Environmental group claims environmental consultant has undisclosed conflict of interest

The US environmental group Friends of the Earth claims that “the company hired by the State Department to review the environmental impact of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form about its work for pipeline builder TransCanada and other oil companies”. Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth is quoted as saying “If ERM lied about its relationship with TransCanada, how can Secretary Kerry, President Obama or the American people believe anything the company says about the pipeline’s environmental impact?”

Among other claims by FOE are claims that:

  • In papers filed with the State Department in June 2012, ERM certified that it had “no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada” for at least three years.
  • Public records show that TransCanada, ERM and an ERM subsidiary, Oasis Environmental, have worked together at least since 2011 on the Alaska pipeline project.
  • ERM certified that it had no “direct or indirect relationship … with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.”
  • ERM’s own publicly available documents show that in the period 2009-2012 the firm was working for over a dozen of the largest energy companies which stand to benefit if Keystone is built, including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.

Friends of the Earth claims that “it is impossible for the State Department to fairly evaluate whether the pipeline is in the national interest when its environmental review was conducted by a company with deep ties to the oil industry”.

So far there has been no State Department response to FOE’s claims which are clearly intended to derail the US Administration’s review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Unfortunately the environmental consulting industry is rife with direct and indirect, actual and potential, conflicts of interest. For example, without commenting on FOE’s claims, GallonDaily can report that most environmental experts with knowledge of pipelines will have worked for, or hope to work for, pipeline companies. Indeed, it may be that one of the only ways a person can gain the knowledge needed to fully and properly evaluate the environmental impacts of pipelines is by having spent some time working with the industry. We are betting that there are not many pipeline environmental experts who do not have some connection to the pipeline or oil and gas industries.

It is not just in pipelines that these challenges exist. In the area of certification of green products, most companies that provide certification (but not GallonDaily’s parent) get paid, at least in part, on the basis of a percentage of the price of the products sold. One might well ask how a certifier can provide unbiased certification if they stand to gain from sales of the certified product.

GallonDaily recalls that a few years ago a senior official in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation said that roads could easily be built to last for twenty years or more but that the system of selecting the lowest price bidder, less than adequate government specifications, and the fact that the builders who built the road stand a chance of being selected to repair the road when it fails, all mitigate against the construction of longer life more sustainable roads.

It is not just consultants that face these challenges. Many environmental groups accept contributions from industry and, in an individual case, it is difficult to know to what extent these funds influence the group’s findings but it seems somewhat likely that they do.  At the end of the day it may be the integrity of the company and of the individual that matters most.

While environment and Sustainable Development remain discrete specialties to be added on to other activities, rather than being incorporated automatically into everything we do, allegations of conflict of interest in the environmental consulting community will likely continue because consultants work for a wide range of clients with differing interests. It will be interesting to see how the US State Department deals with this particular one.

GallonDaily reports and comments on information about the environment and Sustainable Development that we consider may be of value to the Canadian environment and green business communities. We have not independently verified FOE’s claims.

The FOE press release is available at http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2013-07-conflict-of-interest-state-dept-kxl-contractor-lied-on-oil-ties

Additional information from FOE’s partner on this matter, The Checks and Balances Project, is available at http://checksandbalancesproject.org/

Farmed fish production exceeds beef production

The Washington DC based Earth Policy Institute, headed by well-known environmental and sustainable development advocate Lester R. Brown, has announced that global annual farmed fish production now exceeds global annual beef production. In addition, production of farmed fish is increasing at a significant rate while production of beef has levelled off.

EPI sees this as environmentally beneficial because fish produce protein more efficiently than cattle.  They state that it takes 7 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef but less than 2 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of herbivorous fish such as carp, tilapia, and catfish.

GallonDaily finds the information very interesting but is not yet ready to join the cheering section for fish farming (aquaculture). Humans have thousands of years of experience raising cattle but only decades in large scale aquaculture. Many aquaculture projects have caused significant environmental and health problems. Escape of genetically modified and invasive fish presents risks to wild stocks. Much of the farmed fish in North America is salmon and other species which have poor overall feed conversion because they feed on fish protein.

The use of much greater quantities of fish in place of beef may well be part of a more sustainable future but there is a need to greatly expand research and technology development, as well as regulation, for fish farming if we are to ensure that serious problems do not arise from these activities.

