Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CNN: House of Representatives on verge of passing bill that eases regulatory burdens to Arctic oil drilling

The Republican House of Representatives is ready to pass a bill that would lower regulatory barriers to Arctic oil drilling, according to a CNN report.

The measure, which is sponsored by a freshman congressman from Colorado, would limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to review exploration permits for activities on the nation's Outer Continental Shelf.

Technically, the bill would accomplish that goal by, first, requiring that the Clean Air Act apply to drilling vessels in the same way that it applies to land-based stationary sources and, second, by removing the authority of EPA's Environmental Appeals Board to review permit decisions by the agency.

Proponents of the legislation, including House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, argue that the bill's enactment into law is an essential component of efforts to increase domestic energy security.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, assert that the potential damage from a marine oil spill in frigid Arctic waters compels caution.

“An oil spill in these remote and icy waters would have catastrophic impacts and be nearly impossible to clean up; no technology exists that would effectively clean up oil spilled in icy Arctic waters," Erik Grafe, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in testimony about the bill before a House committee.

HR 2021, labeled the "Jobs and Energy Permitting Act of 2011" by its sponsor, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., would not be limited in impact to Alaska. It covers all areas of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.

In May the GOP-controlled House, with help from some Democratic members, passed a measure that would impose time limits on the U.S. Department of Interior's consideration of offshore drilling permit applications.

The House has also cleared proposed legislation that would open up more areas of the nation's coasts for oil drilling.

Gore says Obama is blowing off threat of climate change

Former Vice President Albert Gore, Jr. has some harsh words for President Obama when it comes to climate change.

Gore, who has become a leading voice in support of efforts to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions since his political career ended, has published an essay in Rolling Stone that accuses Obama of ignoring the problem.

"He has simply not made the case for action," Gore wrote. "He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

The Rolling Stone essay also attacks corporate America for its resistance to legislative and regulatory efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming Earth's atmosphere, as well as Republicans, the U.S. Senate, and the news media.

Industry has, by and large, fought efforts to limit the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and some companies have helped to finance efforts to convince Americans to doubt scientific research indicating that human activities are changing the climate.

Republicans in Congress and many statehouses have been insistent deniers of the human impact on the climate, while the Senate took no action on a landmark climate change bill during the last Congress.

Gore's argument against the news media is that it has not generally attempted to educate Americans about the scientific reality of climate change and the extensive evidence that human activities are causing it.

The former vice president, who also served in Congress for 24 years and has written several acclaimed books about the environment, won a Nobel peace prize for his advocacy on behalf of efforts to confront climate change.

U.S. Supreme Court: No common law climate change lawsuits allowed

The U.S. Supreme Court has put the kibosh on an effort to invoke the common law to force greenhouse gas emission reductions.

In a decision issued Monday, the high court ruled that the enactment of the Clean Air Act into law gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts, the power to limit greenhouse gas pollution of the atmosphere and precludes plaintiffs from invoking the old doctrine of nuisance to respond to climate change.

"The critical point is that Congress delegated to EPA the decision whether and how to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants; the delegation is what displaces federal common law," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a unanimous opinion.

The plaintiffs, which include several states, New York City, and a number of private land-trusts, argued that four private utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority created a nuisance by emitting 650 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

That collective emission of carbon dioxide is equivalent to ten percent of the total annual domestic carbon dioxide pollution in the United States and about 2.5 percent of the total human-caused emission of carbon dioxide worldwide.

The complaints filed in the case alleged that the emissions violate either the federal common law of public nuisance or a similar doctrine existing in state law. The basis of the claims was that the defendants' emissions would harm the environment and human health.

They asked a federal district court to impose a ceiling on the entities' emissions, which would get tighter in successive years.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had dismissed the complaints on grounds that the issues raised in them are "political questions" beyond the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed that decision.

Ginsburg's opinion discussed a technical area of jurisprudence arising from the need to allow the development of some federal common law. However, all of the participating justices agreed that this doctrine was of no help to the plaintiffs because Congress spoke directly to the issue at the heart of their case when it enacted the Clean Air Act.

“When Congress addresses a question previously governed by a decision rested on federal common law, the need for such an unusual exercise of law-making by federal courts disappears,” the Court said.

The Court, in a 2007 decision called Massachusetts v. EPA, has already held that the Clean Air Act authorizes the federal government to impose regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, other industrial sources, and motor vehicles.

The Obama administration has been moving to use that authority.

In 2010 EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized rules that limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants from some motor vehicles. EPA is expected to issue a proposed regulation limiting such emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants next month.

Justice Ginsburg's opinion did not address the defendants' argument that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuits against them. In Massachusetts v. EPA the Court had ruled that states have standing to force EPA to use the regulatory authority granted the agency by federal statute.

She wrote, however, that the Court divided 4-4 on this question. Under the rules of the Supreme Court, a tie vote on any issue in dispute means that the lower court's decision on the point is affirmed.

It is likely, however, that Justice Elena Kagan, who did not participate in the case, would have voted in favor of standing for at least some of the plaintiffs.

The justices also split on the question whether the "political question" doctrine barred federal courts from deciding cases raising common law arguments against environmental harms.

The case is American Electric Power Co., et al., v. Connecticut, et al., No. 10-174.

Transocean says 2010 Gulf oil spill is BP's fault

The owner of the well that spewed oil across the Gulf of Mexico last year says the accident was BP's fault.

Transocean Ltd., in an investigative report released today, said that the British oil company caused the blowout of the Macondo Well and Deepwater Horizon drilling rig because its decisions increased the risk of a catastrophic failure.

"The Macondo incident was the result of a succession of interrelated well design, construction, and temporary abandonment decisions that compromised the integrity of the well and compounded the risk of its failure," Transocean said in the executive summary of the report. "The decisions, many made by the operator, BP, in the two weeks leading up to the incident, were driven by BP’s knowledge that the geological window for safe drilling was becoming increasingly narrow."

BP's own report, which was released last September, blamed Transocean and Halliburton, which did contracting work on the construction of the well, for the disaster.

The federal government has cast blame on all three companies involved in operating the rig.

The Deepwater Horizon incident led to an 87 day-long release of oil into the sea.

As a result of the oil spill, the United States has sued BP, Transocean, and several other entities for violations of the Clean Water Act and restitution under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The litigation is pending in federal court in New Orleans.

Multiple private lawsuits are also pending.