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Biden Says There’s ‘A Chance’ He’ll Run For White House In 2016

By Elizabeth Wasserman, Bloomberg News (TNS)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is leaving the door open to a possible 2016 White House bid.

Biden told ABC’s Good Morning America Wednesday that he sees the contest for the Democratic nomination for president as “wide open,” even though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — widely considered a front-runner — has yet to announce her candidacy.

“Yes, there is a chance,” Biden said in the interview. “But I haven’t made my mind up about that. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then. There’s plenty of time.”

Biden said he wouldn’t decide until summer about another bid for the presidency. He said Clinton is “really competent, capable person and a friend.”

“I think this is wide open on both sides,” Biden said in the interview a day after the president’s State of the Union address to Congress. “Right now my focus is getting implemented what the president talked about last night: to nail down this recovery and get the middle class back in the game.”

In 1988 and 2008, Biden unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nod but dropped out both times. In the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama selected Biden to be the party’s vice presidential nominee. Both won re-election in 2012.

“The person who is going to be the next president of the United States,” Biden said in the interview, “is the one who is going to be able to articulate the clearest vision to the American people of where they’re going to take the country.”

Photo: Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Speaker of the House John Boehner wait for the start of the State of The Union address by President Barack Obama on January 20, 2015, in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Pool/TNS)

Global Climate Fund On GOP’s Budget Hit List

By Elizabeth Douglass, InsideClimate News (TNS)

The yearly battle over the U.S. budget officially begins on Feb. 2, when the president plans to send his fiscal 2016 funding proposal to Congress, where it will be torn to shreds or ignored entirely.

While the annual drama involves trillions of dollars, it’s usually of limited interest to far-flung governments around the world. Not this year, though, thanks to a budget line item whose fate will be closely tracked by an international audience.

The line item of interest is President Barack Obama’s expected request for money for the Green Climate Fund, which is a key component in the push for a global agreement this year to limit global warming. The fund is meant to collect and distribute money from developed nations to help poorer and developing countries lower future carbon emissions and prevent further damage from the effects of climate change.

It’s unclear how much GCF money will be included in the upcoming budget, but Obama pledged to provide $3 billion over the next four years. Whatever the amount, it will be under attack from congressional Republicans who question the science behind climate change and have vowed to block any related funding, including Obama’s pledge to the GCF.

The pledge from the U.S. is a particularly important one. The $3 billion offer represents about 30 percent of the GCF’s total pledges to date of $10.2 billion. Since the U.S. is the world’s largest historical polluter and the second-largest economy, many negotiators had hoped for a larger financial commitment.

A final budget typically gets hammered out late in the year, which is about when world leaders will begin gathering in Paris with hopes of signing a historic climate treaty. If money for the GCF isn’t in the budget, it could undermine assurances made to developing nations that the world’s biggest polluters stand ready to help them.

“A signal that President Obama is not able to get GCF funding approved by the U.S. Congress would send a very damaging signal (for Paris),” said Liane Schalatek, who has attended GCF board meetings on behalf of the Heinrich Boll Foundation North America, where she is associate director.

The success of negotiations in Paris “very much depend on the fulfillment of promises that people made,” said Karen Orenstein, a senior analyst at Friends of the Earth who focuses on climate finance. “Everyone, but particularly developing countries and civil society, will be looking to see if the money is realized.”

In mid-December, GCF supporters got a glimpse of the funding fight ahead, and it wasn’t encouraging.

That’s when Congress passed a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill that covers government funding through September 2015. It included language that at first seemed to prohibit Congress from providing money to the GCF, and it shocked the fund’s backers.

“The panic stemmed from the headlines that said things like, ‘Congress Bans Money for Green Climate Fund,’ but they were false,” said Orenstein. She offered her own interpretation of the bill’s language: “It basically says no money is going to be appropriated to the GCF in FY15, because no money has been requested, and if they do want money in FY16, they have to notify the committee on appropriations.”

The angst was not entirely misplaced, however. The bill that passed included several provisions that angered environmentalists, including one that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from applying Clean Water Act rules to farm ponds and irrigation ditches. And being singled out in the 2015 bill, as the Green Climate Fund was, confirms that it’s on some Republicans’ hit list.

