From Daily Kos.
Over the past few days, everyone has been discussing the interview in Rolling Stone where Donald Trump insults Carly Fiorina and generally just behaves like Donald Trump. However, if you read the entire magazine, you will find a far more important article by Tim Dickinson about the recent wildfires in California, Washington, and Alaska. Although it does not feature any comments about Republican candidates’ looks, it has actual relevance for the future of the United States and potentially the entire world.
The article focuses on the links between climate change and this year’s disastrous wildfire season. The droughts in California mark an obvious link, but even in places such as Washington where precipitation levels have been normal, changes in weather have increased the risk of fire.
My Gut Reaction: I wonder if Republican presidential candidates would still think climate change is a hoax if their houses were burning to the ground.
The climate conditions in California are the most extreme and noticeable. As The Guardian reported in the article linked above, California has been in a state of drought for the past four years, with scientists claiming that the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at its lowest levels in five hundred years. Climate change has made the drought roughly 25 percent more severe than it otherwise would have been, as Columbia scientist Park Williams has told Rolling Stone.
However, the effects of climate change are not limited to the California fires or droughts for that matter. Up in Washington, people are facing a so-called “wet drought,” in which overall precipitation remains normal, but comes in the form of rain rather than the region’s usual snow. When that snow melted earlier in the year than usual, it left the state dry and vulnerable to fire. The wet drought resulted from the same weather pattern that created the California drought, a high pressure system that pushed rain storms out of California and into Oregon and Washington.
Although it hasn’t gotten as much coverage due to less impact on populated areas, conditions in Alaska are equally horrendous. As Dickinson describes it:
In Alaska, more than 5 million acres burned – surpassing the 10-year average for the entire country…The world is warming most toward the poles, and temperatures in Alaska have been increasing nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country in the last 60 years – up almost three degrees. And the state’s average fire season has increased by more than a month – 35 days – since the 1950s. “We can detect the climate-change influence on fire,” says Glenn Juday, a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, who points to three indicators all on the upswing: “The area burned, the severity of the burning and then the frequency.”
What’s worse is that these wildfires will in turn contribute to climate change in their own right. The burning of forests puts even more carbon into the air. The Alaskan fires pose a particularly grave threat. For thousands of year, the Alaskan permafrost has made wildfires virtually impossible, allowing massive amount of organic matter to build up in the soil. The fires release the built up carbon into the air, accelerating climate change.
The human suffering caused by the current season of wildfires is immense. Aside from several deaths, the Valley and Butte fires in California have displaced 23,000 people. However, Dickinson’s article warns that the worst may be to come, with America facing the Hurricane Katrina of wildfires. As urban areas increasingly encroach on the wilderness, it is only a matter of time before a major city is threatened by fire. As Dickinson puts it:
In the big picture, America was lucky that wildfire hadn’t struck the parched hills of Silicon Valley, or swept through Colorado’s Front Range into the suburbs west of Denver. Indeed, Northern California skirted disaster in July. The Rocky Fire – sparked by a decrepit water heater – threatened the city of Clear Lake, north of the state’s fabled Napa Valley, ripping through 70,000 acres, jumping a highway and subjecting 13,000 residents to evacuation orders.
Hopefully, our leaders will awaken to the threat of climate change related wildfires before one leaves us with a pile of body bags like the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia in 2009. I’m not optimistic, though.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
From National Memo. Written by Stephanie Schwartz.
As of Tuesday Congress is back in session, and what’s on the docket? Well, Iran’s nuclear capabilities. And of course, abortion.
But what’s really worrisome is the fact that over the next three weeks, Congress has to decide whether to fund the government. Again.
Of course it isn’t as straightforward as a simple vote to pay government workers. An approved federal budget rests on a assemblage of bills, add-ons, and addendums — and so a whole host of other issues get caught in the balance.
Like giving federal money to Planned Parenthood.
Congress will need to approve the federal budget by Oct. 1, and some Republican lawmakers have threatened to shut down the government if federal money continues to flow Planned Parenthood’s way.
The organization rose to the forefront of many conservative lawmakers’ minds after an anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), released a set of videos earlier this summer purporting to show that certain Planned Parenthood clinics were selling fetal tissue for profit, which they say was against the law. Despite continued state and federal investigations proving that this is not the case, several members of Congress called for the organization to be stripped of all federal funding, even though the federal money that Planned Parenthood receives does not, by law, go to abortion services.
Activists have not been sitting idle in this debate. The Susan B. Anthony List, a political action committee helping anti-choice women get elected to Congress, sponsored a showing of several of the CMP videos on Capitol Hill, which was interrupted by two Democratic staffers asking if unedited versions of the videos would be shown. They left the room when their question went unanswered.
Four House committees, including the House Judiciary Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have launched investigations into Planned Parenthood. The Judiciary Committee will begin its hearings Wednesday.
Before Congress’ summer recess, there was a Senate vote to defund the organization, which came hastily on the heels of the release of the first four videos. (There are now nine.) As expected, the resolution failed, 53-46.
Twenty-eight House Republicans from 18 states have indicated they will oppose any legislation that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Yet House Speaker John Boehner has expressed that he wants to avoid a government shutdown over the issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Florida [sic] has circulated a letter looking for signatures, asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to stop any bill that ties federal money to Planned Parenthood, even if it means that the government must shut down.
