Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Original Story:

CALGARY, Alberta—Canadian oil producers, pummeled by the prolonged slump in oil prices and a string of political setbacks, now face another challenge: higher carbon taxes. A Fort Worth oil & gas lawyer is reviewing the details of this story.

The nation’s oil-sands developers have been hit particularly hard by lower oil prices, because they are among the most expensive oil plays in the world. Already facing a corporate tax hike and the possibility of higher royalty payments in Alberta—the province richest in oil sands—the industry was dealt another blow by the Obama administration’s rejection last week of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was designed to transport oil-sands output to Gulf Coast refineries.

All major oil-sands operators in recent weeks posted losses or steep declines in profit for the most-recent quarter, as shrinking revenue outpaced cost cuts. Some global giants are rethinking future development. Late last month Royal Dutch Shell PLC shelved an 80,000-barrel-a-day project, following similar moves by Total SA of France and Norway’s Statoil ASA.

Now, ahead of a United Nations climate-change conference in Paris starting Nov. 30, oil companies await the details of moves—including possible new taxes on carbon—pledged by new governments in Ottawa and Alberta to rein in greenhouse-gas emissions, making the oil sands a global test case for climate policy. A Tulsa oil and gas lawyer represents clients in oil and gas transactions, mineral rights matters, and in royalty percentage contracts.

“Canada’s years of being a less-than-enthusiastic actor on the climate-change file are behind us,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took office last week, said at a news conference on Oct. 20, the day after his Liberal Party won national elections. Mr. Trudeau promised to start working on a framework for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions within 90 days of the Paris summit.

Within weeks of taking power in May, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government said it would double Alberta’s existing tax on carbon emissions by 2017, and has committed to additional measures in time for the U.N. conference in Paris. Ms. Notley is expected to release details of the proposals later this month. Alberta pioneered carbon taxes in 2007 when it introduced a levy of 15 Canadian dollars ($11.37) a metric ton. A Dallas energy lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of energy law.

Oil sands are among the highest-intensity greenhouse-gas producers of any oil fields in the world. Production from the oil sands has been growing at a steady clip in recent years under previous provincial and federal governments that played down climate-change risks and ignored calls from environmental groups and opposition politicians for tougher rules on carbon-dioxide emissions.

Canada’s environment ministry says the country’s CO2 emissions have continued to rise over the past five years and are expected to hit 781 million metric tons a year by 2020 if no reduction measures are taken. While oil sands account for just a fraction of that total, it is one of the fastest-growing contributors to the release of these gases. The government’s latest estimate projects oil sands-related emissions to nearly double to 103 million metric tons by 2020. A Greenville environmental attorney is following this story closely.

Mr. Trudeau’s stance is a direct challenge to Canada’s oil-sands industry, but the country’s oil producers are divided on how best to cope with the push for stricter environmental regulations.

Some, including the nation’s No. 1 oil producer, Suncor Energy Inc., say they accept the tougher rules as inevitable, and can use them to help burnish their environmental reputations. Others, such as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.—Canada’s biggest natural-gas producer and a major oil-sands leaseholder—are pushing back, warning the rules would make Canadian crude even less competitive.

The divide in the industry has surfaced in submissions by top energy companies to a government advisory panel of experts that will recommend new climate-policy measures in Alberta. A Detroit

“The time is right for a higher level of ambition in carbon policy stringency in Alberta,” Suncor said in its submission to the provincial panel.

Suncor Chief Executive Steve Williams has publicly championed new taxes on retail sales of energy such as electricity and gasoline, in addition to levies on large industrial emitters. “Every indication is that, on the road to Paris, Canada will start to take positions” to combat climate change, Mr. Williams told reporters late last month. A Detroit environmental lawyer represents clients in environmental matters.

Canadian Natural said in its submission that it objects to higher carbon taxes and other new government-mandated policies, and has called for allowing oil and gas producers to focus on new technology to cut emissions.

Its 34-slide Power Point presentation to the Alberta panel lays out the competitive challenges facing the industry and warns that tinkering with policies that directly affect oil and gas producers “is very difficult and more often than not has unintended consequences.” In a similar vein, oil-sands producer Husky Energy Inc. warns against making emission cuts deeper than in other countries such as the U.S.

“It would be politically suicidal for us to do a mea culpa and hang our neck out in a way that disadvantages the industry here,” Husky CEO Asim Ghosh said on a recent conference call.

The main industry lobby, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, is urging regulators to offset any additional cost from climate-policy changes with a cut in royalties owed to Alberta’s government from oil and gas output from provincial lands. Such a “revenue neutral” approach to reducing CO2 emissions has been backed by multinational oil giants with exposure to Canada’s oil-sands, such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Shell.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Original Story:

FORT McMURRAY, Alberta — At a camp for oil workers here, a collection of 16 three-story buildings that once housed 2,000 workers sits empty. A parking lot at a neighboring camp is now dotted with abandoned cars. With oil prices falling precipitously, capital-intensive projects rooted in the heavy crude mined from Alberta’s oil sands are losing money, contributing to the loss of about 35,000 energy industry jobs across the province. A Tulsa mineral rights lawyer is following this story closely.

Yet Alberta Highway 63, the major artery connecting Northern Alberta’s oil sands with the rest of the country, still buzzes with traffic. Tractor-trailers hauling loads that resemble rolling petrochemical plants parade past fleets of buses used to shuttle workers. Most vehicles carry “buggy whips” — bright orange pennants attached to tall spring-loaded wands — to help prevent them from being run over by the 1.6-million-pound dump trucks used in the oil sands mines.

Despite a severe economic downturn in a region whose growth once seemed limitless, many energy companies have too much invested in the oil sands to slow down or turn off the taps. In addition to the continued operation of existing plants, construction persists on projects that began before the price fell, largely because billions of dollars have already been spent on them. Oil sands projects are based on 40-year investment time frames, so their owners are being forced to wait out slumps. A Tulsa oil and gas lawyer represents gas and oil clients in federal and state matters and in federal and state courts.

“It really is tough right now,” said Greg Stringham, the vice president for markets and oil sands at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a trade group that generally speaks for the industry in Alberta. “We see kind of a lot of volatility over the next four or five years.”

After an extraordinary boom that attracted many of the world’s largest energy companies and about $200 billion worth of investments to oil sands development over the last 15 years, the industry is in a state of financial stasis, and navigating the decline has proved challenging. Pipeline plans that would create new export markets, including Keystone XL, have been hampered by environmental concerns and political opposition. The hazy outlook is creating turmoil in a province and a country that has become dependent on the energy business.

Canada is now dealing with the economic fallout, having slipped into a mild recession earlier this year. And Alberta, which relies most heavily on oil royalties, now expects to post a deficit of 6 billion Canadian dollars, or about $4.5 billion. The political landscape has also shifted.

Last spring, a left-of-center government ended four decades of Conservative rule in Alberta. Federally, polls suggest that the Conservative party — which championed Keystone XL and repeatedly resisted calls for stricter greenhouse gas emission controls in the oil sands — is struggling to get re-elected in October. A Tulsa oil and gas attorney is reviewing the details of this story.

“The pendulum has swung,” said Stephen Ross, the president of Devonian Properties, an Alberta development company that has built several residential and commercial properties in Fort McMurray.

Since the end of the World War ll, oil has made Alberta wealthy. The increase in oil sands development since the early 2000s had only intensified the province’s good fortune and turned obscure Fort McMurray into a boomtown and an outsize contributor to the entire Canadian economy.

When Mr. Ross first bought development land here in 2000, he paid about 27,000 Canadian dollars an acre. He stopped buying land long before it hit one million Canadian dollars an acre.

“The town has had huge growing pains,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s like something you’ve never seen.”

Operating oil sands plants quickly decreased budgets and cut services, like equipment cleaning, which were deemed optional. And as portions of construction projects are finished, construction workers are sent packing. The halt on new projects has left order books increasingly blank at a variety of suppliers, like engineering firms.

