Enbridge Inc.’s most recent claim to fame has no doubt been its proposed $6.5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada. This project, if completed, would transport up to 525,000 barrels of tar sands crude 731 miles from Alberta to British Columbia, where it would be shipped on tankers to Asia.
But recently, the company has been making headlines for something else. The Alberta-based company on Monday announced that it would invest $200 million in a 110 megawatt (MW) wind project in Texas.
The Keechi Wind Project is being built with Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc., a Colorado-based company that has reportedly worked with Enbridge on three other wind projects.
“Texas represents a natural extension for Enbridge’s growing U.S. renewable energy portfolio,” Don Thompson, Enbridge’s vice president of green power and transmission, said in a statement. “We’re also pleased to continue building our relationship with RES Americas.”
Despite being the leader on Northern Gateway — opposed by many for the increased carbon emissions that come from tar sands extraction — Enbridge says it has so far invested $3 billion in wind, solar, geothermal, and other alternative energy technology projects since 2002. Those projects include 12 wind farms totaling 1,549 MW in capacity, four solar energy operations with a combined capacity of 150 MW, and one 23 MW geothermal project.
Where profits are concerned, Texas is a natural place to build a wind project. The state currently leads the nation in wind energy production, with nearly three times the wind capacity of Iowa, the second leading state, according to a report from National Public Radio. Texas’ western region has a near-constant wind speed of 17 mph, the report said, which helped the state in April 2010 produce 12.1 percent of its electricity from wind.
Still, Enbridge’s push for more tar sands development has drawn protests from north to south, including strong opposition from Canada’s largest private sector union. The project was recently greenlighted by a Canadian review panel, which recommended that Northern Gateway be given the go-ahead by the federal government — as long as 209 conditions are met.
Some of the major reasons Canadians oppose the pipeline include: the the pipeline’s proposed path, which crosses the territory of more than 40 First Nations’ groups, 30 designated Important Bird Areas and over 800 rivers and streams; the pipeline’s required addition of bulk oil tanker traffic to British Columbia’s ports, which currently contain no bulk crude tanker traffic; and the carbon-intensive nature of extracting tar sands crude from the earth.
The Canadian government touts Alberta’s oil sands as the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The region’s heavy crude oil is mixed with clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand — hence the designation “oil sands” or “tar sands.” This makes for a unique and energy-intensive extraction process that some scientists say produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. Environment Canada has said it expects production emissions from tar sands to hit 104 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 under current expansion plans.
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CREDIT: AP Photo/Molly Riley
Environmentally speaking, 2013 was a bad year for the House of Representatives.
That’s the message of a new report from Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The report cataloged the 2013 environmental and energy votes of the House in the 113th Congress, and found that in one year, the House voted in favor of anti-environment positions 109 times — a statistic that shows the 113th Congress is following close on the heels of the 112th, which was dubbed by Waxman and Ed Markey (D-MA) as the most anti-environment House of Representatives in history.
The findings of Waxman’s 2013 report on the House include:
51: Number of times House members voted to “protect the interests of the oil and gas industry at the expense of the environment and human health,” including voting multiple times to fast-track the approval process of the Keystone XL pipeline. The House also voted to ramp up drilling on public lands, including passing a bill that would have imposed a $5000 fee for citizens who wanted to protest a proposed drilling project and made it much easier for oil and gas companies to obtain permits for drilling on public lands.
20: Number of times House members voted to weaken the Clean Air Act, with another 20 votes to block or hinder federal carbon emissions regulations (11 of these votes overlapped). In August, for instance, the House took aim at the EPA’s ability to weigh the “social cost of carbon” when developing regulations, voting 234-178 for an amendment that would prevent the agency from factoring the social cost of carbon into rules.
27: Number of times House members voted to cut clean energy and energy efficiency funding and block clean energy policies, including passing a bill that would have cut federal investments in renewable energy by nearly a billion dollars.
37: Number of times House members voted to weaken the Clean Water Act and other regulatory efforts to improve water quality, including voting three times to block federal agencies from using their money to implement the National Ocean Policy.
The scale of anti-environment votes in the 113th Congress isn’t totally surprising — 160 representatives from the 113th Congress have accepted more than $55.5 million from the fossil fuel industry, and 56 percent of the Republican caucus in 2013′s House of Representatives deny the reality of climate change.
The post Report: House Of Representatives Voted 109 Times To Undermine Environmental Efforts In 2013 appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A never-before seen boat wreck exposed in Cornwall. Nine World War II explosives washed ashore on a beach in Essex. The Thames Barrier, closed for the eleventh time in a row. These are just a handful of the scenes from a weather-weary Great Britain as the U.K. braces for more brutal storms, flooding and gale-force winds forecast to last throughout the week.
While the three severe flood warnings for parts of Dorset issued earlier in the week have just been lifted, the Environment Agency currently has over 300 lower-level flood alerts and warnings in effect across England and Wales.
Regions in the western and southern U.K. have been hit the hardest by the most recent round of storms. On Monday night, 27 foot high waves pounded Land’s End, the southwestern tip of the U.K. And just a few hours earlier, flood sirens screeched their warning of extreme danger to people and property in Dorset, as tidal surges broke through sea defenses and residents were directed to move to upstairs rooms facing away from the ocean. Flooding has also cut off several villages in Somerset, with supplies now being ferried in by boat.
According to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, seven people have died and 1,700 homes have been flooded in England due to storms and flooding in December and January.
Back in December, hurricane-force wind gusts hit Britain, causing transportation chaos, and plunging tens of thousands of homes into darkness. The extreme windstorm, named Xaver, kicked up the biggest tidal surge seen in 60 years, flooding at least 1,400 properties on the eastern coast of England.
In an interview with BBC Radio Live 5, Sir David King, U.K. climate change envoy, said that the current floods — the worst seen in decades — are expected to become more frequent in the coming years.
“The important thing to get across is the simple notion that storms and severe weather conditions that we might have expected to occur once in 100 years, say, in the past may now be happening more frequently,” King said.
“And the reason is – as predicted by scientists – that the climate is changing and as the climate changes we can anticipate quite a radical change in weather conditions.”
King recommends that Britain will need to spend up to a £1 billion (roughly $1.6 billion dollars) a year by 2020, to mitigate the damage from climate change and extreme weather.
The Environment Agency has estimated that for every pound invested in flood defenses the country will save about £7 or £8 in flood damage. Earlier this month, however, the Environment Agency confirmed that it was cutting 1,500 jobs and said that the cuts would impact flood operations such as risk management, maintenance, and modeling.
“If we really want to manage this problem, and I’m sure that all of us do, we will have to do two things,” King said. “One, get back to the higher investment level in flood defences and, two, push hard on the rest of the world in terms of mitigating the impacts of climate change and of course this is a big target for getting an international agreement.”
One possible silver lining in the otherwise exhausting onslaught of wacky weather is that the U.K. broke a number of records for wind power generation in December. Last month over 2.8 million MWh of electricity came to the National Grid from wind farms, enabling wind power to meet 10 percent of total electricity demand. On December 21, a new daily record was set, as 132,812 MWh were generated by wind, about 17 percent of the national energy demand.
The post The New Year Brings More Extreme Weather And Flooding For Storm-Weary U.K. appeared first on ThinkProgress.
