Blog Archive

Sunday, February 19, 2017

rjsigmud's environmental and climate news, week of February 19, 2017


Cancer Lawsuits Allege EPA-Monsanto Collusion - A new court filing made on behalf of dozens of people claiming Monsanto's Roundup herbicide gave them cancer includes information about alleged efforts within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Monsanto's interests and unfairly aid the agrichemical industry. The filing , made late Friday by plaintiff's attorneys, includes what the attorneys represent to be correspondence from a 30-year career EPA scientist accusing top-ranking EPA official Jess Rowland of playing "your political conniving games with the science" to favor pesticide manufacturers such as Monsanto. Rowland oversaw the EPA's cancer assessment for glyphosate , the key ingredient in Monsanto's weed-killing products, and was a key author of a report finding glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic. But in the correspondence, longtime EPA toxicologist Marion Copley cites evidence from animal studies and writes: "It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer."  Attorneys for the plaintiffs declined to say how they obtained the correspondence , which is dated March 4, 2013. The date of the letter comes after Copley left the EPA in 2012 and shortly before she died from breast cancer at the age of 66 in January 2014. She accuses Rowland of having "intimidated staff" to change reports to favor industry, and writes that research on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, shows the pesticide should be categorized as a "probable human carcinogen." The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, declared as much—that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen —in March 2015 after reviewing multiple scientific studies. Monsanto has rejected that classification and has mounted a campaign to discredit IARC scientists.

Farmers in 10 States Sue Monsanto Over Dicamba Devastation -- Farmers across 10 states are suing Monsanto , alleging that the agrochemical company sold dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean crops knowing that illegal spraying of the highly volatile and drift-prone herbicide would be inevitable.  Steven W. Landers et al. v. Monsanto Company was filed on Jan. 26 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division. Kansas City law firm Randles & Splittgerber filed on behalf of Steven and Deloris "Dee" Landers and similarly harmed farmers in 10 states —Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The farmers seek damages for claims including negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, conspiracy, disgorgement of profits and punitive damages. According to a press release from the law firm, Steven and Dee Landers operate their family owned farms in New Madrid County, Missouri, and have been in business since 1976. The Landers claim that their farms have been greatly damaged by the illegal spraying of dicamba on Monsanto's Roundup Ready Xtend crops, which are genetically engineered to resist dicamba and Roundup (aka glyphosate). Bev Randles of Randles & Splittgerber told EcoWatch that the Landers' 1,550-acre farm primarily grows soybeans and corn. In 2016, they experienced dicamba damage on more than half of their crops and acreage, resulting in a reduction of their yields in approximately the same percentage, especially with respect to their soybeans. The farmers in the lawsuit allege that the biotech giant knowingly marketed its Xtend cotton and soybean seeds to farmers without any safe herbicide. The lawsuit claims that the company knew the only option purchasers would have to protect crops grown from those seeds would be to illegally spray dicamba to protect the crops from weeds.  "Monsanto chose to sell these seeds before they could be safely cultivated," said Randles. "Monsanto's own advertising repeatedly describes its Xtend seeds and its accompanying herbicide as a 'system' intended to be used together. But when Monsanto failed to get approval to sell the herbicide, it recklessly chose to go ahead and sell the seeds regardless."

Golden Rice – A Supreme Hoax, Part of A Supreme Crime - The program to breed a commercially deployable version of “golden rice” continues its perfect record of failure. In the latest screw-up, an attempt to back-cross a GM rice variety with a conventional Indian variety resulted in a crop with reduced yield, stunted growth, and growth abnormalities. The authors of the new study documenting this result blame the effects on transgenic interference with the plant’s growth hormones. Worse, the transgene is fully active not just in the rice grains as “intended”, but in the leaves as well. This resulted in reduced photosynthetic ability.These visible effects had not manifested in the GM variety. Therefore the engineers assumed the transgenic effect was “stable”, and that this stability of transgenic effect could be taken for granted throughout the process of back-crossing the transgene into the Swarma variety, perfecting this Indian version of golden rice, increasing the seed, and commercially deploying it.This is typical of how GMOs are developed. The entire process, from tissue culture to seed increase, focuses only on whether the crop visibly seems to meet commercial standards. That’s the full extent of the quality control and safety testing. It’s the same as how all alleged safety tests in the lab really have been tests of nothing but whether CAFO inmates can reach their slaughter weight being fed grain from the crop. This and similar industrial parameters comprise the sum total of the “safety tests” performed by corporations, accepted by regulators, and touted by regulators and media. The same paradigm applies to agronomic testing. Therefore it’s no surprise that under new conditions, conditions not as controlled as the laboratory greenhouse, GMOs often break out with completely unexpected deficiencies, sicknesses, and crop failures. This is especially true under real world agronomic conditions.

