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Tuesday, July 31, 2012
India blackout, on second day, leaves 600 million without power
NEW DELHI — The worst blackout in India’s history spread to more than half the country Tuesday, as an electrical grid collapse in 14 states deprived at least 600 million people of power, many for a second day.
The blackout, the largest in global history by the number of people affected, dramatically underlined the concerns industry leaders have raised for years – that the nation’s horribly inefficient power sector is dragging on the economy and could undermine its longer-term ambitions.
More generally, it renewed concerns about India’s failure to invest in the infrastructure needed to support its rapidly growing economy, in sharp contrast to neighboring China. It also destroyed one myth about the country – that its entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant private sector could somehow deliver a brighter future without a dramatic improvement in the way the country is governed.
“As one of the emerging economies of the world, which is home to almost a sixth of the world population, it is imperative that our basic infrastructure requirements are in keeping with India’s aspirations,” Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said in a statement. “The developments of yesterday and today have created a huge dent in the country’s reputation that is most unfortunate.”
Tuesday’s blackout, which hit the northern and eastern parts of the country, brought more than 500 trains screeching to a halt, left thousands of passengers stuck for nearly an hour inside the capital’s Metro line and more than 200 miners trapped underground in the east of the country.
There was gridlock on many streets of the capital as traffic lights stopped working. Bank ATMs also failed, but airports and major industries were unaffected, switching instantly to backup generators in a country used to power outages.
As well as a basic lack of investment in infrastructure, the crisis also has its roots in many of India’s familiar failings — the populist tone of much of its politics, rampant corruption and poor management within its government and public sector, weak law enforcement and a maze of government regulations that restrict many industries.
Officials said they remained mystified about what had caused the blackout on Tuesday, although a similar failure on Monday was blamed on individual states in India drawing too much power from the grid, in defiance of the regulations.
“It is open law-breaking that goes on all the time in India,” said a Power Ministry official who declined to give his name because of the sensitive nature of the subject. “This time it went beyond limits.”
The official said the national coalition government was unable to rein in powerful state chief ministers on whose support it often depends.
“We are powerless do enforce grid discipline like they do in developed countries of the world,” he said. “There are political constraints. We are even afraid the name the [offending] states. But what happened yesterday and today is a warning for all of us.”
‘Politically correct prices’
Most Indian consumers receive heavily subsidized electricity, while farmers get free power, supposedly to pump groundwater to irrigate their land. But officials say much of the free power is illegally diverted to supply factories. That has left the grid overburdened and electricity distribution companies heavily in debt.
“India’s basic energy shortage is compounded by the policy of selling electricity to consumers at politically correct prices,” the Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial. “The government-owned distribution monopolies in the states have all but lost their ability to buy power because their political bosses force them to sell it cheap, sometimes free, to voters.”
Sajjid Chinoy, India economist at JPMorgan in Mumbai, put it more simply: “When you don’t have economically viable pricing, you will not have economically viable power generation,” he said.
India suffers a power deficit in peak periods of 8 to 12 percent, and power cuts of eight hours a day are common in many parts of the country. And 300 million Indians, or a quarter of the population, have no access to electricity at all.
Even though India has the world’s fifth-largest reserves of coal, disputes over environmental and land permits have prevented many new mines opening, while a failure to invest in technology has also prevented output from growing to keep up with demand.
Existing mines have strict limits on how much coal they can extract, supposedly set to safeguard the environment but in practice simply arbitrary, said U. Kumar, an expert on coal, who advises some of India’s top industry leaders. A six-month-old Coal Ministry proposal to raise those limits by 20% as an emergency measure has “fallen on deaf ears,” he said.
As a result about 10 percent of power plants have no coal supply right now, Kumar said. “We are going to face a frightening scenario. It is going to very difficult to meet the demand of our people.”
To meet some of the shortfall, India has also been forced to import expensive coal from abroad, but it is politically unable to pass those higher costs on to consumers, bankrupting the sector still further.
Losses in electricity transmission and distribution are also among the world’s highest, 24-40%, because of inefficiencies and theft.
Constraint to growth
Indian economic growth has slowed to around six percent, while inflation is in double figures. That is a sign, said Chinoy, that investment by the public and private sectors had failed to keep up with the country’s consumption-led boom of recent years, inhibiting the economy’s ability sustain rapid growth without pushing up prices.
