Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/18/2019

Joy Loving is the author of the summer 2019 occasional Roundups, of which this is the fourth.

Politics and Policy

Good news for the Chesapeake Bay, hopefully.  The Augusta Free Press (AFP) reports that the “House of Representatives has passed the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget [with] increased funding from $73 million to $85 million.”

The Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) announces that “The [House] Climate Solutions Caucus Relaunches!”  CCL reports that “the group is co-chaired by Francis Rooney (R-FL-19) and Ted Deutch (D-FL-22).”

Elizabeth McGowan, writing in Energy News Network, addresses the lack of local government action in VA to allow increased use of a clean energy financing tool.  She notes that “The state’s property assessed clean energy law requires local governments to pass ordinances to establish the program.”

The Washington Post’s (WaPo’s) Energy 202 gives details of the current debate on extending the tax break for electric vehicles (EVs), pointing out that automakers and oil and gas companies are on different sides of the question.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report saying “the Environmental Protection Agency did not follow its own guidelines when filling two key science advisory panels with fewer academic researchers and more industry voices.”  Energy 202 has the story.

Energy 202 reports that “Sixteen states could see spike in carbon emissions under Trump’s power plan”.  VA is one of them.

Inside Climate News says “U.S. Mayors Pressure Congress on Carbon Pricing, Climate Lawsuits and a Green New Deal”.


In WaPo, opinion writer David Von Drehle suggests that, while he believes in science, he doesn’t necessarily always agree with conclusions drawn from a given set of scientific facts.  He says in part “The challenge of climate change demands an urgent response but not an apocalyptic one.”  He also believes “There’s no scientific consensus that humanity is doomed”, asking “Isn’t it possible that our era will prove to have been too charmed by worst-case, end‑of‑the-world climate change predictions?”  Writing in NiemanLab, Laura Hazard Owen says “Yes, it’s worth arguing with science deniers — and here are some techniques you can use”.

The Guardian brings us a story about a tree-sitter who wasn’t protesting proposed pipelines.  It’s called “I lived in a tree for two years”.

WaPo’s Pop Culture asserts:  “Climate-change anxiety is now a part of growing up. Pop culture has caught on.”

The Daily Climate provides its summer 2019 list of recommended environmental reading.

The Guardian gives a preview of “How the climate crisis will change your plate in 2050”.


What’s Happening?

When we think about the kinds of changes the climate crisis is causing and will continue to cause, we don’t necessarily think about the sports industry.  But this WaPo item suggests the impacts on athletics, especially in already hot areas, will worsen.

Tropical Storm Barry produced a lot of rain and headaches for those in its path, not to mention numerous news stories, including these by Reuters (“Storm Barry cuts 73% of U.S. Offshore Oil Production:  U.S. Government”); and by Louisiana’s KLFY News (“Cleco Working to Restore Power after Tropical Storm Barry…”).

WaPo’s Business Section has this article:  “Two new studies warn that a hotter world will be a more violent one”.  Speaking of hot weather, WaPo’s Capital Weather Gang offers this summary of a recent United Nations report, saying “A record-challenging Greenland climate pattern is boosting extreme weather in North America and Europe”.  Yale Environment 360 says “Electricity Demand Will Soar as Households Try to Cope With Hotter Temperatures”.  Axios has a related story:  “Higher temperatures could fuel a global energy demand to stay cool”.  And WaPo suggests “Europe’s record heat wave is changing stubborn minds about the value of air conditioning”.

More about trees:  The last Roundup had stories about trees in New York and New Jersey and how they’re affected by the changing climate.  The Daily Climate tells us that “Ancient North Carolina trees that hold climate clues are under threat”.  And the New York Times gives a summary of a recent report that concluded “Restoring Forests Could Help Put a Brake on Global Warming, Study Finds”.

The Associated Press says “Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions”.  The Los Angeles Times has another wildfire‑effects story:  “Beach pollution surges after massive wildfires and heavy rains, report finds”.  The Sacramento Bee says “A quarter of Californians believe climate change is behind the state’s worsening wildfires”. The rest attribute the leading cause of the state’s recurrent fires to human error (17%), forest mismanagement (12%), and drought (11%).  “Smaller shares of California voters believe overpopulation and development, utility companies, natural causes, arson and insufficient firefighters are the primary causes….”

Writing an opinion piece as a guest columnist in the Virginian-Pilot, Anna Jeng, Sc.D. (a member of the Virginia Board of Health and a professor in the School of Community and Environmental Health at Old Dominion University) asks us to “Consider health effects of climate change”.  She proposes five ways to do this.

Think Progress reports that Sonny Perdue, the current Secretary of Agriculture, “dismisses climate change as ‘weather patterns’”, noting that “[m]eanwhile farmers struggle with ongoing, record‑breaking floods.” weighs in with this article:  “The Midwest’s Farms Face an Intense, Crop-Killing Future”.  The reporter says “Though scientists can’t say if one storm or one wet season is the result of climate change, so far this year’s heavy rains are a perfect illustration of what scientific models of climate change predict for the region.”

The Augusta Free Press provides answers to the question “What are regional climate models?”  Global climate models are not as useful in helping communities plan for specific circumstances as regional models, which cover about 3,000 square miles and enable “practical planning of local issues such as water resources or flood defenses, … requir[ing] information on a much more local scale.”

Who’s Doing What (or Should or Shouldn’t Be)?

WaPo reports that “Harvard says fighting climate change is a top priority. But it still won’t divest from fossil fuels.”

The New York Times (NYT) asks “With More Storms and Rising Seas, Which U.S. Cities Should Be Saved First?”  The article notes that “New research offers one way to look at the enormity of the cost as policymakers consider how to choose winners and losers in the race to adapt to climate change.” It concludes that, despite the limitations of the data, it “provides a powerful financial measuring stick for the tough decisions that countless communities — large and small — are starting to confront.”  It lists the 10 most expensive cities to save using sea walls in total costs and cost per resident.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the Nature Conservancy “has partnered with private investors to acquire over a quarter-million acres (101,000 hectares) of forest land in the coalfields of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia [as part of] … its new Cumberland Forest Project”.  The purpose is both to “protect the land but also to make money through sustainable forestry, carbon offsets, recreational leases and the eventual sale of the properties.”  The Virginia Mercury also reports this story.  Local farmer and blogger Bobby Whitescarver pens a post about the continuing need to keep streams and rivers free from agricultural pollution and discusses a non-regulatory way to do that.

WaPo’s Energy 202 reports that “Big philanthropists throw weight behind disruptive climate activists”.  These folks with big money have created a Climate Emergency FundEnergy 202 also has this story: “Broad group of green organizations releases climate platform ahead of 2020 election”.  And this one:  “Seven minutes were devoted to climate change in the first Democratic debate”.  And another one:  “Democratic candidates didn’t clash on climate change during debates”.  “[W]hen the 20 candidates on stage did talk about global warming, they did not do much to distinguish themselves from one another”, but they didn’t talk much about the subject at all.  WaPo asked “seven climate change experts… what they’d want to hear from the 2020 Democrats.”  Their answers are hereCivil Eats reports on the candidates’ views on food and farming.  Noting “[f]ood and farming haven’t been high on the list of campaign priorities in recent decades, except maybe in Iowa”, the article says that “a number of [the candidates] are connecting agriculture to other pressing issues—notably climate change, food insecurity, economic development, and more.”

Scientific American has a 3-part series on how Alaskans are adapting to the changing climate.  Mongabay reports that “As climate chaos escalates in Indian Country, feds abandon tribes”.  WaPo tells us that “The National Archives’ floating flood wall helped dodge disaster from epic rainfall” during Washington D.C.’s recent flash flooding.


Renewable Energy

The Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph offers details on open houses Dominion is scheduling about “a proposed Dominion Energy $2 billion hydroelectric pump storage facility in Tazewell County this week”.  Issues include the amount/availability of water needed for the reservoir.  Radio IQ/WVTF has a story about the potential of hydropower in VA.

The Herald Mail Media in Hagerstown MD reports on Martinsburg WV High School’s project to install “state-of-the-art geothermal technology aimed at substantially reducing heating and cooling costs”.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) provides a detailed analysis, “Utilities Bid to Own Rooftop Solar Even As They Oppose It”, pointing out that utility ownership is “Still Worse for Customers Than Self-Ownership”.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer reports that “A freeze on new wind turbines the Senate approved for wide swaths of the state is gone from a new proposal on regulating wind turbines.  House and Senate negotiators removed the moratorium the Senate approved in Senate bill 377 and added an addition to the state permitting process by requiring the state to ask for more information from military commanders.”

Reporting that the “Denton City Council rejects renewable energy bids, climate action item”, the Denton (TX) Record-Chronicle notes that the Council “rejected the latest contract offers from wind farms and solar energy storage projects that would have helped the city reach its goal to be powered by 100% renewable energy by next year.  Denton Municipal Electric staff recommended the move, saying that they would seek new bids for the projects. Coastal wind and solar energy storage are both key objectives in meeting the 100% goal.”  Nonetheless, Axios says the “Southern states lead 2019’s stock market solar rally”.  And PVTech says “US clean energy investors keenest on PV, storage in trillion dollar race”.  Solar Power World explains how “a coalition of local and national renewable energy advocates, including a diversity of community leaders and local businesses” in New Orleans “submitted a sweeping proposal aimed at transforming the current energy system in the city to 100% renewable energy by 2040.”  The group was apparently inspired by Hurricane Barry.

