Right now my state (Maryland) is having a spot of weather. I like to report on extreme weather for this blog, but I’m going to wait until next week when we know exactly what the story is. For now–
Recently, my social media feed has filled up with congratulatory posts on apparent climate change-related victories. I’m not sure all of them are as good news as they seem, but at least they’re not bad news. Let’s review:
Nebraska land cannot be taken by eminent domain for Keystone
The fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline is being fought on many fronts. One of those fronts is in Nebraska where a group of ranchers have been fighting to keep the pipeline from going over their land. Their argument is that if the pipeline leaks (which it will, eventually), the oil will get into the groundwater and make it impossible to earn a living from the land. Also, part of the Nebraska pipeline route passes over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the major water sources for American agriculture. A spill there, or in the sensitive Sandhills region, would be catastrophic.
The backstory on this victory is a little convoluted:
The pipeline as a whole cannot be built until the President signs off on the project because the pipeline crosses a national boundary. President Obama has so far refused to do so–he hasn’t said he won’t, and seems to be putting off committing himself for as long as possible, but he doesn’t seem to be in favor of the project, either. But even if he (or another President) does approve the pipeline, each state on the route must also approve it. If any state says no, the pipeline will be stuck. Nebraska has, officially, said yes. In 2012, the state passed a law that gave authority on pipelines to the Governor, who then approved the project. Some of the landowners said no, though. When TransCanada, the company behind Keystone, started to use eminent domain to take the land they needed, the owners of 81 properties sued on the grounds that the original law is unconstitutional. They say pipeline decisions should be made through the Nebraska Public Services Commission, which is more responsive to public opinion than the governor is.
So this past week, TransCanada dropped the lawsuit. That means the Governor’s approval is irrelevant and the pipeline must be reviewed by the Commission–a process that will take several months. At the very least, pipeline opponents have won some time, and the Commission could say no to the pipeline. In the meantime, no eminent domain. So, yay.
But it’s important to realize that TransCanada dropped the case because they think doing so is the best way to get the pipeline built as soon as possible. The Commission will render a decision in a couple of months, after all, whereas the courts could have held up the matter for years. This is not really a victory for anybody yet.
Shell decides not to drill in the Arctic Ocean
President Obama gave Shell approval to drill in the Arctic Ocean some weeks ago, much to the disappointment of environmentalists (my social media feed filled up with pronouncements that he’s a hypocrite–he’s not, he’s a politician and that means making trade-offs sometimes). This week, Shell announced that they’re not going to drill after all, becoming the latest in a series of companies to scrap Arctic Ocean plans. The company cited poor results from a test well combined with low oil prices for their decision. The Arctic Ocean is a difficult and expensive place to drill and requires a huge return–high oil prices or a huge amount of oil or both–to make it profitable. At the moment, Shell anticipates getting neither out of the deal so they have decided to cut their losses.
Naturally, environmentalists are cheering over this, jumping up and down about how Shell is “out of the Arctic.” Except that it isn’t. It’s out of the Arctic Ocean. There’s still a lot of oil in Alaska, and Alaska’s economy is still largely dependent on oil. The revenue that would have come from this project now has to come from somewhere else–somewhere else in Alaska. Like, for example, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They’ll be pushing hard for permission to do just that.
The US and China Agree to Work on Climate Issues Together. Again
This past week, the US and China announced a mutual agreement to work on climate issues in both domestic and foreign policy. Now, this is the third time they have done so, and I have yet to find any clear description of how these various agreements differ from each other. As far as I can gather, this new agreement is not much different from the earlier ones–it may indeed contain additional commitments (I just can’t tell because I can’t find a side-by-side comparison, so far), but much of it is simply a reaffirmation of existing commitments. It seems the two Presidents were simply checking up on each other, discussing their respective progress, perhaps. And both have made important progress since last time they spoke.
Frankly, if the Presidents of the two most powerful countries in the world decide to hold a press conference every couple of months to say “WE STILL BOTH THINK CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL, GUYS!” I am really ok with that.
A Day of Climate Action
Ok, this one isn’t a victory–yet. But there’s a huge network of coordinated demonstrations planned all over the US for October 14th. Remember how we all showed up for the People’s Climate March last year and the media started taking climate seriously all of a sudden? Well, let’s do it again. Click here to find an action near you.