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Oil Addiction

Coast Guard Report Criticizes Shell's Judgment in Arctic Drilling

April 6th 2014

Alaska oil drilling

Poor judgement and an effort to avoid millions in taxes caused Royal Dutch Shell's Arctic rig to run aground in 2012, according to a new U.S. Coast Guard report.

The Coast Guard blamed Shell's "poor assessment and management of risks" associated with towing a heavy-duty drilling rig across Alaskan waters during winter.

The single most significant factor contributing to the grounding of the Kulluk oil drilling rig, the report said, was the decision to move the vessel "during the winter in the unique and challenging operating environment of Alaska." Shell spent billions of dollars in oil and gas exploration and drilling efforts across Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic ocean.

The report, released Thursday afternoon, also states Shell rushed to move its rig to avoid state taxes in Alaska, which further led to complications. When the rig lost control a containment dome used to cap spills suffered damage, which prompted the Interior Department to review Shell's operations. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Russia Duns Ukraine for $11 Billion Gas Bill

April 5th 2014

Click to select Image

Ukraine's Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has accused Russia of "economic aggression" and threatened to sue Russia over recent price hikes for natural-gas supplies. "Russia was unable to seize Ukraine by means of military aggression. Now they are implementing plans to seize Ukraine through economic aggression," Yatsenyuk told a government meeting on April 5. "Political pressure is unacceptable," he continued. "We do not accept the price of $500."

Yatsenyuk's comments come after Russia twice this last week raised the price of natural-gas for Ukraine, taking the cost for Ukraine from $285.5 per 1,000 cubic meters at the start of this last week to $485.5 by the end of the week. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Energy Breakthrough Uses Sun to Create Solar Energy Materials

April 4th 2014

the sun

In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible.

This breakthrough by chemical engineers at Oregon State University could soon reduce the cost of solar energy, speed production processes, use environmentally benign materials, and make the sun almost a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them.

The findings were just published in RSC Advances, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, in work supported by the National Science Foundation. “This approach should work and is very environmentally conscious,” said Chih-Hung Chang, a professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author on the study.

“Several aspects of this system should continue to reduce the cost of solar energy, and when widely used, our carbon footprint,” Chang said. “It could produce solar energy materials anywhere there’s an adequate solar resource, and in this chemical manufacturing process, there would be zero energy impact.” Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Kerr-McGee to Pay Record Toxic Waste Settlement

April 3rd 2014

Sunoco Philadelphia refinery

An oil and gas company has agreed to pay $5.15 billion to settle claims that for decades it left toxic waste in dozens of U.S. communities — and that it tried to dodge liability "in a corporate shell game."

Officials said Thursday that Kerr-McGee Corp.'s payout is the largest environmental contamination settlement in the Department of Justice's history.

For 85 years, Kerr-McGee contaminated dozens sites around the country with perchlorate, uranium, creosote, thorium and other toxins, before its 2006 acquisition by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., department officials said at a Thursday news conference. Kerr-McGee spun off its operations that were responsible for the cleanup.

“Kerr-McGee’s businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told reporters. “It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill.” Read more ..

The Race for EVs

Tesla Battery Fires Caused by Road Debris

April 2nd 2014

Electric Car

Three Tesla Model S cars destroyed by fire after running over road debris did not represent a "defect trend" is the conclusion of a US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report. In December 2013 German safety officials also cleared Tesla of blame, saying "no manufacturer-related defects could be found."

A report produced by the NHTSA concluded that sudden fires starting in the bank of 7,000 batteries that power Tesla Model S sports sedans were the result of road debris that punctured the aluminum shield protecting the cars' battery packs, not a design or manufacturing defect.

The NHTSA has accepted Tesla's explanation that, under the right conditions, it is possible for objects passing under the car to get snagged on the leading edge of the plate protecting the batteries, then spike sharply upward if the opposite end digs into the pavement. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Cheap, Better-Performing Lithium-Ion Batteries

March 31st 2014


USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor Chongwu Zhou and his research team have developed a silicon anode and a sulfur-based cathode with low fabrication cost and high electrode performance for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries

Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have improved the performance and capacity of lithium batteries by developing better-performing, cheaper materials for use in anodes and cathodes (negative and positive electrodes, respectively).

