Tag Archives: coal

Singing protesters interrupt a White House presentation at COP23.

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Singing protesters interrupt a White House presentation at COP23.

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The Clean Power Plan’s health benefits are better than ever, Trump’s EPA discovers.

Poor dumb turtles and fish, always chomping on the ubiquitous plastic in the water by accident — or so the story went, until a handful of recent studies suggested sea creatures may actually be choosing to eat plastic.

In one of these experiments, researchers took single grains of sand and particles of microplastic — both around the same size and shape — and dropped them onto coral polyps. The tiny creatures responded to the plastic the same way they would to a tasty piece of food, stuffing the bits of trash into their mouths like so many Snickers Minis.

“Plastics may be inherently tasty,” Austin Allen, a study coauthor and marine science doctoral student at Duke University, told the Washington Post.

Coral polyps rely on chemical sensors — taste buds, essentially — to determine whether something is edible or not. And they were repeatedly chosing to swallow plastic during the study. Only once in 10 trials did a polyp make the same mistake with sand. In fact, the cleaner and fresher and more plastic-y the plastic was, the more readily the coral gulped it down.

While the long-term effects of the plastic-saturation of the planet are still unknown, this research suggests that accidentally tasty microplastics could pose an extra hazard to already beleaguered corals around the world.

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The Clean Power Plan’s health benefits are better than ever, Trump’s EPA discovers.

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More bad news for the coal industry with layoffs in Mississippi.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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More bad news for the coal industry with layoffs in Mississippi.

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West Virginia’s governor wants a new subsidy for coal.

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West Virginia’s governor wants a new subsidy for coal.

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The Navajo Nation is transitioning from coal to solar.

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The Navajo Nation is transitioning from coal to solar.

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Good news about CO2: Emissions from the energy sector stayed flat for the third year in a row.

According to the cover article in today’s issue of the journal Nature, the iconic reef off the coast of Australia suffered unprecedented coral die-off after last year’s record-breaking bleaching event. Now, as the Southern Hemisphere hits late summer temperatures, central and southern sections of the reef — areas which avoided the worst of last year’s bleaching — are in trouble.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” coral researcher Terry Hughes told the New York Times. Hughes led the team that conducted aerial surveys to document the bleaching last year, as well as subsequent surveys to assess just how much of that bleaching turned into dying.

Bleached corals don’t always turn into dead corals — some are able to recover when temperatures drop. Er, if temperatures drop. If water temperatures stay high and corals stay bleached, they will eventually starve to death. Without coral building reefs, whole ecosystems may disappear, along with the food, tourism, and jobs they support.

Hughes and his coauthors found that even corals in pristine, protected water were likely to be suffering from heat stress, meaning the only thing left to do to protect corals is, you know, address climate change.

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Good news about CO2: Emissions from the energy sector stayed flat for the third year in a row.

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Innovation, not scarcity, could bring us peak oil as soon as 2020.

The acting secretary of the Army has reportedly ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a critical easement that would allow the pipeline to be built underneath Lake Oahe, the primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, a proponent of the pipeline, announced the news Tuesday night.

The easement, which could come within days, would clear the way for construction of the last major segment of the pipeline. A week ago, President Trump called for the Army Corps to move quickly toward approval of the easement.

This is the same easement the Obama administration declined to issue in December. At that time, the Army Corps ordered an environmental impact statement (EIS) to be conducted for the project, a process that could take years, granting the water protectors a small but important victory. It’s not clear whether the Army Corps now has the authority to simply stop the EIS process.

“If and when the easement is granted, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will vigorously pursue legal action,” the tribe said in a statement. “To abandon the EIS would amount to a wholly unexplained and arbitrary change based on the President’s personal views and, potentially, personal investments.”

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Innovation, not scarcity, could bring us peak oil as soon as 2020.

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U.S. likely to become a major energy exporter in a decade

The amount of energy Americans use and the pollution they emit from using coal, oil, and natural gas are not likely to change radically over the next 30 years, even as the U.S. becomes a major energy exporter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook, published Thursday.

The outlook, which does not factor in any policies from the incoming fossil fuel–friendly Trump administration, shows that the U.S. is unlikely to make significant gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, even though zero-carbon renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source over the next three decades.

Electricity generation is expected to remain the largest single use of energy in the U.S., but crude oil use for transportation is expected to be the largest source of energy-related carbon emissions. Carbon emissions from transportation surpassed those from electric power generation for the first time in U.S history in 2016.

The U.S. is likely to become a major exporter of energy because it is expected to produce about 20 percent more energy than it does today through 2040 while using only about 5 percent more energy, said EIA administrator Adam Sieminsky.

“We’re going to have fairly strong domestic production of energy and relatively flat demand,” he said. “You put those two together, it implies that the U.S. could become a net energy exporter.” And that could happen as soon as 2026.

