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Thursday,   January 22,  2015 Facebook Twitter Email Addthis

In a State of the Union Address devoted almost entirely to middle class and economic concerns, President Obama paid scant attention to energy policy and climate change. He claimed that the U.S. is now “number one” in both oil and gas production and wind power, but he didn’t propose any new initiatives to promote renewable energy. Similarly, he noted the devastating impacts of climate change, but didn’t offer any concrete plans to combat it. The words “greenhouse gases” were never mentioned.

The Keystone XL pipeline was never mentioned by name either, although the president did allude to it as “a single pipeline” that would create only a small fraction of the jobs that could be generated if the nation were to embark on a comprehensive program rebuilding our infrastructure. Should this be taken as a hint that the president will ultimately kill Keystone? Maybe. Maybe not. So far he’s only promised to veto a bill passed by House Republicans that would strip him of his decision-making authority.


Whatever disagreements President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress may have regarding Keystone XL, it appears they are on the same page when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Just hours after his party won a majority of the seats in the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell singled out “trade agreements” as an area where his party and the president can work together. This was widely interpreted as support for TPP, a trade agreement that critics say will undermine food safety, labor laws, and environmental protections.

More than 600 corporate lobbyists helped write the agreement, which was negotiated in secret and has been withheld from the American public. If its supporters get their way, Congress will grant TPP “fast track” status, which will deprive our elected representatives of the opportunity to change even a word of the agreement before putting it to a vote. The most insidious feature of TPP is that it would take precedence over the laws of the United States. If a corporation believes that a state or federal law stands in the way of a chance to make a profit , it can haul the U.S. before an international investor-state tribunal and sue for damages. For example, under TPP, a foreign or multinational gas company that holds leases in New York State could sue the U.S. federal government for damages because of the state’s prohibition on high-volume fracking. Far fetched? Not really. Right now, a U.S. based drilling company is using a similar provision in the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to sue the Canadian government because the province of Quebec banned drilling under the St. Lawrence River.


On the face of it, the administration’s plan to cut methane emissions by up to 45 percent by 2025 appears to be a bold move, but as always, the devil is in the details:
  • The proposed rules would apply only to new and modified oil and gas production, not existing facilities, which will remain the major source of methane emissions for many years to come. As Earthworks’ Executive Director Jennifer Krill noted, “Global warming doesn’t care if a greenhouse gas source is new or old, and neither should these rules.”

  • One new rule would “streamline permitting oil and gas production on certain tribal lands” in order to ensure that “oil and gas production continue to grow and expand.” This is directly at odds with the goal of combatting climate change. As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune observed, “Continued reliance on dirty fossil fuels is a dangerous course for our communities and our climate. Numerous scientific articles now point to the need to keep more than two-thirds of our fossil fuels in the ground in order to avoid climate chaos.”

  • In announcing the proposed methane rules, the administration asserted that the climate-impact potential of methane is twenty-five times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a hundred-year time period. This figure is outdated and inaccurate: the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that methane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) thirty-four times that of CO2 over one hundred years. Moreover, even this higher figure is largely irrelevant, because we don’t have a hundred years to address the impact of climate change. In a letter to the EPA, a group of leading scientists has called upon the agency to join the IPCC in referencing the GWP of methane as eighty-six times greater than carbon dioxide over a twenty-year time period.

  • Scientists have also expressed concern that the 2012 baseline data used to measure emission reductions underestimates emissions from the oil and gas industry, and that means reduction goals are much more modest than they appear to be.

  • As Cornell University Professor Robert Howarth put it in an email to colleagues, “The data increasingly show that EPA has grossly underestimated methane emissions, and they are mischaracterizing the major sources. A policy based on such tortured science cannot lead to a real solution.”

Last month, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released draft guidelines for all federal agencies directing them to consider “the potential effects of a proposed action on climate change as indicated by its GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.” If and when these guidelines are adopted, they may have an impact on the decisions being made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has routinely granted licenses for pipelines, compressor stations and gas-fired power plants while refusing to consider climate impacts of the projects it approves.


Governor Andrew Cuomo has prohibited high-volume fracking and outlined ambitious plans to build out renewable energy supplies. But while these are important, even historic steps, New York is still besieged by a raft of fracking-related projects and practices that will contaminate our air and water, endanger public health, and create climate chaos. In 2015, we must commit ourselves to the proposition that New Yorkers are entitled to an entirely frack-free future.

Please take a minute to send letters to the appropriate state and federal officials asking them to take action on each of these important issues. And remember, if you customize your letters they’ll have even greater impact.

Landfills in the Take Action!Southern Tier continue to accept toxic, radioactive drill cuttings from gas extraction operations in Pennsylvania. The DEC has studied the dangers associated with these waste products and has the authority to protect the public. Ask DEC Commissioner Joe Martens to prohibit the disposal of high-volume Marcellus frack waste in New York State.

A proposed LNG Take Action!deepwater port to be constructed off Long Island will displace a proposed offshore wind farm and serve as a prime terrorist target. Port Ambrose will probably never imported liquefied natural gas because it’s much more expensive than domestic shale gas. If constructed, this port is likely to be used to export fracked gas to overseas markets. Tell the Maritime Administration that this speculative project is unwanted and unneeded.

The 124-mile Take Action!long Constitution Pipeline will cut through five central New York counties to bring shale gas from Pennsylvania to the Northeast and overseas markets. Ask the DEC to kill this ill-conceived project by withholding a water quality permit for a pipeline that is liable to harm wetlands and drinking-water supplies.

Stop the Pipeline Find out what else you can do to derail the “unconstitutional” pipeline here.

A new 42-inchTake Action! gas pipeline beneath the Hudson River next to the nuclear reactor at Indian Point will be an accident waiting to happen. The giant compressor stations that will push gas through the pipeline are sure to contaminate the air with cancer-causing chemicals. Tell the DEC to block the AIM pipeline by withholding the required Title V air permit.

Stop the Pipeline Learn more about the problems with the Algonquin-Iroquois pipeline expansion here.

Western Take Action! New York and the Hudson River Valley are endangered by “bomb trains” and barges transporting billions of gallons of explosive crude oil to refineries on the Eastern seaboard. Call on U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to prohibit the use of the unsafe tanker cars that have been responsible for several explosions.

A giant gas Take Action!and propane storage facility on the shores of Seneca Lake threatens New York’s premier wine-growing region and one of the state’s most important tourist destinations. The DEC still has the opportunity to block propane storage on the shores of the lake. Ask Governor Cuomo to direct the DEC to withhold permits for this project.


Within the last year, New York has taken tremendous strides toward a renewable energy future. In April, Governor Cuomo committed one billion dollars to the NY-Sun Initiative, which provides homeowners and small businesses with low-cost loans to finance photovoltaic installations. In December, the state made more than two hundred million dollars available for two large hydroelectric projects and two wind farms in upstate New York.

On the policy front, the governor has expressed support for Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which the Public Service Commission has made a cornerstone of its Reforming the Energy Vision. Jen Metzger, one of the founders of Citizens for Local Power, has been in the forefront of bringing CCAs to New York. She describes them as an “incredibly promising tool” that can be “used to get a handle on energy costs and volatile prices and increase investment at the local level in renewable generation.”

The PSC is currently accepting comments on its White Paper about CCAs.


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