EPI’s article Farmed Fish Production Overtakes Beef is at http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2013/update114

A chapter of one of Lester R. Brown’s books that discusses efficiency of feed conversion by various species is at http://www.earth-olicy.org/books/pb2/pb2ch9_ss4

Europeans support green products but are not sure about manufacturer claims

A new report on European public attitudes towards green products provides useful guidance on the directions that manufacturers and brandowners should be taking to expand this market. We must note that European public attitudes do not necessarily reflect North American public attitudes though European environmental trends sometimes cross the Atlantic.

Among the main findings:

  • A majority of respondents (54%) consider themselves “occasional” consumers of environmentally friendly products.
  • More than a quarter of respondents (26%) often buy environmentally-friendly products (26%).
  • A majority of citizens (55%) in the EU agree that green products are good value for money.
  • Respondents who often buy environmentally-friendly products are much more likely to agree that environmentally-friendly products are good value for money compared to those who only sometimes buy these products (68% and 53%, respectively). This is the only aspect where these two categories really differ, which suggests that lowering the price gap between green and non-green alternatives would enlarge the number of regular consumers.
  • Large majorities of EU citizens believe that buying environmentally-friendly products can make a difference to the environment (89%) and that environmentally-friendly products are as effective as regular products (74%).
  • There is strong agreement across the EU about the ethics of environmentally friendly products: 95% of respondents agree that using environmentally products is ‘the right thing to do’, 91% agree that buying environmentally-friendly products sets a good example and 80% agree that their family and friends would think it was a good thing if they used environmentally-friendly products.
  • Only just over half of EU citizens think that environmentally-friendly products are easily available in shops (54%) and a similar proportion believe that it is easy to differentiate environmentally-friendly products from other products (51%).
  • Two-thirds of EU citizens (66%) are confident that products indicated as environmentally-friendly will cause less damage to the environment than other products.
  • More than three-quarters of respondents are willing to pay more for  environmentally friendly products if they were confident that the products are truly environmentally-friendly (77%).
  • EU citizens take several considerations into account when buying products. The quality of the product is the most important consideration for consumers (97%) followed by the product’s price (87%) and its environmental impact (84%). The least important factor to consumers is the brand name of the product (46%). There has been a significant increase in the number of respondents who say that the environmental impact is more important than price in a purchasing decision since 2009 (25%, + 6 points).
  • EU citizens believe the actions that would have the greatest impact on solving environmental problems are recycling and minimizing waste (54%) and buying low energy consumption home appliances (39%).
  • Only just over half of EU citizens generally trust producers’ claims about the environmental performance of their products (52%). This represents a small increase in trust since the previous survey in 2009 (+3).
  • A majority of EU citizens do not trust companies’ reports on their own  environmental performance (54%), with only 44% trusting these reports.
  • There is strong support among EU citizens for obliging companies to publish reports on their overall environmental performance and the environmental performance of their products. (69%).

A press release announcing the report is available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-653_en.htm

The full 114 page report is available at http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_367_en.pdf

The US coal industry and the environmental movement

This month’s issue of the US magazine Mother Jones, published by a non-profit organization which describes itself a “news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting”, includes an article entitled “The Coal Industry Knows That Enviros Are Winning”.

The article is interesting because it describes how industry groups, in this case the American Coal Council, get themselves locked into political strategies that fail to promote the best interests of the industry.

In this particular case the industry has chosen to describe its opponents as waging a “war on coal”. They have been told by a marketing firm, and apparently agree, that, using this “war on coal” strategy, the industry is losing the battle for public opinion. Nevertheless, according to the Mother Jones article, they still cannot get away from accusing their critics, who now include President Obama, of waging a “war on coal”.

The fact is that coal is as important as ever to the North American economy. Certainly the amount of coal used for electricity generation may decline somewhat over the next 20 years but the reduction in use will be slow and might even be offset by growth in carbon capture and storage, if that technology ever gets off the ground. Steel manufacturing will continue to use coal, because there is no alternative, and there are significant opportunities for coal to replace oil and gas in some petrochemical applications.

GallonDaily is not a booster for the coal industry but there is significant evidence that a substantial, though perhaps slightly smaller, market for coal will continue for many years. By continuing to claim that it is the victim of a “war on coal” the coal industry apparently already knows that it is in a losing battle. If the industry could persuade itself to turn around, to admit that burning of coal for power without CCS and without pollution controls is just insane, and to identify and promote the many new opportunities for coal that will grow in the decades ahead, it will have a much more secure future than derives from trying to argue a “war on coal” strategy.

