Other key stories below: Solar Has Highest Return on Investment Among Renewables; House Votes to Ban Airline Compliance With EU Climate Law
A September protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. Credit: AP
President Obama’s reelection campaign has hired a former lobbyist for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline as a top adviser.
The campaign said that Broderick Johnson, founder and former principal of the communications firm the Collins Johnson Group, would serve as a senior adviser for the campaign. Before founding the firm this spring, he worked for the powerhouse lobbying firm, Bryan Cave LLP, where his clients included Microsoft, Comcast and TransCanada, the company planning to build the $7-billion pipeline to carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Johnson’s federal lobbyist filings indicate that TransCanada paid Bryan Cave at least $240,000 late last year and early this year for Johnson to work on supporting the “submission for a presidential permit for Keystone XL Pipeline.” He lobbied members of Congress, the filings show, as well as the administration and the State Department.
TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha denied that Johnson lobbied on behalf of the Keystone project.
An Obama campaign official said that in his new role Johnson would “serve as a national surrogate for the campaign and our representative in meetings with key leaders, communities and organizations. Broderick will be an ear to the ground for the campaign’s political and constituency operations, helping to ensure that there is constant, open communication between the campaign and our supporters around the country.”
JR: This is a tone-deaf, bone-headed move that Bill McKibben slammed on behalf of the increasingly disenfranchised 99%:
In an emailed statement, climate change activist and Keystone XL critic Bill McKibben complained: “I don’t think you could conceive a more elaborate way to disrespect not just the environmental community but also Occupy Wall Street, because this is simply a reminder of the way that corporate lobbyists dominate our politics… Forget ‘Hope and Change’ — it’s like they want their new slogan to be ‘Business as Usual.’ “
Return on investment from solar power is higher than from any other renewable energy source, thanks to large-scale technological improvements that are expected to bring down the cost of power generation to $1/W by 2020, according to a new report from SBI Energy. The payback period for a typical PV project has also come down to three to five years, from seven to 10 years.
The report predicts that the cost of solar power production will decrease by half every 10 years, reaching as low as $0.50/W by 2030. Large-scale adoption of PV technology and the emergence of low-cost production sites in China, Taiwan and other Asian markets will further reduce the cost of production in coming years.
Since 2000, cumulative PV installations have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 35%, reaching 40 GW globally in 2010, and the market is estimated to reach 400 GW by 2020. SBI Energy also estimates that the global PV inverters market, currently valued between $5.5 billion and $5.8 billion, will reach $7.5 billion in 2015.
“During 2011-2012, we expect a short-term lull in the European Union PV market, primarily due to [feed-in-tariff] rate cuts and regulations on farm land usage for ground-mount installations,” states Arun Kumar, SBI Energy analyst and author of the report. “But this will be offset by installations in the high-growth markets of North America and Asia, and China in particular.”
The new normal for gasoline prices continues to plague American consumers.
Over the last week, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. stabilized, down 1.4 cents to $3.462 a gallon after jumping nearly 6 cents a gallon the previous week, according to the Energy Department’s weekly survey of service stations.
But that’s 22.6% higher than the old record for this week of the year, which was an average of $2.823 a gallon set in 2007. For the same week in 2010, the U.S. average was $2.817.
The financial burden in California is even greater. Although the state’s average for a gallon of regular gasoline fell 0.6 of a penny to $3.858, that was 22.7% higher than the previous record for this time of year: $3.143, first set in 2007 and repeated in 2010.
Analysts say that world demand for refined fuels is keeping U.S. gasoline prices high, in part because the U.S. is exporting record amounts of fuel. In addition, U.S. refineries also are processing more diesel, at the expense of gasoline production, to meet that global demand.
A Nigerian community from the oil-rich Niger Delta has filed a lawsuit in the United States seeking $1 billion in compensation from Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell for decades of pollution caused by oil spills.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide if companies can be held liable in the United States for international human rights law violations.
The decision was related to a case involving allegations that Shell helped Nigeria violently suppress oil exploration protests in the 1990s.
The $1 billion compensation case was filed at a court in Detroit last week, citing the U.S. Alien Tort Statue law, which dates back from 1789. It has been used in the past to charge companies in the United States for breaches of international law.
The suit was brought on behalf of the people of Ogale in the Eleme local government area, where a United Nations environmental report earlier this year found people drinking water contaminated with carcinogens at 900 times the World Health Organization’s safety limit.
Passenger and cargo airlines would be shielded from a European law making carriers worldwide pay for carbon emissions under legislation approved by the House of Representatives on Monday.
Lawmakers sent a strong message to the European Union on its unilateral action, fiercely opposed by carriers, travel groups, labor and a number of countries, including China.
“We made it clear that the United States would pursue the matter,” House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica told reporters. “They were not very happy campers.”
Mica discussed the matter with EU officials last week in Montreal, and called the initiative “a taxing scheme” and a violation of international law and trade treaties.
European officials had no comment on developments in Congress.
The Energy Department is “routinely threatened with sophisticated cyber attacks” and has not taken the necessary steps to protect itself, according to a report made public Monday.
The report, conducted by Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman, says DOE is working to prevent such attacks. But it identifies a number of vulnerabilities at the department, including unsafe usernames and passwords on computer systems and networks running programs without the required security patches.
“[A]dditional action is needed to further strengthen the Department’s unclassified cyber security program and help address threats to its information and systems,” the report says.
Administration officials view cyber attacks as a growing threat to national security. Cyber attacks on federal agencies have increased by 40 percent since last year, according to the report.
Friedman identifies a 60 percent increase in cybersecurity weaknesses at the Energy Department when compared to fiscal year 2010. Many of the weaknesses identified by the IG last year — 11 of 35 — have not yet been fixed, the report says.
“Although the Department made progress addressing previously identified conditions, we continued to find weaknesses similar in type and risk level to those identified during our FY 2010 review,” the report says.