McConnell, for his part, has said that he is eager to avoid a shutdown, and has said that putting the funding on “a must-pass appropriations bill” is unpalatable.
Not enough Republicans have agreed that this is worthy of shutting down the government; the votes to defund utterly just aren’t there. President Obama, too, has said he will veto any legislation that strips Planned Parenthood of federal funding.
Despite some Republicans’ vocal fervor, most Americans (predictably) want to avoid a government shutdown. While abortion remains divisive in America, polls suggest that Planned Parenthood still has high favorability ratings, while Congress doesn’t — and a shutdown would only make things worse.
When the government shut down in 2013 over Republicans’ dislike of Obama’s health plan, an overwhelming majority of voters — 72 percent — opposed it, and Congress’ approval ratings plummeted to an 85 percent disapproval rate, with the GOP also hitting high unfavorability marks, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll from October 2013.
Photo: Hearings will start soon by the Jucidiary Committee on its investigation of Planned Parenthood. AFP/Jewel Samad
Posted by Gypsy Chief
by Cezary Podkul ProPublica, Aug. 13, 2015, 11:49 a.m.
When we wrote in April about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s budget “sins,” one of the biggest was the money shuffle he engineered after his 2010 decision to kill an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel from New Jersey to New York City.
That decision, which boosted him to national prominence, was a major bragging point for years. But now he’s playing tunnel defense rather than his customary offense amid a torrent of terrible tunnel news: lengthy delays in the century-old rail tunnel commuters are stuck with now; jockeying among New Jersey, New York and Amtrak over how to pay for a new $14 billion tunnel; and warnings of chronic failures and shutdowns if something isn’t done soon to add rail capacity.
Had Christie not spiked the so-called ARC tunnel, it would be coming online in about three years. But now, as Christie runs for president on his claim of having been a prudent and competent guardian of New Jersey’s finances, the tunnel problems have inspired a spate of news reports, including one by The Record newspaper in New Jersey’s Bergen County saying the cancellation wasted $1.2 billion that had been spent on engineering.
Why did Christie kill the tunnel, and what did he do with the money afterward? As we reported back in April, Christie diverted a total of $3 billion of highway toll increases and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey money originally earmarked for the tunnel to bail out Jersey’s finances u2013 the biggest one-time budget fix of his administration.
The upside: Christie was able to keep a campaign pledge and avoid raising taxes, including New Jersey’s gas tax, which at 14.5 cents a gallon is lower than any state but Alaska.
The downside: No salvation in sight for the estimated 87,000 New Jersey Transit rail commuters who cross the Hudson River to Manhattan each weekday in tubes dug when Theodore Roosevelt was president.
(Read more about the controversial legacy behind Christie’s budget claims.)
Since Superstorm Sandy flooded the tunnel with saltwater and caused extensive damage, the need for additional rail capacity has only become more acute. Time is running out before one of the two rail tubes within the tunnel has to be shut down for repairs, Amtrak executive Stephen Gardner warned at a hearing on Monday.
That would bring the daily commute to a crawl. “We would be left with having to handle 24 trains’ worth of demand across six slots spread between Amtrak and New Jersey Transit,” Gardner said, noting that Amtrak needs four of the slots, leaving just two for commuter trains.
Christie has defended his decision to kill the ARC tunnel, saying New Jersey would have been stuck paying for billions in potential cost overruns. A spokeswoman added that “the completion of ARC would have done nothing to resolve the issues we’re still facing with Amtrak’s tunnels today.”
Gardner said at the hearing that Amtrak’s tunnel problems would exist even if the ARC were on schedule, but he also answered yes when asked if the tunnel would have provided a “safe haven” to New Jersey commuters by giving them a backup.
There is no consensus about how to pay for Amtrak’s proposed new tunnel project, known as the Gateway Program. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., this week proposed creating a new nonprofit agency to raise money for the effort.
Amtrak supports an 80 percent federal, 20 percent local funding split, but its influence in Washington is extremely limited. It’s not clear when, if ever, the Gateway Program, which would cost billions more than the canceled ARC tunnel, will get under way.
Christie recently said New York should shoulder a portion of the cost. “The reason I killed the ARC tunnel was the federal government was contributing to it, the state of New Jersey was contributing to it and the state or city of New York was contributing nothing,” he told WABC.
Earlier this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said money should come from anywhere but his state. “It’s not my tunnel,” Cuomo told reporters. “It is an Amtrak tunnel that is used by Amtrak and by New Jersey Transit.” However, if the federal government steps in to pay for the project, Cuomo suggested he may chip in: “If they’re serious, I’ll come to the table,” he told The New York Times.
The ARC tunnel was expected to be completed in 2018. The earliest a Gateway tunnel could open is 2025, Gardner said at the hearing. “Every day that we defer is a day of extending, frankly, our risk,” he said.
Allan Sloan contributed to this story. Read more of Cezary Podkul’s reporting on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
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Posted by Gypsy Chief
Throughout the entire first half of 2015, solar and wind energy accounted for 2,518 megawatts of new electricity generating capacity brought online in the US – some 65 percent of all new capacity added so far this year. Coal accounted for a mere 3 MW during that time period, while natural gas accounted for 1,173 MW…
Posted by Gypsy Chief
From Daily Kos.
By now you’ve undoubtedly learned of the Colorado mine spill where EPA officials trying to clean up a toxic waste site in an abandoned gold mine accidentally breached a dam inside the mine, sending three millions of gallons of disgusting yellow wastewater and sludge into the Animas river, running through Southwestern Colorado into the San Juan River in New Mexico and, yesterday, reaching Utah. The dam in the “Gold King” mine had been leaking up to 250 gallons of toxic wastewater a minute at the time EPA officials were dispatched in an effort to plug the leak. They failed, instead hacking through a critical portion of the dam, causing the catastrophic spill. This Diary by Thinking Fella is the most comprehensive written on the site about the tragedy, which, unfortunately is ongoing.
The mine was owned by a “group” called the “San Juan Corporation” and was originally targeted by the EPA as a Superfund site, objected to and delayed ad infinitum by the local citizenry and many interest groups, including mining cooperatives who saw the potential for further gold mining at the site, and townspeople and civic groups who objected to the idea of their home being designated with the Scarlet “S.” Colorado has about 23,0000 abandoned mines, 200 in the Animas watershed alone. The U.S. in total has about 500,000 such mines.
There’s no doubt that the EPA officials screwed up, and they’ve acknowledged as much. And there’s a lot of anger from residents who now have a thoroughly polluted waterway to contend with for an indefinite time. It’s an ugly scene. In other words, it’s the perfect opportunity for the Republican Party to go into its reflexive high gear criticizing a Federal Agency who they love to hate. And they are screaming loudly about it already.
Here’s Republican Congressman, Scott Tipton, whose district is next to the river:
“If a mining operator or other private business caused the spill to occur, the EPA would be all over them,” Tipton said. “The EPA admits fault, and as such must be accountable and held to the same standard. In the coming days my staff and I will be working to get a full picture of what happened, as well as an answer to a question on many people’s minds: what resources and funds will the EPA dedicate to clean up the site and provide restitution for damages?”
Except Tipton has a heinous voting record with respect to the environment, including several votes to defund “resources and funds” from the same EPA from which he is is now claiming entitlement to assistance and restitution. Here is an account of his anti-environment actions, along with those of former Colorado Congressman, now Colorado’s Republican Senator, Cory Gardner, both of whom are lapping up media coverage for themselves by heaping blame on the EPA for the disaster:
Colorado Conservation Voters issued a report Monday highlighting the poor environmental record of Tipton and his fellow Republican congressmen Cory Gardner and Doug Lamborn, who collectively have made 370 votes against the environment this year while largely supporting a pro-polluter agenda. “Congressmen Gardner, Lamborn and Tipton have sided with Big Oil and dirty energy interests at every opportunity during the 112th Congress, voting to protect their unnecessary subsidies while working to block the EPA’s ability to hold these corporate polluters accountable,” said Colorado Conservation Voters Executive Director Pete Maysmith. …The trio of environmental troublemakers voted 18 times this year to protect tax breaks for big oil, 57 times against efforts to combat climate change, 134 times against programs and funding to keep water and air clean, 98 times to defund or weaken the EPA and 64 times against renewable energy initiatives.
Cory Gardner’s record of opposing the EPA is particularly dismal. Gardner co-sponsored the GOP’s legislation opposing the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. His lifetime environmental record with the League of Conservation Voters is a whopping 3%, And speaking of toxic mining waste, here’s a piece of legislation Gardner voted for:
House Roll Call Vote 141
Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH) sponsored H.R. 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, which would nullify safeguards that prevent the dumping of dangerous mining waste into our waterways. The bill would eliminate a commonsense Reagan-era rule requiring a 100-foot buffer zone around waterways to protect them from toxic coal mining waste, and it would reinstate a 2008 rule that was recently struck down in federal court. The 2008 rule would exempt the most destructive mining practices from the buffer requirement, leaving streams and waterways vulnerable to sludge and other mining debris.
You might think that Congressman Tipton and Senator Gardner might want to take a back seat at this point. But you’d be wrong:
In a letter Friday addressed to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as Congressman Scott Tipton, said, “The community has expressed serious concerns about the speed and scope of the EPA’s initial response.”
Really, the response was too slow for Tipton and Gardner? Here is what the Republican Party did to the EPA’s budget just this past June:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was dealt a massive blow this week by the House Appropriations committee, where the Republican majority voted to further cut the agency’s budget and reduce its authority to enforce laws safeguarding our air, water and health.
The House committee voted on Tuesday to slash the EPA’s budget by 9%, or $718 million. This is in addition to a dramatic 20% reduction in overall funding that has taken place since the control of the House of Representatives switched to the Republican Party in 2011. This new reduction will put EPA funding at its lowest level since 1989.
Another Republican environmental no-show crawling out to crow about the spill is Texas Republican Lamar Smith:
“It has been five days since the spill and the EPA has failed to answer important questions, including whether the polluted water poses health risks to humans or animals…””
Smith is another rabid opponent of the EPA, and heads something called the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which according to a recent report has devoted more time to searching for aliens than addressing climate change. When he’s not speaking to climate denialist conventions, he’s attacking the EPA:
As chairman of the House Science Committee, Smith has lead a charge against the EPA. He’s introduced legislation to shift federal funding away from renewable energy and climate studies, and prevent the Department of Energy from advising the EPA based on it’s own research.
