Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dan Harding recently wrote a post about the BP Republicans in Congress. Those are the no-brainers like Joe Barton who apologized to the now infamous oil (spilling) company because President Obama took some semblance of leadership on the issue by forcing BP to set aside billions for the relief effort.

bipartisan oil money

The actual list of BP Republicans was put together by the Democratic National Committee and Dan took a lot of guff for harboring “one-sided,” “partisan” and [insert other buzzword] politics.

Now while Dan regrets no part of the word-lashing he gave these frankly out-of-touch and steeped-in-oil-money Republicans (Joe Barton is the leading beneficiary of oil money in the 111th House of Representatives), those who admonished Dan are not wrong, either.

oil money bp republicans

Obviously, the DNC is not an impartial source of information, and while Barton and the BP Republicans are, in Dan’s opinion, fools, at least they had the wherewithal to openly stand up for their benefactors. Many Democrats in Congress will loudly scold BP for its negligence and incompetence but quietly take their money at the same time, defending them in any way they can in the legislative process (i.e. yell NAY, vote YEA).

Democrat Chet Edwards (TX) is the second-leading beneficiary of oil money in the 111th House of Representatives.

bp oil spill logoSo Dan thought hard about writing up a “Who are the BP Democrats?” piece in fairness, and knowing even without looking at any data that perhaps the only non-partisan deals in Washington were political contributions, especially from the energy industry. However, when Dan did look at the data, he noticed BP contributions were small potatoes in the grand scheme of oil and gas donations; BP is not even in the top 75 percent of total contributions by company in either house.

Nevertheless, oil money flows freely and abundantly throughout Congress, and like tributaries, the majority of senators and representatives feed into a system that carefully and quietly protects dirty energy interests.

The proof-laden pudding containing all this information regarding oil money is a web tool developed by Oil Change International. There you can follow every dime of oil money straight to its Congressperson.

For instance, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has accepted nearly $34,000 of oil money since 1999, although very little since 2002, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kerry’s co-author of recent climate change legislation, has received nearly $100,000 since 1999.

You can also check contributions during political campaigns. Barack Obama received $898, 251 from oil companies during his winning 2008 campaign, most of that coming from ExxonMobil ($113,646). BP gave President Obama $39,405.

Obama’s rival, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), blew everybody out of the water in oil contributions. He pulled in more than $2.4 million from oil and gas companies, spread out over a wide range of sources. McCain did receive a comparatively small $18,850 from BP.

Bear in mind that every major party candidate, including the likes of Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, and Bill Richardson, took money from oil companies during their 2008 campaign. And in an election system where the candidate with the most money tends to win, who’s going to turn it down?congress oil money Not to excuse politicians that prize oil companies over constituents, but the problem may be more systemic than it is individual.

The oil and gas industry has in the realm of 600 registered lobbyists pestering Capitol Hill, and three out of every four of them once worked for the federal government. That, in political jargon, is what you call a revolving door (by far the most used door in D.C.).

How does an out-of-work shrimper in Louisiana stand up against that?

Whether Republican or Democrat, the money can be followed — as required by law — and it’s important that we follow it. This way, we can know why on one hand John Kerry wants to put a cap on carbon emissions but on the other votes no on ending tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

Here are the top 10 recipients of oil and gas contributions in each house during the current 111th Congress:

Top Ten House Members (contributions 2009-2010)

  1. Joe Linus Barton (R-TX) – $85,770
  2. Chet Edwards (D-TX) – $73,430
  3. Michael Conaway (R-TX) – $72,800
  4. Eric Cantor (R-VA) – $69,400
  5. David Daniel Boren (D-OK) – $65,100
  6. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) – $64,750
  7. Peter G. Olson (R-TX) – $54,400
  8. Michael Avery Ross (D-AR) – $54,250
  9. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) – $49,450
  10. John Calvin Fleming Jr. (R-LA) – $44,800

Top Ten Senate Members (contributions 2009-2010)

  1. Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR) – $216,700
  2. David Vitter (R-LA) – 170,200
  3. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – $146,550
  4. Robert F. Bennett (R-UT) – $117,650
  5. John Cornyn (R-TX) – $87,575
  6. Thomas Coburn (R-OK) – $76,500
  7. Arlen Specter (D-PA) – $74,000
  8. Byron Dorgon (D-ND) – $70,950
  9. Evan Bayh (D-IN) – $62,150
  10. James Demint (R-SC) – $58,850

Look to Oil Change International to learn more about oil contributions for these as well as your own representatives in Congress. Follow the money and then follow their actions. Connections between the two are hard to miss.

Also check out OpenSecrets.org for more comprehensive information on campaign contributions to senators and representatives

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Coal power's carbon savior could double its water woes

Photo: Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images BY Samuel K. Moore // June 2010

NOTE: this article originally apeared in the IEEE Spectrum Magazine online edition.  One of our founders is a long-time member of IEEE and we gratefully acknowledge their publication of this article.

