Joe Smyth has worked for Greenpeace since 2007, and is based in Washington DC with our communications team. Before that he organized communities in Florida and New Mexico for Greenpeace's climate campaign.
You can follow him on Twitter at @joesmyth
The federal coal program overseen by the Department of Interior is undermining President Obama’s climate commitment
The leaders of 21 organizations welcomed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to her first day on the job today with a letter calling for “an immediate moratorium on new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin and a comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program.” Continue reading →
Ambre Energy's losses dwarf its revenues. From Sightline Institute, "Ambre Energy, Caveat Investor"
It’s not a good time to be a coal industry executive in the US. Last year, wind power made up nearly half of all new installed electricity generation, and domestic coal use is on the decline year after year. With dimming prospects at home, companies are in a race to export US coal to foreign markets. Some of the coal companies pushing to export US coal are relatively well known, especially for their long history of environmental and labor abuses - think Peabody and Arch. But until now, little has been known about Ambre Energy, the Australian company pushing two of the controversial coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. A new report from the Sightline Institute, “Ambre Energy: Caveat Investor” digs deep into the inner workings and shaky footing of this startup – and for the communities and investors weighing Ambre’s promises, the results are not pretty. The report details the many challenges facing Ambre in its aspirations of becoming a true planet-destroying coal titan.
To begin with, Ambre has accumulated $124 million in losses, while collecting only $6.6 million in revenues over the last 7 years. An earlier coal project in Australia collapsed in the face of opposition from farmers and the local government, and Ambre now admits it lost $10.9 million in the process. With the cancellation of that Australian project, the company barely qualifies as a coal company – only because of two failing coal mines in Montana and Wyoming they purchased from previous owners who were planning to close them. Now, the company is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities for mine reclamation and cleanup, retirement benefits, and other costs at those mines. Meanwhile, Ambre recently announced layoffs of 75 people at one them, the Decker mine, amid a lawsuit from its former partner Cloud Peak Energy. Continue reading →
One of the many subsidies that coal mining companies like Arch and Peabody enjoy is coming under increased scrutiny from federal regulators. The Department of Interior (DOI) announced that an investigation has been launched to determine if coal companies are using sister companies to reduce the royalties they owe when exporting taxpayer-owned coal to foreign markets. The federal probe follows a Reuters investigation that found that “By valuing coal at low domestic prices rather than the much higher price fetched overseas, coal producers can dodge the larger royalty payout when mining federal land.”
In a letter to Senators Wyden and Murkowski, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar promised that DOI’s Inspector General will “aggressively pursue any company found in violation of the laws and regulations related to the valuation of Federal coal.”
This internal investigation follows another investigation currently underway at DOI focused on the coal leasing program run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Without proper oversight, sham “auctions” run by BLM have allowed coal companies to secure taxpayer-owned coal for around $1 per ton. According to a report by Tom Sanzillo of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, this has amounted to a $28.9 billion subsidy over the last 30 years. In addition to DOI’s internal review, the BLM’s coal leasing program is also under review by the General Accounting Office.
It appears that coal companies are trying to bilk taxpayers at every available opportunity, and so far our federal regulators seem to have been asleep at the wheel. Hopefully these investigations signal that they are starting to wake up. After all, there are some pretty aggressive drivers out there – here’s how a spokesperson for one of the coal companies tried to defend their approach: “In my neighborhood, I don’t stop at every block. I could. But that’s not where the stop signs are. You can say you don’t like the regulations, but we play by the rules.”
With the US coal industry desperately seeking shortcuts, we need more vigilance at the Department of Interior – and probably a few more stop signs.
At a campaign event today in Etna, Ohio, Governor Romney was asked, “Do you still think the rising of the seas is funny?” Romney responded, “I never imagined such a thing is funny,” despite using rising sea levels as a punchline in his speech to the Republican National Convention.
Woman: “Do you still think the rising of the seas is funny?”
Romney: “I never imagined such a thing is funny.”
Man: “Is climate change still a joke to you?”
Romney: “As a matter of fact, if you’d like to – I know you’re filming – if you’d like to see my view on global warming, I wrote a book, and there’s a chapter on global warming and you’ll see what I think we can do to deal with it.” Continue reading →
Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman shows oil churned up by Hurricane Isaac that has polluted the marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the areas hardest hit by the BP oil disaster, September 6, 2012
Oil from the 2010 BP disaster is polluting marshes and beaches in Louisiana, churned up by Hurricane Isaac more than two years after that spill devastated this area and other parts of the Gulf Coast. After documenting oil this week on a National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama and islands off the coast of Mississippi, Greenpeace and the Gulf Restoration Network investigated the marshes of southern Louisiana, and took samples of oil among the grass, water and soil. According to the New York Times, oil sampled from these Louisiana marshes this week by state wildlife officials has been fingerprinted as oil from the BP disaster.
