Uber's self-driving car test driving in downtown San Francisco. Diablanco/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Welcome to the first edition of The Real News Network’s weekly climate news roundup, where we will sift through the top stories on the climate crisis each week. The climate crisis is a broad topic, which means this roundup will cover everything from new scientific studies, to political and regulatory choices, to grassroots and individual actions. If you have a story you think should make the list, get in touch with me at steve@therealnews.com.

Thank you for your interest in The Real News Network and for keeping up with our work covering this issue of epochal importance!


Senate Pushes LNG Exports, ‘Clean Coal,’ Petrochemicals

A bipartisan legislative effort by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and ranking member Joe Manchin (D-WV) aims to fast track permits for gas exports and provide subsidies for “clean coal,” or carbon capture and sequestration projects. It also would help pave the way for a new petrochemical production corridor in the Appalachian region. The 555-page bill, called the American Energy Innovation Act, is a compilation of 50 bills previously introduced by the committee.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a pricey process linking power plants to the burying of the carbon under the ground, known in industry lingo as sequestration. Despite numerous attempts at development and billions of dollars in research, most CCS projects have failed. One of them, owned by Southern Company, went out of business in 2017 after receiving more than $700 million in federal subsidies. 

The act has received praise from the American Gas Association, the industry front group Consumer Energy Alliance, the American Chemistry Council, the petrochemical trade association, the National Mining Association, the US Chamber of Commerce, and a slew of others. The Environmental Defense Fund—considered among the most corporate-friendly of major environmental groups—also lauded the bill. The bill also has attracted the support of groups like the American Council on Renewable Energy.

The LNG exports provision in the bill, originally introduced as the Small Scale LNG Access Act, has received lobbying support in the past from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Siemens, and the gas production company EOG Resources, according to disclosure forms. Siemens is a producer of small-scale LNG equipment through its subsidiary, Dresser Rand. It calls for all exports of classified “small scale” LNG tankers, which is gas carried on a different type of tanker that is not necessarily smaller in size than those previously regulated by the Natural Gas Act but which fits under a different regulatory category, to be deemed in the “public interest” under that law. Small scale LNG-exports, then, would bypass “public interest” regulatory reviews done by the US Department of Energy.

Image courtesy of Congress.gov

Two CCS portions of the bill, the Fossil Energy Utilization, Enhancement, and Leadership Act and the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology Act, have received lobbying support from ExxonMobil, Edison Electric, Southern Company, the Coal Utilization Research Council, and the US Chamber of Commerce. The two bills are now part of the broader energy legislation aiming to provide federal funding for large-scale CCS pilot projects.

And lobbied for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Appalachian Energy for National Security Act provision of the broader energy bill calls on the “Secretary of Energy to conduct a study on the national security implications of building ethane and other natural-gas-liquids-related petrochemical infrastructure” in the Appalachian region. The bill was first introduced by Manchin, a long-time promoter of creating a petrochemical hub in that geographical area akin to the sort causing air quality issues—and worsening the climate crisis—profiled in the Environmental Integrity Project study.

Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the legislation as an alternative to the Green New Deal.

“The Green New Deal sought to have Washington D.C. micromanage everyday life in this country to a degree that the 20th-century socialists would have drooled over,” he said in a March 3 speech made on the Senate floor. “Instead, this bipartisan legislation will create better policy and regulatory conditions for American workers, American innovators, and American job creators to thrive.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is on-board, as well, calling for support of the bill during March 2 remarks on the Senate floor.

“This bill provides a real test for Senate Republicans,” said Schumer. “Will they join Senate Democrats in fighting for and passing bipartisan legislation that will address climate change in a significant way, or will our Republican friends continue to do what they have done for the last several years—do the bidding of corporate polluters and Big Oil?”


Über Ridesharing Emissions

A study released on Feb. 25 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) concluded that ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have become major contributors to the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Titled “Ride-Hailing’s Climate Risks Steering a Growing Industry toward a Clean Transportation Future,” the report concludes that “Ride-hailing trips today result in an estimated 69 percent more climate pollution on average than the trips they displace” and that “a non-pooled ride-hailing trip is 47 percent more polluting than a private car ride.” This is mostly due to deadheading, or driving around and idling without passengers in the vehicle. 

Image courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists

Ride-hailing is also compared to the taxi industry in the study, with the former industry rendering the latter somewhat obsolete. Taxis are causing less emissions than ride sharing, but mostly because they’re being used less, the study concludes, and thus UCS says its recommendations apply to both industries.

