Greenpeace has dramatically stepped up its campaign to stop Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change from getting any bigger. This morning six volunteers boarded a bulk carrier filled with thermal coal, leaving Australia bound for Asia. Continue reading →
China’s air pollution crisis is more evident than ever. A new research report, conducted under the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease project, shows that over 1.2 million premature deaths were caused by PM2.5 pollution (fine particles like soot, mostly resulting from fossil fuel combustion). That accounts for 15 percent of the total deaths in China during 2010 and 40 percent of global air pollution-related deaths. The data also showed that Chinese people’s average exposure to PM2.5 increased 50 percent from 1990 to 2010, compared to 10 percent globally. Continue reading →
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 →
As the new Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Sally Jewel has an important opportunity to end the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) giveaways to the coal industry, which are unlocking enormous amounts of carbon pollution, wasting taxpayer dollars, and subsidizing the coal industry’s efforts to export publicly-owned coal to Asia.
It’s hard to imagine living in a place where the air is so dirty, going outside to breathe could be the most dangerous thing you do all day. It’s even harder to imagine those conditions in a major metropolitan city. However, that is the reality in Beijing at the start of 2013. Earlier this year, the city’s smog hit record levels, with dangerous fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 reaching 886 micrograms per cubic meter – more than double the US EPA’s highest grading of “hazardous.” Continue reading →
Middle school students from Sunnyside Environmental School in Portland, Oregon are studying energy and environmental issues, climate change and civic engagement. The 11 and 12 year olds are very concerned about coal export proposals. So when they had a chance to visit the capitol yesterday for the state’s birthday celebration, more than 50 of the students brought Governor Kitzhaber hundreds of specially made Valentine’s Day cards calling on him to show his love for Oregon and for their future by rejecting coal export proposals. Take a look:
"Kids Against Coal Exports" in front of the capitol building in Salem, Oregon
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.