Pages tagged "naturalgas"


Divestment Movement Escalates

This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.

Harvard 1The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of  the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change.  Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.

Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.

wustlThe implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.

On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.

To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.

Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.


Why We Are Blocking the Office of Harvard's President

Co-authored by Sima Atri, Benjamin Franta, Sidni Frederick, Ted Hamilton, Jacob Lipton, Chloe Maxmin, Brett Roche, Kelsey Skaggs, Henney Sullivan, Tyler VanValkenburg, Jacob Lipton, Zoë Onion, Olivia Kivel, and Canyon Woodward on behalf of Divest Harvard. This op-ed originally appeared on Stacy Clark's blog on Huffington Post.

This morning we began blocking the main entrance to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard University President Drew Faust and other top administrators. We are here to demand an open and transparent dialogue with the Harvard Corporation—Harvard's main governing body—on fossil fuel divestment. To date, President Faust and Harvard University have rejected the case for divestment and refused to engage in public dialogue about divestment and climate change. Alongside the 72% of Harvard undergraduates and 67% of Harvard Law students, as well as the students, faculty, and alumni of Divest Harvard, we refuse to accept our university's unwillingness to hold a public meeting on this critical issue. Photo by @DivestHarvard on Twitter.

We are here today because we believe in a better Harvard. We are here because it is our duty to act. We are here today because it is our moral responsibility as students to ensure that Harvard does not contribute to and profit from the problem but instead aligns its institutional actions and policies with the shared interests of society.

We take this action with the conviction that Harvard can, must, and will be a leader in responding to the climate crisis. We owe it to the world's less fortunate and future generations to lead the way to a livable planet.

Human-made climate change is already severely disrupting weather patterns and causing misery to those most vulnerable to the effects of droughtflooding, and famine. Despite the universal acknowledgment by scientists and world governments that drastic action is needed to address this problem, we continue to extract and burn carbon energy sources at an accelerating rate.

Unless we act swiftly to restructure our economy and to end our consumption of fossil fuels, the planet faces catastrophic disturbances in the very near future. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we have less than 15 years to overhaul our energy economy, is the latest recognition that the time for bold and courageous action is upon us.

Harvard enjoys a privileged position. It is a global leader in research, thought, and policy, and its alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. Harvard has the moral authority to break the stranglehold of passivity when our governments are unable or unwilling to address climate change's impending menace. And even if Harvard were not a prominent institution, the moral imperative still exists to stop profiting from damage done to others. The fact that Harvard chooses to calculate profit from corporate activities that push damages onto others—including ourselves and our children—is intolerable, ultimately unsustainable, and must stop.

Harvard's divestment from the fossil fuel industry will accomplish two important goals. First, it will allow Harvard to retain the moral integrity of an institution purporting to care about a livable future. Today the Harvard community profits from fossil fuel investments because the true costs of oil, coal, and gas are borne by other communities. Communities close to extraction sites are being robbed of their health and communities on the frontlines of climate disasters are being robbed of their lives and cultures. Younger generations, including Harvard's own students, are being robbed of a chance at a livable future. It is unconscionable and illogical for us to continue supporting an industry that violates basic human values and the fundamental purpose of our own institution.

Second, divestment will send a strong message that our society can no longer tolerate business as usual with the fossil fuel industry. The corrupt political practices and shameful climate denial peddled by gas, oil, and coal companies have stood in the way of proactive energy policies for far too long. Harvard's wealth and influence bring with them a special responsibility to act, and this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

As the university demonstrated when it divested from tobacco and partially divested from Apartheid, Harvard's endowment can be put into alignment with shared values. We are not asking our university to inject politics into its finances: we are asking it to stop sponsoring and profiting from climate change. By investing in fossil fuel companies, Harvard itself is responsible for their behavior. President Faust's recent announcement that Harvard will sign onto the non-binding Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project implicitly recognizes that the university cannot ignore its social responsibility when it comes to its investments and climate change.

