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Oil refinery strike spreads across US

    An oil refinery strike continues to spread across California, Texas, and elsewhere across the US. It is now the largest US oil refinery strike in nearly 35 years.

    By Andy Tully, FEBRUARY 24, 2015

    KeFifteen refineries in the United States are now the targets of a strike by the United Steelworkers (USW) after the union and the principal management negotiator, Shell Oil Co., recessed ithout reported progress on worker health and safety issues at the facilities. No new talks were immediately scheduled.

    Members of the USW work at more than 200 US oil terminals and pipelines as well as refineries and chemical plants. They began the strike at nine oil refineries and chemical plants on Feb. 1 after negotiations with the US arm of Royal Dutch Shell failed to produce a three-year agreement covering 30,000 hourly workers.

    The negotiations had begun Jan. 21 with a settlement deadline of midnight, Jan. 31. The USW had rejected five offers by Shell, which also was negotiating on behalf of several other large oil companies operating in the United States, including Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. The union has rejected seven contract offers. (Related: Strikes The Latest Threat Facing US Oil Industry)

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    At L.A. oil refinery, striking workers vent about long hours and stress

    BY TIFFANY HSU  February 26, 2015, 2:12 p.m.

    Hanz Zalamea got used to leaving work grumpy and dazed, like a college student after an all-nighter.

    Before going on strike from the Carson portion of Tesoro Corp.'s Los Angeles oil refinery — one of 15 striking plants nationwide — he often worked several straight 12-hour graveyard shifts in the hydrocracker unit.

    He monitored machines handling temperatures many times hotter than boiling water and equipment applying more than 1,000 pounds of pressure. Zalamea, 38, regularly left about 5:30 a.m., not long before he had to drive his young children to school.

    "It's depressing," he said. "Sometimes I don't feel like I'm all there."

    Worker fatigue and safety are key sticking points in the weeks-long strike, according to Zalamea and other members of the United Steelworkers union. They cite low staffing levels, long hours and hiring policies that allow too many contractors unfamiliar with the plant.

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    Jobs are shifting back to cities — and that’s good news for mass transit

    By Ben Adler on 26 Feb 2015

    To read the entire article go to:

    After decades of gradual dispersal to the suburbs, jobs are beginning to return to the center of cities — and that creates opportunities for expanding mass transit systems.

    A new analysis of Census data from the think tank City Observatory finds: “Downtown employment centers of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are recording faster job growth than areas located further from the city center.” City centers, defined as a three-mile radius around the central business district, averaged 0.5 percent job growth per year from 2007 to 2011, despite the massive recession of 2008-2009. During the same period, surrounding peripheral areas lost jobs at an annual rate of 0.1 percent.

    This represents a major departure from the previous 60 years of American history. Jobs have been radiating outward from the urban core since the beginning of the post-War period that I like to call the Sprawl Era. Between 1947 and 1963, central cities lost jobs in every sector except services. Suburbs, meanwhile, rapidly gained jobs in everything from manufacturing to services to retail. By the 2002-2007 period, that trend had slowed: city centers experienced 0.1 percent net job growth per year, versus 1.2 percent for the periphery. (The periphery, since it includes outlying areas within cities, is not exactly the same as suburbs.)

    The shift in job growth from outer areas to urban ones in the latter half of the last decade mirrors the recent shifts we’ve seen in population growth and in how people get around. Big city populations started growing around 2010. Vehicle miles traveled per capita dropped for the first time ever in 2005 and they have kept declining.

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    Tesla co-founder wants to reinvent the … garbage truck?

    By Liz Core on 25 Feb 2015

    Original source:

    A co-founder of Tesla wants to clean up our roadways by electrifying big ol’ gas-guzzling automobiles — and when cleaning up the streets, where better to start than with garbage trucks?

