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This Planet is a series of short video stories that draw on the best new videos, awesome graphics, and surprising facts about climate, energy and innovation.

The Energy Wars of 2015

This Planet Chronicle

The Energy Wars of 2015

Evelyn Messinger

Officials who were elected in November of 2014 are being sworn in across the US, and a titanic struggle – locally, regionally and nationally – is about to begin over the future of  U.S.  energy production.

Our most recent episode of This Planet, This Is Climate Justice, tells the story of Richmond, California, home to a working-class community and a humongous Chevron oil refinery. The town is suing Chevron over an accident that threatened the health of thousands. The energy giant tried - and failed - to get a slate of company-friendly candidates elected, in what amounted to a referendum on safety for people who live in the shadow of the refinery.

On the national level, the fossil-fuel forces look set to do better. The Senate’s incoming Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats vow to push through the highly symbolic bill authorizing the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, which aims to carry fuel across the US from Canada’s tar sands. The pipeline has become the calling card of Conservatism, and may also be a card up President Obama’s sleeve, one he’s willing to sacrifice in order to win on other issues.

Democrats, perhaps seeing that the pipeline is inevitable, have loaded the bill up with amendments, says Marketwatch:

"Such amendments include at least three that would make the Keystone bill 'more of a jobs bill', [Senator Chuck] Schumer said. For example, they will require the steel that would be used in the pipeline to be made in the U.S."

In the states, the situations vary. Sometimes the political cast of the state is all that matters, such as in liberal California, where the Governor is moving to divest the state of its coal investments.

The story is murkier in Kansas, a state that This Planet covered in Kansas & The Wind, our sort-of fantastical mashup of the Wizard of Oz, the song “Dust in the Wind”, and the Koch brothers. Because wind power has a strong presence in this flat wind-swept state, we wondered if laws supporting renewable energy might have a prayer of a chance in this conservative state.

 Energy behemoth Koch Industries, in the guise of the Kansas-based policy advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, has relentlessly attacked the renewable mandates, as the Energy and Policy Institute explains:

"Kansas’ Republican Governor Sam Brownback defeated Democratic challenger Paul Davis. While this specific gubernatorial election can be characterized as a referendum on Brownback’s aggressive tax cutting, the state’s renewable energy standard is also at stake over the next few years. Ari Phillips at ClimateProgress wrote, 'the Koch brothers have devoted a significant amount of time and money into repealing the standard and as of late, Brownback has wavered in his support.' Brownback was once in favor of the state’s renewable energy standard but has now singled (sic) that he would like to “phase out” the law. Davis said he would veto any bill that repeals the standard. The introduction of a bill designed to repeal the standard seems inevitable in 2015."

The Energy and Policy Institute is the place to learn about - what else? - energy and policy. And this article gives a comprehensive overview of how the election results will play out from South Carolina to North Dakota, from carbon trading to fracking.

If you happen to be one of a seeming minority of Americans who are not thrilled by the prospect of methane craters in the tundra or oil-laden trains lumbering past on the nearest railroad track, the Sacramento Bee thinks things may be better than they appear. Maybe it’s just that their article Renewable Energy Companies Use New Clout in Statehouses was published on Christmas Eve, and they couldn’t resist dispersing a bit of Christmas cheer. But the article points to solid numbers: a $118 billion wind industry that employs 73,000 Americans, growing by $17.3 billion invested annually in new wind farms, and the $20 billion a year solar industry with its 143,000 employees.

So buck up folks…let us have a clean and healthy 2015!

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