Category Archives: Environment

Oil Extraction Threatens Communities in Peruvian Amazon

Amazon oil town of Trompederos

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango made headlines today after being arrested on charges of sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion. Last summer, Pizango led months of protests which prompted Peruvian President Álan Garcia order police to “use force” to remove a road bock near Bagua Grande. About 50 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.

Official blame for the incident has fallen on Pizango, though indigenous groups refer to the incident as “Peru’s Tiananmen Square.” But behind the conflict which has pitted the Peruvian government against much of its indigenous population is a well-known adversary – the oil industry.

The Peruvian government has sold off vast amounts of previously protected land, and now leases 70 percent of the nation’s rainforest for oil and gas exploration, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Since then, a broad coalition of indigenous groups and human rights activists has continuously fought to see that this number is not expanded.

“For thousands of years, we’ve run the Amazon forests,” said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. “This is genocide. They’re killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity.”

A pattern of conflict now threatens the stability of a fiercely divided nation. Answering to pressure from multinational corporations, the Peruvian government continues to scale back its protected territories. Each time legislation is proposed, opposition forces organize on a huge scale. Protests begin peacefully and almost always end in bloodshed.

Despite this environmental and human toll, the government continues to sell off protected lands. Petroperu, the state oil and gas company, recently announced their intention to open 10 million hectares for oil and gas exploration, almost all in the Amazon. The company also announced it would “start auctioning the remaining Amazon oil blocks, adding to the 82 foreign companies who already hold concessions here.”

Many activists are looking to the United States government for a solution, citing the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement as a catalyst for the rapidly expanding encroachment on indigenous territory.

“Whether or not the U.S. intended it, the reality is that the U.S.-Peru Trade Agreement gave license to the [Alan] Garcia administration to roll back indigenous rights and has contributed to increasing social conflict and human rights abuses in Peru,” said Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch.

Activists contest that the United States could revise existing agreements to include stronger safeguards for indigenous peoples and the environment. But such cooperation is unlikely, considering the the amount of sway held by the oil and gas lobby in Washington.

As residents of the Gulf grapple with a massive oil spill, it is important to remember that the oil industry impacts people across the globe. With the livelihoods of entire communities at risk, the importance of developing alternate energy sources has never been more clear.

By Mary Tharin

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First Look at the Kerry Lieberman Energy Bill: Pros and Cons

The long awaited Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill was finally unveiled today without a Republican co-sponsor after Lindsey Graham withdrew his support. Still, the American Power Act reflects most of the promises that had been made by the trio over the past months; both good and bad.

A strong push by electric, coal, and gas lobbies to protect their industries is heavily reflected in the bill which promotes nuclear power, “clean” coal, and offshore drilling. Also, carbon caps will be established on a rolling sector-by-sector basis which will not affect certain industries for (like manufacturing) for over 5 years, while others (like agriculture) are completely exempt. This leaves open the possibility for these sectors to produce “offsets” – or free carbon credits – which can be sold to regulated sectors in lieu of making real emissions cuts.

Here is a general overview of the high and low points contained in a draft text released by Kerry’s office today:

Pros

Cons

Carbon Cap:

The bill calls for an economy-wide emissions reduction to 95.25 percent of 2005 levels by 2013, 83 percent by 2020, 58 percent by 2030, and 17 percent by 2050.

Domestic Offsets:

Establishes a nationwide system under which sources not subject to the greenhouse gas emission reduction program may receive credits for making reductions in emissions that can be sold to and used by those subject to reduction requirements.

Coastal Drilling Opt-out:

States have the right to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores, and veto projects of nearby states.

Offshore Drilling:

Despite a smattering of new regulations, offshore drilling stays in the nation’s long-term energy plan.

Clean Energy Funding:

Establishes a Clean Energy Technology Fund, though source for funding is not explicitly outlined.

Nuclear Power:

Incentives include a new investment tax credit to promote the construction of new generating facilities, $54 billion in loan guarantees and a manufacturing tax credit to spur the domestic production of nuclear parts.

