The Environment

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  Bush Tears Up Environmental Rule BookNovember 22, 1998 09:59 Outgoing US presidents traditionally use their last few months in office to leave some kind of legacy, an indelible sense of their administration's defining philosophy. It looks as if George W Bush is not about to break with tradition.

If you are being generous, the philosophy Bush is attempting to enshrine as the removal vans close in on the Oval Office is one of laissez faire, pro-business, light touch regulation.

To the president's critics the last few days of the Bush White House are providing a tragic embodiment of the administration's complete contempt for the environment and craven desire to pander to the old school business lobby.

On Monday, the administration ignored objections from two governors and several members of Congress to announce new regulations that would allow commercial oil shale operations on up to two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The draft rules, which were released by the Department of Interior, cover royalty rates, lease bids and technical issues for oil shale production in the region and were accompanied by amendments to resource management plans in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming designed to block any public appeals against proposed projects.

Extracting oil from shale, sedimentary rock containing kerogen, remains in its early stages, but it is seen by many oil companies as a natural progression from tar sands operations in Canada, which use many similar extraction techniques.

However, the approach appalls environmentalists who claim that the energy required to extract the oil by heating the shale to extremely high temperatures means that the resulting oil has a carbon footprint between five and eight times higher than conventional oil.

The decision to lay the legislative groundwork for the creation of a giant US oil shale industry brought a predictable response from environmentalists who slammed the Bush administration for again pandering to the oil industry and failing to deliver adequate environmental safeguards.

The criticism was led by Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who accused the administration of not only showing contempt for the environment, but also offering a parting gift to Big Oil by proposing reduced royalty rates.

"Cooking rocks and scorching the earth is not a solution to our energy crisis," she added. "This is just another government giveaway to Big Oil, which doesn't make sense when we have better, cleaner energy sources available now. We need to invest in clean energy solutions - like plug-in cars - that will reduce our dependence on oil, not dirtier fuels that spoil public lands, hasten climate change and suck up limited water resources."
  Today’s Unsettling Comparison To ‘The Great Dying’November 20, 1998 11:58 In 1980, scientists Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, proposed a new explanation for the dinosaurs’ disappearance 65 million years ago: a meteor strike. Initially, the idea was met with resistance. But the evidence was convincing: a sediment layer high in iridium, an element common in asteroids, was found the world over, along with a 110-mile-wide impact crater in the Yucatán of the same age. What started as a fringe idea has gone mainstream.

Now scientists are rethinking another of earth’s great die-offs. The end-Permian extinction 251 million years ago was the worst of earth’s five mass extinctions. Ninety percent of all marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial life disappeared. It took five million years, perhaps more, for the biosphere to recover.

But while the die-off was uniquely devastating, evidence of a single cataclysmic event, like an asteroid strike, hasn’t been found in the geological record. Scientists now suspect that “the mother of all mass extinctions” was of Earth’s own making. And the more they learn about it, the more parallels they see to today’s world: A bout of greenhouse-gas-induced global warming, much like today’s, set off a chain of events that culminated in oxygen-depleted oceans exhaling poison gas.

And as in today’s human-dominated earthscape, life was already stressed.

“Something came along and kicked it over the edge,” says Linda Elkins-Tanton, an assistant professor of geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. She heads a recently launched multidisci plin ary effort to study the extinction. “Should there be a great kick [now], we are in a position for a great die-off,”
she says.

Two hundred and fifty million years ago, Earth was emerging from a period of glaciation. The transition from icehouse to greenhouse was already stressing life, scientists think. Then magma began bursting through the crust of what is now Siberia. The eruption was tremendous, says Professor Elkins-Tanton. Over the course of maybe 1 million years, enough lava flowed to cover the continental United States half a mile deep.
  Bush Allows Shale Drilling Over ProtestsNovember 17, 1998 21:52 The Bush administration Monday opened up two million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to oil-shale exploration, challenging congressional Democrats who have opposed the move.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has indicated that she would prefer to limit shale drilling on environmental grounds, but found it politically difficult to extend a ban on oil-shale operations after oil prices surged to record highs earlier this year.