After Winning Support Of Environmentalists In 2013, McAuliffe Looks To Boost Virginia’s Coal Industry
CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is looking to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology as the answer to the coal industry’s economic struggles in his state, calling jobs in CCS-equipped coal plants the “jobs of the future.”
“[Virginia] should be the leader on all the latest, 21st Century coal technology,” McAuliffe said last week. “Those are the jobs of the future. We need to build on the assets we have.”
Though he presented himself as a more climate-conscious candidate than his opponent Ken Cuccinelli in last year’s governor’s race, McAuliffe has advocated for CCS before as a way of keeping coal a viable energy source, and has adopted a more pro-coal stance over the years. When he sought the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2009, McAuliffe said Virginia needed to move past coal, but was still supportive of CCS technology as a way of reducing coal emissions in the state. “As governor, I never want another coal plant built,” he said in 2009. “I want us to build wind farms, biomass, biodiesel and solar. That’s my emphasis.”
The 2013 election saw a candidate that was more supportive of coal’s growth in Virginia, saying the state needed to “make sure we do what we need to, to make sure this vital industry here in Virginia continues to grow.” The Appalachian coal basin extends into Southwestern Virginia, making the U.S. coal industry’s decline a pressing issue for SW Virginians. But CCS isn’t likely to completely revive the industry in Virginia — competition from natural gas and cheaper coal in Wyoming, mining’s increasingly automated techniques and the fact that Central Appalachia’s coal could be running out all factor in to the decline.
Despite this warming to the coal industry, McAuliffe said in October that he supports the EPA’s power plant regulations. Statements like this, coupled with Cuccinelli’s climate denialism, helped McAuliffe garner major support from environmentalists. During the 2013 campaign, environmental groups were major contributors to McAuliffe’s campaign.
McAuliffe’s comments come not long after news that his Inaugural Committee accepted $75,000 from fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies also donated to McAuliffe’s campaign, although they gave more to Cuccinnelli — McAuliffe received $60,000 from Dominion Resources and $10,000 from Alpha Natural Resources over the course of the campaign.
Though the U.S. Department of Energy has called CCS a “next-generation” technology that will help enable an “all-of-the-above approach to develop clean and affordable sources of American energy,” there are concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the process. CCS has been linked to earthquakes in Texas, and a 2012 study concluded there was a “high probability” that earthquakes could be triggered by large-scale CCS, and called CCS a “risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The post After Winning Support Of Environmentalists In 2013, McAuliffe Looks To Boost Virginia’s Coal Industry appeared first on ThinkProgress.
While densely-populated cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions per person, the suburban sprawl around these cities — and the increased driving, bigger homes, and higher emissions from goods and services that accompany suburban living — essentially cancels out that benefit, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.
“While many cities in the country have taken on very impressive programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions … often the suburbs get left out of that equation,” said Daniel Kammen, professor at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory in an interview with ClimateProgress. “That commuting footprint, not just of physically commuting but of the goods and services delivered to suburbanites, has a big effect and in fact, it really undoes a lot of the gains made by that dense urban core.”
The study analyzed 37 individual categories, including weather, electricity supply, and the emissions embedded in food and other goods and services, to provide a much more complete picture of household carbon footprints across the country. They found that on average, suburbs account for half of all household greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for less than half of the population.
“The average [household carbon footprint] in an urban core in the country is about 50 percent less than the average in the commuting suburbs around it, largely because of transportation and bigger homes in the suburbs,” Kammen said.
Using this model, researchers determined the size and composition of the household carbon footprint for essentially every zip code, state, city, and county in the U.S. and organized all of the data into an interactive map.
Providing a complete picture of greenhouse gas emissions was a key motivator in undertaking the research, said Kammen. While reducing emissions from vehicles and electricity use are common solutions to addressing climate change, there are other sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are harder to quantify and thus address. A good example is California’s greenhouse gas law, A.B. 32. The law is all-inclusive, meaning it includes not only the emissions that stem from electricity use, but transportation and goods and services, as well.
“So while we’ve made a lot of progress in California on our clean electricity standard … we’re much further behind on the carbon embedded in the rest of our goods and services combined,” said Kammen.
Additionally, the researchers wanted to look at the bigger picture of emissions beyond just the urban core. Kammen and co-author Christopher Jones found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size — all of which are considerably higher in suburbs.
“When you look at the map, urban areas really look like … a hurricane, because it’s a green low-carbon core surrounded by a lot of red on the map, a lot of high-carbon households,” said Kammen.
So is the solution to increase population density? Not so fast. Increasing population density in central cities “would require a really extraordinary transformation for very little benefit, and high carbon suburbanization would result as a side effect,” said Jones.
“This is not to condemn urban suburbs and just packing yourself in urban cores is a good thing,” Kammen explained. “We have cities that are relatively spread out — for example, Portland, Oregon, which has one of the best public transportation systems in the country and, as a result, Portland actually has the lowest per capita vehicle ownership of any big city.”
Portland is a prime example of the emissions reduction benefit that results from thinking through transportation policies, said Kammen. So even if you live in the suburbs, its convenient to get to work in downtown Portland using public transportation. It may not come as a big surprise but the Berkeley analysis confirms that public transportation can have a big impact. “Well-working mass transit systems not only allow you to bring down the carbon footprint but we know that places where mass transit works well are cities that are seen as more equitable and more livable for lower income people.”
Ultimately, Kammen emphasizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In addition to population density, other important factors in measuring the household carbon footprint include the carbon-intensity of electricity production, energy prices, and weather and those factors vary considerably across the U.S. In California, for example, motor vehicles account for 30 percent of household carbon footprints, while just six percent comes from electricity. In areas that rely heavily on coal-fired power plants to meet their electricity needs, such as the Midwest and much of the South, that number is significantly higher.
While the most effective set of policies will vary across the country, the real lesson is that cities need to take a holistic approach as they tailor their greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies. “Places in the country that have developed holistic pictures do much better, and by that I mean, it’s not just do I live in a home that has solar panels on the roof and then use mass transit, but everything I purchase comes to me and there’s carbon associated with that,” said Kammen.
In California, many cities are developing carbon budgets in an attempt to identify and address some of the more complex sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Kammen and Jones run a program that seeks to identify the California cities with the lowest carbon footprint per capita and found that the municipalities that pursue an integrated approach have the most success. “In the near-term we need these integrated policies and in the long-term, we need these policies plus cap-and-trade with a significant carbon price, but you can’t rely on one — things come and go,” Kammen explained.
By providing tools that enable people to easily calculate their own carbon footprint and then compare that with the average household carbon footprint in their area, Kammen and Jones hope to empower people to make adjustments to their carbon footprint and take action to address climate change, in addition to cities and states. “People need to act within their own spheres of influence, where they feel they can make the most difference,” Jones said. “We hope the information provided in these tools will help individuals, organizations and cities understand what makes the most impact locally and to enable more tailored climate strategies.”
The next steps for Kammen and Jones? First, adding even more detail to their model to better understand the impact of individual actions. “Right now crate and shipping is the fastest-growing component of emissions … energy use for homes hasn’t been growing that much because we’re somewhat close to the recession but everyone is doing e-shopping and things, so we want to understand that footprint.” And second, taking their model internationally. “A lot of goods produced in China are consumed in the U.S. and so while the actual greenhouse gas emissions for the iPhone I’m talking to you on took place in China where it was built, I’m using it here, so really those emissions are part of my embedded footprint here.”
The post Here’s Why Suburban Sprawl Cancels Out The Climate Benefits Of City Living appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll
It’s 2014, and three people in England have already super-glued themselves to various anchored items around hydraulic fracturing sites in acts of protest.
According to a report from the Manchester Evening News, two anti-fracking protestors were arrested on Tuesday for protesting at the Barton Moss fracking site in Manchester. This was not a normal protest, however — the women reportedly parked their Blue Ford Escort in front of the site, cut a hole in the bottom of the car, placed a barrel full of concrete in the hole, and superglued themselves into the barrel.
The women — arrested for willful obstruction of a public highway — knew they would be arrested for the stunt, fellow campaigner Mandy Roundhouse told the Evening News.
“They have done letter-writing, they have done going on marches, they have tried all the other means and nothing is working so they have had to resort to this,” Roundhouse said. “It’s not a decision they have taken lightly.”
It is not the first time anti-fracking protestors in England have gone to extreme measures to protest fracking, which is a method of extracting fossil fuels that generally increases the flow of oil or gas from a well. On Thursday, another anti-fracking protester super-glued herself to the gates of Barton Moss, causing delays for trucks that usually drive through to and from the site.
“She did it to cause delays for the lorries leaving the site,” an onlooker told the Evening News. “It caused a two-hour delay, which was the whole point.”
The protests follow recent news in mid-December that two-thirds of the U.K.’s land will be available for fracking firms to license — a major fracking effort that the government reportedly hopes will result in hydraulic fracturing delivering about 25 percent of the U.K.’s annual gas needs.
Fracking is done by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles deep into the ground into subsurface rock, effectively “fracturing” the rock and allowing more spaces for oil and gas to come through. The tactic is generally paired with horizontal drilling.
The practice is controversial, as recent studies of health risks related to fracking have been alarming. A study released in mid-December by the journal Endocrinology found the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals in surface water and groundwater samples in Garfield County, Colorado — one county at the center of the U.S. fracking boom. Additionally, a July study from the Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences of USA found that the closer residents live to wells used in fracking, the more likely drinking water is contaminated. And recent studies have shown how natural gas production can lead to much higher-than-expected leaks of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
The post After Trying ‘All Other Means,’ Protesters Are Now Super-Gluing Themselves To Fracking Sites appeared first on ThinkProgress.
PA Gov Accused Of ‘Trying To Confuse The Public’ With Environmentally-Friendly Fracking Agreement (Updated)
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll
To some, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s most recent press release is a noble attempt to protect waterways and wetlands from fracking operations while the state fights to overturn a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down provisions of the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling law, Act 13.
To others, it is just the opposite.
On Monday, Corbett announced that he had entered into a voluntary agreement with Pennsylvania’s oil and gas drillers to comply with buffer zones under Act 13, which had required fracking operations, deep-shale drilling pads and conventional oil and gas wellbores to be at least 100 or 300 feet from environmentally sensitive areas, depending on the type of drilling. Those buffer zones — also called the “setback provisions” — were struck down in December when a state Supreme Court judge ruled them unconstitutional.
The reason the buffer zones were ruled unconstitutional, however, was that drillers were not actually required to comply with them, according to Jordan B. Yeager, an attorney who represented plaintiffs in the case against Act 13. Because drillers were not required to comply, the law in essence meant that natural gas companies could drill anywhere they wanted, regardless of local zoning laws.
“The provision had a mandatory waiver requirement. So as long as the drilling company said ‘we’ll take steps back to protect the waters,’ the Pennsylvania [Department of Environmental Protection] had to grant a waiver to the setbacks,” Yeager, who represents the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told ClimateProgress on Tuesday. “Those setback provisions were completely illusory. That’s why it got struck down.”
Act 13′s setback provisions were struck down in part because of Article 1, Section 27 of Pennsylvania’s state Constitution, which the gives the state “not just the authority, but the duty” to protect the state’s natural resources, Yeager said. In other words, the state has an obligation to protect waterways and wetlands from drilling, regardless of whether Act 13 is in place or not. Provisions under the state’s Clean Streams Law and the federal Clean Water Act also require the state to guard its waters from fracking operations and pollution.
“[Governor Corbett's press release] is basically an attempt to grandstand and to confuse the public,” Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper, told ClimateProgress. “It’s not at all true that setbacks don’t exist now, or that more can’t be adopted.”
But according to Patrick Henderson, Deputy Chief of Staff and Energy Executive for Tom Corbett, Act 13 does allow the DEP to reject drillers’ requests to frack near waterways.
“Mr. Yeager should know better. He’s fundamentally flatly wrong on the law,” Henderson said. “When the law says ‘the waiver, if granted,’ it clearly recognizes that the DEP doesn’t have to grant it.”
“What [Delaware Riverkeeper] doesn’t want to do is give the Governor and the Legislature any credit,” Henderson added. “The fact of the matter is there were an awful lot of environmental enhancements in Act 13 that were done to better protect the environment.”
While it is true that Act 13 includes increased protections including well-bonding, fines and penalties for polluters, and water protections, none of those provisions were challenged by Riverkeeper, or invalidated by the Supreme Court. However, it is possible that all of Act 13 could be invalidated. After deciding that the setback provision of Act 13 was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower Commonwealth court to decide whether the provisions could be individually severed, or whether the whole act now needs to be declared unconstitutional.
Carluccio said she believes that, with the press release, the Pennsylvania DEP is attempting to build a basis for its motion for the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on Act 13, something Carluccio said was “insultingly wrong.”
“This was one of the longest opinions written on something like this and not something [the court] lightly considered,” she said. “[Corbett] is trying to act like he’s a good guy, but because his reputation is tarnished from Act 13, it’s a PR move.”
Corbett spokesperson Jay Pagni said the press release and agreement with the drilling industry was Governor Corbett’s attempt to “work with the industry to ensure that environmental protections remain in place while the continuing legal discussions occur.”
“It’s a PR move on Tracy’s part, with all due respect,” Pagni said. “They try to paint a narrative of the Governor and they struggle with the fact that, in Act 13, not a single standard for the environment was weakened.”Update
This post has been updated to reflect comments from Governor Corbett’s office, and provide context for those comments.
CREDIT: Ken Pawluk / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last week’s derailment and explosion of an oil train in Casselton, North Dakota was enough to prompt a call for moderation from an unexpected source: Robert Harms, the chairman of North Dakota’s Republican party, who is also a consultant for the energy industry.
Harms told Reuters Thursday that the state needed to take a “moderated approach” after the crash, which didn’t cause any deaths but prompted the evacuation of many of Casselton’s 2,400 residents and burned for more than 24 hours.
“Even people within the oil and gas industry that I’ve talked to feel that sometimes we’re just going too fast and too hard,” Harms told Reuters.
There’s particular reason to be careful with North Dakota’s oil. The state’s Bakken shale produces a form of light sweet crude that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) warned last week could be especially flammable, either due to particular properties of the oil or the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.