Lithium-ion batteries are a popular type of rechargeable battery commonly found in portable electronics and electric or hybrid cars. Traditionally, lithium-ion batteries contain a graphite anode, but silicon has recently emerged as a promising anode substitute because it is the second most abundant element on earth and has a theoretical capacity of 3600 milliamp hours per gram (mAh/g), almost 10 times the capacity of graphite. The capacity of a lithium-ion battery is determined by how many lithium ions can be stored in the cathode and anode. Using silicon in the anode increases the battery's capacity dramatically because one silicon atom can bond up to 3.75 lithium ions, whereas with a graphite anode six carbon atoms are needed for every lithium atom. Read more ..

The Race for Renewables

Dem Senator Expects Renewable Credits to be Extended

March 30th 2014

Smoky hill wind farm

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told a meeting of renewable energy officials Friday that the tax credits that incentivize renewable energy production and investment, which expired at the end of last year, are likely to be renewed.

“I think that there’s highly likely to be an extension,” Whitehouse said at an event hosted by the American Council on Renewable Energy, referring to the production tax credit and the investment tax credit. He added that long-term extensions of the credits are not likely unless they’re part of a large tax reform measure.

“There’s very strong bipartisan support for it,” he told industry representatives. “I’m relatively optimistic. It doesn’t mean that you guys shouldn’t be all in to make sure it happens.” Whitehouse is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

Africa Looks to Nuclear Power to Light Up Continent

March 29th 2014

Nuclear Reactors

At least three African nations are looking to add nuclear power to their grid. Kenya and Nigeria want to establish nuclear energy, and South Africa, the only sub-Saharan nation with nuclear facilities, is looking to expand its capabilities. Until now, African nations have relied on age-old forms of energy generation: Hydropower and coal among them. But those sources have taken a social and environmental toll, displacing communities. But does Africa have the means to turn on nuclear power?

A NASA space flight over a darkened continent illuminated a fact that many Africans already know. The World Bank says fewer than 10 percent of African households have access to electricity. That, in turn, hampers industry and development on the world's poorest continent. This dire need for power has pushed many African nations to consider nuclear energy - increasingly popular in developing and developed nations such as  the U.S., India and China. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Revolutionary Solar Cells Double as Lasers

March 28th 2014

Click to select Image

Commercial silicon-based solar cells - such as those seen on the roofs of houses across the country - operate at about 20% efficiency for converting the Sun's rays into electrical energy. It's taken over 20 years to achieve that rate of efficiency.

A relatively new type of solar cell based on a perovskite material - named for scientist Lev Perovski, who first discovered materials with this structure in the Ural Mountains in the 19th century - was recently pioneered by an Oxford research team led by Professor Henry Snaith.

Perovskite solar cells, the source of huge excitement in the research community, already lie just a fraction behind commercial silicon, having reached a remarkable 17% efficiency after a mere two years of research - transforming prospects for cheap large-area solar energy generation. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Sticky Composites Make Lithium-Ion Batteries Safer

March 28th 2014


Researchers at the University of Delaware have shown that fragmented carbon nanotube films can serve as adhesive conductors in lithium-ion batteries. Electrodes in lithium-ion batteries typically comprise three components - active materials, conductive additives, and binders - but new research by a team of researchers at the University of Delaware has discovered a 'sticky' conductive material that may eliminate the need for binders. “The problem with the current technology is that the binders impair the electrochemical performance of the battery because of their insulating properties,” explained Bingqing Wei, professor of mechanical engineering. “Furthermore, the organic solvents used to mix the binders and conductive materials together not only add to the expense of the final product, but also are toxic to humans.” Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Edible, Biodegradable Batteries in the Offing

March 27th 2014

Baby Boomer

A biodegradable, implantable battery could help in the development of biomedical devices that monitor tissue or deliver treatments before being reabsorbed by the body after use.

“This is a really major advance,” says Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research and development center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Until recently, there has not been a lot of progress in this area.”

In 2012, materials scientist John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign unveiled a range of biodegradable silicon chips that could monitor temperature or mechanical strain, radio the results to external devices, and even heat up tissue to prevent infection (see ‘Biodegradable electronics here today, gone tomorrow’). Some of those chips relied on induction coils to draw wireless power from an external source. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Exec Suggests U.S. Should Export Crude Oil, not Natural Gas

March 26th 2014

Click to select Image

An oil executive told the House Foreign Relations Committee that the United States should export crude oil to allied countries to help their energy security and reduce Russia’s influence.