As over one hundred Harvard faculty argued in their letter to President Faust earlier this month, it is far too late for business as usual and statements to continue that do not commit the university to action. The governing Corporation's refusal to hold an open meeting on the issue of divestment—as well as the President's recent denial that fossil fuel companies prevent political action on global warming and a Corporation member's suggestion that Harvard students thank BP for its energy practices—betray a disconcerting lack of understanding and urgency with respect to the impending risk of climate disaster.

We stand in solidarity with students and activists around the world who are raising their voices to demand that our institutions and leaders reject the carbon economy and begin aggressive action toward a greener future. We welcome members of the Harvard community and the public to our peaceful gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall. And we invite President Faust and the Harvard Corporation to join us in an open and transparent meeting to discuss the divestment of Harvard's endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

The world, and Harvard as part of it, cannot wait any longer.


The Spectra Showdown in NYC

Spectra ProtestThe "Spectra Showdown" is a chain of demonstrations against the Spectra Pipeline in New York. Day and night, activists have been keeping vigil, awaiting shipments of equipment to arrive at the construction site in Lower Manhattan at the Hudson River. Guest blogger Shannon E. Ayala reports from the scene: Activists are regularly attendant, from break of day to late in the evening, at Houston-based Spectra Energy's construction site in Lower Manhattan, anticipating a shipment of materials for the NJ-NY Expansion Project. Though the shipments are expected by barge as well, some sort of nonviolent "showdown" is anticipated alongside the (wild) West Side Highway. The interstate pipeline, approved in May by the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), is an expansion of pre-existing pipelines from Connecticut and Texas, the latter picking up fracked Marcellus Shale gas in Pennsylvania. NYC's Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, which favors natural gas in its energy section, mentions that no gas pipeline has been built into NYC's borders in decades. The same administration funded the "Hazen and Sawyer Report," which inspired the Mayor to tell the DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission) to not rush regulations that allow fracking in NYC's watershed. The project was officially filed with FERC shortly after the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in California, which killed eight people and destroyed a section of suburbia. The NJ-NY Project is a similar pipeline in size and pressure with the difference being that the latter has remote control valves and is built in a more OSHA-conscious time period. Nevertheless, the line was immediately unpopular in Jersey City where it would run throughout the most densely populated county in the US. Jersey City's Mayor, major developer Le Frac, and a host of other locals, including those behind NoGasPipeline.org, opposed the line, some just saying it should be rerouted under the Hudson. As a response to the opposition, Spectra launched YesGasPipeline.org, which claims 5200 direct and indirect jobs will be created. Sane Energy Project, formed to resist Spectra in NYC, co-organized ReNew New York, which has held large teach-ins on the economic possibilities of renewable energy as an economic alternative. Particularly since early 2011 and more so since Occupy, New Yorkers have dominated the discussion, in opposition, more recently citing the debated consequences of radon being piped from the radioactive Marcellus Shale and Spectra's track record of violations. The pipeline meets Con Edison in the now-posh Meatpacking District, home of the symbolic Hi Line Park and soon-to-be Chelsea Museum, where a vault for the pipeline will be stored. Now that the public hearings and comments, overwhelmingly in opposition, have hit the wall of FERC, direct action groups have blown up the issue in Meatpacking, and have prepared to face Spectra in its tracks. Want to learn more? For direct action and on-site presence:  http://occupythepipeline.blogspot.com/ For updates on legal battle and detailed information about pipeline: http://saneenergyproject.org/