“I think it’s a good wake up call for all of us, both local and state officials,” Harms told Reuters, “as well as the people with the oil and gas industry and the transportation industry.”
The costs of the boom to its workers are huge as well. As fossil fuel drilling grows, companies are hiring more workers for the dangerous work of drilling, which claimed the lives of 823 workers from 2003 to 2010, a death rate seven times higher than other U.S. industries. And violence, addiction, and STDs are cropping up in boomtowns where workers are severed from bonds of community and family, but not provided social support.
Even worse, the death rate is rising due to the boom. While the industry hired 23 percent more workers between 2009 and 2012, the death rate went up over 100 percent. Proponents of fossil fuels tout new extraction jobs in the still-recovering economy. But Ryan Hill, head of the oil and gas extraction program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed some of the spike in deaths to new, inexperienced workers entering the industry.
“During times of high demand like now, there are new workers brought into this industry, and these are workers that may not have relevant training and experience,” Hill told NPR. And drillers “typically work 12- to 14-hour shifts for a week or two consecutively.” Industry critics also allege that the worker shortage means companies are doing less drug testing of the people doing dangerous work.
Flaring, the practice of burning natural gas that drillers simply don’t have the capacity to use or transport, is bad for the climate as well. As long as gas is being pulled from the ground, burning it productively is a better use of its one million cars worth of carbon emissions than flaring it just to light up the North Dakota sky. But companies are too eager to eager to get the oil as quickly as possible to wait and put the proper infrastructure in place.
The post Unexpected Source Calls For A Slowdown In Oil-Booming North Dakota appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Toyota announced the launch of a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car in the U.S. next year on Monday at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The car, which resembles the popular Corolla, is yet to be named, but like the birth of a royal child it’s the pedigree that counts — and Toyota is the largest auto manufacturer in the world. However, unlike a royal child, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles have been fighting an uphill battle against logistical, technological and economic odds since their inception.
“For years, the use of hydrogen gas to power an electric vehicle has been seen by many smart people as a foolish quest,” Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, said at the CES event. “Yes, there are significant challenges. The first is building the vehicle at a reasonable price for many people. The second is doing what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure. We’re doing a good job with both and we will launch in 2015.”
Calling it the “car of the future,” Carter said the vehicle will be a zero-emission, mid-size, four-door sedan with a driving range of at least 300 miles between refueling and a fill-up time of less than five minutes. No official price tag was announced, but it is estimated that the cost will range from $50,000 to $100,000.
“We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel; just everything necessary to make them turn,” said Carter.
Not only does this include the technology inside the car, but also the infrastructure needed for refueling.
Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles run on hydrogen gas, making them similar to battery-only models such as the Nissan Leaf that plug-in to recharge in that they emit none of the tailpipe pollution association with burning gasoline. The only exhaust on the Toyota fuel-cell vehicle will be water vapor.
“Battery models carry electricity in their lithium-ion battery packs while fuel-cell vehicles make electricity on board in a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “While hydrogen vehicles have a range comparable to gasoline vehicles and need only a few minutes to refuel — compared with hours for most battery autos — there are few hydrogen pumps currently open to the public.”
To be precise there are currently nine hydrogen refueling stations open to the public, all of them in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and another dozen in California that are private or for demonstration. For this reason the vehicle will initially launch in California — a state known for leading the nation in emissions standards and efficiency mandates. In 2012 the California Air Resources Board required that by 2025 one in seven new cars sold be zero-emission.
California has set aside more than $200 million to build another 20 hydrogen fueling stations by 2015 with as many as 100 possible within the next decade. Toyota has partnered with UC-Irvine to help determine the best locations for these fueling stations.
Addressing concern over the sparseness of refueling opportunities, Carter said, “Stay tuned, because this infrastructure thing is going to happen.”
South Korean automaker Hyundai also recently announced plans for a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle. Honda already has a fuel-cell car called the FCX Clarity that is available for lease primarily in Southern California.
A study from last year by the firm Lux Research found that, “The dream of a hydrogen economy envisioned for decades by politicians, economists, and environmentalists is no nearer, with hydrogen fuel cells turning a modest $3 billion market of about 5.9 GW in 2030.”
While hydrogen-powered cars will not likely make a significant automobile market impact or greenhouse gas emissions dent before 2030 as once hoped, production costs are rapidly falling and infrastructure is gaining steam.
So perhaps all the past hype about hydrogen-powered cars as a major mitigator of greenhouse gases can be replaced with a realistic goal of becoming a small part of the solution as some of the hurdles are overcome.
“We estimate a 95 percent cost reduction for the powertrain and fuel tanks of the vehicle we will launch in 2015 when you compare that to what it cost for us to build the original Highlander Fuel Cell in 2002,” Carter said at the CES event.
The post Toyota Unveils Zero-Emissions Hydrogen Fuel-Cell ‘Car Of The Future’ For Sale Next Year appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP/Beck Diefenbach
A group of California lawmakers is calling on Governor Jerry Brown to ban fracking until more research is done on the health and environmental impacts of the practice.
Four California assemblymembers sent a letter to their governor asking him to put a hold on fracking while the state “fully investigate[s] the science behind fracking for oil production.”
“The vast public health and safety implications of fracking, as well as the tremendous public concern over this practice, require our collective and urgent action,” the assemblymembers write. “We believe it is time to join with Californians who disapprove of the dangers fracking poses to their communities.”
The letter is part of a CREDO Action campaign to enact a moratorium on fracking in California. The letter is signed by assemblymembers Das Williams, Adrin Nazarian, Richard Bloom and Marc Levine, who last year introduced unsuccessful legislation on fracking.
“I don’t believe we have as much information as we need to continue allowing the oil industry to work unfettered before those regulations are in place,” Levine told the Sacramento Bee.
Last year, California adopted SB 4, the state’s first fracking bill, as law, and it went into effect at the beginning of 2014. The law drew the ire of environmentalists in the state, who say it doesn’t go far enough in protecting Californians from the possible dangers of fracking. The law does require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, and will require oil and gas companies to get a permit for fracking, notify neighbors before drilling, and monitor ground water and air quality. The law also stipulates that state officials will have to complete a study by 2015 that evaluates the risk of fracking, but does not impose a moratorium on the process until that study is completed. The LA Times Editorial Board called SB 4′s regulations “so watered down as to be useless.”
Following the adoption of SB 4, a group of scientists also called on Gov. Brown to adopt a moratorium on fracking while research was conducted. Twenty scientists — including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and vocal advocate of taking action on climate change, and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University — signed the letter, which outlined the emissions impact, threat of dangerous pollution, and the vast water requirements of extracting gas and oil from California’s shale reserves.
Despite these letters, Gov. Brown’s office hasn’t signaled that it will consider a moratorium in the state.
“After extensive debate, the legislature – including the authors of this letter – voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just 5 days ago,” Gov. Brown spokesman Evan Westrup told the Sacramento Bee. “Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate.”
The post California Lawmakers Urge Jerry Brown To Adopt A Fracking Moratorium appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Anatomy Of A Hit Job: Expert Featured On 60 Minutes Exposes How Show Knowingly Ignored Facts On Clean Energy
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
“What’s the matter with 60 Minutes?”