“The biggest constraint to India’s growth potential is lack of capacity,” he said, “and the biggest, single constraint to growth is the lack of available and adequate power supply.”
Earlier Tuesday, a senior power official in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Avinash Awasthi, was transferred for failing to prevent Monday’s blackout. But officials found no obvious scapegoat for the second day’s blackout.
“We are absolutely clueless why this has happened again today,” said Shakti Sinha, an official in the power department of the Delhi government. “Yesterday we knew it was overdrawing of power, today it looks like a technical fault. The system failed somewhere.”
Monday, July 30, 2012
Canadian First Nations hold the cards in Northern Gateway battle with Enbridge over the tar sands (dilbit) pipeline
First Nations Hold the Cards in Northern Gateway Battle with Enbridge
A single holdout could mean indefinite delay. The situation shows how difficult it will be to export Alberta oil sands to Asia.
By Stacy Feldman and Kathryn Doyle, InsideClimate News, July 30, 2012
When the National Transportation Safety Board released a scathing report this month faulting Enbridge for its Michigan oil spill, speculation began instantly about whether it would harm the company's chances for its Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.
Even without the report, however, the project's prospects have long been slim at best.
That's because most First Nations in B.C.—where more than half the pipeline would pass—never signed treaties ceding their lands to the Canadian government. Despite offers from Enbridge that would give them a 10% equity stake worth millions of dollars and other cash benefits, many still refuse to give the needed right of way, setting up a legal clash that could end up at the Supreme Court.
A single holdout could delay the pipeline for many years, if not indefinitely—even if the project wins approval from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
The debate over the Gateway mirrors that of the Keystone XL pipeline fight in the United States, with one major difference: While U.S. opponents of the Keystone XL are in a David and Goliath contest with TransCanada, that pipeline's builder, the power wielded by the First Nations has made the battle over the Gateway much more even.
"Enbridge has set themselves up for a legal quagmire a lot worse than they ever considered," said Roger Harris, a former vice-president of aboriginal and community partnerships for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines.
The situation shows how difficult it will be to move Alberta's landlocked tar sands to Asia-bound tankers on the West Coast—a long-time goal of industry that became more urgent when the Obama administration rejected Keystone XL's northern leg from Alberta to Oklahoma.
"Once Canada decided to give near sovereign authority to individual native groups it was like opening a pandora's box," said Jan Stuart, head of energy research at Credit Suisse. "How are you going to get the right of way to build such pipelines [to the West Coast]?"
Jennifer Griffith, legal counsel for the Haisla Nation in B.C., said her clients are unwilling to open their land to any unrefined petroleum product, because they fear leaks would contaminate their salmon-spawning rivers. The Gateway pipeline—like the Michigan line that ruptured in 2010, and like the proposed Keystone XL—would carry diluted bitumen or dilbit (crude oil from Canada's tar sands).
A seven-month investigation by InsideClimate News into the Michigan oil spill revealed that dilbit, which has the thickness of peanut butter, made traditional oil cleanup methods almost useless and compounded the concerns of health officials.
"Haisla doesn't think this project can be done in a way that is not a threat to the health of the nation," Griffith said.
"Haisla are not against industry," she added. The band, for instance, has a stake in a massive liquefied natural gas project in the same area.
Exact Support Unclear, but Clearly Lacking
Canada has more than 630 First Nations groups. One hundred and sixteen of them are in B.C. and by and large have titles to their lands. In Alberta, where 40% of the Gateway would cross, First Nations' land rights were relinquished in treaty negotiations beginning in the late 1870s, as in much of Canada.
In an historic 1997 Supreme Court decision, the court ruled that First Nation land entitlements still stand in B.C. and said "Aboriginal title lands must not be used in a way that is irreconcilable with the nature of the group's attachment to the land."
However, the court did not give the bands blanket veto over government-approved projects but rather the right to consultation. "In order for the Crown [the government of Canada] to justify an infringement of Aboriginal title, it must demonstrate a compelling and substantive legislative objective, it must have consulted with the Aboriginal group prior to acting, and in some cases, compensation may be required," the court said.
The lack of details in the court's decision on what constitutes acceptable consultation, among other issues, opens the door to a torrent of litigation, experts say.
