blockaders have some summer-related needs. If you can help out with any of these, drop them by the blockade camp or respond to this email: pineywoodssierra@gmail.com  and we’ll arrange a pick up. Here are the things that they are in need of:
Refrigerator, Fans, Eggs, Bread, Fruit and Vegetables
The food, of course, will be an ongoing need.

Check out the new website created for neighborhoods along the Pegasus pipeline: http://safecommunityalliance.org/pipeline.html#hpe (go to “pipeline” tab, jump to “Harbor Point Estates” for photos of this Pegasus neighborhood)

And here is a link to a blog with shocking video documentation of some of the 70 anomalies along the portion of the Keystone pipeline in NE Texas between the Sabine and Sulphur Rivers: http://nacstop.org/EastTexasObserver.html

Stories From the Frontlines: The Crossroads Between Fracking, Tar Sands, Campaign Finance, and Renewable Energy

How Two Texas Regulatory Agencies Have Embraced Industry Interests Over Citizen Concerns and Public Health

By Dave Cortez and Dewayne Quertermous

This feature was written following two hours of public testimony at an Arlington, Texas town hall regarding the Sunset Review of the Public Utilities Commission and Railroad Commission of Texas – two agencies tasked with regulating electricity, telecommunications, oil, and gas industries, among others. Organized by the Greater Fort Worth & Dallas Sierra Clubs and Public Citizen, the event served as a citizen’s communication forum for North Texans to speak directly to State Representatives Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) and Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). We thank both of them for their participation.
 
To submit comments directly to the Sunset Advisory Commission, please email sunset@sunset.state.tx.us
 

Last week, more than 80 concerned citizens gathered in Arlington to present passionate testimonials about their experiences with two major state regulatory agencies: the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Railroad Commission (RRC). From concerns about the PUC’s failure to implement state renewable energy mandates and the need to develop net-metering rules for solar, to the financing of campaigns for Railroad Commissioner and the RRC’s track record of neglecting citizen concerns over fracking and tar sands pipeline construction, one unmistakable theme repeated throughout the night was that they are tired of these agencies operating largely by and for polluting industry interests, and not for the public good.

On December 19th, many of these same North Texans will be joining with other concerned citizens from around the state to relay their personal stories of struggle and frustration with the PUC and RRC directly to members of the Sunset Advisory Commission – a 12 member legislative body tasked with the 12 year review to determine the need for an agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency’s operations and activities.

(Click here for location, meeting time, and Sierra Club’s comments on the PUC & RRC Sunset Review.)

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RULE 37 , EMINENT DOMAIN, AND
Avoiding RENEWABLE ENERGY

Of the more than forty speakers, many criticized the RRC’s lax regulation of the oil and gas industry, especially regarding fracking for natural gas and oil. While there was praise for the Fracking Fluid Disclosure Bill passed in the 82nd legislative session, and the RRC’s quick implementation of the law, as well as a few other fracking related regulations the Commission has strengthened, any positive recognition was always followed by a litany of air, water, public health, and safety concerns.

The Commission’s willingness to let industry have virtually free reign to frequently use the Rule 37 exemption, allowing them to take a mineral owner’s minerals without a lease and with little if any remuneration, came up often throughout the night. A common sore point was that Rule 37 hearings are not held locally but in Austin, forcing landowners to travel to Austin for a hearing that may be rescheduled at the last moment in order to protest what is usually a rubber-stamp approval for the industry.

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Numerous speakers were frustrated by pipeline companies’ abuse of their eminent domain powers, which they get by simply checking a box on a form saying they are a ‘common carrier’. A sustained stream of outraged speakers cited concerns that the RRC does nothing to confirm the veracity of this statement, much less set any criteria for what constitutes a ‘common carrier’, whether associated with gas and oil drilling or with tar sands pipelines. The fact that once they receive ‘common carrier’ status, virtually no limits are placed on the use of eminent domain by a private company, left many incredulous.