The Republican Party’s mouthpieces are also out in full force, gleefully pressing the attack. The National Review weighs in with this quote from a guy named Daniel Simmons:
“First, isn’t the point of EPA to protect the environment?” says Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory affairs for the Institute for Energy Research. He adds that it’s significant that a government agency, as opposed to a private company, was responsible for the spill.
Simmons is described as the “director of regulatory affairs” for the “Institute for Energy Research.” What’s that? Well let’s see…According to their website, they’re:
[A] not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets. IER maintains that freely-functioning energy markets provide the most efficient and effective solutions to today’s global energy and environmental challenges and, as such, are critical to the well-being of individuals and society.
That free-market talk gets you all tingly, doesn’t it? But Wikipedia tells us a little more:
The Institute for Energy Research has a political arm, the American Energy Alliance, which is responsible for multi-million dollar television advertising campaigns that have attacked energy policy, ideas and positions of the Obama Administration that are contrary to the those held by IER. The American Energy Alliance is run by Thomas (Tom) Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries.
The Koch brothers’ network of industries, of course, are among the biggest polluters on the planet. The Koch-funded think tank that calls itself the American Energy Alliance has compared EPA regulations to CIA torture techniques. And Simmons? Well, he’s a little more than what the National Review describes:
Daniel Simmons is IER’s Vice President for Policy….Prior to joining IER, Simmons served as director of the Natural Resources Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), was a research fellow at the Mercatus Center, and worked as professional staff on the Committee on Resources of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The director of ALEC’s “Natural Resource Task Force?” Try to imagine such a thing. Hint–it has little if anything to do with actually protecting the environment.
The shadowy Koch-lobbyist run “Institute For Energy Research” shows up again in an article in the Washington Times, calling out President Obama because he isn’t slamming the EPA as hard as he did BP for its Gulf disaster. This time the mouthpiece is someone named Dan Kish:
They’re doing precisely the sorts of things they level charges at other people for doing,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research.
“It’s ironic in a lot of ways because, typically, when big, iconic things happen like this, they spend a huge amount of time trying to throw gasoline on the fire,” Mr. Kish said. “They always tell us they’re right, everybody is wrong. In this particular case, they’ve got their hands full.”
Kish, a CNN regular for the energy industry, attacked political donor and environmentalist Tom Steyer for having a “global warming fetish.”
As of February 2014 there were 1322 Superfund sites on the priorities list in the United States. The EPA has cleaned up 375 of them, no thanks to Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner, Lamar Smith or any Koch Brothers “front group.” The EPA enforces the country’s environmental laws governing lands, waterways, and the air we breathe. Broadly speaking, the EPA is:
[R]esponsible for preventing and detecting environmental crimes, informing the public of environmental enforcement, and setting and monitoring standards of air pollution, water pollution, hazardous wastes and chemicals.
* * *
The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.
The EPA has a 45 year record of accomplishments:
From regulating auto emissions to banning the use of DDT; from cleaning up toxic waste to protecting the ozone layer; from increasing recycling to revitalizing inner-city brownfields, EPA’s achievements have resulted in cleaner air, purer water, and better protected land.
The protection of drinking water is also under the purview of the EPA:
EPA ensures safe drinking water for the public, by setting standards for more than 160,000 public water systems throughout the United States. EPA oversees states, local governments and water suppliers to enforce the standards, under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
If the Republican Party had its way we’d be looking at hundreds of these spills every year, with no resources to clean them up. The fact that they’ve chosen this single instance to pile on with their criticism of the EPA, the only organization tasked with cleaning up the toxic messes caused by their corporate backers, is just another indication of their raw hypocrisy.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
How air conditioning is making us hotter
From Mother Jones.
We’re just reaching the hottest part of the summer, but already much ink has been spilled over air conditioning. Recent New York Times articles wondered why the United States is so "over air-conditioned," with its frigid office buildings and archaic cooling calculations that make work unbearable for many women, not to mention terrible for the environment. Yet in a series of essays for Slate, writer David Engber has argued that the case against AC is overhyped; Americans still spend more energy heating their houses than cooling them.
But elsewhere in the world—in crowded countries where heating isn’t necessary—air conditioning markets are just warming up. In late April, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese air conditioning manufacturer Daikin Industries announced plans to open its second plant in the subcontinent, double production, and expand its existing stock of 200 showrooms to 350 by the end of 2015. India isn’t the only place where AC is all the rage. As climate change nudges global temperatures upward, incomes are also rising, meaning millions more people can afford to beat the heat. Sales of home and commercial air conditioners have doubled in China over the past five years, with 64 million units sold in 2013 alone.
We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process—the same as 19 million cars.
The advent of AC in those countries will do more than simply make companies like Daikin rich. Here in the US, air conditioning has influenced where people settle. Over the past 80 years, hordes of Americans migrated south and west to cities like Miami and Phoenix, where AC made broiling conditions bearable; in turn, the growth of these Sun Belt communities ratcheted up the demand for cooling. These days, almost 90 percent of American households have air conditioning. We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process—the same as 19 million cars.
