Tag Archives: Civil disobedience

Exxon, Keystone, and the Turn Against Fossil Fuels

Repost from The New Yorker
[Editor:  Significant quote: “No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.”  – RS]

Exxon, Keystone, and the Turn Against Fossil Fuels

By Bill McKibben, November 6, 2015
Protesters, in 2014, urging President Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline, which he did this week.
Protesters, in 2014, urging President Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline, which he did this week. Credit Photograph by Laura Kleinhenz / Redux

The fossil-fuel industry—which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat—has started to take serious hits. At noon today, President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.

These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.

The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first—when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including 350.org, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans.

The second, related, cause is the relentless spread of a new logic about the planet—that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn. While President Obama said today that Keystone was not “the express lane to climate disaster,” he also said that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” This reflects an idea I wrote about in Rolling Stone three years ago; back then, it was new and a little bit fringe. But, this fall, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking to members of the insurance industry at Lloyds of London, used precisely the same language to tell them that they faced a “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets.” No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.

Which brings us to the third cause. There is, now, an elsewhere to head. In the past six years, the price of a solar panel has fallen by eighty per cent. For years, the fossil-fuel industry has labored to sell the idea that a transition to renewable energy would necessarily be painfully slow—that it would take decades before anything fundamental started to shift. Inevitability was their shield, but no longer. If we wanted to transform our energy supply, we clearly could, though it would require an enormous global effort.

The fossil-fuel industry will, of course, do everything it can to slow that effort down; even if the tide has begun to turn, that industry remains an enormously powerful force, armed with the almost infinite cash that has accumulated in its centuries of growth. The Koch brothers will spend nine hundred million dollars on the next election; the coal-fired utilities are scurrying to make it hard to put solar panels on roofs; a new Republican President would likely resurrect Keystone. Even now, Congress contemplates lifting the oil-export ban, which would result in another spasm of new drilling. We’ll need a much larger citizen’s movement yet, if we’re going to catch up with the physics of the climate.

We won’t close that gap between politics and physics at the global climate talks next month in Paris. The proposed agreement for the talks reflects some of the political shift that’s happened in years since the failed negotiations at Copenhagen, but it doesn’t fully register the latest developments—almost no nation is stretching. So Paris will be a way station in this fight, not a terminus.

In many ways, the developments of the past two days are more important than any pledges and promises for the future, because they show the ways in which political and economic power has already started to shift. If we can accelerate that shift, we have a chance. It’s impossible, in the hottest year that humans have ever measured, to feel optimistic. But it’s also impossible to miss the real shift in this battle.

Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staff writer, is the founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.
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Contra Costa Times: Judge tosses out suit seeking to stop crude oil shipments by rail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Richmond: Judge tosses out suit seeking to stop crude oil shipments by rail

By Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times, 09/05/2014

SAN FRANCISCO — A lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop shipments of crude oil by rail to Richmond was tossed out by a judge Friday on the grounds that it was filed too late.

Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in March. The suit involved a Feb. 3 permit issued to Kinder Morgan to receive crude oil by rail at its Richmond trans-loading facility along the BNSF Railway tracks off Garrard Boulevard, where the oil is transferred to trucks.

Kinder Morgan Material Services LLC and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP were co-defendants.

Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area’s five refineries have moved
Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area’s five refineries have moved toward acquiring controversial Canadian tar sands crude through rail delivery. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

The Feb. 3 permit amended a July 2013 permit that allowed Kinder Morgan to operate a denatured ethanol and crude oil bulk terminal. Ethanol is a volatile liquid derived from grain that is used as fuel or as a fuel additive, among other uses. The Feb. 3 amendments included modified testing procedures and standards for trucks. But the judge applied the 180-day statute of limitations to when the July 2013 permit was issued.

Both permits were issued ministerially and without environmental review.

Kinder Morgan has declined to say where the trucks are headed, citing confidentiality, but they are widely believed to be bound for the Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez. Tesoro was an intervenor in the lawsuit, which had sought a preliminary injunction against further crude oil operations at Kinder Morgan and suspension of the air district permit pending a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Earlier this year, a Tesoro spokeswoman confirmed the Martinez facility receives between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, a light, flammable variety named after oil fields in North Dakota and adjacent areas. That amount is equivalent to about two to four trains per month, the spokeswoman said, and is received through a “third-party facility” that she did not identify.

Air district counsel Brian Bunger hailed Friday’s decision as “a correct application of the law.”

“We’re pleased with the outcome,” Bunger said.

Air district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said late Friday that “The Air District will continue to work with state legislators and policy makers regarding where and how crude oil is transported into the region for refining.”

But Earthjustice blasted the dismissal, saying it allows Kinder Morgan and the air district to “get away with opening (Richmond) to crude oil transport by rail without public notice.”

“This is just how the agencies and industry wins — hide the information, make the change under the cover of night, and hope people don’t notice while the clock winds down on any hope to stop these dangerous and callous developments,” Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati said in a news release. “What’s worse is this emboldens other companies to do the same thing and hide their switch to crude oil.”

Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley said his company is “satisfied with the outcome.”

“It was a well-reasoned and thoughtful decision by the judge,” Wheatley said in an email Friday. “We look forward to continuing to serve our customers safely and reliably.”

Tesoro did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Responding by email Friday, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who sits on the air district board, said: “Despite this case’s dismissal, I remain concerned about the safety of transporting Bakken Crude and believe it’s important for the Federal Government to strengthen safety standards.”

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Environmentalists jeer as Calif. judge throws out lawsuit against oil company’s rail facility

Repost from Reuters

Environmentalists jeer as Calif. judge throws out lawsuit against oil company’s rail facility

By Rory Carroll and Jennifer Chaussee, Reuters, September 5, 2014

Kinder Morgan [Facebook page]SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmental groups against Kinder Morgan’s Richmond, California, rail terminal, which quietly began unloading crude oil from trains this year, saying the plaintiffs waited too long to file their complaint.

The groups argued that since the company was given permission from regulators to begin accepting the deliveries without public notice, they were not immediately aware of the change.

Judge Peter Busch acknowledged there were “deep concerns” about the new cargo, which passes through the densely populated city of Richmond, but said the plaintiffs missed the 180-day window to request that the permit be revoked.

Suma Peesapati, an attorney for the environmental groups that brought the suit, said the company and regulators knowingly deceived the public.

“This is just how the agencies and industry win – hide the information, make the change under the cover of night, and hope people don’t notice while the clock winds down on any hope to stop these dangerous and callous developments,” she said.

Kinder Morgan and the regulator, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said they followed the law as written and denied doing anything in secret. California law does not require public notification or an environmental review for the permit, which was issued in February.

Friday’s ruling was met with hisses from environmentalists who attended the hearing, some of whom participated in a protest the previous day where they chained themselves to a fence at the facility.

The Kinder Morgan terminal is the most substantial oil-by-rail facility in the state, handling up to 72,000 barrels per day. The crude is unloaded from incoming trains and placed on trucks bound for a Tesoro-owned refinery in Martinez.

The number of trains ferrying crude oil by rail to California from Canada and North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation has jumped dramatically in recent years, prompting safety and environmental concerns.

In July 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a town in the Canadian province of Quebec, killing 47 people.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll and Jennifer Chaussee; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills)

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