Playing Nice In The Sandbox: Feds Try To Inimidate Texas Climate Activists

[caption id="attachment_18767" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Ben Kessler at the Tar Sands Action last August; via We Are Powershift"][/caption] I’ve been organizing campaigns and non-violent direct actions for a long time. Over ten years now. Most of the time, I hear stories about the screwed up things our government and corporations do and I take it in stride. Every once in a while, something pops and it gets under my skin. A lot. Case in point. This week, the Ft. Worth Weekly (Ft. Worth’s alt weekly) posted a follow up story to last month’s Washington Post expose about the FBI investigating Rising Tide North Texas, anti-fracking activists in Denton, TX, my friend and comrade Ben Kessler and his professor at the University of North Texas Adam Briggle. The reporter, Andrew McLemore, provided more details about the FBI and Dallas Police Dept.’s conversations with Briggle: "The law enforcement officers asked Briggle about his involvement with the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group, a group of residents lobbying the city council to stop issuing permits for gas drilling until potential environmental impacts are studied. The agent and police officer also asked the professor about Kessler, who took his ethical theory course, and about some of his assigned readings. Oh, and they also asked him about IEDs, improvised explosive devices of the sort used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. “A question like that is so out of left field, it just sort of stuns you,” Briggle said. “It seemed like this was about Ben, not me. ...  The Dallas police guy said they just wanted to make sure everyone was ‘playing nice in the sandbox.’ ” Briggle said the officers seemed mainly to want him to contact them if he observed the potential for violent behavior by a student or activist. The professor described Kessler as an intelligent leader of nonviolent student protests. “There’s a concern, not just that I get written off as a nutty ideologue, but that Ben and other protesters are written off as crazy, violent terrorists,” he said." Ben is marine veteran. He served in Afghanistan. Our government sends people off to participate in these wars. When they return and see how screwed up the government and corporations have made our country and world and begin to speak out about it, they are investigated as “criminals” and “terrorists.” Adam Briggle is right. Ben is an intelligent leader of a non-violent group of students and environmentalists fighting for a safer cleaner world. It’s the FBI agent and the Dallas police officer that are conducting this “investigation” that carry guns and work for the people dropping bombs, not Rising Tide North Texas. Here’s McLemore’s article if you want to read it in full.

What is "Clean" Energy Anyways?

Not natural gas. Researchers at Cornell University just released a study (pdf) that argues that using natural gas for energy actually causes more, not less, greenhouse gas emissions than coal. The reason that natural gas is so greenhouse gas-intensive is because of "fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, the process required to extract natural gas from far underground. The study's authors found that during the fracking process, enough methane is released from underground to make natural gas actually dirtier than coal. No FrackingAccording to the study: "Compared to coal, the [climate] footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years." This news is especially distressing because coal plants across the United States are converting to natural gas in response to upcoming EPA air pollution regulations. Instead of switching from one dirty fuel to another, communities need to replace dirty power plants with truly clean, green energy — and banks need to stop financing false solutions like natural gas and instead invest in the renewable energy solutions that will replace fossil fuels once and for all. For more information about natural gas extraction and fracking, check out RAN's official position statement on hydrofracking, or get involved with Earthworks, a great organization working to protect communities from the devastating effects of gas development.

