Category: Environment

Coal-fired electricity being killed in the US — the war on coal is being won


This photo is from Sweden – from a worldwide series on coal

The war on coal is not just political rhetoric, or a paranoid fantasy concocted by rapacious polluters. It’s real and it’s relentless. Over the past five years, it has killed a coal-fired power plant every 10 days. It has quietly transformed the US electric grid and the global climate debate.

The industry and its supporters use “war on coal” as shorthand for a ferocious assault by a hostile White House, but the real war on coal is not primarily an Obama war, or even a Washington war. It’s a guerrilla war. The front lines are not at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Supreme Court. If you want to see how the fossil fuel that once powered most of the country is being battered by enemy forces, you have to watch state and local hearings where utility commissions and other obscure governing bodies debate individual coal plants. You probably won’t find much drama. You’ll definitely find lawyers from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, the boots on the ground in the war on coal.

Beyond Coal is the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the Club’s 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement. It’s gone largely unnoticed amid the furor over the Keystone pipeline and President Barack Obama’s efforts to regulate carbon, but it’s helped retire more than one third of America’s coal plants since its launch in 2010, one dull hearing at a time. With a vast war chest donated by Michael Bloomberg, unlikely allies from the business world, and a strategy that relies more on economics than ecology, its team of nearly 200 litigators and organizers has won battles in the Midwestern and Appalachian coal belts, in the reddest of red states, in almost every state that burns coal…

Coal still helps keep our lights on, generating nearly 40 percent of US power. But it generated more than 50 percent just over a decade ago, and the big question now is how rapidly its decline will continue. Almost every watt of new generating capacity is coming from natural gas, wind or solar; the coal industry now employs fewer workers than the solar industry, which barely existed in 2010. Utilities no longer even bother to propose new coal plants to replace the old ones they retire. Coal industry stocks are tanking, and analysts are predicting a new wave of coal bankruptcies…

This is a big deal, because coal is America’s top source of greenhouse gases, and coal retirements are the main reason US carbon emissions have declined 10 percent in a decade. Coal is also America’s top source of mercury, sulfur dioxide and other toxic air pollutants, so fewer coal plants also means less asthma and lung disease — not to mention fewer coal-ash spills and coal-mining disasters. The shift toward cleaner-burning gas and zero-emissions renewables is the most important change in our electricity mix in decades, and while Obama has been an ally in the war on coal — not always as aggressive an ally as the industry claims — the Sierra Club is in the trenches. The US had 523 coal-fired power plants when Beyond Coal began targeting them; just last week, it celebrated the 190th retirement of its campaign in Asheville, N.C., culminating a three-year fight that had been featured in the climate documentary “Years of Living Dangerously.”

RTFA. Long, detailed, about as close to neutral as Politico ever gets. You won’t find any greedy, corporate Republicans; but, they shy away from defining the Sierra Club as the radical organization the Koch Bros think it is.

Recognition of success [and continuing] you’ll rarely see inside the Beltway.

Yes — another Antarctic ice mass is becoming destabilized


Click to enlarge — Hope Bay glacier now shedding ice

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent.

Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size…

And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems…Researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula…

Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.”

The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

This has been a common theme in Antarctica recently — a similar mechanism has been postulated for melting of ice shelves in nearby West Antarctica (which contains vastly more ice, and more potential sea level rise, than does the Antarctic peninsula)…

Indeed, the paper suggests these southern Antarctic peninsula glaciers may have only begun their retreat. The glaciers may now be unstable, says the paper, because some of their ice shelves currently rest on bedrock that is not only below sea level, but slopes further downhill as one moves inland…

The greater Antarctic worry remains the ice shelves and glaciers in other regions, West Antarctica and East Antarctica, whose potential contribution to sea level rise is measured in feet or meters, not centimeters or inches. Still, the broad picture is that we’re now seeing consistent — and worrying — changes in many different regions on the fringes of the vast frozen continent.

The know-nothings carry on consistently. They seek out a lone skeptic, legitimate or otherwise, whose writings match their unwillingness to accept responsibility. It doesn’t really matter what the event may be, the process inexorably trudging towards future ills and dim loss. Whether a futile war, corrupt economic policies, destruction of our planetary environment – papier mache politicians accept neither responsibility nor the charge to lead the way from disaster.

Anti-science is only part of their anti-reality. Passing the buck to the next generation’s taxpayers is perfectly acceptable to creeps who define wars as unfunded mandates.