During the past six years, pipeline operator Enbridge has consulted with dozens of First Nations within 50 miles of the Gateway route in Alberta and B.C. The company offered approximately 45 of them equity agreements, worth about $7 million, to become part owners of the pipeline. Enbridge says almost 60% have signed deals. In exchange, they're not allowed to "proactively" oppose the project, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace Canada through thefederal Access to Information Act.
Enbridge won't disclose the names of the signatories, which has led critics to doubt that figure.
"It's up to the First Nations themselves to disclose whether or not they entered into the agreement," Paul Stanway, Enbridge's spokesperson on the pipeline, said in an interview.
Two have publicly said they signed—the Gitxsan Treaty Society and The Yekooche, both in B.C. Both agreements, however, are now in question after their members protested. Support of other First Nations has proved difficult to verify, because they often can't be reached for comment or refuse to speak to the media on this issue.
InsideClimate News called about 20 First Nations and got no answers. But using information from Harris, the former V.P. of aboriginal partnerships for Enbridge, and Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, we managed to identify half a dozen more bands that likely signed equity deals before Enbridge's May 31 deadline—the Alexander, Paul and Alexis Nakota Sioux bands in Alberta; and the Skin Tyee, Nee-Tahi-Buhn and Cheslatta Carrier in B.C. (The Cheslatta, fearing internal protests, says they remain neutral on the Gateway.)
Others have similarly tried to nail down First Nations' support. A CBC news report in June estimated that 18 communities had signed equity deals. A follow-up attempt to identify those bands by Media Indigena, a website dedicated to indigenous news, turned up nothing.
Whatever the number, the total isn't enough to prevent a protacted legal battle.
Since 2010, more than 130 First Nations have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, a formal legal document banning tar sands oil pipelines and tar sands oil tankers in the Fraser River watershed area of British Columbia, which is in the Gateway's path.
The signatories form "an unbroken chain banning tar sands pipelines through B.C., north to south," said one community.
Many First Nations might still be swayed if Enbrige or the government offers the right perks, but some bands will be determined to resist, no matter the amount of money offered. "And the question then becomes, how aggressive is the government going to get at forcing it down their throats?" said Chad Friess, an oil and gas analyst at UBS Securities Canada Inc.
"For now it looks as though the government will be fairly aggressive with ensuring that this gets through the regulatory process ... Canada does not want to be dependent on the U.S. for the only market for its oil, and there are lot of Chinese companies and Asian companies investing in Canada that want to get the oil out. "
Getting a Permit vs. Getting Built
The $6 billion Gateway twin pipeline system would run 731 miles from Bruderheim, Alberta, north of Edmonton, to Kitimat, B.C., over three mountain ranges and across more than 1,000 bodies of water.
The eastern-flowing line would transport natural gas condensate to dilute raw tar sands bitumen into dilbit so it can flow through the second corridor. That westerly pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of dilbit a day west to a new port in Kitimat, where it would travel via tankers to Asia-Pacific markets and California.
By opening access to Chinese and other Asian markets, the Gateway would give the tar sands industry a stronger market position in the global oil trade. Currently, Alberta oil can be pumped only as far as the U.S. Midwest, where a crude oil oversupply is keeping regional oil prices low. Enbridge claims the project would add $270 billion to Canadian gross domestic product over the next 30 years and create 1,150 long-term jobs, 560 of which would be in B.C.
The company's application for the project is being assessed by a Joint Review Panel organized by Canada's Minister for the Environment and the National Energy Board (NEB). The three-person panel began reviewing the project's environmental impacts in 2010 and will offer a yes or no recommendation to the Harper government in early 2013. It's then up to the Canadian cabinet to make a final decision.
Because the Gateway would cross provincial borders it has to be federally approved and regulated.
Many First Nations have denounced the review process as unfair. The 2012 Canadian federal budget, which took effect July 6, put new time restraints on environmental assessments limiting the review to 24 months. The panel was also stripped of its veto power on industrial projects like the Gateway, putting decisions solely in the hands of the cabinet.
If the Joint Review Panel recommends that the Gateway be approved, as many believe it will—and if the Canadian cabinet grants Enbridge a permit—it's certain First Nations will sue. "Any permit would be subject to legal challenge," said Griffith, the Haisla Nation attorney.
"We have lawyers experienced in natural resource law, waiting in the wings to work pro bono when this thing is approved," said Sterritt, the executive director of the Coastal First Nations, a coalition representing nine aboriginal groups in B.C.