A Bad Year for Dirty Energy

April 5th is the one-year anniversary of the disaster at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, in which 29 coal miners lost their lives needlessly thanks to Massey’s disregard for worker safety in its reckless pursuit of profits. It was also something of a kickoff for what would turn out to be a really bad year for dirty energy — a year in which seemingly everything that could go wrong did go wrong, laying bare for all to see the inherent danger and unsustainability of continuing to rely on fossil fuels as sources of energy. Just fifteen days after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5th, for instance, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, taking with it the lives of 11 men working on the drilling platform. The wellhead blowout led to a three-month long ordeal in which crude oil gushed uncontrollably into the Gulf, exposing once again the relaxed attitude towards worker and environmental safety held by purveyors of dirty energy. Now, a year later, we’re facing the specter of nuclear meltdown in Japan, a frightening capstone to what should serve as a year’s-worth of alarming wake up calls. But these of course were only the highest profile disasters that resulted from our reliance on dirty energy. The Atlantic recently compiled a long list of dirty energy disasters from the past year that should lay to rest once and for all the debate over our society’s energy future. Dirty energy disasters Here is a brief, by no means comprehensive list of the dirty energy disasters we witnessed last year alone. This draws from The Atlantic’s list some, with additions by me and other RAN staffers.
  • April 5, 2010 – An explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia claimed the lives of 29 miners.
  • April 20, 2010BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded and sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, claiming the lives of 11 workers and leading to an oil spill of over 200 million gallons.
  • May 8, 2010 – Two explosions at the Raspadskaya coal mine in Siberia claimed the lives of 91 miners.
  • June 17, 2010 – An explosion at a coal mine in Amaga, Colombia claimed the lives of 73 workers.
  • July 20, 2010 - China experienced its biggest oil spill ever – some 400,000 gallons – after pipelines exploded in Dalian Province.
  • July 26, 2010 – An Enbridge Pipeline burst, spilling 19,500 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River — a record for the Midwest. The river remains closed.
  • August 10, 2010 – Five people lost their lives and another 50 were injured when a natural gas pipeline owned by PG&E exploded in San Bruno, CA, a suburb of San Francisco.
  • October 16, 2010 – At least 20 miners were killed by an explosion in a coal mine in Yuzhou, China.
  • November 21, 2010 – Some 87 workers were killed in the year’s worst coal-mining accident in China.
  • December 2, 2010 – A Chevron pipeline in Salt Lake City, UT burst, spilling 500 barrels of oil. Chevron actually had not one but TWO oil spills in Salt Lake City in 2010. Not only that, but the company had THREE oil spills in the space of one week in December 2010.
  • February 9, 2011 – A natural gas explosion in Mont Belvieu, TX claimed the life of one worker and led to a fire that burned for nearly an entire day.
  • February 10, 2011 – A natural gas explosion in Allentown, PA killed five people and destroyed eight homes.
  • March 11, 2011 – An earthquake-triggered tsunami hit the coast of Japan, dangerously destabilizing several of the country’s nuclear reactors. To date, workers are still trying to prevent total meltdowns of the reactor cores. But it wasn’t just nuclear energy that posed a problem in the aftermath of the earthquake: A fire at an oil refinery was sparked by the quake and raged for days, some times with 100-foot flames leaping into the air.
It couldn't be more obvious that now more than ever we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that our children are not held captive to these dirty energy sources of the 19th century. A bad year for dirty energy is actually really bad news for us all.

What Does Japan's Nuclear Meltdown Mean for our Energy Future?

Energy Shouldn't Cost LivesJapan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster have dominated headlines around the world since news broke last Friday. Thousands of people have died in Japan over the past few days, and many more are at risk of radiation sickness from the ongoing nuclear power plant meltdown. My heart aches for all of the families in Japan who are suffering this week. Of the hundreds of news reports covering these one-after-another disasters, one Bloomberg article caught my eye with a very interesting question: how will Japan's nuclear meltdown impact the future of energy? As the nuclear meltdown in Japan continues, the conversation about the impact this disaster will have on our energy choices is an interesting one. There seem to be two competing answers: expand the use of coal as a clear alternative to nuclear power, or push for clean energy, like wind and solar, that does not explode, spill or meltdown. Which would you choose? Apparently, two of the biggest coal mining companies in the world, Siberian Coal Energy Co. and OAO Mechel, have responded to Japan's energy crisis with a plan to increase coal shipments to Japan by 3 million to 4 million metric tons a year. The stock market also seems to point to coal as a good alternative to nuclear, at least at this moment in the news cycle. The Wall Street Journal reported that coal companies including Peabody Energy, Consol Energy, Alpha Natural Resources, Cloud Peak Energy and International Coal Group are trading higher since the nuclear plant explosions. However, the New York Times is reporting that solar and wind stocks are surging amidst nuclear fears as well. The demand for renewable energy is picking up. With Bloomberg reporting that: "Equipment makers for solar and wind energy climbed as much as 27 percent, rallying for a second day on speculation that clean energy will benefit in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear-reactor accident." It is disgusting to think that any company, dirty energy or clean, would "benefit" from this disaster. However, it is also horrifying to imagine that as a global community we would not heed the warnings that disasters like the BP oil spill and this week's nuclear meltdown are sounding. As country's like Germany and Switzerland suspend plans for nuclear plants and fear over this unstable fuel justifiably surges around the globe, we have two paths for our energy future: to stay the course, pumping our countries full of coal, oil and nuclear energy, or transition to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. In my estimation, replacing nuclear energy with energy from burning coal is a foolish path. Coal has a long and shameful history of devastating accidents, including the TVA coal ash spill in December 2008, which dumped 2.6 million cubic yards of fly ash across hundreds of acres just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, and Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine explosion in April of 2010, which killed 29 miners. These are just two recent examples from the United States. It would take a much longer blog post to cite all the recent accidents at coal plants and mines around the world. The debate around the future of nuclear energy will surely rage for many months. It is critical that those of us who have been watching the disaster in Japan unfold not let pundits, politicians and journalists decide to replace one dangerous power source for another.  Energy shouldn't cost lives.

