July 27 News: Climate Activist DeChristopher Sentenced to Two Years in Prison; Renewable Energy Reaches 25% of Global Energy Capacity


Chelsea Satre, left, and Julianne Waters sit in the middle of Main Street and block a light-rail line after Tim DeChristopher was sentenced in Salt Lake City to two years in prison on federal charges for bidding up prices at an auction of land leases that he couldn’t pay for.  AP photo.

Activist who faked Utah energy lease bids sentenced to 2 years

Tim DeChristopher is also fined $10,000 for winning bids on 22,000 acres in Utah that he couldn’t pay for at a federal energy auction. Protesters in Salt Lake City block traffic; 26 are arrested.

A Utah man lionized by environmentalists for crashing a 2008 government auction of energy leases near two national parks was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000 on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City ordered Tim DeChristopher taken into custody immediately.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a place for civil disobedience,” Benson said. “But it can’t be the order of the day.”

In a roughly 35-minute address to the court, DeChristopher, 29, said his actions were necessary to highlight the threat that climate change poses to the planet.

“My intent both at the time of the auction and now was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil and gas industry, to point that it cut into their $100-billion profits,” he said.

Defense attorney Pat Shea vowed to appeal.

“There’s been a serious abuse of justice,” Shea said.

DeChristopher could have received up to 10 years in prison and a $1.5-million fine.

In March, a jury convicted him of two felonies: making a false statement and violating laws on oil and gas leasing. He was not allowed to testify about his motivations for bidding on the oil rights to 22,000 acres in Utah’s red rock country, near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Before sentencing, dozens of supporters — including Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary — gathered near the courthouse, wearing orange sashes and waving puppets representing wildlife and “Big Oil.” Yarrow led about 100 protesters in a singalong.

Renewable Energy Reaches 25% of Global Energy Capacity

The REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report shows that the renewable energy sector continues to perform well despite continuing economic recession, incentive cuts, and low natural-gas prices.

In 2010, renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 20% of global energy consumption, and by year’s end, comprised 25% of global power capacity from all sources.

And renewable energy also hit a milestone in the US: domestic production is now greater than nuclear and is closing in on oil, according to the “Monthly Energy Review” by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

For 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass/biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) supplied  11.73% of U.S. energy, 5.65% more than nuclear power, and 77.15% of that from domestic crude oil production, with the gap closing rapidly.

Looking at all energy sectors (e.g., electricity, transportation, thermal), production of renewable energy (including hydropower) increased by 15.07% compared to Q1 2010, and by 25.07% compared to Q1 2009.

Biomass/biofuels accounted for 48.06%, hydropower for 35.41%, wind for 12.87%, geothermal for 2.45%, and solar for 1.16%.

Browner, Barrasso spar over green influence in 2012

President Obama’s former climate czar and a top GOP critic of the White House green agenda locked horns Wednesday over whether Republican efforts to block environmental regulations will boost the party politically in 2012.

Carol Browner, the energy and climate aide who left the White House this year, bashed Republican spending legislation currently on the House floor that would limit federal rules on air pollution, mountaintop mining and other matters.

She called it a political loser for Republicans that harkens back to the House GOP’s aggressive agenda when the party took over in 1995, and accused Republicans of trying to “hide” their agenda through policy riders attached to spending bills.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” said Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the time, speaking at an energy forum hosted by Politico.

“You know what the American people said? They said, ‘Hold on a second, we want an environmental cop on the beat, we want clean air, we want clean water.’ I don’t think you are going to see some sort of change in what the American people want in this election,” Browner said.

Department Of Energy Tackles Fracking

Drilling is a sensitive term.

In search of cleaner, cheaper options over a year after the BP oil spill, drilling for natural gas has raced to the forefront of a tenuous debate on green energy.

While residents, environmentalists, corporations and local governments alike battle it out over how to establish a secure policy, a federal source is stepping in to provide some clarity.

A ClimateWire report in The New York Times stated that the U.S. Department of Energy is ready to make its presence felt within discussions on the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Secretary Steven Chu is focusing on this issue to help balance the fiscal benefits of natural gas with the rationality required to prevent harmful effects on the environment.

While Washington may have a vision of the path to energy prosperity, many communities remain on edge about the prospects of drilling for natural gas.

At the local level, residents in West Virginia are taking action. Hundreds have attended public hearings, pleading for more regulations within the shale gas industry. Topping the list of concerns: fears over a local water supply being overshadowed in favor of economic returns.

“Our water’s at stake here. There are problems, and this is an emergency,” Maidsville, West Virginia resident John Garlow told the Associated Press.

EPA Says It Won’t Issue Ozone Standards by July 29 Deadline

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will miss a July 29 deadline to issue tighter ozone standards as President Barack Obama’s administration reviews the regulation opposed by industries.