2010 BP oil spill blamed for rise in dolphin deaths in Gulf of Mexico


Click to enlargeRon Wooten

A new study by the NOAA concludes that the 2011 BP oil spill, the largest marine-based oil spill in U.S history, is to blame for the ongoing die-off of bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The new paper — authored by 22 scientists as part of unusual mortality event investigation by the NOAA — confirms the conclusions of a number of other studies. The research validates the findings of a 2011 study that showed live dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay suffered poor health, adrenal disease, and lung disease linked to contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill…

The latest findings build on the the 2011 Barataria Bay study. In examining dead dolphins in and around the Louisiana bay — one of the areas most contaminated by spilled oil — between June 2010 and November 2012, researchers found nearly half of all specimens had a thinning adrenal gland cortex.

Contaminants from oil are proven to damage adrenal glands, and adrenal insufficiency can make sea mammals susceptible to a range of other diseases and stressors.

Scientists also found that a third of all deceased dolphins collected and examined across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had lung lesions consistent with oil contamination. Only 7 percent of the dead or stranded dolphins from non-oil spill areas showed signs of a thinning adrenal cortex, and only 2 percent had lung lesions.

Who will BP repay for the wildlife carnage from the oil spill? They payback business, individual humans. But, the world is diminished by the loss of natural life from the Gulf of Mexico as surely as the loss of income.

Obama creating 1,500-mile “butterfly corridor” to help Monarchs get from Mexico to Minnesota


Click to enlargeimage/howardsview

US president Barack Obama, a friend to bees and other pollinating insects in peril, has unveiled his national strategy to mitigate honey bee loss, increase the Monarch butterfly population, and restore the habitats of both insects, whose health is essential to our food supply. The program will depend heavily on federal agencies and will also involve Mexico and Canada, since bees and butterflies know nothing of state laws and don’t really care about borders.

The strategic report includes a section on “expanding pollinator habitat on rights-of-way.” This doesn’t mean the feds will tell bees and butterflies who flies first, but rather that the US Department of Transportation and US Fish and Wildlife Service will help rehabilitate butterfly habitats alongside Interstate 35—a federal highway that extends from the Texas-Mexico border to Duluth, Minnesota.

That’s a key path or “flyway” for Monarch butterflies, who winter in Mexico before making a multi-generational migration, laying eggs and dying in the southern US, and leaving new, young butterflies to finish the journey north…

The Monarchs’ numbers have been dwindling, in part due to the loss of a nectar-producing flowers and milkweed—an important source of butterfly nourishment that has been depleted in the American midwest by agriculture and the ubiquitous herbicide Roundup.

Overdue.

Do you risk Mad Cow Disease – from cutting the grass?

Grass plants can bind, uptake and transport infectious prions, according to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The research was published online in the latest issue of Cell Reports.

Prions are the protein-based infectious agents responsible for a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, which includes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, elk and moose. All are fatal brain diseases with incubation periods that last years.

CWD, first diagnosed in mule deer in Colorado in the late 1960s, has spread across the country into 22 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the counties of El Paso and Hudspeth in Texas. In northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, the disease is endemic. Soto’s team sought to find out why…

There is no proof of transmission from wild animals and plants to humans,” said lead author Claudio Soto, Ph.D., professor of neurology at UTHealth Medical School and director of the UTHealth George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Brain Related Illnesses. “But it’s a possibility that needs to be explored and people need to be aware of it. Prions have a long incubation period.”

RTFA. It’s a serious study and should be treated as such.

OTOH, any excuse to get out of cutting the grass is OK with me.

Feds OK $73 million settlement in New Mexico radiation leak


Visitors to Carlsbad, NM, in appropriate attire

In a landmark settlement, the Department of Energy has agreed to fund infrastructure projects in New Mexico worth $73.25 million to resolve fines connected with last year’s radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

The New Mexico Environment Department levied the largest-ever fines against the federal government in December – $54 million – over permit violations at the WIPP nuclear waste repository and Los Alamos National Laboratory after a drum of Los Alamos waste ruptured in February 2014 at WIPP, near Carlsbad. That released radiation into the environment and contaminated nearly two dozen workers.

The higher-dollar settlement resolves all violations linked to the radiation accident – both the initial fines levied last year and the threat of additional fines to come, said state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn.

It’s the largest settlement ever reached between the state and DOE, he said…

The settlement will fund road, water and emergency management projects around the state, but most of the resources will be focused on the Los Alamos and Carlsbad areas…

Flynn also underscored that the settlement money “is not contingent on a future appropriation.”

“It’s not being diverted from cleanup budgets or the operational budgets of WIPP or Los Alamos,” he said. “It’s going to supplement the money we currently receive.”…

DOE’s own investigations into the radiation leak found dozens of deficiencies in safety, emergency response, training and communications at WIPP, the nation’s only deep underground repository for certain types of Cold War-era nuclear waste.

WIPP has been closed to shipments, leaving waste piled up at sites around the country, including Los Alamos.

Your tax dollars at work.