Since the price collapse, Teck Resources has delayed the start of its oil sands project by five years to 2026. Cenovus Energy substantially reduced budgets for its long-term developments. And Osum Oil Sands has set aside some of the expansion planned for a project it purchased from Shell last year. The Chinese-owned company Nexen, which had its oil sands production curtailed by regulators for about a month in August because of a pipeline leak, has deferred plans to build another upgrader facility, where tar-like bitumen of the oil sands is converted into synthetic crude oil, until the end of 2020.

These projects, and others that have begun over the last 15 years, have largely been built and operated by an itinerant work force. These workers fly into Fort McMurray’s new airport terminal and are bused to work camps up to two hours away. Their lives are a cycle of three straight weeks of long shifts interrupted by 10-day trips home.

That transient population has little or no connection to the city when working. When laid off, they become unemployment statistics, not in Alberta, but in the provinces of their hometowns. It’s also in those regions, more than Alberta, where the loss of once-large paychecks is most felt, having a ripple effect across the country. A Tulsa environmental lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of environmental law.

For Canadian oil executives, the significant shift in the province’s politics is of great concern. Rachel Notley, the new premier and leader of the New Democratic Party, has said that she would prefer more refining to take place in Alberta instead of shipping more oil sands production to the United States via Keystone XL. And speaking to the Alberta Chamber of Commerce last month, Ms. Notley told the energy industry that it must “clean up its environmental act.”

One executive and investor, who did not want to be named while the province is reviewing his industry, said growing sentiment that the industry does not pay Alberta enough in royalties and lags on environmental protections will kill new investments, even if prices start to rise.

“There’s never been a time when I’ve been less optimistic,” he said. “The general public doesn’t know how bad it is. It just hasn’t hit yet.”

He did, however, acknowledge that environmentalists had won the debate on Keystone XL as well as various other pipeline plans.

“I don’t know how the issue got away, but it’s obvious now that it did,” he said.

And the workers who have benefited from the boom are now realizing that their stretch of good luck might be over, permanently.

Réjean Godin, a truck driver and heavy equipment operator, began the long-distance commute from the Atlantic province of New Brunswick 13 years ago. Since then, he’s earned wages four or five times the rate of those back home, an area of high unemployment.

Standing near his well-worn Toyota RAV4 that still bears New Brunswick license plates, Mr. Godin, who lives in a work camp, recited all of the different projects in which hundreds of workers had been laid off — layoffs that he’d learned about over the previous few days. He fears that the days of high pay for delivering water to work camps and hauling their sewage away may be over for both himself and his 30-year-old son, who joined him in Alberta.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to come next year,” Mr. Godin said in the dusty yard of a trucking company in Fort MacKay, Alberta, a town down the Athabasca River from Fort McMurray. “What you hear everywhere is the price is low so we’ve got to cut this, we’ve got to shut that down a little bit. We go day by day because we never know.”


Original Story:

WASHINGTON — The company seeking to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline asked the Obama administration on Monday to suspend its yearslong review of the project, potentially bringing an abrupt halt to a politically charged debate that had become part of a broader struggle over President Obama’s environmental policies.

It was not immediately clear whether the administration would grant the request, which was swiftly denounced by environmental activists as a bid to dodge a near-certain rejection of the pipeline. Allowing the delay would push off a decision until after the 2016 presidential election. Parcel freight shipping software continues to reduce transportation costs for small companies and multi-national global corporations.

The company’s request introduced a new element of uncertainty into the administration’s decision-making process, offering the potential to free Mr. Obama from a politically difficult choice that has hung over much of his presidency. But if anything, it appeared to intensify pressure on him from crucial Democratic constituencies to reject the pipeline or risk being blamed for punting to another president. A delay would keep the issue alive in the presidential campaign.

TransCanada, the Alberta company seeking to build the 1,179-mile pipeline, made its request in a letter to the State Department, which must approve cross-border projects and had been reviewing its application for a presidential permit.

The pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels a day of carbon-heavy petroleum from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast, and the question of its approval has weighed heavily on Mr. Obama as he has sought to build an ambitious legacy on climate change. Parcel freight shipping software delivers best in class suite of shipment planning, execution, tracking, & settlement tasks all in one.

The White House had no comment on the request for a delay, which was made in a letter to John Kerry, the secretary of state, and the State Department said it was looking into it.

“We have just received TransCanada’s letter to Secretary Kerry and are reviewing it,” said Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman. “In the meantime, consideration under the executive order continues.”

Many environmental advocates and liberal activists, who have made opposing the pipeline a cause célèbre in recent years, thought that the president might finally reject it this month, viewing the time as ripe as he prepares for a major United Nations summit meeting on climate change in Paris in December.

The president hopes to help broker an agreement committing every nation to enacting new policies to counter global warming, and rejecting the pipeline would be a powerful signal to world leaders that the United States is serious about the issue.

“TransCanada is losing, and they’re trying to preserve their options to be able to build the pipeline someday if they can get a climate denier in the White House,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said in an interview. She called the request a “desperate and cynical” last-minute plea that was “ridiculous and absurd.”

“Given President Obama’s incredible leadership when it comes to climate change, we remain very confident that he will reject this dirty and dangerous pipeline once and for all,” Ms. Sittenfeld said.

In the letter to Mr. Kerry, TransCanada said it was asking the department to suspend its evaluation of the pipeline proposal until after the State of Nebraska had completed its own review of the project, which could take seven to 12 months. Opposition in Nebraska to a planned route through the state has delayed the process. A Texarkana environmental attorney is reviewing the details of this story.

“In order to allow time for certainty regarding the Nebraska route, TransCanada requests that the State Department pause in its review of the presidential permit application for KeystoneXL,” said the letter to Mr. Kerry, which was signed by Kristine Delkus, the company’s general counsel. “This will allow a decision on the permit to be made later based on certainty with respect to the route of the pipeline.”

Before TransCanada announced its request, Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, withheld any judgment on when a decision might come on the pipeline.

“The president will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline, but when exactly that will be, I don’t know at this point,” Mr. Earnest told reporters traveling with Mr. Obama.

Asked if it could happen this year, he said: “It’s possible. It’s also possible it could happen next year.”

TransCanada said there was precedent for obtaining a delay, given that the State Department put its evaluation on hold last year when the pipeline faced a legal challenge in Nebraska.

“I note that when the status of the Nebraska pipeline route was challenged last year, the State Department found it appropriate to suspend its review until that dispute was resolved,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “We feel under the current circumstances a similar suspension would be appropriate.”

But opponents said the uncertainty over the route would not ultimately alter the pipeline’s effect. Instead of granting a delay, said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist, Mr. Obama should “immediately reject” the pipeline.

Anthony Swift, the director of the Canada Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement: “Pause or no pause, we now know more than enough to do the right thing — reject the pipeline because it will worsen climate change. Altering its route through Nebraska isn’t going to change that. Keystone XL isn’t in the national interest, and the president should reject it.”

Republicans and the oil industry have demanded that the president approve the pipeline, arguing that it would create jobs and stimulate economic growth. Many Democrats, particularly those in oil-producing states, have also supported the project.

In February, congressional Democrats joined Republicans in sending Mr. Obama a bill to speed approval of the project, but he vetoed the measure, saying it impinged on the president’s authority to make the final decision.

Environmental activists have sought to block construction of the pipeline because it would be a conduit for petroleum from the Canada oil sands. The process of extracting that oil produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gases than the process of extracting conventional oil.

Still, State Department reviews have concluded that construction of the pipeline would have little impact on whether that type of oil was burned, because it was already being extracted and moving to market via rail and existing pipelines. A Netherlands environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

At the same time, both sides regard the decision on the pipeline as a major symbolic issue, an indicator of how willing Mr. Obama is to risk angering a bipartisan majority of lawmakers in the pursuit of his environmental agenda.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Original Story:

WASHINGTON — President Obama announced on Friday that he had rejected the request from a Canadian company to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending a seven-year review that had become a symbol of the debate over his climate policies.