The testimony from Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., came amid bipartisan calls to increase exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to undercut the influence Russia holds by being an energy superpower in Eastern Europe.

“We could help with oil exports that could have an immediate impact all over the world,” Hamm, who is also chairman of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, said at the Wednesday hearing. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

25 Years After Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Alaska Retains Scars

March 25th 2014

Gulf oil spill

In the early morning hours of March 24, 1989, a huge tanker sailed from Valdez at the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline into Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez struck a reef and spilled 41.5 million liters of crude oil.

Twenty-five years ago, it was largest oil spill in U.S. history, overtaken in 2010 by the BP Deep Water Horizon rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, Exxon Valdez holds the dubious distinction as the nation’s greatest environmental disaster from an oil spill and marked a turning point in the prevention of and response to such accidents.

Oceanographer Debbie Payton was called to Alaska a few hours after the spill by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She discovered a community in shock. “At the town meeting, I would describe it as chaos, confusion," Payton said. "People [were] upset because of a lack of information. How could this happen in our very pristine backyard?”  Read more ..

Nuclear Energy Edge

Radiation Leaks Worry U.S./Mexico Border Residents

March 24th 2014

Serious problems at a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico have caught the eyes of the press and government officials in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The current round of troubles began February 5 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, when six workers were briefly hospitalized for smoke inhalation after a truck caught fire. A Valentine’s Day radiation leak then released plutonium and americium, resulting in exposures to at least 17 workers. An undetermined quantity of toxic chemicals also leaked.

Since February 14, additional radiation releases connected to the original one have been reported, even as more workers are still awaiting test results for possible radiation exposure during the first event.
Although Ciudad Juarez is located nearly 200 miles from WIPP, city officials expect to meet with U.S. government representatives on March 26 or 27 to discuss ongoing issues from the February 14 incident. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Superconducting Graphene Revealed

March 20th 2014

Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have discovered a potential way to make graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms with great promise for future electronics – superconducting, a state in which it would carry electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

Researchers used a beam of intense ultraviolet light to look deep into the electronic structure of a material made of alternating layers of graphene and calcium.

While it's been known for nearly a decade that this combined material is superconducting, the new study offers the first compelling evidence that the graphene layers are instrumental in this process, a discovery that could transform the engineering of materials for nanoscale electronic devices. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Consumers Believe Doubled Energy Bills Would Compel Lifestyle Changes

March 19th 2014

Consumers, on average, believe home energy bills would have to nearly double before forcing them to make lifestyle changes to save on costs, according to a new U-M survey.

Conducted for the first time last fall, the U-M Energy Survey found that consumers anticipate a proportionally greater rise in home energy bills than in the price of gasoline — 30 percent for home energy versus 15 percent for gasoline — over the next five years.

According to federal data, the average U.S. household spent about $2,000 last year on home energy, including electricity and other household fuels, and an average of $2,900 per year on gasoline. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Antimony Nanocrystals for Batteries

March 18th 2014


Researchers from ETH Zurich and Empa have succeeded for the first time to produce uniform antimony nanocrystals. Tested as components of laboratory batteries, these are able to store a large number of both lithium and sodium ions. These nanomaterials operate with high rate and may eventually be used as alternative anode materials in future high-energy-density batteries.
TEM image (false coloured) of monodisperse antimony nanocrystals. (Photo: Maksym Kovalenko Group / ETH Zurich)

The hunt is on – for new materials to be used in the next generation of batteries that may one day replace current lithium ion batteries. Today, the latter are commonplace and provide a reliable power source for smartphones, laptops and many other portable electrical devices. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Sierra Club Pushes EPA to Go Tough on Coal Ash

March 17th 2014

Coal ash

The Sierra Club on Monday launched a new ad campaign aimed at pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency into adopting strong regulations against dumping coal ash into water.

The ad campaign, dubbed “Thirsty?”, warns that coal ash could pollute drinking water, citing spills in West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The ads urge the EPA to protect against such pollution, which they said contains arsenic, mercury and lead.

