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Sea Level Suit Returns to San Francisco Courtroom

Alaskan village blames oil & power companies for rising seas

The coastal hamlet of Kivalina, Alaska, is already known for literally making a federal case out of rising sea levels.

The village of about 400 residents sits exposed on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008, local officials filed a federal lawsuit against about two dozen corporate entities, including ExxonMobil, BP and San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., claiming that coastal erosion was forcing the town to relocate.

US Army Corps. of Engineers

Kivalina appears in the distance, on the tip of this barrier island in the Chukchi Sea.

The original case was dismissed — but on Monday, the case lands in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the town’s lawyers will again argue that major oil and power companies are responsible for the threatening rise in sea level, as the result of their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The appearance is timely, as only a week ago a major Arctic storm reportedly caused some damage to the settlement. Continue reading

First Federal Approvals for Big Solar

UPDATE: Since this post was first published, the BLM has also given the nod to another major solar energy installation, the approximately 400-megawatt Ivanpah project, being developed in San Bernardino County by Oakland-based BrightSource Energy.

The federal Bureau of Land Management today issued its first approvals of major solar energy projects in California.

The Tessera project will use "SunCatchers" to concentrate solar power. (Image: Tessera Solar)

Tessera Energy’s 700-megawatt Ocotillo project, located in the Imperial Valley, about 100 miles east of San Diego, and a smaller photovoltaic (PV) project by San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., are both cleared to go forward.

The two projects set a precedent not just for California. On a call with reporters this morning, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called it a “historic day,” saying the two projects “bear the distinction of being the first large-scale solar energy projects ever approved for construction on our nation’s public lands.” Continue reading

California Oil Refiners Split on Prop 23

A Shell oil refinery in the aptly named town of Oildale (near Bakersfield) back in 2004. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Times today runs down the list of California’s major oil refiners, which are also California’s biggest individual carbon emitters, and finds Tesoro, Valero, and Koch Industries  have not brought along their industry brethren in the fight to stop AB 32 with Proposition 23.

Prop 23 would suspend the 2006 law until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below and stays there for a year, something that’s happened three times in the last four decades, depending on how you count. Continue reading

Climate Lobby Bulks Up

Some California corporations figure prominently in a new tally of climate-related lobbying activity.

A continuing study from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI) shows that climate-relating lobbying reached a fever pitch in the third quarter of this year, with 140 new organizations showing up in government-required registrations. That brings the total number of registered climate lobbyists to 1,160, with most activity centered on two climate bills–one passed by the House and another pending in the Senate.

The Center’s latest report is called “The Climate Lobby from Soup to Nuts”–and they mean it literally. CPI reports that registered climate lobbyists now include such diverse interests as the makers of Campbell Soup and Blue Diamond Growers (“a can a week” may not be all they ask, after all).

Not surprisingly, “Big Oil” is a big spender. San Ramon-based Chevron Corp. clocks in at more than $36 million since 2003. And PG&E, one of California’s largest utilities, is shown spending more than $34 million just in the last two years ($19 million in the third quarter of 2008 alone).

Silicon Valley is well represented on the list, including some firms whose stake in climate policy is less obvious; eBay, Google, Hewlett-Packard and Intel are all in the half-million-plus club. Government records show Intel declaring more than $12 million on climate lobbying since 2003.

Marianne Lavelle, a staff writer who helped compile the figures for CPI, says that companies with a stake in green energy technologies are seeking more of a voice in the process, to counter fossil fuel interests, and that technology-oriented venture capital firms are becoming more of a visible presence on the lobbying radar.

The CPI data also includes major environmental lobbies such as the San Francisco-based Sierra Club, which logs $1 million over the past two years. Lavelle says what it doesn’t capture is lobbying at the state level, nor does it reflect spending on “grassroots” organizing or money spent on advertising campaigns designed to steer public opinion on climate issues.

The CPI study site includes a searchable database of all federally registered climate lobbyists.

Head-to-Head: Chevron and The Sierra Club

Two giants of California’s energy debate squared off at a Commonwealth Club forum in San Francisco last night.

Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope fielded questions from moderator Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal and a sometimes impassioned audience, about renewable energy opportunities, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and predictions for the future of the United States’ energy economy. Several questions also concerned Chevron’s high profile court battle in Ecuador and the oil company’s presence in Richmond, the Bay Area city where a major Chevron refinery dominates the skyline–and some say, local governance

Carl Pope, ED of Sierra Club Alan Murray, Executive Editor of WSJ Online Dave O'Reilly, CEO of Chevron. Photo: Gretchen Weber

From left to right: Sierra Club chief Carl Pope; WSJ Online Executive Editor Alan Murray; Dave O'Reilly, CEO of Chevron. Photo: Gretchen Weber

In what was less of a debate than a discussion, Pope and O’Reilly agreed that the United States needs to make major changes towards greater energy efficiency and that the country must begin to rely more on renewable energy sources.

Their views diverged significantly, however, on the timeline for such changes. While Pope supports a 90% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from today’s levels by 2050 and says he believes this goal possible, O’Reilly projected that by 2050, the United States will have reduced its GHG emissions by no more than 20-25% from today’s levels.

O’Reilly said that even if the U.S. replaced the entire transportation system with a zero-emissions system, the country would reduce GHG emissions by just 34%–and that doing likewise with the nation’s power generation would reduce GHGs by another 40%.

“So we have to ask ourselves, can we replace our entire energy system–transportation and power–in just a few short decades?” said O’Reilly. “I think the transition is going to take some time.”

According to O’Reilly, his company is already the largest provider of geothermal energy in the world and yet only 2% of Chevron’s income currently comes from renewable energy.

“The challenge of scale demands that we acknowledge that conventional energy sources will remain indispensable for decades,” said O’Reilly. “We must be realistic. For the foreseeable future we need to develop it all: conventional as well as non-conventional energy, as well as renewables and alternatives.”

When asked what his prediction was for how much of Chevron’s income would come from renewable energy sources by 2050, O’Reilly said he thought the number would be about 10-15%.

Pope responded, “The world will have room in 2050 for a very small company, 90% of whose energy comes from fossils [fuels]. The world will not have room, or tolerance, in 2050 for a big energy company [that does], so if Chevron wants to be successful, I think Chevron’s going to need to change those numbers.

Pope also called on Chevron to “come to the table” with local communities in which Chevron operates, such as Richmond, CA, and he proposed that all oil companies donate 10% of their profits to a global fund to clean up areas of the world damaged by the petroleum industry.

Not surprisingly, Pope and O’Reilly agreed that the highest priority for reducing GHG emissions is to replace coal with natural gas or another less carbon-intensive energy source, and while on stage, the men shook hands on an agreement to lobby the issue together in Washington.

KQED will broadcast the entire Commonwealth Club event at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 19, with a rebroadcast at 2 a.m. the following morning.