Some boosters of Canada’s oil sands are behaving in much the same way as the US coal industry. Attempting to persuade the public that the oil sands is a industry beleaguered by enviros is as losing a battle as is being conducted by the  US coal industry.

The Mother Jones article is available at http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/07/coal-industry-knows-enviros-are-winning or in the print magazine available at good magazine retailers across Canada.

More jobs and lower electricity costs from carbon standards

Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. was the author of a recently published study on the economic impacts of a carbon emission standard similar to that announced recently by President Obama. The study was commissioned by Washington DC based Natural Resources Defense Council and other business and labour groups. The top line will not be new to those who support a GHG emissions reduction program:

the carbon pollution driving climate change can be reined in while creating a net increase of at least 210,000 jobs and modestly reducing [residential] electricity bills, by an average of about $.90 per month.

It is the details that GallonDaily found most interesting and potentially of relevance, with appropriate scaling, to Canada:

  • by far the most jobs from the carbon emission standard will come from energy efficiency initiatives: 236,000 by 2020.
  • fewer jobs will come from gas fired power plants (2000 by 2016 but -1600 by 2020) and wind power (1600 by 2016 but only 100 by 2020).
  • coal fired power plants will lose 22,000 jobs by 2016 but gain 20,000 by 2020. This is because of an expected need for new coal fired power plants outfitted with carbon capture and storage technology.
  • photovoltaics will not contribute significantly to employment growth.

The press release announcing the report is at http://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130702.asp

The full report is available at http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_13070101a.pdf

Our 500th anniversary contest winner

Thanks to all who entered our GallonDaily 500th anniversary contest. The winner, selected at random from all correctly completed entries received, is Isabelle Saint-Laurent of Ottawa, Ontario.

To those who did not win this time around, we will have more chocolate, and maybe other, contests from time to time in the future, so please keep reading GallonDaily.com and good luck when you try again.

EU bioenergy report offers advice of value to Canada

The question of whether biofuels are or are not environmentally advantageous continues to be debated with numerous studies being presented from both sides. Some argue that use of crops for energy threatens food supplies and that in any case net lifecycle energy gains when compared to fossil fuel use in similar applications are minor or even negative. Others argue that getting off fossil fuels requires extensive conversion to biofuels. A new report from the European Environment Agency provides an in-depth and credible analysis of the biofuel question. Though it will not immediately end the debate, it should provide a solid basis for future decision making. As observers without an economic interest to pursue might have already deduced, the EEA report concludes that whether or not biofuels are an environmentally preferred alternative to fossil fuels depends very much on how the energy crops and the biofuels are produced.

The report makes the situation very clear:

It is very important to apply resource efficiency principles to developing EU bioenergy production. This means producing more with less while avoiding environmental impacts. There are numerous types and sources of biomass, conversion technologies and potential end uses. Some of these are a good fit with resource efficiency principles, others are not. Biomass from waste and residues from agriculture and forestry offer high resource efficiency whereas the environmental benefits from cultivating crops for bioenergy  (‘energy cropping’) are often limited. Finding resource‑efficient combinations of biomass sources, conversion technologies and energy end uses is the main challenge for the further development of EU bioenergy production in an environmental perspective.

 Among the long list of aspects to be considered are:

  • the choice of biomass feedstock, conversion technology and end use has a huge influence on the efficiency of bioenergy production.
  • using organic waste and agricultural residues as feedstock is highly advantageous as it does not augment pressure on land and water resources and offers very high GHG mitigation gains.
  • the productivity of different energy cropping systems, expressed in terms of harvestable biomass volume per hectare of cultivated area per year, can vary hugely.
  • biomass is a bulk good, making transport logistics a key issue for improving overall efficiency.
  • the GHG balance, soil, water and biodiversity impacts of energy cropping systems depend strongly on the land-use change associated with their cultivation, meaning that the location and type of energy crops matter strongly.
  • today’s energy cropping patterns are not ‘environmentally compatible’
  • perennial bioenergy crops can provide environmental benefits in intensively exploited agricultural landscapes and help to increase landscape diversity. The creation of perennial biomass plantations requires careful planning with detailed knowledge on the production system and the local environmental situation.
  • the question of carbon debt (the GHG emission peak that can arise from the combustion of biomass when the replacement of the biomass through plant growth takes a long time) is crucial in considering the GHG mitigation potential of bioenergy derived from forest biomass.
  • indirect land use change (the displacement of agricultural land use to third countries that results when agricultural production capacity in one country is eliminated due to the diversion of original output to other uses, such as diverting wheat or oilseed rape area from food to energy production) not only affects the GHG balance of bioenergy pathways but also has substantial impacts on soil and water resources as well as biodiversity wherever it takes place. Such indirect effects have not yet been sufficiently studied.
  • the monitoring of energy cropping trends is currently not sufficient to be able to analyse their environmental impact or the effectiveness of (environmental) policy measures in this regard. This has negative repercussions on our ability to improve policy design and implementation.

