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Tarnished by the Enron scandal, can this brand be saved?

By Drew Harwell September 2 at 6:01 AM

An Arthur Andersen employee protests the accounting firm’s indictment by the US Justice Department in 2002. Years later, the name appears poised for a return. (Jonathan Kirn/ Bloomberg News)

The name Arthur Andersen took one of the most dramatic falls in U.S. corporate history, disgraced in the Enron scandal – but it might be poised to make a comeback in a risky rebranding led by former employees.

In early 2001, the accounting firm was one of the nation’s largest and most prosperous, regarded as a gold standard of integrity in the financial world. Within a year, it was decimated and marked as a corporate fraud after the mass shredding of documents during the Enron collapse.

Some of the 85,000 Andersen workers who lost their jobs in the aftermath launched a new firm, with a new name, attempting to distance themselves from the namesake’s tarnished auditing practice and the fallout of Enron’s vaporized billions in investor stock.

WTAS has grown into an international tax giant, and its leaders have some unexpected news: The firm will reclaim the old name as AndersenTax.

Chief executive Mark Vorsatz said he knows how crazy the move sounds, but he also points to company-commissioned research that found Andersen’s name is still held in high esteem.

It is a high-profile bet that time can heal wounds from even worldwide financial scandals. But a miscalculation could critically damage the reputation the firm has fought fiercely to restore. The multimillion-dollar dilemma: Just how toxic can an international brand become – and still be saved?

A Wall Street golden child for its unbelievable results as a Houston energy trader, Enron was exposed as a “mind-numbingly complex” spider web of financial maneuvering and hidden debts. As the firm’s auditor, it was Andersen’s job to ensure the firm told investors the truth in its financial reports. Yet Andersen also benefited handsomely from Enron’s millions in the form of consulting services. Some Andersen executives even took jobs on Enron’s payroll.

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David Roberts’ top 10 greatest hits

By Grist staff

29 Aug 2014 12:52 PM

Original source:

Grist climate and energy blogger David Roberts is about to return from a year-long sabbatical. So it’s the perfect time to revisit the top 10 posts from his 10 years of writing for Grist.

The medium chill. Roberts describes his efforts to step off the “aspirational treadmill” and accept some material constraints in exchange for a life with more free time, relationships, and experiences. This is the post that ultimately led him to take a year off.

Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed. This is Roberts’ much-loved TEDx talk, with extra insights sprinkled on top.

• The left’s gone left but the right’s gone nuts: Asymmetrical polarization in action. Political polarization has risen sharply in recent years, Roberts writes, but Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left.

Solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities. This popular post led to a series that’s a lot more exciting than it sounds: Utilities for dummies.

Climate analysts are from Mars, climate activists are from Venus … but they both live on Earth. Is Keystone XL a smart issue for campaigners to focus on? Roberts weighs in. And he later follows up with: The virtues of being unreasonable on Keystone and What should the climate movement do next?

Post-truth politics. Republicans have realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda, Roberts says, and that makes it really hard to have sane conversations about issues, let alone craft good policy.

Discount rates: A boring thing you should know about (with otters!). A dry, complex topic is explained with help from wet, cute critters.

Everything you always wanted to know about EPA greenhouse gas regulations, but were afraid to ask. Another dry, complex topic, this time explained with dry, cute critters (bunnies!).

The brutal logic of climate change. Wherein Roberts lays it out like it is. And don’t miss the follow-ups: The brutal logic of climate change mitigation and ‘Brutal logic’ and climate communications.

Hope and fellowship. Is there any hope? Or are we just f*cked? Roberts is less cynical and more hopeful than you might think.

Did we miss your favorite? Call us out for any omissions in comments below.

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Labor of Love: How My Small WV Town Launched a Game-Changing New Model to Go Solar

Posted: 08/28/2014 1:58 pm EDT Updated: 08/28/2014 8:59 pm EDT

Mary Anne Hitt Become a fan

Director, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

This week, my small town in West Virginia cut the ribbon on a solar project that isn't just the largest crowd-funded solar project in the state, but also launches a new model making it possible for any WV community organization to go solar. On a perfect sunny day, 100 elementary school students and dozens of community members joined my husband, Than Hitt, and my daughter Hazel, who cut the ribbon for a 60-panel solar system at the historic Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. It was an unforgettable day that crystalized all our hopes for the future of West Virginia, and exemplified the power of regular people to change the world.

