Climate and Energy News Roundup 8/25/2019

Joy Loving is the author of the summer 2019 occasional Roundups, of which this is the seventh and the last.  Les Grady will be returning from his summer hiatus in September. 

Politics and Policy

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the “US government weakens application of Endangered Species Act”.  “EPA Plans to Rewrite Clean Water Act Rules to Fast-Track Pipelines”, according to this Inside Climate News item.  The Augusta Free Press has the story from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s perspective.  The New York Times/Climate (NYT/Climate) said that, by changing the way the Act is applied, the plan “significantly weaken[s] the nation’s bedrock conservation law… making it harder to protect wildlife from the multiple threats posed by climate change.”  And the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC) is also unhappy about what they say is a gutting of the Endangered Species Act.

NYT/Climate notes that “Trump’s Rollback of Auto Pollution Rules Shows Signs of Disarray”.  “The White House, blindsided by a pact between California and four automakers to oppose President Trump’s auto emissions rollbacks, has mounted an effort to prevent any more companies from joining the other side.”  Bloomberg’s editors have produced a podcast and an opinion piece about recent Republican actions to address the climate crisis.

Virginia “Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler … released the final report to Gov. Ralph Northam on recommended actions for enhancing protection of air, water, and public health in Virginia…. Key recommendations include improving water supply and air quality monitoring, measures to hold polluters accountable, and a focus on environmental justice and public engagement. The full report and recommendations [are] available here. ” [AFP item].  The Virginia Mercury’s story called the report a blueprint to modernize the agency and noted: “Even as the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s scope of work has broadened to include such critical concerns as climate change and environmental justice, the agency has seen its funding cut and its programs hamstrung by outdated state regulations”.

NYT/Climate reports that “A coalition of 29 states and cities … sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants, setting up a case that could determine how much leverage the federal government has to fight climate change in the future.”  Virginia is one of the states.  The Virginia Mercury also has this storyCitizens Climate Lobby (CCL) asks and answers “How Do GHG Emissions Compare Under New Carbon Tax Bills?”  The Energy News Network advises that “Virginia looks to New York green bank for possible clean energy financing”, reporting that “Virginia’s energy office is exploring whether to align the state with a billion-dollar New York clean energy financing program.”

UPI says “Bernie Sanders unveils $16.3 trillion climate change plan”.  Inside Climate News also covers the story.  WaPo’s editors are not impressed.   U.S. News reports that “A DNC [Democratic National Committee] panel on Thursday [August 22] voted down a resolution calling for a presidential primary debate focused on climate change”.  Fox News says “Protests erupt after DNC puts kibosh on climate change-focused debate”. 

Potpourri

  • AFP—Personal story about honeybees.
  • WaPo’s Joel AchenbachScience Trip (audio and great imagery included) to Fly Geyser, Ether Dome, Atchafalaya Swamp, Green Bank Observatory, Earthquake Trail, Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, Scopes Monkey Trial, Cinder Lake, Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, Cahokia Mounds, Delmarva’s Wintering Birds, Humongous Fungus.
  • Another WaPo picture story about Greenland, a large island and autonomous Denmark territory that straddles the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans (includes climate change repercussions). 
  • The Denver Post has this AP story: “Earth’s future is being written in fast-melting Greenland.  Experts say that by the year 2100, melting from Greenland alone could cause 3 or 4 feet of sea level rise”. Apparently, Mr. Trump is interested in the U.S. owning it, according to this item from the BBCWaPo’s Capital Weather Gang (CWG) says that “The U.S. is already transforming Greenland, and it’s imperiling Americans here at home”.
  • From the New York Times (NYT) comes an interactive story about how Phoenix residents try to beat the heat:  “As Phoenix Heats Up, the Night Comes Alive; That will be true for many more cities as the world gets hotter.”
  • The Guardian runs this opinion piece arguing that “The Lion King missed an opportunity to talk about the climate crisis”.  Kate Cohen (writing in WaPo) offers her opinion that “Most of us are hypocrites on climate change. Maybe that’s progress.”

Climate

What’s Happening?

