Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/21/2021

The city of Harrisonburg and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance have launched Harrisonburg Downtown 2040, a visioning process to help inform how downtown will progress over the next 20 years.  Visit the link to make your ideas known; they hope to hear from everyone who cares about Downtown, even if you aren’t a resident.

Politics and Policy

John Kerry said that the US is looking into introducing a carbon fee on imports from countries that don’t tax heavy greenhouse gas polluters.  Gina McCarthy said that existing nuclear power plants are going to be needed in the Biden administration’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The EPA issued a final rule laying out methane emission thresholds for municipal solid waste landfills, giving landfill operators 30 months to install appropriate systems to meet the standards.  President Biden has reappointed Michael Kuperberg, the scientist responsible for the National Climate Assessment, after he was removed from his post last year by President Trump.  The administration announced a major push to cut carbon emissions from federal buildings and from homes by setting new efficiency standards and investing in innovative research.  It also took the first step to reinstate an energy efficiency standard for light bulbs, a move that’s expected to undermine incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs.

Achieving effective climate policies is proving to be a divisive task.  Two camps disagree on how to decarbonize Colorado — Gov. Jared Polis (D) favors public investment and an incentives-based approach, whereas a group of state legislators and environmentalists wants a hard mandate to cut emissions across the economy.  A proposal for a wind and solar project near a 7,000 year-old sacred Indigenous spiritual site has divided a Minnesota community.  At the federal level, environmental advocates are arguing over a “clean electricity standard” versus a “renewable electricity standard” for climate legislation.  Except in Washington DC, support for putting a price on CO2 emissions is steadily spreading.  Catholic support for it was on display during a weekend climate change conference, where two bishops touted it as a critical climate solution that is both effective and “eminently doable.”  The Alliance for Market Solutions announced on Wednesday the launch of an advocacy campaign to garner support on Capitol Hill for it.

President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order directing several federal departments and agencies to analyze the risks climate change poses to the US financial system and federal government.  Politico said the measures will reach well beyond Wall Street.  On Monday, in a 7-1 decision that will impact similar climate liability lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, the US Supreme Court ruled that the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals must take a fresh look at the remand order that sent Baltimore’s liability case against BP back to the state court where it was originally filed.  As EVs increase in numbers on the nation’s highways, states and the federal government must come up with an equitable system for raising funds for road construction and maintenance.

The world can still reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but only if governments redouble their efforts, all fossil fuel investment is halted, and renewable energy capacity and infrastructure are added at unprecedented scale, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).  Asian energy officials disputed the IEA’s approach, viewing it as too narrow.  Meanwhile, in France a proposed climate law has passed the National Assembly and moved on to the Senate, but has sharply divided the country.  Britain’s Emissions Trading System kicked off on Wednesday, with carbon prices reaching over $70 per metric ton, making the cost of polluting in Britain higher than in the EU.  A debt-for-climate swap plan is expected from the IMF and the World Bank ahead of COP26, and if done right, could be highly effective in addressing both spiraling low- and middle-income country debt and the climate crisis.  Even if the Biden administration sets a deadline to sunset sales of gas-powered passenger vehicles in the US, the export of used cars could stall the global reductions in CO2 emissions needed to stave off catastrophic warming.

Climate and Climate Science

The cover article in Chemical and Engineering News this week addressed the issue of replenishing depleted soil as a means of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and the scientific and policy issues associated with it.  With a changing climate, fires in far northern forests that smolder throughout winter and erupt again in spring could become more common, a new study suggests.  Glaciers, like the soil, have their own community of microbes, their own microbiome, transforming them from what we thought were sterile wastelands into vibrant ecosystems that can control how fast glaciers melt — and may even influence the global climate.

A new report from the NRDC and others shows that the health costs of climate change now far exceed $820 billion per year in the US.  According to a study published in Nature Communications, sea level rise from global warming caused approximately 13% ($8.1bn) of the $62.7bn in damages associated with Superstorm Sandy in 2012.  Trees that were poisoned and killed by saltwater from rising seas are emitting greenhouses gases, prompting researchers to warn of a warming source that could become worse as rising seas encroach on forests.

