Can genetically modified algae feed and fuel the world, as scientific entrepreneur J. Craig Venter predicted in 2011? For entrepreneurs of manufacturing with algae biomass, the future is now. That was the message of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) Summit held September 30th to October 2nd in Washington, DC. Yet, to the product developers who rely on synthetically modified microbes to genetically “edit” and customize algae for industrial and agricultural purposes, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on “new microbes” modified by “Advanced Genetic Engineering” posed a lot of questions. For some of those questions, there are not yet answers; at least parts of the algal future are not now.
Last week, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ strongest climate policy to date. The plan aims to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions by allowing states to devise their own plans to reach federally-mandated emissions reduction targets. This choose-your-own-adventure policy could send states down very different paths, some worse for the environment and community resilience than others.
A bragging point for the Clean Power Plan is its flexibility; all currently identified low-carbon energy sources can play a role in state plans, including natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other renewables. But despite the low-carbon nature these energy technologies share, they differ greatly in overall community and environmental benefit. Natural gas is abundantly available today due to controversial fracking technology (most of which occurs near rural communities); hydropower requires dam construction (sometimes on massive scales); and nuclear power comes with the risk of disastrous accidents, issues around extraction and long-term storage problems.
Tomorrow, June 6, thousands of people from across the Great Lakes region will come together for the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul, MN. This will be the largest action against tar sands to date in the region; speakers include Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, and Keith Ellison among others. Tar sand extraction and distribution is driven largely by trade policy set out in NAFTA. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has been quoted as saying, “… a major tenet of NAFTA … the U.S. was guaranteed unfettered supply in exchange for unfettered access by Canadian exporters to its market.” The articles pertaining to energy and corporate rights found within NAFTA highlight the shortcomings of our current trade system. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to march against the tar sands. If you believe in fair trade, national sovereignty and human rights, you should attend this rally.
By Congressional Research Service estimates, the tar sands contribute 14% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil.1 The European Union places increased emissions from tar sands at 22% higher than conventional oil.2 Increased emissions are attributed to the extensive processing needed to convert the tar-like bitumen to oil.3 Mining of the tar sands has also lead to massive deforestation in the Alberta province. In terms of climate change and the environment, the tar sands represent a global catastrophe.
The last few years have not been good for the factory farm industry. High prices for corn and other crops (in part driven by the growth of ethanol) made feed costs incredibly high, while at the same time, environmental and animal welfare advocates have been winning ballot and marketplace battles to shift more meat production out of intensive confinement and industrial systems. Hog and cattle producers have been hit by disease, drought and weather related disasters, resulting in losses in both sectors.
A new report released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at how tar sands have developed from an unconventional, inefficient energy source to the spotlight of the corporate agenda as conventional oil supplies dwindle. Tar Sands: How Trade Rules Surrender Sovereignty and Extend Corporate Rights follows the development of energy policy from NAFTA up to current free trade negotiations to illustrate that while energy sources evolve, one trend remains constant: The protection of corporate profits at the expense of human rights, sovereignty and the environment. With new free trade agreements in negotiation, the time for action is here: The public needs a seat at the negotiating table.
The Washington Post’s disclosure last month of yet another leaked EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiating document on Energy and Raw Materials (ERM) brings to light the overwhelming emphasis placed on dismantling the United States’ ability to govern its own energy resources. Pressure to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), due to new-found U.S. energy reserves through hydraulic fracturing, stands as most controversial to environmentalist and anti-globalist.
Negotiating text on the EU-U.S. trade agreement leaked by the Huffington Post exposes the European Union’s hypocrisy when it comes to renewable energy and climate protection. Despite the moral and economic leadership that Europe claims around these issues, trade positions outlined by the E.U.’s negotiators (which are shared by their U.S. counterparts, as discussed previously) makes clear that these globally critical goals are less important than the potential profits of transnational companies. As explained in an excellent analysis of the leaked text by Sierra Club and the German organization PowerShift, the E.U. negotiators are very clear about their support for expansion of fossil fuel extraction and trade and imposing limits on national policies for and local benefits from renewable energy policy. The direct result is that renewable energy and green jobs programs around the world and here in the U.S., such as the Made in Minnesota Solar Program, are now at risk.
On Friday, President Obama announced new commitments to support the solar industry and create green jobs. Too bad the President’s trade agenda didn’t get the memo.
In practice, the Obama Administration’s relentless free trade agenda is colliding with its climate and renewable energy goals, leaving four U.S. state programs, designed to spur green jobs and renewable energy, vulnerable to trade challenges, while directly limiting renewable energy growth in one of the world’s fastest emerging economies.
In April, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) took the first steps toward challenging India’s program to expand solar energy production by supporting local companies and green jobs, charging that it violates World Trade Organization (WTO) rules by limiting U.S. companies’ access to the program.
Now, India has responded (subscription required, alternative link) by raising questions about solar energy programs in four states—Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts—that also provide benefits for companies that use renewable energy equipment manufactured in that state.
The New Year came in on the heels of an explosion in the small prairie town of Casselton, North Dakota, when two BNSF Railway trains collided, one carrying crude oil. The residents of Casselton were told to evacuate as the thick clouds of black smoke filled the sky. The only comfort in this latest of crude oil transportation disasters was that no people lost their lives. That wasn’t the case in Lac-Megantic, Quebec where 47 people lost their lives when a Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd train carrying tar sand oil derailed and exploded. Small rural communities and First Nations lands have suffered the most from this steady flow of oil spills. When it isn’t train tankers careening off the tracks, it is crude oil pipeline leaks flowing out on to wheat fields and into rivers. When it isn’t crude oil, it is natural gas explosions such as the one in West, Texas last April, when a fertilizer plant blew up, killing 15 innocent people. Repeatedly, the oil and gas industry has shown criminal disregard for the lives and property of people and communities.
So, what can citizens do? We could and we must say that the nation’s infrastructure for oil and gas development is not up to the threat posed by the headlong drive to squeeze every last drop of petroleum out of the earth. We could and we must say that federal, state and local governments have failed to protect us, and have fallen far short of establishing and enforcing effective regulatory standards for the oil and gas industry. These measures are critical and it is up to us to hold our governments accountable.
On the morning of September 29, North Dakota farmer Steven Jensen discovered a gurgling pool of oil in his wheat field. From a quarter-inch hole in the pipeline, 865,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken oil field leaked into his fields. It was 11 days before there was any public notification of the spill. In the last two years, North Dakota has had over 300 pipeline oil spills that were never publicly reported.
As the oil polluted soil is being removed from Steven Jensen's wheat field, the Enbridge oil company is planning a new pipeline from North Dakota carrying crude oil across northern Minnesota. In Carlton county, local residents and farmers along the proposed pipeline route are concerned about the risks the new pipeline, called Sandpiper, poses to their lives, land and environment. Citizens in the region have come together under the name Carlton County Land Stewards. IATP met with some members to learn more about the pipeline plans. Like so many extreme energy development projects, the citizens most affected are often the last to know what is being planned. Fortunately, land owners and farmers in Carlton County are working together to protect their farms and community.
As controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has captured most of America’s attention, Minnesotans have been dealing with a different pipeline carrying tar sands bitumen to the United States. On July 17, 2013, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, L.P. a 120,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity increase to line 67, the “Alberta Clipper”, from 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd.