Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/10/2019

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

Politics and Policy

Previous Roundups have noted both California’s requirements for vehicles and the Trump Administration’s plan to weaken standards.  From the Washington Post Climate and Environment (WaPo/C&E) comes this item titled “Major automakers strike climate deal with California, rebuffing Trump on proposed mileage freeze”.

Prior Roundups have also provided stories about actions by various federal agencies that can be perceived as contrary either to their missions or anti-environment or both.  WaPo/C&E has a story about how “Government watchdogs, environmental groups and even some top Republicans in Congress are starting to more closely examine the ways in which President Trump’s environmental deputies have attempted to control the release of public records. The recent scrutiny is focused on how two major environmental departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, decided to follow the Freedom of Information Act, which grants members of the public the right to access records from any federal agency.” Fox13 WHBQ has a story that “An ardent critic of the federal government who has argued for selling off almost all public lands has been named the Trump administration’s top steward over nearly a quarter-billion federally controlled acres, raising new questions about the administration’s intentions for vast Western ranges and other lands roamed by hunters, hikers and wildlife.”  WaPo/C&E also covers this story, saying “Trump’s pick for managing federal lands doesn’t believe the government should have any”.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a settlement reached in a lawsuit that challenged delays by the Interior Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in conducting analyses of impacts “of oil and gas development on federally protected species and critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico”.  After cutting the size of Bears Ears National Monument in half, the Trump Administration “Officials say a new plan will protect Bears Ears. Others call it ‘salt in an open wound’”, WaPo/C&E reports.  A former intelligence analyst who resigned his post says “the Trump administration halted his report on global heating” (The Guardian).

The Augusta Free Press reports that members of Our Transportation Future “joined 300 state lawmakers, business leaders, transportation experts, and public figures in Baltimore [July 30]  at a regional public workshop on developing low-carbon investment strategies and priorities for the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a regional partnership for clean transportation in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.”

From CRES Forum comes a press release announcing results of a national survey showing that “Millennial GOP Voters Call on Republicans to Do More to Address Climate Change; Encourage Acceleration of Clean Energy Production in U.S.” The survey was a joint effort by “Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum and the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).”  The Washington Examiner reports that “Republican climate hawk Francis Rooney [will] introduce carbon tax bill that cuts payroll taxes…. Rooney represents a southwest Florida district exposed to sea level rise, and is one of only two congressional Republicans who publicly support a carbon tax to fight climate change.”  On this subject, The Hill notes “Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress”, observing “[m]embers of Congress on both sides of the aisle are introducing competing bills that aim to put a tax on carbon.  The push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions come[s] as both [parties]s face pressure from their constituents, and in some cases the fossil fuel industry itself, to regulate carbon emissions that lead to climate change.”  The Charleston (South Carolina) City Paper has an opinion piece by Rouzy Vafaie, of RepublicEn, noting that Senator Lindsay “Graham [is] one of the few Republicans discussing climate change” and thanking U. S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for waking up some Republican leaders.  NYT/Climate weighs in with “In a Switch, Some Republicans Start Citing Climate Change as Driving Their Policies”.  And Yale’s Climate Connections offers:  “Conservative nonprofit leader [of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship] David Jenkins says climate change should be [a] priority for the right”.


Joel Dunn, CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, writes in the Bay Journal that “government leaders and Wall Street must heed the call to “fund the restoration of the Chesapeake and conservation for the planet by increasing public funding and attracting sources of private capital investment. The future of our Chesapeake Bay, and indeed our planet, depends on it.”

Writing in The Guardian, Megan Mayhew Bergman describes “What I learned writing about climate change and the US south for a year”. WaPo Capital Weather Gang advises:  “Buckle up: Climate change is already contributing to bumpier trans-Atlantic flights, study finds”.  Greentech Media brings this shout out for installing solar by someone who works for the solar industry.


What’s Happening?

We know that our rising greenhouse gas emissions have grave implications for us all.  Grist offers this story about one danger we may not have thought about:  “Rising emissions are robbing us of nutrients”.  Grist also offers this advice:  “Stopping climate change isn’t enough — we need to reverse it.”  The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has this thoughtful piece:  “Climate Change and Agriculture: A Perfect Storm in Farm Country”.  UCS also offers ta stark picture of what excessive heat will mean in the U.S.

