It’s uneasy being green

 Going Green
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 19, 2013

It was a difficult, if not altogether bleak year for environmentalists in Maine, around the country, and around the world.

In 2013, we received confirmation of what many of us have known for years: What’s happening to the earth, the damage being wrought upon our oceans and atmosphere, is our fault.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told us in its 2013 report, the most damning one yet. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced this summer, contains many provisions meant to mitigate that warming; among the highlights are measures to increase fuel economy, cut carbon pollution from power plants, and expand cooperation with developing nations to reduce global emissions. In November, the president established the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired by the White House, composed of more than 25 federal agencies, and advised by a separate task force of state, local, and tribal leaders. Many see these moves as Obama’s attempt to carve out a meaningful environmental legacy.

What Obama decides to do about the Keystone XL pipeline will be another indicator of his resolve on climate issues. The president has said he will approve the pipeline — which would pump diluted bitumen from Canadia oil-sands fields down to the Gulf of Mexico — “only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” A disappointing draft environmental report from the State Department issued in March suggested that the project would have little impact on climate change (not because it’s ecologically benign, but because tar-sands development will move forward regardless). Pipeline proponents and opponents are anxiously awaiting the final version of the report, which is expected this spring.

The tar-sands debate played out locally in 2013, in the form of a citizen-initiated referendum effort that would have prohibited tar-sands oil from being brought into or shipped out of South Portland — a response to ongoing concerns that the Portland Pipe Line Corporation would reverse the flow of its underground pipes to accommodate the transport of viscous diluted bitumen. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance was narrowly defeated at the ballot box in November, but on Monday evening, the South Portland City Council approved (in a 6-1 vote) a six-month moratorium on exporting tar-sands oil from the SoPo port. The moratorium reflects South Portlanders’ obvious opposition to tar-sands oil and gives local officials time to craft a permanent law to regulate or possibly even ban the substance in the city.

The city councilor to oppose the moratorium, Michael Pock, told the Forecaster that he believed it was unfair to the oil industry (world’s smallest violin alert!). Indeed, the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil and gas industry in Washington DC, has already threatened legal action. In a letter to the SoPo council, API vice-president Henry Ng called the moratorium “ill-advised, unnecessary, and unsupported;” citing its implications for cross-border and interstate trade, Ng said the moratorium “would face strong legal challenges and would be found invalid under state and federal law.”

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