All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Leaked UN Climate Report Paints Bleak Picture For Humanity

Reposted from Daily Kos, reporting on article in the New York Times

THU JAN 16, 2014 AT 04:04 PM PST

Leaked UN Climate Report Paints Bleak Picture For Humanity

by Dartagnan                          climate change photo: climate change climate-change.jpg

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/science/earth/un-says-lag-in-confronting-climate-woes-will-be-costly.html

When Historians in 2100 look back at the events of the early 2000’s they will conclude that the most profound and far-reaching characteristic of the political gridlock in the United States during that era wasn’t either party’s position on taxes, Social Security, Medicare, immigration, guns, gay marriage or abortion, but rather the reflexive dismissal by the Republican Party of anything preceded by the letters “U.N.”

Writing on virtual, evanescent screens in their air-conditioned enclaves, situated well above saturated coastal regions teeming with desperate populations, they will ask themselves why any nation–let alone the world’s wealthiest–would permit a cabal so xenophobic, so vehemently anti-science to dictate climate policy at a time when the whole of human civilization stood dependent on concerted, cooperative action. They will ask why any nation would have empowered those whose sole objection to scientific truth boiled down to the fact that it was presented to them by an international organization, made up of folks with odd-sounding names and possibly even different skin colors than themselves.

They may call it a failure of democracy, a capitulation to overweening greed, an inherent flaw of Capitalism. But no one will seriously conclude that there was any shortage of warnings.

Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report.  Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, the experts found. Delay would likely force future generations to develop the capability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found.  But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would likely be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

The findings are those contained within a draft of the Third Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report is the final of three installments and will be released for publication in April 2014. A final document synthesizing the three reports is scheduled for publication in October 2014.   As has been the case in the past, the report’s findings were “leaked’ to various news organizations, including Reuters and the New York Times.  The purpose of the report is to influence and inform the U.N. in its negotiations among 190 countries to achieve a treaty governing “greenhouse” emissions that cause global warming.However, the outlook is anything but optimistic.

The report says that the development of alternative energies is being outpaced by an acceleration in fossil fuel emissions in developing countries like China. As the Times article notes, the wealthiest countries are in effect “outsourcing” their greenhouse gas emissions to countries where the goods that the wealthy nations consume are manufactured. Further, not only are countries failing to develop alternative energies, they’re also failing in their efforts to adapt to what the Panel now sees as inevitable climate disruption.

According to the draft report, the cost of maintaining rising temperatures within “safe” levels will amount to 4% of the world’s GDP by 2030:

Most scenarios that meet the 2-degree Celsius (3.6-degree Fahrenheit) cap on global warming that world leaders endorse require a 40 percent to 70 percent reduction in heat-trapping gases by 2050 from 2010 levels, according to the third installment of the UN’s biggest-ever study of climate change. The world would need to triple the share of renewables, nuclear power and carbon-capture and storage to meet that.

But the problem in achieving those goals is as much a matter of political will as it is cost:

Efforts are underway to negotiate a new international treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but it is not even supposed to take effect until 2020, and it is unclear whether countries will agree on ambitious goals to limit emissions. It is equally unclear how much political support a new treaty will gain in China and the United States, the world’s largest emitters.
The Obama administration is pushing for a deal, but any treaty would have to be ratified by the Senate; many Republicans and some coal-state Democrats are wary, fearing economic damage to the country.
The new report suggests, however, that the real question is whether to take some economic pain now, or more later.

As the quote above notes, the United States and China are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Not coincidentally, they are economic competitors as well, and it’s probably not too simplistic to conclude that neither will move appreciably on climate change unless the other does. In fact China’s reticence (and India’s) is usually trotted out as an excuse by those in this country who oppose meaningful efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  But despite its refurbished image over the past two decades, China remains a totalitarian dictatorship that is not particularly moved by internal public opinion (even if it is beginning to comprehend the magnitude of its own environmental catastrophe). It is, however, responsive to economic self-interest and its standing in the eyes of the world. The effect of a concerted international effort that included the United States would be difficult to withstand. But the U.S. is unwilling to mount such an effort, due in large part to a climate denialist movement financed by the fossil fuel industry and enabled, for the most part, by its surrogates in the Republican Party.Some of the report’s other conclusions:

* Greenhouse gas emissions grew by an average 2.2 percent per year between 2000 and 2010. Global emissions since 1970 outstrip those for the preceding 220 years.* Just 10 nations accounted for 70 percent of emissions in 2010.