The genius of this project was that the church went solar for just $1, thanks to over 100 community members who contributed - but they donated their water heaters, not their dollars. Maryland-based Mosaic Power pays homeowners $100 per year to have smart meters installed on their home water heaters that save energy and, in the aggregate, operate as a safe, efficient mini-power plant. These community members are each donating their $100 per year to the church solar project, collectively raising enough money to pay for the solar system. The financing model was developed by our brilliant friend Dan Conant and his company Solar Holler, and now that we have proof of concept in Shepherdstown, he's taking it statewide.

The church is going to generate nearly half of its electricity from the sun, reducing pollution, saving money, and living out the congregation's commitment to caring for the Earth. I'm a member of this remarkable church, where we've spent many a Sunday morning lamenting the destruction polluting energy development has wreaked on our state, from mountaintop removal mining to the coal chemical spill in Charleston earlier this year.

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Communities going into power business to cut cost, carbon footprint

"This follows on the heels of the whole local food movement," Chris Mann, chief executive of yerba mate tea maker Guayaki in Sebastopol, Calif., says of the community power shift. "It is part of re-localization."

Related Content Kellogg boosts efforts to help battle climate changeBoeing, South African Airways to develop jet fuel from tobaccoActivists say California fighting pollution globally but not locally

By Evan Halper

September 1, 2014, 6:17 p.m.

Sonoma County, which enticed Americans to forsake factory-made food for artisan wines and farmers market produce, now wants consumers to reconsider another everyday commodity.

New on the menu: locally curated energy.

The county is at the forefront among eco-minded communities plunging into the power business nationwide.

Impatient with the pace at which states and the federal government are confronting climate change, communities from the coast of Massachusetts, Cincinnati, Chicago and Boulder, Colo., have begun taking steps to elbow aside big electricity companies and find green power themselves.

Sonoma County now offers tens of thousands of ratepayers energy that is significantly greener — and slightly cheaper — than that sold by the region's utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Customers who want 100% local renewable power can pay extra and get every kilowatt they use from a geothermal plant in the region's hills.

"This follows on the heels of the whole local food movement," said Chris Mann, chief executive of Guayaki, a maker of yerba mate teas. The company's headquarters — complete with indoor skate park — is in the bohemian town of Sebastopol, which has designated itself nuclear free. Guayaki opted to go 100% geothermal.

"It is part of re-localization," Mann said. "We are taking back power."

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Climate Crisis a Public-Health Emergency Too: Why Nurses Will Join Climate March Sept. 21

Posted: 08/28/2014 10:05 pm EDT Updated: 08/30/2014 12:00 pm EDT

Deborah Burger Become a fan

Co-President of America's RN Union: National Nurses United

Early last November Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into the Philippines, leaving more than 6,000 people dead, tens of thousands injured, and many more bereft of their homes and livelihoods. The storm was called the most powerful tropical cyclone ever to make landfall.

Few of the international media who flew in to report on the devastation noted an underlying cause: subsurface ocean waters recorded at 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average, fueling the intensity of the storm.

But National Nurses United, which rapidly dispatched a number of nurse volunteers, who provided basic, hands-on medical support for thousands of the injured, never lost sight of a broader concern.

Taking a break one day from the medical mission, RN volunteers joined a press conference with local healthcare and environmental activists, noting that huge storms are not new but are far worse because of the consequences of the human-made climate crisis.

"Climate change and global warming has brought this misfortune to the Philippines. This affects us globally, from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in the United States to typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines," said RN volunteer Jane Sandoval at the press conference.

Given those experiences and what nurses see at home, NNU members join the climate march in New York Sept. 21 because they see the effects of the climate crisis and experience it in their communities and, most importantly, with their patients.

