News Roundup

News Roundup

Your weekly news roundup on everything environment

Senate Blocks Ending Tax Subsidies to Big Oil

The Senate failed to end tax subsidies for big oil last week in a mostly partisan vote, with four Democrats joining 43 Republicans to filibuster the bill. The only two Republicans to break ranks were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

The bill, sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) would have ended $24 billion in tax breaks given to oil companies every single year. The bill would have also extended industry-sustaining tax credits for wind power and created an estimated 37,000 jobs.

According to Think Progress Green, the 47 senators voting against the bill received $23,582,500 in career contributions from the oil and gas industries, compared to $5,873,600 from the 51 senators who voted to repeal oil tax breaks. We're not done fighting on this issue yet, though. We'll be back in just a few weeks to press the case again with the Senate and also try and force a vote in the House on ending big oil subsidies. If you haven't already – make sure to sign our petition calling for an end to these subsidies so we keep you in the loop.

Elgin Oil Rig an 'Explosion Waiting to Happen'

A deepwater oil rig in the North Sea owned by oil giant Total suffered a blowout on March 25th when a sudden pressure increase was followed by an escape of mud and gas. Since then, the rig has been uncontrollably leaking natural gas, with some experts warning of an “explosion waiting to happen”.

Total is scrambling to extinguish a flare caused during evacuation proceedings on its Elgin North Sea gas platform that is currently leaking explosive clouds of gas according to the energy department.

Nevertheless, Total has dismissed the risk of a blast at the platform and has described the expected environmental impact from the blast as “minimal.”

A team of international experts are advising the oil giant on how best to plug the leak, with options including drilling a relief well which could take up to six months, or pumping heavy mud into the well which would be faster, but also more dangerous. To date, Total has yet to announce their decision.

Shell Moves Closer to Drilling in Alaska

The Department of Interior approved Royal Dutch Shell’s Oil Spill Response Plan for the Beaufort Sea, marking a step forward in the oil companies quest to drill up to four shallow water exploration wells off the coast of Alaska, beginning on July 1.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar celebrated the move, saying “there is no silver bullet to high gas prices, but we must continue to reduce our reliance on foreign oil and reduce our vulnerability to the ups and downs of the international market.”

But what Ken Salazar failed to mention was that offshore drilling in the fragile Arctic seas could cause irreparable harm to marine mammals and fish, including whales, walruses, ice seals and polar bears and that extreme Arctic conditions would seriously hamper any effort to clean up a spill. Back in January, nearly 600 scientists from around the world signed an open letter urging President Obama and Secretary Ken Salazar, to follow recommendations by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that called for further scientific research before authorizing new oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean. We'll continue to pressure the Obama Administration and Secretary Salazar to abandon plans for arctic drilling, but we need your help.

Beekeepers Petition EPA over Pesticide

Beekeepers, who have seen unusual high bee die-offs since 2006, believe pesticides are to blame and have filed a formal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking it to take clothianidin—the neonicotinoid believed to be creating the trouble—off the market until a more scientifically sound review is completed. 

According to a leaked document, the EPA found a study on bee and pollinator effects by Bayer, the pesticide manufacturer, to be inadequate but went forward with approval anyway.

The beekeepers’ petition claims the EPA violated the Federal Fungicide and Rodenticide Act along with the Endangered Species Act by approving the use of clothianidin without assessing the pesticide’s effects on the a threatened species and the environment.

The EPA said it would work with Bayer to design a better study, but Beekeepers worry that without a suspension of the pesticides use, bee populations may be irreparably harmed in the meantime.

Bees and other pollinators are essential to our ecosystem and the continuation of our way of life.

“One in every three bites of food you eat comes from a plant, or depends on a plant, that was pollinated by an insect, most likely a bee,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Beekeepers have seen average population losses of around 30 percent every year since 2006.