Mr. Obama’s denial of the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, which would have carried 800,000 barrels a day of carbon-heavy petroleum from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast, comes as he seeks to build an ambitious legacy on climate change. A San Antonio environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

The move was made ahead of a major United Nations summit meeting on climate change to be held in Paris in December, when Mr. Obama hopes to help broker a historic agreement committing the world’s nations to enacting new policies to counter global warming. While the rejection of the pipeline is largely symbolic, Mr. Obama has sought to telegraph to other world leaders that the United States is serious about acting on climate change. A Utah environmental attorney is reviewing the details of this story.

The once-obscure Keystone project became a political symbol amid broader clashes over energy, climate change and the economy. The rejection of a single oil infrastructure project will have little impact on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, but the pipeline plan gained an outsize profile after environmental activists spent four years marching and rallying against it in front of the White House and across the country.

Mr. Obama said that the pipeline has occupied what he called “an overinflated role in our political discourse.”

“It has become a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter,” he said. “And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

Republicans and the oil industry had demanded that the president approve the pipeline, which they said would create jobs and stimulate economic growth. Many Democrats, particularly those in oil-producing states such as North Dakota, also supported the project. In February, congressional Democrats joined with Republicans in sending Mr. Obama a bill to speed approval of the project, but the president vetoed the measure.

The rejection of the pipeline is one of several actions Mr. Obama has taken as he intensifies his push on climate change in his last year in office. In August, he announced his most significant climate policy, a set of aggressive new regulations to cut emissions of planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants. A Texas environmental lawyer represents clients in many aspects of environmental law.

Both sides of the debate saw the Keystone rejection as a major symbolic step, a sign that the president was willing to risk angering a bipartisan majority of lawmakers in the pursuit of his environmental agenda. And both supporters and critics of Mr. Obama saw the surprisingly powerful influence of environmental activists in the decision.

“Once the grass-roots movement on the Keystone pipeline mobilized, it changed what it meant to the president,” said Douglas G. Brinkley, a historian at Rice University who writes about presidential environmental legacies. “It went from a routine infrastructure project to the symbol of an era.”

Environmental activists cheered the decision as a vindication of their influence.

“President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate,” said Bill McKibben, founder of the activist group, which led the campaign against the pipeline. “That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight.”

Environmentalists had sought to block construction of the pipeline because it would have provided a conduit for petroleum extracted from the Canadian oil sands. The process of extracting that oil produces about 17 percent more planet-warming greenhouse gases than the process of extracting conventional oil.

But numerous State Department reviews concluded that construction of the pipeline would have little impact on whether that type of oil was burned, because it was already being extracted and moving to market via rail and existing pipelines. In citing his reason for the decision, Mr. Obama noted the State Department findings that construction of the pipeline would not have created a significant number of new jobs, lowered oil or gasoline prices or significantly reduced American dependence on foreign oil.

“From a market perspective, the industry can find a different way to move that oil,” said Christine Tezak, an energy market analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington firm. “How long it takes is just a result of oil prices. If prices go up, companies will get the oil out.”

However, a State Department review also found that demand for the oil sands fuel would drop if oil prices fell below $65 a barrel, since moving oil by rail is more expensive than using a pipeline. An Environmental Protection Agency review of the project this year noted that under such circumstances, construction of the pipeline could be seen as contributing to emissions, since companies might be less likely to move the oil via expensive rail when oil prices are low — but would be more likely to move it cheaply via the pipeline. The price of oil has plummeted this year, hovering at less than $50 a barrel. A Malta environmental lawyer has managed a variety of environmental cases for a wide range of clients.

The recent election of a new Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, may also have influenced Mr. Obama’s decision. Mr. Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, had pushed the issue as a top priority in the relationship between the United States and Canada, personally urging Mr. Obama to approve the project. Blocking the project during the Harper administration would have bruised ties with a crucial ally.

While Mr. Trudeau also supports construction of the Keystone pipeline, he has not made the issue central to Canada’s relationship with the United States, and has criticized Mr. Harper for presenting Canada’s position as an ultimatum, while not taking substantial action on climate change related to the oil sands.

Mr. Trudeau did not raise the issue during his first post-election conversation with Mr. Obama.

The construction would have had little impact on the nation’s economy. A State Department analysis concluded that building the pipeline would have created jobs, but the total number represented less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation’s total employment. The analysis estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period — about 3,900 of them in construction and the rest in indirect support jobs, such as food service. The department estimated that the project would create about 35 permanent jobs.

Republicans and the oil industry criticized Mr. Obama for what they have long said was his acquiescence to the pressure of activists and environmentally minded political donors.

“A decision this poorly made is not symbolic, but deeply cynical,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It does not rest on the facts — it continues to distort them.”

Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies, said in a statement, “Unfortunately for the majority of Americans who have said they want the jobs and economic benefits Keystone XL represents, the White House has placed political calculations above sound science.”

Russ Girling, the president and chief executive of TransCanada, said in a statement that the president’s decision was not consistent with the State Department’s review. “Today, misplaced symbolism was chosen over merit and science,” said Mr. Girling, whose company is based in Calgary, Alberta. “Rhetoric won out over reason.”

The statement said that the company was reviewing the decision but offered no indication if it planned to submit a new application. If a Republican wins the 2016 presidential election, a new submission of the pipeline permit application could yield a different outcome.

“President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge mistake, and is the latest reminder that this administration continues to prioritize the demands of radical environmentalists over America’s energy security,” said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president. “When I’m president, Keystone will be approved, and President Obama’s backward energy policies will come to an end.”

As Mr. Obama seeks to carve out a substantial environmental legacy, his decision on the pipeline pales in import compared with his use of Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The power plant rules he announced in August have met with legal challenges, but if they are put in place, they could lead to a transformation of the nation’s energy economy, shuttering fossil fuel plants and rapidly increasing production of wind and solar.

Those rules are at the heart of Mr. Obama’s push for a global agreement.

But advocates of the agreement said that the Keystone decision, even though it is largely symbolic, could show other countries that Mr. Obama is willing to make tough choices about climate change.

“The rejection of the Keystone permit was key for the president to keep his climate chops at home and with the rest of the world,” said Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a Washington research organization.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Original Story:

In less than two weeks, the Mighty Marysville power plant is coming down.

Public Safety Chief Tom Konik said the city granted a blast permit for Nov. 7 for the implosion of the former DTE Energy power plant. A Michigan environmental lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Konik announced the implosion date during the city’s Monday council meeting.

Crews began to dismantle the plant in spring 2014 to make way for new development at the site. Commercial Development Company purchased the plant from DTE Energy in May 2014.

The 12-story plant operated from 1932 through 2001. It was decommissioned in 2011.

Last week, Marysville unveiled conceptual plans for the site — plans that included a multi-floor hotel, condominium housing, shops, outdoor seating, a park and riverfront promenade. A Cleveland environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

In September, the city set conditions that had to be met before the building could be imploded.

Konik said nearly all of those requirements have been met, and the remaining ones will be met prior to the implosion.

Conditions included an independent confirmation that hazardous material had been removed from the site, a model displaying post-blast dust dispersal, and safety assurances from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Konik said experts have researched potential issues that might arise because of dust or vibrations created by the roughly 8.5-second implosion. While dust is unavoidable, Konik said, officials have mapped out areas that could be impacted and will spray water on the building and grounds to mitigate potential issues. A Greenville environmental lawyer represents clients in all areas of general environmental law, including but limited to toxic torts and air pollution allegations.

Water trucks and other cleanup equipment will be standing by in the event of any issues.

Konik said the city’s water intake will be closed just prior to the implosion as a precaution, but he doesn’t expect the anticipated dust to affect downriver intakes.

“We’ve done all of the modeling of the potentials to show that none of those structures appear to have any risk,” Konik said.

“We’ve talked about planning for worse case scenarios and we think we’re prepared for the worse case scenario.”