Judge to FDA: Agency Must Pull Aside Curtain on GE Salmon -- A U.S. District Court judge took the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to task on Jan. 10 for withholding government documents related to the agency's approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon . The judge's decision is a big win for public transparency, but it's also a small step toward finally doing a proper evaluation of the risks posed by GE animals—which could one day end up on our dinner plates. In 2015, the FDA approved GE salmon made from the DNA of three different animals: Atlantic salmon, deep water ocean eelpout, and Pacific Chinook salmon. The GE version is intended to grow faster than conventional farmed salmon, reportedly getting to commercial size in half the time. Even though this is the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption, so far the FDA has taken a lackadaisical approach to evaluating the salmon's potential for harm to wild salmon and the environment. If the GE salmon were to escape , it could threaten wild salmon populations by outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, by mating with endangered salmon species, and by introducing new diseases. The world's preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized the FDA for failing to evaluate these impacts. But the FDA ignored their concerns, so in March 2016, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the agency.  As part of the lawsuit, the FDA is required to compile a record of documents that illuminate the path the agency followed to reach its decision to approve the GE salmon—much like a student is required to show their work for a math problem in middle school. A complete record is essential in all cases. But it is especially important here because the FDA has so far refused to release most of the documents related to its decision, despite repeated requests for that information from EarthJustice's diverse set of clients under the Freedom of Information Act.

China closes live poultry markets amid deadly flu outbreak - China is ordering the closure of live poultry markets in its south-central regions as it grapples with the worst outbreak of bird flu in years that has killed at least 87 people. State media reported Friday that the National Health and Family Planning Commission ordered closures anywhere with cases of the H7N9 strain. Most reported cases have been found in the densely populated Yangtze and Pearl river deltas from Shanghai to Hong Kong. Those areas generally experience mild, wet winters that are ideal for the virus transmission. In all, more than 250 cases have been reported from 16 provinces and regions, including as far away as the southwestern province of Yunnan. The death toll since the start of the year has been unmatched since at least 2013. In addition to the market closures, the commission is training health workers in the screening, early diagnosis and treatment of the disease, while urging people to avoid contact with live birds. H7N9 is considered to be less virulent than the H5N1 strain that the World Health Organization has linked to hundreds of deaths worldwide over the last decade. H7N9 is not believed to be transmitted between humans, but rather by infected poultry. China has gained extensive experience in dealing with such crises since being hit by the 2003 SARS outbreak that was believed to have originated among animals in southern China. A preference among Chinese for live-bought, freshly-slaughtered poultry complicates the government's efforts to eradicate such diseases.

Commuters warned of new air pollution risk - Travelling by public transport exposes commuters to up to eight times as much air pollution as those who drive to work, a groundbreaking study found. In the latest evidence of the health risks posed by rising traffic levels, researchers found that drivers commuting in diesel cars did the most harm to the wellbeing of other travellers — producing six times as much pollution as the average bus passenger. The authors said that the results revealed a “violation of the core principle of environmental justice” because those who contributed most to air pollution in cities were least likely to suffer from it. People in poorer areas, who are more reliant on buses to get to work, suffer greater exposure than those in wealthier neighbourhoods, who are more likely to commute by car, according to the study by the University of Surrey. Air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and diesel vehicles are a large contributor to the problem, producing high levels of particulates and toxic nitrogen oxides, which can cause respiratory disease and heart attacks. Of Britain’s 5.4 million asthma sufferers, two thirds say that poor air quality makes their condition worse. The government will publish a plan in April for tackling air pollution after the previous one was ruled inadequate by the High Court. The latest study involved commuters wearing air pollution monitors who undertook hundreds of journeys by car, bus and Tube. Bus passengers were exposed to concentrations of particles, known as PM10, which were five times higher than those experienced by car commuters. Levels of PM2.5 fine particles, which can be more lethal as they are drawn deep into the lungs, were twice as high on buses as in cars. Bus journeys were typically 17-42 minutes longer than car journeys, meaning that bus passengers were exposed to higher levels of pollution for longer. Motorists tend to keep windows closed and are protected by filters stopping particles and dust from entering the interior. Bus passengers, by contrast, are subjected to pollution at stops when the doors are opened, often in places where queues of idling vehicles are pumping out high levels of toxic gas and particles. Diesel buses on average produce three times as many particles per mile as diesel cars but they typically carry 20 times as many people.