    Ian Wright, one of Tesla’s three co-founders, left the fledgling company after one year to launch his own startup, Wrightspeed Powertrains, which manufactures electric power units (or, for the EV nerds out there, range-extended electric powertrains) for large trucks and delivery vehicles. It was his way of saying, “Hey, maybe we could lower carbon emissions more if we fixed the vehicles doing the most damage.” Smart guy.

    But, sigh, the trucks aren’t completely clean — and not just because they’re typically full of garbage. The powertrain technology generates some electricity from braking, but it also relies on an internal natural gas generator (like the kind you keep in your garage just in case a hurricane wipes out your power). But emissions from the generators aren’t near as harmful as plugging into the coal-powered grid, Wright explained to Fast Company last year:

    “People intuitively think that nothing’s cleaner than an EV because there’s no tailpipe emissions, but of course the energy’s coming from power stations,” he says. “In the U.S., there’s quite a bit of coal. With our system … it’s actually cleaner if you don’t plug in.”

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    Hyperloop’s 1st home may be Central Valley eco-utopia

    By David R. Baker

    February 26, 2015 Updated: February 26, 2015 12:26pm


    Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology promises to transport passengers at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour.

    Elon Musk’s “hyperloop” system for high-speed travel may debut in a long-planned, solar-powered city that a former book publisher wants to build from scratch in the Central Valley.

    The proposed hyperloop, whose passengers would ride in pods racing through sealed tubes, is slated for Quay Valley, a sustainable city straddling Interstate 5 in Kings County.

    It was first pitched years ago and was nearly killed by the recession. Quay Valley (pronounced Kway) would get most of its electricity from the sun, recycle its wastewater and encourage its residents to avoid driving. Hence the hyperloop.

    Together, the hyperloop and the city represent two bold visions of sustainable development — albeit visions that may never get built.

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    Batteries are so passé: Toyota unveils its fuel cell car production line

    After giving up on its battery partnership with Tesla, Toyota is full steam ahead with FCVs.

    by Sebastian Anthony - Feb 25, 2015 7:48am PST

    Toyota has unveiled the assembly line for its upcoming fuel cell vehicle (FCV)—the four-door Mirai sedan—which will go on sale in the US later in 2015. The assembly line, located at Toyota's Motomachi plant in Japan, will churn out an increasing number of the futuristic cars over the next few years. The Mirai is notable for being the first mass-produced car that is powered entirely by a fuel cell. Unlike most electric cars, such as the Tesla Model S, fuel cell vehicles are refueled rather than recharged—in the case of the Mirai, Toyota says it takes only five minutes to refuel the car, which then gives you around 300 miles of range.

    Way back in 2010, Toyota signed a fairly large deal with Tesla to develop an electric version of the RAV4. Tesla provided both the battery pack and the electric powertrain. Then, in the middle of 2014, Toyota rather dramatically announced that it was giving up on battery-based electric vehicles, deciding instead to focus on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

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    Islamic State’s oil revenue cut by air raids, falling oil

    Posted on February 27, 2015 at 7:40 am by Bloomberg in Crude oil, Middle East

    Coalition air strikes and falling oil prices have cut the Islamic State’s revenue from oil fields, and the militant group’s financial resources will further decline if it can’t capture new territory, according to a study.

    Islamic State, which also goes by the name ISIL, has also funded itself from “illicit proceeds from its occupation of territory” including bank looting, extortion and robbery, the multilateral Financial Action Task Force said Friday. Other sources are donations, kidnapping and cash smuggling. The report didn’t put a figure on Islamic State’s revenue.

    The group’s capacity to extract oil, refine it and sell the products has “significantly diminished,” according to the report. “This is due to coalition air strikes, ISIL’s need for refined crude and declining oil prices.”

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    The only time driving and booze mix: Scotch biofuels

    By Ana Sofia Knauf on 25 Feb 2015

    Original source:

    Holy organic Scotch, Batman: The Scots have debuted a new, guilt-free whisky cocktail. And guess what — it’s biofuel!