The implosion is scheduled for 8 a.m. Nov. 7, but Konik said roadways will be shut down in the “exclusion zone” from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Gratiot Boulevard from Ravenswood Road to St. James Street will be shut down as part of the exclusion zone. Busha Highway from Gratiot Boulevard to Huron Boulevard also will be closed during that time.

Konik said, while the implosion is not a “spectator’s sport,” the best view of the implosion would be at Market Square on Gratiot Boulevard in Marysville, across the river in Canada, or by boat outside the exclusion zone on the St. Clair River.

Businesses within the exclusion zone _ Blue Water Aggregate, Linwood Bar, and All State Insurance – will make other accommodations during the implosion.

Residents within the exclusion area must either leave the area during that time or stay indoors as the noise of the blast will reach high levels.

Konik said Sitetech Inc. will have an area for residents in the exclusion zone to stay if they wish to leave their homes during the implosion.

Residents in the exclusion zone will be contacted before the implosion.

Mike Brehse, project manager with Sitetech Inc., said he expects the cleanup after the implosion to take about six months.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Original Story:

FAIRFIELD, Oh. (WLWT) -- A giant crater was left behind after a lightning strike Monday evening caused an explosion of an underground fuel storage tank near Dixie Highway.

Police said told WLWT that lightning struck and ignited a 10,000 gallon underground fuel storage tank at the Gas Depot at 4871 Dixie Highway.

The blast left behind a crater 40 feet in diameter by 8 feet deep. Firefighters said there were two customers at the station when the bolt hit, but luckily no one was pumping gas at the time. FRP piping is designed for aggressive chemical environments.

"Very loud! Like I said, the concussion when I was sitting there, it threw me back and I looked up and saw as soon as it came up there was an instant puff of black smoke that came up and I knew it was close," said Roger Tucker, who watched from his porch about a half a mile away.

Even seasoned firefighters were wowed after they say lightning hit the fill dome of a 10,000 gallon underground diesel fuel tank at Fairfield's Gas Depot.

"I can tell you in my 45 year career, I have never seen anything like this. Underground storage tanks are put there to reduce the potential for fire," said Fairfield Fire Chief Donald Bennett.

Fearing two other 10,000 gallon fuel tanks could be compromised, firefighters ordered evacuations for anyone in a 2,000 foot radius.  An environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

"We erred on the side of caution. Obviously, the training we have, we talk about what potentially could happen if 30 thousand gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline would go up. It's a fairly large fireball," Chief Bennett said.

Firefighters kept their distance and blanketed the blaze with foam. After an hour and a half, they let people back in their homes.

Staring at the aftermath just a stone's throw from her house, Chris Schluter said her nightmare came true on Monday afternoon.

"This is always your fear and now, you know, it kind of makes you a little nervous," Schluter said.

Firefighters said there was a slight diesel vapor still lingering on Monday night. Police were standing guard throughout the overnight hours. Firefighters said the two other tanks would be dug up on Tuesday to see if either was compromised.


Original Story:

More than 138 million people — nearly 44% of the U.S. population — live in areas where air pollution reaches dangerously high levels during parts of the year. While exposure to low quality air has declined in recent years, some cities still experience alarming levels of pollution. Based on “State of the Air,” a report released annually by the American Lung Association (ALA), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 leading metro areas with the highest levels of year-round particle pollution. The report considers two types of pollution: ozone pollution and particle pollution, which can be measured both in short and long-term. Speaking to 24/7 Wall St., Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy at the ALA, explained the three measures. Ozone is a gas formed in the atmosphere through heat, sunlight, and certain gases that can attack lung tissue. Particle pollution is tiny pieces of matter so small that they can bypass the body’s defenses and be inhaled into the lungs. The long-term particulate measure is the average, daily pollution generated by factories, fires, and transportation. Long term particle pollution is measured in micrograms per cubic meter (ug/M3). The short-term particulate measure represents how many days of extreme air pollution occur, and usually reflects how extreme conditions such as fire or drought are creating abnormally high levels of unhealthy particles.

These are America’s 10 most polluted cities.

10. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio
Average year-round particle pollution: 12.5 ug/M3
People with asthma: 339,464
Population: 3,501,538
High ozone days per year: 10.8
Home to more than 3.5 million people, the Cleveland metro area has some of the most polluted air in the country. Cleveland was actually one of five cities that yielded its lowest yearly average particle pollution in the ALA’s 2015 report. Despite the improvement, the metropolitan area still had a much higher than acceptable level of particle pollution. Particle pollution is often the byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels in such places as factories, power plants, and personal vehicles. Manufacturing activity — a long time major economic engine in the Cleveland area — has certainly contributed to the city’s poor air quality. Nearly 340,000 Cleveland residents suffer from asthma, and 232,000 area adults have been diagnosed with COPD. Especially vulnerable to pollution related health risks are the area’s more than 1.3 million residents younger than 18 or older than 65.

9. Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Penn.-Ohio-W.Va.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.4 ug/M3
People with asthma: 256,406
Population: 2,659,937
High ozone days per year: 12.5
During the golden age of steel production in Pittsburgh, the area was one of the most polluted cities in the U.S. By many accounts, between the factories and the smoke from the coal that was used to heat residents’ homes, the sky was black with smoke before 9 a.m. every morning. While Pittsburgh is a much less industrial city today and the air quality has improved somewhat, the city remains one of the most polluted cities in the country. According to Nolen, the biggest source of pollution in the area is the U.S. Steel plant. The city received failing grades in ozone pollution as well as in long-term and short-term particle pollution. More than a quarter of a million Pittsburgh residents have asthma, a condition which can be exacerbated by air pollution. Above, Randy Geracitano works on a home near the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh in 2013. The plant has since been shut down. A Pittsburgh environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

8. Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.6 ug/M3
People with asthma: 213,812
Population: 2,196,629
High ozone days per year: 12.2
Like most cities with high particle pollution, the Cincinnati metro area also has a problem with severe ozone pollution. The greater Cincinnati area has been under several air quality advisories this past summer due to dangerously high ozone levels. Similar to California’s Central Valley, high traffic volumes in the Cincinnati area contribute to high pollution levels. In addition, the city is located in a valley, which, like the mountains surrounding Central Valley, helps trap emissions. Above, a coal plant on the Ohio River near Cincinnati.

7. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 13.8 ug/M3
People with asthma: 744,481
Population: 8,469,854
High ozone days per year: 8.8
The San Francisco Bay Area, which includes the cities of Oakland and San Jose, has the third-largest combined population at risk of illness due to air pollution, at close to 8.5 million. The metro area reported the most days with high particle pollution on record because of the addition of San Joaquin county to the region. The county was the only one in the metro area to fail the ALA’s test for ozone levels and short- and long-term particle pollution. San Joaquin county had an average of 54 days a year in either orange-level conditions, which are unhealthy for people with sensitive respiratory tracts, or in red conditions, which are unhealthy for everyone. A San Francisco environmental attorney represents clients in environmental law matters.

6. El Centro, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 14.3 ug/M3
People with asthma: 15,439
Population: 176,584
High ozone days per year: 16.2
Like many of the most polluted metro areas in California, El Centro residents suffer from high levels of both ozone and particle pollution. Located in Imperial County, El Centro residents have experienced an average of 16 high-ozone days a year, which is sixth-worst in the country. Known more commonly as smog, high ozone levels occur when fumes from burning fossil fuels are exposed to sunlight. Prolonged exposure to high ozone levels can exacerbate existing respiratory conditions and contribute to early death. More than 15,000 El Centro residents live with asthma, and 5,700 adult residents have been diagnosed with COPD. Above, the Naval Air Facility in El Centro.

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 15.1 ug/M3
People with asthma: 1.6 million
Population: 18.4 million
High ozone days per year: 117.7
Los Angeles port’s cargo volume this past July was the highest ever in its over 100-year history. According to the EPA, high traffic through the port creates higher emissions that contribute to poor air quality throughout the region. High concentrations of power plants, including numerous oil and gas, petroleum, and electricity plants, release tens of millions of metric tons of carbon emissions each year. While the area is among the nation’s most polluted, Los Angeles reported its lowest pollution levels since the ALA started producing this report. Still, in Los Angeles, residents have experienced an average of 117.7 days of high ozone levels each year, the most of any U.S. metropolitan area. A Los Angeles environmental lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of environmental law.