It is unclear what will happen after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January. If he and other Democrats want to keep federal oil-shale lands off-limits, they would have time to change course, because requests for new commercial leases undergo a lengthy review by the Interior Department.

The shale region in the western U.S. holds the equivalent of about 800 billion barrels of oil, according to Bureau of Land Management estimates. That is enough to meet current levels of U.S. demand for 110 years.

But the recent slump in oil prices could damp the petroleum industry's interest in the oil-shale region. Shale oil is costly to produce, because the dense rock where it is found has to be heated to extract the petroleum. Exxon Corp. in 1982 abandoned a big oil-shale project in Colorado when oil prices collapsed.

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have called oil shale one of the planet's dirtiest fuels. It can be converted into liquid petroleum, but only after being heated to 900 degrees Fahrenheit for five years or more, so production requires massive quantities of energy, the council says.
  Environmentalists Win Big EPA RulingNovember 14, 1998 15:06 Environmentalists have long known that when it comes to climate change, coal will be a dealbreaker. The carbon-intensive fossil fuel provides nearly half of the United States' electricity, and is responsible for some 30% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. That's just due to the coal plants already operating — as the U.S. looks to expand its energy supply to meet rising demand in the future, over 100 coal plants are in various stages of development around the country. If those plants are built without the means to capture and sequester underground the carbon they emit — and it's far from clear that such technology will be commercially viable in the near-term — our ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert climate change will be meaningless.

That's why a decision issued on Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Environmental Appeals Board is so important. Responding to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club over a new coal plant being build on American Indian reservation land in Utah, the board ruled that the EPA has no valid reason to refuse to regulate the CO2 emissions that come from new coal-powered plants. The decision pointed to a May 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court that recognized CO2, the main cause of climate change, is indeed a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and therefore needs to be regulated by the EPA. In the months since that landmark decision, the EPA — with the support of the Bush Administration — has doggedly refuse to regulate CO2, much to the dismay of environmentalists. The board's decision will force the EPA to consider CO2 when issuing permits for new power plants, potentially making it — at least in the short-term — all but impossible to certify new coal power plants. That's because the EPA will need to reconfigure its rules on dealing with CO2, which is found in greater concentrations in coal than any other fossil fuel, that force plants in the permitting process to be reevaluated, delaying them for months or longer. "In a nutshell it sends [new plants ]back to the drawing board to address their CO2 emissions," says Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's National Clean Coal campaign. "In the short term it freezes the coal industry in its tracks."
  5 Ideas For Barack Obama On The EnvironmentNovember 05, 1998 12:48 As President-elect Obama has said, the environmental challenge of our time is global climate change, and the single best thing he can do as the new president is to start moving the nation, and the world, toward the clean energy economy of the future – capitalizing on opportunities to reduce energy costs, increase energy independence, and create new jobs.

Governor Patrick has been blazing this trail here in Massachusetts, and the tailwind from a new federal-state partnership can’t come soon enough. Putting that vision into place will require steps both great and small:

1. Establish a strong cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy, auctioning, rather than giving away, emissions allowances to provide resources that can be put to work increasing energy efficiency, promoting renewable and clean energy technologies, and creating the green jobs of the future.

2. While Congress develops this legislation, use existing regulatory authority to begin regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, and pushing U.S. automakers to develop a super-efficiency fleet of new cars by approving a waiver, denied by the Bush Administration, that will allow 11 states, including Massachusetts, to adopt stricter emissions standards.

3. Rejoin global climate change treaty talks and offer an affirmative American leadership proposal that will move developed and developing countries alike toward clean energy technologies and steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

On other critical environmental issues, President-elect Obama should take action to:

4. Re-establish the “Roadless Area Conservation Rule” in order to preserve the last remaining wildlands in our national forest system. This rule, adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 but undermined throughout the Bush administration, protects 58.5 million acres of unspoiled land in 39 states and preserves them for public access and recreation, including hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and mountain biking.

5. Restore scientific credibility and legitimacy at the Environmental Protection Agency. For eight years, EPA’s regulatory process has been trumped by politics, while scientific evidence has been too often ignored. It is time to put environmental decision-making at the federal level back on solid scientific footing.