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Debate over natural gas drilling now being waged at universities
Fracking Open

Kaustuv Basu, Inside Higher Ed
… the battle for hearts and minds in the debate over natural gas drilling is increasingly being waged at universities, with much squabbling between researchers about studies and industry influence.

The latest battleground in this war is the State University of New York at Buffalo, where upset faculty members say that a report by a new institute hews too close to industry viewpoints. Similar allegations surfaced two years ago at Pennsylvania State University where a dean said that a study crossed the line between research and advocacy, while faculty members at Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have traded sharp words over studies on natural gas drilling.

The imprimatur of a university brings much-needed prestige, recognition and legitimacy to research, and that’s why industry has always tried to associate with academic bodies, said Thomas McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research. “When research is associated with a university, lawmakers take notice and the public notices too,” he said.

Meanwhile, faculty members are under more and more pressure to bring in research grants, McGarity said. “If they don’t do so, they are seen as unsuccessful,” he said. The answer, McGarity said, is to make research absolutely transparent.

Transparency is one issue being brought up at SUNY Buffalo, where concerned faculty members are raising questions about the university’s Shale Resources and Society Institute. The institute released a report in May called “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies,” which said that industry practices and state rules had made drilling for natural gas safer and that the risks associated with it continue to decrease. Aggrieved faculty members says that the institute was formed without proper faculty input, its funding sources are unclear and it has solicited the gas industry’s money.

The issue of fracking has been intensely debated in the state, with new reports suggesting that Governor Andrew Cuomo might allow limited drilling for gas.

After a Buffalo-based watchdog group called the Public Accountability Initiative questioned the credibility of the report, E. Bruce Pitman, dean of College of Arts and Sciences at the university, issued a statement saying that the institute would provide “scientific research and analysis on all sides of the issues surrounding shale gas” and the university was going to examine the questions being raised about the report. An editor’s note was added to a previous university announcement, which incorrectly claimed the report was peer-reviewed.
(6 July 2012)

Guatemala farmers losing their land to Europe’s demand for biofuels

John Vidal, Energy Bulletin
Indigenous smallholder farmers are being violently evicted as companies move in to satisfy Europe’s hunger for biofuels

Maria Josefa Macz and Daniel Pascual were called at five in the morning, and asked to come quickly to the Polochic valley in southern Guatemala. Ethnic Maya Q’eqchi communities of smallholder farmers said they were being violently evicted by state security forces from land they had farmed for generations. Helicopters with armed men leaning out were flying overhead, private security guards and paramilitary forces were attacking people, and houses and crops were being burned. The farmers could not speak Spanish and needed help dealing with the police, as well as legal advice on how to stop giant biofuel companies taking their land.

When Macz and Pascual, human rights workers from the Guatemala Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), arrived after a six-hour drive from the capital, Guatemala City, two of the communities had been brutally evicted. Over the next four days, 10 more villages were cleared. By the end of March 2011, around 800 families – about 3,200 people from 14 communities – had been forced off land they believed they had a right to live and work on. Within months, hundreds of hectares of the lush valley in the province of Alta Verapaz were being planted with sugar cane that would be turned into ethanol for European cars, including British ones.

… the unprecedented worldwide rush for land to grow food or fuel crops for the international market is now hitting some of the poorest communities hard, and leaving them at risk of violence and landlessness. Guatemala is now one of the world centres for growing biofuel crops.

In Guatemala, says Pascual, who is petitioning European governments and the UN over the atrocity, more than 300 requests for land have been made in the past few years by large companies to mine for gold, silver and nickel; prospect for oil; develop hydroelectric power; or grow biofuel crops. More than 150 other areas have been identified as places of potential conflict over resources. The Polochic valley has been earmarked by international companies as suitable for biofuel crops.

The 2008 decision by EU countries to obtain 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020 has proved to be the catalyst for many evictions, says Oxfam. To meet the EU target, the total land area required to grow industrial biofuels in developing countries has been estimated as 17.5m hectares (43.2m acres), more than half the size of Italy.

“What happened in the Polochic valley exemplifies what is now happening all over the world. The latest data suggests up to 203m hectares of land has been acquired by companies in land deals and two-thirds of that is for biofuels,
(5 July 2012)

Tax Billionaires, Carbon to Improve Prosperity, says UN

Staff, Common Dreams
Taxing the world’s wealthiest individuals and placing a global tax on carbon emissions are just a couple of the ways that the world can achieve economic stability, adapt to out of control climate change, and improve prosperity for millions of people, according to a new UN survey.

The report, which cites the repeated failure of the world’s wealthiest nations to fulfill development commitments and a nearly $167 billion shortfall in 2011 for projects designed to help the world’s poor and most vulnerable, recommends a new regiment of revenue-generating programs including a carbon tax, a currency transaction tax and a billionaires tax to fill the widening gap.

Taken together, the UN estimates such programs could raise as much as $400 billion annually to aid the poor, fight climate change and help meet the Millennium Development Goals.
(7 July 2012)

Is Union Busting to Blame for Power Outages in D.C.?

Mike Elk, In These Times
On Thursday, 15,091 Washington, D.C.-area residents were without power for the sixth day in a row, according to utility company Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal. As D.C. residents face record heat waves, many are upset and attribute the lack of power to incompetence on Pepco’s end. However, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1900 members claim the failure to restore power outages is due to chronic understaffing and Pepco’s shift from hiring union utility workers to non-union temporary contractors.A hand-written sign about local power company Pepco hangs on a pole in a residential neighborhood July 2, 2012 in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We have half the linemen we had 15 years ago,” says IBEW Local 1900 Business Agent Jim Griffin, whose union represents 1,150 Pepco workers. “We have been complaining for a very long time. They have relied for a long time on contractors. They are transients, they don’t know our system, and we typically have to go behind them to fix their mistakes. It’s very frustrating. We take ownership in our work, we make careers out of this.”

Griffin says that starting 15 years ago, Pepco stopped hiring workers to replace retiring electrical workers and offered incentive-laden buyout deals to get electricians to retire. In order to address understaffing problems, Pepco has at times hired non-union temporary contractors, instead of hiring new workers. Griffin estimates that Pepco currently employs 1,150 union workers and approximately 400 non-union contractors. The understaffing has led to problems that the IBEW warned about years ago.

“Everything is keyed on dollars and cents profit,” warned IBEW Utility Director Jim Hunter back in 2005. “Storm outages are longer, and utilities are asking for more and more help from other utilities. The problem is that other companies are in the same boat. And they are still not hiring.”
(7 July 2012)

Renewable Energy, Not Carbon Capture and Storage

David Suzuki,
What can we do with wastes from our industrial pursuits—from fossil fuel extraction, agriculture, chemical, and pharmaceutical manufacturing? We’ve been spewing lots of it into the air, but that isn’t a good plan. Carbon dioxide, ozone, mercury, and other emissions harm human health and contribute to global warming and holes in the ozone layer. We’ve dumped it into the oceans. But that compromises marine life that billions of people rely on for food.

We could bury it: Out of sight, out of mind. But we’re learning that hiding it below our feet isn’t the best solution, either. Several scientific reports have called into question everything from injection wells to carbon capture and storage. The latter is a key component of the federal and Alberta governments’ climate change strategies and budgets.

According to a recent study, little is known about leaks from the 680,000 waste and injection sites in the U.S., but structural failures are common.
(4 July 2012)