First Nations are likely to argue that they had neither the time nor resources to fully assess Enbridge's plans for the project because the review process was expedited, said Harris. "[Enbridge's] plans are in binders stacked 10 feet high." Harris is now a board member at the Aboriginal Business and Investment Council and an independent consultant. He said he left Enbridge in 2010 because "we disagreed about how engagement should move forward."
Provincial politics could also play a role. Last week, the government of B.C. said it won't support the Gateway unless it gets a bigger cut of the project's tax revenues and safety measures are improved. B.C. opposition could open another legal front, even with a federal permit.
Headed to the Supreme Court
Most experts agree the battle is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which could take many years and would put a pause on construction plans. "We're prepared," said Stanway, the Enbridge spokesperson.
When asked if corporate backers of Gatway might withdraw if the project gets tangled in years of lawsuits, Friess of UBS Securities said, "I guess it depends on how long it takes ... The importance of sending Canadian oil to the West Coast will make sure these guys will be pretty patient." Backers include Cenovus Energy Inc., Suncor Energy Marketing Inc., Total E&P Canada and Nexen Inc., which was acquired by the state-controlled China National Offshore Oil Company last week.
There is one major wild card, he said: the Harper government. "There's always a threat that that government could change, and that the political interests and views of the Canadians could change."
And if the Gateway is ultimately blocked? "It's not going to stop the development of the oil sands," said Friess. "It may slow it if we don't get the Asian access."
RCMP Report attempts to smear Greenpeace Canada as an extremist environmental organization -- interview with Bruce Cox, executive director of Greenpeace Canada
Peaceful anti-tar sands protest takes a violent turn in Burlington, Vermont -- police fire point blank at peaceful demonstrator, Marni Salerno
Peaceful protest takes a violent turn in Burlington
by John Briggs, Free Press staff writer, Burlington Free Press, July 30, 2012
Burlington police in riot gear shot protesters with what they described as “pepper balls” and “stingball pellets” as a large, peaceful demonstration turned violent and ugly Sunday afternoon.
No arrests were made. It was unclear if any of the protesters were seriously injured.
Six New England governors and five premiers from Canada’s eastern provinces were nowhere to be seen during the melee. There were roughly 500 demonstrators, assembling under the banner “Convergence on the Conference.”
At 3:30 Sunday afternoon they were in front of Burlington’s Hilton Hotel on Battery Street to make their voices heard, “No tar sand pipeline.” They flattened themselves on the pavement to create a symbolic human oil spill.
The protest ended without incident at about 3:45 in front of the hotel, but a smaller number of protesters later blocked the side driveway to the Hilton on College Street. Several said they had heard that buses were arriving to take the governors and premiers to a dinner at Shelburne Farms.
The violence erupted shortly before 5 p.m.
Demonstrators said police in riot gear, about 25 of them, cleared the driveway forcefully, pushing people into the street. At least two individuals were shot with with the non-lethal rounds, and at least two others were hit with pepper spray, according to witnesses.
Burlington Police Lt. Art Cyr, who had monitored the earlier demonstration and who had expressed relief then there had been “no incidents,” said protesters ignored police orders to clear the driveway. He said three individuals were identified who may be charged later with disorderly conduct.
As the confrontation ended later at the hotel driveway on College Street, Cyr, speaking to a demonstrator, said, “Of course I feel bad.”
“It’s ironic,” he told the Free Press. “None of the dignitaries were here. That’s what’s so frustrating.”
Police said the discharges “were defensive, to protect officers from those in the crowd who were moving toward them. At least one other person was sprayed with pepper spray during the incident. Burlington Police do not carry or use ‘rubber bullets’ as has been characterized by some,” the police statement said.
Police said the city will continue to welcome “lawful assembly and discourse.”
Demonstrators involved in the driveway blockage described the police response as unnecessarily violent.
“The demonstrators blocked big gigantic buses,” said Bea Bookchin of Burlington, who had attended the earlier demonstration which ended without incident. “So the police slowly pressed against the people. The police moved forward with their shields against people.”
Brian Tokar of East Montpelier said the demonstrators had blocked the driveway because they saw the buses coming and word spread the governors and premiers were being bused out.
“Two or three lines of people assembled along the sidewalk,” Tokar said. “The police began pushing against the crowd to open the driveway.”
He said he heard shots that sounded like gunshots as the police fired at demonstrators. “Someone got gassed,” he said, “and people said they got punched.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Tokar said “absolutely’’ — that he thought police overreacted.
