Sightline Institute researches the key sustainability trends that are shaping the future of the Pacific Northwest—and how the Northwest’s citizens and policymakers can help make our region a global model for sustainability. All of our research is available for public use according to our free use policy. For other recent work visit Sightline Daily or the Cascadia Scorecard.
Research & Maps
Energy giant Kinder Morgan has big ambitions. Best known for its empire of oil and natural gas pipelines, the firm aspires to enlarge its role in coal transport too. Expanding its export terminals in Louisiana and Texas would increase Kinder Morgan’s coal export capacity in the Gulf Coast region from roughly 5 million tons annually in recent years to nearly 29 million tons. These coal terminal expansions could boost Kinder Morgan’s profits, but they also raise questions about what the projects might cost neighboring communities. The company’s existing coal export operations are well known for blighting neighborhoods and fouling rivers. … Read more »
Coal, oil, & gas shipments out of the Northwest would carry as much carbon annually as 5 Keystone XLs. View graphic »
If all of the coal export terminals, oil-by-rail facilities, oil pipelines, and natural gas pipelines planned for the Pacific Northwest are completed and fully utilized, the region could export fossil fuels carrying five times as much climate-warming carbon as Keystone XL. Read more »
With a new school year approaching, this is a good time to update our review of the treatment of climate change in economics textbooks. As in our 2010 and 2012 reviews, some books hit the mark while others are wildly misleading, but we’re happy to say that there’s plenty of good news, especially at the top and the bottom of the grade distribution. The report card is below, with the full report available here: Care to comment? The report is also featured on our blog.
Coal companies operating in the western United States purchase much of their coal through federal coal leasing programs operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which allow private coal companies to mine and sell coal owned by the American public. Although a growing share of federal coal is exported to overseas customers, the BLM has almost completely ignored the value of export sales when determining the minimum price it will accept for federally owned coal. The failure to assess the economics of coal exports has led the agency to systematically underprice coal owned by the American public, potentially leading to millions of dollars in foregone revenue each year. This report documents cases in which coal companies have purchased low-cost federal coal, and then resold it overseas at much higher prices. It also documents examples of coal companies that have clearly stated their intention to export even more federal coal in the future. Read more »
The oil company Tesoro, a fast-growing Fortune 100 company, has announced plans to build and operate a massive oil shipping facility on the Columbia River in Washington. The Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal would handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude per day, transferring petroleum from mile-long trains onto oil tankers and other vessels that would ship the oil to refineries in the US and potentially overseas. Many residents of Vancouver, Washington, as well as communities along the rail lines, are unwilling to accept the risks of Tesoro’s proposed project, given a string of oil train derailments and fires across North America. A thorough review of Tesoro’s track record suggests that the community has every reason to be concerned. The company has a demonstrated track record of flouting safety rules, injuring workers, polluting local air, and meddling in politics. Read more »
RGGI overestimated the cost of cutting pollution and set the cap too high. That’s an understatement. “Too high” might mean the cap was just a bit lower than actual emissions, only requiring a little emissions trimming. Cleverly, RGGI built a 2012 program review into its design to catch and correct exactly this type of mistake. As a result of this review, RGGI updated its cap, and the new, tightened cap went into effect in 2014 (see steep drop in the red line).
The programs RGGI invested in during just its first 2.5 years will add $1.6 million in net benefits to RGGI state economies and create 16,000 jobs. If RGGI continues auctioning and investing, it could add over $8 billion in net benefit and add 57,000 job-years of employment by 2020.
Total electricity use in the RGGI states was lower in 2012 than in 2005 and shows a changing fuel mix: coal and petroleum (red and brown) generated one-third of RGGI states’ power in 2005, but only 10 percent in 2012. Natural gas (orange) rose from one-quarter to nearly half.
RGGI covers emissions from in-state power plants that are at least 25 megawatts. Electricity emissions are only 22 percent of CO2 emissions in the nine states, compared with the national average of nearly 40 percent. If new EPA rules drive other states to join RGGI, its impact will grow.