    Clean Renewables Ltd, based in Edinburgh, has successfully developed a new biofuel made from whisky waste products. The company was able to nail down the process with $1.6 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.

    The Daily Record explains the distillation process:

    The bio-butanol was extracted in a manufacturing process called Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation for the first time earlier this month.

    ABE fermentation was first developed in the UK a century ago, but died out in competition with the petrochemical industry.

    Bio-butanol, unlike other biofuels currently being developed, can be used as a direct replacement for petrol, or as a blend, without the need for engine modification.

    Its fermentation process uses the two main by-products of whisky production: pot ale, the liquid from the copper stills, and draff, the spent grains, to create bio-butanol.

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    German Beer Brewers Win Fracking Protection for Spring

    by Stefan Nicola

    3:57 AM PST  February 26, 2015


    Beer is ever-present at Germany’s thousands of biergartens and at celebrations such as Munich’s Oktoberfest. Photographer: Guido Krzikowski/Bloomberg

    (Bloomberg) -- German brewers have won the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to protect the springs they use from fracking, which they say could taint the purity of their beer.

    The government plans to allow federal states to identify locations where fracking can’t take place to preserve the quality of the ground water used by brewers and producers of bottled mineral water, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

    “We need clean water to produce our beer,” said Friedrich Duell, president of the Bavarian Brewers Association and whose 350-year-old brewery in Krautheim, Franconia operates two wells. “If our wells aren’t protected our business is threatened. Fracking is a high-risk technology and we’ve seen water tainted in other countries often enough.”

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    U.S. tells Canada its climate goal may play Keystone role

    Posted on February 25, 2015 at 4:58 pm by Bloomberg in Keystone XL

    U.S. climate negotiators have told their Canadian counterparts that Canada’s plan to cut carbon emissions could be one of the factors that President Barack Obama weighs as he considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a U.S. official said.

    The U.S. hasn’t suggested it might approve the $8 billion proposed project in exchange for climate commitments, the official said. Canada is developing a proposal as part of United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at cutting carbon emissions that governments were encouraged to submit by next month.

    Obama has secured climate concessions from China and India as part of those UN talks. A similar deal with Canada could help offset the anticipated environmental damage from the TransCanada Corp. pipeline, responding to project opponents.

    White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama could approve the oil pipeline even though he vetoed a Republican bill that would have circumvented the review process that’s been underway for six years. The administration didn’t comment Wednesday on the discussions with Canada.

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    What we can learn from British Columbia’s carbon tax

    By David Roberts on 23 Feb 2015

    Original source:

    For seven years, the Canadian province of British Columbia has had a carbon tax. It is, on its own terms, a resounding success — carbon emissions are falling even as the economy continues to grow.

    Not only is it effective, but it is, from a policy standpoint, incredibly elegant:

    • It is predictable, rising according to a set schedule (though it topped out in 2012 — more on that later).
    • It is broad, covering 70 percent of the province’s emissions.
    • It is simple, levied on a relatively small number of fossil fuel extractors and importers, piggybacking on an existing tax, thus requiring almost no additional administration or enforcement resources.
    • It is revenue-neutral, offset entirely by cuts to other taxes, mainly corporate and personal income. (In fact, each year the B.C. government publishes a table showing what tax cuts were enabled by the carbon tax.)

    It all sounds like an economist’s wet dream. The one substantial flaw is that the tax remains far too low to achieve the radical reductions that will be required from B.C. (and all of the developed world) by 2050. But then, that’s true of all extant climate policies.

    How did B.C. pull off this policy triumph?

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    Companies spend $1 billion in latest California carbon auction


    02/25/2015 1:44 PM 02/25/2015 9:47 PM

    Companies spent more than $1 billion in California’s latest sale of carbon emissions credits, making it the largest auction since the controversial cap-and-trade program began in late 2012, state officials said Wednesday.