That scenario, in addition to gains in energy efficiency across the country and declining coal consumption, will keep annual carbon emissions from energy use roughly level with today’s — about 5.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to EIA data.  Energy-related carbon emissions in the U.S. have been falling since they peaked at about 6 billion metric tons in 2007.

The EIA offers a variety of different projections for how Americans will produce and use energy in the coming decades. The scenario in which the U.S. emits the most carbon dioxide through 2040 is the one in which the Obama administration’s signature climate change policy, the Clean Power Plan, is tossed out by the courts or the incoming Trump administration.

The Clean Power Plan, a major key to the success of the Paris Climate Agreement, was designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, encouraging utilities to generate more and more electricity using natural gas and renewables. But the plan’s fate is in doubt because 24 states have sued to kill it, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked it, and the incoming Trump administration has vowed to rescind it because it wants to revive the flagging coal industry.

The federal government is projecting that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from energy use will remain relatively steady in the coming decades.EIA

Regardless of the fate of the Clean Power Plan, energy-related carbon emissions are not expected to change much. If the plan is rescinded or overturned, the U.S. will emit about 5.4 billion metric tons annually through 2040 — slightly higher than today. If the plan remains in place, emissions are expected to drop to about 5 billion metric tons annually.

The biggest change the EIA expects to see over the next 30 years is one that’s already in progress today —  Americans are expected to use more and more natural gas and renewables than they do now. Natural gas production is expected to grow 1.2 percent through 2050, with wind and solar power production growing 3.5 percent.

“If the Clean Power Plan is not implemented, if natural gas prices remain relatively low, and the tax credits in the renewables area play out a little, we will see more natural gas in the future,” Sieminsky said.

The fracking boom in the U.S. over the past decade has flooded the country with natural gas, bringing prices down. Cheap natural gas, more so than climate regulations under the Clean Power Plan, has encouraged electric power companies to switch away from coal-fired power plants, which have always formed the backbone of the energy grid. The trend is expected to continue over the next 30 years.

For example, just this week, the operator of one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants, the Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station northeast of the Grand Canyon, announced the plant and the coal mine that supplies it may close this year because of low natural gas prices, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper.

Despite growth in natural gas and renewables, the EIA expects coal production will continue a slow but gradual decline, falling only 0.7 percent through 2050.

Sieminsky said the decline in coal use in the U.S. will translate worldwide as well, and the fate of the Clean Power Plan isn’t much of a factor in the long-term outlook for coal because utilities have already begun committing to using natural gas to generate electricity.

“Capital costs of building coal plants are high,” he said. “A lot of countries are moving away from coal for air pollution reasons. It’s not a climate issue — it’s more of a health issue.”

China, for example, has begun shuttering coal-fired power plants to reduce its urban smog — the worst in the world.

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U.S. likely to become a major energy exporter in a decade

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States are already complying with the Clean Power Plan rules they are challenging in court.

Or so says Lyft’s cofounder and president in a manifesto published on Sunday. John Zimmer writes that he has loved cars ever since getting introduced to Hot Wheels as a 3-year old. But then college ruined all the fun.

“Next time you walk outside, pay really close attention to the space around you,” Zimmer writes, referring to an uncomfortable realization picked up in a city-planning class. “Look at how much land is devoted to cars  — and nothing else.”

For decades now, those with similar epiphanies have concluded that we just need to take that space away from cars, period.

Zimmer proposes something else: a Lyft-branded car subscription service. Composed of both self-driving and people-driven automobiles, it would eliminate the need for private ownership of cars, Zimmer argues. And as this goal gets within reach, the space formerly occupied by parking spots will gradually return to public space.

Zimmer doesn’t have a particular date that this subscription service will be rolled out, which is sensible, because it would have to take a very long time. For now, though, Zimmer’s proposal should be read for what it is — high-quality futurism.

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States are already complying with the Clean Power Plan rules they are challenging in court.

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The number of coal-fired power plants under development saw a big hit in the first half of 2016.

Australian architect James Gardiner wants to use 3D-printing technology to build structures for coral to grow on in places where reefs are decimated by disease, pollution, dredging, and other maladies (looking at you, crown o’ thorns).

Right now, artificial reefs are built out of uniform, blocky assemblages of concrete or steel. Those are cheap and easy to make, but don’t look or work like the real thing — for starters, because “the marine life that colonizes these reef surfaces can sometimes fall off,” one biologist told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Gardiner worked with David Lennon of Reef Design Lab to design new shapes with textured surfaces and built-in tunnels and shelters. The computer models are turned into wax molds with the world’s largest 3D printer, and then cast with, essentially, sand. It’s a cheap and low-carbon way to manufacture custom, modular pieces of reef.

Reef Design Lab installed the first 3D-printed reef in Bahrain in 2012 — and, eight months later, it was covered with algae, sponges, and fish.

Mandatory disclaimer: Rebuilding all of the world’s coral reefs by hand is impossible, and climate change is still the biggest threat facing coral reefs, so let’s not forget to save the ones we’ve got.

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The number of coal-fired power plants under development saw a big hit in the first half of 2016.

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