Oil churned up by Hurricane Isaac pollutes the marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the areas hardest hit by the BP oil disaster, September 6, 2012
A dead crab lies in oil churned up by Hurricane Isaac in the marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana, September 6, 2012
Some of the oil we found in the Louisiana marshes is weathered tar balls, but much of it is viscous oil that is more toxic and difficult or impossible to remove. Despite BP’s advertising campaigns, there is a huge quantity of oil left in the marine environment from the disaster, as Garrett Graves, who oversees the ongoing BP cleanup for the state of Louisiana told CBS News, “BP has up to 1 million barrels of unaccounted oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and I think it will continue to manifest like this hurricane after hurricane for 10 to 20 years unless BP goes out and does a proactive cleanup effort.”
Oiled boom sits in the marshes of Barataria Bay, Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac churned up oil left in the Gulf of Mexico from the 2010 BP disaster, September 6, 2012
The flooded out coal terminal is a complete environmental disaster. The flood waters at this facility are inundated with coal and the sand barriers that the company built in a futile attempt to contain those waters failed, drastically. To make matters worse, the company is pumping the coal mixed water out of the facility directly into the surrounding landscape, river, and wetlands. For miles in each direction away from the terminal, there is a thick dark coating of coal on everything, including the community of Ironton. Cows can be seen drinking coal runoff. Birds can be seen searching for food in coal filled ditches. Active pumps can be seen displacing the flood waters from the grounds of the facility and into the surrounding environment.
Flood water at the Kinder Morgan coal export terminal in Louisiana is pumped into the environment outside the facility, September 5, 2012
Flood waters from Hurricane Issac are visible on the grounds of the Kinder Morgan coal export terminal in Louisiana, September 5, 2012
Kinder Morgan has a long history of pollution, lawbreaking, and cover-ups, and this is yet another reminder of the inevitable impacts to communities of coal export terminals, as Kinder Morgan and other companies seek to build new coal export facilities in the Gulf Coast, and open up new routes to foreign markets through the Pacific Northwest.
Flood waters from Hurricane Issac sit among mountains of coal at the Kinder Morgan coal export terminal in Louisiana, September 5, 2012
Oil washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Mississippi, September 4, 2012
Oil is washing up along the Gulf Coast in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, churned up by Hurricane Isaac. After discovering hundreds of tar balls at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, a Greenpeace research team joined our allies at the Gulf Restoration Network to investigate the impacts on East and West Ship Island, off the coast of Mississippi. We found tar balls on East Ship Island and several heavily oiled areas on West Ship Island, which are both part of the Gulf National Seashore.
Oil and reeds washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Mississippi, September 4, 2012
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Louisiana is “closing a 12-mile section of Gulf coastline from Caminada Pass to Pass Fourchon after Hurricane Isaac washed up large areas of oil and tar balls at the location of one of the worst inundations of BP oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010… agency crews surveying damage from Isaac discovered large sections of viscous oil and tar balls floating along the coast.”
Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman takes samples of oil washed up by Hurricane Isaac on West Ship Island, Mississippi, September 4, 2012
Greenpeace documented oil on East Ship Island in October 2010, months after the BP oil disaster. Returning two years later to find so much oil pollution is a sad reminder that it’s impossible to clean up a major marine oil spill. Officials are concerned that up to one million barrels of oil are estimated to remain in the Gulf of Mexico, and are calling on EPA and NOAA to explain how they will address oil pollution remaining from the 2010 spill.
Oil washed up by Hurricane Isaac contaminates water on West Ship Island, Mississippi, September 4, 2012
It’s clear that the impacts will be felt for years on the Gulf Coast, and the risk of such a disaster exists wherever our coasts are open to offshore oil drilling.
Oil is washing up along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, confirming concerns that the storm could churn up oil in the Gulf of Mexico. A Greenpeace research team took samples from beaches along the Alabama coast on September 2, including from an area with hundreds of tar balls in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
Hundreds of tar balls on the beach at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama on September 2, 2012
“This is another disaster on top of the hurricane that we’re going to have to deal with,” Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told The Huffington Post. “The threat is not insignificant.” Continue reading →
This is a global challenge, as the oil industry’s record in the Russian Arctic makes clear; tons of oil are spilled on land each year, and every 18 months more than four million barrels spews into the Arctic Ocean – nearly as much as BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. As other oil companies seek to exploit the melting sea ice and begin drilling in Arctic waters, we know we need a global movement to draw a line in the ice and protect this fragile region. More than a million people have come together calling for a global sanctuary in the high Arctic, and a ban on offshore drilling and unsustainable fishing in Arctic waters, and more are joining every day.