Schalatek called the budget move “a clear ‘call-to-arms’ by the Republican congressional majority to focus on undermining President Obama’s international climate agenda.”

GCF supporters remain hopeful, though, especially since under the Bush Administration, Republicans supported much higher funding for climate-related international aid.

“I have no doubt that it will be a huge fight to get this money, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” Orenstein said. Friends of the Earth and many other groups will be pushing for the funding. Even so, she added, “I hope the treasury and state departments have a good plan for how they’re going to tackle this.”
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InsideClimate News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science. More information is available at http://insideclimatenews.org/.

Photo: Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Arkansas Spill Pollution Case Against Exxon Can Proceed, Court Says

By Elizabeth Douglass, InsideClimate News

Federal and state attorneys who sued Exxon Mobil Corp. over its Arkansas pipeline spill have won court rulings to keep the lawsuit alive and to deny the company’s attempt to limit the information it must provide in the case.

The rulings, which came last month, represent a critical step forward for a case that has moved slowly since it was filed a year ago. The lawsuit, filed June 13, 2013, in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., accuses Exxon of violating federal and state air and water pollution laws as well as Arkansas’ hazardous waste regulations.

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker on June 9 rejected Exxon’s request to have the lawsuit dismissed, concluding that the governments had sufficient grounds to proceed with the case. In a separate ruling, she ordered the oil company to provide opposing attorneys with overdue documents and other requested information by July 10. Baker also said that Exxon must disclose its current estimate for how much oil was spilled, and must comply with requests for information about the entire length of the 858-mile Pegasus pipeline, not just a portion of it.

“We are currently in the discovery phase of the lawsuit as we move toward a trial date that we expect to be set in the second half of 2015,” said Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, in an emailed statement. With the court’s rulings, he added, “We can proceed with the litigation.”

The jointly filed government case seeks civil penalties that could dwarf the $2.66 million proposed fine from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration. PHMSA, the nation’s pipeline regulator, proposed the penalty for Exxon after a post-spill investigation found “probable violations” of federal pipeline regulations. Exxon has challenged the PHMSA fine.

The federal lawsuit in Arkansas and PHMSA’s regulatory case are just a few of the legal entanglements that have occupied Exxon since March 2013, when the company’s Pegasus oil pipeline burst open in Mayflower, Ark. The 1940s-era pipeline ruptured and sent an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen into a nearby neighborhood and cove. Since then, Exxon has spent $75.1 million on spill-related expenses, including the purchase of more than 20 affected homes, according to spokesman Aaron Stryk.

So far, the federal-state lawsuit appears to be the most potentially potent legal case against Exxon. But it’s been a plodding process so far.

Last August Exxon filed to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing, among other things, that the federal Clean Water Act, which it was accused of violating, only applied to “navigable waters” traversed by ships and that the cove it fouled in Arkansas didn’t qualify. The company also argued that the government claims weren’t specific enough and credible enough to warrant litigation.
Several months later, government attorneys sent Exxon their first request for relevant documents and information. Four months after their request, in March 2014, the attorneys sought the court’s intervention to compel the oil company to provide the requested material.

In their filing, federal and state attorneys told the court that Exxon provided “only a fraction of the documents” they requested, even after they extended the deadline by one month. The attorneys said that Exxon proposed to provide batches of additional information “every three weeks on Fridays” — a timetable that could extend the discovery process to September, leaving little time for review and verification before the case moves to the next phase, according to the filing.

The governments also said Exxon refused to provide documents or other information for the entire Pegasus pipeline, which stretches from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Texas.

“[Exxon attorneys,] without adequate justification have resisted or refused to produce documents in a timely manner, and have unilaterally limited their responses to the United States,” the government said in seeking the court’s intervention.

In its response to the attorneys’ complaints, Exxon said it needs extra time to comply with the information requests because the Pegasus spill has given rise to 16 lawsuits and it is responding to nearly 400 requests for information for those cases simultaneously. The company also noted that it took the two sides until March to agree on confidentiality protections for certain Exxon material.

The case is now officially set for trial in February 2015, but the Arkansas spokesman said he expects the trial to slip by several months. The trial was initially set for October 2013.