“Their only concern was to get the bus out as quickly as possible, no matter what the consequences,” he said.
The police statement said they responded with force only when protesters dragged one officer who was attempting to detain him “20-30 feet west on College Street and other protesters also “moved west” as well.
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger also released a statement late Sunday. He praised the “laudable environmental goals” of the marchers and said this about the police action:
“The Burlington police had the responsibility of ensuring the free movement of approximately 200 conference attendees from around the region and world. The police took extensive steps to clear a safe path for the buses without conflict and, when their repeated verbal warnings were ignored, they resolved the situation without serious injury to demonstrators or themselves.”
UVM student David Fernandez, 20, said the demonstrators blocked the driveway “to disrupt them getting to their dinner. They moved us back to the sidewalk,” he said. “The cops said we were blocking the sidewalk, and they moved us into the street.
“One policeman tripped,” over a dropped banner, Fernandez said, “and that’s when they began firing. They pepper-sprayed a man who was just standing there. It was a gross overuse of violence. It was completely unnecessary.”
At 5:30, as another bus pulled out through the driveway, police moved forward and forced the crowd out of the way again, shooting another young woman with a round. Marni Salerno, 23, of Burlington, was shot in the hip at what Free Press photographer Elliot deBruyn said was point blank range.
“We were a peaceful protest,” Salerno said, “and they didn’t need to use that kind of force.”
Photographer DeBruyn said he was also threatened with a pointed weapon. He videotaped Salerno being shot. The video was posted at burlingtonfreepress.com.
“I was in the middle of College Street shooting the video of Salerno being shot when another police officer pointed his weapon at me and told me to ‘get on the sidewalk,’ ” deBruyn said.
DeBruyn said the officer was nudging Salerno with his gun to get her to move away from the bus.
Ki Walker, from Royalton, was one of those sprayed. Minutes later, shirtless, his face and chest covered with a milk solution to cut the spray, he said police had no reason to spray him.
“If they can, they will,” he said. “They do.”
“I want to know why they’re willing to inflict pain,” he continued. “Misunderstanding is met with aggression. It doesn’t make sense. Today we were trying to open up a conversation. This is Vermont. We’ve been shut out.”
During the earlier, peaceful portion of the demonstration, environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, told the crowd this is “a hinge moment in human history.”
He pointed to crop devastation this year across the center of the country from drought and about meager monsoons this year in India, and said that while he had begun a quarter of a century ago to write about potential environmental collapse, “There is nothing abstract about any of this,” he said.
Global temperatures have risen just one degree, McKibben said, calling this year’s weather just “early signs of global warning.”
A broad coalition of environmental groups, including 350.org, the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and others converged in Burlington Sunday to alert the public, they said, to plans by the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, Inc. to reverse oil flow in Enbridge Line 9 and the Portland/Montreal pipeline and run tar sand oil to Portland, Maine’s Casco Bay for shipment.
Environmentalists call the heavy oil toxic and point to a major spill two years ago in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan as a demonstration of the risks the oil presents to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, to New Hampshire and Maine.
Sunday, the demonstrators — and they came from a variety of groups in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Quebec — gathered at noon in City Hall Park downtown, then moved in a slow parade, in a loop through the downtown, through the Church Street Marketplace, south on South Winooski Avenue, and down Main Street to the lake. Members of the Vermont Workers’ Center also attended.
Burlington police were present, in regular uniforms, blocking traffic to let the marchers pass.
“We’re involved because we have to be,” said Burlington’s Hayley Mason, a member of Fed Up Vermont, which had about 10 people at the rally. “The world is messed up, and historically the only thing that has changed things is when people organize.”
Steve Crowley of the Vermont Sierra Club said he was confident that the governors and premiers they would hear the message.
Bob Klotz, the state coordinator of 350 Maine, said about 70 people from the Maine group made the drive over for Sunday’s demonstration. The goal was “increasing awareness.” The group doesn’t want tar sand coming through Maine.
The large group stopped briefly in Battery Street on their way to the park, shouting at the hotel, “Whose street? Our street!” and “Hey governors, Come on out! We’ve got something to talk about!”
After short speeches in Battery Park, the group practiced moving in a spiral dance while singing. Their lyrics:
There is power in our voices,
There is power in the land,
Saying yes to the earth
We say no to tar sand.