Climate and Energy News Roundup 7/25/2019

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

Politics and Policy

In a letter to the editor of the Virginian-Pilot, Steve Padgett of Norfolk acknowledged the pro‑environmental votes of Delegate Jay Jones who received a 100% score from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters in their 2019 Legislative Scorecard.  You can find your representatives’ scores on page 24.  For example, my State Senator Emmett Hanger received 54% and my (retiring) Delegate Steve Landes, 44% (page 22).  State Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Tony Wilt each earned 43%.

The Hill, among numerous other outlets, reports on the EPA’s decision to allow greater use of a pesticide, sulfoxaflor, which it considers “very highly toxic to bees”. The Guardian says the EPA has declined to ban chlorpyrifos, a “toxic pesticide linked to brain damage in children, dismissing a growing body of research on the health hazards of a widely used agricultural chemical.”  The EPA rejection of the ban follows a petition from environmental and health groups.

The EPA has announced its new “no surprises” inspections policy, according to the Washington Post’s (WaPo) Energy 202.  The agency “will no longer have inspectors drop by power plants and other potential illegal polluters without giving states notice, a move Trump administration critics say will limit the agency’s ability to enforce environmental laws.”  Another agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) wants to save money by “reducing the number of inspections it performs for nearly 100 reactors at dozens of nuclear power plants across the United States.” (UPI story)  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has appointed a lawyer and commentator to its second highest management position; according to Media Matters, the appointee has a public record of criticizing climate science.  Two former BLM chiefs “[s]ay Interior Is Moving to Transfer Land to States”, as explained in this Bloomberg Environment article.  They believe the move is “an early step toward abolishing the entire agency and transferring millions of acres of federal land to the states.”  The Department of Energy is seeking input on ways to bolster the U.S. electricity grid in the face of severe weather events, as noted in this E&E News story.  “One [request for information] is seeking ‘cost effective ways’ for strengthening the electric grid in the face of extreme weather events like ‘windstorms, floods and wildfires.’ The other made a similar request of the oil and gas industry. It’s also asking for ways to improve cybersecurity.  Climate change is not mentioned in either request.”  E & E News also summarizes its interview with the [Department of Interior] “assistant secretary for land and minerals management” who says “he sees drilling and blasting in very clear terms: a force for good” and believes “Trump’s public lands agenda and the president’s efforts to roll back regulations, break norms and advocate for energy industries [is] a path that he … is fully behind”.  Politico reports that “The Agriculture Department quashed the release of a sweeping plan on how to respond to climate change that was finalized in the early days of the Trump administration, according to a USDA employee with knowledge of the decision.”  This Vice piece is about a recent report that “Under Trump, 26% of Climate Change References Have Vanished From .Gov Sites”.

Previous Roundups have included many stories about how Alaska is faring in the face of the changing climate.  Alaska Public Media asks “Could climate change research in Alaska be put on ice?”

According to the Augusta Free Press, 2020 Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders has harshly criticized Mr. Trump for his “ignorance of the climate change emergency” because of the threats to humans from, for example, the recent heatwaves.  Bacon’s Rebellion blogger Steve Haney reports on what he describes as the “Sense and Nonsense on Climate Armageddon”.  He takes issue with some of the reactions to a guest column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by a retired University of Richmond professor making a case that “Climate change is normal and global”.  Inside Climate News presents its take on several 2020 candidates’ proposals about farming and climate change.  It’s titled “These Candidates See Farming as a Climate Solution. Here’s What They’re Proposing.”  According to this story in The Hill, there is a new Democratic proposal for addressing the climate crisis that rivals the Green New Deal, with a goal of “achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Potpourri

From the Guardian comes a story about how artists from multiple genres are working toward “making an issue that sometimes seems abstract instead feel emotional and urgent”.

Did you know that in 1856 a woman said that excess carbon in the atmosphere could affect the Earth’s temperature?  This Time article’s title says “Her Story Is a Reminder to Champion All Women Leading on Climate”.

AZCentral reports that “Doctors for Disaster Preparedness is presenting Trump with what it calls the Edward Teller Award for the Defense of Freedom, which, according to the Tucson-based group, recognizes ‘extensive, selfless and effective work in defense of our nation.'”  The group’s president, Jane Orient, “believe[s] climate change is putting millions of lives in danger, but only because unwarranted fear about its effects is driving investment in solar and wind energy instead of fossil fuels.”  In contrast, NPR asks “Has Your Doctor Talked To You About Climate Change?”

In this WaPo Style story, Katherine Hayhoe, renowned climate scientist and self-described evangelical Christian, is interviewed about how her beliefs and her science intersect.  “’We all care about our families,’ Hayhoe [said]. ‘We care about our communities. We care about people who are suffering today — poverty, hunger and more. And those are the exact values we need to care about a changing climate.’”

