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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coalition Petitions EPA, DOT to Protect Water, Wildlife & Communities from Tar Sands Spills

National Wildlife Federation

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 27, 2013) – A coalition of landowners, former and current government officials, environmental, renewable energy and sportsmen’s groups filed a petition today with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking the agencies to develop stronger safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines.

“Three years after the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, little has been done to improve pipeline safety,” said Beth Wallace with the Great Lakes Regional Center. “This disaster should have been a wake-up call to industry, regulators and public officials. Instead industry is being allowed to expand pipelines across the region and even under the Great Lakes themselves, which will continue to put communities, wildlife and our economy at risk.”

Read the full petition at http://bit.ly/YEdNPn (pdf)

The petition effort is spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and includes 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. It requests a halt to new or expanded tar sands pipelines until adequate rules are in place.

“This petition is an exercise of citizens’ rights to request that government live up to its charge to follow the law, and protect us from the harms and risk of a tar sands pipeline spill,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Council at the National Wildlife Federation. “Until the right standards are put into place, we shouldn’t be exposing more communities and resources to tar sands risks. We expect the government to answer our request and live up to its charge to properly address the unique risks of tar sands transportation.”

Current pipeline regulations were issued long before tar sands oil production ramped up and do not cover the unique aspects of tar sands. Tar sands oil poses more acute risks than conventional fuels shipped through pipelines because the oil is a volatile mix of raw bitumen – an asphalt-like substance – diluted with gas condensates. Diluted bitumen is a toxic, viscous, corrosive substance with the consistency of gritty peanut butter that must be moved at much higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil. Strong evidence indicates tar sands oil threatens pipeline integrity.

"Even after what happened in Marshall, pipeline companies have continued to run roughshod over the state of Michigan while regulatory agencies and elected officials have stood by idly and allowed it to happen," said Jeff Inkso, writer of the Line 6B citizen blog and landowner impacted by the Enbridge expansion project.

Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the main states with a history of tar sands oil pipelines — spilled almost three times more crude oil per mile of pipeline when compared to the U.S. national average. In a scathing report on the Kalamazoo River spill near Marshall, MI, the National Transportation Safety Board pointed blame at current regulations, calling them “weak” and “inadequate.”

“Minnesota has experienced 11 oil pipeline leaks since 2002 according to PHMSA,“ said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, “We need to do a much better job of protecting our human populations and our wildlife populations that live next to these big pipelines.”

“With 20 percent of the earth's fresh surface water, the Great Lakes are an international treasure that should have the strongest protections possible in place to prevent what happened in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from happening in our Lakes,” said Cheryl Kallio, associate director for Freshwater Future. “If a spill were to happen in the Straits of Mackinaw it would beyond devastating.”

The petition requests new standards tightening several aspects of oil transport and pipeline safety:
  • Stronger safety requirements than those for conventional crude oil;
  • Industry disclosure of products carried through pipelines and their conveyance schedules;
  • Stronger industry spill response plans;
  • Shut-down requirements upon the first indication of a leak or other pipeline failure;
  • Repair of pipelines as soon as defects are discovered; 
  • Transparent pipeline inspection reporting; and
  • Pipeline inspection and monitoring by independent entities unaffiliated with pipeline or energy companies;
  • A moratorium on building new or expanded tar sands pipelines until new regulations are final.
Supporters of the petition will be seeking cosigners over the next few months. Under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Administrative Procedure Act, citizens can file a formal petition requesting that a federal agency take specific actions required by law or change existing regulations. This petition requests a change in existing regulations. Federal agencies are required to respond.

National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.


Jordan Lubetkin
Senior Regional Communications Manager
National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center
213 W. Liberty St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
w: 734-887-7109
c: 734-904-1589

Sunday, March 24, 2013

State environmentalists blast forest biodiversity bill

Detroit News, Sunday, March 24, 2013

Legislation by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, would prevent the Department of Natural Resources from classifying public tracts “for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.” (Michigan Senate website)

Lansing — Michigan environmentalists are upset over a Republican lawmaker's bill to curtail the state's land management powers, claiming it's based on conspiracy theories about the United Nations.

Legislation by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, would prevent the Department of Natural Resources from classifying public tracts "for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity." The proposal eliminates requirements the DNR promote forest restoration or continue giving special protection to unusual plants and animals.

Casperson said the legislation is an effort to rein in bureaucratic overreach, while acknowledging he is aware of a 1992 U.N. resolution on sustainable development that some conservatives claim could reduce property rights.

The bill passed the Senate and is under House discussion. This dismays opponents, who said it destroys the underpinnings of Michigan environmental law. They argue it is an extension of widening fears over the 1992 U.N. Agenda 21 resolution — a non-binding blueprint for ways to balance economic growth and environmental protection.

