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Prosecutor asks judge to keep environmental, treaty issues out of first protester trial

Bismarck Tribune | Posted on December 20, 2016

The first pipeline protesters will go on trial Monday and the prosecutor is asking that they keep issues of tribal sovereignty, the concerns about the Dakota Access Pipeline and "any other social or political cause" out of the courtroom. "This trial is not being held so there can be a forum to extend the months of conflict and context over these extraneous issues," Ladd Erickson, who is prosecuting the case for Morton County, wrote in a motion filed Dec. 12. But a local criminal defense attorney involved in the protest cases said the 10 people set to be tried on disorderly conduct charges have "a right to explain why they were there," which the prosecutor's request seems to preclude. The protesters fear pipeline construction disturbed sacred sites and that a leak could contaminate the Missouri River."They just didn’t parachute in from Mars," Tom Dickson said. "They certainly have a right to say why they were there, why they were doing what they were doing." South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland, who is overseeing the trial, has yet to rule on the motion. 

U.S. Energy Department balks at Trump request for names on climate change

Reuters | Posted on December 15, 2016

The U.S. Energy Department will not comply with a request from President-elect Donald Trump's Energy Department transition team for the names of people who have worked on climate change and the professional society memberships of lab workers.The Energy Department's response could signal a rocky transition for the president-elect's energy team and potential friction between the new leadership and the staffers who remain in place.The memo sent to the Energy Department on Tuesday and reviewed by Reuters last week contains 74 questions, including a request for a list of all department employees and contractors who attended the annual global climate talks hosted by the United Nations within the last five years.Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said Tuesday the department will not comply.

U.S. Bioenergy Statistics

USDA-ERS | Posted on December 15, 2016

Society has just begun to tap new renewable sources of energy from agriculture and forestlands on a commercial scale that impacts energy markets.  Among these sources are biofuels, a small but important component of current fuel consumption in the U.S. transport sector.  In 2012, biofuels accounted for roughly 7.1 percent of total transport fuel consumption, or 13.8 billion gallons, unchanged from the previous year.  Ethanol, made mostly from corn starch from kernels, is by far the most significant biofuel in the United States, accounting for 94 percent of all biofuel production in 2012.  Most of the remainder is biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oils (chiefly soy oil) as well as animal fats, waste oils, and greases.  The U.S. Bioenergy Statistics are a source of information on biofuels intended to present a picture of the renewable energy industry and its relationship to agriculture.  Where appropriate, data are presented in both a calendar year and the relevant marketing year timeframe to increase utility to feedstock-oriented users.  The statistics highlight the factors that influence the demand for agricultural feedstocks for biofuels production; for instance, numerous tables emphasize the relationship between energy and commodity markets.

Michigan, Illinois take different paths on struggling nuclear plants

Midwest Energy News | Posted on December 15, 2016

Less than 24 hours after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed off on a plan to subsidize two nuclear plants for billions of dollars over the next 10 years, energy companies in Michigan announced plans to close one of the state’s three plants as a way to protect ratepayers.  Entergy’s decision to close the Palisades plant in 2018 — by cutting short a power-purchase agreement with Consumers Energy that was to expire in 2022 — is a strong contrast to the protracted debate in Illinois over whether to subsidize unprofitable nuclear plants there.Unlike in Illinois, Entergy and Consumers officials have no plans to push for such a ratepayer subsidy in Michigan. They say closing Palisades, which has faced multiple safety violations over the past several years, is the more financially prudent option.

U.S. slated to sell $375 million of emergency reserve oil this winter

Reuters | Posted on December 15, 2016

The U.S. government is slated to sell $375 million worth of crude oil from the country's emergency reserve this winter after Congress passed a temporary spending bill on Friday that contained a measure authorizing the sale. President Barack Obama's administration has pushed Congress to approve an up to $2 billion plan for a revamp of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a string of heavily guarded underground salt caverns along the Gulf of Mexico filled with crude. The stash currently holds about 695 million barrels of oil.A Department of Energy spokeswoman said authorization in the spending bill "will allow the Department to take necessary steps to increase the integrity and extend the life" of the reserve.Congress passed the original funding for the reserve after the 1973 to 1974 Arab oil embargo to protect the country from global supply disruptions that have the potential to spike domestic fuel prices and damage the U.S. economy.