India’s Air Pollution Rivals China’s as World’s Deadliest -- India’s rapidly worsening air pollution is causing about 1.1 million people to die prematurely each year and is now surpassing China’s as the deadliest in the world, a new study of global air pollution shows. The number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous air particles, known as PM2.5, has stabilized globally in recent years but has risen sharply in India, according to the report, issued jointly on Tuesday by the Health Effects Institute, a Boston research institute focused on the health impacts of air pollution, and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a population health research center in Seattle. India has registered an alarming increase of nearly 50 percent in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015, the report says. “You can almost think of this as the perfect storm for India,” said Michael Brauer, a professor of environment and health relationships at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study, in a telephone interview. He cited the confluence of rapid industrialization, population growth and an aging populace in India that is more susceptible to air pollution.

Breathless in Bakersfield: is the worst air pollution in the US about to get worse? - The bluffs on Panorama Road offer a wide view of the northern half of Bakersfield, which is one of the few major population centres in California’s Central Valley.  On a clear day, the state’s dominant topographical features put the landscape, and one’s place in it, in sobering perspective. But clear days don’t happen all that often in Bakersfield. Emissions from agriculture, industry, rail freight and road traffic together create one of the country’s worst concentrations of air pollution – a condition exacerbated by geographic and climatic conditions that trap dry, dirty air over this southern section of Central Valley like the lid over a pot. Oil fields make up most of the view from the top of the bluffs, and the scent of petroleum is often detectable around the city. Dairies populated by hundreds of thousands of cows are scattered throughout the region, and their smell, too, is hard to miss. Massive warehouses and distribution centres on the outskirts of town bring in diesel trucks day and night from Interstate 5, the major north-south route that runs from Canada to Mexico (Los Angeles is about 100 miles to the south). Freight trains hauling oil rumble through the city, and its many refineries billow smoke into the air. Bakersfield and surrounding Kern County are the unlucky nexus of this pollution. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2016 report found the city’s air to be the worst in the United States for short-term and year-round particle pollution, and the second worst for ozone pollution.  The WHO’s latest ambient air pollution database ranks nearby Visalia-Porterville worst in the US. Bakersfield’s average reading in one 24-hour period in late January was 40.5 micrograms per cubic metre; over the mountains in somewhat smoggy Los Angeles, that number averages about 12. Of the wider metro area’s 875,000 people, about 70,000 are said to have asthma, 40,000 cardiovascular disease, and 27,000 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Though some improvements have been made in recent years, the region continues to struggle with poor air quality and the health problems it brings. Now the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and his appointment of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head in Scott Pruitt who is actively opposed air quality regulations, has many worried that the small but steady improvements to the area’s air quality may all be undone.

DuPont Settlement of Chemical Exposure Case Seen as 'Shot in the Arm' for Other Suits - A $671 million settlement announced Monday between DuPont Co. and lawyers representing thousands of people in Ohio and West Virginia could bring a swift end to years of litigation there, while fueling cases in other states where people have alleged health problems after a chemical used to make Teflon got into their drinking water. The proposed settlement, which needs to be approved by individual plaintiffs, comes amid growing concern over the potential effects of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, on drinking-water quality and health. It also comes as a range of other hazards to the nation's aging drinking-water infrastructure, from lead pipes to farm runoff to the presence of other industrial chemicals, gain widespread attention. In New York, Vermont and elsewhere, state investigations have found high levels of PFOA in water systems near current and former manufacturing sites where companies used the chemical for decades to make everything from Teflon frying pans to Gore-Tex waterproof jackets to pizza boxes. The DuPont settlement could provide a boost to other PFOA lawsuits that have sprung up against other companies in New York and other states, experts said Monday. But the experts also said that the facts in those cases, including the actions taken by companies and alleged health problems, would ultimately determine their outcome. "The fact that DuPont was willing to put up real money for settlement of these claims has to be a shot in the arm for plaintiffs' lawyers pursuing similar claims elsewhere," said Howard Erichson, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law. He cautioned that residents had yet to approve the settlement in principle between lawyers representing them and DuPont. Monday's settlement covers roughly 3,500 personal injury lawsuits against DuPont that grew out of an original lawsuit in 1999. Residents alleged that DuPont was negligent in allowing PFOA from its plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., to taint drinking water when the company knew for years about the contamination and potential health risks from PFOA exposure.