The White House Office of Management and Budget is leading an interagency examination of the proposed rule, the EPA said today in a statement. The EPA, which said this month it would meet the deadline it set with a federal court, didn’t say when the rules may be issued. The White House will work as “quickly as possible” to complete the review, Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the budget office, said in a statement today.

The EPA’s proposed regulations for ground-level ozone, a main ingredient of smog, would tighten those issued under President George W. Bush in 2008. Critics such as Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), the largest U.S. chemical maker, say the EPA is rushing the process and that the Clean Air Act mandates a reexamination every five years, with the next one in 2013.

The opponents say the changes may cost as much as $90 billion and have urged the Obama administration to delay action. The EPA, which has said the stricter rules are needed to safeguard public health, faced lawsuits challenging the Bush-era rule.

“A new ozone standard will be based on the best science and meet the obligation established under the Clean Air Act to protect the health of the American people,” the EPA said in a statement. The agency said it will “consider costs, jobs and the economy.”

Global climate talks can reach agreement

A global deal on a pact to succeed the U.N.’s main climate agreement is still within reach but will not be struck this year, with the pace of talks still far too slow, New Zealand’s top climate negotiator said on Wednesday.

Inevitably, there would be a gap after the Kyoto Protocol’s first period expires in 2012, Minister of Climate Change Negotiations Tim Groser said in an interview after delegates from 35 nations attended two days of climate talks in Auckland.

Disputes between rich and poor on sharing curbs in greenhouse gases mean gridlock over the Kyoto Protocol, the existing U.N. plan which obliges about 40 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2012.

Years of U.N.-led talks have tried to agree on a deal that either extends Kyoto from 2013 or a new deal that binds all major greenhouse gas polluting nations, including China, India and the United States, to emissions curbs.

“It’s like water dripping away at a stone,” Groser said, referring to the glacial pace of U.N.-led negotiations. “There is rarely ever a crucial meeting. It’s a case of building slowly on an international basis”.

About 70 delegates attended the informal meeting in Auckland that ended on Tuesday. All the major developed and emerging countries were represented except for China. Groser said it was not known why China didn’t attend.

The discussions centered around the technical issues of how to measure, report and verify emissions on a country-by-country basis, a crucial focus of U.N. climate talks. Nations, particularly the United States, want a transparent system to show that countries are meeting emissions reduction pledges.

White House, carmakers near deal on fuel standards

The White House is nearing compromise with automakers on tougher fuel standards for cars and trucks, after talks in which the industry lobbied for a slower pace of efficiency requirements for their most popular passenger trucks.

The Obama administration is preparing to require that automakers’ vehicle fleets average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, according to people with knowledge of the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly.

For weeks, stakeholders in talks for new fuel efficiency standards from 2017 to 2025 said the White House had sought a fleetwide average of 56.2 mpg. The administration can issue the new requirements without industry consent, but opted to negotiate to increase industry buy-in.

The slightly lower target signals that the White House and carmakers have come to terms on the most significant sticking point: fuel efficiency goals for light trucks, a category that also includes SUVs, minivans and full-size pickups, which remain the country’s best-selling vehicles.

Actual mileage would be lower, around 50 mpg by 2025, because of exemptions and credits that would probably be granted.

Nonetheless, the 2025 goal marks a sharp increase for the U.S. auto fleet, which now averages about 27.8 mpg. The fleet average is mandated to climb to about 34.1 mpg by 2016.

House sets deadline for Keystone pipeline ruling

The Obama administration would be forced to decide by Nov. 1 whether to approve a proposed pipeline to deliver Canadian oil sands crude to refineries in Port Arthur and southwest Louisiana, under legislation the House passed Tuesday.
Although the measure isn’t expected to pass the Senate, supporters hope the bipartisan 279-147 vote favoring the project will send a strong signal to the administration, which is on track to finish vetting TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline by year’s end.

Oil industry advocates complain that a final verdict is long overdue. TransCanada first asked for approval to build the pipeline nearly three years ago, during the Bush administration.

But critics argued that the bill would block federal agencies and the public from fully weighing in on an environmental impact statement that the State Department is set to issue in mid-August.

Federal agencies also would have 15 days to appeal the State Department’s conclusions to President Barack Obama.
The proposed Keystone XL would expand TransCanada’s pipeline network, which now ends in Cushing, Okla., by adding a roughly 1,700-mile line from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The $13 billion project would let up to 1.29 million barrels of oil sands crude flow into Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries – a 700,000 barrel-per-day increase over existing capacity.

AP IMPACT: Gulf oil industry-gov’t ties persist

Ties between offshore oil and gas companies and the agency that regulates them are so pervasive that a year after new ethics rules took effect, as many as a third of inspectors in some Gulf of Mexico offices have been disqualified to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

That makes it difficult to hire knowledgeable and independent regulators in a region where oil and gas interests are deeply intertwined in the economy and culture, and where expertise and training needed to do the job often is found in the private sector.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that about 1 of every 5 employees of 109 involved in inspections in the Gulf has been recused from some duties because of the risk of coming into contact with a family member or friend working for a company the inspector regulates. Ten people hired since mid-August 2008 were barred for two years from performing work where they could be in a position of policing their previous employer — a company or contractor operating offshore.