“Americans deserve water we can drink, not water that makes us sick,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement Monday. “The West Virginia water crisis, the Duke Energy coal ash spill and the [Tennessee Valley Authority] coal ash disaster of 2008 all underscore the inadequacy of current state and federal safeguards. Now is the time to act swiftly in order to protect our health and waterways from coal’s toxic legacy.” Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Can U.S. Fracked Gas Save Ukraine?

March 16th 2014

Natural Gas Terminal

Ukraine is on its own, not least when it comes to energy—and that crimps the country's ability to respond to Russia's land grab in the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine relies on Russia for roughly two thirds of its natural gas supplies, suggesting that the current geopolitical impasse will likely continue to fall in Russia’s favor. Even with a few months of natural gas in storage, "they're in a tough spot if those supplies are cut off," notes Jason Bordoff, one-time Obama administration policy advisor and now director of Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy, who was a speaker on a panel of experts at Columbia University’s School of International and Political Affairs (SIPA) on March 10.
Russia has the leverage to use its energy supplies as a political cudgel in Ukraine or the rest of Europe—the European Union imports one third of its gas from the eastern giant—and has not hesitated to use it in the past, most recently in 2009. Read more ..

Oil Addicition

Majority of Sand in Canadian Oil Sands Comes from Eastern North America

March 15th 2014


They're called the Alberta oilsands but most of the sand actually came from the Appalachian region on the eastern side of the North American continent, a new University of Calgary-led study shows.

The oilsands also include sand from the Canadian Shield in northern and east-central Canada and from the Canadian Rockies in western Canada, the study says. This study is the first to determine the age of individual sediment grains in the oilsands and assess their origin.

"The oilsands are looked at as a Western asset," says study lead author Christine Benyon, who is just completing her Master's degree in Geoscience in the Faculty of Science.

"But we wouldn't have oilsands without the sand, and some of that sand owes its origin to the Appalachians and other parts of Canada."

The research, which also involved study sponsor Nexen Energy ULC and the University of Arizona LaserChron Center, was published last week in the Journal of Sedimentary Research. The findings contribute to geologists' fundamental understanding of the oilsands.

They also help oilsands companies better understand the stratigraphy, or layers, of sand and the ancient valleys where sediment was deposited, "and that could lead to better production techniques," Benyon says.

To determine the origin of the sand, the researchers used a relatively new technique called "detrital zircon uranium-lead geochronology." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

House Dems Add to Keystone Pressure

March 14th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

House Democrats are joining the growing campaign to pressure Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

A letter sent to Kerry on Friday, signed by 27 House Democrats, details what they said would be the climate impacts of approving the $5.4 billion project, which would run from oil sands in Alberta to Gulf refineries.

"The math doesn't add up. In order to meet our commitment to fight climate change, we need to keep at least 80 percent of carbon reserves below ground," the letter, spearheaded by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Rush Holt (N.J.) and Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), states.

"If the United States is truly committed to avoiding a 2 degree temperature increase, we have to start by resisting this pipeline. We urge you to reject the pipeline and keep tar sands oil in the ground where it belongs.”

The representatives were joined by the National Wildlife Federation and activist group 350.org on Friday.
Kerry this week said he's a blank slate when it comes to Keystone despite his advocacy for taking action to reduce climate change. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

Senate GOP Pushes Bill Curbing Natural Gas Flaring

March 13th 2014

Gas Well Israel

Three Republican senators are pushing legislation that fast-tracks permits for natural gas pipelines in an effort to curb gas flaring.

Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Hoeven (N.D.), and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) introduced the bill on Wednesday, which requires the Interior and Agriculture Departments to issues permits for the majority of gas pipelines within 60 days.

"Abundant, low-cost energy shouldn’t have to wait on the federal government for approval,” Enzi said in a statement on Wednesday. “But that’s often what happens when we lose natural gas to flaring on account of delays in permitting infrastructure improvements. American energy is ready to power our country if Washington would just get out of the way. We can do better and our legislation is one step in that direction.” Read more ..

The Race for Natural

Could U.S. Gas Boom Loosen Europe's Energy Dependence On Russia?

March 12th 2014

LNG Tanker

With shale gas production in the United States booming, Russia’s intervention in Crimea has given a boost to those calling for the United States to expedite natural gas exports to Europe to help it cut its reliance on Russian energy. But how realistic is this idea?

