Climate Capsule: The Anniversary We’re Not Celebrating

Congress may be in recess, but the climate never sleeps. Check out this week’s news:

  1. Highlight of the Week: Gulf Oil Disaster: One Year Into Recovery
  2. Quote: Bill McKibben, founder of
  3. Economic Story of the Week: Turning Brownfields into Wind Farms
  4. Editorial of the Week: A year after the BP oil spill, what the Gulf Coast wants you to know
  5. Attacking Fracking
  6. Supreme Court Case: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, A Nuisance
  7. This Just In: Lead Expert Takes Name off Climate Shift Report
  8. More Threats from TransCanada
  9. Happening this Week

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Highlight of the Week

Gulf Oil Disaster: One Year Into Recovery

This week is the one-year mark of the BP oil rig explosion that caused the largest spill in U.S. history. Four million barrels of oil bled into the Gulf, killing 11 workers, endangering wildlife, and severely impacting the economies of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Four million barrels of oil bled into the Gulf, killing 11 workers and endangering wildlife. (Via NWF)

The ocean ecology now faces a long road to recovery according to a National Wildlife Federation report that assesses the damage to wildlife and habitat.

But as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes says, “It seems as though Congress has amnesia.” Lawmakers are nowhere nearer to taking action, and with the well plugged, pressure has faded.

At a news conference on Wednesday Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), NWF President and CEO Larry Schweiger, and several other speakers will urge Congress to dedicate Clean Water Act fines to restore degraded coastal wetlands. A bipartisan group of Louisiana delegation members have introduced bills in both the Senate (RESTORE Act) and House (H.R. 56) that would dedicate 80 percent of CWA fines to restoring the Gulf Coast.

Unused CWA fines will be automatically deposited into the Federal Treasury. Clean Water Act fines are the most viable short-term funding stream to fulfill President Obama’s commitment last June “to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region…[after] decades of environmental degradation that has led to disappearing wetlands and habitats.”

Contact Emily Guidry Schatzel, 225.253.9781,

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Bill McKibben (Photo via Energy Action Coalition)

“We need to fight with unity, to speak with one loud voice. Because we are fighting for your future. So far we’ve raised the temperature of the Earth one degree. That one degree has melted the ice, it’s changed the oceans. Unless we act with great speed the one degree will be five before this century is out, and the world we leave behind will be a ruined one.

We fight not just for ourselves, but for the beauty of this place: for cool trout streams, and deep spruce woods, for chilly fog rising off the Pacific and deep snow quieting the mountains. We fight for all the rest of creation that shares this planet. A creation so rich that we don’t even know half the species on Earth that we’re wiping out.”

– Bill McKibben, founder of speaking to 10,000 young climate leaders at Power Shift 2011

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Economic Story of the Week

Turning Brownfields into Wind Farms

Photo via Patrick Briggs, Flickr

A new study by the Nature Conservancy finds that the nation could receive as much as 20 percent of its electricity from wind power without harming wildlife by siting turbines on already disturbed land parcels throughout the country, often dubbed brownfields.

The study proposes a balance between landscape qualities and energy production. By reusing an estimated 170 million acres of already disturbed land in 31 states, there is the potential to create 3.5 million megawatts of electricity, more than enough to meet Obama’s 20 percent by 2030 objective.

As the federal government places a greater emphasis on the impacts of wind farms on wildlife species the research argues that large-scale wind development, an important part of a cleaner energy future, could be done without sacrificing precious habitat.

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Editorial of the Week

A year after the BP oil spill, what the Gulf Coast wants you to know

(The Times-Picayune)

We have made great progress in our recovery. But we face steep challenges that warrant the country’s dedicated attention to ensure the long-term viability of our region.

Visiting journalists and officials should appreciate that repairing the environmental and economic damage of the spill — and making sure that BP makes it right — must remain a priority…This goal is insufficient unless long-term coastal restoration, particularly in Louisiana, is made a national priority…The state needs Congress to dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines to be paid by BP and others responsible for the spill to help restore the communities and ecosystems of the Gulf. (More…)

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Attacking Fracking

According to a report released by senior House Democrats, the drilling fluids used to recover natural gas and oil from deep shale formations – a process called hydraulic fracturing –contain toxic substances that are known or possible human carcinogens. These substances, which include methanol, benzene, sulfuric acid and lead, are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Most fracturing or “fracking” is currently exempt from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Large deposits of shale gas discovered in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Texas and other states in the last few years have led to energy companies’ investment in developing these areas for natural gas, which has been touted as an energy method to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Fracking is the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals under extreme pressure into a well to fracture the shale rock, releasing the trapped natural gas. This gas has grown in popularity because it burns cleaner than oil or coal.