* Industrial emissions from developing nations now exceed those from industrialized ones, though high income nations are net importers of carbon dioxide emissions embedded in goods from abroad.

* Pledges for emissions cuts by 2020 that were made by the world’s biggest emitters in 2010 don’t correspond to the ‘‘lowest cost” emissions reduction trajectory and would lead to greenhouse gas concentrations of as much as 650 ppm by 2100.

But the most disturbing conclusion is that at the upper end of the IPCC’s potential estimates for CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, it will become more expensive to fight climate change than to deal with its effects.

Which is just another excuse for Republicans to continue to fiddle while the Earth burns.

ORIGINALLY POSTED TO DARTAGNAN ON THU JAN 16, 2014 AT 04:04 PM PST.
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Letter from Kamala Harris, California Attorney General

The California Attorney General office has weighed in on the failures of the Pittsburg WesPac recirculated EIR.  This could be important for us in Benicia.  See Ltr to POLLOT 1-15-2014 date revised

Marilyn Bardet writes that this letter “gets at the lack of cumulative analysis of emissions impacts and other potentially catastrophic risks to Pittsburg residents in the immediate vicinity of WesPac’s proposed terminal, but also, the ‘cumulatively considerable’ impacts (the fallout, including exponentially increasing risk to public health and safety) of delivering increasing quantities of ‘extreme crudes’ for processing at Bay Area refineries.”

The Attorney General’s letter is useful to us in Benicia as we prepare our remarks and comments for the Draft EIR on the Valero Crude by Rail proposal.

Marilyn also pointed out another example of a discussion of how to account for cumulative impacts, an excerpt from a DEIR review of “Grizzly Bluff Natural Gas Field Development Project” in Humbolt County:  http://co.humboldt.ca.us/planning/smara/docs/fg-section-4-5-6.pdf

Thanks, Marilyn!

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Cities Grapple With Oil-Train Safety

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Recent Derailments Raise Concerns Over North Dakota Crude Traveling by Rail Through Cities

By RUSSELL GOLD and LYNN COOK

Jan. 14, 2014 11:02 p.m. ET
A train carrying crude oil collided with another train and caught fire on Dec. 30 near Casselton, N.D. The Forum/Associated Press

Every day, a train more than a mile long travels alongside a highway in Albany, N.Y., a half-mile from the state capitol building and even closer to houses. Its cargo is crude oil from North Dakota, which federal regulators and railroads fear is more explosive than other oils.

In the past year, Albany has become an unlikely hub for the U.S. oil business, taking in shipments by rail and sending them out by ship down the Hudson River to refineries. Now officials there are trying to get up to speed on how to handle a potential oil-train accident, as are their peers from Chicago to Denver to New Orleans.

wsj image rr officials don't llike to talk

Bakken crude, which has been involved in three major explosions after rail accidents in the past seven months, is traveling to every corner of the country: west into Washington state and then south to refineries near Los Angeles; south to Gulf Coast refiners; north into Canada; and east to refineries in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Railroads and oil shippers wouldn’t detail oil-train movements through their networks, citing security concerns. The Wall Street Journal identified routes through investor presentations and industry marketing material, as well as interviews with industry officials and experts.

The four major freight railroads involved— Union Pacific Corp. , BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co. —all said they were sharing information about hazardous shipments with local emergency responders. Crude oil is classified as a hazardous substance.

Some critics worry about local preparedness. The growth in crude moving on railroads “came out of the blue,” said Peter Iwanowicz, a former head of New York state’s environmental agency and now executive director of a watchdog group called Environmental Advocates of New York.