In the Lafayette, La., office of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation nearly 35 percent of inspectors have been disqualified because a friend or relative works for a company they could interact with on the job. In Lake Charles, La., nearly 30 percent of inspectors held their last job with an oil and gas company, meaning they can’t perform any duties involving their former employer for two years.

The numbers come from recusal forms under a new ethics policy instituted last year by the Obama administration to identify and prevent possible conflicts of interest before they arise.

Copies of the forms submitted by more than 100 inspectors, engineers and permit reviewers in five Gulf coast offices were obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act. Personal information, such as the names of the employees, their friends and their family members, was blacked out to protect privacy. But the companies with ties to government workers were disclosed, and they represent a who’s who of the offshore oil and gas industry, from majors like Chevron, Shell and BP to smaller companies such as W&T Offshore Inc., Ankor Energy LLC and Hilcorp Energy Co.

The New Normal: Billion-Dollar Disasters

The National Climatic Data Center’s (NCDC) latest Billion Dollar Disaster Report finds the US has racked up more mega-expensive natural disasters in 2011 than ever before. So far we’ve suffered more than five times the huge disasters typical at this time of year. Already d amage costs have reached nearly $32 billion . Compare that to the first half of the average year— prior to the onset of “big” hurricane season— between 1980 and 2010, where disaster costs typically run $6 billion.

Solar Power Company Plans Giant Arizona Tower, Second Tallest Structure on Earth

In the desert of western Arizona, a power company proposes to build the world’s tallest chimney — a tower, 2,600 feet tall, that would be the centerpiece of a giant non-polluting power plant, making electricity from the heat of the sun.

The project has been started by an Australian company called EnviroMission, which says it hopes, by the time it is finished construction in early 2015, to provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of 200,000 homes. It would burn no fuel. Nothing quite like it has ever been tried in America before.

In fact, nothing quite like it has been tried anywhere else in the world, aside from a small test project in Spain. The finished tower would be the second-tallest structure on the planet, just a hundred feet shorter than the Burj Khalifa luxury skyscraper in Dubai. It would be twice as tall as New York’s Empire State Building.

“It would be conceited to say we have the solution,” said Chris Davey, the president of EnviroMission’s U.S. operations in Phoenix, “but it’s a reasonable energy alternative.”

When one mentions solar power, most people probably think of so-called photovoltaics — those big, flat panels that have been used to power spacecraft, but so far have been considered too expensive for large-scale commercial use. EnviroMission plans something very different.

Japanese researchers develop EV motor not reliant on rare earth metals

Japanese researchers working out of Tokyo University of Science, have built what they describe as a motor for electric cars that does not require so-called rare earth metals; a move that could drive down the costs for such vehicles.

Rare earth metals are a set of seventeen metals that, despite their name, are not actually rare; instead they are widely dispersed in the Earth’s surface, making mining both difficult and expensive. Japan has been particularly sensitive to the use of rare earth metals in electric and hybrid creation, because the country doesn’t have a source of such materials of its own, and therefore must import it from other countries, most notably China, which some in Japan have accused of using monopolistic business practices. Thus, researchers in Japan have been hard at work trying to find either a substitute, or a way to make electric motors that don’t require the special properties of .

Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in the Chesapeake

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary, a freshwater nursery for many species of fish that grow and venture out to the Atlantic Ocean where larger marine animals rely on them for prey.

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a “pollution diet” to dramatically reduce the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that states can allow in the bay from municipalities and farms.

The plan is more aggressive than its predecessors in past years that were criticized as ineffective. Under the plan, Chesapeake Bay watershed states — Virginia, Maryland, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — and the District were required to draft and submit strategies to the EPA for reducing nutrient pollution.

The final plans will cost billions to improve municipal water treatment plants that contributed to nitrogen runoff, and to improve conservation efforts by farmers, particularly large animal-feed organizations where phosphorus runs into the bay when rain washes away manure.

But the plan is being challenged by two powerful lobbies and other groups that are seeking a court order to block it. The American Farm Bureau Federation argued that costly conservation requirements could drive farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed out of business, and that states — not the EPA — should determine pollution limits.

The group’s lawsuit in a federal district court in Harrisburg, Pa., asks a judge to stop the plan from going forward. The National Association of Home Builders recently joined the suit.

The aim of the farm lobby’s lawsuit is not the Chesapeake Bay region. Bob Stallman, its president, said the EPA’s cleanup plan could be a harbinger for far-reaching requirements in the Mississippi River basin, where industrial farms are responsible for chemical runoff that lead to huge dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

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