Trump taps former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head Energy Department he once vowed to abolish

The Washington Post | Posted on December 14, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump picked Rick Perry to head the Energy Department on Wednesday, seeking to put the former Texas governor in control of an agency whose name he forgot during a presidential debate even as he vowed to abolish it.  Perry, who ran for president in the past two election cycles, is likely to shift the department away from renewable energy and toward fossil fuels, whose production he championed while serving as governor for 14 years. His nomination — announced officially by Trump’s transition team a day after sources leaked the decision — stirred further alarm from environmental groups and others worried that the Trump administration will roll back efforts to expand renewable energy and give a powerful platform for officials questioning the scientific consensus on climate change.

Huge new power lines in West get federal OK

The Washington Post | Posted on December 14, 2016

Two power line projects that won federal approval Tuesday will give a big capacity boost to the Western energy grid, including power for up to 1 million homes from what’s on track to become the biggest wind farm in the U.S.  The TransWest Express project will help California meet its goal of getting half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 by carrying up to 3,000 megawatts from the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm in southern Wyoming. The new power lines would span 728 miles from the wind farm to southern Nevada, crossing northwest Colorado and all of Utah along the way. Denver-based The Anschutz Corp., which is behind the wind farm and 3,000-megawatt TransWest Express, could begin work on both within a couple years if remaining approvals and right-of-way acquisition for the power lines go smoothly.

EPA fracking report offers few answers on drinking water

The Washington Post | Posted on December 14, 2016

Is hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — safe, as the oil and gas industry claims? Or does the controversial drilling technique that has spurred a domestic energy boom contaminate drinking water, as environmental groups and other critics charge? After six years and more than $29 million, the Environmental Protection Agency says it doesn’t know. A new report said fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but a lack of information precludes a definitive statement on how severe the risk is. “Because of the significant data gaps and uncertainties in the available data, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources” from fracking activities, the EPA said in a report that raises more questions than answers.The report removes a finding from a draft issued last year indicating that fracking has not caused “widespread, systemic” harm to drinking water in the United States. Industry groups had hailed the draft EPA study as proof that fracking is safe, while environmentalists seized on the report’s identification of cases where fracking-related activities polluted drinking water.

Pipeline spills 176,000 gallons of crude into creek about 150 miles from Dakota Access protest camp | Posted on December 13, 2016

pipeline leak has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek roughly two and a half hours from Cannon Ball, where protesters are camped out in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, as well as environmentalists from around the country, have fought the pipeline project on the grounds that it crosses beneath a lake that provides drinking water to native Americans. They say the route beneath Lake Oahe puts the water source in jeopardy and would destroy sacred land. North Dakota officials estimate more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into the Ash Coulee Creek. State environmental scientist Bill Suess says a landowner discovered the spill on Dec. 5 near the city of Belfield, which is roughly 150 miles from the epicenter of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps.

In R.I., green energy grants help small farms stay in the black

Providence Journal | Posted on December 12, 2016

Matt Tracy and his partner, Catherine Mardosa, have experienced all the difficulties of farming in Rhode Island. There has been drought (still is), floods (the historic 2010 deluge), the ever-present challenge of finding agricultural space in a land-strapped state, and the high fixed costs of machinery, equipment and fuel. As part of their efforts to make Red Planet Farm more sustainable - both environmentally and, just as important, commercially - Tracy and Mardosa are getting ready to install solar panels on the five-acre plot they lease in Johnston to power refrigeration for harvested vegetables, a germination chamber for fragile seedlings and ventilation in their greenhouses.The ground-mounted solar array should help reduce the farm's operating costs for decades to come."That's the biggest benefit to the farmer," Tracy said. He and Mardosa wouldn't be able to pay for the 3.78-kilowatt system without the financial support of a new state initiative that aims to help farms invest in renewable energy and take steps to conserve energy. With a $14,930 grant that will pay for nearly two-thirds of the $23,000 solar array, they are among the inaugural recipients of funding through the Rhode Island Farm Energy Program. The grant program is in the first year of a three-year, $600,000 pilot. There are two funding rounds per year, in April and October, with a total of $200,000 granted annually.