Besides the fact that the piece made no mention of climate change — which is one of the stronger arguments behind cleantech — the report largely passed over the recent explosive growth in wind power, solar power, LED lights and electric vehicles.
But it’s not like 60 Minutes wasn’t told about the recent major successes in the clean tech industry. Robert Rapier, Chief Technology Officer at Merica International, was interviewed by 60 Minutes, and spoke to them at length about cleantech’s many successes. But the only comments included were ones about cleantech investor Vinod Khosla, who CBS asserts is “known as the father of the cleantech revolution” (he is not).
Rapier spoke with ClimateProgress on Monday about what got left out of the interview. Some of the answers below were edited for clarity.
Robert, can you explain what Merica is and what your background is?
Merica is a holding company, run by a German national who lives in Hawaii. He’s one of the largest investors in renewable energy in Europe.
Me personally, I’m a chemical engineer. I’ve got Bachelors degrees in chemistry and math, a Master’s in chemical engineering. I’ve been in the engineering field for about 20 years. My graduate school work was on advanced biofuels. I’ve worked in the chemical industry, I’ve worked in the petroleum industry, I joined ConocoPhillips to actually work on alternative fuels and I did some work for them in their renewable energy efforts particularly in the conversion of vegetable oils to jet fuels.
I’ve worked in a lot of different energy projects over the years and I’ve written about energy a lot since about 2005 — particularly debunking some of the overblown claims in the advanced biofuels arena. That’s really where my focus has been and most of my career has been.
I first saw you on 60 Minutes on Sunday. The episode itself was trying to make the case that Cleantech was a failure, and quoted you on Vinod Khosla. I think some people might have been left with the impression – although you didn’t say it – that you were agreeing with the general thrust of the show. What are your actual views, and what did you tell 60 Minutes?
It’s not my intention to distance myself from the story. I think that would be disingenuous. But I will give you the background here.
I didn’t know until Saturday what the story was about. I was contacted back in October by the producers of 60 Minutes, who said that he wanted to talk to me about Khosla. So I said ok.
We had a discussion, I gave him a lot of the historical background on Khosla’s fuel investments and some of the things he’s done and the reasons he hasn’t done well. I explained that I’ve been a critic of his for a long time.
We talked and they said, would you be willing to come to New York and talk about those things on camera? And I said … I’m pro-clean tech. I work in clean tech. It’s not my intention to come up and bash clean tech. If that’s the intent, I can talk about Khosla. I can be critical of Khosla and the things he’s done. But beyond that, I won’t come up there and bash clean tech, because that’s not the way I feel.
They said, OK, fine, I think we can accurately represent your views.
What happened next?
The first question Lesley Stahl asked me – “Clean Tech is dead. What killed it?”
I immediately said, “Clean tech is not dead.” There are many parts of clean tech that are doing very well – solar power is growing by leaps and bounds, prices are plummeting, wind power is growing exponentially.
So she said, “Clean tech, the story’s more complex. There are parts that are doing well, and parts that aren’t doing very well.” And I said yes, and she said, “Let’s talk about the parts that aren’t doing so well.”
And I said, “Advanced biofuels are consistently falling below expectation.”
She asked me then, “Do you want to name names?” And I said Khosla is one of the worst offenders. He’s been called to Congress a number of times and has just thrown out fantastical scenarios that weren’t grounded in reality. And, because he is well-known from his days at Sun Microsystems, he was given credibility that he shouldn’t have been given.
I did mention at some point Tesla Motors, which for instance, had a fabulous year. I said I would not bet against Elon Musk. And she said, “Everybody seems to acknowledge that, but that seems to be one of the few real successes.” And then I cited wind, solar power. I told her that there are a lot of successes that you can find. None of that made it through the edits.
You had no idea, when you were doing the 60 Minutes interview, what the story was going to be about?
I could surmise from the interview that I had, the story would either be about Khosla or about clean-tech in general. But I didn’t know if it was a clean-tech report card, I didn’t know if it was going to be a positive story, whether I’d be up there as the villain to talk about Khosla.
I didn’t know any of this until Saturday when I see a promo, and I go, “oh, that doesn’t look good.” I said “that looks like a hit job.”
I immediately thought, I’m going to really have some explaining to do because — while I stand behind everything I said — if I’m in a story that really negatively portrays clean tech, an area I work in and I’m supportive of, that’s going to be a problem.
What are some things that you said that weren’t in the interview?
There has been explosive growth, and I said, the future is solar. Solar will trump every other energy source. I mean, you cannot beat the efficiency. When you compare solar power to biofuels, the efficiency is just so, so much greater. It’s logical if you look at it that the future belongs to solar and I said that.
We didn’t spend a lot of time on that, and that’s not my area. She did mention [failed solar company] Solyndra in the interview. I said, there will be failures, but failure is part of the game. But it’s the nature of failure that’s important.
And that was the thrust of my interview.
Virginia Legislator Proposes Letting Schools Teach Kids That Climate Change And Evolution May Not Exist
A new bill, up for consideration this year in the Virginia General Assembly, would give Virginia’s public school teachers permission to teach about the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “scientific theories” like evolution and global climate change. The bill is part of a national trend of legislative proposals, led by creationist organizations like the Discovery Institute and climate-change deniers such as the Heartland Institute.
Virginia State Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell (R) pre-filed House Bill 207 over the holidays for consideration by the House of Delegates when it reconvenes this week. His proposal would require Virginia elementary and secondary schools to teach about “scientific controversies” in science classes. It would require:
The Board [of Education] and each local school board, division superintendent, and school board employee shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes.
More significantly, it creates a right for teachers to teach kids to be skeptical of “scientific theories” — even when overwhelming scientific consensus exists:
Neither the Board nor any local school board, division superintendent, or school board employee shall prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes
Bell told the Hampton Roads Daily Press that the bill was intended to protect teachers who might otherwise be disciplined for how they responded to questions from students about topics like evolution. He noted that since the state does not require teaching of alternatives to the theory of evolution, “introducing them into instructional discussion would not seem appropriate.” In his 2011 re-election campaign, he boasted of the endorsement of noted climate-change-denier Ken Cuccinelli II (R).
Groups like the Discovery Institute and Heartland Institute have pushed schools nationally to adopt curricula that embraces skepticism of science. The former’s “Teach the Controversy” campaign has encouraged educators to include in their lectures the “non-scientific problems” creationists and intelligent-design proponents claim to have identified in the theory of evolution. A federal court held in 2005 that teaching intelligent-design in public schools is unconstitutional.
Whether Bell and educators acknowledge it or not, scientists have identified climate change as a major threat to the the Hampton Roads area in southeast Virginia. The populous area, along the Atlantic coast, is already experiencing growing problems from rising sea levels. The National Journal reported last February that, “the economic impact of these forces will be profound; some estimates run as high as $25 billion.”
But the General Assembly has done little to address climate change in recent years. In 2012, Bell’s colleague, Del. Chris Stolle (R) called “sea level rise” a “left-wing term” and excised any mention of it from a state report on coastal flooding.