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EPA staff recommends significantly lower ozone standard

Neela Banerjee, Tony Barboza

August 29, 2014, 9:25 p.m.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff said Friday that the nation should tighten smog rules significantly, a step that would improve air quality in California but force costly new requirements on government and industry.

The EPA staff recommendation is the final step before the rule goes to the agency's leadership and the White House. As a result of lawsuits by environmental and health groups, the agency must propose a new ozone rule by December and the final rule by October 2015.

Federal standards for ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, have proved deeply contentious because they would compel many states, cities and industries to adopt new measures to cut air pollution at a cost of billions of dollars.

California would be particularly affected because much of the state does not meet the current, weaker standard for ozone that has been in place since 2008.

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Nuclear Waste Is Allowed Above Ground Indefinitely


As the country struggles to find a place to bury spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that nuclear waste from power plants can be stored above ground in containers that can be maintained and guarded indefinitely.

The decision, in a unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, means that new nuclear plants can be built and old ones can expand their operations despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the waste.

The chairwoman of the commission, who voted with the majority but dissented on certain aspects, said Friday that the vote risked allowing Congress to ignore the long-term problem.

“If you make the assumption that there will be some kind of institution that will exist, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that will assure material stays safe for hundreds or thousands of years, there’s not much impetus for Congress to want to deal with this issue,” the chairwoman, Allison M. Macfarlane, said Friday. “Personally, I think that we can’t say with any certainty what the future will look like. We’re pretty damned poor at predicting the future.”

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Want to fight climate change? Build more nuclear power.

Aging plants and competition from cheaper alternatives threaten the future of US nuclear power, the country's largest source of carbon-free electricity. Even with renewable energy, it will be exceedingly difficult to meet US climate change targets if much of American nuclear goes offline, Cunningham writes.

By Nick Cunningham, August 28, 2014

The floundering U.S. nuclear industry just got a bit of good news: Utah is considering building two new nuclear reactors.

Blue Castle Holdings Inc. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Westinghouse that could eventually lead to the construction of two AP1000 nuclear reactors. The two reactors have an estimated cost of $10 billion and an estimated operational date of 2024.

If constructed, Blue Castle says the reactors will increase Utah’s electricity generation capacity by 50 percent, which would replace the power lost with the retirement of a few coal plants in the state.

The announcement is important because building new nuclear reactors in the United States has been a struggle, to say the least. There are five other reactors under construction – two in South Carolina, two in Georgia, and one in Tennessee. All have suffered delays and unexpected cost increases.

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Confidence — What Does It Mean For Nuclear Waste?

Can we be confident that we can handle our nuclear waste in America? On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said – yes. The NRC made a small but incredibly important decision about nuclear waste that could finally get nuclear energy moving forward again.

In response to a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the NRC approved a generic environmental impact statement that clears the way for storing spent nuclear fuel for a hundred years or more (NRC Ruling). New nuclear power plants can now be built without waiting for a final nuclear waste repository to be built (Matt Wald – NYTimes).

This is indeed a very good thing.

Nuclear power plants in the United States have safely stored spent nuclear fuel for decades in spent fuel pools of water and, later, in concrete dry casks. There has never been a problem.

But the centerpiece of our nuclear waste program has always been the idea of a deep geologic repository as the final resting place for nuclear waste.

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Why coal is (still) worse than fracking and cow burps

By Chris Mooney

Cross-posted from Climate Desk

30 Aug 2014 7:48 AM

Original source: :

Is fracking for natural gas good for the planet?

To understand the pitched fight over this question, you first need to realize that for many years, we’ve been burning huge volumes of coal to get electricity — and coal produces a ton of carbon dioxide, the chief gas behind global warming. Natural gas, by contrast, produces half as much carbon dioxide when it burns, and thus, the fracking boom has been credited with a decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. So far so good, right?