From RepublicEn.org, we have a video in which former Representative Bob Inglis, in 90 seconds, “explains his journey from climate skeptic to climate realist”.

This Oxy story predicts “Tomorrow’s Doctors Will Diagnose the Mental Toll of Climate Change”.

Climate

What’s Happening?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that, unsurprisingly, “June 2019 was hottest on record for the globe”.  Its website shows a graph of “Selected Significant Climate Anomalies and Events” for the month. The Guardian forecasts that “July [is] on course to be hottest month ever, say climate scientists”.  The VA Department of Health warns that “Since the end of flu season in May, [it] has received increased reports of respiratory (breathing) illness across the Commonwealth greater than observed in previous summers.” (Augusta Free Press item and Virginia Mercury report).  The piece notes that “Extreme heat, like Virginia is currently experiencing, can also be dangerous for older adults and people with heart and lung diseases.”  NPR asks “Can The Current U.S. Heat Wave Be Linked To Climate Change?”  The answer?  “Sort of”.  WaPo’s Weather Gang reports that “The Potomac River set a record high temperature of 94 degrees in recent heat wave”.

Wired has a story about the uncertainty of climate change.  A recent report in the journal Nature says “researchers are proposing a new framework [for climate modeling] that aims to bring clarity to this kind of work, first by reconciling differences in carbon budgets and second by reducing uncertainty going forward. That’s critical, because climate policy hinges on the budget, and it’s climate policy that’ll help us stave off global disaster.”

The (Toronto) Star presents “10 takeaways from the Star’s Undeniable climate change series”.  The series focused on Canada but the list could be about many, if not most, other countries.  One takeaway:  “Balancing business interests with climate change mitigation will be a challenge.”  Another is “The way we farm and fish is changing.”  Environmental Health News reports “Nutrient runoff starves corals in the Florida Keys”.  The research that delivered this conclusion indicated reef destruction isn’t just because of “rising ocean temperatures”.  One hope is that Florida’s experience can be forestalled with better nutrient management.  Did someone say “Chesapeake Bay”?

The small town of Fair Bluff, North Carolina has been flooded badly twice in 2018.  It’s not on the coast, but Hurricanes Matthew and Florence managed to devastate it all the same.  “Now, as the 2019 hurricane season begins, few communities have more to lose than this one. If another arrives this year, Fair Bluff could become one of the US’s first climate crisis ghost towns.” (Guardian story)

USA Today describes a report that “Thanks to climate change, parts of the Arctic are on fire. Scientists are concerned”.

Yale Climate Connections offers a detailed discussion of the national security implications of the climate crisis.

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

The Apollo 11 50th anniversary served as the backdrop for a call by USA Today’s Editorial Board for NASA to put its considerable talents to work tackling climate change.  Writing this opinion piece in WaPo, a former deputy NASA administrator echoes this view.  The New York Times Climate Section asks “We Went to the Moon. Why Can’t We Solve Climate Change?”  Saying “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the planet”, National Geographic explains “How artificial intelligence can tackle [it]”.

The Guardian brings us a piece about one way to use trees to combat climate change by using them to shade pigs—“the radical farming system banking on trees”.  Texas is teaming up with the Netherlands to reduce its risks from sea level rise, according to The Texas Tribune, which asks “Can the ‘masters of the flood’ help Texas protect its coast from hurricanes?

From the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) comes the story of Highland Park Michigan, where a group of residents decided to “fight back” when the town’s utility, DTE, shut off streetlights because of non-payment of bills.  The citizens banded together, established Souladarity, and “organized to light the streets themselves using off-grid, renewable energy”.  Fast Company brings the story of North Miami’s transforming a repeatedly flooded property into a public park to help prevent neighborhood flooding. Following a question from a reader, Ensia details “efforts to build more resilient communities [that] go beyond infrastructure—an exploration at what helps us thrive in the face of floods, droughts, fires and other disruptions and disasters.”  NPR has this story of one man’s “Mission To Bring Solar Energy To Communities Of Color”.

We all remember the terrible fate of Paradise, California, ravaged and just about obliterated by wildfires.  WaPo brings us an update on how its former residents have fared since forced to abandon their homes.