The post Virginia Legislator Proposes Letting Schools Teach Kids That Climate Change And Evolution May Not Exist appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A shocking new bill threatens to make this country feel like a giant shopping mall.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th January 2014
Until the late 19th Century, much of our city space was owned by private landlords. Squares were gated, streets were controlled by turnpikes(1). The great unwashed, many of whom had been expelled from the countryside by acts of enclosure, were also excluded from desirable parts of town.
Social reformers and democratic movements tore down the barriers, and public space became a right, not a privilege. But social exclusion follows inequality as night follows day, and now, with little public debate, our city centres are again being privatised or semi-privatised. They are being turned by the companies that run them into soulless, cheerless, pasteurised piazzas, in which plastic policemen harry anyone loitering without intent to shop.
Streetlife in these places is reduced to a trance-world of consumerism, of conformity and atomisation, in which nothing unpredictable or disconcerting happens, a world made safe for selling mountains of pointless junk to tranquilised shoppers. Spontaneous gatherings of any other kind – unruly, exuberant, open-ended, oppositional – are banned. Young, homeless and eccentric people are, in the eyes of those upholding this dead-eyed, sanitised version of public order, guilty until proven innocent.
Now this dreary ethos is creeping into places which are not, ostensibly, owned or controlled by corporations. It is enforced less by gates and barriers (though plenty of these are reappearing) than by legal instruments, used to exclude or control the ever widening class of undesirables.
The existing rules are bad enough. Introduced by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, anti-social behavour orders (Asbos) have criminalised an apparently endless range of activities, subjecting thousands – mostly young and poor – to bespoke laws(2). They have been used to enforce a kind of caste prohibition: personalised rules which prevent the untouchables from intruding into the lives of others.
You get an Asbo for behaving in a manner deemed by a magistrate as likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to other people. Under this injunction, the proscribed behaviour becomes a criminal offence. Asbos have been granted which forbid the carrying of condoms by a prostitute, homeless alcoholics from possessing alcohol in a public place, a soup kitchen from giving food to the poor, a young man from walking down any road other than his own, children from playing football in the street(3). They were used to ban peaceful protests against the Olympic clearances(4).
Inevitably, over half the people subject to Asbos break them. As Liberty says, these injunctions “set the young, vulnerable or mentally ill up to fail”, and fast-track them into the criminal justice system(5). They allow the courts to imprison people for offences which are not otherwise imprisonable. One homeless young man was sentenced to five years in jail for begging: an offence for which no custodial sentence exists(6). Asbos permit the police and courts to create their own laws and their own penal codes.
All this is about to get much worse. Tomorrow the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches its report stage (close to the end of the process) in the House of Lords(7). It is remarkable how little fuss has been made about it, and how little we know of what is about to hit us.
The bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or above who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.”(8) It would replace Asbos with Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose a kind of community service on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives.
The bill also introduces Public Space Protection Orders, which can prevent either everybody or particular kinds of people from doing certain things in certain places. It creates new dispersal powers, which can be used by the police to exclude people from an area (there is no size limit), whether or not they have done anything wrong.
While, as a result of a successful legal challenge, Asbos can be granted only if a court is satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” that anti-social behaviour took place, Ipnas can be granted “on the balance of probabilities”. Breaching them will not be classed as a criminal offence, but can still carry a custodial sentence: without committing a crime, you can be imprisoned for up to two years. Children, who cannot currently be detained for contempt of court, will be subject to an inspiring new range of punishments for breaking an Ipna, including three months in a young offenders’ centre(9).
Lord Macdonald, formerly the director of public prosecutions, points out that “it is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing ‘nuisance’ or ‘annoyance’. The phrase is apt to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law”(10). Protesters, buskers, preachers: all, he argues, could end up with Ipnas.
The Home Office minister, Norman Baker, once a defender of civil liberties, now the architect of the most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament, claims that the amendments he offered in December will “reassure people that basic liberties will not be affected”(11). But Liberty describes them as “a little bit of window-dressing: nothing substantial has changed.”(12)
The new injunctions and the new dispersal orders create a system in which the authorities can prevent anyone from doing more or less anything. But they won’t be deployed against anyone. Advertisers, who cause plenty of nuisance and annoyance, have nothing to fear; nor do opera lovers hogging the pavements of Covent Garden. Annoyance and nuisance are what young people cause; they are inflicted by oddballs, the underclass, those who dispute the claims of power.
These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.
1. Anna Minton, ?2006. The privatisation of public space. The Royal Institution
of Chartered Surveyors. http://www.annaminton.com/Privatepublicspace.pdf
9. See also: http://www.scriptonitedaily.com/2013/11/11/the-birth-of-a-police-state-uk-police-to-be-granted-sweeping-new-powers-2/
12. By phone, 6th January 2013.
CREDIT: AP/Mike Groll
Complaints of water contamination in two states have been tied to oil or gas drilling, according to an Associated Press investigation.
The AP looked at well water contamination complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found that two states — West Virginia and Pennsylvania — had linked some complaints to fracking. In Pennsylvania, since 2005, more than 100 well-water contamination complaints have been confirmed, meaning that the well water in question was found by authorities to be polluted, There were nearly 900 complaints claiming that drilling operations had affected private well water in the state in 2012 and 2013 alone. West Virginia had about 122 complaints that claimed drilling was affecting well water over the last four years, with four of them linked to oil and gas drilling.
It’s unknown what sort of pollution caused the complaints that were confirmed to have been due to fracking — it could have been chemicals from the fracking operation, which oil and gas companies aren’t federally obligated to release, or methane, which according to the AP is the more common form of fracking-related water pollution.
The AP investigation also found that the states’ policies regarding the release of complaint data differed drastically. Starting in 2011, the AP writes, “the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection aggressively fought efforts by the AP and other news organizations to obtain information about complaints related to drilling,” while Texas provided reporters a detailed spreadsheet “almost immediately” upon request.
The investigation sheds light on the hundreds of complaints made in these four states alleging contamination from drilling operations, and it adds to evidence that fracking can pollute well water. A July Pennsylvania study found the methane concentration of residential water wells at homes one mile from a fracking well was six times higher than it was in homes located farther away from wells, while levels of ethane, another natural gas component, were 23 times higher in homes closer to fracking wells. Fracking has been tied to other instances of water contamination as well — an October report found that in New Mexico, chemicals from fracking waste pits have contaminated water sources at least 421 times.
The investigation also comes on the heels of another not yet published study on oil and gas drilling’s impacts. The study, presented last week at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting, found that living close to a fracking operation increases the risk of low birth weight in a newborn baby by more than half, and and doubles the baby’s risk of a low Apgar score, a scale that summarizes of the health of newborns. However, water contamination wasn’t the likely culprit in the study: the mothers in the study who had access to monitored public water had babies that were of similar health as mothers who relied on private wells, which are more likely to be affected by fracking.
The post Report: Fracking Operations Are Contaminating Well Water In 2 States appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP/Robert F. Bukaty
Electricity is relatively expensive in Maine, although around the cheapest in New England. Republican Governor Paul LePage thinks he can slightly reduce this cost by altering Maine’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS), which is aimed at incentivising in-state renewable energy production.
Maine’s RPS requires that by law 30 percent of electricity consumed must come from renewable sources, with a target of 40 percent by 2017. For four years LePage has been trying to change the law to remove the 100 MW restriction on renewable hydropower as counting towards the RPS. Currently there are no hydropower plants in Main that exceed 100 MW, but LePage wants to allow large hydropower producers in Canada to provide electricity to the state.