Umm, maybe. Recently on our Inquiring Minds podcast, we heard from Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, who contends that it just isn’t that simple. Methane (the main component of natural gas) is also a hard-hitting greenhouse gas, if it somehow finds its way into the atmosphere. And Ingraffea argued that because of high leakage rates of methane from shale gas development, that’s exactly what’s happening. The trouble is that methane has a much greater “global warming potential” than carbon dioxide, meaning that it has a greater “radiative forcing” effect on the climate over a given time period (and especially over shorter time periods). In other words, according to Ingraffea, the CO2 savings from burning natural gas instead of coal is being canceled out by all the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when we’re extracting and transporting that gas. (Escaped methane from natural gas drilling complements other preexisting sources, such as the belching of cows.)

But not every scientist agrees with Ingraffea’s methane-centered argument. In particular, Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago, has prominently argued that carbon dioxide “is in a class by itself” among greenhouse warming pollutants, because unlike methane, its impacts occur over such a dramatic timescale that they are “essentially irreversible.” That’s because of carbon dioxide’s incredibly long-term effect on the climate: Given a large pulse of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much of it will still be there 10,000 years later. By contrast, even though methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide over a short timeframe, its atmospheric lifetime is only about 12 years.

Applied to the debate over natural gas, that could mean that seeing gas displace coal is a good thing in spite of any concerns about methane leaks.

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Empty study paves the way for fracking in California

By Sara Bernard

29 Aug 2014 5:10 PM

Original source:

Well, there you have it, ladies and gents: Fracking’s just fine! A study found no significant evidence to suggest that fracking and similar extraction techniques are harmful to the environment.

Energy companies poised to dig into California’s reserves are breathing a sigh of relief. The findings pave the way for the Bureau of Land Management to resume issuing oil and gas leases on federal land in California next year, following a temporary halt to the practice last year and the defeat of an attempted statewide moratorium on fracking this spring.

But here’s the catch: The study didn’t contain much information.

From the Los Angeles Times:

For example, the report found no evidence of water contamination from fracking in California, but the scientist directing the research, Jane Long, said researchers also had no data on the quality of water near fracking sites.

“We can only tell you what the data we could get says,” said Long, a former director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “We can’t tell you what we don’t know.”

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Oil Industry Gets An Earful As It Eyes Florida’s Everglades

by Greg Allen

March 13, 2014 5:46 PM ET

Original source:

Drilling companies have new interest in southern Florida's Big Cypress preserve. The prospect of large-scale operations and possibly fracking worries environmentalists and residents.

As oil production goes, Florida isn't much of a player. The state produced less than 2 million barrels last year, which is how much oil Texas pumps from its wells each day.

That's about to change as the revolution in oil drilling technology comes to Florida.

One of the areas targeted for oil drilling is at Jaime Duran's doorstep in the southwestern part of the state. A retired engineer, Duran lives in a cottage with his wife, Pamela, and the chickens they raise on a 5-acre plot. Last year, the Durans were surprised when a man came by with information about a plot of land just 1,300 feet from their house.

"He said he wasn't supposed to tell us a lot of things," Jaime Duran says. "But he says, basically, they're putting an oil well there."

The man was from a company hired by the driller. He delivered a letter that warned residents that they were in an evacuation zone, and of the possibility of a release of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. Duran and his wife began doing research and asking questions.

The more they learned, the more alarmed they became, Duran says.

"Our biggest concern is not the hydrogen sulfide," he says. "Our biggest concern is the brine, the produced waters. Every gallon of oil that they extract, they will get 20 gallons of salt water. And that salt water is toxic."

A Texas company has already received permission from the state to drill an exploratory well on the land. The Dan A. Hughes Co. is now seeking permission for an injection well that would accommodate the millions of gallons of toxic brine produced in the drilling process.


Activists rallied outside a community center in Naples, Fla., before recent hearings on a proposed oil well in the western Everglades.

Greg Allen/NPR

Residents and environmental groups strongly oppose the plan. At a community center in Naples, state and federal officials recently held hearings to take public comments on the proposed well. Outside, activists rallied and chanted, calling on the EPA to deny the permit for an injection well, and for state authorities to reverse their decision allowing exploratory drilling.