Clean Transportation:

Supports electric vehicle infrastructure; provides funding to municipal transportation emissions reduction programs.

“Clean” Coal:

Annual $2 billion for research and development of carbon capture and sequestration methods and devices.

Clean Energy Career Development:

Grants and career training in the fields of clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation.

International Offsets:

Establishes an independent advisory committee to monitor and approve international offset projects which allow US industries to continue polluting.

Customer Refund:

Two thirds of revenues from carbon trading will rebated to consumers, though not directly.

State Pre-emption:

States will not be permitted to operate their own cap-and-trade programs.

The next few weeks will undoubtedly see push-back from both the right and the left on a number of the bill’s more controversial elements. The chance of any legislation passing the Senate before the summer campaign season begins remains murky, but a strong push by the administration and civil society could mean a victory for the comprehensive, albeit less than perfect, bill.

View the full bill text here.

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Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Climate Bill Could Make Matters Worse

Months have passed since the Senate trio took up the task of cobbling together a climate bill that everyone might agree on. However, as details continue to be revealed about the draft legislation, many an eyebrow is being raised over certain provisions that could prove a step backward for environmental protection.

In wide-sweeping attempts to court business interests and Senate moderates, the legislation cuts back on the power of other regulatory entities – like the EPA and state governments. Lindsay Graham told Politico:

“I wouldn’t support EPA regulation on top of congressional action, and I couldn’t support 50 states coming up with their own standards,” he said. “That’s one thing business legitimately needs.”

Environmental activists have long been prepared for a disappointing, compromise-ridden bill – but the common wisdom has always been “something is better than nothing.” The danger now is that this bill, as written, would actually do more harm than good.

Much to the chagrin of polluting companies, the Environmental Protection Agency has been extremely effective in cleaning up our air and water. Air quality has improved tremendously since the agency was established in 1970, as the American Enterprise Institute unwittingly pointed out.

Congress, on the other hand, has a long history of pandering to the oil and coal lobbies, among others. Considering that any bill that comes out of Congress is bound to be riddled with loopholes, the regulatory power of the EPA would probably be the only hope for making sure businesses truly cut down on their carbon emissions. A number of green groups, including 1Sky and Sierra Club, are pressuring lawmakers to uphold the regulatory authority of the EPA.

Another huge blow would be dealt by restricting state and local governments which, up to now, have been responsible for the most ambitious climate action this country has seen. More than 20 states currently participate in regional cap-and-trade programs, and many states have employed renewable energy standards to promote clean energy. Pending legislation would block these programs, likely forcing many states to accept far lower carbon caps.

This is what happens when you try to write a clean energy and climate bill and invite oil and gas companies to the table.

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California Climate Change Initiative Under Attack

Why are a number of Texas-based oil companies pouring money into a nascent ballot initiative in California? Becasue they don’t want to clean up their act.

In a desperate attempt to undermine the state’s ground-breaking environmental policies, these companies are funding a campaign to stall – or cancel completely – California’s comprehensive plan for climate change mitigation. Assembly Bill 32, approved in 2006, would place a cap on the state’s emissions, bringing them down 30 percent by 2020.

Companies like Valero and World Oil Corp. have contributed almost $1 million to support a ballot initiative that would delay implementation of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rates hold at or below 5.5 percent for a year. Realistically, this equates to an indefinite postponement – a quick look at unemployment data over the past two decades shows that rates rarely stay that low for an entire year.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poisner have jumped on the initiative, claiming that curbs on carbon emissions will destroy jobs and increase the burden on consumers. The campaign continues to cite statistics from a CSU Sacramento report which has since been thoroughly discredited.

In response, the California Environmental Procession Agency released document entitled “Setting the Record Straight on AB 32.” They point out:

  • Small businesses are not regulated by AB 32, and costs to them will be negligible. Many of California’s largest employers support the bill (Google, Ebay, etc.)
  • AB 32 is likely to save households money by supporting energy efficiency; such measures have already saved Californians $56 billion.
  • Capping emissions would further boost California’s robust clean energy sector. California’s energy efficiency policies have already created 1.5 million jobs

Considering the amount of money being spent, he initiative it likely to be on the ballot in November. The nation will be watching to see where Californians stand on an issue that their state has pioneered for decades. It will be a huge blow to the environmental movement if oil money manages to reverse the progress of the US leader in clean energy and emissions regulation.