By contrast, in Mexico, only 13 percent of households have AC. But in a recent study, Lucas Davis, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, predicts that the country’s rising per capita income will mean more than two-thirds of Mexican homes will have it by 2100—creating annual emissions equivalent to 4.4 million new cars. Across the globe, Davis predicts, demand for cooling will put more strain on electrical grids, causing shortages and price spikes along with more pollution.
More emissions means more global warming, which means more appetite for cooling.
In the United States, power companies fire up "peaker plants" to create extra electricity on hot summer days. And these plants are often dirtier than the usual facilities, leading to a vicious cycle: More emissions means more global warming, which means more appetite for cooling. One 2009 study predicted that by 2100, heating and cooling will account for 12 percent of global carbon emissions—but because of climate change, demand for heating will have shrunk by 34 percent, while demand for cooling will have grown by 72 percent. More energy-efficient equipment can mitigate some of that, but experts estimate these gains will be more than offset by the overall increase in air conditioning.
Still, it’s unrealistic—and unfair—to demand that the world’s rising economies forsake a luxury the more affluent have enjoyed for decades. Not to mention that during heat waves, lack of air conditioning can kill, with the greatest danger among the elderly, poor, and people of color: A 2013 UC-Berkeley study found that in the United States, Hispanics were 21 percent more likely and African Americans 52 percent more likely than their white counterparts to live in heat islands—urban neighborhoods where, because of abundant concrete and few trees, temperatures soar.
Hispanics were 21 percent more likely and African Americans 52 percent more likely than their white counterparts to live in heat islands.
So what could help keep us cool without further heating the globe? Better design, for starters: For thousands of years, the world’s tropical and desert areas have used passive cooling systems—simple architectural tweaks that minimize a structure’s exposure to heat. Light-colored houses with reflective roofs were the mainstay of South Florida architecture before centralized cooling came along, and these "cool roofs" are back in style: Guidelines for new construction in California, Florida, and Georgia urge commercial buildings to adopt this feature, which studies show can decrease air conditioning bills by 20 percent on average. Sacramento, California, requires that planted foliage shade at least 50 percent of any new parking lot, since surfaces protected by a tree’s canopy transmit less heat. The Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka, meanwhile, are testing water-retentive pavements, which absorb and then evaporate moisture to cool the streets.
Design tricks can help at home too. One easy way to reduce your AC use—and your electric bill—is to make sure your house is well insulated and sealed, as seepage accounts for about 30 percent of your cooling system’s energy consumption. One energy company calculated that if you set your thermostat to 78 degrees instead of 72, you’ll save around $100 a summer. Ceiling fans cost as little as 30 cents a month when used eight hours a day, while swamp coolers—which cool the air by drawing it over water—are far more energy efficient in dry climates than traditional air conditioners. And with these tools, you can keep your neighbors more comfortable, as well. Researchers from Arizona State University revealed in a 2014 study that waste heat from air conditioning increased the outside temperature of some areas of Phoenix by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to—you guessed it—yet more demand for AC. Scientists observed a similar effect in Tokyo. How’s that for a burn?
Posted by Gypsy Chief
From Huffington Post. Written by Robert Weissman President, Public Citizen.
The climate change rules that President Obama announced earlier this week will force modest but important and desperately needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet opponents of the rule are making apocalyptic predictions about its impact, with many newly discovering their voice as consumer advocates.
Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: EPA rules are "likely to result in higher energy bills for those who can least afford them, potentially raising electricity rates by double digits for the people I represent."
Here’s Speaker of the House John Boehner: The rules constitute "a national energy tax" that "will cause energy bills to ‘skyrocket.’"
Get the theme? "These regulations will have very real consequences for Texans who depend on access to affordable, reliable energy," proclaimed Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. "EPA’s final rule will force Americans to replace dependable, affordable energy with high-cost, unreliable alternatives, and generations of energy consumers will be left footing the bill," thundered James "Snowball" Inhofe, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "This rule will be too costly, unachievable, and would place potentially billions of added costs on the backs of working and middle class Americans across the country," according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. And Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) warned that "It’s lights out for jobs and the economy. … Higher electricity rates and threats to grid reliability are real concerns – and sadly it is our most vulnerable citizens in Michigan, Kentucky, and all across the country who will pay the heaviest price."
But it turns out that the consumer protection rationale doesn’t hold up as a reason to oppose the administration’s Clean Power Plan. That’s because although the cost of generating energy might uptick under the plan, consumers will be using less energy – so their bills will go down. There’s good reason to think that the cost of generating electricity will go down as increasing demand for renewable energy creates economies of scale and spurs new innovation. But, again, even if costs rise slightly, usage will decline and out-of-pocket costs for consumers will go down.
At Public Citizen, we’ve estimated the savings for 11 states, based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s previous iteration of the now-final rule. Using conservative assumptions, the Kentucky consumers for whom Senator McConnell is shedding crocodile tears will save more than $100 a household every year when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented – a savings of more than 7 percent. In Speaker Boehner’s home state of Ohio, each household can expect to save $144 in energy costs – a savings of 11 percent.
There are other economic benefits to the rule. The rule will reduce pollutants besides carbon, saving many lives in the process. EPA conservatively estimates that 3,600 lives will be saved every year, and that the monetized health benefits of the rule alone will exceed the required investment expense by four times. The rule will spur development of renewable energy and energy efficiency businesses. And, of course, to the extent it helps avert catastrophic climate change, it will yield enormous economic benefits for businesses and people across the country (and around the world).