4. Modesto-Merced, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 15.7 ug/M3
People with asthma: 69,027
Population: 788,719
High ozone days per year: 22.3
Modesto residents have experienced an average of 22 high ozone days per year. Only seven metro areas in the country had a greater number of high ozone days. Located almost directly in the center of California’s Central Valley, an area surrounded on three sides by mountains that limit wind and annual rainfall, polluted air stagnates in Modesto. The city was one of six in the country that failed to meet federal air quality standards and where particle pollution worsened since last year’s report. Nearly 70,000 Modesto residents suffer from asthma, and over 25,000 area adults have been diagnosed with COPD.

3. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 17.0 ug/M3
People with asthma: 52,749
Population: 605,103
High ozone days per year: 82.7
Visalia is located almost directly in between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The city had an average of nearly 83 high-ozone days a year, the second highest rate in the country. The Visalia metro area was one of six California metros to break the top 10 for ozone pollution, ranking second in the nation despite this year reporting the fewest days of unhealthy ozone levels in its reporting history. On the other hand, the city, like many other valley cities, experienced its worst year for particulate pollution.

2. Bakersfield, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 17.3 ug/M3
People with asthma: 75,406
Population: 864,124
High ozone days per year: 69.7
Bakersfield residents have endured nearly 70 high-ozone level days a year, the third highest rate compared with other U.S. cities. Still, this was a considerable improvement for the area when compared with years past since the ALA began reporting on air quality. As in other California metro areas, however, particularly those in the state’s Central Valley, annual particle pollution worsened last year, partly due to the severe drought conditions in the region. Also, the topography and industrial composition of the Valley is conducive to air pollution problems. Adding to the region’s especially poor air quality is pollution generated by cars and trucks traveling through the region’s major thruways and the toxic gases from manure on the millions of acres of the area’s farmland. Above, oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field where the principle operator is the Chevron Corporation CVX, +1.07%   in Bakersfield.

1. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
Average year-round particle pollution: 18.1 ug/M3
People with asthma: 96,760
Population: 1,107,661
High ozone days per year: 68
Air pollution improved in Fresno-Madera, but the metro area is still the most polluted in the country, as it was in the ALA’s 2014 report. As in other parts of California, the statewide, multiyear drought has likely worsened air quality in the area over the past several years. Hot and dry weather can promote dust storms and wildfires, which trap particulates generated by power plants and other carbon emitters. Fresno residents have experienced an average of 68 high-ozone days a year, the sixth highest rate in the country. A Fresno environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Original Story:

A company backed by billionaire Elon Musk on Friday said it will produce the world's most efficient solar panel.

The new panel by SolarCity, the biggest US home solar power installer, will convert sunlight into electricity at a 22.04 per cent rate, topping the 21.5 per cent made by rival SunPower, the company said. The industry average stands around 16 to 17 per cent. A Houston energy lawyer is following this story closely.

SolarCity, which was conceived by Mr Musk and his cousin Lyndon Rive while on their way to the Burning Man festival in 2004, started out installing and supporting solar systems for homes, businesses and schools.

But last year, with the acquisition of start-up Silevo, the company expanded into making the panels as well, claiming it would build more efficient systems to cut the costs of its products. A Pittsburgh environmental lawyer represents clients in environmental law matters.

"At the time, people probably thought: 'wow, that's stupid'," said Mr Musk of his foray into solar panel production. "I kind of like counterintuitive moves."

SolarCity is betting on solar power becoming more widely popular, after the costs of solar panels have dropped dramatically in the past few years amid a boost in Chinese production.

The average cost of a solar electric system has dropped 50 per cent since the start of 2010, the Obama administration said in August when announcing plans to support solar, wind and renewable energy projects.

Nearly 600,000 US homes have solar panels, according to GTM research.

Mr Rive said that as costs continue to fall he expects solar power will become the dominant source of energy by 2040, and the higher power output from each of its new panels will cut costs even further, by 15 to 20 cents per watt. A real estate development lawyer in Pittsburgh provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of real estate law.

"When done right, high efficiency and low cost end up being the same thing," said Mr Musk. "There's limited space on rooftops, so you want to generate as much energy as you can from that given space, to compete with natural gas or coal."

SolarCity last year announced plans to build one of the world's largest solar panel plants in upstate New York, bucking the trend of solar manufacturing being dominated by Asia.

Mr Musk said he wants to dispel beliefs that solar energy is not a viable replacement for fossil fuels. "For a long time with Tesla [the electric cars manufacturer], they said we couldn't make it. By acting first.....this helps shift big players in the industry in the right direction." A Tennessee automotive lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Speaking at a SolarCity event in New York, Mr Musk also touched on his ambitions to colonise Mars by sending a fusion bomb to create "two tiny pulsing suns" to warm the planet. "A lot of people don't appreciate that our sun is a giant fusion explosion."

Shares in SolarCity — of which Mr Musk holds a 23 per cent stake — climbed 7 per cent on Friday, but have fallen 20 per cent in the past year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Original Story:

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (AP) — Two of California's fastest-burning wildfires in decades overtook several Northern California towns, killing at least one person and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and sending thousands of residents fleeing highways lined with buildings, guardrails and cars still in flames. A Minneapolis environmental lawyer is reviewing the details of this case,

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection confirmed one fatality in the wildfire north of San Francisco that raced through dry brush and exploded in size within hours. Officials also counted 400 homes, two apartment complexes and 10 businesses destroyed by the flames, department spokeswoman Lynn Valentine said.

Valentine couldn't provide details on the circumstances of the death. A call to the Lake County Sheriff's office has not been returned.

In addition, up to 1,000 structures such as barns, sheds and other outbuildings were burned, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

The devastation comes after a separate wildfire to the southeast destroyed at least 81 homes.

Residents fled from Middletown, dodging smoldering telephone poles, downed power lines and fallen trees as they drove through billowing smoke. A Charleston environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

Whole blocks of houses were burned in parts of the town of more than 1,000 residents that lies about 20 miles north of the famed Napa Valley. On the west side of town, house after house was burned to their foundations, with only charred appliances and twisted metal garage doors still recognizable.

Firefighters on Sunday afternoon could be seen driving around flaming utility poles to put out spot fires. Homeowner Justin Galvin, 33, himself a firefighter, stood alone at his house, poking its shin-high, smoking ruins with a piece of scrap metal.

"This is my home. Or it was," said Galvin, who spent all night fighting another massive fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Valentine said most of the destruction occurred in Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake, as well as numerous homes along a shuttered state highway.

Wind gusts that reached up to 30 miles per hour sent embers raining down on homes and made it hard for firefighters to stop the Lake County blaze from advancing, Berlant said.

Four firefighters who are members of a helicopter crew suffered second-degree burns during the initial attack on the fire Saturday afternoon. They remained hospitalized in stable condition.

The fire continued to burn in all directions, triggering the evacuation of a stretch along Highway 281, including Clear Lake Riviera, a town with about 3,000 residents. It was threatening critical communications infrastructure as well as a power plant, Cal Fire said.

The 78-square-mile fire erupted Saturday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile stretch of State Route 29 were evacuated. Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday declared a state of emergency to free up resources.

Brown had already declared a state of emergency for a separate 102-square-mile wildfire about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento that has destroyed at least 81 homes and turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white. A Cleveland environmental lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of environmental law.

Crews increased containment on that blaze to 25 percent.

The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, was threatening about 6,400 more buildings.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said this summer's fires are the most volatile he has seen in 30 years of emergency response work. The main cause behind the fast-spreading fires is dry conditions from the four-year drought, he said.

