Climate Capsule: Congress and Big Oil Battle It Out

This week’s stories:

  1. Highlight of the Week: Oil Execs Cry “Un-American”
  2. Quote: Steve Torbit, Executive Director, National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain region
  3. Economic Story of the Week: Cutting Carbon to Cut Costs
  4. Editorial of the Week: Climate Change Denial Becomes Harder to Justify
  5. Coal Curricula Keep Kids in the Dark
  6. Biomass Done Right
  7. Happening this Week

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Highlight of the Week

Oil Execs Cry “Un-American”

Tensions ran as high as record gas prices when the Senate Finance Committee brought Big Oil’s top five executives to the Capitol for a hearing on proposals that could lead to an end to wasteful taxpayer subsidies. The heads of the five largest oil companies – Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips – testified that the billions in tax breaks are necessary to continue production and keep energy prices low. ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva even went so far as to claim that ending these taxpayer-funded handouts is “un-American.” The non-partisan Congressional Research Service found that ending subsidies won’t have much of an effect on gas prices.

The hearing comes on the heels of the introduction of a bill by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and cosponsored by 28 of his colleagues, that would attempt to repeal $21 billion over the next decade in tax incentives for the “big five” oil companies. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote this evening.

The Senate will also vote this week on Senator McConnell’s bill, S. 953, which represents a drastic step backward for environmental protection and oversight while doing nothing to address gas prices. Since the BP oil disaster last year, Congress has not enacted a single piece of oil spill legislation.

More on this story:

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Steve Torbit

“If they’ve got nothing to hide, why is the industry so paranoid about disclosing their chemicals?”

-Steve Torbit, Executive Director, NWF’s Rocky Mountain region, in the Economist on companies using hydraulic fracturing, “fracking”, to release natural gas.

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Economic Story of the Week

Cutting Carbon to Cut Costs

When Ben Verwaayen took over telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent as CEO he put cutting its carbon footprint at the heart of his strategy. When the companies had merged two years earlier the market capitalization fell by more than 80 percent with huge losses. Investors called for cost cuts, not carbon cuts, but Verwaayen said that going green is a financial decision. Emissions from the global information and communications technology sector are likely to double by 2020; governments, consumers, and suppliers are all demanding more energy-efficient products.

“The financial impact of doing nothing is much too high,” he said.

By using strategies such as moving production closer to customers – avoiding excess inventories and reducing logistical environmental impacts – going solar, and encouraging employee telecommuting, Alcatel-Lucent has reduced its carbon footprint by an estimated 12.6 percent, or the equivalent of more than 176,000 tons of carbon pollution. That’s the same impact as taking about 32,000 cars off the road.

More on this story: WSJ, Climatewire

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Editorial of the Week

Climate Change Denial Becomes Harder to Justify

(Washington Post)

“Climate Change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” Seizing on inevitable points of uncertainty in something as complex as climate science, and on misreported pseudo-scandals among a few scientists…members of Congress, presidential candidates and other leaders pretend that the dangers of climate change are hypothetical and unproven and the causes uncertain.

Climate-change deniers…are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three. And their recalcitrance is dangerous, the report (“America’s Climate Choices”) makes clear, because the longer the nation waits to respond to climate change, the more catastrophic the planetary damage is likely to be — and the more drastic the needed response. (More…)

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Coal Curricula Keep Kids in the Dark

via Flickr/TimothyJ

A newly-released school lesson plan series on energy tells children about the advantages of coal-burning for electricity but offers our kids an industry-biased view and, sadly, omits some of the most critical parts of the story.

The American Coal Foundation and Scholastic have rolled out a new education program aimed at 4th graders called The United States of Energy. It purports to educate kids on where our energy “comes from, how it is used, and what part it plays in communities today.” There is nothing wrong with letting kids know that electricity is produced by coal-burning and is used for many beneficial purposes. But, when describing the role it plays in communities, they’ve omitted key parts of the story, for instance, the role that coal-burning plays in escalating the climate crisis.

In addition to adverse environmental effects of coal-burning, there are serious childhood health implications that can have a particularly hard impact on low-income urban communities. The American Public Health Association points out that, in parts of some major U.S. cities, one-third to one-half of pediatric hospital admissions are for children with asthma who struggle to breathe when exposed to more pollution in the air.

More on this story: Wildlife Promise, Fast Company

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Biomass Done Right

via Flickr/GreenRon

The EPA has proposed a ruling that would temporarily defer – and possibly exempt – regulation of carbon pollution that results from biomass and other biogenically-based (biogenic) fuels under the Clean Air Act. Biomass can be harvested and utilized in ways that reduce pollution and protect forest habitats, but only with sustainability safeguards and proper accounting for carbon emissions.

Similar to coal and other fossil fuels, when biomass from trees and other biogenic sources is burned it releases carbon and other pollutants that impact air quality. But unlike fossil fuel sources the combustion or burning of biogenic carbon transfers from the terrestrial carbon pool to the atmosphere. There is a wide variety of biomass sources, and different harvesting methods and technologies can greatly affect the overall emissions that enter the atmosphere and pollute the air.

“It is important for EPA to quickly sort out what kinds of biomass – both fuel sources and combustion technologies – are most appropriate to scale up in order to avoid further fossil fuel emissions,” says Eric Palola, NWF Senior Director, Forests. “We support renewable energy with biomass, but it has to be done right.”

When done right, the use of biomass to create energy can help to move us away from fossil fuels and have a beneficial carbon impact. Rather than a three-year deferral, the National Wildlife Federation has submitted comments on the proposal suggesting the EPA move forward in identifying a role for biomass that is Clean Air Act compliant and serves to reduce and avoid new carbon pollution.

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Wednesday, May 18

NWF Teleconference: Mississippi River Flooding: Fueled by global warming, intense storms that feed floods are increasing across America. 10AM EDT, (800)791-2345, code 22572#, For more information on the media teleconference, please contact Mékell Mikell at (703) 438-6273,

Thursday, May 19

Hearing: Policies to reduce oil consumption through advanced vehicle technologies and electric vehicles, Senate Energy & Natural Resources, 10AM, SD 366

May 19-20

Southeast Fair Climate Summit, Jacksonville, FL, Hosted by National Wildlife Federation, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Democracia USA, and US Climate Action Network

Tuesday, May 24

EPA Public Hearings on proposed mercury and air toxics standards
Chicago, IL. Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro, 733 West Madison Street
Philadelphia, PA. Westin Philadelphia, 99 South 17th Street at Liberty Place

Thursday, May 26

EPA Public Hearing on proposed mercury and air toxics standards
Atlanta, GA. Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, 61 Forsyth Street SW

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