Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/24/2017

On Wednesday, the Center for Media and Democracy released over 7,500 pages of emails from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma Attorney General after that office turned them over to a state court in Oklahoma.  They revealed several instances of close coordination between his former office and oil interests in Oklahoma.  Both The Washington Post and The New York Times also covered the story.  In addition, there are contradictions between Pruitt’s Senate testimony and statements in an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his swearing in that have caused some to sense a “bait and switch.”  Mike Catanzaro was recently appointed as President Donald Trump’s top energy aide.  Writing on Desmog, Steve Horn reviews his history and writings on climate and energy.  President Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.  But as explained by Brad Plumer on Vox, “… crafting a new rule will take many months, if not years, and Pruitt will face a slew of procedural and legal hurdles in trying to undo Obama’s plan.”

Scott Pruitt’s appointment, along with the activities of Rep. Lamar Smith (R, TX), chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has some climate scientists concerned about future harassment.  Thus, it is encouraging that the National Academy of Sciences has called for continuing support of the U.S. Global Change Research Program following a new review of their activities.  Nevertheless, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has just reported that the 114th Congress was the most polarized on environmental issues in the 46-year history of the LCV scorecard, which does not bode well for environmental votes in the new Congress.  It is within this atmosphere that the March for Science is being planned for April 22, Earth Day, on the Mall in Washington, D.C.  Although the planned march has drawn criticism and concern from some, Rush Holt, chief executive of AAAS, has emphasized that the march is “for science rather than against anyone.”

Climate

New research, published in the journal Science Advances, has asserted that six marine “hotspots” of exceptional biodiversity are being impacted negatively by warming sea temperatures, weakening ocean currents, and industrial fishing, putting them at risk of losing many of their species.

The flooding in California this week has been attributed to the arrival of “atmospheric rivers” from the Pacific.  With respect to the effect of climate change on those “rivers”, UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain has said “There is now quite a bit of evidence that future droughts here will be warmer and more intense, yet will be interrupted by increasingly powerful ‘atmospheric river’ storms capable of causing destructive flooding.”  Further east, the flow of the Colorado River has dropped more than 19% during the drought gripping the river basin since 2000.  A study published in the journal Water Resources Research has concluded that about one-third of the decline is due to a warming atmosphere induced by climate change.  How people in the Colorado River basin deal with the problem is an important indicator of how we will adapt to climate change.  Zack Colman visited southeastern Nevada to see how they are coping with the changes.

The U.S. Geological Survey has just announced that the record warm February temperatures in the U.S. are another symptom of climate change.  One bit of evidence of the link to climate change is that there were many more record daily high temperatures than record lows – 5,294 versus 84 through Feb. 20.  This has prompted Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic to ask “Is It Okay to Enjoy the Warm Winters of Climate Change?”.  If you are interested in the psychology of climate change, Yale Climate Connections has provided a list of books and reports on the subject.

It is summer in Australia, really summer, with temperatures in Sydney reaching 117°F.  As has happened elsewhere, this has reduced the number of people who deny human-caused climate change.  According to Simon Bullock, senior campaigner on climate change at Friends of the Earth, “Sadly, people are now seeing and experiencing climate change in their own lives.  No amount of media misinformation from climate deniers can alter that.”  Another place where people are “experiencing climate change in their own lives” is La Paz, Bolivia, a high-altitude city whose water previously came from glaciers.  Now that the glaciers are gone, they face severe challenges.  Leslie Kaufman described how the city is coping.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued a new report, “The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges,” in which they warn that countries must undertake “major transformations” in the way they grow and distribute food if future widespread starvation is to be avoided.  Some of the challenges are increasing population, the shifting of diets from grain to meat-based, groundwater depletion, and climate change.  Meanwhile, the U.N. has issued an urgent plea for funds to help avert starvation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

In October, almost 200 countries signed the Kigali Amendment as an update to the Montreal Protocol, agreeing to reduce their reliance on hydrofluorocarbons in refrigeration and air conditioning because of their strong global warming potential.  After considering thousands of options, scientists have narrowed the list of candidate replacements to 27, all of which have problems, according to a new paper in Nature Communications.

A 2013 World Bank report ranked Boston as the eighth most vulnerable major city in the world to property damage from rising seas, among 136 studied, with much of the waterfront only a foot above sea level during high tide.  Consequently, studies are underway to determine the most feasible way to protect the city from future sea level rise, including building a large sea barrier.

Energy

The burning of biomass in large power plants to generate electricity was back in the news this week with the release of a report by the UK’s Chatham House asserting “Although most renewable energy policy frameworks treat biomass as though it is carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, in reality this cannot be assumed, as biomass emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels.”  Jocelyn Timperley of Carbon Brief has examined the main arguments of the report and concluded that “The debate over biomass [burning]is unlikely to be resolved soon.”

Two lobbying groups representing auto manufacturers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sent letters to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, urging him to roll back the 2025 fuel economy standards established by the Obama administration.  Environmentalists objected.  Nevertheless, at about the same time, Royal Dutch Shell Plc announced that it will build seven fueling stations for hydrogen cars in California through a partnership with Toyota Motor Corp.

A 4.6 MW, community-based project in Red Lake Falls, MN will be the country’s first commercial integrated solar-wind hybrid power generation facility.  It will use two 2.3 MW wind turbines and 1 MW of solar panels.  The wind turbines will provide peak energy in winter and the solar panels will provide peak energy in summer.  On the topic of renewable energy, there is a very interesting editorial in the British magazine The Economist dealing with the impacts of renewable energy on the conventional electricity industry.  It provides some important insights into why some electricity providers are fighting renewable energy.

The U.S. started exporting liquefied natural gas last year and is increasingly piping more natural gas to Mexico while importing less gas via pipeline from Canada.  According to the Energy Department, the U.S. will likely become a net exporter of gas next year and a net exporter of total fossil energy products shortly after 2020.

Economics is the main cause of the closing of coal-fired power plants, and as long as natural gas continues to be cheap, that is likely to continue.  Thus, it is not surprising that President Trump’s election hasn’t slowed the pace of closings for those plants.  A case in point is the Navajo Generating Station that I wrote about last week.  Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Evan Halper characterized its closure as the first major test of “Trump’s vision for a coal industry resurgence.”

Computing technology can contribute to the success of wind energy installations by adding smart intelligence to machines, helping them operate more efficiently, and alerting developers about needed maintenance.

These news items have been compiled by Les Grady, member and former chair of the CAAV steering committee. He is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm. Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming and makes himself available to speak to groups about this subject. More here.

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