But a number of issues have been identified that are critical to water, wildlife, habitat and human health, that need to be considered as development of the industry proceeds. The unknown composition of the chemicals being used and their potential impact should they filter into our drinking water supply is just one of the many issues to consider when responsibly exploring natural gas. And a new study by Cornell University professors concludes that the drilling method may contribute to global warming even more than coal.

More on this story: WSJ, The Hill, Bloomberg, Associated Press

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Supreme Court Case: Greenhouse Gases, A Nuisance

Can states and other groups sue polluter power plants for contributing to global warming using federal ‘nuisance’ laws? This question will be addressed today in a Supreme Court case called American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut, a key global warming dispute.

Queens borough electric power generator (via Flickr, Vincent Desjardins)

The case began in 2004 when Connecticut and several other states and land trusts filed suit against large scale utilities such as American Electric Power, Southern Company, Cinergy, Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming they were causing harm to the environment and the health of residents. In a time when several members of Congress are trying to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate carbon pollution, this case could force utilities to cut emissions even if lawmakers successfully derail the Clean Air Act.

“States take the global warming threat very seriously because they see the harm that sea level rise, heat waves, intensified storms and other climate disruptions cause to their citizens and their natural resources,” said NWF vice president and attorney John Kostyack.

The Obama administration and the energy industry contend that this is the wrong way to deal with the complexities of climate change and argue the case should be thrown out as the EPA is currently moving forward to regulate emissions. But should Big Oil succeed in overthrowing EPA’s authority, the states and conservation groups do not want to lose the ability to litigate, a mechanism they’ve often used to successfully foster social change.

More on this story: Mother Jones

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This Just In: Lead Expert Takes Name off Climate Shift Report

A new report called Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate is due to be released this week from American University. In the report Professor Matthew Nisbet claims environmentalists benefited from a financial edge and favorable media coverage during the debate over a clean energy and climate bill.

But’s Joe Romm dismantles the report here, highlighting criticisms from leading expert Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, who had his name pulled off the report’s list of expert paid reviewers last week. Brulle disagrees with many of the report’s conclusions and points to instances where Nisbet contradicts his own data. In addition to accusing Nisbet of using his name to “legitimate its contents,” Brulle told Romm, “I think it is really bad and I don’t want to be associated with it.”

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More Threats from TransCanada

TransCanada, the company plotting to build the Keystone XL pipeline that would ship Canadian crude oil to Gulf refineries through five U.S. states, has added another misstep to its history of deception and misdeeds. Under heavy pressure from U.S. Senator Mike Johanns and Nebraska landowners, they promised last summer that they would stop threatening landowners to put a pipeline on their land or face ”eminent domain” action that would forcibly take their land. Oops, they did it again.

In an April 7 letter to several landowners along the proposed route, TransCanada made what company official Tim M. Irons called, “our final offer” and wrote that if the land owner does not accept the offer within one month, the company “will initiate the eminent domain process.” It is just one more instance of trickery, going against their word, and bullying landowners in their extreme energy campaign that many have already rejected.

More on this story: Associated Press, NWF’s Wildlife Promise

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Happening this Week

Congress in Recess until May 1

Tuesday, April 19

“One year after the Gulf Oil Spill: Where do things stand with wildlife, seafood, and the cleanup?” Baird Auditorium (Ground Floor) Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, 6:30 PM, to watch the webcast:

Thursday, April 21

News conference and Guided Boat Tours, One Year After BP Oil Spill:
10:30am-11:00am: News Conference, Myrtle Grove Marina, Myrtle Grove, Louisiana
11:15am-12:45am: Boat Tours depart marina, view damage in Barataria Bay & Bay Jimmy
9:30am-11:30am/1pm-3pm: Limited Aerial Tours depart marina to see Wax Lake Delta
Contact: Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,

Monday, April 25

Warming World: Impacts per Degree, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, 122 Cannon House Office Building, 2 PM-3:30 PM

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For more global warming news on Wildlife Promise click here.