WBUR Public Radio brings the story about “What The Melting Of Greenland’s Ice Sheet Means For Sea Levels”.  WaPo’s Capital Weather Gang notes that “[t]he Greenland ice sheet is in the throes of one of its greatest melting events ever recorded”.  Grist provides some “crazy visuals coming out of Greenland’s heat wave”.  And The Guardian describes “ecological grief” among Greenlanders.

The Guardian’s Jonathan West writes about “[t]hree studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience” that conclude:  “’No doubt left’ about scientific consensus on global warming…” and “Extensive historical data shows recent extreme warming is unprecedented in past 2,000 years”.  Mr. West includes references to other studies in his article.  The Guardian also has a story about a leaked IPCC report that concludes: “We must change food production to save the world, says leaked report.  Cutting carbon from transport and energy ‘not enough’”.  NYT/Climate covers this story as well.

Like to eat blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay?  Here’s a good-news/bad-news story from WaPo’s C&E.  Its title suggests you might not want to wait too long to try some:  “Climate change will spark a baby boom of blue crabs. Then predators will relocate from the south and eat them.”  The Wall Street Journal provides information about scientists’ efforts to find the “Best Way to Restore Oysters in Chesapeake Bay”.  Sierra Club presents this disturbing article about the adaptability of birds to climate change:  “Birds Are Adapting to Climate Change, But Maybe Not Fast Enough”.

The Oregonian warns:  “Global warming brings increasing wildfire risk to rainy parts of the Pacific Northwest”.  Grist reports that “Arctic wildfires are releasing as much carbon as Belgium did last year”.

WaPo’s Capital Weather Gang points out that this summer’s “European heat wave bears the fingerprint of climate change”.  Really?

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

Previous Roundups have presented stories about trees and the roles they play in combatting the climate crisis.  Here are a few more.  Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has some thoughts on what “we can do” about climate change in this piece.  In brief, “Plant a tree, hug a bee”. The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune argues that “the real challenge of the climate crisis isn’t a lack of solutions. Whether it’s 1 trillion trees or 100% clean, renewable energy, the solutions are right in front of us”. He supports the Trillion Tree Campaign, while acknowledging that “reforestation alone won’t be enough to solve the climate crisis”.  Ethiopia has launched a “National ‘green legacy’ initiative [that] aims to reduce environmental degradation” and “[a]bout 350m trees have been planted in a single day” Guardian (article).  WaPo/Local reports that “Virginia’s destroyed ‘Founding Forest’ may be bouncing back”.  The story is about “a nature preserve [near Waverly, Virginia] brimming with young longleaf pine — a peculiar tree with long green needles and a taste for fire.”

Iceland is mourning the loss of one of its iconic glaciers, the Okjokull, with a monument describing how and why.  According to this WaPo/C&E story, the cause is “human-caused climate change” and the message to the reader “is hopeful, acknowledging ‘what is happening and what needs to be done.’”

NYT/Climate reports that “Moody’s Buys Climate Data Firm, Signaling New Scrutiny of Climate Risks”.  “We are taking these risks very seriously,” said Moody’s Investors Service’s spokesperson.  NYT/Climate also reports, on the other hand, that “Homes Are Being Built the Fastest in Many Flood-Prone Areas, Study Finds”.  Forbes asks and answers the question “Is There A Windfall In Climate Change For PE [Private Equity]?” noting that “approximately 200 of the world’s largest companies collectively peg their climate change exposure at nearly $1 trillion.”  The article goes on:  “Manufacturers around the globe cite changing weather patterns and rising seas and rivers as increasingly disruptive to their supply chain. Within the U.S. utility industry, executives name climate change as one reason behind increasingly fierce wildfires, which have destroyed transmission and distribution infrastructure. While all of this may portend darkening financial skies, some see a different forecast developing. One where there are not only ideas but also action and financial opportunities. Some experts even see tailwinds for investors.”


