On January 29 I gave a lecture on “The Global Environmental Challenge of China” at the World Issues Forum of the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. The audience was terrific with a full auditorium and an overflow crowd sitting on the floor. The lecture was videotaped and it is now available online on the web at: http://vimeo.com/85478018. In the morning of January 29 I also spoke about the work of environmental NGOs and climate change to a seminar on Environmental Justice and Climate Change. I really enjoyed meeting the faculty and students from Fairhaven and I am particularly grateful for the hospitality of my former student, Professor Julie Helling, who hosted my visit. I flew back to D.C. from Seattle on Thursday night, surrounded by hordes of Seahawks fans, and taught two classes on Friday.
On January 30 the Royal Dutch Shell corporation announced that it will not seek to drill for oil in Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska during 2014. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden cited the uncertainty created by the Ninth Circuit’s January 22 ruling that the environmental impact statement associated with the government’s Arctic leasing program had been inadequate. The decision also is consistent with a trend of cutbacks in massive capital spending projects by big oil.
On January 31 the U.S. State Department released its final supplemental environmental impact statement on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The EIS concludes that the pipeline will not significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions because the tar sands oil that it will transport, although more carbon-intensive than normal, will be used even if the pipeline is not built. A copy of the EIS is available online at: http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/archive/dos_docs/feis/. The State Department will hold a 30-day public comment period on the EIS beginning on February 5. Other federal agencies will have 90 days to comment. Secretary of State John Kerry will then make a decision on the project, which is expected to occur sometime during summer 2014. Other agencies then will have 15 days to object to his decision. If any other agency objects, the final decision will be made by President Obama. EPA previously criticized the State Department for underestimating the environmental effects of the project.
In his State of the Union Address to Congress on January 23, President Obama reaffirmed his support for an “all-of-the-above energy strategy’. He described natural gas as “the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” The President pledged that his “administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.” He annunced that he will “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” Noting that the U.S. is “becoming a global leader in solar,” President Obama called on Congress to adopt “a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.” He pledged to set tougher fuel economy standards for trucks.
On climate change the President stated:
“Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
On January 31 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved plans to dump up to three million cubic meters of dredge spoil near the Great Barrier Reef. The dredging will be undertaken to expand the nearby Abbot Point port coal terminal that will facilitate increased Australian coal exports to India. Environmental opponents of the project argued that the wastes shouldbe disposed of on land.
In my blog post of January 19 I mentioned some anti-environmental provisions in the budget legislation that President Obama had signed into law on January 17. The 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act also contains some pro-environmental measures. It provides that “it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy for construction of large hydroelectric dams” (defined as those larger than 15 meters high). EcoAmericas reports that the law probably will not stop extensive construction of dams in the Amazon and other parts of South America because they are financed by other sources including Brazil and China. The law also requires U.S. directors of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to report on implementation of a 2010 agreement to provide $154.5 million in compensation to 3,500 residents of Guatemala’s Chixoy River Basin who were displaced when the Chixoy Dam was built there in the 1980s. Steven Ambrus, U.S. Signals Opposition to Large Hydro Dams, EcoAmericas, Jan. 2014, at 3.