One of the largest, recent onshore oil spills in the U.S. occurred on September 29, 2013, though a statement was not released by authorities until October 8. Officials were delayed in their response in part due to the ongoing government shutdown, and in part due to an initial underestimation of the amount of oil spilled. In addition to the 750 barrels cleared from the surface, state environmental geologist Kris Roberts estimates about 20,000 barrels trapped below a 7-10 foot layer of clay over a 7.3 acre area.
The oil, which was fracked from the Bakken Shale in the northwest corner of the state, was spilled as the result of a hole in the six-inch diameter High Plains pipeline. The 20-year-old pipeline, owned by Tesoro Logistics, runs about 35 miles from Tioga, ND to a rail facility near the Canadian border. Canadian Pacific then carries the crude oil to Albany, NY, where it is shipped down the Hudson River to refineries along the East Coast.
Cleanup efforts have been ongoing, despite the lack of an official public statement by North Dakota state authorities. Tesoro has employed the use of trenches to collect the crude on the surface, which is then recovered by vacuum trucks. As of Sunday, an estimated 1,800 barrels of oil have been recovered. As winter approaches, snow and cold rain are slowing the remediation process further.
The spill was first noticed by local wheat farmer Steven Jensen. Jensen reports that he could smell the crude oil for days before noticing an area in his field where the oil was spewing from the ground about six inches into the air. Though he had harvested the majority of his crop before the spill occurred, he did report losing a small amount of wheat. He also fears that he will not be able to farm his land for several years to come as a result of the spill.
North Dakota and Tesoro officials report no contamination of local water supply, and no apparent harm to the environment as a result of the spill, though the delayed response and initial underestimation of the amount of crude spilled leaves many skeptical as to the long term effects.
North Dakota is the nation’s second largest producer of crude oil after Texas, clocking an average of 874,000 barrels per day. The pipeline-railroad network ships between 149,000 and 157,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day. North Dakota’s Petroleum Council, with John Berger, a manager of a Tesoro refinery, stated that oil spills are expected to occur, and that the companies drilling for the oil should be fully responsible to take care of them. As long as oil production continues in the United States, it is essential that both government agencies and oil manufacturing companies take responsibility for preventing and mitigating spills such as this, which released about 4 times the amount of oil as the recent spill by Exxon Mobil in Arkansas. Strict oversight and safety regulations are necessary for preventing damage to the environment, water supply, and productive capacity of industries like agriculture, not to mention the loss of the very source of energy that such dangerous processes as fracking seeks to provide in the first place.
The need to shift to clean, alternative sources of energy is more apparent now than ever. Green America urges you to support Clean Energy Victory Bonds, which will provide crucial financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the country. This environmental disaster is only the most recent caused by hasty domestic oil production, and will surely not be the last.
The blog post was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.
The PTC provides a 2.2-cent/kWh credit for the first ten years of a renewable energy facility’s operation. Eligible companies include wind, geothermal, and closed-loop biomass (crops grown specifically for energy production). Open-loop biomass (forestry and industrial waste), efficiency and capacity upgrades for existing hydroelectric facilities, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, and other technologies receive a 1.1-cent/kWh credit under the PTC’s provisions. If a company wants to receive the benefits of the credit on a new project, significant work and/or investment must have commenced by December 31, 2013. This deadline has many wind producers scrambling to get their projects underway, and just as many turning away from their projects, averse to the financial risk of not receiving the funding necessary to proceed.
If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the production tax credit has a positive effect on clean energy industries. According to a recent press release, LM Wind Power, a major supplier of turbine blades, has doubled its US workforce in the time period between April and August, from 350 to 700 employees. LM projects its employment will reach 1,200 in the US in 2014. And the jobs created by the wind industry are good, reliable jobs. Wind turbines are massive pieces of equipment, requiring many unique parts. Because of the complexity of the manufacturing process, and the actual size of the pieces, the United States has a competitive advantage for producing turbine parts domestically. In addition to securing work for thousands of Americans, extending the PTC will ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels.