    The reason: State officials dramatically expanded the pool of credits for sale to accommodate a surge in demand. That became necessary because the cap-and-trade market has been broadened since Jan. 1 to cover the carbon coming from motor vehicle tailpipes.

    Cap and trade, a centerpiece of the state’s 2006 climate-change law, requires market participants to purchase credits in order to emit carbon. Until recently, that was limited to several hundred large industrial firms, such as food processors and cement manufacturers. But now the state has included transportation fuels in the program, requiring fuel wholesalers to obtain emissions credits.

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    California communities seize control of their energy futures

    By David Roberts on 25 Feb 2015

    Original source:

    An energy revolution is breaking out in California and a few other states, one that could radically increase the amount of renewable energy available to citizens and end the tyranny of foot-dragging utilities. Outside of the rapidly falling costs of solar power, it’s just about my main source of domestic optimism these days.

    I’m talking about community choice, or, in the horrid legalese, “community choice aggregation.” I’ve discussed it before in passing, but it’s starting to seriously catch on, so I want to take a closer look.

    Say a town, city, or county is dissatisfied with the power it gets from its utility — it’s too expensive, or too dirty. One option would be for each municipality to leave its utility and form its own “municipal utility.” That has its advantages, but it’s a pretty huge step, since the municipality would have to take over not only power procurement but grid operation and maintenance, billing, customer service, etc. In many smaller towns, it’s not practical.

    The other, emerging option is community choice aggregation, whereby a county or municipality takes over only the job of buying and selling power, leaving grid management and billing to the utility. It aggregates customers from every participating city, town, and county and uses their collective purchasing power to procure exactly the kind of electricity it wants.

    The two main motivations to opt for CCA are cheaper power and cleaner power. At least to date, those two goals have not come into conflict. In most cases, CCAs get power that’s cheaper and cleaner than what they were getting from their utility. (Whether those goals conflict in the future will be of keen interest.)

    CCA must be enabled by legislation and it has been in six states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island. According to the website Local Power, which tracks these things:

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    Has The San Bruno Tragedy Become A Green Energy Bargaining Chip?

    pastedGraphic.pdfWilliam Pentland Contributor

    I write about energy and environmental issues.

    Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

    ENERGY 2/25/2015 @ 11:47AM

    In his inaugural address on January 5, California Gov. Jerry Brown set hugely ambitious goals for cutting carbon emissions and expanding renewable energy over the next five years.

    Achieving those goals, said Gov. Brown, would be “a very tall order.”

    Conspicuously absent from Gov. Brown’s inaugural address was any mention of the political firestorm surrounding the state’s utility regulators or the deadliest utility accident in California’s history that created it.

    On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch natural gas transmission pipeline rupture beneath a residential neighborhood in San Bruno about 12 miles south of San Francisco.

    The rupture triggered an explosion that registered 1.1 on the Richter scale and ignited “a wall of fire more than 1,000 feet high.” The blast and subsequent blaze killed eight people, seriously injured dozens more people and burned 38 homes to the ground.

    The pipeline was owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility.

    In the wake of the tragedy, the city of San Bruno began a legal battle to hold the utility accountable for the tragedy on behalf of community residents like Susan Bullis.

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    Dynegy scraps California sales

    Posted on February 25, 2015 at 9:39 am by Ryan Holeywell in Deals, Electricity, Finance/Earnings, General

    HOUSTON — Power generator Dynegy says it’s scrapping plans to sell its California power plants because it believes it only received low-ball bids that don’t reflect the real value of the assets.

    The Houston-based power generator has 15 plants in operation across the country and was trying to sell assets at three California facilities.

    It’s also in process of buying a group of power plants from Duke Energy and Energy Capital Partners’ Equipower portfolio that would nearly double its capacity and make it one of the country’s biggest power generators.

    But Dynegy CEO Robert Flexon told analysts on a Wednesday conference call it won’t be selling the California assets after all.

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