"The bushes, the trees have absolutely no moisture in them, and the humidities are so low that we are seeing these 'fire starts' just erupt into conflagrations," Ghilarducci said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Lake County saw devastation in just the last two months. In late July, a wildfire east of Clear Lake destroyed 43 homes as it spread across 109 square miles. As firefighters drew close to surrounding that blaze, another fire erupted several miles from the community of Lower Lake on Aug. 9 and more than doubled in size overnight.

Residents in the area had to evacuate from their homes two times in as many weeks.

East of Fresno, the largest wildfire in the state continued to march westward and away from the Giant Sequoia trees, fire spokesman Dave Schmitt said. The fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 203 square miles and was 31 percent contained Sunday, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Firefighters have maintained a precautionary line around Grant Grove, an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees, and set prescribed burns to keep the flames from overrunning it.

Some fire came through the area but it hasn't done much harm, fire spokesman Frank Mosbacher told the Fresno Bee.

The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet tall. There are dozens of Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada, and some trees are 3,000 years old.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Original Story:

Across California this summer, residents have been racking up water conservation numbers that defy expectations — a 27% reduction in June, followed by 31.3% in July.

Perhaps more impressive than the percentage figures, however, is the actual volume of water saved over two months: 414,800 acre-feet.

That's a lot of water — more than twice the amount projected to be available annually from two proposed storage facilities that would cost a combined $3.5 billion to build: the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River and an expansion of Shasta Dam. A Denver natural resources lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The conservation performance raises a host of possibilities, and profound questions, for water policy analysts and managers as they contemplate California's hydrological future in an era of climate change and increased competition for an essential natural resource.

Some experts see an approach following the lead of the energy sector in California.

In the last quarter century or so, a "soft path" to energy reliability — one built on conservation, innovation and mutual incentives for buyers and sellers alike — has replaced the brute strategy of building all the generation plants needed to power all of the state all of the time.

Advocates for a comparable approach regarding water envision a mix of heightened consumer awareness, especially when it comes to landscaping options, as well as increased efficiencies in homes, industry and agriculture.

They also point to better reuse of water through groundwater reclamation, recycling and rainwater capture, and a reformulation of a financial model so that water agencies are not forced to charge more when their customers use less. A Houston energy lawyer assists landowners in resolving disputes involving operators' improper use of the land and other breaches of their contracts with landowners.

"The reality is that there are so many soft paths that we can take that might have a lot less environmental impact and be a lot less expensive, and still meet our future demand," said Newsha Ajami, director of urban water policy for Stanford's Water in the West initiative. "This is probably a smarter tack than building more infrastructure, and moving more water around long distances."

Scientist Amory Lovins popularized the term "negawatt" in the 1980s to describe the idea that there is marketable value in power not produced or consumed.

Utilities clamoring for more generation plants "have gotten into the terrible habit of looking at the top line instead of the bottom line, because for a century they've had sales and revenues going up together," Lovins observed in a 1989 speech entitled "The Negawatt Revolution."

"For some reason, it's hard for them to get used to the idea that it's perfectly all right to sell less electricity, and so bring in less revenue, as long as costs go down more than revenues do," he said.

Asked to ponder the possibilities of a "negawater" revolution, Lovins in an interview ran down a list of two dozen or more approaches that might be borrowed from the energy sector and applied to water.

They included incentives for appliance stores to stock only the most water-efficient products, fostering "robust and diverse" markets that would place a tradeable value on conserved water, and finding ways for water providers to balance their books even as they sold less water.

He even suggested retraining the state's famously energetic bar of water lawyers to become water traders instead.

Some of the suggestions, he said, already could be found piecemeal in California and elsewhere. But a comprehensive approach, Lovins said, could make California "not permanently water rich, but permanently water secure."

He pointed to work of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water think tank. With the Natural Resources Defense Council, it published a report last year that identified a host of measures that, if pursued in California, could generate 10 million to 14 million acre-feet of water a year without creating major crimps in lifestyle or dents in the economy. A Birmingham natural resources lawyer is following this story closely.

The institute's Peter Gleick, a longtime proponent of a softer approach to water supply development, said the conservation response to the drought only underscored the potential.

"I think the message is pretty clear," he said. "The idea that we can build traditional infrastructure and have any hope that it will solve our water problems is an idea from the last century and not the current one. … There is still vast untapped potential to do all that we want to do in this state with less water."

While applauding the response of Californians, many water policy experts also cautioned against seeing conservation as a permanent panacea. Said Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation: "Conservation is one of the tools, but I would not want to count on it completely."

Many advocate an every-tool-in-the-shed approach, which state water board chair Felicia Marcus likes to call "belts, suspenders and flying monkeys." And that would include increased storage capacity, whether above ground in reservoirs or below in aquifers.

"The debate on storage water," said Ellen Hanak, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California, "is more about where are we going to put the water, rather than should we do it."

Climate change, she said, might mean the Sierra snowpack will become less reliable from year to year and, if so, an increased capacity to capture and store rainwater will become crucial. In fact, the paucity of snowmelt in this drought has been its distinctive natural feature.

"That is why," Hanak said, "this drought is the drought of the future."

If a greater reliance on rainfall is the future, the Sonoma County Water Agency has been living that future for its entire 65 years. None of the water it supplies to districts serving 600,000 customers north of San Francisco comes from Sierra snowmelt or passes through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The system lives on rainwater, and thus can be seen as something of a proving ground for the state. While residents served by the agency exceeded mandatory reduction targets for two consecutive months, ahead looms a potentially cruel paradox.

Large-scale reductions in consumption also cut into revenues for those in the business of selling water. In time, local agencies must either ask consumers to relax their water-wise efforts, curtail services and maintenance or raise rates, creating a use-less, pay-more paradigm for their customers — and a conservation buzz kill.

In the drought, the Sonoma agency has dipped into reserves to offset the decline in revenues: $6 million last year alone. Looking for a more stable foothold, General Manager Grant Davis and his colleagues are pursuing a long-term approach that will allow water conservation to continue without having to face a financial penalty.

"We have got to get to the point where you use less and ultimately pay less," Davis said.

That will require restraining demand while finding ways to move water more inexpensively, and at the same time ensuring, as Davis put it, that "every molecule that we produce is preserved and extended."

To that end, the agency attacked energy costs by turning to renewables — solar, geothermal, hydroelectric — and building a carbon-free delivery system.

It has engaged scientists in research to better understand storm systems called atmospheric rivers, which in the rainy seasons will allow dam operators to make more nuanced decisions about when to release water for flood control purposes and when to hold it.

It has improved capabilities to clean up and recycle wastewater and replenish aquifers. And it has worked with residential customers to swap out leaky toilets, install turf lawns and employ other conservation efforts.

Along Dry Creek, a major artery for the Sonoma system, the agency intends to spend $50 million to enhance the natural channel, enabling it to deliver water for customers in the summer while also meeting federal mandates to better protect the creek's fall run of coho salmon. The alternative would be a $200-million pipeline to bypass the creek.

By taking this approach, Davis said last week, standing beside the pleasantly gurgling creek, "I can say confidently that we can use less water, and stretch our water supplies further, and pay less money."

Not an unhappy outcome all around.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Original Story:

One-third of the country is in a drought, according to the federal government, affecting 95 million people. Despite the urgency, America is still losing a lot of water it still has.

For example: There are nearly a quarter-million water main breaks a year, according to the American Water Works Association. Two trillion gallons of drinkable water are lost annually due to a variety of reasons, including leaks, though that number is an educated guess. Nobody really knows for sure. Perma-Pier plumbing repair specializes in all residential and commercial foundation specific plumbing.

The underground infrastructure is getting old and needs to be replaced, but no one wants to pay for it. "It's hard to own something you don't see," said Madelyn Glickfeld of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Nowhere is the job of laying new pipe more daunting than in Los Angeles, where there are 7,000 miles of freshwater pipes under the city. "That's enough pipe to go from here all the way to New York and back," said Marty Adams, assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Many of the pipes are almost a century old, including one that burst in spectacular fashion last year, flooding Sunset Boulevard and much of UCLA. Just this week in Newport Beach, a million gallons of water flooded a neighborhood because of a ruptured main.

