Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/2/2018

Policy and Politics

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology met Tuesday to hear about management and priorities at the Department of Energy (DOE).  According to draft budget documents obtained by The Washington Post, the Trump administration is planning to ask Congress to cut the funding for DOE’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by 72% in fiscal year 2019.  A new Pentagon report identifies military facilities vulnerable to climate change, documenting the effect of flooding, drought and extreme temperatures at installations across the U.S.  President Donald Trump didn’t mention climate change or global warming in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but then neither did Rep. Joe Kennedy (D, MA) in the Democratic rebuttal.  At The New York Times, Brad Plumer had a review of the state of the climate after a year of the Trump administration and at The Guardian, Bill McKibben presented a plan for how to proceed in spite of Washington.  At the EU, French foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said: “No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The U.S. knows what to expect.”  Researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities have released their 2018 Environmental Performance Index, which ranks 180 countries on overall environmental performance.  The U.S. ranked 27th, near the bottom of developed countries.

Lawmakers from nine states announced on Wednesday that they would be forming a coalition to help pass carbon pricing at the local level, citing the importance of state-level policies in the face of federal inaction on climate.  In other actions at the state level, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a permit to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on Monday putting the state back in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and another on Wednesday putting it on track to develop 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030.  New York and Massachusetts are targeting 2.4 GW and 1.6 GW of offshore wind, respectively.  California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order setting a new target of 5 million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2030 and 250,000 vehicle charging stations by 2025.  Last week I included a link to an article about Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s moratorium on new wind energy projects in the state.  Now, the Conservation Law Foundation has filed a lawsuit charging that the Governor’s action is unconstitutional.

If you have ever read one of the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) you are probably aware of the difficulty climate scientists have had communicating their complex subject to the public.  Hopefully, upcoming reports will be easier to read, thanks to a new communications manual commissioned by the IPCC and released on Tuesday.  On the subject of communication, Jason Samenow traced the history of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” for the Capital Weather Gang.  In case you aren’t really certain about what we know about climate change or have a friend who knows little about the topic, Wired published a guide to the subject on Thursday.  Amy Brady had another interview with the author of a cli-fi book at Yale Climate Connection this week.  The subject is Robin MacArthur and her book is Heart Spring Mountain.  And at Ensia Richard Heinberg wrote about the role of the arts as we face more and more difficult decisions in a warming world.


A new report produced by the European Academies Science Advisory Council has concluded that negative emission technologies have “limited potential” for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Instead, emphasis should be placed on preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere in the first place.

The UK’s meteorological agency’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to permanently exceed pre-industrial temperatures by 1°C between 2018-2022.  It also said that there is around a 10% chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  At Carbon Brief, Zeke Hausfather summarized the various kinds of climate data from 2017 and explained why the year was so remarkable.

At the start of this week, California’s statewide snowpack averaged just 30% of normal for the date, not far from the 25% logged at the same time in 2015, a record-low year.

In Oymyakon, Siberia, the forecast high on Thursday was 14°F, nearly 60°F warmer than its average January high around -44°F, and more than 100°F warmer than it was two weeks ago (-88°F).  This unusual warmth in Siberia could trigger a chain of events resulting in a deep freeze over central and eastern North America.

Research reported in a new paper in the journal Science challenges our perceptions of polar bears, their hunting techniques, and their energy needs.  One important fact uncovered is that polar bears burn energy at a rate that is 1.6 times previous estimates.  The overall results suggest that polar bears will have more difficulty surviving in the face of sea ice decline than previously thought.  Another study, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Tuesday, looked at something somewhat smaller — beetles.  The researchers looked at eight species of beetles that were caught in British Columbia over the past 100 years and compared changes in their size to temperature data over the same time period, finding that the largest beetles got smaller as the temperature warmed.


China is about to start its carbon emissions trading scheme, so Carbon Brief took an in-depth look at what is known about it, the remaining gaps, and how it will fit in with China’s wider climate policy landscape.

Dominion Energy announced Wednesday that its Cove Point liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, Md., was beginning production, with Shell providing the natural gas for export into the global market.  On the subject of natural gas, Rocky Mountain Institute summarized our knowledge of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and suggested ways they can be reduced.  In addition, Dana Nuccitelli argued in The Guardian that renewables plus storage will ultimately crowd out natural gas.

Last week I provided a link to an article that said that the developer of a proposed transmission line to carry renewable electricity across Arkansas had given up because of strong opposition.  Now, the developer of a transmission line to carry hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts is facing pushback on several fronts.

Tesla Inc. is planning a major expansion of its solar division at Home Depot Inc.  It will install Tesla-branded selling spaces that are staffed by Tesla employees who can demonstrate its solar panels and Powerwall battery.  On the subject of Tesla, Reuters has learned that it is collaborating with several of the large companies that have ordered its new semi-truck to build on-site charging terminals at their facilities as part of Tesla’s efforts to roll out the truck next year.

According to a new analysis from two think-tanks, one in the UK and the other in Germany, the EU got more of its electricity from wind, solar, and biomass in 2017 than from coal.  At the end of last week, the U.S. Energy Information Agency released a report on the CO2 emissions of each state between 2000 and 2015.  CO2 emissions dropped in 41 states, but increased in nine.

New wind installations in the U.S. reached 7 GW in 2017, down from 8.2 GW the prior year, the American Wind Energy Association said in a report Tuesday.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects wind power to surpass hydroelectric power as the country’s leading source of renewable energy in the next two years.  MAKE Consulting’s “Global Wind Turbine Trends 2017” report, published at the end of December, forecast continual growth in wind turbine size and capacity over the next six years.

On Tuesday, Bernard Looney, head of BP’s upstream division, admitted that some crude oil will be left in the ground, saying “Not every barrel of oil in the world will get produced.”  Responding to shareholder concerns, PPL Corp., which owns two utilities in Kentucky, said it would reduce CO2 emissions by 70% from 2010 levels by 2050.  And on a call with investors on Friday of last week, Jim Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy predicted that by the early 2020s, it will be cheaper to build new renewables than to continue running existing coal and nuclear plants.

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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