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Event: Carbon Pricing Options for Oregon

Join us to learn what carbon pricing would mean for Oregon.
This post is 26 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon
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Pilsen and Pollution by Senor Codo used under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Used with Creative Commons)

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade? Can Oregon make polluters pay and grow jobs? How will low-income communities be affected? Where should the revenue go?

This Monday, join our senior researcher Kristin Eberhard to talk about carbon pricing options for Oregon. A wonderful panel of speakers will lay out smart climate policy solutions towards reducing Oregon’s carbon pollution. Oregon has an opportunity to be a critical leader on carbon pricing and to create an effective model for other states to follow.

Joining Kristin will be Jeff Renfro, senior economist at Portland State University’s Northwest Economic Research Center (NERC); Jenny Liu, assistant director at NERC; and Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust. There will be a Q&A following the panelists’ remarks, so fire away those pending questions you have had about carbon pricing!

  • When: Monday, December 15, 2014, 6 p.m.
  • Where: University of Oregon, Willamette Hall Room 100 (map)
  • Tickets: The event is free and open to the public, no pre-registration required.
  • Host: 350 Eugene

For more information about the event, click here.

Read about Oregon’s new carbon tax report here.

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The New Oregon Carbon Tax Report is Out

If Oregon invests well, a carbon tax will grow jobs and wages.
This post is 25 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

We are already paying a high price for fossil fuels: strange and severe weather, asthma and cancer cases, a Northwest economy weakened by huge bills for importing coal, oil, and gas, and the political vice grip that Big Oil has on our democracy. Last year, Portland State University (PSU) gave the Oregon legislature a teaser about how to face those problems with a carbon tax. Intrigued by the possibility of holding big polluters accountable and generating revenue for Oregonians, the legislature asked for more information, and this week PSU’s Northwest Economic Research Center (NERC) delivered. The new and expanded analysis concludes that charging carbon polluters would cut pollution and it could create jobs and raise wages. If Oregon spends the money right.

What scenarios did NERC model?

NERC modeled carbon taxes ranging from $10 to $150 per ton of greenhouse gas pollution. The tax would apply to pollution from burning fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. It would tax pollution from coal burned outside the state to generate electricity used by Oregonians. In each scenario, the tax starts at $10 per ton in 2014, and then goes up slowly and smoothly, rising just $5 or $10 each year. Knowing that the price to pollute is slowly rising over time gives dirty energy producers the time and the motivation to start investing in clean energy. NERC ran scenarios with prices that maxed out at $10, $30, $45, $60, $100, $125, and $150. Read more »

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The Facts about Kinder Morgan

New Sightline report reveals pattern of pollution, law-breaking, and cover-ups.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports

report pic_facts about kinder morganEnergy giant Kinder Morgan has big ambitions. The firm aspires to multiply its coal export capacity in the Gulf Coast region even as it seeks permission to build a huge new oil pipeline in the Pacific Northwest. These projects could boost Kinder Morgan’s profits, but they also raise serious questions about what the projects might cost neighboring communities.

Today, Sightline Institute is publishing a new report, “The Facts about Kinder Morgan,” that examines the facts about the company’s behavior. The report reveals that the company’s track record is one of pollution, law-breaking, and cover-ups.

In public, Kinder Morgan points out that it is already operating coal export facilities in Virginia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas. Or, as the company’s spokesperson said when the firm was pushing a failed coal export plan in Oregon, “What we’re proposing is not something we don’t already do.” And that’s exactly the problem.

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Chinese Coal Imports Falling Fast

November imports are down 26 percent year over year.

Chinese customs statistics show that the nation’s coal imports fell 26 percent year-over-year in November. (Yes, the link above is to a page in Chinese, but Google Translate does a nice job with it.)

That’s the fifth straight month in which Chinese coal imports have fallen compared to 2013. Through June, the country was actually importing a wee bit more than it did the previous year. But for the second half of the year, imports have been plummeting. Overall, year-over-year imports for July through November are down 22 percent.

Month Year-over-year change
July 2014 -20%
August 2014 -27%
September 2014 -18%
October 2014 -17%
November 2014 -26%
July-November -22%

Because of the second-half import slump, China’s coal imports are on track to fall by 10 percent for the year as a whole.

