Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/20/2018

Policy and Politics

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt continued to be in the news.  If you want a summary of all the investigations of him, The New York Times has provided one.  The Government Accountability Office ruled on Monday that the EPA had violated the law when it installed a soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office at a cost of roughly $43,000.  A group of 131 Democratic representatives and 39 Democratic senators signed a resolution introduced Wednesday that calls for him to resign.  A number of nonprofit organizations not usually known for environmental advocacy, including the NAACP, are joining the calls against Pruitt.

According to a U.N. report released Tuesday, not nearly enough money is flowing into low-carbon investments to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Trump administration officials are reportedly considering using the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to keep struggling coal and nuclear power plants online.  In Canada, the federal government is preparing to counter British Columbia’s bid to control the flow of oil through the province with legislation that will enhance federal power to push through the Trans Mountain pipeline.  On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines to confirm Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (Okla.), as head of NASA.  Democrats argued that he was unqualified for the position because he wasn’t a scientist and because of his position on climate change, among other things.  Michael Catanzaro, who has headed domestic energy and environmental issues at the White House’s National Economic Council, plans to leave next week and return to the law and lobbying firm where he previously worked.  He will be replaced by 28-year-old Francis Brooke, who will come over from Vice President Mike Pence’s office.

In Colorado, the city of Boulder, plus Boulder and San Miguel Counties, filed a lawsuit in state court on Tuesday against two oil companies, Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy, arguing that fossil fuels sold by the companies contribute to climate change, with its associated damages.  A group of eight young Florida residents — represented by Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust — is suing Governor Rick Scott to demand that the state begin working on a court-ordered, science-based “Climate Recovery Plan.”  RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, has generated $1.4 billion in net economic benefits over the past three years, even accounting for the costs it has added to the price of electricity, a study released Tuesday found.  The RGGI states, as well as the West Coast states, have reduced emissions from the power sector, but transportation emissions have continued to rise.  Ivy Main has a new blog post.  This one is about efforts toward 100% clean energy in Virginia.  Yale Climate Connections has launched a new twice-monthly ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) “feature highlighting critical climate-related readings that might have escaped one’s radar … but which warrant attention.”  Author, journalist, and war correspondent William T. Vollmann has released the first volume of a two-volume polemic called Carbon Ideologies.  Volume I, entitled No Immediate Danger, explores how our society is bound to the ideology of energy consumption.  Eric Allen Been interviewed him for Vox.

Climate

More and more, I keep running into the term regenerative agriculture, which is to farm in such a way as to improve the land.  Advocates of it refer to it as “win-win” because not only does it improve the health of agricultural soil, it also removes carbon from the atmosphere.  In a very readable article in The New York Times Magazine, Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains the technique and explores the evidence for and against it.  Some who are not concerned about the increasing CO2 in the atmosphere justify their position by asserting the existence of improved plant growth at higher CO2 levels, which would increase food production.  However, a study published this week in Science calls that assertion into question.  A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One found that Americans waste nearly a pound of food per person every day, roughly equal to 30% of the average American’s daily calories.

Research published in the journal Nature shows that the record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016 across the Great Barrier Reef has left much of the coral ecosystem at an “unprecedented” risk of collapse.

New research, published in the journal Science Advances, has identified a new positive feedback mechanism that appears to be accelerating the melting of Antarctic glaciers.  Fresh melt water, being of lower density, forms a layer on the sea surface next to the glaciers, decreasing mixing and retaining a pool of warm water beneath the glacial ice shelf, accelerating its melting.  Another type of positive feedback mechanism is accelerating the surface melting of Greenland in the Arctic.  According to new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, warming melts the western edge of the ice sheet, releasing mineral dust from rock crushed by the ice sheet; the dust blows to the surface of the ice, nurturing the microbes and algae living there; those organisms produce colored pigments, reducing reflectivity, and increasing melting.  Arctic scientist Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, was interviewed by Katherine Bagely for Yale Environment 360 about the environmental impacts of the changes occurring in the Arctic.

The conclusion of a study that appeared in the journal Ecology Letters is that many forests of the Rocky Mountains aren’t recovering after wildfires burn them and some aren’t returning at all.

An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on a global meta-analysis of the biological timing of 88 species that rely on another life form.  It found that on average, as a result of climate change, species are moving out of sync by about six days a decade, although some pairs are actually moving closer together.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council focuses on the impacts of climate change on health in Virginia.  It warns that as heat waves increase, the risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths in Virginia will grow.  Prof Helen Berry is the inaugural professor of climate change and mental health at the University of Sydney.  She wrote a guest post on Carbon Brief entitled “The impact of climate change on mental health is impossible to ignore.”

Energy

The New York TimesClimate Fwd” newsletter had two energy-related articles this week.  One dealt with the uneasy relationship environmentalists have with nuclear power.  The other concerned the blueprint adopted by a committee of the International Maritime Organization that sets the shipping industry on a course to reduce carbon emissions by container ships, tankers and other vessels by at least 50% by the middle of the century compared with 2008 levels.

Offshore wind farms are far less harmful to seabirds than previously thought because seabirds actively change their flight path to avoid them.  Onshore wind continues to grow.  Now, four states—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota—get more than 30% of their in-state electricity production from wind, according a new report by the American Wind Energy Association.

In the first quarter of 2018, 142,445 electric vehicles (EVs) were sold in China, a 154% increase over the first quarter in 2017.  Writing at Vox, David Roberts argues that China is now doing with battery electric buses what it did with solar panels, that is, to ramp up production and drive the price down.  Volkswagen AG unit Electrify America will install EV charging stations at more than 100 Walmart store locations in 34 U.S. states by mid-2019 as part of Electrify’s plans to bolster charging infrastructure across the country.

Walmart plans to more than double the amount of renewable energy it uses in the U.S.  It has also announced that suppliers have reported reducing more than 20 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in the global value chain as part of the company’s Project Gigaton initiative.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has embarked on a wide-ranging review of how interstate natural-gas pipelines are approved, including the use of eminent domain, how the need for a pipeline is assessed, and the extent to which greenhouse gas emissions should be taken into account in pipeline approvals.

New research, published Monday in Nature Climate Change, concludes that it may be possible to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures without using the controversial and largely untested negative emissions technology of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

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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