While extending the production tax credit has clear benefits for wind and other clean energy industries, there is still much opposition to the measure. Opponents claim that electricity generated by turbines is inefficient because the wind blows intermittently, and a background source of power is required to compensate for calm days. And in most cases, this background power comes from fossil fuel sources. This shouldn’t serve as a reason to let the credit expire, however. If wind continues to receive the assistance it needs to thrive, future investment in clean energy technologies like solar, hydropower, and battery and storage technologies to provide background electricity for turbines seems highly likely. The long term public health, environmental, and social benefits of an energy infrastructure that does not emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a high level far outweigh the short-term costs of giving windmakers the help they need to stand on their own two feet.
The PTC is only offered to companies that meet clear, performance-based standards. The credit has allowed 550 wind facilities to open and operate within the United States. It provides strong incentives for growth amongst wind producers, and its constant expiration and renewal leaves investors wary and uncertain about the future of wind power. Industry experts recommend phasing out the credit over the next ten years, and introducing mechanisms such as Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which will give wind companies tax structures similar to those of fossil fuel companies, who collect billions of dollars in profit each year. Green America strongly urges policy makers to extend the production tax credit so that wind power and other clean energy technologies can develop more rapidly – the time has never been more urgent.
A provision to extend the PTC for ten years is included in the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act, which would provide funding on a national scale for clean energy development.
A summary of the production tax credit’s history can be found here.
This blog posting was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Action Program Intern.
Crowd funding refers to the collective contributions of many individuals to fund a larger effort by other people or organizations. Internet platforms like Kickstarter are the most common vehicles for collecting donations for projects, but recent legislation may begin a shift to a new method of actual financing, where investors can potentially see a return on investment. The JOBS Act of 2012 removed several limiting regulations from the Securities Act of 1933, which would allow average Americans to invest directly in small business. This increased access to financing would allow small businesses more freedom to grow and achieve their goals. For example, the JOBS Act included provisions that increased the number of shareholders a company may have before it must register its common stock with the Securities Exchange Commission. It also allowed the use of government-registered funding portals, or websites used to collect investments, on the condition that investments are capped at a level based on the investor’s net worth. These provisions will allow average investors to easily invest in small businesses for the first time, and will offer protections from the risks involved with investing in new companies.
The JOBS Act took a few steps towards freeing up capital for small businesses, but the provisions allowing average investors to get involved won’t be approved until 2014. In the meantime, companies such as Mosaic Inc. have used existing legislation in approved states to finance clean energy projects that have been largely successful. However, until the SEC implements crowdfunding regulations nationwide, it will be difficult for a startup company to sell shares to the general public nationally.
Some states are not waiting for the federal government to act, and have implemented intrastate (state residents funding state businesses) equity crowd funding. Using provisions in the Securities Act of 1933, specifically a federal exemption for intrastate offerings, Kansas and Georgia have both passed initiatives that would allow companies to sell equity to non-accredited investors to a limit of $1000 (KS) and $10,000 (GA) per investor. Companies would be allowed to collect up to $1 million before they would need to formally register their stock, and they would only be permitted to sell shares to investors who were residents of the same state in which the company was registered. They would also be allowed to advertise the fact that they were seeking funds from new investors. In theory, this would allow the public to invest in whatever business they see fit. This would incentivize small business owners to carry on with their ideas, knowing very well that with enough support, access to capital would not be as big of a problem as it is now. The North Carolina state legislature is on the road to pass a similar initiative in the form of its own JOBS Act. It currently sits at the state senate waiting for the next session to begin, where many are confident that it will be passed.
In the first two years of crowd funding in Kansas, only six companies took advantage of the opportunity, and only one company has taken advantage of crowd funding in Georgia. So what’s keeping ordinary people in Kansas and Georgia from crowdfunding their way to an economy envisioned by local business owners? There are a number of factors that keep this financing tool from really taking off. First, the types of small businesses that could rely heavily on crowd-sourced capital are often the least interesting to investors. The investment caps of $1 million limit the potential for initial revenues, forcing technology and other high-growth industries to seek other sources of capital. And perhaps most importantly, a very small number of people (both business owners and potential investors) actually understand the new regulations and what is allowed under their provisions. Education for small business owners and potential investors alike, as well as platforms that connect businesses with sources of capital, will be necessary to make crowdfunding work at the state and national level.
While achieving a more formal vehicle for non-accredited investors to purchase equity in startup businesses may still lie ahead, the idea of sourcing donation funds from many small contributors is steadily gaining steam. Many projects are funded by online platforms for donations, including software development, political campaigns, art, disaster relief, and small businesses selling a wide range of products.