The problem in many cities is that the infrastructure was built in with construction. "The original investments that are embedded in everyone's house price and every building cost, those have all now worn out, and so now we need new rate money to go in and replace all that," said Adams.  Poor construction or corrosion can cause unexpected pipe damage at any time, requiring plumbing repair services.

The DWP is trying to persuade ratepayers to pay 18 percent more on average to fund a speed-up in pipe replacement. What kind of speed-up? The department claims it can replace about 100 to 200 feet of pipe a day, and to replace the whole system would take nearly 300 years—three centuries—a number that seems incomprehensible. A rate hike would provide the funds to cut that time in half, adding $2.7 billion in the next five years alone. Adams said faster pipe replacement has a proven record, cutting the number of water main breaks by 40 percent.

But even as pipe bursts have become a common occurrence, the DWP faces a tough sell. It also deals with negative stories about mismanagement of funds, and in a city that uses half a billion gallons of drinkable water a day, Adams recognizes the challenge in persuading customers to pay more to maintain something they don't even think about. "It's underground, it's not very fancy, it doesn't get you anything new," he said.

The problem in many cities is that the infrastructure was built in with construction. "The original investments that are embedded in everyone's house price and every building cost, those have all now worn out, and so now we need new rate money to go in and replace all that," said Adams.

The DWP is trying to persuade ratepayers to pay 18 percent more on average to fund a speed-up in pipe replacement. What kind of speed-up? The department claims it can replace about 100 to 200 feet of pipe a day, and to replace the whole system would take nearly 300 years—three centuries—a number that seems incomprehensible. A rate hike would provide the funds to cut that time in half, adding $2.7 billion in the next five years alone. Adams said faster pipe replacement has a proven record, cutting the number of water main breaks by 40 percent. A Chicago environmental attorney is following this story closely.

But even as pipe bursts have become a common occurrence, the DWP faces a tough sell. It also deals with negative stories about mismanagement of funds, and in a city that uses half a billion gallons of drinkable water a day, Adams recognizes the challenge in persuading customers to pay more to maintain something they don't even think about. "It's underground, it's not very fancy, it doesn't get you anything new," he said.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Original Story:

The Colorado River begins as snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains and ends 1,450 miles south in Mexico after making a final sacrifice to the United States: water for the farm fields in this powerhouse of American produce.

Throughout the winter, perfect heads of romaine, red-and-green lettuce, spinach and broccoli are whisked from the warm desert soil here onto refrigerated trucks that deliver them to grocery stores across the continent. If you eat a green salad between Thanksgiving and April, whether in Minnesota, Montreal or Modesto, odds are good that some of it was grown in or around Yuma. A Houston water rights lawyer is following this story closely.

The summer freshness on all of those winter plates reflects the marvel of engineering the Colorado has become — and why managing the river in the Southwest's changing landscape seems so daunting.

The Colorado is suffering from a historic drought that has exposed the region's dependence on a single, vulnerable resource. Nearly 40 million people in seven states depend on the river, a population some forecasts say could nearly double in the next 50 years.

The drought, now in its 16th year, has made one fact brutally clear: The Colorado cannot continue to meet the current urban, agricultural, hydroelectric and recreational demands on it — and the point at which the river will fall short could come sooner than anyone thought.A San Antonio water rights lawyer represents clients in issues that arise int he water rights litigation context, in mediation, arbitration, and trial in state and federal courts.

The Colorado River Basin

That is true even after an unusually wet spring in the Rocky Mountains, where runoff feeds the Colorado and its tributaries.

In the decades to come, federal officials say, significant shortages are likely to force water-supply cutbacks in parts of the basin, the first in the more than 90 years that the river has been managed under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. A Fairfield County natural resources attorney represents clients in water rights issues.

They would not apply evenly. In Arizona, which would take the steepest cuts, officials are warning that the elaborate conservation measures and infrastructure put in place in the 1980s to guard against shortages will probably not be sufficient. As the drought continues, serious shortages and more severe cutbacks have become more likely.

Farmers who grow cattle feed and cotton in central Arizona could be forced to let fields lie fallow, maybe for good, and cities like Phoenix might have to begin reusing wastewater and even capping urban growth, the region's economic engine.

Here in Yuma, though, there may be no cuts at all. Thanks to the seemingly endless idiosyncrasies of the rules governing the Colorado, much of metropolitan Phoenix could theoretically become a ghost town while Yuma keeps planting lettuce in the desert.

The looming shortages have opened a contentious new conversation here in Arizona, with increasing calls for rethinking the way the state divides the water it also shares with six other states, including California. Some experts say that a recalibration is in order — that while it may not make sense for millions of people to live in the arid West, people should take precedence over growing leafy greens on an industrial scale.

In a 2013 study, the Bureau of Reclamation suggested transferring about a million acre-feet of water from farms. Academics say it is only a matter of time before agriculture is forced to yield some of its supply — and that farmers could benefit financially from such transfers.

That kind of talk is rattling farmers in Yuma. They know they have water priority but not necessarily political priority.

"They believe there's a target on their backs," said Tom Buschatzke, who leads the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "I believe they're right."

Farmers here do not intend to go quietly. Some come from families that were here when the big cities of the modern Southwest were little more than crossroads.

"We have a legal right to this," said Mark Smith, who farms about 500 acres in Yuma and leads one of six irrigation districts in the area. "The guys who say this is an easy fix — it's not an easy fix. We're growing vital crops."

"This is a national debate," Smith added, "because we're supplying the entire nation."

Few rivers are asked to work as hard at the Colorado. Ranchers in western Colorado use the river to water pastures for beef cattle, while Denver and its suburbs channel it east across the mountains to enable city living. Las Vegas and other southern Nevada communities draw up to 90% of their water from the Colorado. Hoover Dam and others convert its flow into power. After Arizona and California take their share, the river exits — evaporates, really — through the dry remnants of a delta leading to the Gulf of California.

If a shortage is declared, California is one state that would not face any immediate cutbacks, thanks to an agreement reached with Arizona in 1968. That pact allowed Arizona to build one of the nation's most ambitious water-supply systems, the Central Arizona Project, but it also ensured that much of Arizona would take steep cuts if a shortage is declared.

Yuma is an exception.

Wedged into a wrinkle of borderland between California and Mexico, farms here have been drawing water from the Colorado since the late 19th century. Their early presence here earned the area the most-senior water rights in Arizona and some of the most-senior in the basin. Of the approximately 15 million acre-feet of water allocated for use each year across the entire basin, about 1 million acre-feet — nearly 7% of all of the water — goes to just 150,000 acres of farmland here.

By comparison, the 5 million water users in Phoenix and Tucson share about 1.5 million acre-feet. California has rights to the largest share, 4.4 million acre-feet, and even under the most dire scenarios it is virtually certain to always receive it. The law of the river says so. A Denver natural resources lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Yet even as parties in the basin are often wary of one another — and not equal partners — most emphasize the need to work together under the current rules. The alternative, some fear, is that the federal government will intervene.

"There are many who have advocated for years that you have to change it significantly," said Wade Noble, a lawyer for the Yuma County Agricultural Water Coalition. "We, of course, resist that because with our priority we benefit from the [current] law the most."

In February, Noble helped draft a report by the coalition intended as a preemptive strike against anyone eyeing Yuma water. In it, Yuma leaders argue that the region has become more productive and profitable while also reducing its water use as it has shifted its focus to winter vegetables over the last four decades.

Yet the region still uses an extraordinary amount of water. High soil salinity has led farmers to flood fields in an attempt to wash salt away from fragile roots, then provide more water for irrigation. And in an era seeing the rise of seasonal, locally grown foods, Yuma strikes some as emblematic of old ways of thinking about what people should eat and when.

Then again, farmers in Yuma say cities have been allowed to grow with little concern for the water required to sustain them. They note, too, that most of their crops align with a growing emphasis on healthful eating.

