U.S., in reversal, issues permit for Keystone oil pipeline

The New York Times reports: During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly hailed the Keystone XL pipeline as a vital jobs program and one that sharply contrasted his vision for the economy with that of Hillary Clinton.

“Today we begin to make things right,” President Trump said Friday morning shortly after the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for Keystone construction, a reversal of Obama administration policy.

The pipeline would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. It has long been an object of contention, with environmentalists saying it would contribute to climate change and the project’s proponents — Republicans, some labor unions and the oil industry — contending that it would help guarantee national energy security for decades to come.

When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels. [Continue reading…]

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Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds

The Guardian reports: The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t roll back the vehicle fuel standards

Jody Freeman writes: One of the signal achievements of the Obama administration was reaching an agreement with the auto industry to dramatically increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, doubling them to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The industry now wants to renege. At its behest, the Trump administration is expected to initiate a rollback.

Weakening these standards would be a mistake for consumers, the environment and the auto industry itself. They are the most important action the United States has taken to address climate change and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

From 2022-25 alone, they are projected to reduce American oil consumption by 1.2 billion barrels, cut half a billion metric tons of carbon pollution and save consumers millions of dollars in fuel costs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The net benefits to society are estimated at $100 billion. And these gains are on top of those achieved through 2016 and expected through 2021. [Continue reading…]

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‘Shell knew’: Oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger

The Guardian reports: The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.

However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.

Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” [Continue reading…]

 

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How I got arrested while reporting on the Dakota Access pipeline

Jenni Monet writes: The morning after I was bonded out of the Morton County jail, I took to Twitter and posted a detail that I only could have known from actually being on the inside.

“#MniWiconi is inscribed everywhere,” I tweeted. And it’s true.

The signature slogan of the movement to try and stop the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been scrawled, carved and etched throughout the jail  — on cinderblock walls, paint-chipped tabletops, cold metal doors. In Lakota, it loosely translates to “Water is Life.”

Since August, hundreds of protesters, known as water protectors, have passed through those cellblocks as a form of punishment for their unwavering commitment to protect the Missouri River from a potential oil spill. According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, it has processed a total of 696 protest-related arrests.

On Wednesday, February 1, I became one of them. [Continue reading…]

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FBI counter-terrorism taskforce investigating political activists; Army veterans return to defend protesters at Standing Rock

The Guardian reports: The FBI is investigating political activists campaigning against the Dakota Access pipeline, diverting agents charged with preventing terrorist attacks to instead focus their attention on indigenous activists and environmentalists.

The Guardian has established that multiple officers within the FBI’s joint terrorism taskforce have attempted to contact at least three people tied to the Standing Rock “water protector” movement in North Dakota.

The purpose of the officers’ inquiries into Standing Rock, and scope of the task force’s work, remains unknown. Agency officials declined to comment. But the fact that the officers have even tried to communicate with activists is alarming to free-speech experts who argue that anti-terrorism agents have no business scrutinizing protesters.

“The idea that the government would attempt to construe this indigenous-led non-violent movement into some kind of domestic terrorism investigation is unfathomable to me,” said Lauren Regan, a civil rights attorney who has provided legal support to demonstrators who were contacted by representatives of the FBI. “It’s outrageous, it’s unwarranted … and it’s unconstitutional.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over.

Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river.

The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pipeline and America’s shame

Bill McKibben writes: The Trump Administration is breaking with tradition on so many fronts — renting out the family hotel to foreign diplomats, say, or imposing travel restrictions on the adherents of disfavored religions — that it seems noteworthy when it exhibits some continuity with American custom. And so let us focus for a moment, before the President’s next disorienting tweet, on yesterday’s news that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be restarted, a development that fits in perfectly with one of this country’s oldest cultural practices, going back to the days of Plymouth Rock: repressing Native Americans.

Just to rehash the story briefly, this pipeline had originally been set to carry its freight of crude oil under the Missouri River, north of Bismarck. But the predominantly white citizens of that town objected, pointing out that a spill could foul their drinking water. So the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, remapped the crossing for just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This piece of blatant environmental racism elicited a remarkable reaction, eventually drawing representatives of more than two hundred Indian nations from around the continent to a great encampment at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, near where the pipeline was set to go. They were joined, last summer and into the fall, by clergy groups, veterans groups, environmental groups — including 350.org, the climate-advocacy organization I co-founded — and private citizens, who felt that this was a chance to begin reversing four centuries of literally and figuratively dumping on Native Americans. And the protesters succeeded. Despite the German shepherds and pepper spray let loose by E.T.P.’s security guards, despite the fire hoses and rubber bullets employed by the various paramilitary police forces that assembled, they kept a nonviolent discipline that eventually persuaded the Obama Administration to agree to further study of the plan. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes and lawyers are vowing to fight Trump’s pipelines

BuzzFeed reports: President Trump resurrected two massive pipeline projects on Tuesday, drawing ire and threats of legal action from the movement that fought to keep them off US land.