Why all the talk about the United States exporting natural gas to Europe?
Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Moscow has not been shy about using this as a political weapon. With Russia supplying Europe with approximately 40 percent of its energy, and with the main natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine, the potential for new disruptions -- and political blackmail -- are very real.

This has led to calls for Europe to seek alternative sources of energy. And one key source could be across the Atlantic Ocean, in the United States. Thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology, known as fracking, and the subsequent "shale gas revolution," the United States has in recent years become the world's largest natural gas producer. Read more ..

The Race for Nuclear

A World Awash in a Nuclear Explosive

March 10th 2014

Fukushima nuke plant

A generation after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the world is rediscovering the attractions of nuclear power to curb the warming pollution of carbon fuels. And so a new industry focused on plutonium-based nuclear fuel has begun to take shape in the far reaches of Asia, with ambitions to spread elsewhere — and some frightening implications, if Thomas Cochran is correct.

A Washington-based physicist and nuclear contrarian, Cochran helped kill a vast plutonium-based nuclear industrial complex back in the 1970s, and now he’s at it again — lecturing at symposia, standing up at official meetings, and confronting nuclear industry representatives with warnings about how commercializing plutonium will put the public at enormous risk. Where the story ends isn’t clear. But the stakes are large.

The impetus for Cochran’s urgent new campaign — supported by a growing cadre of arms control and proliferation experts — is a seemingly puzzling decision by Japan to ready a new $22 billion plutonium production plant for operation as early as October. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Threat Issued in Libyan Oil Export Dispute

March 9th 2014

Arab Oil Derick

Leaders of eastern Libya's self-declared autonomous region of Barqa declared Saturday that they had begun exporting oil from the port of Sidra and would share revenues with the central government in accordance with a 1951 constitution. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told journalists later that government authorities have warned a North Korean-flagged oil tanker to leave Libyan waters or face attack.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan repeated an official warning to a North Korean-flagged oil tanker Saturday afternoon to “leave Libyan waters” or face attack.

He said that the North Korean tanker, bearing the name Morning Glory, entered the Libyan port of Sidra, breaking international law, and was warned to leave or face attack. He stressed that the ship has said it would like to leave, but is being forced by militiamen to load crude. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Poll Finds Broad Public Support for Keystone Pipeline Project

March 8th 2014

Click to select Image

Sixty-five percent of people support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between the United States and Canada, a new poll finds.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday shows only 22 percent are opposed to the project.

The poll shows there has been little movement in support or opposition to the pipeline in the last year. A Pew poll last April found 66 percent backed construction.
Majorities of every political party back the pipeline, with Republicans most in favor. Eighty-two percent of Republicans back the effort, while 65 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats feel the same.

In the public’s mind, the economic benefits outweigh concerns about the environmental impact of the pipeline, which is projected to carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day. Eighty-five percent say the pipeline would create a large number of jobs, including 62 percent who believe it “strongly." Another 47 percent think it would pose a significant risk to the environment. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

House Votes to Block EPA Regs on Coal-Fired Electricity Plants

March 6th 2014

coal fired power plant

The House voted Thursday to override a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions from future coal-fired electricity plants.

Members passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, H.R. 3826, in a mostly partisan 229-183 vote; 10 Democrats voted for passage.

The bill is a response to a proposed EPA rule Republicans say would require new coal-fired plants to achieve an emission standard that is virtually impossible using today's widely available technology. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill's sponsor, says that means the rule will effectively ban new power plants. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Weaken Russian Influence by Exporting US Natural Gas

March 5th 2014

Fracking gas well

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday called on the Obama administration to allow more exports of natural gas, which he said is a move that would help weaken the influence of Russia.

Boehner said Russia's involvement in Ukraine is "more than a cause for concern, it's a cause for action." He said Congress would work with the White House to counter Russia's move into Ukraine, but said energy policy should also be a part of the U.S. reaction.

He said selling more natural gas abroad would help boost U.S. values overseas, but said so far, President Obama's Energy Department is holding these exports back. "We can supplant Russia's influence, but we won't so long as we have to contend with the Energy Department's achingly slow approval process," Boehner said on the House floor. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

EPA Rule Hobbles Economy, Hurts Consumer Choice

March 3rd 2014

Plug-in Vehicle

At a time when many people have put off buying a new car until the economy improves, the last thing we need is a stringent government regulation on fuel efficiency that will raise the cost of vehicles and make matters even more difficult for consumers.