AFP Photo / Karen Bleier

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Exxon Mobil Eyes July Restart For Ruptured Pipeline’s South Leg, Worrying Residents

By Elizabeth Douglass, InsideClimate News

Exxon Mobil intends to restart the southern portion of its Pegasus oil pipeline on July 1, ending a 15-month shutdown that began when the pipeline ruptured and flooded a residential street in Arkansas with crude.

The move is a disappointment to Texans like Barbara Lawrence, who said the 1950s-era southern leg of the Pegasus runs under the Richland-Chambers Reservoir, where she lives on the shore. She and others worry about potential oil spills in reservoirs and other waterways, and have questioned the safety of reopening any part of the Pegasus line without extensive testing.

“I think that’s too bad, and I really think it’s short-sighted,” Lawrence said of the pipeline restart. Noting that the Richard-Chambers Reservoir is a source of drinking water, she added, “You’d think that other people, particularly in a drought situation, would want to protect the water supply.”

Exxon did not return a call seeking comment, and has previously declined to say when it would reopen the southern part of the Pegasus. In January, the company sought permission to restart that portion of the pipeline, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) approved Exxon Mobil’s restart plans at the end of March.

The restart date of July 1 was confirmed by separate federal regulatory filings by Sunoco Logistics and an Exxon Mobil pipeline subsidiary. Exxon Mobil’s paperwork set prices beginning July 1 for customers shipping crude oil through the Pegasus southern segment, a pipe that runs about 210-miles from Corsicana, Texas to Nederland, Texas.

Exxon Mobil’s restart plan has not been publicly released for the southern segment. But in other documents made public, the company said it wanted to “initiate restart activities” by March 28, and that it planned to operate the line at reduced pressure and to conduct a standard leak test before reopening the Pegasus southern leg. The company said it would conduct a series of internal inspections on the running pipeline this summer as part of a PHMSA-approved remedial work plan.

The federal filing for the Pegasus doesn’t say what types of crude oil will flow through the reopened segment, but Exxon Mobil and Sunoco filed paperwork that offered customers a flat rate for shipping West Texas Intermediate and West Texas Sour oil through a combination of their pipelines to Nederland.

Shippers will pay about $1.56 for use of the Pegasus southern leg, according to Exxon Mobil’s federal filing. The pipeline’s minimum delivery is 50,000, so Exxon Mobil stands to collect at least $78,000 per day on the reopened line. At full capacity, the southern leg could bring in $148,200 or more per day. The sum is small for Exxon Mobil, but it will help slow the company’s losses on the Pegasus that have been mounting since the spill.

The Pegasus start up in Texas comes amid a rush of new pipeline capacity, much of it aimed at carrying crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast, according to Andy Lipow, an industry consultant and former oil trader.

Restarting the southern leg of the Pegasus pipeline may be important for Exxon Mobil, Lipow said, “but for the industry as a whole, it’s just another one of many.”

In April 2013, the Pegasus burst open in Mayflower, Ark., sickening neighborhood residents and sending heavy Canadian diluted bitumen into a nearby cove. The pipe split along its seams, which were formed in 1947 or 1948 using low frequency electric resistance weld (LF-ERW) technology — a method that can leave behind potentially dangerous defects and cracks.

The spill led to the shutdown of the entire 858-mile Pegasus, a pipeline that can carry up 95,000 barrels of oil per day from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Texas. Shortly afterward, Exxon Mobil tried to get permission to reopen the southern leg of the pipeline, arguing that it did not carry the same inherent risks because that pipe was manufactured by a different company using a different seam fusing method called electric flash weld.

In May 2013, PHMSA turned down Exxon Mobil’s request, noting that there was “uncertainty as to the current seam integrity on the entire Pegasus Pipeline.” The regulator added that “the characteristics of the pipe used in the Southern section, while different from the pre-1970 ERW pipe used in the Northern Section, present a similar integrity concern. Flash welded pipe of that vintage is known to be susceptible to seam failure, even if to a lesser extent than low frequency ERW pipe.”

Since there have not yet been any new internal tests conducted on the line, it is unclear what convinced the agency that the southern leg’s seams no longer presented a “similar integrity concern.”

The northern segment remains closed. That part of the Pegasus runs 648 miles from Patoka, Ill., and through Missouri and Arkansas, to Corsicana.

Photo: Rickz via Flickr

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