It’s hard to overstate how significant this decline has been, especially considering all of the hype we were hearing just a few years back about endless growth in Chinese coal markets. And what’s especially surprising is that China’s coal imports fell even as seaborne coal prices were regularly hitting multi-year lows. See the chart to the right, which shows the price of benchmark coal shipped out of Newcastle, Australia, one of the main coal export terminals supplying the Pacific Rim. China could have picked up lots of coal from seaborne markets for prices just a fraction of what they could have paid just a few years back.

But China’s simply not buying. The country has started to radically reshape its relationship with coal in ways that are radically undermining the bullish case for the seaborne coal market. And that’s the fundamental reason why Northwest coal export terminals are facing such severe struggles finding new investors: in today’s market, coal exports simply don’t pencil out.

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What Has Sightline Ever Done for You?

No, really! Tell us, and win an REI or Powell's gift card!
Celeste Larkin as a toddler. Photo by Sara Larkin, not for reuse.

Celeste Larkin as a toddler. By mom, Sara Larkin. (Not for reuse.)

That’s a photo of my little sister, circa 1990, with exactly the kind of “HUH?!” face I have every time I realize another year has gone by.

Yep, it’s time again for Sightline’s annual audience survey. This year, we’ve cut it down to a mere 10 questions, because we know you’re pretty busy (though of course, additional feedback is welcome any time). AND you could win $50 to REI or Powell’s Books.

This survey is important for us. We use it to help us gauge how well we’re serving you, our audience, and where we have room to improve. Last year, we learned some pretty interesting things, like:

So: 10 questions, $50 to spend on your next camping trip or literary adventuring, and the warm fuzzies that come along with helping us Sightliners improve our work in the new year.

Take the Survey

 

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Weekend Reading 12/5/14

Secrets of the no-waste holidays, breaking through the "bikelash," and more.
This post is 182 in the series: Weekend Reading

Jennifer

If you—like me—missed this great interview last week in which Mike McGinn deconstructs the evolution of Seattle’s “bikelash” politics, now’s your time to go read the whole thing. The Bicycle Story’s Josh Cohen sat down with the former Seattle mayor for a deep dive on why bike infrastructure became so divisive during his tenure, how improvements that make streets safer for everyone were branded as his pet projects, and how smart activism has changed the debate. My favorite quote: “I have a theory that every city that decides to do biking seriously has to kind of go through a passage where everyone just loses it. Then once you get through that and you actually start implementing projects and everyone has the opportunity to have their say, you get to the other side. And we’re at the other side now.”

Serena

Sightline’s stormwater maven Lisa Stiffler published two extra timely articles this week about getting through the holidays without accumulating so much stuff. She interviews Zero-Waste Holidays author Bea Johnson and reviews SoKind, an online gift registry that prioritizes experiential presents over material ones.

Anna

Several Washington cities are rolling out bike share programs, including Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond. Locals can learn more about alternative and active transportation choices at a roundtable on December 11 at noon at the Burien City Hall.

Read more »

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Which Way to Clean Industrial Stormwater?

The EPA promotes penalties to reach industrial stormwater compliance. Others call for cajoling.
This post is part of the research project: Stormwater Solutions: Curbing Toxic Runoff
bex in beijing, Flickr

bex in beijing, Flickr IMGP1116 by bex in beijing

Industrial companies—metal recyclers, printing plants, rail yards, petroleum refineries, and the like—have a smaller footprint on the land compared to residential areas and other businesses. But when rainstorms flush runoff from industrial sites, that contaminated stormwater can carry a toxic cocktail with an outsized impact on lakes, bays, and other sensitive waterways.

So the effort to clean up Puget Sound, to make it hospitable to marine life and safe for humans to fish and swim in, has focused on polluted stormwater—including industrial runoff.

But while government regulators and green-leaning groups are united in their stormwater worries, they’re surprisingly divided over the best way to curb the flow of industrial runoff. The rift has set natural allies at odds with each other over the degree to which polluters should be penalized or prodded into compliance.

The issue is front-and-center as officials with the US Environmental Protection Agency today are expected to announce a new wave of penalties for businesses with stormwater violations and as Washington’s Department of Ecology is releasing an updated version of the industrial stormwater permit.

Since August 2013, the EPA has issued stormwater penalties totaling roughly $1.4 million to a dozen Western Washington industrial facilities. Read more »

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What Ambre Says About Its Financial Collapse

Official disclosures show financial disarray, imminent bankruptcy...and no choice but to sell to creditors.
This post is 28 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor

In case you missed the news, Ambre Energy—the Australian firm behind two of the three remaining coal export projects in the Pacific Northwest—is selling its North American coal business to the company’s largest creditor, a risk-hungry private equity firm called Resource Capital Funds. Ambre will realize just $18 million from the sale, even though it claimed as recently as last fall that its North American coal assets were worth between $200 and 400 million.