“We will see his administration in court,” Trip Van Noppen, president of the non-profit group Earthjustice that represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline, said in a statement. “[Trump] should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting, and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects.”

“We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and risk our water,” the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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China’s winding down coal use continues — the country just canceled 104 new coal plants

Vox reports: Because China is such a behemoth, its energy decisions absolutely dwarf anything any other country is doing right now. Case in point: Over the weekend, the Chinese government ordered 13 provinces to cancel 104 coal-fired projects in development, amounting to a whopping 120 gigawatts of capacity in all.

To put that in perspective, the United States has about 305 gigawatts of coal capacity total. The projects that China just ordered halted are equal in size to one-third of the US coal fleet. If the provinces follow through, it’s a very, very big deal for efforts to fight climate change.

This move also shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In recent years, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has been making major efforts to restrain its coal use and shift to cleaner sources of energy. When Donald Trump and other conservatives in the United States complain that China isn’t doing anything about climate change, they simply haven’t been paying attention. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s mission? To keep the U.S. in the fossil age

George Monbiot writes: Make America Wait Again. That is what Donald Trump’s energy policy amounts to. Stop all the clocks, put the technological revolution on hold, ensure that the transition from fossil fuels to clean power is delayed for as long as possible.

Trump is the president that corporate luddites have dreamed of: the man who will let them squeeze every last cent from their oil and coal reserves before they become worthless. They need him because science, technology and people’s demands for a safe and stable world have left them stranded. There is no fair fight that they can win, so their last hope lies with a government that will rig the competition.

To this end, Trump has appointed to his cabinet some of those responsible for a universal crime: inflicted not on particular nations or groups, but on everyone. [Continue reading…]

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Nothing happened. It happens all the time

It’s a strange line of argument but surprisingly commonplace: to first vigorously deny something has happened, but to then say that if it did happen it’s perfectly normal.

When it comes to the issue of Russian interference in American democracy — an issue that should be of real concern to every American citizen — the deniers are mostly in the same position as people who deny climate change.

Assuming a stance of assiduous skepticism they plead that insufficient evidence has been presented to prove the case. As often applies to climate deniers, this professed skepticism seems intended to obscure the fact that the skeptic has a deep investment in one side of the argument.

At the conclusion of his latest diatribe against the mainstream media, Glenn Greenwald writes:

Since it is so often distorted, permit me once again to underscore my own view on the broader Russia issue: Of course it is possible that Russia is responsible for these hacks, as this is perfectly consistent with (and far more mild than) what both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades.

But given the stakes involved, along with the incentives for error and/or deceit, no rational person should be willing to embrace these accusations as Truth unless and until convincing evidence has been publicly presented for review, which most certainly has not yet happened.

“[W]hat both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades” has a vagueness worthy of Donald Trump, but Greenwald’s drift is clear: if the DNC hackings were carried out by Russia, it’s par for the course — nothing unusual, so let’s just move on.

Yet he concedes there are “stakes involved.” Indeed there are, not only because interference by a foreign power played a role in Donald Trump becoming the next U.S. president, but because this puts Greenwald and his close associate and Moscow resident, Edward Snowden, in a very awkward position. Increasingly they look less like independent dissidents speaking truth to power, and more like de facto sympathizers with a hostile power.

During the Bush era, critics of the war in Iraq and of the neoconservative agenda broadly accepted the view that America’s destructive involvement in the Middle East could ultimately be reduced to a single issue: control of the global oil supply.

Strangely, many of those same critics while now witnessing the power of oil flexing its muscles more strongly than ever seen before, would rather focus their attention on the perennial bugaboos of Washington, the mainstream media, the intelligence agencies, and American power.

The DNC was hacked, Wikileaks fed the media with a steady stream of unstartling emails, Trump wildly distorted their contents, and now the most Russia-friendly president ever is about to take office, leading an administration loaded with individuals tied to the oil industry.

Russia, the world’s number-one oil producer, eagerly awaits improved relations with the U.S. not only in the form of sanctions relief but also as Washington predictably tries to slam the brakes on the transition to renewable energy.

Vladimir Putin, who nowadays sees himself as the most powerful man in the world, has reason to be smiling with glee, while the hacking skeptics apparently think he’s merely the beneficiary of a string of good luck and that broadly speaking this is all just business as usual.

You’ve got to be kidding!

The oil industry, Washington, and Moscow will soon be marching in lockstep, while Greenwald directs his audience to the occasional piece of sloppy journalism.

Those who once warned about their dangers are now themselves wielding the weapons of mass distraction.

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U.S.-Venezuela relations will probably deteriorate under Trump. Ask ExxonMobil why

Timothy M. Gill writes: President-elect Donald Trump recently nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. That company and Venezuela have been hostile toward each other over the past decade — which means Tillerson’s nomination suggests that the United States and Venezuela have a tense relationship ahead.