"There is an underlying fear and discomfort with a lack of control (Casperson) feels as a legislator over decisions that are being made," said Brad Garmon, conservation and emerging issues director for the Michigan Environmental Council. "Whether that comes from reading Agenda 21 conspiracy stuff, from working with state agencies over time, or from input from the timber industry… I don't know. But I think it's inaccurate to say there's no connection with (Agenda 21)."

Casperson bristled at such claims while acknowledging he has looked into Agenda 21.

"If that's what they're saying, they should read this," he said, waiving a list of DNR-proposed Biodiversity Sustainability Areas. "They're trying to paint me as a black-helicopter guy."

Agenda 21 came out of a U.N. environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro. Then-President George H.W. Bush was among the signers.

After years of obscurity, the agenda resolution has flared up among small-government adherents, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and groups such as the John Birch Society. They see Agenda 21 as an insidious drive to raise concepts such as biodiversity — the use of varied plant species — above private property rights and are alarmed Michigan cities — including Dearborn, Ferndale and Ann Arbor — have adopted its concepts.

Environmentalists say their worries about the Casperson bill have roots in 2012 proposals.

State Rep. Greg McMaster, R-Kewadin, sponsored an unsuccessful bill to block governmental units from adopting any policy related to provisions in the 300-page U.N. resolution. It was similar to an ordinance Charlevoix County's commission adopted in October. Casperson talked with constituents about introducing a Senate version, but never did so.

McMaster still carries text on his website asserting Agenda 21 will, among other things, cause "elimination of private property ownership, population control … (and) relocation of people from rural areas into cities."

On the opposite side is Sturgis city commissioner and former Mayor Rob Sisson, who says there's little to fear from the ideas cities are free to use or ignore. An example is a recent land annexation in which Sturgis used cost-saving rain gardens instead of curbs and gutters, said Sisson, who's also president of ConservAmerica — formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Casperson said he shares small-government conservatives' concerns that Agenda 21 could affect Upper Peninsula activities he treasures, especially hunting and fishing, but added his bill attacks stealthy DNR moves. He said he is battling an agency tendency to think "professors" and biologists should have more say over public land policies than taxpayers and state lawmakers.

His measure stirred emotional Senate debate. State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, charged it would undo 100 years of effort to restore forests and make Michigan a laughingstock among scientists.

Environmentalists contend biodiversity has restored forests wiped out by early 20th-century clear cutting. If those areas had been restocked with ash trees alone, they'd be undergoing another round of devastation now by the emerald ash borer, Garmon said.

"Three quarters of our state lands were acquired after they'd been so badly logged and farmed that there were bereft of any plant life," added Anne Woiwode, director of Michigan's Sierra Club chapter. "The state took on the job of restoring those lands. The irony now is that Casperson wants to give the timber industry more access to those lands."

But Casperson, who ran his family's log-hauling businesses before joining the Legislature, has won praise from colleagues. On the website of the Wisconsin-based Great Lakes Timber Professional Association, group president Denny Olson said Casperson's bill constitutes a Michigan blockade against "an international push to set aside lands throughout the world and return them to their '(n)atural (s)tate'" through Agenda 21.

DNR officials have taken a neutral stance. "We think we can continue to accomplish the state's biodiversity goals within the strictures of this legislation, even though some tools for that task would be limited," department spokesman Ed Golder said.

(517) 371-3660

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

China Wind Power Growth Beat Coal In 2012


China Wind Power Growth Beat Coal In 2012

We’ve often included a dash of cold water with our reports on Chinese renewable energy development because even as all kinds of good stuff has been happening, the country has been ratcheting up its use of coal. But here’s something impressive any way you slice it: A new report says that in 2012, wind power production grew more than coal power production.
The information is contained in a report from the China Electricity Council, and was surfaced this morning by Beijing-based Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Li Shuo on the Climate Progress website.
image via Wikimedia Commonsimage via Wikimedia Commons
According to the report, wind power production – which we already knew was rising fast in China – grew by 26 terawatt-hours, more than double the 12 TWh increase in thermal power (almost all coal, according to Shuo).
Coal use had been rising incredibly quickly in China in the past decade, so this virtual halt is a bit surprising. But the Climate Progress report notes that by Chinese standards, power consumption overall grew rather modestly in China in 2012, just 5.5 percent.  In addition, the report noted, hydropower contributed vastly more power in 2012, with lots of water allowing production to jump 196 TWh to 863 TWh.
The good news is that, despite some growth issues with its wind industry (similar to what solar has been experiencing), China is on course to bring a lot more wind online in the next several years, according to Earth Policy Institute:
Wind developers connected 19,000 megawatts of wind power capacity to the grid during 2011 and 2012, and they are expected to add nearly this much in 2013 alone. An oft-cited problem for China’s wind energy sector has been the inability of the country’s underdeveloped electrical grid to fully accommodate fast-multiplying wind turbines in remote, wind-rich areas. Recent efforts to expand and upgrade the grid have improved the situation: by the end of 2012, 80 percent of China’s estimated 75,600 megawatts of wind capacity were grid-connected.
China is also increasing the pace of solar installation, in part to help its troubled domestic industry but also in answer to the dreadful smog problem that reached epic levels this past January.
All that said, it’s still fitting to wonder how much of a difference this can make given that according to a World Resources Institute report, China has some 363 new large coal plants planned. There’s been some hope that might not come to pass — maybe that hope isn’t without some foundation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Senate undermines science with bad anti-biodiversity legislation

March 5, 2013

Hugh McDiarmid: 248-660-4300
Lisa Brush: 734-996-3190

Bill could cripple efforts to manage land for resiliency, species protection

Shortsighted legislation redefining “conservation” and restricting the ability of state land managers to consider the diversity of Michigan’s flora and fauna when managing state lands and forests has passed the Michigan State Senate by a 26-11 party line vote this morning.

The Michigan Environmental Council and the Stewardship Network will seek defeat of the measure, Senate Bill 78, in the House of Representatives, and will urge Governor Rick Snyder to veto the bill should it reach his desk.

“This is terrible legislation,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. “It undercuts one of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) chief missions – to protect and enhance the diversity and splendor of Michigan’s woodlands and forests.”

The bill undermines important tools used by the DNR to manage land, including the Michigan Endangered Species Act, weakening the state’s ability to protect unique Michigan assets that contribute to the economy and Michiganders’ quality of life.

“Scientific land management for biodiversity is a healthy and accepted philosophy that would be forced underground by this legislation,” said Lisa Brush, executive director of The Stewardship Network. “Removing science and biology from land and forest management is an irresponsible rejection of good natural resources practices."

Healthy forests provide diverse opportunities for recreation, flood and pollution control, and protection against invasive species and commercial activities like logging.  Undermining the ability of the DNR to manage for multiple uses is a sweeping change in philosophy that fundamentally narrows the mission of the agency and puts our forests at risk.

Michigan can rightfully boast about our Great Lakes and our incredibly rich array of different plant, animal and natural communities. Protecting, enhancing and restoring that biological diversity in our forests, fisheries and dunes – among the most biologically diverse of any state in the country – is both scientifically sound and good economics. In addition to creating great places to camp, hike, hunt and see nature, managing lands for ecosystem health and genetic resilience ensures that our forests can survive new invasive species and other threats.

The intent of SB 78, introduced by lead sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson, is purportedly to stop implementation of a very specific program – the DNR’s proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area) program.

If that were its only target, it would still be bad policy. The Living Legacies program is not a “set aside” that would lock up land. It’s the opposite. It’s a management tool, designed to help the state and private landowners recognize and understand where intact and “functional” natural communities exist, or could most easily be reestablished. By enhancing these places through normal land management activities (including selective timber harvest and responsible outdoor recreation), Michigan would grow stronger economically as our great outdoors become more ecologically stable, more beautiful, more genetically resilient and more fun to play in.

Regardless, the bill is not specific to the Living Legacies program. It is a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends current law to:
  • Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
  • Prohibit the DNR or Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration. 
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

SB 78’s stunning assumption is that the perpetual survival of native species and natural communities is not of critical importance to Michigan and its residents.

In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, the legislation may also endanger other DNR programs like forest certification, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets.

Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed in part based on their biodiversity values, but are also popular places to experience Michigan’s wildlife, history and cultural icons.

Shell plans Liquid Natural Gas terminal on Lake Huron

By Brent Patterson, Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The Globe and Mail reports that Royal Dutch Shell has unveiled plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Sarnia, Ontario and then ship that gas on freighters on the Great Lakes. The LNG terminal in Sarnia would be completed by 2016.

“Sarnia is an important refuelling hub on the Great Lakes, where some 65 U.S.-flagged and 80 Canadian-flagged ships regularly do business. Most of the U.S. vessels are too big to move through the St. Lawrence Seaway, meaning they are essentially a captive fleet on the lakes – an ideal place for Shell to offer a new type of fuel. …The St. Lawrence Seaway has never seen an LNG-fuelled ship. But seaway management said there is no reason it can’t happen.”

Shell is also planning a LNG terminal Calgary, Alberta and in Geismar, Louisiana. “The three plants each have a planned capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year. They are far smaller than the 12-million tonne LNG export plant that Shell and several partners have proposed for the Canadian West Coast. But they will produce 1.5 million litres of LNG per day, enough to fuel 5,000 trucks or a good percentage of the Great Lakes fleet where, depending on size, ships consume between 7,500 and 38,000 litres daily.”

On April 4, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will begin a 7-city tour in defense of the Great Lakes, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=19278. In May 2012, during the first part of this Great Lakes tour, she spoke in Sarnia and visited the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=15423.