If you want a better explanation of the opposition to the Clean Power Plan, then perhaps it makes more sense to follow the money.
Mitch McConnell has collected more than $1.4 million in campaign contributions from mining interests over the last five election cycles (from 2005 to 2014), and more than $5.5 million from Dirty Energy sources (oil & gas, mining and electric utilities) altogether. (This and all other campaign contribution totals here compiled from data maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.) For John Boehner, it’s more than $1.3 million from mining companies over the last five election cycles, and $4.7 million from Dirty Energy.
Senate Majority Whip Cornyn has brought in $6.5 million from Dirty Energy over the last five cycles (mostly from oil & gas). The total for Chairman Inhofe is $5.4 million. House Majority Whip McCarthy totals nearly $1 million from oil & gas and utilities over the last four cycles. Chairman Upton has collected $1.6 million from Dirty Energy.
Climate change poses as great a threat as humanity has ever faced. It seems that averting climate catastrophe may require displacing Dirty Money along with Dirty Energy.
Colorado Impact: Analysis.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
From InsideClimate News. Written by Lisa Song.
Since 2003, a commonly used methane detector has been underestimating leak rates that feed into the national greenhouse gas registry.
A dispute between two environmental scientists is creating a controversy over how much methane is leaking from natural gas production and is contributing to global warming.
In a new report, Touché Howard, a methane gas expert and air quality consultant, says the flaws he found in a commonly used methane detector caused an acclaimed 2013 study to underestimate the amount of methane emitted by natural gas production. Howard’s paper was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Science & Engineering.
The 2013 study was considered a landmark in methane research because it was one of the first times that oil and gas companies allowed independent scientists to take direct measurements at well sites and other equipment on company property. Led by David Allen, a chemical engineering professor at the University of Texas-Austin, the study’s researchers sampled 150 natural gas production sites around the U.S and extrapolated their results to a national leak rate for the industry.
Much of the Allen team data, derived by monitoring methane leaks from pumps, valves and other equipment, came from the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler, a portable instrument that measures methane emissions.
In the study published today, Howard said the Bacharach device can fail to correctly identify the amount of natural gas leaking into the air. When the flaw occurs, it always results in an underestimate, he said, and it’s nearly impossible to detect the problem while it’s occurring. “It wasn’t their fault” that this happened, Howard said of Allen’s research team.
If correct, the new report raises questions about the validity of countless other measurements taken by the same instrument since 2003. Natural gas companies often use the Bacharach to report their methane emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency. The calculations feed into a national greenhouse gas inventory.
“If Howard’s right, we’ll need to review other emission estimates used in EPA inventories,” said Robert Jackson, an earth science professor at Stanford University who studies methane leaks. “We need to sort this out as quickly as possible.”
In an email, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency will assess Howard’s paper along with other studies “as a part of our routine review of new information and data for potential incorporation in the GHG Inventory.”
Allen’s research was the first paper published from an ambitious series of methane studies organized by the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit that supports efforts to thwart global warming. EDF launched the $18-million project in 2011, with joint funding from foundations and the natural gas industry.
EDF started the project to fill a research gap. At the time, there was little data on the amount of methane coming from the natural gas industry, and getting exact numbers is crucial to understanding whether the natural gas boom will accelerate or stall global warming.
Although gas-fired power plants only release half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as coal plants, the extraction and production of natural gas releases unknown amounts of methane. Over a 20-year time period, methane is 86 times more heat trapping than CO2. Methane’s potency is reduced to 34 times that of CO2 over 100 years, because methane is naturally removed from the atmosphere more quickly than CO2.
The EDF project joins other studies funded by universities and regulators. But EDF’s work is unique in scope, with 16 studies that will cover every step of natural gas extraction, production, transportation and storage. (Jackson has worked on several EDF methane studies, but none that involved Allen or Howard.)
Allen’s study was the first of many papers to come out of the EDF project. The subsequent studies have produced a mixed bag of results, with some showing higher methane emissions than expected, and others lower. One of the most recent studies found 50 percent more methane from Texas’ Barnett Shale than estimated by the EPA.
Howard was involved in the Barnett study, as well as several others run by EDF. But he said his critique of Allen’s work has created tension—a statement confirmed by emails provided by Howard showing correspondence between himself, EDF staff and Allen’s research team.
Howard is in a unique position to challenge Allen’s results. Howard began his consulting career in 1988, working for industry and government clients. In the 1990s, he developed a gas-sampling technology that allowed people to take speedier measurements of leak rates. Bacharach, Inc. later obtained the rights to Howard’s technology and used it to create the Bacharach Hi-Flow Sampler. It was first sold commercially in 2003.
A Bacharach representative declined to provide sales numbers. Thomas Ferrara, a colleague of Howard’s, estimates there are about 500 Bacharachs used in the U.S. today, and each costs around $20,000.
Howard wasn’t involved in the development of the Bacharach sampler, and he had never used one until early 2013, when he teamed up with Ferrara to investigate the instrument’s accuracy. Ferrara is group manager of air quality services at GHD, an engineering consulting firm. He and Howard have known each other since the 1980s, when they earned their Master’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Washington State University.
What began as a passing interest in the sampler would lead Howard to write his latest paper. The study went through two rounds of comments from three anonymous peer reviewers before it was accepted for publication. Howard said their feedback substantially improved his work. Still, Howard expects pushback.