Image courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists

The report calls for the industry to shift toward using more electric vehicles and more mandated carpooling, plus more integration into public transit networks. Uber has a different take on things, though.

Last April, the company stated in its initial public offering that it would like to “rapidly scale our network in new cities by attracting consumers to our platform and away from personal vehicles or public transportation” (emphases mine). As Uber takes that stance, cities like Kansas City, Missouri (and a recent proposal by Washington, DC) and even countries like Luxembourg are moving toward free public transit.

And like many issues of who causes the climate crisis, a recent study points out that ride-hailing is used most regularly by people with greater wealth. The companies themselves, meanwhile, are pouring $90 million into a ballot measure in California for the upcoming November election which would undo a law aimed at stopping them from exploiting their workers by misclassifying them as independent contractors. Coming full circle, California’s Air Resources Board is currently considering regulations called the Clean Miles Standard to crack down on ride-hailing companies’ emissions.


‘Toxic 100’ Environmental Justice Map

Another new report published on Feb. 26 commissioned by the United Church of Christ and published by the Environmental Integrity Project analyzed US Environmental Protection Agency air quality data, and found that air quality impacts are felt the most acutely by people of color nationwide. The report examined the air impacts of ‘Toxic 100’ company production sites, or those releasing the highest amount of toxic—and sometimes carcinogenic—pollutants into the atmosphere. These 100 companies create 39% of the country’s toxic air emissions, as categorized by the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.

“At the national level, the percentage of people of color or Hispanics or Latinos, low-income residents, and children under five living within one mile of the Toxic 100 were all higher than national averages,” the report explains. “Forty-four percent of the population is low income, which is significantly higher than the national average of just under 33 percent. Forty percent are people of color or Hispanic or Latino, while the national average is 38 percent.”

Four of the top 10 most toxic sites pinpointed in the report are in the petrochemical production industry, an industry on the rise in the United States as the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) for boom has created a market demand for more plastics. Of the locations surveyed, the Houston area was found to contain the greatest number of facilities run by companies on the Toxic 100 list. The Houston Ship Channel is one of the key epicenters for oil, gas and petrochemical refining in the United States.

Image courtesy of Energy Integrity Project

The report’s release coincides with the Trump Administration doubling down on oil exports in the region in the name of “energy dominance,” and giving $17.6 million from the Maritime Administration to beef up an export terminal dock in Corpus Christi, Texas. Record amounts of petroleum products are being exported from the Houston region to the global market in the aftermath of President Barack Obama lifting the crude oil exports ban in 2015.

A recent study by the groups Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA concluded that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from reinstating the export ban would equate to the impact of closing between 19 and 42 coal-fired power plants. On average, the CO2 emissions from one hour of burning coal amount to driving a Honda Civic hybrid about 4,000 miles, meaning that annually, an average coal-fired power plant emits the CO2 equivalent of driving a Honda Civic hybrid 35 million miles per year. The report concludes that since Obama reversed the ban, exports have grown over 750%.


Climate Crisis Worsened Aussie Fires Crisis

And lastly, it’s official: The climate crisis made Australia’s bushfires much worse. That’s according to a new study conducted by a group of 13 climate scientists, who found that climate change-fueled weather conditions increased the odds of an extreme fire by at least 30%.

“We found that it was at least 30 percent, but it’s likely much higher because the models underestimate extreme heat trends, one of the very important parts of the equation,” one of the authors explained to InsideClimate News.

The historically huge wildfires—which burned in Australia from November 2019 to February 2020—scorched 73,000 square miles of land, equivalent to the size of Nebraska. In the process, the fires killed at least 34 people and 1.5 billion animals. The Guardian reported that if global temperatures rise to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial global temperature, the predicted weather conditions make another wildfire of the size recently seen Down Under eight times more likely.

Steve Horn

Climate Change Reporter

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020.

Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice News, Wisconsin Watch, and other publications. He worked from 2011-2018 for the climate news website DeSmog.com, a publication which investigates climate change disinformation and the fossil fuel industry influence campaigns.

His stories and research have received citation in a U.S. Senate report and mention in outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, Mexico’s La Jornada, and The Colbert Report.

In his free time, Steve is a competitive distance runner, with a personal best time in the marathon of 2:43:04 and a 4:43 mile. He also has served on the film screening committee for the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis and serves on the screening committee for the San Diego International Film Festival.