WaPo, in its article titled “2°C: Beyond the limit”, says “Extreme climate change has arrived in America”.  Noting that “global warming does not heat the world evenly”, the report continues:  “A Washington Post analysis of more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the Lower 48 states and 3,107 counties has found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.  — Today, more than 1 in 10 Americans — 34 million people — are living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles. Seventy-one counties have already hit the 2-degree Celsius mark.”  WaPo’s Climate and Environment section provides” five take-aways” from its “analysis of warming climate in the United States”.

WaPo’s CWG warns “Amazon fires could accelerate global warming and cause lasting harm to a cradle of biodiversity”.  Inside Climate News has a story about the European Union’s reaction to the Amazon fires:  “Amazon Fires Spark Growing International Criticism of Brazil”.  At issue is a proposed EU trade deal with Brazil.  Also, several members of the G7 want urgent action because, as French President put it, “Our home is on fire. Literally” ….  The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 percent of our oxygen, is ablaze. It’s an international crisis.”  NBC News reports: “Record fires sweeping across the Amazon this month are bringing renewed scrutiny to Brazil’s deforestation policy and have environmental researchers and conservationists worried that the blazes will only aggravate the climate change crisis.”  This AP item says the G7 leaders have offered assistance to Brazil.

The Guardian has the story of “How US cities are scrambling to protect people from extreme heat”.  NPR explains “Why Sea Level Rise Varies Across The World”.  NPR also asks and answers “How Much Hotter Are The Oceans? The Answer Begins With A Bucket”.

We’ve heard about threats that the climate crisis pose for water.  The Virginia Mercury highlights the difficulty of one Virginia county struggling to meet its residents’ expectations in the face of reductions in its water access (from an aquifer) imposed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.  Writing in NYT/Climate, Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai make a case that “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises” [interactive].  In another piece, Ms. Sengupta explains her view that “Earth’s Food Supply Is Under Threat. These Fixes Would Go a Long Way.” 

WaPo’s CWG says “Increasing humidity, driven in part by climate change, is making even modest heat waves unbearable”.  The same folks report what we likely already know or could guess:  “July was Earth’s hottest month since records began, with the globe missing 1 million square miles of sea ice”.  The AP reports that “Blooms, beasts affected as Alaska records hottest month”.  Grist says “The climate change ‘tipping point’ has already arrived for these 70 U.S. counties”.  There’s a graph that shows cities and their level of “readiness”.  The good news is Virginia doesn’t have any on the list.  The USDA tells us “Above-normal activity predicted for hurricane season … [and] If you live or farm along the East Coast, the chances for a tropical storm or hurricane just increased….” [AFP article]

In a detailed article in Science, the authors make “The case for strategic and managed climate retreat”.  They do so because, “Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm’s way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat.”

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

This Grist article profiles “An evangelical leader calls young Christians to save the planet”.  Writing in WaPo Outlook, Jamil Zaki helps us understand “Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants.”  Newsweek writes about a “Fox News Host [who] Expresses Frustration That Young Americans Believe in Climate Change”.

The Columbia Journalism Review declares that there is “A new commitment to covering the climate story”.  At the urging of journalist Bill Moyers, several media outlets have formed Covering Climate Now and have agreed to “convene and inform a conversation among journalists about how all news outlets—big and small, digital and print, TV and radio, US-based and abroad—can do justice to the defining story of our time.”

Grist has a story about a recent IPCC report that “Planting trees isn’t enough to save us from the climate crisis”.

The Piedmont Chapter of the VA Sierra Club publishes a weekly list of activities and events in its area and also around the Commonwealth.  Subject matters may include gardening, electric

vehicles, bees, water, pipelines, sustainability, action alerts, and many others.  One may subscribe at this link.