Venezuela is in a stunning economic crisis, with triple-digit inflation, scarce food and medicine, and a weakening currency. The Venezuelan government blames all this on “economic war” waged by the United States and the Venezuelan opposition.

Over the past two decades, the United States and Venezuela have had a difficult relationship. Since the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez as president, Venezuela has criticized U.S. foreign policy, including the “war on terror”; promoted socialist and left-wing governments throughout Latin America; and sought to create a multipolar world by embracing anti-U.S. leaders in Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Russia. [Continue reading…]

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The secret wealth of the royal family running ‘Al Saud Inc’

The New York Times reports from Tangiers: Behind a tall perimeter wall, studded with surveillance cameras and guarded by Moroccan soldiers, a sprawling new palace for King Salman of Saudi Arabia rose on the Atlantic coast here last summer.

Even as the Saudi government canceled a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of projects back home as part of a fiscal austerity program, workers hustled to finish bright blue landing pads for helicopters at the vacation compound and to erect a tent the size of a circus big-top where the king could feast and entertain his enormous retinue.

The royal family’s fortune derives from the reserves of petroleum discovered during the reign of Salman’s father, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, more than 75 years ago. The sale of oil provides billions of dollars in annual allowances, public-sector sinecures and perks for royals, the wealthiest of whom own French chateaus and Saudi palaces, stash money in Swiss bank accounts, wear couture dresses under their abayas and frolic on some of the world’s biggest yachts out of sight of commoners.

King Salman serves as chairman of the family business unofficially known as “Al Saud Inc.” Sustained low oil prices have strained the economy and forced questions about whether the family — with thousands of members and still growing — can simultaneously maintain its lavish lifestyle and its unchallenged grip on the country. [Continue reading…]

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Putin’s oil and gas deals magnify military power in Middle East

Bloomberg reports: After reinventing itself as a major power in the Middle East by force in Syria, Russia is now using its other strong suit, energy, to expand its influence across the region.

A series of agreements is allowing Russia and the Gulf states to cooperate in areas where their interests meet, looking beyond Syria where they have backed opposing sides in a brutal proxy war. Over the past month alone, Russia brokered the first deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC nations in 15 years to cut oil production, secured a $5 billion investment by Qatar in oil giant Rosneft PJSC, and then saw Rosneft agree to pay as much as $2.8 billion for a stake in an Egyptian gas field.

“Russia is really keen to increase leverage in the Middle East by every means,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

It’s a reflection of how events in the region are combining in favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin as rarely before. A cooling of U.S. alliances in the Gulf in recent years, the havoc cheaper oil has wreaked in energy-dependent economies and a recognition that Russia can no longer be ignored on regional security issues mean Putin is pushing at an increasingly open door. [Continue reading…]

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Obama bans drilling in parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic

The New York Times reports: President Obama announced on Tuesday what he called a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along wide areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard as he tried to nail down an environmental legacy that cannot quickly be reversed by Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Obama invoked an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which he said gives him the authority to act unilaterally. While some presidents have used that law to temporarily protect smaller portions of federal waters, Mr. Obama’s declaration of a permanent drilling ban from Virginia to Maine on the Atlantic and along much of Alaska’s coast is breaking new ground. The declaration’s fate will almost certainly be decided by the federal courts.

“It’s never been done before,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the University of Vermont. “There is no case law on this. It’s uncharted waters.”

The move — considered creative by supporters and abusive by opponents — is one of many efforts by Mr. Obama to protect the environmental policies he can from a successor who has vowed to roll them back. The president, in concert with United Nations leaders, rushed countries to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change, putting the multinational accord into force in record time, before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Environmentalists are already drawing comparisons between Mr. Obama’s use of the 1953 law to ban new drilling to what critics and opponents called his novel and audacious efforts to craft new climate change regulations: He turned to an obscure, rarely used provision in the 1970 Clean Air Act to write sweeping regulations that would require states to shift their electricity systems from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. [Continue reading…]

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Leak reveals Rex Tillerson is director of Bahamas-based U.S.-Russian oil company

The Guardian reports: Rex Tillerson, the businessman nominated by Donald Trump to be the next US secretary of state, is the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show.

Tillerson – the chief executive of ExxonMobil – has been a director of the oil company’s Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, since 1998. His name – RW Tillerson – appears next to other officers who are based at Houston, Texas; Moscow; and Sakhalin, in Russia’s far east.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source. The registry is public but details of individual directors are typically incomplete or missing entirely.

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee.

ExxonMobil’s use of offshore regimes – while legal – may also jar with Trump’s avowal to put “America first”.

Tillerson’s critics say he is too close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and that his appointment could raise potential conflicts of interest. [Continue reading…]

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