Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/9/2021

Politics and Policy

The White House infrastructure package contains a number of environmental agenda items high on progressive wish lists, but some fear they could be sacrificed to ensure passage in the 50-50 Senate. (ICYMI, David Roberts had a good summary of what is in the package.)  Republicans have a much narrower view of infrastructure.  The Senate parliamentarian suggested that the Senate could use budget reconciliation twice every fiscal year, rather than just once, possibly giving Democrats a chance to move the infrastructure legislation forward with just 51 votes, although one Democratic senator opposes such an approach.  Furthermore, things are not that rosy in the House, where the Democratic majority slipped to two with the death of one Congressman and the resignation of two to serve in Biden’s cabinet.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen released details of a tax hike proposal that would replace subsidies for fossil fuel companies with incentives for production of clean energy.  The US will need new electric transmission lines to meet Biden’s aim of eliminating the power sector’s net carbon pollution, but public opposition has doomed many such projects.

Karin Kirk examined three questions: how many jobs does each US state have in wind and solar; how much wind and solar potential is there in each state; and how well has each state done in creating jobs in wind and solar, given the size of its potential.  The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that only six of 36 states evaluated have some form of equity mandate for the investment of ratepayer funds to support and expand EV charging infrastructure.  Jeff St. John of Canary Media summarized some of the major findings of their analysis along with other ideas for meeting the electric transportation needs of underserved communities.  According to three journalists at the frontlines of climate and environmental issues, systemic racism and inequity have always run as a powerful undercurrent through climate change impacts.

A panel of federal appeals judges nixed a Trump administration rule that would have prevented the EPA from setting greenhouse gas limits on multiple polluting industries.  By the end of July, the EPA will propose stricter emissions standards for vehicles that are sufficient to meet “the urgency of the climate crisis.”  The “Global Trends” report, released by the National Intelligence Council, paints a bleak picture of what Americans can expect over the next 20 years, warning of a planet ravaged by pandemics and climate change.  Many think that the best way to fight climate change is to put a price on carbon, but the authors of the book Making Climate Policy Work argue that such an approach isn’t working.  The Biden administration will not shut down the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline while an environmental review is conducted.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was “not confident, but hopeful” that China would be willing to partner with other countries on meeting carbon emission reduction targets.  A small but growing number of world leaders have begun citing an offense they say poses a threat to humanity similar to genocide: ecocide.  According to a new assessment by the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and others, the combination of debt, climate change, and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy…”.  The WB and the IMF are planning to launch a platform to advise poor countries on funding climate and conservation activities.  Petroleum nations face a perilous future as the world decarbonizes, with declining oil revenues threatening their finances, making a strong case for industrialized countries offering more support to less well-off producer economies.  Brazil’s environment minister wants $1 billion in foreign aid to help reduce deforestation in the Amazon between 30% and 40%.  Greenland’s left-wing environmentalist party won a victory in general elections on Tuesday after campaigning against the development of a rare earths mine partly backed by China.

Climate and Climate Science

It may come as a surprise, given the extensive body of evidence connecting humans to climate change, but directly-observed proof of the human impact had eluded science, until now.  In the study, NASA calculated the individual driving forces of recent climate change through direct satellite observations, and consistent with what climate models have shown for decades, greenhouse gases and aerosols from the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for the lion’s share of warming.  CO2 and methane emissions surged in 2020 even amid coronavirus shutdowns, according to research from NOAA released Wednesday.

A new study identified three distinct tipping points in model simulations of West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier, which, if crossed, could lead to its rapid and irreversible retreat.  Another simulation study revealed that because of hydrofracturing, four Antarctic ice shelves will be vulnerable to disintegration at 4°C of warming, but that limiting warming to 2°C will halve the ice shelf area susceptible to collapse.  Meanwhile, direct observations of what’s going on under the ice shelf of the Thwaites glacier revealed that the supply of warm water to the glacier’s base is larger than scientists previously believed.  At the other end of Earth, scientists working in Greenland have refined their understanding of how meltwater flowing down to the base of a glacier increases the rate at which the glacier is sliding toward the sea.