The Harrisonburg Citizen brings us an article about the failure of the Harrisonburg School Board and Secure Futures to reach agreement on installation of solar panels for Harrisonburg schools.  The article explains that the “school system’s leaders and the solar company couldn’t agree on the terms” for constructing “the largest solar array for a Virginia public school system.”  In contrast, Secure Futures has posted an article about its successful arrangement with Augusta County schools to install solar, crediting two county students for getting the ball rolling.  Recently, Fluvanna County schools and Charlottesville Day School decided to go solar.  The Fluvanna Review and the Augusta Free Press give us the stories.  The Augusta Free Press asks (and answers) “Why should schools teach climate education?”

Solar Industry points out that “USDA Funds Rural Solar Projects Across The Country”, to the tune of “58 grants for projects, including solar, in 17 states and Puerto Rico to reduce energy costs for farmers, ag producers, and rural-based businesses and institutions.”  The previous Roundup included a News Virginian article reporting on several Stuarts Draft and Lyndhurst landowners’ efforts to obtain approval for a solar farm on their properties from the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, who said no.  Now these folks have filed suit, according to the News Virginian.  On the other hand, the Chesterfield Observer reports that “Solar farm gets warm welcome in Chester”.

This small blurb in the Houston Chronicle says “Renewables surpassed coal for power production [in the U.S.] in April for first time”.

Fossil Fuels and Pipelines

This Reuters story says “Kinder Morgan Inc can begin work on a $2 billion natural gas pipeline without having the Texas energy regulator approve its proposed route, a state judge ruled on Tuesday [June 25].”  Writing in the New York Times (NYT), Brad Plumer addresses this question:  “America’s coal-burning power plants are shutting down at a rapid pace, forcing electric utilities to face the next big climate question: Embrace natural gas, or shift aggressively to renewable energy?”  The article notes:  “[I]n a recent analysis, David Pomerantz, the executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewables group, looked at the long-term plans of the 22 biggest investor-owned utilities. Some in the Midwest are planning to speed up the rate at which they cut emissions between now and 2030. But other large utilities, like Duke Energy and American Electric Power, expect to reduce their carbon emissions at a slower pace over the next decade than they had over the previous decade.”  Reuters informs us that Chubb will be the first U.S. insurer to “pull back” on “its coal investments and insurance policies, saying … it will no longer sell insurance to or invest in companies that make more than 30% of their revenue from coal mining”.

Ivy Main, writing in the Virginia Mercury, tells us that “Dominion’s carbon cutting plans aren’t good enough”.  She reports that:  “According to an analysis of Dominion’s own data by the Energy and Policy Institute, ‘the company reduced its carbon emissions at an average rate of 4% per year from 2005 to 2017, mostly by retiring coal plants in the later years of that period. That reduction rate plummets to 1% per year between now and 2030 under Dominion’s new goal.’”  The Institute comments, perhaps wryly, that “Dominion’s pitch to climate-conscious investors may have a problem.”  A previous Ivy post, about Virginia’s electric cooperatives–“Customer-owned utilities should be leaders on clean energy. Why do most of them fail to deliver?”–was the subject of a critique by a Bacon’s Rebellion blogger.  ABC13 News (WSET) has this piece about Dominion Energy’s plans to expand solar energy in Virginia.

From the Roanoke Times comes a story about a coal train derailment in the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge, resulting in a massive coal spill.  The Virginian-Pilot also covers this storyAccording to the Associated Press, “Cleanup of spilled coal in Great Dismal Swamp to take weeks”.

In a guest column for the Virginia Mercury, Wild Virginia’s David Sligh declares that Virginia’s “Water board should support call for federal action to halt pipeline damage”.  An environmental hydrologist, writing in the Virginia Mercury, says “MVP’s [Mountain Valley Pipeline’s] violations show ‘complete absence of any and all meaningful regulation’”.  The Roanoke Times reports that “Construction materials for [the same] pipeline washed into Smith Mountain Lake”.  From Marcellus Drilling News comes a story about VA Legislators asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  Sierra Club also writes about the legislators’ actions from an arguably different perspective.  And, in the Virginia Mercury, Elizabeth McGowan says “Solar program attempts to bridge rifts left by compressor station fight in Union Hill”.  The story is about the community’s efforts to educate itself about solar energy and its economic possibilities, following a divisive response to Dominion’s proposal to place a compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in its midst. Energy News Network also reports this story.  The Roanoke Times reports that “[a group of Southwest VA] landowners ask U.S. Supreme Court to bar taking their property for pipeline” and that “[a] decision on whether the high court will consider the appeal is expected in the fall.”

Illustrating the hardships many Appalachian communities face as coal production continues to decline, a recent Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) study shows “while Appalachia is seeing some economic improvement, the heart of the region and its coal-producing communities are still struggling.” The ARC report includes a map of counties’ economic situations ranging from “distressed” to “attainment”. (Ohio Valley Resource story).

U.S. News has an Associated Press story about a Union of Concerned Scientists report that a Kansas utility essentially runs its coal plants year-round, “costing [its] customers $20 million a year in added fuel costs”.

The Progressive Pulse reports that “After DEQ denies WesternGeco’s request to conduct offshore seismic testing, company appeals to feds”.