Our Local Dirty Power Plant Is Shutting Down

[caption id="attachment_10649" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Credit: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle"]Potrero Power Plant in San Francisco[/caption] Here in San Francisco we just got some holiday cheer: After decades of  battling, the last remaining fossil fuel power plant in our city is going to shut down. Mayor Gavin Newsom today announced that Potrero Power Plant, operated by GenOn Energy, will close on January 1, and be fully decommissioned by February 28. The 40-year old natural gas plant is situated in the South East of the city, where neighborhood residents have long suffered from higher rates of pollution-related illnesses, such as asthma and respiratory disease. So here's to cleaner air in the new year, and to shutting down many more dirty power plants in 2011!

Deep in the Heart of Dirty Energy and False Solutions

[caption id="attachment_10441" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo from the Sierra Club"] [/caption] I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes. -Kinky Friedman They say everything is bigger in Texas. And in the race to drive our environment and climate off a steep cliff, my home state of Texas is speeding ahead in a big ass Mack fucking Truck. Big Oil and King Coal have found kindred spirits in the land of rugged individualism and right wing politicians. George Dubya Bush’s political spawn might think bombing Iraqis and Afghans for oil is a good idea, but polluting and killing communities for big corporate profits in their own state with filthy water, dirty air, mercury poisoning, hydro-fracking, offshore drilling, oil refineries, nuclear plants, coal mines and coal plants is seen as a God-given right under their perverse interpretation of John Locke’s natural law. For starters, Texas is like the “Land Where Time Stood Still” when it comes to coal. Where we’ve seen frontline communities and national groups like Sierra Club successfully challenge and defeat existing and new coal-fired power plants all over the country, corporations and politicians in Texas keep marching forward towards the climate apocalypse. Currently there are at least 40 dirty coal burning boilers in Texas. Yeah, that’s right, four-zero! And they are some of the oldest dirtiest plants in the country. Furthermore, at least another 12 proposed coal plants are in the approval process to be built in the next few years. In 2006-2007, Dallas-based utility TXU tried to move 11 coal plants through an approval process that sparked massive resistance from all over the country (but especially inside Texas.) Now Luminant (formerly TXU, subsidiary of Energy Future Holding) owns four massive dirty plants in central and east Texas and have three others in various stages of approval and development. Other companies are proposing coal plants throughout the state as well. It's a dirty energy epidemic! According to the Environmental Integrity Project, Texas leads the country in mercury emissions. In fact, five of the worst mercury-emitting coal plants make their home in Texas. The Martin Lake Stream plant (owned and operated by Luminant) is the nation’s worst mercury polluter. You’ll also be surprised to find out that according to a March 2009 report by the NRDC, Texas is facing the largest increase in the production of toxic coal ash waste by power plants than any other state. Then we have the Oil-igarchy. When I organized in Houston, one of the many names my friends and I called our group was the “Belly of the Beast.” It’s because Houston, and Texas, are home to the all powerful Oil-igarchy, and those companies run the American empire. They have economies the size of mid-sized countries. They bring down governments with the stroke of a pen. They own politicians and fund climate denial front groups in the climate wars. Here’s some quick facts about Big Oil in Texas:
  • U.S. headquarters to Shell, CononcoPhillips, BP and Exxon.
  • Operational centers to many other oil companies and oil services companies, from Chevron to Halliburton.
  • Home of the largest oil refinery in North America (Exxon-owned Baytown Refinery, Baytown, TX).
  • Big Oil’s dominant paradigm is reinforced in Texas by its gas-guzzling car culture.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline is coming down right through Texas carrying Alberta tar sands oil from Alberta to Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast (because polluting the Gulf with offshore-drilled oil isn't quite enough.)