“We’re not an oil-patch state,” he said. Officials may be aware of the oil trains, he added, “but are they prepared? I don’t believe so.”

John Layton, a captain in the Albany County Office of Emergency Management, said his agency recently met with Canadian Pacific and Global Partners LP, the storage and distribution firm that is shipping North Dakota crude through New York state.

“The crude trains are very big and carry a lot of potential fuel,” Mr. Layton said. “It has the potential to burn a long time.”

Global Partners, a public company based in Waltham, Mass., declined to comment.

Two local officials said Chicago, the largest rail hub in the U.S., might not be prepared for an oil-train accident. On Monday, Chicago Aldermen Edward Burke and Matthew O’Shea proposed levying a fee on every oil-filled railcar that passes through the city, to build up a fund that could be tapped in case of a derailment or fire in the city. Local officials can’t bar oil trains, which are regulated by the federal government.

Some cities say they are ready for the oil-train influx. One is Tacoma, Wash., where the fire department says it has a plan, personnel and equipment, but worries about suburban and rural fire departments.

The three explosions stemming from recent oil-train derailments include a July accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that incinerated the downtown and left 47 people dead. An oil train caught fire in Alabama in November, and a Dec. 30 accident in rural North Dakota sent towering flames into the sky. Neither of those two caused injuries.

Concerns about emergency responders helped prompt the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to warn that Bakken oil appeared to be more volatile than other crudes, which can burn but seldom have exploded. Dominique Dostie, a firefighter who fought the Lac-Mégantic blaze, said it took 30 hours of applying special foam to extinguish it.

“When emergency responders look at crude, they are thinking of a heavy crude that just sits there and is hard to ignite,” said Cynthia Quarterman, head of the federal agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The PHMSA is investigating whether Bakken crude might contain large amounts of gases and related liquids such as butane, propane and ethane.

At the American Petroleum Institute, “We look forward to reviewing PHMSA’s findings as part of a continuing effort to improve the safety of rail transportation,” said a spokesman, Brian Straessle.

New regulations that could require the industry to improve, phase out or retrofit tank cars used to haul some crude oil are over a year away, according to a schedule the Transportation Department published Tuesday.

The U.S. and Canada both have large refineries on their coasts to handle imported crude oil. Over the past five years, U.S. companies began pumping more oil from the landlocked midcontinent, and the industry has developed new ways of moving it to refineries.

The most common new mode is rail, which is handling about 750,000 barrels a day from North Dakota—more oil than comes out of the giant Alaska North Slope oil field.

New crude-by-rail projects have been proposed across the country. In New York, state officials said they have received applications from Global Partners to build another rail-to-river facility capable of handling one train a day in New Windsor, N.Y., about 65 miles up the Hudson from New York City.

In Vancouver, Wash., refiner Tesoro Corp. and logistics firm Savage Cos. have proposed building a railroad terminal that could handle 360,000 barrels a day, twice the size of the oil terminal in Albany.

Barry Cain, lead developer of Columbia Waterfront LLC, a $1.3 billion real-estate revitalization project in Vancouver with space 100 feet from the tracks, said he supports robust U.S. oil production but fears the trains would endanger residents. “What if one derails?” he asked. “There is no margin of error with these things.”

The general manager of the proposed new rail terminal, Jared Larrabee, said it and waterfront development can co-exist. “We believe the region can and should have both,” he said.

Vancouver Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Steve Eldred said hazardous-materials response plans are in place for existing train traffic, but would need to be studied and probably require additional resources to handle more oil trains.

Others say while the liquid cargo is labeled as crude, it is exploding like jet fuel. The North Dakota crude “has a tremendous amount volatility and puts out a lot of heat,” said Dennis Jenkerson, the fire chief for St. Louis.

“We train for this every year, and you prepare for the worst,” he said. “My biggest concern is that this crude is coming through the area and we really don’t know what it is.”

—Chester Dawson, Ben Kesling and Betsy Morris contributed to this article.  Write to Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com and Lynn Cook at lynn.cook@wsj.com
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