Tag Archives: climate & energy

The first floating wind turbines just came online, which is very good news, indeed.

Toward the end of the last ice age, about 19,000 years ago, the sea rose in several large spurts, according to a new study of coral reefs that grew during this period.

This contradicts assumptions that sea level rises gradually. Instead, coral fossils show sudden inundations followed by quieter periods. This offers new information that supports the theory that glaciers and ice sheets have “tipping points” that cause their sudden collapse along with a sudden increase in sea level.

Researchers at Rice University surveyed deep-sea coral fossils in the Gulf of Mexico, scanning their 3D structures to analyze them for growth patterns. Coral likes to live close to the surface, so it grows slowly when sea level is constant. But when sea level rises quickly, the coral grows vertically to try to stay near the surface, forming terraces.

“The coral reefs’ evolution and demise have been preserved,” lead author of the study, Pankaj Khanna, said in a press release. “Their history is written in their morphology — the shapes and forms in which they grew.”

Whether the future is written in these forms, too, remains to be seen.

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The first floating wind turbines just came online, which is very good news, indeed.

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

President Donald Trump claimed in September that he did away with the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious efforts for tackling climate change. The plan was the first to set a limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Dispensing with the regulation, Trump told a rally in Alabama, was simple as, “boom, gone.”

Of course the reality is more complicated. Because the Clean Power Plan is a finalized regulation from the EPA, the agency also has to put forward its justification for repealing it. During an appearance on Monday at the coal-mining town of Hazard, Kentucky, administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to sign the draft proposal to repeal the 2015 climate rule.

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“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The Clean Power Plan was crafted to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030, by having states devise their own proposals for creating a pollution-cutting mix of renewables, gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency. But the Supreme Court stayed the rule in 2015, so its implementation stalled while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the case brought by 26 states and coal companies like Murray Energy, which is owned by Trump donor Bob Murray. So far, the court hasn’t ruled, waiting to see what the Trump administration does next.

Another wrinkle is that the Trump administration eventually has to do something because it technically can’t ignore the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health, a finding compelled by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007. If they do nothing, they still risk lawsuits for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As I reported in August:

Whatever the administration decides, it will need to publish a written justification, which will be scrutinized by environmental groups in a likely lawsuit on the decision. The administration faces a similar quandary that plagued the GOP during the health care fight: Repeal the Clean Power Plan outright, or replace it with a shell of a rule?

According to a leaked draft of the EPA’s proposal, the Trump administration is choosing the first option — but with a twist. The 43-page document lays out the reasoning for repealing the rule by stressing the costs of implementation without factoring in the benefits from air pollution reduction and its contribution to combating climate change. The public is also invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own.

Janet McCabe, former head of the EPA office of air and radiation, explained that seeking input before even proposing a replacement “is not a legally necessary step.” Agencies use this step “sometimes to seek broad input before they put their own thoughts down into a proposal, which necessarily signals a particular policy and legal direction.”

A former EPA attorney that helped craft the Clean Power Plan told Mother Jones that the agency’s invitation to the public to comment is actually its own stalling tactic. The extra step pushes back the EPA’s regulatory timeline for nine months, at least. The reason the status quo appeals to the administration’s coal allies is that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan was delayed by the Supreme Court while current legal challenges played out. The coal industry only gains by the EPA delaying a replacement climate regulation, because the longer it’s put off, the longer it can pollute without limit. By stalling, Pruitt kicks the can down the road, by betting that the status quo of no rule in place is better than a replacement.

“Pruitt doesn’t believe in this stuff, so he’s actually in a paradoxical position,” says Joe Goffman, the former EPA attorney who is now at Harvard Law School’s environmental program. “If they do propose a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, what he’ll be doing is putting his signature on the proposal which will require to some extent power plants to address their carbon emissions.”

Nothing Pruitt is proposing now changes the underlying legal and scientific reasoning for why the EPA needs to do something on carbon emissions from the coal sector. Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Director David Doniger says the administration’s strategy is basically “replacing the Clean Power Plan with a dirty power plan.”

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

This post has been updated to include revised figures on the number of fires and death toll. 

It’s peak wildfire season in California, and Monday was one of the worst days in state history. More than 60 blazes are currently underway statewide.