[caption id="attachment_10443" align="alignleft" width="233" caption="Photo from cleantechnica.com"][/caption] I can’t say enough about Big Oil and Texas. It’s a source of pride and cultural tradition throughout the state. Fictional oilman J. R. Ewing is a hero to many, and Texans will defend their right to drive their big trucks and drain the earth of fossil fuels to the bloody end. The other night, I saw a great lesson on fossil fuels on the new AMC show “The Walking Dead.” In a world destroyed by the Zombie Apocalypse, a scientist remarked (as power for their gasoline-fueled generators protecting them from the zombies was running out): “We based our whole society on fossil fuels, how stupid was that?” And Texas ain’t just full of out-and-out dirty fossil fuels, there are also plenty of False Solutions to climate change to go around as well. False Solutions are quick fixes that perpetuate inequities in our society and attempt to cash in on the climate crisis.  From nuclear power to “fracking” in north, central and south Texas to proposed “clean coal” plants, you don’t have to be burning oil and coal to be harming Texan communities. For instance, the coal and utility industries are hell-bent on selling us “clean coal” technology, a.k.a. carbon capture and storage (CCS), and they want Texas to be the lab rat for this unproven technology. According to CoalSwarm, the Summit Power Group is currently developing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility in Texas called the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP). TCEP, also refered to as “NowGen,” is a carbon capture facility that will incorporate CCS technology in what the company calls a "first-of-its kind commercial power plant." TCEP hopes to capture 90% of its carbon dioxide emissions. If accomplished, this would be more than any other power plant of commercial scale operating anywhere in the world. As a result, the company contends that TCEP’s carbon emissions will be far lower than those of any existing fossil-fueled power plant. Gas companies have also decided to rapidly expand natural gas extraction from underlying shales by using a relatively new technique called hydro fracturing, or “fracking.” This “bridge fuel” — as some of the Big Greens call it — may be less carbon-intensive than coal or oil, but it’s still just a fossil fuel with a smaller carbon footprint. But furthermore, the fracking extraction method is poisoning communities from New York to Pennsylsvania to different parts of Texas. Land owners are getting burned by eminent domain as gas companies are forcing their way onto their land to get to the gas and leaving lots of dirty byproducts. Everyone from suburban soccer moms to farmers are rising up against fracking in Texas. It doesn’t help that the Big Greens give a stamp of approval to its extraction. It does help when the soccer moms block the roads into the drilling sites with their mini-vans. Nukes often get a hall pass from some clean energy advocates. According to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service: “The nuclear power industry and its governmental allies are spending tens of millions of dollars annually to promote atomic power as a “clean air” energy source and to encourage the construction of new nuclear reactors in the U.S. and worldwide.” The industry is fighting to make Texas the site of a resurgence for the nuclear industry, with at least seven proposed nuclear plants plus a proposal to make Andrews County, Texas a nuclear waste dump. And the reason driving all these dirty energy and false solution projects in the great state of Texas? Greed, pure corporate greed. Unfortunately many Texan politicians are in the pocket of these greedy bastards, so it comes down to people power — and Texas has lots of it. Rising Tide chapters are sprouting up in Dallas and Houston. Suburban soccer moms are organizing against natural gas in North Texas. Local environmental coalitions and Sierra Club chapters are standing up to nukes and Big Coal. Texas-based direct action networks dating back to before the WTO shutdown in Seattle in 1999 have fought corporate and state power for over a decade. Texas is going to be the next big battleground over our energy future. Struggles over polluting fossil fuels as well as corporate green washing solutions are clearly going to be entering a new phase in 2011. Hopefully, we’ll see a new fierce resistance take hold.