LePage and his top energy adviser, Patrick Woodcock, believe that this change would help lower energy costs which in turn would bring more manufacturing and jobs to the state. However, the effort being put into the change seems to outweigh the benefits, and a thriving in-state clean energy industry can be a job creator in itself.
“We are allegedly the 12th highest,” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told the Maine Sun Journal about Maine’s electricity prices. “My understanding is we would probably go to the 15th highest and in the process we would destroy one of the burgeoning industries we have as a state. So I don’t get it. I don’t see what the benefit is.”
Payne told the Sun Journal that renewable energy companies including wind, biomass, and solar had “invested more than $2.5 billion in taxable infrastructure in Maine in the past decade … a figure no other industry has come close to.”
For the renewable policies that have brought this investment, the average homeowner is paying about 60 cents extra per month, according to a review by the Office of the Maine Public Advocate. And Vermont, which is already benefiting from Canadian hydropower, still pays more for electricity than Maine. The primary takeaway is that electricity prices come from a complex labyrinth of factors, and minor changes to renewable energy laws are unlikely to offset bigger forces such as the challenges of obtaining cheap natural gas in New England or the lack of abundant coal.
With this in mind, rather than changing renewable energy policies for little effect, it would be better to focus on what’s working, such as developing a local clean energy supply chain.
“We’ve become known in the Northeast for Maine’s workforce and its capabilities,” Payne said. “That’s something we ought to be selling.”
Maine is also part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generating power plants. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a way of mitigating climate change — however LePage has recently said that Maine could actually benefit from climate change.
“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Passage has opened up,” LePage said at a conference on transportation last month. “So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”
The opening of the Northern Passage would allow for large vessels to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Historically it has been blocked by sea ice, but as Arctic ice reduces the channel is opening up more regularly and for longer. Last summer the first-ever bulk carrier made the voyage. It was carrying coal.
Also last summer, LePage vetoed a bill that would have required state agencies to plan for climate change adaptation as well as establishing climate change adaptation working groups.
LePage is up for reelection this fall in a closely contested race. His Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, has criticized LePage’s views on climate change as well as his recent moves to restructure Maine’s renewable energy laws.
“Renewable energy is a strategic asset that Maine should look to expand, not undermine,” Michaud said in a statement provided to ClimateProgress by his campaign. “Gov. LePage’s efforts on energy move us backward and threaten a growing industry in our state while also hurting our efforts to combat climate change. Our homegrown renewable energy sector creates jobs, reduces the impact of global warming, protects us from price spikes and keeps prices down so small businesses and Maine families can keep more money in their pockets.”
Part of LePage’s argument for changing the renewable energy laws is that wind power is exempt from the 100 MW limit, giving it an unfair advantage over hydropower. Not only would removing this exemption most likely have little impact on energy prices — but it is backed by outside interests, such as the Koch brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as part of a coordinated national attack on clean energy.
The bill introduced in the Maine Legislature to include large hydropower as part of the RPS is similar to the “Electricity Freedom Act” introduced in a number of other states, according to an editorial by Phil Bartlett, a Democratic State Senator from Maine. The Electricity Freedom Act manipulates renewable energy laws in an effort to repeal or weaken them. In Maine, it would make it easier to meet RPS goals without having to develop more clean energy technology.
“The attempts by LePage and his allies to dismantle Maine’s RPS represent an embrace of a corporatist approach to Maine’s energy policy, which, if left unchecked, will have serious, damaging consequences for Maine consumers and our environment,” writes Bartlett.
In a summer radio address criticizing Maine’s RPS, LePage said, “too many companies have told me that Maine’s high energy costs prevent them from doing business here.”
However with Maine’s growing clean energy sector and susceptibility to climate change it would seem the common sense thing to do would be for LePage to direct his energy away from what big energy companies want, and do what’s best for the state.
The post Maine’s Governor Takes Aim At Renewable Energy Law In Effort To Aid Big Companies appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles soared by 84 percent from 2012 to 2013 for a total of more than 96,000, according to data from Ward’s Automotive. 16 different plug-in models are currently available, and with more on the way, those numbers could jump again in 2014.
In 2013, Americans bought nearly 49,000 plug-in hybrids — vehicles that can run on traditional fuels but have batteries that can be charged by plugging into various types of electric outlets. This was a 27 percent jump from the year before.
Fully-electric vehicles — that are only powered by electrically-charged batteries — saw a 241 percent jump in 2013, to 47,600 in total. These sales were largely driven by Tesla Motors’ Model S, which sold 18,800 vehicles in 2013, and Nissan’s Leaf, which jumped 130 percent from 2012 sales to a total of 22,610 this year.
These totals do not include a 15.3 percent jump in traditional hybrid vehicle sales last year, to 489,413, which is also a record. Almost 60 percent of these purchases were Toyota hybrid models like the Prius. Traditional hybrid vehicles usually just have a super-efficient engine that helps charge a battery that also receives power from the braking system.
Diesel sales jumped 10 percent in 2013, to around 450,000 total vehicles.
Some models did not sell as well as automakers initially hoped, which lead to price cuts. These lower prices did the trick and allowed more people to be able to afford electric and hybrid vehicles. Nissan dropped the base price of the Leaf 18 percent to $28,800, which had a lot to do with the 130 percent sales jump this year. Toyota is hoping that a $2,000 price cut in its plug-in hybrid Prius model will help sales that have fallen short of targets.
The increased efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles, driven largely by federally-mandated fuel economy improvements, make the hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle market more competitive. Yet Americans are buying more and more of these cars, even as gasoline prices could continue to drop into 2014.
The conventional wisdom on electric vehicles was that range anxiety — the fear of running out of charge too far from a charging station — would keep sales of electric vehicles low. But as charging stations multiply, range improves, charging times decrease, and battery life improves, the conventional wisdom could keep eroding in 2014.
The post U.S. Plug-In Electric Vehicle Sales Nearly Double In 2013 appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Associated Press
Snow surveyors went into the Sierra Nevada mountains on California’s northeastern border on Friday to take their first measurement of the season. They found snowpack at one-fifth of normal for this time of year.
The findings aren’t too surprising considering California was parched for water throughout 2013, with major metropolises like Los Angeles and San Francisco experiencing record-low precipitation. Los Angeles, which averages 14.74 inches of rain, ended the year with 3.4 inches. Currently, almost the entire state is gripped in drought.
But the below average snowpack is an indicator of the water challenges 2014 is likely to bring. According to state resource managers, snowpack usually provides about one third of California’s annual water use. This year, it is more likely to account for about one twentieth.
“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said in a written statement.
There is still hope, and time for rain dances or prayers. Big winter storms often happen in California, and a few of those can turn a dry year into an average, or even a wet, one. However, considering this is California’s third straight dry year — and that climate change is projected to make the region more arid — state water managers are preparing for the driest.
In December, the Department of Water Resources formed a drought management team.
“We have had two back-to-back dry years, and a third one will really increase the detrimental effects,” Ted Thomas, spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, told the San Jose Mercury News.