Globally, crowdfunding has been used successfully to finance some impressive renewable energy projects. A Dutch company Windcentrale recently set a new crowdfunding record, selling €1.3 million worth of shares in the electricity from a Vestas V-80 2MW wind turbine in a matter of 13 hours. In the U.S., Solar Mosaic has created an innovative crowd funding platform that has already raised funds from 2,200 investors in solar installations nationwide. Solar Mosaic has generated extensive interest from investors nationwide who want to create a clean energy future. This serves as proof that there is a high public demand for renewable energy, and when presented the opportunity to invest in projects that would bring clean power to homes, people won’t think twice about buying shares.
It is the hope of Green America that crowdfunding at the state and federal level can become a vehicle for growth of the renewable energy sector in the United States. Clean, inexpensive, and renewable power is something a large majority of Americans support. Given the opportunity to easily and safely invest in a project that would aid in the shift from a fossil fuel – based economy to a green energy-based one, the general public could play a crucial role in the propagation of wind, solar, and other renewable energy technologies.
This blog posting was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.
Scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their fifth assessment report on global climate change dynamics this month. In addition to reaffirming the assertions of the panel’s four previous assessments with greater statistical accuracy, the new report formally embraces a global upper limit for greenhouse gas emissions, past which the earth would experience irreversible changes to its climate. The models used by the panel are complex and a close eye is required while examining the results. Largely based on the averages of many simulations under many different assumptions, the findings of the panel must be critically analyzed against observational data in order to make useful statements and prescribe actions to mitigate the effects of a warming globe.
Here are some statistical highlights from the 900-page report:
- There is a strong consensus that the complex climate system on our planet is warming. The changes in temperature of the atmosphere and ocean, in the amounts of snow and ice cover, and in the concentrations of greenhouse gases are historically unprecedented.
- The past three decades have experienced higher temperatures at the surface than any other decade since 1850.
- The ocean accounts for over 90% of accumulated energy over the past three decades, resulting in a certain increase in upper ocean temperature.
- Glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland, the Arctic, and Antarctica have consistently lost mass over the past two decades.
- Over the last century, global average sea level has risen by about 0.19 meters. If emissions and subsequent warming continue at their current pace, the average global sea level may rise as much as a meter by the end of the century.
- Greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have reached unprecedented levels in the past 800,000 years. CO2 levels have increased 40% since the preindustrial era, and the ocean has absorbed nearly 30%. The high concentration of CO2 in the ocean results in acidification of the water.
- It can be stated with 95-100% confidence that human activity resulting in the combustion of fossil fuels and the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is responsible for the observed increases in average temperatures.
- Across a range of scenarios, global average temperature may rise anywhere from 1.5oC to 4oC. The models account for decadal and regional variability, which the panel says explains the differences in average temperature projections from the last report.
To keep the magnitude of the warming below the internationally agreed target of 2o C above pre-industrial levels, the panel estimates that roughly 1 trillion tons of CO2 may be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current pace of emission, that threshold would be reached in 2040. The panel’s report fine-tuned the findings of a culmination of over 20 years of research. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has declared his intention to call a meeting of global leaders in 2014 to discuss an international treaty addressing the problem.
In light of this report, the need for President Obama to honor his stated commitment to lead in developing an international approach to adapting to a changing climate is clearer than ever. Developed nations must be held to a higher degree of accountability than developing nations when allocating costs for mitigation strategies. Investment in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies must increase significantly to offset greenhouse gas emissions while meeting global power demand. Education campaigns are essential to prepare populations for the impacts of drought, heavy rain, and rising sea levels as a result of global warming. This report is only the latest installment in a body of research that confirms human influence on the dynamics of the earth’s climate. It lays the framework necessary to begin tackling one of the largest issues of our time, and it didn’t arrive a moment too soon.
This posting was written by Sam Catherman, Green America’s Climate Program Intern.
On Friday September 20, 2013, the EPA released a new set of standards regarding carbon emissions from newly constructed power plants. Power plants account for about 40 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions, the largest portion of our nation’s carbon footprint. The standards state that no new large natural gas-fired plant may exceed emissions of 1000 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour, no new small natural gas-fired plant may exceed 1100 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour, and no new coal-fired plant may exceed 1100 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced. New coal-fired plants would also have the option to average their emissions across multiple years, for the purpose of flexibility.