Energy

Renewable Energy

Solar Power World tells us that “Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, EDF Renewables partner on 30‑MW solar portfolio”.  TV3, WHSV, reports that “Monday [July 22] the Augusta County Board of Supervisors discussed solar once again. This time they talked about how it could be included into the county comprehensive plan.  Right now, the county’s comprehensive plan does not address solar. In May, the county’s board of supervisors voted not to approve a special use permit for a solar facility. At the time, they said it did not fit into the comprehensive plan.”  The Atlanta Journal Constitution says “Georgia[‘s five Public Service] commissioners, all Republicans, increase solar power, cut coal”.  They “directed Georgia Power to make its biggest increase ever in renewables, nearly doubling the solar capacity of the state’s largest utility.”  Not to be outdone, South Carolina has passed a Solar Freedom Act “commands the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to give ratepayers more choice in their consumption and solar developers more leverage in a regulated monopoly. In that way, the law loosens the belt on a solar market restricted by arbitrary policies and dominated by two of the country’s biggest investor-owned utilities (IOUs).”  As Solar Industry Magazine reports, “In addition to making more room for solar today, the law all but guarantees energy freedom is a part of the state’s future. Utilities must plan and prepare for the introduction of more distributed energy resources (DERs) and additional solar capacity within their integrated resource plans (IRPs). In short, the Energy Freedom Act is a complete overhaul for solar in South Carolina.”  Catholic Energies, working with Catholic Charities, has a project underway in D.C. to install 5,000 solar panels in a now empty field, enough to power 12 of the latter organization’s D.C. properties, according to WaPo.  This is a 2nd project in the region for Catholic Energies, which “negotiates a deal between its client — typically a Catholic church or high school — and an investor, most often a renewable-energy company. The investor agrees to pay a third-party contractor to install a solar system in return for a 30 percent federal tax credit, as well as financial incentives that vary by state.”  Catholic Charities will save considerable money but its spokesperson cites Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” as its inspiration.

The Fredericksburg Free Lance‑Star asks “Does Dominion see future blowin’ in the wind?”  The story is about Dominion’s “$300 million wind power experiment involving the construction of two wind turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.”  A Bacon’s Rebellion blogger offers his views on “Reliability, Clean Energy, and an Aging Grid”.

CNN Business says “The electric car revolution is coming. This is what has to happen first”.

Fossil Fuels and Pipelines

Virginia has joined North Carolina and the federal government to sue Duke Energy over the 2014 Dan River coal ash spill, per this Associated Press (AP) item.  A subsequent story from the NC Policy Watch reports that “Five years after Dan River coal ash spill, Duke Energy settlement would add land to Mayo State Park”.  The settlement “between Duke Energy and state and federal officials over the 2014 Dan River spill would impose no significant financial penalties”.  The AP reports that “The federal government will offer 77.8 million acres (31.5 million hectares) in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration and development on Aug. 21.”

 The Virginia Mercury says “Coal-dependent counties [are] facing ‘fiscal tsunami,’ report finds”.  High Country News reminds us that the coal industry’s woes aren’t happening only east of the Mississippi:  “With coal in free-fall, Wyoming faces an uncertain future”.  S & P Global reports that “AEP [American Electric Power Co. Inc.] sets retirement date for massive Rockport coal unit in Indiana”.  The article says the planned shutdown is the result of a Sierra Club campaign and the plant is “the largest to announce retirement since the Sierra Club began its crusade to shut down existing plants in 2010.”  Inside Climate News reports that “Ohio Governor Signs Nuclear and Coal Bailout at Expense of Renewable Energy”.

The Army Corps of Engineers is facing the unusual assignment of assessing the environmental impact of new power lines that Dominion Energy has already installed (Virginia Mercury article).  Normally the Corps performs this review prior to installation and it did so in this instance.  Dominion installed the power lines across the James River along the Surry-Skiffes Creek line, after which the D.C. Appeals Court declared the Corps’ finding of “no significant impact” was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be conducted.  At issue in part is whether and how the fact that the lines are operational should affect the assessment.

Axios talks about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), saying “Regulatory decisions about America’s bounty of natural gas are in the hands of an obscure and understaffed federal agency with a limited mandate to think about climate change.”

Ivy Main, writing in the Virginia Mercury, reports that “[a]n annual survey conducted by Yale and George Mason universities shows concern about climate change is surging” and that another Yale report “found a large majority of registered voters (85%) – including 95% of Democrats and 71% of Republicans – support requiring utilities in their state to produce 100% of their electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2050. Nearly two in three conservative Republicans (64%) support this policy.” The Mercury article also points out (from a prior Ivy Main guest submission) that “Dominion Energy expects to reduce carbon emissions less in the future than in the past, and it has no plan to produce 100% of its electricity from clean, renewable sources by 2050. For all the talk here of solar, Virginia still had one-seventh the amount of solar installed as North Carolina at the end of 2018 and no wind energy.”  A major point is that, based on two new applications to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) for supposedly “environmentally friendly” tariffs tied to “renewable energy”, Dominion will actually allocate proceeds from these special rates “to the program the portion of electricity from its Virginia City coal plant representing the percentage of wood that is burned along with the coal.”  This is because Virginia’s legal definition of “renewable energy” includes “decades-old facilities like hydroelectric dams [and] energy from trees that have been clear-cut [aka bio-mass].”

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