At least a dozen wildfires sprung up Sunday night in and around Napa and Sonoma counties—also known as “wine country,” just north of San Francisco — prompting rushed evacuations of more than 20,000 people. In an attempt to speed the flow of relief and firefighting equipment and make the National Guard available, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

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The Northern California firestorm has quickly burned nearly 100,000 acres, and is encroaching on neighborhoods in several places. At around 3 a.m. Monday, a Cal Fire official told a local television station that there was “no hope of containment right now.”

In total, the fires have killed 13 people and destroyed more than 1,500 structures as of Tuesday morning, making them some of the most destructive in state history. More than 100 people have been treated for burns and smoke inhalation at regional hospitals, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and more than 150 people are still missing. Nationwide, this year’s fire season has cost more than $2 billion, the most expensive on record.

Smoke from the fires is visible from across the Bay Area, with many residents reporting the smell of smoke and even ashes falling from the sky. The National Weather Service says that winds at higher elevations in some parts of Sonoma County exceeded hurricane force, with several areas reporting gusts greater than 50 mph.

Several of the worst wildfires in California history have sprung up during October, near the end of California’s months-long dry season. It’s this time of year when a combination of strong offshore winds and low humidity can quickly fan a seemingly innocent spark into a raging inferno.

These winds are usually formed by a strong inland high pressure center, which pushes air down mountainsides and through canyons, causing it to warm up and dry out — a perfect environment for fast-growing fires. In Northern California, they are generally called “Diablo winds,” after Mt. Diablo in the eastern Bay Area. A 2015 study said that climate change is making these wind events more frequent and more severe in California. According to the Bay Area branch of the National Weather Service, conditions will begin to improve starting on Tuesday morning.

One particularly frightening fire in Northern California, the Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa, jumped the 101 freeway, forcing a hospital to evacuate its patients. Officials report evacuation centers that have been set up have already filled to capacity. Aerial images of Santa Rosa on Monday showed widespread devastation of entire neighborhoods.

“People are running red lights, there is chaos ensuing,” Santa Rosa resident Ron Dodds told a local television station. “It’s a scary time. It looks like Armageddon.”

Continued: 

‘Diablo Winds’ spark historic wildfires in California wine country

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Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief has some advice for the Trump administration after back-to-back hurricanes in the past month: You have to look at climate change science if you want smarter disaster relief.

Drawing on eight years of experience leading FEMA under President Barack Obama, Craig Fugate warned on Tuesday that flood-prone areas can’t simply “rebuild to the past” using historical data on 100-year flood risk. Instead, he said at an event at the liberal Center for American Progress, the country needs to “build to future risk.”

The situation is especially critical now that Congress will be appropriating billions in aid to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Climate change is helping make these disasters bigger and nastier, but Fugate said they are only natural hazards that “become natural disasters when we’re pricing risk too low. We’re putting vulnerable populations and your tax dollars at risk.”

Fugate refused to discuss President Donald Trump’s or FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico in his remarks or in conversations with the press on Tuesday, but his discussion of the Obama administration’s response to Superstorm Sandy in 2013 presented a stark contrast. He recounted how Obama gave him a specific charge after Sandy, saying that “we need to start talking about climate adaptation” to better cope with the new risks posed by rising global temperatures.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had the opposite response after the hurricanes, saying a discussion of “a cause and effect isn’t helping.” When Trump was asked about climate change after Harvey, he said only, “We’ve had bigger storms.”

Just 10 days before Harvey’s record rainfall in Houston, Trump reversed Obama’s 2015 executive order to hold federal infrastructure spending to higher elevation standards in floodplains. Building even a foot or two above the existing standards saves money, and potentially lives, in the long-term, Fugate said. “Putting more money in the front end, we save the taxpayer in the long run,” he said. He also criticized the federal flood insurance program for pricing risk so low that it encourages overdevelopment in vulnerable areas, shifting the losses from flooding to the federal taxpayer.

Speaking to reporters at the event, Fugate gave an example of why climate adaptation is necessary. If, after a natural disaster, you rebuild a fire station at the same elevation, to the same building codes, then you risk losing critical emergency resources when they’re needed most. But if you build it to withstand the future risk we know is coming, then the fire station stays intact to help residents through the disaster.

“In many cases we’re doing things that just don’t make sense … and you’re saying you’re building back better,” Fugate said, adding, “We have to rebuild [Puerto Rico] back for a Maria.”

Mother Jones AJ Vicens has been reporting on the ground from Puerto Rico; read his story about how FEMA supplies and assistance have been slow to reach some communities, including one just 45 minutes from the capital, San Juan.

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Obama’s FEMA chief: To rebuild after hurricanes, let’s talk climate change

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People leaving Puerto Rico may never return.