Renewable Energy

Texas continues to look to renewable energy, even while it’s continuing its long relationship with fossil fuels.  USA Today reports:  “Not blowing smoke: Wind has overtaken ‘risky’ coal for energy use in Texas for the first time.”  According to the Houston Chronicle, “Rooftop solar company sees brighter days in Texas”.  Why?  In part because:  “Texans — and Houstonians in particular — are becoming increasingly concerned about the reliability of electricity after several recent hurricanes and bad storms knocked out power for days. Grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses have installed backup generators so they don’t lose refrigerated and frozen food and can keep operations … going. Homeowners have been taking a clue by installing generators in their backyards….  Sunrun, a San Francisco-based company …[in] the U.S. residential solar market, is betting that controlling power with rooftop panels and a battery in the garage will be just the thing to make Texans take a second look at solar.”

Some good news in Virginia:  WVTF Public Radio says “A group of Communities in southwestern Virginia created a plan a couple of years ago to bring more solar energy to the region. And it appears to be working.”  WVTF has a 2nd, related story.  Appalachian Voices also reports this story, as does Kingsport Tennessee’s Times News.   More good news:  The heads of Appalachian Voices and Freedom Works penned a joint op-ed titled “A coalition in Virginia is transcending polarization to take on entrenched special interests” [WaPo].  Bacon’s Rebellion blogger Steve Haner discusses the fact that “No Appeal [Was] Filed on RGGI Regulation, Now In Force”.  Noting that the regulation is now fully in force, Mr. Haner adds that “Language inserted by General Assembly Republicans into the current state budget merely puts RGGI membership and its related carbon tax on hold.  It did not overturn the regulation, which went into effect June 26. The outcome of the November election will likely determine whether that roadblock remains in place beyond next summer, when the current budget provisions expire.”  Writing in the Virginia Mercury, Sarah Voglesong reports that, “Despite legislative blocks, one form of carbon cap-and-trade is alive and well in Virginia.”  Her story is about “The Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley Program in Abingdon, which oversees six forest carbon projects covering almost 145,000 acres in Virginia”.  Paragraphs 2 and 3 of this Bacon’s Rebellion blogpost suggest this project really isn’t such good news.

In WV, a professor has developed a prototype method for an environmentally and ecologically valuable use–growing a grass, giant miscanthus, on old surface coal mines.  Growing this grass in poor quality soil doesn’t require fertilizer and the grass can be harvested to produce biomass that “can be turned into value-added products like heating pellets, biofuels like ethanol, and more”.  Ohio Valley Resource has the story.  The Charlotte Observer tells us that “As electric vehicles go mainstream, companies spar over who will charge them up in NC”.

There is great interest in using batteries that store electricity generated by solar and wind to facilitate management of the electric grid as more renewable energy sources come online.  Reuters has this story about PJM Interconnection, the grid manager “whose territory spans from Illinois to New Jersey [including Virginia] [and which] is preparing to open its long-range capacity market to energy storage projects….  Under the rules, though, PJM would only recognize the full value of batteries that can supply continuous power for 10 or more hours. That’s drawn criticism from clean energy and storage industry groups who say the 10-hour threshold is ‘unworkable, arbitrary and discriminatory’ against the industry.”  A somewhat related story comes from PV Magazine.  It’s about “A research paper, The role of energy storage in deep decarbonization of electricity production, by University of Michigan scientists”, which looked at whether and how storage can enable carbon emission reduction.

S & P Global says that “Solar [is] rising in the southeastern US”, noting “After climbing 15% in 2018, utility-scale solar capacity in the southeastern US is expected to surge another 25% this year, but the geographic concentration of such growth is driven more by policy than by the quality of the sunshine”.  Greentech Media reports that “Solar ITC Extension Bills [Have Been] Introduced in House and Senate [but that] [d]espite solar energy’s broad popularity, a proposed five-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit faces a slippery climb as the 2020 election gears up.”  Meanwhile, in California, “Low on water, California farmers turn to solar farming” [Grist].

This Guardian article tells us that “Low-carbon energy makes majority of UK electricity for first time” and “Rapid rise in renewables combined with nuclear generated 53% in 2018”.