Courtland Milloy, a longtime columnist for WaPo’s Local, gives his perspective on the urgent need to act on the effects of the climate crisis.  Describing one life-threatening event in the DC Metro area following serious flooding in July 2019, he declares that “Climate change is here, and we can no longer wait for someone to save us”.  Virginia Public Media has a brief story titled “Despite Growing Flood Risks, Virginia Coastal Development Continues”.  This AFP item, titled “New research could help green Virginia with blue carbon”, reports that carbon sink might be another tool in the management of the Chesapeake Bay.  “Carbon sink describes a process in which coastal sea grasses, mangroves and salt marshes capture and hold carbon.”  Another AFP article highlights a recent announcement by the New Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force (of which Virginia Representative Elaine Luria is co-chair) presenting “policy principles to combat climate change with the seriousness and urgency it demands.”

Prior Roundups have featured stories about Texas’ events and actions, some of which address the climate emergency and other that appear to increase it.  We’ve also heard about some actions the Dutch are taking, including providing advice on “managing” sea level rise and “recurrent flooding” (as many Virginia legislators like to call this phenomenon).  Here’s a Grist story that asks “Can the ‘masters of the flood’ help Texas protect its coast from hurricanes?”

Fortune discusses in detail the Aug 19 statement from the Business Roundtable (BR) announcing a new policy modifying its longstanding position that the purpose of corporations is to put shareholders’ interests comes first.  Steven Pearlstein offers his perspective on the statement and describes the history of the BR, which consists of the big company CEOs in U.S. business.  A search of the two articles and the statement for “climate”, “environment”, “sustainability”, “resilience”, “water”, “natural resources” yielded few results.  The Fortune article noted the book, The Trillion‑Dollar Shift by Marga Hoek, “a former construction industry CEO and founder of the Dutch Sustainable Business Association” and mentioned a few references in the statement to environment and sustainability.  Wood Mackenzie and the American Wind Energy Association have issued a report on “growing C&I [commercial and industrial] renewables opportunity [in the corporate sector].  Despite some gains, “The overall penetration of renewables in the power mix for Fortune 1000 companies remains limited at approximately 5%”.  Wood Mackenzie also provides “A peek at [its] latest outlooks for solar, wind energy storage and carbon emissions.” [Greentech Media, GTM, article]

“A group of [Virginia Tech] researchers received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to tackle … environmental challenges with the creation of a new Ecological Forecasting Initiative Research Coordination Network (EFI-RCN).”  The challenges include “climate change, land-use, and invasive species.” [AFP article] The AFP also reports that “Virginia partners with Nature Conservancy to preserve 22K acres” in Russell County.

The AP says that California, “[h]oping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway. It will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates.”

ACTION ITEM—Eric King of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition has issued this request:  “Harrisonburg recently applied to renew our status as a Bicycle Friendly Community with the League of American Bicyclists. If you are a cyclist and are interested in contributing input on the bike-friendliness of the Friendly City, the below survey will be reviewed by the League as well as shared with the City.”  Here is the link

Energy

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

WJCT Public Media says that “JEA Projects No Energy Efficiency Gains As FL Utility Regulators Consider Next Decade”.  JEA is “Northeast Florida’s Not-For-Profit, Community-Owned Utility”. FLAPOL reports that the Florida Public Service Commission and Florida Power and Light are examining “a sharp decline in in-state utilities’ projected conservation, with new goals to be set.”  Utilities spokespersons were not in favor of setting goals and offered numerous explanations for the decline.  “’With goals of zero,’ countered Bradley Marshall of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, ‘there is little help on the way for low-income customers, however.’”

Utility Dive asserts that “Everyone loves a guaranteed discount: New financing approach drives community solar growth”.  The article explores how utility-owned utility solar’s growth has the potential to extend the benefits of solar energy to lower and middle income (LMI) customers.  It also discusses numerous projects enable by Department of Energy innovation grants.  It does not appear that many, if any, projects highlighted are customer-community-owned.  Utility Dive also reports that “North Carolina clean energy plan could reduce power sector emissions up to 70% by 2030”.  PV Magazine discusses how and why a utility’s use of solar can actually result in harmful emissions:  “Solar gets by with a little help from its friends”.

GTM’s story, “Why Long Island Could Become New York’s First Energy Storage Hot Spot”, reports that, as a result of a New York state program, “[t]he region stands to benefit from storing renewable power, and $55 million of new incentives could get the market going.”