Challenging Green Corporate Power

RAN activist in Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle posted an article about California becoming "the center of renewable power development in the United States" as utility companies work toward the state-mandated 20% by 2010 renewable energy standard. Now that one of the primary goals of California’s landmark climate bill is on track, legislators are setting their sights even higher — State Senator Simitian just introduced legislation that would require California to get 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2010. This is great news. California’s AB 32 is by far the strongest climate legislation in the country and is clearly succeeding in reducing emissions in the state. In addition, California is leading the way for other regions around the world to enact similar laws that can begin a shift away from high-emissions fossil fuels to cleaner, greener energy sources. While it is exciting to see California move away from fossil fuel dependency, I wonder what we are moving toward. Who are the companies that are supplying our clean, green energy anyway? Conveniently, the California Energy Commission’s website hosts a list of “large solar energy projects” that includes the names of the companies that own each project. The companies associated with solar projects  include Beacon Solar, Abengoa Solar, Solar Millennium, Solar Partners, BrightSource Energy, Imperial Valley Solar, Genesis Solar, NextEra ™ Energy Resources, Calico Solar, and Tessera Solar. This is of course only a partial list, and while my short search didn't turn up a complete list of solar companies providing energy to the state or a similar list of wind or geo-thermal companies, I think that this list can still be informative. Of this small group of solar companies, it turns out that most are small, less than half are publicly traded, and many are  headquartered outside California. One of the companies on this list, BrightSource Energy, happens to be a subsidiary of NRG Energy. NRG  is well-known to anti-coal activists because the company owns both existing and proposed coal-fired power plants across the country, including a large new plant that has caught the attention of climate activists in Texas. Additionally, NRG is involved in the development of highly controversial carbon capture and sequestration projects and the expansion of nuclear facilities. My point in highlighting BrightSource Energy’s relationship to NRG is not to fault a fossil fuels company for moving into the renewable energy market. There is money to be made in renewable energy development, and it's not surprising that both existing and new energy companies are scrambling to fill the growing demand. Rather, I think it is critical that as the renewable energy industry grows in stature and influence, we keep their power over our political systems in check. The oil, gas and coal industries spend millions of dollars every year on lobbying, advertising and political donations and have played a huge role in slowing legislation and regulations aimed at transitioning our society away from dirty energy. Right now, renewable energy companies don’t have the same stranglehold over our democratic systems that the fossil fuels industries do. Stories of coal companies buying judges to influence court cases don’t yet apply to companies developing wind farms or solar arrays. However, just because a company is "green" doesn't mean it would not try to obstruct the judicial system, bankroll a misleading ad campaign, or put heavy-handed pressure on elected officials. The fight over climate policy is an incredibly huge indicator that corporations have far too much power in our society. While shifting to green energy is necessary, it is also necessary to look at corporations as the source of the problem. It is critical that movements to stop climate change also participate in efforts to roll-back corporate influence. The SEIU campaigns to organize workers employed by major industries are one example, organizations working to keep corporate money out of politics are another. Of course, the Rainforest Action Network also tirelessly campaigns on some of the world's most destructive corporations. As the fossil fuels industry (hopefully!) fades from power and the renewable energy industry takes its place, we need to work to make sure that we don’t find ourselves at the mercy of a cleaner and greener — but just as severe — corporate lobbying campaign in the future.

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