A new guidance document aims to help National Park Service ecologists and managers confront the fact that they must now actively choose what to save, what to shepherd through radical environmental transformation, and what to let vanish forever.  When it comes to the highest surface temperature, the Lut Desert in Iran and the Sonoran Desert along the Mexican-US border have Death Valley beat, having recently reached a sizzling 80.8°C (177.4°F).  Extreme heat risks may be widely underestimated and sometimes left out of major climate reports, but new studies sharpen warnings for unlivable heat in the tropics, and nearly unthinkable extremes in major Northern Hemisphere cities.

A significant part of the Greenland ice sheet is on the brink of a tipping point, after which accelerated melting would become inevitable even if global warming was halted.  The Arctic is now warming three times as fast as the global average, and faces an ongoing barrage of dangerous climate and environmental pollutants, Arctic Council experts warned at the start of their meetings in Reykjavik, Iceland this week.  A drastic drop in caribou and shorebird populations is a reflection of the dire changes unfolding on the Arctic tundra.  As part of the “natural cycle” of the Ronne Ice Shelf, a huge ice block has broken off from western Antarctica into the Weddell Sea, becoming the largest iceberg in the world.

NOAA said in a forecast released on Thursday that there’s a 60% chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. 


Air France-KLM has launched its first long-haul flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel, petroleum mixed with a synthetic jet fuel derived from waste cooking oils.  Over the next year, at a research site run by NASA on the fringes of the Mojave Desert, companies will be demonstrating their best efforts at eliminating carbon pollution from aviation via a new generation of electric airplanes.  Canada-based seaplane airline Harbour Air aims to offer zero-emission, all-electric commercial flights by 2022.

The combination of falling solar prices, forceful prodding from their members, and progressive top leadership has caused Old Dominion Electric Cooperative in central Virginia to have 30 MW of operating solar, another 135 MW on the way soon, and a pending proposal to add up to another 400 MW in the next four years.  Solar groups and Virginia’s lead energy agency are asking the State Corporation Commission to hold a hearing on Dominion Energy’s plans to charge shared solar customers a minimum monthly bill of almost $75, contending the price tag could hinder customer participation.

In a presentation Wednesday night in Dearborn, MI, Ford Motor Co unveiled an electric version of its popular F-150 pickup truck, called the Lightning, which is aimed at small businesses and corporate customers such as building contractors and mining and construction companies that buy lots of rugged pickups.  Ford and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation announced they will form a battery joint venture in North America to support Ford’s EV rollout.  Duckyang Industrial Co. said that it will invest $10 million and hire 285 people northeast of Atlanta to make battery modules and energy storage systems for SK Innovation’s plant in Commerce.  To jump-start EV battery recycling, governments and industry are putting money into an array of research initiatives.

A new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute estimates that the cost of cleaning up all abandoned coal mine land is more than double what the federal inventory previously claimed — $26 billion.  Malta Inc. and Duke Energy, using a Department of Energy grant, will examine integrating Malta’s 100 MW, 10-hour pumped heat energy storage system into existing infrastructure at a Duke Energy coal plant in North Carolina.  While lithium-ion batteries are dominant in the EV market, several other battery types are vying to dominate the grid storage market.

China’s CO2 emissions rose 9% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels, driven by a carbon-intensive economic recovery and big hikes in steel and cement output.  Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin witnessed via video link the groundbreaking ceremony of four advanced nuclear reactors powered by Russia’s third-generation nuclear technology in China on Wednesday.  Wind turbine maker Vestas unveiled new technology which will enable wind turbine blades to be fully recycled, avoiding the dumping of old blades in landfills.


Christopher D. Stone, a legal scholar who argued in a seminal 1972 paper that trees, rivers, oceans, and nature itself possess fundamental legal rights, died May 14 in Los Angeles; he was 83.  New research shows that organized climate denial is still funded mostly by anonymous donors; the funding has increased at a steady rate of around 3.4% per year over the past two decades.  Bill McKibben wrote of a new book from the British psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis: Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare.  Cyril Christo had an homage to the Himalayas at The HillCarbon Brief had a guest post explaining how world weather attribution works.

Closing Thought

There is a new dimension to the controversy over climate communication — at its heart is the question of how “depressing” or “hopeful” it should be.

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.