Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/20/2018

Policy and Politics

In spite of a vote in the House condemning a carbon tax (which Dana Nuccitelli called foolish), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) is preparing to introduce legislation next week that would pause federal regulations on climate change in exchange for an escalating tax on carbon emissions, according to a draft obtained by E&E News.  Although Curbelo’s proposed tax is not revenue-neutral, a recent study found that policies in which the proceeds from a carbon tax are returned to taxpayers will have little negative economic impact while effectively curbing carbon emissions.  America’s Pledge, an initiative co-founded by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has released a report detailing “bottom-up” strategies for states, cities and businesses to take meaningful action on climate change.  A coalition of worker advocacy groups is calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create the country’s first national standard for heat stress, something the government has failed to do for over 40 years.

E&E News interviewed EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler.  (If you open the article, be sure to check out Wheeler’s suit.)  On Wednesday, the EPA pushed back the deadline for closing coal ash dumps that don’t meet water protection standards until 31 October 2020.  Wheeler said the changes would save utilities roughly $30m annually.  A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of “glider trucks” that environmental groups called “super-polluting.”

Fossil fuel producers, airlines, and electrical utilities outspent environmental groups and the renewable energy industry 10 to 1 on lobbying related to climate change legislation between 2000 and 2016, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Climatic Change.  Today, airplane engines release about 1.5% of the CO2 that humans create by burning fossil fuels – as much as Canada’s carbon footprint.  They also release significant amounts of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, and water vapor into the upper atmosphere, all of which impact warming.  To meet our climate goals, something must be done, but what?  The EU and China have signed a joint agreement on climate change as part of the EU-China summit in Beijing, but according to a report released on Thursday, China still needs to take significant steps to curb its own CO2 emissions.  Living shorelines can help slow or stop erosion in coastal areas.  Since Florida’s permitting rules on living shorelines were eased a little more than a year ago, 34 small living shorelines, typically under 500 feet, have been approved or built.

Ivy Main has published her Guide to Wind and Solar Policy in Virginia for 2018.  Roy Scranton, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, had an essay in The New York Times adapted from his new book We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change.  A new survey of attitudes about climate change and what to do about it has been conducted by ABC News, Stanford University’s Political Psychology Research Group and Resources for the Future.  Go here for a summary of the results.  Attorneys for 21 young activists suing the federal government over climate change urged a judge Wednesday to allow their case to go to trial while government lawyers argued that a court can’t direct national energy policy.  Meanwhile, a federal judge on Thursday dismissed New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil companies, stating that global warming should be solved by Congress and the president—not by the courts.  David Hasemyer has prepared a review of the various lawsuits against the federal government and fossil fuel companies, showing where they stand now.

Climate

California is not the only place experiencing wildfires.  At least 11 wildfires are burning inside the Arctic Circle, with Sweden being particularly hard hit.  In addition, high temperature records are being set across Scandinavia, Japan is sweltering, and in the U.S. an extreme heat wave is hitting Texas and surrounding states.  All in all, over a billion people are at risk in a warmer world, according to one study.  A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that wildfires in the western U.S. are causing an increase in small particulate matter in the atmosphere, a particularly worrisome form of air pollution.

A paper published Thursday in the journal Science has reported that summers are heating up faster than the other seasons as global temperatures rise, especially in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and the changes carry the clear fingerprints of human-caused climate change.  Canada’s Arctic is warming at one of the fastest rates of anywhere on Earth, with the annual average temperature on northern Ellesmere Island increasing by 3.6°C between 1948 and 2016.  This is causing significant melting of glaciers.

According to a new report from non-profit organizations GRAIN and The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, meat and dairy companies are on track to being the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, outpacing even the fossil fuel industry.

The large cities in India are among the hottest on Earth.  Somini Sengupta reported from New Delhi on conditions in several of them in the summer, when conditions are becoming unbearable.  Meanwhile, in Africa, the drought that threatened to turn off the taps in Cape Town was made three times more likely by global warming, according to a study released on Friday by World Weather Attribution.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that a slowing of the Gulf Stream (aka the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” or AMOC) will lead to a period of prolonged warming because less heat will be carried into the deep ocean.  However, writing at RealClimate, climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf and Michael Mann were very critical of the paper, stating “the idea that a weak AMOC promotes rapid global warming is in itself not supported by any convincing evidence.”

Antarctica is a strange place, as shown by a recent paper in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.  For example, it is the only place on Earth where the surface is colder than the stratosphere.  This causes some of the greenhouse gases that warm the rest of the planet to cool Antarctica for much of the year.

Energy

The International Energy Agency has released its World Energy Outlook 2018, covering energy investments in 2017.  A major finding was that global energy investments fell 2% in 2017, with a “worrying” 7% decline in renewable energy investments.  On the other hand, a bright spot was the 54% increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales, which topped one million for the first time.

The Pacific island nation of Palau, which currently relies on diesel fuel to supply almost all its electricity, is in the middle of an experiment. Over the next year and a half, the country will shift to 100% renewable energy, at no cost to the government.  This will happen because of the efforts of Gridmarket, a predictive analytics and mapping company, and Trammell Crow, a Republican philanthropist committed to fighting climate change.  On a larger scale, Costa Rico, which already gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, is working to be carbon-neutral by 2021 through an incentive-driven plan that will focus largely on the transportation sector, its largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The CEO of Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., said Monday the company is beginning the next, larger phase of development for offshore wind farms to supply power to Rhode Island and Connecticut, to Long Island, NY, and to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Meanwhile, MAKE Consulting has projected that onshore wind turbine size and capacity is on track to continue increasing at a steady pace, while offshore equipment will grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.  Illustrating that nothing is foolproof, Britain is experiencing a “wind drought” that has reduced output from its wind turbines by around 40%.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state regulators erred in rejecting the proposed 780-mile Grain Belt Express electricity transmission project from developer Clean Line Energy.  The project would cross Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana to distribute Kansas wind power as far as Indiana and beyond.  Meanwhile, Duke Energy cancelled an RFP for Midwest wind energy because the price of the electricity was too high, presumably because of a lack of transmission options.

Last week I provided a link to a study arguing the likely demise of nuclear energy in the U.S.  Now, Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes has argued that nuclear energy must be a part of the energy solution.  In addition, David Roberts has analyzed the utility of natural gas as a bridge fuel to totally renewable energy.

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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