Rainstorms grew more erratic and droughts much longer across most of the US West over the past half-century and the situation is worsening.  Unrelenting drought and years of rising temperatures due to climate change are pushing the long-overallocated Colorado River into new territory, setting the stage for the largest mandatory water cutbacks to date.  Critical April 1 measurements of snow accumulations from mountain ranges across the region show that most streams and rivers will once again flow well below average levels this year.

Analysis of the locations of almost 50,000 marine species between 1955 and 2015 found that species are moving away from the equator, causing scientists to warn that further warming will cut the richness of species in the tropics even further.  Seagrasses play a large role in regulating ocean environments, storing over twice as much CO2 per square mile than terrestrial forests, but scientists know little about them.  Examination of ocean characteristics with depth revealed that over the past 50 years the intermixing of the upper and lower layers decreased at a rate that was six times faster than scientists were anticipating.  New research has found that even the deepest parts of the Great Lakes are getting warmer.

On May 4, the hotter Earth will officially become the new normal when NOAA releases its once-a-decade update to “climate normals,” which are the 30-year averages for temperature and precipitation that local meteorologists rely on as the baseline for their forecasts.  One recognized impact of climate change is in the pattern of rainfall.  Unfortunately, rainfall atlases in the US have not kept up with the new “normal,” causing stormwater infrastructure to often be inadequate from the moment it is built.  Bipartisan bills pending in Congress would fund NOAA updates of the atlases at least every five years.


GM has a new battery system that will allow the company to incorporate future advances in battery technology without having to redesign its vehicle platform.  It is testing a variety of battery chemistries, technologies, and manufacturing processes aimed at slashing the cost of EV batteries and reducing dependence on metals like cobalt.  GM will produce an electric version of its popular Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.  President Biden’s plan to jump-start the US EV market faces a roadblock: a weak supply chain that is making it difficult for automakers to get enough batteries to scale up production.  Nth Cycle has developed a new battery-recycling technology that employs a method called “electro-extraction” to harvest cobalt, nickel, and manganese from old lithium-ion batteries.

Dan Gearino examined the continuing fight over compensation to rooftop solar owners for the electricity they send to the grid.  Meanwhile, United Parcel Service announced it has agreed to purchase ten electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft from Beta Technologies to test their use in its Express Air delivery network.

At Energy Monitor, Justin Gerdes discussed the role of large-scale battery storage in the energy transition.  New York-based retail energy provider David Energy plans to enter the Texas retail market and demonstrate how natural-gas microgrids and battery-backed solar can hedge against climate change risk.  Terabase Energy aims to drive down utility-scale solar power prices to less than $0.01 per kW-hr by 2025, by using software, automation, and modeling to optimize power-plant operation.  A team of researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is leading an ongoing analysis of how to manage retiring photovoltaic solar panels in support of a circular economy for energy materials.

Grist, in partnership with the Texas Observer, conducted an in-depth study of nonproductive oil and gas wells in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and estimated the number that are likely to be abandoned in the future.  (Other articles in the series: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)  Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) introduced a bill authorizing $8 billion to plug and clean up abandoned oil and gas wells nationwide.

Many cities in Europe use waste heat from their fossil-fuel power plants to heat their buildings, meaning that new sources of heat must be found as those plants are shut down.  Now, scientists and engineers in the Czech Republic have developed a system for using the heat from spent nuclear fuel rods to do that.


A Gallup poll, published Monday, found that 88% of Democrats believe that increases in Earth’s temperature are primarily caused by human activities, whereas just 32% of Republicans said the same.  Later this month, a three-part BBC documentary about Greta Thunberg will première on PBS.  Experts on land use, climate change, and sustainable agriculture agree that two habits associated with food have the greatest environmental impact: wasting it and eating large amounts of meat.  In concluding an article about what concerns climate scientists the most, the author wrote: “… while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.”  The Biden administration called on the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to reject a second attempt by a group of children to sue the government over climate change.  The EPA and leading appliance manufacturers have finally released key chemical refrigerant information that makes it easier for consumers to purchase climate-friendly refrigerators.

Closing Thought

A surgeon and a psychotherapist offered advice on how to grow more resilient during the climate crisis by providing six ways to stay balanced.

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.