"They are doing a lot of things right," said Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona who specializes in water issues.

But Glennon has also warned that Yuma farmers and others in the arid West may have only so much control over their fate — a lesson farmers in parts of California, dependent on other rivers, are learning during the historic drought there. He has encouraged farmers to reduce production so they can sell or lease a portion of their water rights to cities. Research shows that a cut of just 4% in certain agricultural areas could increase the water supply by 50% for some cities, he said. An Austin water rights lawyer regularly assists water districts, municipalities, industry, and landowners in all aspects of water law.

Farmers here say the entire region was settled on an ethic of national service. The Bureau of Reclamation began building canals feeding off the Colorado in the first years of the 20th century.

Edward C. Cuming arrived in the summer of 1902, an Irishman who had first migrated to Alberta, Canada, before moving south. Cuming homesteaded 160 acres just south of Yuma, irrigating them with the new canals. The Depression forced him to sell 40 acres but also led to a new era of government support for the area.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expanded and improved irrigation canals across the Yuma area. One of those channels, stamped "CCC 1940," is known as the Cuming Canal. It runs directly in front of fields now owned by Edward Cuming's grandson, Jim Cuming.

"When we had an abundant supply of water, the farmer was doing a great job," said Cuming, 77, sitting on a concrete culvert above the Cuming Canal while cloudy Colorado River water surged beneath him.

"Now all of a sudden he's a villain because he uses too much to produce your fruit and fiber."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Original Story:

Every columnist has his or her “go to” sources, people we rely on for their deep understanding of a particular subject, and a mode of thinking about that subject we find persuasive. For me, one such person is Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. An Austin energy lawyer is following this story closely.

Levi believes in the power of facts. Though sensitive to the importance of dealing with climate change, he doesn’t indulge in the hyperbole that you sometimes hear from environmentalists. And while he appreciates the economic import of fracking and shale gas, he isn’t afraid to call out the industry on its problems. Early in the fracking boom, he went to Pennsylvania to observe what drilling for shale gas was doing to communities — and came away believing that “it was going to stir up much more local controversy than many were assuming.” Which is exactly what happened.

For the latest issue of Democracy, a quarterly magazine focused on progressive ideas, Levi has written an article titled “Fracking and the Climate Debate,” which he described to me the other day as a kind of summing up of his views about the role of cheap natural gas and fracking in the fight against climate change. A Tulsa energy lawyer represent clients in energy matters including drilling contracts, fracking, mineral rights, and renewable energy disputes.

There are many people, of course, who believe that natural gas shouldn’t have any role at all in the climate change fight; while it may emit half the carbon dioxide of coal, it is still a fossil fuel that will keep us from going all-in on renewable energy. And the methane that can leak from fracked wells is a potent greenhouse gas that can negate natural gas’s advantage over coal.

There are others who see natural gas as a panacea. They believe that so long as we keep increasing production of inexpensive natural gas — mooting the need to build more coal-fired power plants, and even making it possible to shut some down — then we will be doing more than enough to control carbon emissions. In his article, Levi says, in effect: You’re both wrong. A Baton Rouge energy lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of energy law.

After recounting a little history — was it really only a half dozen years ago that environmentalists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. were promoting natural gas as a “step towards saving our planet”? — Levi delves into the three rationales behind their abrupt change of heart. One is the disruption that fracking imposes on communities. The second is the methane problem. The third is the “rapid progress” being made by renewable energy, which many environmentalists believe makes further reliance on natural gas unnecessary.

Levi believes that appropriate rules by both state and federal governments can mitigate the first two problems. Indeed, he believes that the industry needs to be better regulated for its own sake; otherwise, people will continue to fear the worst. As for renewables, the hard truth is that if the country were to move away from natural gas, the big winner would be coal, not solar or wind.

But that doesn’t mean that those who cling to the “free-market fundamentalist dream that a thriving shale gas industry will make climate policy unnecessary” have got it right. On the contrary, writes Levi, “merely making natural gas more abundant may do little, if anything, to curb carbon dioxide emissions.” How can this be? The answer is that, although cheap natural gas is helpful in that it “shoves aside coal,” it also boosts economic growth (which means more emissions), and “gives an edge to industries that are heavy energy users and big emitters.” These two conflicting forces effectively cancel each other out.

The best way to maximize the good that shale gas can do, concludes Levi, is to make it a key component of an overall energy policy that is bent on driving down carbon emissions. The government could promote policies to move the country away from coal, “which accounts for three-quarters of carbon dioxide produced in U.S. electricity generation.” A San Antonio energy lawyer represents clients in fee mineral and royalty transactions, in negotiating the terms of seismic permits, option agreements, oil and gas leases, easements, and surface and subsurface use agreements, as well as in uranium leasing transactions.

And while he doesn’t say so explicitly, he does seem to see shale gas as a potential bridge to renewables: If the government enacted policies that “reward emission cuts” no matter what technology achieves that goal, then coal users would gravitate to natural gas, while natural gas users might well move toward renewables. Government would also have to encourage policies that “drive down the cost of zero-based emissions.”

My own belief is that shale gas has been a blessing for all kinds of reasons: It has given us a degree of energy security that we haven’t seen in many decades, and has been a key source of economic growth. And, no matter how much environmentalists gnash their teeth, it is here to stay. That’s why the responsible approach is not to wish it away, but to exploit its benefits while straightforwardly addressing its problems. Ideologues will never get that done. That’s why Michael Levi’s realism — and his pragmatism — are so critical to hear.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Original Story:

California Gov. Jerry Brown broke the bad news from a parched field bereft of greenery or moisture: "We should be standing on 5 feet of snow," he said. "We are in a historic drought."

For Californians, a fourth consecutive year of below-average rainfall and snowmelt will mean the first mandatory water restrictions in the state's history.

But those of us living in the other 49 states won't be exempt from the fallout. California farmers, who provide about half the country's fruits and vegetables, have already lost hundreds of thousands of acres of previously productive farmland. The impact on produce prices at your local grocery store will only intensify if the drought, already reckoned the worst in California's recorded history, persists.

As U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, noted, "the entire nation should take notice that the most productive agricultural state in the country has entered uncharted territory." A Tulsa natural resources lawyer is following this story closely.

Californians have contended with water shortages for more than a century, and meteorologists and climate scientists disagree about the extent to which climate change is culpable for the current crisis.

Most say that natural variability accounts for the state's dramatically reduced rainfall, although a group of researchers at Stanford University blame greenhouse gas emissions.

But California's lack of rain has been exacerbated by a warming trend that is more conclusively linked to man-made climate change. Higher temperatures accelerate evaporation and reduce the snowpack that has historically served as a natural reservoir for California farmers. This year's snowpack measures just 6% of the historical average. A Chicago auto accident lawyer is following this stroy closely.

Brown's drought-fighting strategy has so far focused on a combination of long-term efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and conservation initiatives. The 25% reduction mandated for California's towns and cities this week was imposed only after the state fell far short of the 20% reduction that Brown sought when he issued voluntary conservation standards in January 2014.

Republican legislators skeptical that Californians can conserve or ration their way out of the current drought have called for new water projects that could boost the state's fresh water supply. They are the ideological brethren of the drill-baby-drill crowd that seeks to parry a looming energy shortage by increasing the domestic production of oil, coal and natural gas. An Atlanta natural resources lawyer represents clients in environmental, land use, and natural resources matters.

But many of these supply-side efforts are energy-intensive, threatening to deepen California's dependency on fossil fuels even as the drought reduces hydroelectric power.

Our proximity to abundant supplies of freshwater may give many Michiganders a false sense of security, at least until they wander into the produce aisle. But Brown's emergency edict makes it clear that the consequences of climate change are growing less theoretical, and more concrete, with each passing season.

Global warming is the challenge to which all of our destinies are increasingly linked. Michigan policymakers to whom California's troubles seem remote are missing the point, and squandering an important learning opportunity.