One might think that the term “renewable natural gas” is an oxymoron or a typo, but one might be wrong.  From Yale Environment 360 comes a story that asks, and answers, this question:  “Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?” It’s about “small-scale biogas systems [that] have collected methane from landfills, sewage plants, and farms” and that might be scaled up “as businesses capture large amounts of methane from manure, food waste, and other sources.”

Greentech Media says that, while “[t]here’s never a good time for import tariffs when it comes to keeping costs down for renewables projects”, the negative effect on wind power development will be significant and “the timing of newly proposed tariffs on imported turbine towers could not be much worse.”  The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that “[w]ind farms could one day power New Orleans, but high cost, other issues [are] cause for concern”.

Fossil Fuels, Utilities, and Pipelines

There have been numerous articles about Dominion Energy.  This one, from Greentech Media, says “The Battle for Virginia’s Corporate Renewables Market Heats Up”.  Ivy Main, writing in the Virginia Mercury, makes a case that “Fairfax County plans a historic solar buy—if Dominion Energy doesn’t stand in the way”.  At issue is a cap on the amount of kWs that can be installed under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between the installer and the county.  Ivy gives the details.  Dominion has submitted plans for a pilot battery storage project, according to this Associated Press item.  This Bacon’s Rebellion blogpost offers opinions on the viability of Dominion’s Energy Efficiency programs.

Fox13 WTVT has a story about a recent decision in Florida on a proposed power plant project.  “Over the objections of environmentalists pushing for alternative energy sources, Gov. Ron DeSantis and two Cabinet members on Thursday approved a Tampa Electric Co. power-plant project in Hillsborough County.  With little comment, DeSantis and the Cabinet … voted 3-1 to approve the project, which involves upgrading a generating unit at the utility’s Big Bend Power Station. The unit will burn natural gas.”

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) summarizes its investigation of “electric utility forecasts from seven of the largest ten U.S. electric utilities in the past decade”. ISLR concludes that “the average forecast overestimated demand by 17% over three years. Over longer time periods, the forecasts were even less accurate. The errors, all overestimating use, reinforce an environment in which utility companies––with no market competition––can win permission from public regulators to build unnecessary power plants. The costs can be passed to consumers while the rewards accrue to the utility’s shareholders.”  Virginia residents:  Does this ring a bell?

Grist says that “Natural gas leaks are a much bigger problem than we thought”, based on a recent study reported in Geophysical Research Letters.  Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, Forbes reports that “Hurricane Barry Knocked 700,000 Barrels Of Oil Per Day Offline And Hardly Anyone Noticed”.  Contrasting the production losses to those from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the reporter explains:  “The difference between the impacts of the two hurricane events spaced 14 years apart is fully attributable to the revolution in shale oil production that has taken place during those intervening years.”  The result is that the industry overall was able to recover faster from taking Gulf production offline in 2019 because U.S. shale oil production has risen considerably during the 14 years and the drop, as a percent of usual production, was much lower.

In Louisiana, ‘the president of Louisiana Oil and Gas Association has said Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push for parish coastal erosion lawsuits against companies in the gas and oil industries has hurt the state’s economy.” [Article in The Louisianan].

The Virginia Mercury reports that “Another permit [has been] overturned for beleaguered Atlantic Coast pipeline” and that “the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit for the second time overturned a key project permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year. The court ruling declared that the agency had been ‘arbitrary and capricious’ in assessing the impacts of the pipeline on four endangered species.”  West Virginia Public Broadcasting has a related story.  The Augusta Free Press provides a statement by Kendyl Crawford, director of Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, about the court’s decision.  Metro News in Charleston West Virginia says “West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and 15 other state leaders are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a[nother] ruling that stopped construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline [because the proposed path would cross the Appalachian Trail].”  The Augusta Free Press reports that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “issued a stop work instruction to Mountain Valley Pipeline. The instruction is based on issues identified during DEQ inspections that cite insufficient erosion and sediment controls on approximately a two-mile section of the project”.  In an editorial, The (Lynchburg Virginia) News & Advance asks “Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Is It Still a Viable Project?”