Opposition to the new standards remains high from the coal industry, which views the implementation of technologies required to meet these standards as too costly. To bring a modern coal plant’s average emissions down to meet the new limit would require the installation of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, which traps CO2 from the unit and sequesters it below the surface of the earth. Industry opponents of the rulemaking cite CCS technology’s cost as a barrier to meeting the new standards. It is highly unlikely that CCS would ever be economical. This is a good thing since even if CCS technology could be implemented, we would still be burdened with the negative impacts of mountain top removal coal mining and impoundments of waste left over from burning coal. That is why Green America has called out CCS technology as a red herring that distracts people away from the fact that coal can never be “clean”.
On the surface, it seems as though the proposed standards will effectively prevent new coal-fired plants from being financed and constructed. The coal industry argues that this could mean short-term struggle for thousands of workers and their families. However, the proposed standards have taken into account the potential long-term costs of continuing to burn coal at its current rate. Global climate change caused by the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is predicted to lead to increased ozone pollution, higher average global temperatures, rising sea levels, and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. These effects of climate change can lead to enormous costs to public health, agriculture, and infrastructure in coastal regions. The long-term costs, predicts the EPA, far outweigh the short-term expenses to the coal industry, especially considering the fact that nation-wide, only one coal-fired plant is currently in the planning phase before construction. Although not part of the EPA’s calculations, if we are not building new coal plants to meet our energy needs, we will be increasing spending on energy efficiency and clean energy programs – both of which create high-paying jobs that are safer than those in the coal industry. Increased investment in these areas will also almost certainly lead to long-term savings in public health expenses.
These new standards make a minimal splash in practice, as current economic trends indicate that the cost of constructing a new coal-fired plant is not nearly as feasible as the cost of constructing a new natural gas – fired plant, and even a number of clean energy technologies. The EPA’s analysis is focused on carbon emissions from power plants (not the complete life cycle of the fuel going into the plant). Gas-fired units produce much less CO2 than coal-fired units, and are able to meet the proposed standards without the addition of control technology like CCS. Based on this fact, EPA analysis reveals that unless economic conditions shift drastically, making coal-fired plants the feasible choice again, private investors will turn to technologies that are already able to meet the standards without additional technology.
However, the turn to natural gas is itself a problem. While natural gas produces fewer emissions than coal fired power when burned, drilling for natural gas releases the potent greenhouse gas methane. Fracking, the method of extracting natural gas from the earth, pollutes the groundwater of surrounding communities with a long list of chemicals. The fluids used in the fracking process can even lubricate fault lines, contributing to earthquakes. The new EPA regulations do not account for these factors of natural gas -powered energy, and natural gas producers are not forced to pay for the negative impacts of their drilling. That’s why Green America supports a level playing field for green energy technologies – such as wind and solar. Even without equal support from the federal government, wind and solar power are two of the fastest growing energy technologies in the US. If the federal government forced all energy producers to factor their environmental impacts into their costs, clean energy technologies would account for a much larger portion of our energy portfolio already.
Overall, Green America applauds the direction of the EPA’s proposed rules regarding new power plants. The potential savings in public health and infrastructure costs from mitigating CO2 emissions far outweigh the revenues to be gained through the construction of new coal-fired plants with no restrictions placed on emissions. Limiting the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere by power plants is an important step for our nation to take. The standards will emphasize existing sources of power with emissions rates inherently lower than coal, and create an incentive for the further development of green energy technologies for our nation’s grid. It’s important to note that these proposed rules will only apply to power plants that have not yet been built. The EPA plans to unveil its proposed standards for existing power plants in the near future, which stand to face much greater opposition than last Friday’s. If those standards are implemented, and we level the playing field for clean energy technologies, we will see a truly green energy future for the US emerge.
This posting was written by Green America Climate Program Intern Sam Catherman.
“GMOs are safe and poised to feed the world,” shared General Mills’ CEO Ken Powell at the company’s annual shareholder meeting this morning in Minneapolis. We hope that Mr. Powell is be prepared to eat his words soon.