Germany adds to its wind energy portfolio — Nordsee Ost comes online


Click to enlargeLuftfoto/Scheer

Wind energy is a vital part of a German move to a low-carbon economy, the German economic minister said during the inauguration of RWE’s Nordsee Ost wind farm.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel hosted ministers from the Group of seven industrialized economies, along with representatives from RWE, for the inauguration of the 48-turbine wind farm off the northern German coast.

“Offshore wind energy is a strategically important element of Germany’s energy and climate policy and is key to the success of the energy transition,” Gabriel said…

Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy, a trend established after its decision to move away from nuclear power, in the wake of the nuclear tragedy in Japan in 2011. The United Kingdom is close behind and, combined, the European Union has more than 100 gigawatts of wind power online.

Nordsee Ost has an installed capacity of 295 megawatts, enough power to meet the annual energy needs of about 320,000 households.

RWE’s project is among the largest of its kind in the world and, by year’s end, more than 40 percent of its power capacity will be generated from wind energy.

The expansion of renewable energy is one of our main growth areas and offshore wind energy will play a vital role,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Terium said. “RWE will become the third largest player in the European offshore market this year.”

Strange as it may seem to Americans, European conservatives haven’t dedicated their political careers to standing in the way of switching to renewable energy sources and walking away from unhealthy fossil fuels, uneconomic nuclear power generation.

Feds allow million$ of natural gas to be wasted by oil/gas-field managers


Click to enlarge

Significant amounts of natural gas on federal lands are being wasted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year and adding to harmful greenhouse gas emissions, a GAO investigation has found.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also said the Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct production inspections for hundreds of high-priority oil and gas wells — roughly 1 out of 5 — to ensure full payment of royalties to the U.S.

The report…is the latest to highlight substantial gaps in oversight. An AP review of government records last May found the agency, which manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands, had been overwhelmed by a boom in a new drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The GAO report said it had been urging BLM, an agency of the Interior Department, to update guidelines for the burning or venting of natural gas since at least 2010, when it found 40 percent of it could be captured economically and sold. BLM has yet to do so, although agency officials now say they are in the process of putting together various orders and a proposed rule for comment later this year.

Until then, government investigators called BLM’s management of oil and gas “high-risk” for waste and fraud.

“The Interior Department has known for at least a decade that companies have been wasting natural gas from oil and gas wells on public lands,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “Venting and flaring natural gas from these wells hurts the environment and speeds up global warming, and it shortchanges the taxpayers.”

He joined Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, in calling on the department to redouble efforts to stem waste, rather than give “drilling companies a pass to let millions of taxpayer dollars evaporate into thin air.”…

Much of the vented gas is methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using EPA estimates, the GAO concluded that capturing the vented gas would be the equivalent of removing 3.1 million cars from the road or closing four average-sized coal-fired power plants…

Yup. BLM has one guaranteed excuse. No way any ethical human being expects any regulation of fossil fuel production to come out of Congress. That includes regulations for safety, environment and, of course, fiscal responsibility. Ignoring responsibility for the fallout from any American process generating profit is one of the areas where Congress exceeds world records for incompetence.

But, Ron Wyden makes a serious point. The role of inept has been a Romulan cloak of invisibility draped around the shoulders of federal bureaucrats for way too long. From the Bush League on through Uncle Obama’s clean-hands-approach to governance – beancounters have taken precedence over accomplishment. The kind of people who think they qualify as Olympians for their ability to jog in place have been in charge too long.

China expands ban on coal to suburbs


Click to enlarge12,000 died in the London smog of winter, 1952

China will expand its bans on coal burning to include suburban areas as well as city centers in efforts to tackle air pollution…

Detailing its clean coal action plan 2015-2020, the National Energy Administration (NEA) said it would promote centralized heating and power supply by natural gas and renewables, replacing scattered heat and power engines fueled by low quality coal.

The world’s biggest coal consumer will ban sale and burning of high-ash and high-sulphur coal in the worst affected regions including city clusters surrounding Beijing.

If you’ve been around as long as I have – and your memory still works – you recall the two-pronged solution to air pollution and smog has been this simple for decades.

After World War 2 the worst smog in the world belonged to London. Just like Beijing, the problem not only was coal-fired electricity generation; but, coal-fired home heating and cooking. It took a couple of decades; but, the last mile solution of getting natural gas to homes took care of the worst of it.

In Beijing and other polluted Chinese cities renewable energy sources are phasing out the portion of pollution coming from soft coal-fired electricity and, now, the government has dropped the other shoe and will end reliance on coal for home fires.

Under the action plan, coal-fired industrial boilers will all shift to burn natural gas or clean coal by 2020 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei city clusters, Pearl River delta and Yangtze River delta area…

The government will offer subsidies for clean fuels

Natural gas will serve as the first level of carbon reduction as wind power and solar power continue the most dramatic expansion in the world.