Will bioplastics repeat the biofuels saga? --The bioplastics market is growing rapidly, and EU lawmakers are taking the first steps towards regulating it. But bioplastics are already damaging the environment, and the pressure is on the Parliament and the Commission to not repeat the mistakes of the biofuels saga. In January, MEPs voted to promote bio-based plastics in packaging as part of their review of the waste directives. The European Commission also dipped its toes into the regulatory waters by publishing a roadmap ahead of its Plastics Strategy, which will focus on shifting plastics production away from fossil fuels. It is vital that they get it right before the market grows even larger. But what exactly are the problems with bioplastics? Your local café has probably started selling food and drinks in biodegradable or compostable packaging. They promote their “green” and “sustainable” credentials. Customers are happy and believe they are doing the planet good. Green sells. Like biofuels, the idea behind bioplastics seems simple: the oil used to make them is derived not from  fossil fuels, but is instead produced by plants. A classic example is the Coca-Cola PlantBottle, which is made from 30% sugarcane ethanol, and which the company claims has “helped boost sales” and “can be used as an effective marketing tool.” Unfortunately, the green credentials of bioplastics are far from straightforward. The term “bioplastic” is complex, and difficult to explain on a bottle label. There are bioplastics which are “bio-based,” i.e., partly or fully made from plant biomass, and which can be designed to be biodegradable, recyclable, or neither. To make matters even more complicated, even “biodegradable” doesn’t mean what it sounds like here – biodegradable plastics only break down quickly when processed by specialised industrial equipment; throwing them in the compost at home won’t work. There are also bioplastics which are fully oil-based but are biodegradable.

Trump administration sued over protection for vanishing bumble bee | Reuters: An environmental group sued U.S. President Donald Trump's administration on Tuesday for delaying a rule that would designate the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Interior Department, in September proposed bringing the bee under federal safeguards. The rule formalizing the listing of the vanishing pollinator, once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 11 and was to take effect last Friday. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the listing has been delayed until March 21 as part of a broader freeze ordered by Trump's White House on rules issued by the prior administration aimed at protecting public health and the environment. The group argued in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that U.S. wildlife managers had violated the law by abruptly suspending the bumble bee listing without public notice or comment. They said the rule technically became final when it was published in the Federal Register. The lawsuit seeks to have a judge declare that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted unlawfully and to order the agency to rescind the rule delaying the bumble bee's listing.

Beetles Have Killed 5 Million Acres Of Colorado Forests (And Counting)― Two different species of tiny beetles have destroyed more than 5 million acres of Colorado forests, according to a new report. The mountain pine beetle, a native insect that burrows into and kills primarily lodgepole, ponderosa, Scotch and limber pines, has damaged about 3.4 million acres, the Colorado State Forest Service said in its annual report released Wednesday. The spruce beetle is responsible for taking out another 1.7 million acres. The insects, which are each barely half a centimeter long, thrive on weakened trees ― meaning the dense, mature, drought-plagued forests of Colorado are a perfect target for them. It’s likely the threat they pose will only increase: Climate models predict that Colorado, which has already warmed 2 degrees in the last 30 years, will warm between 2.5 and 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. The pine beetle epidemic began in 1996 and peaked in 2008, slowly tapering off as the beetles ran out of mature pine trees to infect. Overall, Colorado’s forests have seen a 30 percent increase in dead trees in the last seven years, for a total of around 834 million trees. That’s about 1 in every 14 trees in the state, notes Colorado State University. The CSFS is an agency affiliated with the university’s Warner College of Natural Resources.  Those dead trees will present a number of problems moving forward, and come with an increased risk of massive forest fires.