The recovery effort trudges along after the Category 4 storm destroyed what Irma spared, flattening buildings and tangling power lines. More than 100,000 people live in the U.S. territory, and many of them are now waiting for power, medicine, and fuel.

“It will be a while before this place returns to a semblance of normalcy,” National Guard Chief Joseph Lengyel told Fox News.

Public school buildings are too damaged for students to attend classes, the New York Times reports. The main hospitals will have to be torn down and rebuilt. The power might not be back until December. And authorities have advised residents to boil their water before consumption, fearing contamination.

Making recovery harder is the nearly $2 billion in debt the Virgin Islands is carrying. That’s more per capita than Puerto Rico.

“The economy evaporated pretty much overnight,” one restaurant owner told the Times. Tourism makes up a third of the islands’ gross domestic product. The biggest resorts will stay closed until at least next year, meaning fewer customers for restaurants and bars and fewer jobs.

While attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis affecting millions in Puerto Rico, 40 miles to the west, the Virgin Islands remain mostly out of mind.

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People leaving Puerto Rico may never return.

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A week after Hurricane Maria struck, the U.S. Virgin Islands are in shambles.

The recovery effort trudges along after the Category 4 storm destroyed what Irma spared, flattening buildings and tangling power lines. More than 100,000 people live in the U.S. territory, and many of them are now waiting for power, medicine, and fuel.

“It will be a while before this place returns to a semblance of normalcy,” National Guard Chief Joseph Lengyel told Fox News.

Public school buildings are too damaged for students to attend classes, the New York Times reports. The main hospitals will have to be torn down and rebuilt. The power might not be back until December. And authorities have advised residents to boil their water before consumption, fearing contamination.

Making recovery harder is the nearly $2 billion in debt the Virgin Islands is carrying. That’s more per capita than Puerto Rico.

“The economy evaporated pretty much overnight,” one restaurant owner told the Times. Tourism makes up a third of the islands’ gross domestic product. The biggest resorts will stay closed until at least next year, meaning fewer customers for restaurants and bars and fewer jobs.

While attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis affecting millions in Puerto Rico, 40 miles to the west, the Virgin Islands remain mostly out of mind.

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A week after Hurricane Maria struck, the U.S. Virgin Islands are in shambles.

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

The rain and winds may be over, but Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico is only just beginning.

The storm’s rains fell at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas with wind speeds exceeding that of Hurricane Irma in Florida. In the span of 24 hours, Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid, 95 percent of cellphone towers, the bulk of the island’s water infrastructure, as well as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, and seaports.

Officials warn it may take up to six months to fully restore power. In some communities, 90 percent of homes and businesses have suffered “complete” damage. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line, making the uphill climb to recovery even more steep.

All indications are that Hurricane Maria has inflicted one of the most extreme and catastrophic weather events in American history. If the aid response is not swift, the situation in Puerto Rico has all the makings of a major humanitarian crisis.

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“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Ricardo Rossello, the territory’s governor, said. “This is an event without precedent.”

For now, the grim reality is that many Puerto Ricans are on their own. Over the coming days and weeks, first responders will fan out across the island. But many residents will likely begin their recoveries on their own. And if they sustain seemingly minor injuries while doing so, those could go without proper treatment. The sweltering tropical weather could enhance heat-related illnesses. In addition to removing a lifeline for critical-care patients, like those on dialysis, the lack of electricity also means that banks and ATMs will remain closed until further notice — making it more difficult for people to get the resources they need. Supplies of fresh food may start to dwindle.

But perhaps the biggest impact on human health in Puerto Rico will be the lack of clean water. On Twitter, climate scientist Peter Gleick urged the U.S. government to dispatch an aircraft carrier to Puerto Rico. The primary purpose: Not as a landing strip for bringing in supplies, but for its ability to purify massive amounts of water.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson was able to produce 100,000 gallons of clean water per day near the capital Port-au-Prince. In addition to supplying fresh water by whatever means necessary, Gleick says a massive public education campaign should begin immediately focused on preserving human health, particularly on water and sanitation.

“Everything else is secondary,” Gleick told Grist in an interview.

U.N. peacekeepers who came to aid in Haiti’s recovery ended up jumpstarting a cholera epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people. Puerto Rico has had just a single case of cholera since the mid-1800s, but other water-related illnesses, like dysentery, could become a major problem.

