Tag Archives: politics

The United States will start taxing solar panel imports.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the PennEast Pipeline its certificate of public convenience and necessity on Friday, which also allows the company to acquire land through eminent domain.

The proposed $1 billion pipeline would run nearly 120 miles from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Its opponents say it would threaten the health and safety of nearby communities and endanger natural and historic resources. Proponents maintain that the pipeline is an economic boon that will lower energy costs for residents.

After getting the OK from FERC, the company moved up its estimated in-service date to 2019, with construction to begin this year. But it won’t necessarily be an easy road ahead. The pipeline still needs permits from the State of New Jersey, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Delaware River Basin Commission. And while Chris Christie was a big fan of the pipeline, newly elected Governor Phil Murphy ran a campaign promising a green agenda and has already voiced opposition.

Pipeline opponents are demonstrating this afternoon and taking the developers to court. “It’s just the beginning. New Jersey doesn’t need or want this damaging pipeline, and has the power to stop it when it faces a more stringent state review,” Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said in a statement.

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The United States will start taxing solar panel imports.

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Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

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Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

The latest reports suggest that coal has the equivalent of black-lung disease: the condition is chronic, and the long-term prognosis is dire.

Power companies plan to shutter more than 10 big coal plants in 2018, extinguishing a major portion of coal burning in the United States (see the map below). According to projections released by the Energy Information Administration this week, coal-fired plants will produce less than 30 percent of the electricity Americans use this year. Back in 2000, coal provided more than half of our electricity. Cheap natural gas has knocked coal out of competition.

2018 will be a bad year to be a gray dot.

EIA

This year is expected be a big one for coal-plant retirements but, as you can see below, so was 2015, and 2012, and, well, much of the past decade.

Pretty much all the plants shutting down are fossil-fuel plants.EIA

“Coal in the U.S. might not be dead, but it is in a death spiral,” said Alex Gilbert, of the energy research firm SparkLibrary. “Coal’s demise is inevitable, but it can still emit significant greenhouse gas and other emissions on its way out. The main policy question now is whether the death spiral should be a decade long or decades long.”

What pushed coal power into the death spiral? In a word, fracking. A crackdown on toxic pollution and the rise of wind and solar power, too. If you look at this map of plants scheduled to open this year, it’s all renewables and gas.

Look at all those renewables… and gas plants.EIA

Gilbert said coal companies also played a supporting role in the dirty fuel’s demise. “Coal’s decline is mainly due to market competition with natural gas with regulations playing a secondary role,” he said. “Fundamentally, however, coal is dying because the industry decided to fight changing times. Instead of innovating into a 21st-century compatible energy source, they played politics.”

So, what does all this mean for greenhouse-gas emissions? Well, even if we stop burning coal, it wouldn’t be enough to solve our emissions problems. And as we squeeze carbon out of our electrical system, carbon emissions from cars, industry, and heating are all going up. That’s consistent with a long term trend.

“Between 2005 and 2016, almost 80 percent of the reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. came from the electric power sector,” wrote Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters of the Rhodium Group, a company which analyzes energy trends. To get greenhouse-gas emissions down, other sectors have to play a larger role.

Rhodium Group

This year, people are expected to drive more, and a growing economy will cause industry to ramp up. All told, the United States is likely to pump out more greenhouse gases this year, according to the new data from the EIA.

“After declining by 1.0 percent in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7 percent in 2018,” the EIA wrote.

It looks like our biggest problem is no longer coal. It’s cars.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

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There’s new evidence that facts really do make a difference.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a press conference to discuss the Department of the Interior’s intentions for drilling rights in American-controlled waters. In brief: The Arctic, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and possibly parts of the Pacific are pretty much all fair game now. The new policy would encompass “the largest number of lease sales ever proposed,” Zinke said.

It’s a direct take-back of the plan that the Obama administration finalized in November 2016. Those rules, which protected the Arctic and Atlantic seas from new drilling, were supposed to hold until 2022. But President Trump has long claimed the legal authority, and intention, to reverse it.

Conservation groups will almost certainly challenge this new draft plan in court. And a bipartisan group of local and state officials also oppose new drilling in some of these areas. In June, 14 House Republicans issued a joint letter opposing drilling off the Atlantic. Florida Governor Rick Scott joined the opposition Thursday, saying that his “top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

Overall, more than 100 lawmakers — along with plenty of governors, attorneys general, and the U.S. Defense Department — oppose the plan.

Just last week, the Interior Department’s rollback of drilling safety regulations after the 2009 Deepwater Horizon spill cited their “unnecessary … burden” on industry.

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There’s new evidence that facts really do make a difference.

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What is Scott Pruitt so afraid of?

For a country that already imports 99 percent of its oil, France’s decision to end all new oil development and phase out existing projects by 2040 may not seem all that meaningful. The Guardian called it a “largely symbolic gesture.”

But actually, as geoscientist Erik Klemetti noted, France is committing to keeping a massive oil reservoir in the ground. The Paris Basin, a region in northern France, may contain nearly as much underground petroleum as the huge Bakken Formation in North Dakota. Extracting that oil and gas would require extensive fracking.

Klemetti calculates that France could extract 100 years worth of oil for the country by fully exploring the Paris Basin — which could contain, according to the top estimate, 5 billion barrels of oil. At current oil prices (around $58 per barrel), that’s worth about $290 billion.

Instead, France decided to say au revoir to oil and gas altogether.

Earlier this year, the country also announced it would ban internal combustion engines by 2040. With decisions like these, France is positioning itself on the right side of history. And it’s sending a message to a world that’s floundering on climate change: A more just and prosperous future is possible, and it doesn’t require the dirty fuels of the past.

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What is Scott Pruitt so afraid of?

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The Trump administration takes censoring science to the next level.

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The Trump administration takes censoring science to the next level.

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President Trump’s national security strategy omits climate change.

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President Trump’s national security strategy omits climate change.

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Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

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Climate change is disappearing from government websites — and from research, too.

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Climate change is disappearing from government websites — and from research, too.

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Bernie Sanders has a $146 billion recovery plan for Puerto Rico.

Over the weekend, Indonesia raised the alert on Mount Agung to level IV — its highest level — as a huge plume of ash and steam began to pour from the volcano’s summit in eastern Bali.

One U.S. geologist already labeled it a “full eruption.” About 100,000 people have been asked to evacuate the area nearest the volcano, where more than 1,000 people were killed during an explosive eruption in 1963.

Local aid organizations have begun distributing gas masks and goggles to residents, reports the BBC, as well as solar-powered televisions for emergency announcements. The island’s airport has shut down and hundreds of flights have been canceled.

Should the eruption escalate, it could have worldwide climate implications, including temporarily cooler temperatures. In 1815, the eruption of nearby Mount Tambora altered weather patterns worldwide, leading to crop failures in Europe and the infamous 1816 “year without a summer” believed to be the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

Agung very likely won’t become a Tambora-scale disaster, but its ash and gas emissions could still block some of the sun’s rays for the next year or two. After that, however, the global climate will continue to behave as if the eruption had never happened.

You can watch live video of the eruption here.

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Bernie Sanders has a $146 billion recovery plan for Puerto Rico.

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