Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/22/2019

Politics and Policy

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington ruled late Tuesday that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in Wyoming.  He temporarily blocked drilling on about 300,000 acres of land in the state.  Inside Climate News reported that activists are using similar approaches against the Trump administration’s rush to open more U.S. property to oil and gas leases.  Meanwhile, at Axios Amy Harder argued that “President Trump and congressional Republicans are increasingly outliers in an otherwise emerging consensus across America that climate change is a problem and that the government should pass new laws to address it.”  On March 8 Dominion Energy Virginia came back to the State Corporation Commission with a revised Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that reduces the number of new gas combustion turbines in half.  According to Ivy Main, this would diminish the justification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has expressed support for a carbon tax for years.  Tuesday, Hassett told E&E News that he has a long record of supporting carbon taxes, but would not say if he has broached the subject with President Trump.  In the opinion section of The New York Times, Steven Rattner, a counselor to the Treasury secretary in the Obama administration and a Wall Street executive, made the case for a carbon tax.  On Thursday republicEn.org hosted a webinar entitled “The Carbon Tax Bill: 10 Years Later” featuring former Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina.  In his annual “Energy Outlook” report, Michael Cembalest, chairman of market investment and strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, wrote that the U.S. needs to reduce its use of carbon much faster, but changing that will require far harder choices than most people realize.  Indeed, in an opinion piece in The Guardian, Phil McDuff wrote: “Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it.  We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital.”

During an interview Wednesday on “CBS This Morning” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”  That prompted Emily Atkin at The New Republic to write “The EPA chief’s latest argument against fighting climate change is astonishingly foolish—but it’s exactly what most of us want to hear.”  Centrist Democrats are pushing back on the fast-paced approach to climate change legislation preferred by Green New Deal supporters, arguing instead for a more gradual manner that they think will have a stronger chance of passing and reaching across the aisle.  Because Senate Democrats consider the upcoming vote on the Green New Deal resolution to be a sham, they are apparently planning to vote “present”, even though they introduced it.  Nevertheless, Robinson Meyer argued that “America cares about climate change again.”

The Arctic region’s cooperation in the battle against global warming by reducing black carbon emissions is being hampered by the U.S. and Russia, the Finnish foreign ministry said on Wednesday.  A report released Friday from British nonprofit “Influence Map” shows that ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total have spent more than $1 billion combined on lobbying to delay, control, or block policies to tackle climate change since the Paris Agreement was signed.  Also, according to a new report from a group of environmental nonprofits, during the same time period the 33 largest global banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for fossil fuel companies.  Russia is considering climate legislation that could give the world’s fifth largest emitter a framework for regulating carbon emissions for the first time.

Potpourri

Jeff Goodell filed another dispatch from the Nathaniel B. Palmer research vessel in Antarctica.  As the ship was leaving the region of the Thwaites Glacier, its 25 mile wide by 15 mile deep floating ice shelf disintegrated.  At Yale Climate Connections (YCC), Michael Svoboda briefly reviewed the eight movies of 2018 with a cli-fi element and looked forward to those that will be released in 2019.  Also at YCC, SueEllen Campbell compiled a list of stories about the impacts of climate change in National Parks.  Board games are the latest devices to help both planners and citizens learn how to adapt to sea level rise and other consequences of climate change.  According to a new report released Wednesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, local governments can better prepare for disasters by investing in resilience programs and tending to societal problems that are often made worse during and after catastrophes.  With coal mining jobs disappearing in southeast Kentucky, environmental and energy reporter Elizabeth McGowen visited to determine whether green jobs could replace them.  At The Guardian, columnist Rebecca Solnit reflected on “Why climate action is the antithesis of white supremacy.”

Climate

The first results from a new generation of global climate models are now becoming available.  According to a report from a group of European climate modelers, early results suggest that estimates of “climate sensitivity” from these models are higher than previous values.  Last week the first item under “Climate” was about dramatic temperature increases in the Arctic being unavoidable.  However, it turns out that the degree of warming was overstated due to ambiguity in a key paragraph in the report from the UN Environment Assembly and the accompanying press release.

Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent for the year on March 13, peaking at 14.78m sq km.  It is tied with 2007 as the seventh smallest winter maximum in the 40-year satellite record.  Thawing permafrost in high-altitude mountains has been contributing to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, new research published in the journal Nature Communications suggests.

Deadly and historic flooding is plaguing states across the Midwest, isolating entire towns and upending the region.  The Great Lakes Basin has warmed more over the last 30 years than the rest of the contiguous U.S. and could warm dramatically more by the end of the 21st Century.  Insurers have warned that climate change could make coverage for ordinary people unaffordable after the world’s largest reinsurance firm, Munich Re, blamed global warming for $24 billion of losses in the California wildfires.  As damaging storms and other effects of climate change have hit Florida particularly hard in the past few years, some older adults living there have become concerned about their safety and their ability to enjoy retirement. So they’re fleeing the state.

Spring is usually a coordinated dance of singing birds, bursting leaves, buzzing insects, and blooming flowers, but climate change is throwing off the rhythm.  Samantha Harrington summarized five examples of winners and losers as a result.  The AP looked at 424 weather stations throughout the U.S. lower 48 states that had consistent temperature records since 1920 and counted how many times daily hot temperature records were tied or broken and how many daily cold records were set.  In a stable climate, the numbers should be roughly equal.  Since 1999, the ratio has been two warm records set or broken for every cold one.

Daisy Dunne has a very informative article about the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef that also examines the question of whether the reef can survive.  The article is accompanied by great multimedia presentations.  Meanwhile, researchers in Australia are re-engineering corals to make them more resistant to higher temperatures using techniques as old as the domestication of plants and as new as the latest gene-editing tools.

Energy

At Inside Climate News, Nicholas Kusnetz provided a wrap-up of the activities at the CERAWeek oil and gas conference in Houston the week of March 11-15, noting that it was a week of contradictions, with some executives touting clean energy and others treating gas as a “forever fuel.”  At The New Yorker, Bill McKibben explained why gas isn’t even a bridge fuel, much less a “forever” one.

Buildings are responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so tackling those emissions is an important component of fighting climate change.  At Vox, David Roberts surveyed the parts of the U.S. that are displaying leadership in reducing building energy use.  The Brattle Group projects that $30 billion to $90 billion would have to be spent on transmission lines by 2030 to cost-effectively serve the electrification of the American economy.  That investment would represent a 20-50% increase in average annual transmission spending compared to the past 10 years.

Amnesty International (AI) attacked the electric vehicle (EV) industry on Thursday for selling itself as environmentally friendly while producing many of its batteries using polluting fossil fuels and unethically sourced minerals.  While AI’s allegations may well be true, there are many myths about renewable energy out there.  Karin Kirk presented some ways to counter them at Yale Climate Connections.  Two reports released yesterday, one by the Energy Information Agency and the other by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, highlight the impressive growth of renewable power and EVs — but also how far they have to go before replacing fossil fuels’ role in the energy system.  The New York City government’s maintenance costs for its EV fleet were much less per automobile than its gasoline-powered cars.

Last week I provided links to two articles about hydrogen production.  Both systems must use freshwater as the source of the hydrogen via electrolysis.  This week there was an article about research at Stanford that allows seawater to be used to produce hydrogen.  Toyota and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency are teaming up to transform part of a decommissioned car manufacturing site in Altona into a commercial-grade hydrogen production and refueling site.

SK Innovation plans a lithium-ion battery factory in Jackson County, GA, about 65 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, where the company says it will invest nearly $1.7 billion and hire 2,000 by 2025.  24M, a startup battery company, claims it has made a breakthrough in creating semi-solid lithium-ion battery cells with an energy density exceeding 350Wh/kg.

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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