The 52 page report EU bioenergy potential from a resource-efficiency perspective, highly recommended reading for anyone in the biofuels business or interested in biofuels and biofuels policy,  is available at http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/eu-bioenergy-potential

Report identifies energy wastage that you may not have considered

The non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has published a very interesting report with the title Miscellaneous Energy Loads in Buildings. The report identifies and quantifies energy savings opportunities in both homes and commercial facilities that might previously have been overlooked. The ACEEE claims that not only are the miscellaneous loads a significant energy use category today, they are also the fastest growing.

In the commercial sector the report identifies the following as the most important miscellaneous energy consuming activities where efficiency opportunities are likely to be available:

  • distribution transformers
  • personal computers
  • computer servers
  • walk-in refrigeration
  • fume hoods
  • monitors
  • ice machines
  • printers
  • vending machines
  • medical imaging
  • uninterruptible power supplies
  • elevators and escalators

Less significant energy saving opportunities, potentially important in individual buildings, are also listed. A similar list of envelope and device related energy efficiency opportunities is provided for the residential sector.

One of the best features of this report is that it presents typical energy consumption for each of these uses along with information on energy consumption of state of the art energy efficient devices. Thus building owners and operators can calculate energy savings that are likely to be attainable through building envelope and contents retrofits.

The 71 page report is available at no cost at http://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/publications/researchreports/a133.pdf

Download may require that you provide your contact information.

Our 500th anniversary and a small contest

It took three days longer than we expected, but GallonDaily has just published its 500th article.

In recognition of this milestone we are offering our readers in Canada, the United State, and the United Kingdom the chance to win a package of 500 grams of fair trade organic chocolate.

All you have to do is to send an email to editor@gallonletter.ca with chocolate in the subject line and the answer to the following question in the body of the email:

Which is said to be Canada’s most threatened river in terms of environmental flows?

You will find the answer in a recent GallonDaily article. Correct spelling of the name of the river is required!

Also include your name, address (for mailing purposes), and telephone number so we can send you your prize if you are the lucky winner.

The fine print:

A draw will be made among all entries received by 9.00am Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EST) on Thursday 4th July 2013. The randomly selected entrant will receive 500 grams of fair trade organic chocolate by mail. Your contact information will be used only to send you the prize if you are the lucky winner and will not be used for any other purpose. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Contest limited to residents of Canada, USA, and UK. Persons associated with GallonDaily or Gallon Environment Letter are not eligible. The name and home town of the winner, but no other contact details, will be published in GallonDaily on Friday 5th July 2013. Decisions of GallonDaily and its publisher regarding the draw are final.

Good luck!

Nuclear power may be limited by uranium supply

A respected and peer-reviewed journal, Science of the Total Environment, has published a new article by Michael Dittmar, a lecturer at the Institute of Particle Physics at ETH Zurich, a leading technology and natural sciences university, presenting evidence that global supplies of uranium are peaking within the next two years and that availability of uranium will become tight, and insufficient to fuel existing and already planned nuclear power plants, during the next 10–20 years.

Dittmar’s previous papers predicting “peak uranium”, akin to the concept of peak oil, have been controversial within the industry. However, his latest paper presents updated data and arguments. Certainly he continues to present his arguments and reaches the conclusion that “it will be difficult to avoid supply shortages even under a slow 1%/year worldwide nuclear energy phase-out scenario up to 2025”.

Dittmar argues for a somewhat more rapid worldwide nuclear energy phase-out and states that “If such a slow global phase-out is not voluntarily effected, the end of the present cheap uranium supply situation will be unavoidable. The result will be that some countries will simply be unable to afford sufficient uranium fuel at that point, which implies involuntary and perhaps chaotic nuclear phase-outs in those countries involving brownouts, blackouts, and worse.”

GallonDaily suggests that the result of a tightening uranium supply may well be increased pressure for reprocessing of used fuel and unused nuclear weapons. Locating new facilities for such activities could well be one of the most heated battlegrounds of the next decade.

An abstract (free) of Dittmar’s paper, The End of Cheap Uranium, and a link to the full article (fee) is available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969713004579