“There’s no box to mark or delineate tar sands on the T4 form at the RRC. Tar sands is unlike conventional crude, Syncrude, or Venezuelan crude,” said event organizer Rita Beving. “These tar sands companies get a federal IRS exemption as they have determined with the IRS that dilbit or tar sands is not crude, and therefore are exempt from paying into the U.S. spill liability fund.  Still this company marks their T-4 at the RRC that they are “crude”. What is Texas to do should there be a spill? Who is going to bear the liability? The counties? The state?”

The PUC was not spared by the wave of criticism from speakers. In reference to a petition filed by the Sierra Club and Public Citizen in September, citizens wanted to know why the PUC has maintained a 7-year position that the implementation of a 500 megawatt renewable energy mandate would harm Texas electricity consumers, when many saw it as an efficient means to achieve energy independence and create jobs.

 “The recent denial to hold public meetings for a petition to act on the non-wind RPS, and in documentation on a commission website that compares the capital cost of a natural gas plant to the total cost of a solar PV plant and then declares solar too expensive indicates a bias that needs to be removed or an analysis that needs to be improved,” said Larry Howe of Plano.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AND CAMPAIGN COFFERS

Although audience members expressed their frustrations with the PUC’s deference to industry lobbyists and utility stakeholders, the fact of the matter is members of the PUC are unelected and therefore lack sufficient means for public accountability. The 3 commissioners are appointed by Governor Perry – who ironically enough signed Senate Bill 20 into law in 2005, which established a mandate for 500 mws of “non-wind” renewable energy such as solar and geothermal power.

But commissioners at the RRC are publicly elected. Members of Clean Elections Texas were on hand to present testimony highlighting the need to reform the system of financing campaigns for seats at the RRC.

It isn’t just that 1) there’s been an explosion of campaign spending in RRC races in the last ten years, 2) that most of the money comes from people in industries with business before the commission, 3) that commission candidates raise significantly more than candidates for comparable agencies, 4) that there is no limit to how much any single interested party can give to a commissioner, or 5) that most of the high dollar contributions come from individuals in regulated industries…it’s that some of the campaign contributions simply cannot be explained as an effort to affect the outcome of an election,” said Joel Page of Clean Elections Texas.

Further analysis and review of testimony shows that the volume and source of money flowing into campaigns for the RRC – as documented by a 2010 study by Public Citizen – suggests an effort to buy influence over the Commission. Between 2000 and 2010, money raised and spent by incumbent commissioners increased nearly seven fold; in the 2008 cycle, incumbents spent more than 3.5 million dollars. The amount spent by industry sources – energy companies, their employees, as well as consultants, attorneys and lobbyists – has steadily increased as well.

Problem is: campaign finance reports show that much of the money raised by candidates for RRC goes unspent. This begs the question, “why would donors give candidates more money than they need to run a campaign that receives relatively little public attention?”

IMPLEMENTING REFORM AND
MOVING TOWARD A CLEAN ECONOMY

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There’s no doubt that Texas is an oil & gas state. While our economy is rooted in the days of Spindletop and wildcatting for Texas crude, there’s no reason assume that clean air and water are mutually exclusive to economic and energy development. Texans are proud of our rights to personal property, our independence, and the idea that we can lead in more than low-wage jobs and carbon pollution.

But when our appointed and elected leadership at the PUC and RRC fails to listen to legitimate grievances from of its own citizens,  to respect state law, to protect private property rights, to prioritize transparency & accountability, and to tap into the most abundant renewable energy resource in the nation (the Texas sun), prudence dictactes a greater and more vocal response from the people whom these agencies are tasked to represent and protect.

Send in your comments to the Sunset Advisory Commission, and your State Senator and Representative.  Want to build a local clean economy team in your area? Get started by taking 5 minutes to complete this short survey.

There’s no more compelling case for action and reform than your personal story. However, if you’d like to review talking points and more details of the Sierra Club’s and Public Citizen’s comments on the PUC Sunset Review click here. For talking points and more detail on the Sierra Club’s comments on the RRC Sunset Review click here.

Below is a photo essay featuring all of the speakers at the Arlington town hall. Click on photos to see quotes from the testimony given that night.

Endangered Species: Quickly Dying Parts of Our Planet

Worldwide, there are thousands of beautiful species that are becoming closer and closer to extinction.  Not just animals, but plants too.  We, humans, must claim responsibility for this.