Governor Jerry Brown also created an Interagency Task Force last month in which agency heads meet regularly to review the water situation and advise the governor on if he should declare a statewide drought emergency. While state emergencies are usually employed for safety issues, in 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger issued a statewide drought emergency.
The post California Researchers Find Drastically Low Snowpack, Spelling Danger For 2014 Water Supplies appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday released proposed long-awaited pollution standards that would require all new wood-powered stoves and heaters to burn 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today.
The rules — which would cover new woodstoves, fireplace inserts, hydronic heaters, forced air furnaces, and masonry heaters — would officially go into effect in 2015 and become stricter after five years, the EPA said. Forcing companies to make cleaner-burning wood heaters will have a significant effect on the environment and human health, according to the agency, which recently estimated that emissions from wood-burning devices account for 13 percent of all soot pollution in the nation.
“Smoke from residential wood heaters, which are used around the clock in some communities, can increase toxic air pollution, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and soot … to levels that pose serious health concerns,” the EPA said in a statement, adding that particle pollution is linked heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks.
The agency estimates that for every dollar spent to comply with the new standards, Americans will see between $118 and $267 in health benefits — eventually adding up to $1.8 to $2.4 billion in annual health and economic benefits.
The EPA identifies approximately 12 million wood stoves — 9 million of which are older, less efficient, non-EPA-certified stoves — in use in the United States today. But some lawmakers have scowled at the idea of increased regulations on them. Rep. Thomas Massey (R-KY) in particular has questioned the need, saying smog and other air pollution is most a function of “urban concentration.”
“Residents of rural areas like myself who rely on wood heat as an affordable abundant, renewable, and — you’ll like this — carbon neutral source of heat energy, are perpetually perplexed by the EPA’s fascination with regulating this form of heat since it’s primarily a rural form of heat,” Massey said at a November 14 hearing on accountability at the EPA. “We believe that a one-size fits all rule on wood heat that comes from Washington D.C., from bureaucrats who have never experienced the warmth of the heat that comes from wood or maybe even the exercise of collecting it themselves, really aren’t qualified to regulate our source of energy, especially when they’re taking away our other forms of energy.”
Indeed, the EPA had waited 25 years to propose updated efficiency rules for wood heaters, despite requirements under the Clean Air Act for the agency to update the standards every eight years — meaning the 1988 standard should have been updated beginning in 1996. The American Lung Association and seven states had recently filed lawsuist against the EPA to force it to update the 25-year-old standards, saying the agency’s failure to do so has caused the installation of thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce dangerous air pollution.
The proposed rule will now cover so-called “pellet stoves” that burn compressed wood or biomass, which were not covered at all under the 1988 rule. Though some manufacturers were certified under the 1988 standards, others avoided EPA certification through an exemption for wood stoves that have an air to fuel ratio of less than 35 to 1. The Alliance for Green Heat told Biomass Magazine in July that the fact that pellet stoves were not included in the standard meant that a whole class of stoves were avoiding EPA regulation through a loophole designed for fireplaces.
At the November EPA hearing, Massey asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to promise that new regulations would only apply to new, not existing, wood stoves (“If Americans like the wood stove they have now, can they keep it? Period?”) which is reflected in the rules proposed Friday. However, the EPA does recommend replacing old wood stoves, saying improved combustion efficiency can reduce CO2, methane and black carbon emissions.
The post EPA Unveils Long-Awaited Regulations To Make New Wood Heaters Burn 80 Percent Cleaner appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Tropical coral reefs form the very foundation of marine biodiversity. Sadly, their seemingly inevitable demise may prove to be one of the first irreversible consequences of climate change.
That’s the conclusion of a comprehensive new report on abrupt climate changes from the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers have long hypothesized about climate-induced points of no return, like sudden catastrophic melting of ice caps or a dramatic shift in the Gulf stream, but the Academy report emphasizes that ecosystem collapse as environmental conditions steadily march past livable thresholds is much more likely in the next few decades. And tropical coral reefs are one of the most precarious ecosystems, thanks to increasingly warm and acidic oceans.
Climate change poses a double threat to coral reefs. Warming ocean waters lead to a potentially fatal process known as coral “bleaching,” in which reef-building corals eject algae living inside their tissues that supply them with most of their food. Coral bleaching occurs when water temperatures are just 2-4°F above normal summertime temperatures. Bleached corals are weak and often succumb to disease.
At the same time as warming waters are pushing corals to the brink of what they can tolerate, the oceans are absorbing about one quarter of annual CO2 emissions from human activities. That’s nearly 24 million tons of CO2 every day. CO2 dissolved in seawater increases ocean acidity. More acidic oceans decrease the availability of carbonate ions, which coral use to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. In short, sour oceans spell the end to reef building.
According to a recent report prepared for the Warsaw climate talks by 500 of the world’s leading ocean acidification experts, the oceans are currently acidifying at an “unprecedented rate, faster than at any time in the last 300 million years. Since the start of the industrial revolution, ocean water has become 26 percent more acidic.
Unrelated to either warmer or more acidic oceans, the world’s deep-sea corals are also endangered by climate change as increasingly stratified water disrupts the nutrient cycle in the water column.
One glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal outlook for corals comes from research in the Palau archipelago in the West Pacific. Here, coral reefs are healthy and diverse, despite the fact that the water is naturally abnormally acidic. This finding suggests that some corals have adapted to be able to calcify in more acidic waters and might offer a clue to saving corals worldwide.
CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
After a string of uncommon crude oil train explosions, investors are taking note that North Dakota’s oil may be more dangerous than most. Shares of several North Dakota’s major oil drillers dropped sharply Thursday as the U.S. government warned that crude oil from the state’s Bakken shale may be extra flammable.
Residents of Casselton, ND, were forced to evacuate Monday when 18 cars of a BNSF Railway train went off the rails, and burned perhaps due to a broken axle. Typically, crude oil doesn’t cause the kinds of huge fireballs seen at the derailment. But the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) indicated in a statement that what Casselton and two other major, unexpected explosions had in common was crude oil from the Bakken, and that they would be testing for the possibility that North Dakota crude is simply more flammable. It is unclear as of yet whether this flammability is simply caused by the chemical makeup of Bakken crude, or whether the injection of hydraulic fracturing chemicals could contribute.
The potential difficulties in transporting more dangerous fuel was enough to cause shares of Whiting Petroleum Corp., Continental Resources Inc., and other Bakken drillers to drop significantly on Thursday.
Meanwhile, officials in nearby Minnesota braced for the likelihood that more oil shipments by rail would mean more spills and fires, a grim reality for a state with over 4,393 miles of freight rail lines.
Fires are not the only hazard of transporting fossil fuels by rail. Major spills are a danger even if the oil doesn’t burn. And a proposed rail line through Washington, D.C. would carry crude and other hazardous chemicals less than 50 feet from the homes of families, children, and seniors, and less than a mile from the Capitol building.
2013 was a bad year for fossil fuel disasters, and one of the worst was a train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded, killing at least 42 people and destroying the center of the town.
As production booms in the Bakken and other formations, fossil fuel transport by rail isn’t the only dangerous method. 2013 saw a significant number of pipeline disasters, including the largest onshore pipeline spill in U.S. history, when 20,600 barrels leaked from a North Dakota pipeline and went unreported for a week.
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