Initial estimates of damage to the island exceed $30 billion. That’s roughly one-third of Puerto Rico’s annual economic output — making Maria the rough equivalent of a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California. With the Puerto Rican government already saddled with more than $70 billion in debt, help is going to have to come from outside the island.

Puerto Rico, partly because of its unique relationship as a United States territory, faces a long and complicated recovery. The United Nations, which does not typically support recovery efforts in developed countries, has not yet issued an appeal for aid. The U.S. federal government should pick up most of the tab through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Congress will have to approve. So far, Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico has received only a fraction of the news coverage as Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Irma’s in Florida. That could potentially weaken public support for a multibillion-dollar aid package.

A lingering crisis could motivate a mass exodus to the U.S. mainland. But relocation is expensive, and those without the means to move could risk being left behind to shoulder an even bigger burden by themselves.

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

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Florida Governor Rick Scott is figuring out his feelings on climate change post-hurricane.

“Clearly, our environment changes all the time,” the Republican leader said after touring Irma’s devastation. “And whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one it is.”

It’s good to see Scott pondering those wacky ideas we’ve all heard floating around: Human-caused climate changemore intense hurricanesrising sea levels, etc. Coming to terms with climate change is a journey we all must pursue at our own pace! It’s not urgent or anything.

So what is Scott feeling sure about? Let’s hear it:

This is a catastrophic storm our state has never seen,” he warned on Saturday before Irma hit Florida.

“We ought to go solve problems. I know we have beach renourishment issues. I know we have flood-mitigation issues,” he said in the wake of Irma.

“I’m worried about another hurricane,” he shared with reporters while touring the Florida Keys this week. We feel ya, Scott.

Big ideas! Perhaps a fellow Florida Republican could illuminate their common thread.

“[I]t’s certainly not irresponsible to highlight how this storm was probably fueled — in part — by conditions that were caused by human-induced climate change,” Florida congressman and Grist 50er Carlos Curbelo said this week.

In fact, it just might be necessary.

Continued – 

Florida Governor Rick Scott is figuring out his feelings on climate change post-hurricane.

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After burning for months, Montana looks like a fiery apocalypse.

On Thursday, explosions and black plumes of smoke were seen coming from a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 15 miles east of Houston’s city center.

Arkema, the company that owns the plant, said there was nothing they could do to prevent further explosions. The volatile chemicals stored onsite need to be refrigerated at all times to prevent breakdown, but flooding from Harvey cut the plant’s power. The “only plausible solution” now is to let the eight containers, containing 500,000 pounds of organic peroxides, explode and burn out, Arkema CEO Rich Rowe said at a press conference on Friday.

That’s bad news for Arkema’s neighbors. On Thursday, 15 public safety officers were taken to the hospital after breathing in acrid smoke from the plant. After local officials took a peek at Arkema’s chemical inventories, they ordered everyone within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant to evacuate. We don’t know precisely what’s in the noxious fumes, as Arkema has refused to release details of the facility’s chemical inventories.

In the worst-case scenario documented in the company’s 2014 risk-management plan, the air pollution coming from the plant could put the 1 million people living within 20 miles radius in danger. That seems unlikely — but then again, Harvey has outdone plenty of worst-case scenario predictions so far.

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After burning for months, Montana looks like a fiery apocalypse.

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Yikes, 13 of Houston’s Superfund sites flooded during Harvey.

On Thursday, explosions and black plumes of smoke were seen coming from a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 15 miles east of Houston’s city center.

Arkema, the company that owns the plant, said there was nothing they could do to prevent further explosions. The volatile chemicals stored onsite need to be refrigerated at all times to prevent breakdown, but flooding from Harvey cut the plant’s power. The “only plausible solution” now is to let the eight containers, containing 500,000 pounds of organic peroxides, explode and burn out, Arkema CEO Rich Rowe said at a press conference on Friday.

That’s bad news for Arkema’s neighbors. On Thursday, 15 public safety officers were taken to the hospital after breathing in acrid smoke from the plant. After local officials took a peek at Arkema’s chemical inventories, they ordered everyone within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant to evacuate. We don’t know precisely what’s in the noxious fumes, as Arkema has refused to release details of the facility’s chemical inventories.

In the worst-case scenario documented in the company’s 2014 risk-management plan, the air pollution coming from the plant could put the 1 million people living within 20 miles radius in danger. That seems unlikely — but then again, Harvey has outdone plenty of worst-case scenario predictions so far.

Original article – 

Yikes, 13 of Houston’s Superfund sites flooded during Harvey.

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