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Obama on Climate: We Need a Carbon Cap

In a meeting with key Senators and administration officials yesterday, President Obama made one point abundantly clear: the U.S. needs to put a cap on our carbon emissions. Politico reports:

In opening remarks, according to Senators in attendance, President Obama took the idea of an energy-only bill – the preferred approach of moderate Democrats – off the table, saying he wanted a “comprehensive” bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The President is up against a a strong contingent of Senators who have been trying to sideline a carbon cap with alternate proposals such as the one being drafted by Richard Lugar (R-IN), which would promote ever-dubious “clean coal” initiatives and nuclear power. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Lisa Mirkowski (R-AK) have also expressed their opposition to any proposal that would put a price on carbon emissions.

But the reality is that we must cap our emissions, and to do it soon. What our constituent-minded members of Congress fail to recognize is that we are the ONLY developed country that has yet to make a solid commitment to cut our carbon levels in the next few decades.

International climate negotiations are at a standstill largely because everyone is waiting for the United States to step up to the plate. Comments made by China’s top climate negotiator today, urging our Congress not to “shift the responsibility for taking more active action to other countries,” reflects a prevalent mood in the global community.

UN Climate talks, which are set to re-commence in December in Mexico, will get nowhere if the U.S. has not yet passed a comprehensive bill that includes a carbon cap.

It seems time to listen to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is urging the GOP to support a comprehensive climate and energy plan. He told the press yesterday: “I’m not going to support some half-assed reform.”

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Global Climate Action: At Least We All Agree

As international climate negotiations continue to be thwarted by politicians fanning the flames of an alleged divide between rich and developing countries, people around the world are coming to the conclusion that action must happen soon, and it must be taken together. A 2009 Gallup Survey taken in four key negotiating countries asked participants who should make he first cuts: the developed or rapidly developing world? Across the board, the most common response was “both, at the same time.”

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The Search for Workable Climate Legislation: Cap-and-Dividend

Robert N. Stavins, a climate economics expert at Harvard, expressed yesterday his hope for an effective climate bill that can please both sides of the aisle. His solution rests on a system of “upstream” cap-and-trade, in which all carbon allowances are sold to carbon emitters and a large portion is then returned to American households through tax rebates. According to Stavins:

[This] modified version of cap-and-trade that could be much more attractive in this era of rampant expressions of populism, coming both from the right (“no new taxes”) and the left (“bash the corporations”). Such a system – which would have direct and visible positive financial consequences (i.e., rebate checks larger than energy price increases) for 80% of American households – might not only not be difficult for politicians to support, but it might actually be difficult for politicians to oppose!

This concept most closely resembles the “Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act,” sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The bill, introduced in December, would create a “cap and dividend” system to defray higher energy costs to the consumer.

But some changes need to be made for this proposal to be effective, according to Stavins. For one, the current bill allows only producers and importers of fossil fuels to buy the carbon allowances, which necessarily restricts the market. “Furthermore, the Senators’ proposal says that holders of carbon allowances are actually prohibited from creating, selling, purchasing, or trading carbon derivatives, thereby tremendously reducing the efficiency of the market and needlessly driving up costs.”

Nevertheless, the concept of “upstream cap-and-trade” has a lot of promise, according to a PEW Center on GLobal Climate Change study:

An economy-wide upstream cap-and-trade program would be environmentally effective, could attain least-cost compliance if it incorporates flexibility measures, and would be administratively feasible.

There are substantial theoretical benefits from such an approach. The near-term environmental outcome is clear, assuming that the government will maintain the emission limits in the face of possibly significant price uncertainty and volatility. Current analysis indicates that it would minimize economic costs to the economy, be manageable administratively, avoid overcompensating existing emitters, and perhaps capture some offsetting benefits from reduction of distortionary taxes.

By Mary Tharin

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