Over the past several days, we’ve started to see Ambre Energy’s PR strategy emerge: the firm’s North American executives are now crowing with delight that their operations are being unloaded at fire sale prices! After all, they now say, handing your business over to your creditors is a sign of financial strength, not weakness. So a story in the Longview Daily News quotes Bill Chapman, CEO of Ambre’s Millennium Bulk Terminal project, spinning the sale by saying, “The news is all good,” and implying RCF’s purchase shows that investors remain excited about the financial prospects for coal exports. And Everett King, president and CEO of Ambre Energy North America, bragged: “Their interest is validation: RCF likes the projects.”

This raises a question: Is RCF’s purchase of Ambre’s coal operation really a sign of financial strength for the company’s coal export plans?

I think the best way to answer that question is simply to quote from Ambre’s own financial disclosures—which show that the firm was running out of money, laden with debt, and had no reasonable hope of raising capital before it defaulted on its loans from RCF.

Ambre was running out of money, laden with debt, and had no reasonable hope of raising capital before it defaulted on its loans.
More importantly, the company had been trying since 2012 to raise money from anyone other than RCF. The company even tried to raise money by selling off individual assets. Yet Ambre found no audience for its overtures: no buyers, no lenders, and no new source of capital. Finally, this past July, RCF cut Ambre off, refusing to provide them with any more money…a move that set up Ambre for the financial crisis it now faces.

In short, Ambre is selling its North American operations because the firm is deep in debt and out of options, and is essentially handing over its assets to its chief creditor in lieu of declaring bankruptcy.

Read more »

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Ambre Energy Bungles News of Its Own Demise

Did the Australian firm forget to tell its North American underlings about its impending implosion?

In case you missed the news, Ambre Energy—the struggling Australian energy startup that has been trying to launch a coal export business in the Pacific Northwest—has agreed to sell its entire North American coal business to its main creditor, a risk-loving private equity firm registered in the Cayman Islands.

The documents describing the proposed sale, available on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) website, show that Ambre will part with its entire North American coal mining and export operation for the not-so-princely sum of $18 million. That’s 100% of the Decker coal mine in Montana, 50% of the Black Butte coal mine in Wyoming, 62% of the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, WA, plus the Morrow-Pacific export project in Oregon, all for $18 million in cash. The deal will give Ambre just enough to pay back some outstanding debts—but will leave the original investors in the Australian parent company with virtually nothing, save some sour memories.

Leaving aside the terms of the proposed sale, the circumstances of the announcement raise some serious questions about Ambre’s communications strategy. Even for Ambre, the Keystone Cops of the coal export world, the communications around the company’s impending sale seem remarkably uncoordinated. In fact, the news may even have caught Ambre’s North American employees by surprise.

Read more »

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Why Price Carbon—Can’t We Just Regulate It?

Getting creative with carbon pricing (Part 3).
This post is 24 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Most Americans—including most Republicans—want to regulate carbon pollution. Oregon and Washington have already set legally binding limits on the climate-changing gas. Next, climate change warriors in Olympia and Salem are trying to make those limits enforceable. They’re considering hard emissions caps enforced through limited permits and complemented by an array of targeted policies.

But what if Oregon and Washington’s lawmakers fail to insert sharp incisors in their beyond-carbon rules? Desperate for revenue to fulfill its McCleary obligations, Washington might pass a modest carbon tax not designed to slash pollution. Oregon might do the same, for its own revenue reasons. Such taxes would nudge the states’ economies toward a clean-energy transition, it’s true, but they would not guarantee that emissions drop to the statutory goals.

And, I shudder to ponder it, but the legislatures might simply refuse to price carbon at all, at least not yet.

In fact, a few state legislators, briefed on the fine points of carbon pricing, have rolled their eyes at the political challenges and said, “Why do we have to price it? Can’t we just regulate it?” Polls suggest some voters would actually prefer direct regulation. The logic is seductive: Polluting is irresponsible behavior. Polluters should knock it off. If they don’t, authorities should make them.

This article describes that scenario: what would it look like if we just make polluters emit less carbon? Read more »

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