“Nobody is going to be crazy about this,” he said. “So the burden of proof is on me to make it as clear as a bell.”
Howard believes he’s stirred up additional controversy by challenging the work of a prominent academic. According to his online biography, Allen has written six books and more than 200 research papers. He recently finished a two-year stint as chair of EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board.
After examining Howard’s study, Jackson, the Stanford professor, said it’s “too early to say whether some of the Allen values are wrong. Howard’s analysis suggests that they may be, however.”
If Allen’s team has “systematically underestimated methane emissions, we need to know right away,” Jackson said. Several other scientists approached by InsideClimate News declined to comment on Howard’s paper due to the sensitive topic.
Critical Flaw Is Found
Howard and Ferrara became interested in the Bacharach in October 2012, while at a scientific conference in Boulder, Colo. Ferrara said they met an EPA scientist there named Eben Thoma, who described some difficulties he’d had with the Bacharach. Thoma confirmed Ferrara’s description of their meeting through an EPA spokeswoman.
Thoma documented his problems with the sampler in a conference paper he co-authored in 2012. According to the paper, Thoma and his colleagues found the Bacharach consistently underestimated methane emissions.
Around the same time, a gas industry scientist involved with the EDF studies also raised questions about the Bacharach, Howard said. Both events inspired Howard and Ferrara to rent several samplers and test them in the field. By Fall 2013, they concluded the flaw was caused by a problem with the sensors, and most often occurred when the Bacharach sampled natural gas with a low methane content.
Although methane is the main component of natural gas, the composition of the gas varies based on geology. Some of the “raw” natural gas that comes out of gas wells may only have 60 percent methane, combined with ethane and other hydrocarbons.
The Bacharach uses two sensors to analyze methane leaks: The first one measures natural gas concentrations in the air between 0 and 5 percent, which are caused by smaller leaks, while the second sensor measures concentrations above 5 percent that are caused by larger leaks.
Under certain conditions—especially with low-methane natural gas—the second sensor failed to kick in, so the instrument only registered a small leak even if the actual leak rate was much higher. At one point, two separate Bacharach samplers tested by Howard and Ferrara recorded natural gas concentrations in the air of 1 to 6 percent, when the actual concentrations were between 7 and 73 percent.
When Allen’s paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September of that year, Howard noticed something odd: Most of the high emissions came from raw natural gas with very high methane content. In fact, there were about 7 to 9 times as many large leaks at sites where the natural gas was more than 91 percent methane than at sites where the methane content was less than 91 percent.
It didn’t make any sense, because the chemical composition of natural gas has a very small impact on how quickly it leaks out of valves, wells and other equipment, Howard said. And the same pattern existed for different types of well pad equipment, across all geographic locations sampled in the study.
That’s when Howard realized the pattern could be explained by a failed Bacharach sensor. He approached Allen, hoping to investigate the problem together and perhaps issue a joint statement or correction about the 2013 study.
But Howard said he was “stonewalled” by Allen’s research team. In July 2014, for instance, Howard and Ferrara completed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that would have allowed them to view unpublished raw data from Allen’s team. The two consultants said the University of Texas had asked for the NDA as a prerequisite for viewing the data, which would have provided greater insight into Allen’s 2013 paper—but UT didn’t sign its half of the agreement, so Howard never saw the data.
Howard provided InsideClimate News with a copy of the incomplete NDA. When InsideClimate News showed the document to Allen, he said he “disagree[s] with the suggestion that the University of Texas was unwilling to enter into an NDA.”
When asked to elaborate, a UT media representative said InsideClimate could file an open records request.
Allen said his team has “tried to be as responsive as we possibly can be” to Howard’s concerns. He disputes the idea that his study was affected by a problem with the Bacharach. The dataset was bound to show a wide range of emission rates given regional differences in regulations and other factors, he said. “You would not expect leak rates to be the same,” he said in an interview.
Howard said he never expected identical leak rates, but the persistent lack of high emissions for low-methane natural gas makes no sense without a failed Bacharach sensor. He also considered other theories. For instance, Colorado has strict methane regulations for the gas industry, which could impact how companies repair equipment leaks. But when Howard disregarded the Allen data gathered from the Rocky Mountain region, he found that high-methane sites were still four times as likely to have larger leaks than low-methane sites.
By August 2014, Howard had determined Allen wasn’t going to cooperate on a joint study. So Howard wrote up his concerns about the Bacharach in a paper for the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. Published this spring, the paper was co-authored with Ferrara and Amy Townsend-Small, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati. Their study identified the sampler’s problem and a possible solution: The underestimates vanished when the Bacharachs were calibrated frequently and installed with updated software.
Since their conclusions came from testing just five Bacharachs—including one used by Allen’s team for the 2013 study, which malfunctioned until it was re-calibrated—the authors said more research is needed to fully understand the problem.
Tom Ryerson, a methane researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Howard’s research may inspire scientists to re-examine their data for possible Bacharach impacts.
“Having two nice peer-reviewed papers in the literature should have people sit up and take notice,” said Ryerson, who isn’t involved in any of the EDF studies. “Maybe this is a good cautionary tale for everyone.”
Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at EDF, said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the Bacharach sampler. Scientific integrity is one of EDF’s “core values,” he said, and Howard’s paper is “a classic case of allowing the scientific process to work through.”
“However this process ultimately shakes out, the final difference remains one of degree – whether the emissions are too high, or way too high,” Hamburg said in an email. “And nobody is disputing that they can and should be reduced. To us, that’s the most important outcome from this body of work.”
Jim Rutherford, Vice President of Products at Heath Consultants, which distributes the Bacharach, said he doesn’t believe the instrument has a software problem. Rutherford said the instrument was originally intended for use with processed natural gas that’s usually more than 90 percent methane—not raw natural gas with lower methane content.
As the instrument is increasingly used at upstream natural gas sites, he said, it raises questions about the limitations of the instrument and its modified use.
Doug Keeports, president of Bacharach Inc., said his company will update the user manual to recommend daily calibrations instead of the current guideline of calibrating at least once a month.
Experienced users know that more frequent calibrations are usually a good idea, Rutherford said, “so it’s just clarifying it in the manual.” Rutherford said his company has approached industry partners and the EPA to discuss possible further testing.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
From InsideClimate News.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is proposing an interstate compact to defy federal law and “shield” states from the EPA’s imminent Clean Power Plan.
With the Obama administration poised to issue its sweeping rules to cut carbon pollution from power plants, a Texas-based conservative think tank is making a far-fetched bid to quash the new regulations.
The latest effort shows the extraordinary lengths that opponents of Obama’s Clean Power Plan will go to scuttle the administration’s effort to slash emissions. This long-shot proposal is one of several designed to give state lawmakers tools to stymie or grandstand against the regulations, which could be issued as soon as Monday.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a group connected to the Koch brothers’ network, is floating what it calls an Interstate Power Compact, a proposal that would give states constitutional authority to ignore the Clean Power Plan. An interstate compact is a binding contract between two or more states that is similar to a treaty and requires Congressional approval.
“We are promoting an all-of- the-above strategy for states to express discontent with the [Clean Power Plan], and it seemed like there was a role for interstate compacts,” said Doug Domenech, director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the TPPF.
The proposal is the latest in a slew of ongoing attacks by Republican legislators, conservative advocacy groups and fossil fuel interests against the Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of Obama’s climate agenda and a key for helping the nation meet the president’s Paris treaty pledge. Opponents—led by coal companies and states—have mounted legal challenges, set up roadblocks by coordinating action in state legislatures and openly called on states to refuse to comply.
“This seems to be a new novel approach [to circumvent the Clean Power Plan],” said Shannon Fisk, managing attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental group. But “it’s not a real threat.”
Interstate compacts are not uncommon. Today, more than 200 of them exist, with states, on average, belonging to 25 interstate compacts. They are used to establish regulatory agencies operating in more than one state, set up commissions to study problems affecting several states and implement regulations on a broad range of issues including agriculture, flood control and education. (The Colorado River Compact signed in 1922, for instance, allocates the basin’s water among seven states.)
TPPF’s proposal would prohibit member states from submitting compliance plans for the Clean Power Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also prevents the EPA from enforcing a federal plan in states that refuse to submit a plan.
To come into force, state legislatures would have to sign the proposed language into law. Then the compact would need to be passed by Congress and signed by the president—an impossibility, suggested David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Doniger also noted a legal problem: The Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to pacts that seek to defy federal law, he said.
Domenech of TPP said at least 20 states have filed comments opposing the carbon regulations through the EPA comments process, and that his group is working toward securing sponsors for its compact in some of these states in the next legislative session in January.
The Clean Power Plan, announced last June, sets targets for each state to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants, and requires them to draft a plan showing how they will meet the targets.
Governors of six states—including Texas—have threatened not to submit a plan. This came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on states to “just say no” to the carbon rules. If states don’t submit plans, “it will just mean the federal government will have to take action instead,” Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA, told Vox in an interview.
‘Everything but the Kitchen Sink’
This is not the first time a conservative group has proposed model legislation opposing the Clean Power Plan. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that routinely publishes model bills, has provided regulatory language to prevent state environmental agencies from submitting compliance plans to the EPA without legislative approval. Virginia and Pennsylvania have already passed such laws. In 2013, ALEC also proposed an interstate compact to give states and local governments the primary authority over controlling air pollution.
“It is not surprising that groups like TPPF, which does not accept the scientific consensus on global warming, are throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a last-ditch attempt to derail the Clean Power Plan,” said David Anderson, an outreach coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.
The TPPF is a research group that publishes policy papers advocating for free-market causes and is a member of the State Policy Network, an organization that receives funding from the billionaire oil brothers Charles and David Koch. In 2010, the foundation received more than $220,000 from the Koch brothers’ organizations, according to tax filings published accidentally that year on GuideStar, a group collecting IRS records for nonprofits. The group also received funding from fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, and local utility companies that year.
Domenech, the director at TPPF, said the group first recognized the constitutional power of interstate compacts in 2010 when it published a paper discussing how the strategy could be used as a “shield for states.” The paper was co-authored by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a climate denialist who recently introduced energy legislation that prevents the federal government from regulating carbon, approves the Keystone XL oil pipeline and increases drilling in national parks. Cruz is seeking to become the GOP’s presidential nominee for 2016.
Posted by Gypsy Chief