The Obama administration has mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that require automakers to make expensive redesigns on new vehicles.

By 2016, the fuel efficiency of the America's new vehicle fleet will have to average at least 34.1 miles per gallon. By 2025, compared to 2012 models, automakers will have to nearly double fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon.

The administration approved the CAFE standards to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes. It was done without full public discussion and debate, without considering the burden on consumers, or the impact on the automobile industry and working people. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

Labor Department Unveils Changes to Aid Miners in Black Lung Cases

March 2nd 2014

Black lung

Coal miners sick with black lung disease should receive higher-quality medical reports and have a better chance to win benefits cases following a series of reforms announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The initiatives, effective immediately, represent an attempt by the Labor Department to create a more level playing field for coal miners navigating a byzantine federal benefits system that often favors coal companies and the lawyers and doctors they enlist.

The changes come months after the publication of the yearlong Center for Public Integrity investigation Breathless and Burdened, produced in partnership with ABC News, which revealed how doctors and lawyers, working on behalf of coal companies, have helped defeat the claims of miners sick and dying of black lung.

The new measures include a pilot program that would provide some miners with an additional medical report, instructions to government lawyers across the country to intervene in some appeals and increased training for doctors and government officials.

“We really think this is going to create more balance and fairness,” said Gary Steinberg, the acting director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, which oversees the black lung benefits program. “Our goal is that it will result in an increase in the number of awards because of an increased quality in the reports and quality in the decisions.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the Labor Department’s initiatives “a step in the right direction,” and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said they were "a good first step toward leveling the playing field.” Both noted, however, that only some miners qualify for them and called for further action.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., said: "While this is certainly an encouraging development, it’s far from what’s needed to ensure these miners and their families receive justice. I’ll continue to push the Department of Labor to make the necessary reforms to get this right.” A spokesman for the National Mining Association declined to comment. Read more ..

The Coal Problem

EPA Says 'Coal is in Energy Mix'

March 1st 2014

Coal Train

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday signaled an intent to work with industry groups on the ageny's proposed standards for coal-fired power plants.

Speaking from North Dakota, McCarthy said the EPA is not interested in what critics have said is a "war on coal" by the Obama administration, aimed at pushing out coal companies to make room for renewable energy.

"Coal is in our energy mix today, and it will be for decades in the future," McCarthy said.
Focus has turned to North Dakota as of late, where the state is in the middle of an energy boom, in large part due to coal-fired power plants. McCarthy traveled there at the request of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to see what the state's plants are doing firsthand.

The EPA has drawn criticism from industry groups for what they say is the agency's "war on coal." Earlier this year, the EPA proposed tougher standards that would limit carbon emissions from new power plants, which critics say will make it nearly impossible to build new plants. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Uganda's Newest Utility: Pay-as-you-go Solar Power

February 28th 2014

Photovoltaic cells

In Uganda, telecom provider MTN and a company called Fenix are gearing up this year for a nationwide rollout of pre-paid electricity, similar to pre-paid airtime, but using solar kits. Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa - a continent where some 600 million people are off the power grid.

​The village of Kiwumu lies less than 32 kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But the bright lights of the city seem worlds away. Like the vast majority of Uganda, Kiwumu is off the electrical grid, and teacher Michael Mugerwa does not expect things to change any time soon.

"I'm not dreaming of having grid power here in the next 15 years, because power distribution is influenced by government, and government seems to have preference elsewhere. So it's not easy to get grid in these residential communities," he said. Read more ..

The Race for Wind and Sun

Green Energy Expansion in Germany Comes at a Hefty Price

February 27th 2014

Wind Farm

Germany is one of the top producers of renewable energy in the world. Since the year 2000 the country’s production of clean electricity jumped from a modest 6 percent to 25 percent last year in an effort to shift the German economy from nuclear power and fossil fuels towards wind and solar energy. Despite the progress, German consumers pay among the highest electricity prices in the European Union. 

Lissy Ishang started turning off appliances to save energy when she moved away from home a decade ago. Back then, Lissy’s family was paying half the price Germans pay today for electricity and this year German consumers are expected to pay even more.