Despite all the talk of moving to greener energy sources, coal will be with us for the foreseeable future. But if we’re really serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, coal plants everywhere will need to substantially reduce the billions of metric tons of CO2 they annually emit into the atmosphere. The big hope is that in the next few years the plants will begin capturing and storing a large portion of that CO2 deep underground, in the oceans, or in mineral form.

But the technology needed to capture carbon has a huge downside: It could nearly double the amount of water a plant uses for every kilowatt of electricity it delivers—easily erasing any gains from techniques aimed at conserving water and reducing thermal pollution.

"This technology was not developed in a water-constrained environment," says Jared Ciferno, technology manager for the existing plants program of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). "The bottom line is that [carbon] capture takes energy, and that translates to additional water use."

Just how much water is pretty shocking. By 2030, the addition of carbon-capture technology would boost water consumption in the U.S. electricity sector by 80 percent, or about 7500 megaliters per day, according to research at NETL, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. For plants in water-stressed areas, that’s a deal breaker. "It is not likely that there is enough water supply available to any of our plants to allow for double the water use," says John Coggins, manager of resource planning at Salt River Project, a water and energy utility in Arizona.

The 80 percent figure assumes that the electricity generation lost to powering the carbon-capture system is made up for by adding more water-cooled coal-fired power. In other words, for a 550-megawatt plant to both capture its carbon and still deliver 550 MW of electricity, it would need to add more than 125 MW of additional generating capability to cover the energy used in capture. If you don’t make up for the lost generation, or make it up in some way that requires no water and emits no carbon—with a wind farm, say—the additional water consumption is more like 40 to 50 percent, according to NETL’s Ciferno.

That’s still a lot of water. For coal power plants, the state-of-the-art carbon-capture technology is known as amine-based wet scrubbing [see "Catching Carbon," above]. It’s basically the technology that puts the fizz in your Fanta. First, the plant’s flue gas is scrubbed of sulfurous nasties; what’s left is a mixture of nitrogen, water vapor, and CO2. An amine solution then reacts with the CO2, yielding a gas stream of mostly nitrogen, which goes out the smokestack, and a CO2-rich amine solution. The solution is heated to strip the CO2 from the amines. The CO2 is then cooled and compressed for storage, and the amines cycle back to pick up more CO2.

Illustration: Emily Cooper

Catching Carbon: Today’s technology uses chemicals called amines to capture carbon dioxide. Water is used to cool the amines and help compress the captured CO2.

Why does this process demand so much water? It’s all about the cooling. The power plant’s cooling tower carries heat away by evaporating water. Cooling the amines for CO2 absorption—which generates heat in itself—leads to an additional load on the cooling tower, causing more water to be lost. And compressing the CO2 to the supercritical conditions needed for storage requires cooling, too.



To really reduce CO2 emissions, says Ciferno, less thirsty forms of carbon capture will have to be developed. His lab is now focused on reducing the amount of energy involved, betting that this will take care of carbon capture’s water woes, too. With a budget of about US $50 million per year and 40 projects, NETL has perhaps the biggest R&D program in this area. The goal is commercial-scale technology by 2020 that can capture 90 percent of a coal plant’s CO2 while increasing the cost of generating electricity at that plant by less than 35 percent.

Industrial firms already have several pilot projects capturing small streams of CO2 at plants in Europe and the United States. However, none have yet been scaled up to the size that would make a noticeable difference in a plant’s water consumption. France’s Alstom Power, for one, uses chilled ammonia instead of amines, which the technology company says should be more energy and water efficient. Alstom tested the process last year with a 20-MW pilot plant at American Electric Power’s New Haven, W.Va., generating station. AEP now plans to use it to capture carbon from 235 MW of the New Haven plant’s 1300-MW capacity, starting in 2015.

Germany’s Siemens Energy has also developed an alternative technology, which relies on amino-acid salts instead of amines. Amino-acid salts pick up more carbon than amines do, so you need to pump and cool less material, says Tony DoVale, president of Siemens Environmental Systems and Services. So far the process has been demonstrated to capture carbon while leaching only 9 percent of a plant’s power, compared to amine technology’s typical 20 percent. That "would ultimately imply half the cooling load," says DoVale.

Of course, unless plant operators are compelled to capture carbon, these energy and water costs won’t be borne at all. "Why would you put on a piece of equipment that puts 10 percent of a plant’s output away if you didn’t have to?" says DoVale.

(C) 2010 Spectrum Magazine

Carbon capture consumes extra energy to operate, reducing a plant's output and requiring even more fossil fuel to be burned. At best, it's a band-aid. Renewable energy is the long-term solution. Get a quote to find out how to go solar or get a geothermal system, make a positive impact on your carbon footprint, and avoid the rising costs of electricity.

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