The biggest causes of extinction are pollution and lack of habitat.  Development causes natural habitats to be cleared and the animals that have been displaced must find another place to live.  This leads to competition among species for the limited habitat areas, and since a certain area can only sustain so many lives, much of the wildlife is destroyed.   Pollution contributes a lot to the extinction of aquatic organisms: when we dump into rivers and other bodies of water, the waste not only harms the creatures in that area but flows out to the ocean and harms organisms all over our planet.

Even just in North America there are approximately 2000 endangered species.  Canis lupus rufus, better known as the red wolf, is one of the most endangered but also one of the most popular! Why is it that such a beloved animal is allowed to venture so close to extinction?

Other well known, endangered species in North America include: Steller Sea Lion, California Big Horned Sheep, West Indian Manatee, Florida Panther, California Condor,  the American Crocodile, and many many other species that bring a rich diversity of life to this continent.

A more complete list of endangered North American species can be found here.

Do your part to help!

Will Obama Bring the “Dirtiest Oil on Earth” to Texas?

Lower Rio Grand Valley Sierra Club members at the rally against the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House

By Stefanie Herweck

In the coming weeks President Obama will make one of the most fateful decisions of his presidency: whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.  The pipeline would transport liquefied tar sands across the United States for export on the Texas Gulf Coast.

On Sunday protesters formed a human chain around the White House in an effort to remind the president of his own words on the campaign trail: “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.”

Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and it is hard to imagine how mining, transporting, and burning it will help bring to life Obama’s words.  It is also hard to think of a project with more terrible consequences for Texas, and for the world.

A Canadian corporation, Transcanada, wants to build the 1,980 mile long pipeline from the tar sands oil mines in Alberta, Canada across the American heartland to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Because the pipeline crosses the U.S. – Canada border, it is up to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to approve or reject it.

The tar sands underlie 54,000 square miles of boreal forest that is prized for its biodiversity.  Every spring more than half of North America’s birds flock there to nest.  As a boreal forest, it is also uniquely suited to absorb carbon emissions, and it stores twice as much carbon as a tropical forest.

Since the tar sands lie near the surface, these forests are completely obliterated during the mining process.  As these forests are destroyed, critical habitat is lost and stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.  Where the forest once stood, companies dig massive open pit mines and create toxic tailing ponds so big they can be seen from space.  As of June 2009, 32,000 square miles of boreal forest had been leased to companies for tar sands extraction.

In the ground tar sands are a mixture of 90 percent sand, clay and water and 10 percent bitumen, a thick hydrocarbon liquid.  Steam is used to extract the bitumen, which requires 4 barrels of water and a significant amount of natural gas for every barrel of oil.  The lakes of waste water left over from this process cover 22 percent of the mined land and are so toxic that they have killed entire flocks of birds that were unlucky enough to land on them.

Because the bitumen is so thick – the consistency of peanut butter – it must be diluted with volatile natural gas compounds in order to make it flow through a pipeline.  It is heavier and more corrosive than conventional oil, so the Keystone XL pipeline would be far more likely subject to leak.  In fact, the first stage of the Keystone tar sands pipeline had 14 accidents in its first year of operation.

The pipeline’s path across the Ogallala aquifer makes the potential for leaks especially alarming.  More than a quarter of the water for crops grown in the United States comes from this aquifer, and millions depend on it for drinking water.  Nebraska’s Republican Governor, Dave Heineman, has called upon the State Department to deny Transcanada’s permit request out of fear that spills of tar sands oil could prove catastrophic for the state’s water supply.

The proposed path of the pipeline will also cross hundreds of heartland farms.  Transcanada is already suing landowners in Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas under eminent domain, even though the project has not been approved.  Many have questioned whether a foreign corporation can use eminent domain against U.S. citizens, but the flurry of lawsuits has not slowed.

When tar sands oil arrives at a refinery it is laden with toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, and metals like mercury, lead, nickel and vanadium.  Refineries in Port Arthur that process tar sands will therefore produce, and release, much more hazardous waste than conventional oil refineries.