Fossil Fuels, Utilities and Pipelines

Recent legal actions about Virginia’s two proposed pipelines:  The Roanoke Times reports the “Mountain Valley Pipeline faces new legal challenge, this one over endangered species”.  This challenge is a petition to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals “to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reexamine its earlier opinion that burrowing a 42-inch diameter pipe across rugged mountain slopes and through unspoiled streams will not significantly harm the threatened fish, bats and plants that live there.”  The AP also reports on this story, as does Think Progress in this piece.  The Virginia Mercury notes that the “Mountain Valley Pipeline voluntarily suspends construction that could harm endangered species”.  Blogger Bobby Whitescarver (Getting More on the Ground) offers his take on the court’s decision.  Writing in the Virginia Mercury, environmental hydrologist Jacob Hileman explains “Why the Mountain Valley Pipeline is uniquely risky”.

Not long after an editorial in the News & Advance suggesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) may not be viable, the same paper has this item announcing that “Amherst council approves lease to Atlantic Coast Pipeline for storage yard, staging hub”.  Energy News Network reports that opponents of the ACP in North Carolina “are attempting a novel legal maneuver to stop the gas project from ever coming to the Tar Heel State.” Blogger James Bacon (Bacon’s Rebellion) asks “Delay-and-Block for Pipelines… and Solar?”  He suggests that “delay and block” tactics used by “environmentalists” opposed to pipelines could also be used by those opposed to solar farms.

PV Magazine says “Dominion is polling its customers for pro-monopoly arguments”.  One person contacted by the pollster was asked “if she found two arguments compelling: 1) the claim that ratepayer bills will go up $100 per month if corporations are allowed to procure their own renewables, and 2) that in the states where deregulation was introduced, that customer rates rose 39%.”  The article says the questions suggest “the messages that Dominion is planning on using to fight off legal or regulatory changes that could allow corporations to bypass it and procure renewable energy directly, and challenges to its monopoly.”  Bacon’s Rebellion blogger Steve Haner asks and answers “What Does Dominion Lose When Customers Leave?”—addressing the desire by some large customers to obtain their energy from competitors who can provide it from renewable sources.  Mr. Haner also pens this blogpost.  He examines a Dominion Energy “100 percent renewable” Rider TRG” now pending before the State Corporation Commission (SCC), with a hearing date of Nov 21.  He states:  “How the monopoly utilities propose to provide “100 percent renewable” power is important to understanding their efforts to prevent anybody else selling it in their territory.  Preventing that competition is the real gain for the utilities, and state law only allows consumers a choice if the monopoly utility doesn’t offer its own 100 percent renewable product.  This is Dominion’s third try.”  He goes on to report that “renewables” include hydro plants, Dominion-owned solar fields, four generators that burn biomass (wood) and the percentage of power from wood waste coming out of one of its WV coal plants, and adds that “if the SCC approves this new tariff, no Dominion customer can sign up for renewable energy either produced or packaged by a competitive service provider (CSP)”. 

The Southern Environmental Law Center discusses a recent study “by experts in carbon lifecycle modeling” concluding that “Burning wood from ‘sustainably managed’ forests increases carbon pollution for 40+ years”.

The Rivard Report describes community concerns about the Port Aransas Oil Project that will establish a place for large tankers to take on crude and liquid natural gas (LNG).  A recent near miss between a local ferry and a LNG ship helped fuel public fears.

Writing in the Texas Observer, Amal Ahmed argues that “Climate Change Will Drive Up Energy Use in Texas and Beyond”, pointing out “[a] new study …[finding] that global energy demand could rise by as much as 58 percent in the next 30 years due to climate change… [b]ut Texas’ electric grid doesn’t exactly account for this climate impact.”  According to the North Carolina Clean Technology Center, “Forty-four states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, took actions related to grid modernization in the second quarter of the year, with the greatest number of actions relating to energy storage deployment, data access policies, distribution system planning, utility business model reforms, and integrated resource planning….”  Virginia is among the states.  [Solar Industry Magazine article]

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