The executive’s tune has not changed over the past few months in spite of growing consumer concern about GMOs, not only related to health impacts but also due to the fact that GM crops have failed to deliver higher yields have in many cases required more pesticides than conventional farming. Additionally, rather than feeding the world’s hungry GM farming has led to poorer condition for farmers in the US and abroad.
This morning, Green America’s campaigns director Liz O’Connell and Paula Luxenberg (former Green America staff member) represented Green America and GMO Insiders at General Mills’ annual meeting for stockholders.
Harriett Crosby of As You Sow was also in the crowd to voice shareholder concerns about GMOs We asked questions to the board regarding GMO labeling and the company’s increasing reputational risk by ignoring consumer concerns about GMOs.
Roughly 85% of shareholders, representing 543 million shares, sent in proxies to General Mills to vote on the company’s 2014 resolutions. Two questions were asked relating to GMOs and Powell had artfully crafted answers on-hand to confuse the audience and demonstrate General Mills’ false commitment to consumer choice and safety.
Based on the presentation made this morning and the answers given by executives, its clear General Mills is no better than the worst in the industry when it comes to labeling GMOs and phasing them out of the food supply.
The company sites short-term, non-independent studies to prove the safety of GMOs, in spite of the fact that there is a growing body of scientific research that points otherwise and that some countries such as Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Bolivia, and New Zealand have flat out banned the cultivation and sale GMOs. When it comes to labeling, General Mills said they strongly support a national labeling initiative that would allow non-GM products to voluntarily adapt labels showing they are so. (This also passes the hassle of adopting a labeling system on to farmers and companies who are making “real” apples, corn etc., while still not providing consumers with the knowledge of what products DO contain GMOs.)
GMO Inside began targeting General Mills in late 2012, calling for an elimination of GMOs in time and labeling of GMOs in the meantime. Based on the statements shared this morning its clear we could not have picked a more worthy target.
Now, with the support of GMO Insiders, we will up the pressure. The time for non-GMO Cheerios is now!
When Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America’s campaigns director, invited Claire Wickland of Alta Gracia and Megan McManus of Amani DC to speak on the ethical apparel panel at the DC Green Festival, she didn’t realize one key commonality embedded in the names of their organizations. “Alta Gracia,” it turns out, means “high grace,” in Spanish, while “Amani Ya Juu” (parent organization of Amani DC) means “a higher peace” in Swahili. It makes sense, once you know the missions of the organizations involved. Read more…
Lots of great wisdom shared today at the DC Green Festival on the topic of GMOs. Our expert panel included Alisa Gravitz, president of Green America; Adam Eidinger, organizer of Occupy Monsanto and the Mintwood Media Collective; Gail Taylor, a DC farmer with the Three Part Harmony Farm; and Zachari Curtis, a DC farmer with the Good Sense Farm & Apiary. Just a compressed sampling and paraphrasing below of the panel discussion, with a top-five action list from Alisa Gravitz to round out this post:
Alisa – Food is life. Food is sacred. We are rapidly losing our ability to know what is in the food that we eat to sustain our bodies and lives. The good news is that the GMO issue brings people together across boundaries. For example, in Mexico, and in South and Central America, traditional cultures that highly value corn as a dietary staple are horrified to see corn being genetically modified. Over the last 15 years, we went from 0 to 90 percent of certain crops being modified. Over the next 15 years, we must go from 90 to 0 percent, and we can. Read more…
At today’s DC Green Festival, Katie Lupo of Gearin’ Up Bicycles in Washington, DC came prepared with a fun game of bicycle “Jeopardy” with categories like “Bike Maintenance and Repair,” and “DC Bike Laws.” Long-time DC bicycle commuters and newbie cyclists alike learned something new. As a bicycle commuter for the last 10 years in DC, here were my top five takeaways:
1) Remember to safety check your headset and bottom bracket: The headset is the part of your bicycle where the handlebars connect with the front fork. If these become too loose, you could lose control of your bicycle on a rapid descent. Test for fastness of the headset by squeezing your brakes and trying to rock your bicycle back to front. If the front wheel rocks, you need to tighten your headset. Same with the bottom bracket, which is where your crank connects to the bicycle. Try to move your pedals back and forth to the bicycle, and if there’s give, the bracket needs to be tightened. Read more…