According to the EPA, the entire process of extracting and refining tar sands oil from well to gas tank produces 82 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.  Transporting and burning the Keystone XL pipeline’s tar sands would add 27 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere per year.

Beyond this, the sheer scope of the tar sands deposits make Obama’s pipeline decision a grave one indeed.  The tar sands are the second largest pool of carbon on the planet.  If we begin tapping them rather than switching to renewable energy sources, it would mean, in the words of James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, “essentially game-over” for all hope of reversing climate change.

Thanks to the drought, we already have a taste about what out-of-control climate change could do to Texas.  Most climate projections show a continued decline in precipitation for Texas and an increase in temperatures.  This is likely to have serious economic impacts in a state with a $100 billion agricultural sector that employs 1 out of 7 workers.

Warming temperatures and thermal expansion of the ocean led to a tripling of sea level rise during the 20th century.  If greenhouse gas emissions continue to escalate, Gulf Coast waters could rise as much as 1 meter by 2100, a rise that could submerge Texas coastal communities and make others far more vulnerable to storms.  One study of the Houston-Galveston area found that sea level rise could displace 100,000 people over the next 100 years and mean a loss of $12 billion in infrastructure.  The beaches of South Padre Island could disappear beneath the waves.

Potential Inundation Along the Texas Coast from Sea Level Rise

Some are claiming that in these tough economic times, we should sacrifice the environment for energy security and economic benefits.  Unfortunately, the Keystone XL pipeline provides neither.

Reducing America’s reliance on Middle-eastern oil is one argument that Transcanada has repeatedly put forward.  Though they have denied that Keystone XL is an export pipeline, analysts have determined that the diesel fuel most easily refined from tar sands oil will only find lucrative markets in Europe and Latin America.  In fact, the published business model for the Valero refinery at the end of the pipeline explicitly states that the diesel would be exported to foreign markets, rather than put into U.S. gas tanks.

The United States won’t derive significant tax revenue from the tar sands oil before it heads overseas because the refineries at the pipeline’s end are located in Port Arthur, Texas.  Port Arthur’s designation as a foreign trade zone means that the refined diesel can be exported tax-free.  The benzene and other pollutants released by the refining process are all that will stay in Port Arthur.

Transcanada has claimed that 100,000 jobs would be created by its pipeline.  As pressure on the Obama administration to stop the pipeline has gone up, Transcanada’s job estimate has soared to as high as 250,000.  The American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies on behalf of oil corporations, has gone so far as to claim that, “U.S. jobs supported by Canadian oil sands development could grow from 21,000 jobs today to 465,000 jobs by 2035.”  Of course, these rapidly inflating numbers all come from the company who stands to reap huge profits from exporting tar sands oil oversees without paying any export taxes if they can sell the administration on their pipeline.

For those of us who do not serve on the board of directors of Transcanada or Valero, any economic benefits from the pipeline will be minimal.  An independent analysis of the economic impacts of the pipeline estimated that nationwide there would be between 500 and 1,400 temporary construction jobs would come from building the pipeline.  Once the pipeline is up and running those jobs would evaporate, and it would take as few as 50 full time employees maintain it.

While those 50 people may be happy to receive a paycheck, their side of the balance sheet is far outweighed by the health costs of those who will be exposed to toxic chemicals in Canada and Texas, not to mention the millions of coastal residents around the world whose homes and communities will be threatened by rising seas.

This is why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Group is supporting protesters from the Rio Grande Valley who boarded the Rio Bravo Wildlife Institute’s vegetable-oil powered bus for the long drive to Washington DC.  They  joined thousands of other Americans to demand that President Obama uphold the vision and the promises that got him elected.

The ultimate decision will be President Obama’s.  Will he cave in to corporate pressure and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or will he stand with the American people, and people around the world, who will suffer the terrible consequences if this pipeline is built?  This is not a political question to be decided by poll numbers and the next election.  President Obama’s decision will have a real impact on human lives, on human health, and on the world that our children grow up in.  This may be the most important decision that President Obama makes, and it is up to all of us to ensure that he makes the right choice.

Stefanie Herweck is chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Group.  She lives in McAllen.  This article originally appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian.