Aug 22 2011

Playing Catch Up: Major Environmental Stories from this Summer

Paul Souders/Stone/Getty Images via HowStuffWorks

If you’ve been watching the blog over the summer, you’ve noticed that we’ve been on a break and just posting our Twitter Round-Ups on Fridays.  Well, now that school has started again, we’re going to resume our regular posting schedule with three posts a week.  This first post is going to highlight the biggest environmental stories that happened over the summer and might have been buried in the list of Twitter posts.

 Supreme Court Decides Climate Change Nuisance Case

SCOTUS Blog: “Opinion Analysis: AEP v. Connecticut” 

Carefully noting that it was not deciding that global warming is a problem, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that Congress thinks it is, but has assigned the role of dealing with it first to the Environmental Protection Agency, with courts playing only a limited secondary role.  The decision, unanimous only in part, blocked state governments and others from going to federal court to file a claim of “public nuisance” in order to get judicial limits imposed on electric power plants’ release of “greenhouse gases” that may warm up the earth.

Grist: “Connecticut v. AEP: Public nuisance ruling may boost chances of EPA CO2 regulations”

The Second Circuit’s recent decision in Connecticut v. AEP, in which a coalition of state attorneys general sued electric power producers to cap and then reduce their carbon emissions, allows the public nuisance case to proceed and gave the environmental plaintiffs virtually everything they wanted. It should also give pause to those of us tempted to see judges as purely political: it was decided by Judges Peter W. Hall, a George W. Bush appointee from Vermont, and Joseph McLaughlin, a George H.W. Bush appointee from New York. Damn liberals. (The third panel member, one Sonia Sotomayor, is now busy with other things and did not sign the decision.).

Shell Oil Spill in the North Sea

Forbes: “Shell Trying to Stop Oil Leak in North Sea”

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Thursday an operation is under way to stop the leak at its Gannet Alpha platform following the worst North Sea oil spill in more than a decade.

About 1,300 barrels of oil has spewed into the sea since a pipeline at Shell’s Gannet Alpha platform was found to be leaking Aug. 12, the company said, though it claims that after shutting the well, only one barrel a day is leaking from the installation to control the build up of pressure in the pipeline.

BBC: “First Part of Shell North Sea Oil Leak Operation Begins”

Shell has been dealing with the release of what has been estimated as more than 200 tonnes from a leak near the Gannet Alpha, discovered last week.

The pipeline still contains up to 660 tonnes of oil.

The first stage involves placing a special concrete blanket across the depressurised pipeline to force it back down on to the sea floor.

It had been left raised up to 4ft (1.2m) along a 0.6-mile (1km) section, about 300ft (91m) below the surface.

NY Times: “Don’t Allow Oil Drilling off the Arctic Coast” 

ABOUT 55,000 gallons of oil have escaped into the North Sea since last week from a leaky pipeline operated by Royal Dutch Shell, about 100 miles off Scotland.

Last year, Americans watched in mounting fury as the oil industry and the federal government struggled for five disastrous months to contain the much larger BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now imagine the increased danger and difficulty of trying to cope with a similar debacle off Alaska’s northern coast, where waters are sealed by pack ice for eight months of each year, gales roil fog-shrouded seas with waves up to 20 feet high and the temperature, combined with the wind chill, feels like 10 degrees below zero by late September.

ExxonMobil Pipeline Leaks into the Yellowstone River

Mother Jones: “Exxon Spills 42,000 Gallons in MT”

It’s not news anyone wants to see over a long holiday weekend: on Friday night, a pipeline ruptured in Montana, dumping thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. The pipeline, owned by ExxonMobil, ruptured 20 miles upstream from Billings, spilling up to 42,000 gallons of oil into the water.

The Environmental Protection Agency is posting updates on the clean up. As the New York Timesreported over the weekend:

The pipeline is 12 inches wide and runs from Silver Tip, Mont., to Billings, an area with three refineries, ExxonMobil said. All three were shut down after the spill. ExxonMobil said it had summoned its North American Regional Response Team to help clean up the spill, and a fire spokesman in Laurel said more than 100 people, including officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, were expected to arrive at the scene by Sunday morning.

NY Times: Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River”

An ExxonMobil pipeline running under the Yellowstone River in south central Montana ruptured late Friday, spilling crude oil into the river and forcing evacuations.

The pipeline burst about 10 miles west of Billings, coating parts of the Yellowstone River that run past Laurel — a town of about 6,500 people downstream from the rupture — with shiny patches of oil. Precisely how much oil leaked into the river was still unclear. But throughout the day Saturday, cleanup crews in Laurel worked to lessen the impact of the spill, laying down absorbent sheets along the banks of the river to mop up some of the escaped oil, and measuring fumes to determine the health threat.

NPR: “Cleanup of Montana Oil Spill Complicated by Flooding”

A ruptured Exxon-Mobil oil line has spewed an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River. While company officials are still trying to figure out the extent of the spill, high flood waters and mountain runoff are spreading the oil beyond the river’s banks, complicating the cleanup efforts. Melissa Block speaks with Rob Rogers, who has been covering the story for the Billings Gazette.

Senate Votes to End Ethanol Subsidies

– NYTimes:  End Ethanol Subsidies, Senators Say

Subsidies and tariffs to promote domestic ethanol production are “fiscally irresponsible and environmentally unwise” and should be ended, a bipartisan group of United States senators declared in a letter to the chamber’s leaders on Tuesday.

“Eliminating or reducing ethanol subsidies and trade barriers are important steps we can take to reduce the budget deficit, improve the environment, and lessen our reliance on imported oil,” the senators wrote to the Democratic majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, and the Republican minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell.

The letter was circulated by Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and John Kyl, Republican of Arizona. The 15 co-signers included John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both Republicans; and Barbara Boxer of California and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, both Democrats.

– ReutersSenate vote marks start of end for ethanol subsidies

The 73-27 vote may ultimately be symbolic since the White House has vowed not to repeal ethanol subsidies fully and the bill the repeal language is attached to is not expected to make it into law. But it underscores the growing desperation to find savings in a budget crisis that is forcing both sides of the aisle to consider sacrificing once-sacred government programs.

“Ending this wasteful handout would ensure taxpayers no longer subsidize the already profitable corn ethanol industry,” Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg said.

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