A residents' group called Preserve Our Paradise has already filed a legal challenge. With just one road serving a large community, the current evacuation plan would not be adequate if there's an explosion, spill or toxic gas release, the group says.

Matthew Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, has environmental concerns. The well would be in the heart of the western Everglades, an area more diverse than Everglades National Park.

"It's not just saw grass. It's got this tremendous diversity," Schwartz says. "It is the last holdout for the Florida panther."

Florida's state animal is one of the most endangered species in America, with no more than 160 still left in the wild. With declining habitat, the panther's outlook already isn't good. Schwartz worries that mounting a major industrial operation will drive them out of the area.

But Florida's fish and wildlife commission disagrees. At the hearing, Darrell Land, a state panther specialist, said he saw no reason why the drilling would pose a problem.

"Panthers have utilized areas where active oil extraction is going on, and they've been doing that for 30 to 40 years," Land says. "We also know that panthers have learned to coexist with all kinds of disruption."

His comments, along with those of other state officials, were met with jeers and boos from the audience.

So far, state and federal officials haven't indicated that they see anything to stop the permit applications from being approved.

With new drilling technology, even long-neglected oil fields, such as those in Florida, can now be made productive. Oil companies have applied for 15 new drilling permits within the past year in Florida, and more are likely coming.

David Mica, the head of the Florida Petroleum Council, says with new techniques of directional drilling, companies can search for oil in sensitive areas with minimal surface disturbances.

"It's really the sort of thing that those that are concerned about our environment should be cheering for," Mica says.

The Dan A. Hughes Co. says it has no plans at this point to use fracking in Florida. But skeptical drilling opponents say that if the company changes its mind, Florida's rules do allow it to begin fracking in the Everglades after notifying state regulators.

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Growing Chinese appetite ignites U.S. methanol renaissance

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 9:48 am by Rhiannon Meyers in Chemicals, featured, General, Natural gas

China’s growing appetite for methanol has ignited a renaissance in North America, where vast supplies of cheap natural gas from the U.S. shale boom are attracting Chinese investments into new methanol plants.

The methanol market has accelerated rapidly in recent years as the Chinese throw their money behind new projects to expand North America’s capacity to produce methanol. Made from natural gas, methanol is used in a wide range of products, including plastics, paints, solvents, refrigerants and pigments.

Other countries also use methanol as a replacement or an additive to gasoline, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not approved it as a transportation fuel.

According to projections, the world will add 50 million metric tons of new methanol capacity within the next decade, with about one-third of that coming from North America, according to a new report by Houston-based energy analyst firm IHS.

“This is more than six times today’s output, and heralds the return of the North American methanol industry as a production powerhouse,” said Mike Nash, global director of syngas chemicals at IHS Chemical in a statement.

North America is now poised to become a net exporter of methanol in 2017, IHS said.

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Commentary: Mexico enters shale play

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm by Brigham McCown in Crude oil, Eagle Ford, Exploration, Gulf of Mexico

While the energy world has been focused on Canadian shale over the past few years, Mexico has been quietly emerging as a major player in the crude oil and natural gas industry.

With the recent passage of massive energy reforms in Mexico, billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are now available for production in the Burgos Basin, otherwise known as the Eagle Ford Shale.

The reform ended PEMEX’s 75-year monopoly on oil and gas production in Mexico.  Over the past several decades, this monopoly had a stranglehold on the industry, with Mexican oil production hitting a 24-year low last year.  PEMEX originally formed out of nationalist fervor, and over the years became one of the government’s largest sources of income. Unfortunately, the organization became notoriously bureaucratic and corrupt, heralding the necessity for change.

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Hearing to discuss Mexico’s energy impact on Texas

Posted on August 29, 2014 at 10:27 am by Jennifer Hiller in Latin America, Politics/Policy, Texas

An energy boom is brewing across the border, and a joint legislative hearing in September will talk about the potential impact on the Rio Grande Valley.

A joint hearing of the Texas House Energy Resources Committee and the House International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee will be held Sept. 26 in Edinburg.

The hearing is open to the public.

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