Today an average family of four in Germany spends about $107 a month for electricity. This year, their monthly bill will be $129, almost three times more than a family in the United States. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Individual Property Rights Trump Keystone XL in Nebraska

February 26th 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Should a Canadian corporation be allowed to take land rights from a small Nebraska rancher? Should conservatives side with Big Government and Canadians over private landowners?

A court in Nebraska has put the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline in a case that started with land rights. The plaintiffs were landowners in Keystone's path who didn't want to sell, and so became victims of eminent domain to benefit Keystone.

The Keystone XL pipeline, being built by TransCanada, has generated dozens of passionate arguments on both sides. Keystone opponents say the pipeline will disrupt habitats. The pipeline has also become a totem for oil, and thus a symbol of so many things hated on the Left: profits, pollution, climate change, and Republicans. Read more ..

Petroleum Addiction

US Methane Leaks are Significantly Undercounted

February 25th 2014

About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades' worth of methane studies in North America. People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

The study was a broad-based effort led by Stanford University that involved researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard University and 11 other institutions and national laboratories. It's the first to integrate studies that looked at both individual ground-based components and continental-scale observations.

"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. Read more ..

The Race for Electric

Chinese Electric Bus Company Charges into US

February 25th 2014

Dashboard for electric car

In the heart of southern California, home of packed freeways and major smog problems, help may be on the way from an unexpected source - China. The Chinese company BYD is trying to make an impact while overcoming new obstacles.

Outside the BYD U.S. headquarters in the heart of Los Angeles, Auto Marketing Manager Lifang Yan agilely moved a 12-meter-long BYD electric-powered bus. “Zero emissions, zero pollution, lower fuel costs, and lower maintenance costs," she said.

BYD, which is short for “Build You Dreams”, is the first Chinese company to manufacture cars in the United States. Its battery-powered buses should be a dream come true for a city with constant traffic jams and serious air pollution like Los Angeles.  And so far, the company has three small orders from southern California transit agencies. But now,  it needs to convince buyers to make larger orders. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama Hints at Quick Keystone Decision

February 24th 2014

Obama with baseball bat

President Obama told governors gathered at the White House on Monday he expects to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline within the next couple of months, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said.

Fallin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans, said they raised the issue in a closed question-and-answer session with the president. "He anticipates an answer one way or another in a couple of months," Fallin said.

If the timeline holds, it means Obama would make a decision on the controversial project before the midterm elections. The pipeline has been championed by Republicans and vulnerable Senate Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), who say it would create construction jobs.

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the conversation between the president and the governors. "I don't have a timetable to give to you," Carney said. "I'd refer you to the State Department." Read more ..

Oil Addiction

New Deal Reached to Slow Freight Trains Carrying Crude

February 23rd 2014

Graniteville Train Wreck

The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced an agreement Friday to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil. They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort.

The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile December derailment of a train in Casselton, N.D., that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and prompted a push for more stringent federal regulation of freight rail shipments involving hazardous materials.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said increasing the safety of freight rail oil shipments was a goal for both the DOT and the freight rail industry. “DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) both recognize that the United States has experienced a significant growth in the quantity of petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail in recent years,” Foxx wrote Friday in a letter to AAR President Ed Hemberger. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil Money: Texas Legislature Saved Industry from Pollution Rule

February 22nd 2014

Oil Refinery

In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas’ booming oil and gas fields and the federal government beginning to take notice, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce harmful emissions. The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.

A few months later, the legislature overwhelmingly approved SB1134, a bill that effectively prevented the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, the fastest-growing oil shale play in the nation and maybe the world. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards that would have reduced the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that drift into the air breathed by 1.1 million people. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Obama's New Opening to Delay Keystone

February 21st 2014

Oil Pipes2

Green groups say a Nebraska county judge’s ruling this week striking down the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through that state provides an opening for President Obama to delay his decision on the project.

The question, observers say, is whether Obama is interested in another delay during a midterm election year, where delay or rejection of Keystone could hurt Democratic Senate candidates.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy’s ruling should put off the State Department’s determination on whether the pipeline is in the national interest, says Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club.

“I can't imagine State can move forward on the national interest determination when the route is in question,” said Pierce, who added that she can’t envision a scenario where State would move forward until the issues in Nebraska are resolved. Read more ..

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