Famine fears rise as Somalia suffers worst drought in decades --  Amina Jamila has been locked in a battle for survival for months. When her family’s 400 goats and camels started dying in droves after rains failed for the third consecutive year, she and her husband trekked 30 kms with their five children and few remaining animals across an arid, featureless region of Somalia. The pastoralists now live in a homemade shelter built of sticks and tarpaulins in a camp that is home to 450 families and growing every day as more people seek sanctuary from Somalia’s worst drought in decades. Animal carcases litter the landscape around the makeshift homes in Uusgare, a village in Puntland region. “If it wasn’t for the help of friends and family some of us would be dead,” Ms Jamila says. “We are used to dry conditions but we’ve never seen anything like this before.” Elders at the camp say the conditions are the driest since the 1950s and they have called the drought Lagamalito, which means “the worst” in Somali. More than half of Somalia’s 12m population are in need of assistance, with 2.9m at serious risk of famine if rains due in April are not better than average, the UN warns. That number is rising by the week as people’s animals, in most cases their only assets, die in front of them. “Most people here have lost about 90 per cent of their livestock,” says Abshir Hirsi Ali, a village chief. “For the pastoralists that means they’ve lost everything.” About 260,000 Somalis died during the last famine five years ago, and the Red Cross is already reporting drought-related deaths in northern parts of the country. The number of severely malnourished children referred last month to the stabilisation centre at the main hospital in Garowe, Puntland’s capital, is 70 per cent higher than a few months ago, medics say.  One diplomat says sometimes only one-eighth of the aid reaches its target. Aid agencies are already warning that conditions risk deteriorating because of poor rains. The situation is exacerbated by the threat posed by al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group with ties to al-Qaeda, which controls some of the worst-affected areas.

Four Famines Mean 20 Million May Starve in the Next Six Months - More than 20 million people – greater than the population of Romania or Florida – risk dying from starvation within six months in four separate famines, UN World Food Programme chief economist Arif Husain says. Wars in Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated households and driven up prices, while a drought in East Africa has ruined the agricultural economy. “In my not quite 15 years with the World Food Programme, this is the first time that we are literally talking about famine in four different parts of the world at the same time,” he told Reuters in an interview. “It’s almost overwhelming to comprehend that in the 21st century people are still experiencing famines of such magnitude. We’re talking about 20 million people, and all this within the next six months, or now. Yemen is now, Nigeria is now, South Sudan is now,” he said. “Somalia, when I look at the indicators in terms of extremely high food prices, falling livestock prices and agricultural wages, it’s going to come pretty fast.” The global humanitarian system is already struggling with a historic surge in migration, huge operations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and serious situations in Ukraine, Burundi, Libya and Zimbabwe. “Then you have places like Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, Mali, Niger, where people are chronically food insecure but… there’s just not enough resources to go around.”

Climate Change Is A Far Bigger Threat To Wildlife Than We Thought, Study Says | The Huffington Post: Climate Change Is A Far Bigger Threat To Wildlife Than We Thought, Study Says -- A global analysis of Earth’s threatened and endangered species has upended our scientific understanding about the extent to which climate change is affecting wildlife.  “We are massively underreporting what is going on,” James Watson, a co-author of the new study and director of science and research initiatives at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told The Huffington Post. The research, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that 47 percent of mammals and 23 percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species have been negatively affected by our changing planet. Those estimates are shockingly higher than previous assessments, which the authors note had shown 7 percent of listed mammals and 4 percent of birds were affected. The report adds to an ever-growing body of evidence that swift action is needed to tackle a phenomenon that’s driving a biodiversity crisissea-level rise, drought and extreme heat.   Elephants were among the most vulnerable to climate change effects, the study found.   For the analysis, a team of researchers from Australia, Italy and Britain combed through all relevant studies published from 1990 to 2015 that documented a species that was affected or not by changes in climate. For each of those more than 2,000 species, the authors categorized the effect as negative, positive, unchanged or mixed.  Of the 873 mammal species looked at, 414 were hurt by climate change, with elephants, primates and marsupials among the most vulnerable. For threatened birds, 298 of 1,272 species are experiencing negative effects, with waterfowl and birds who live at high altitudes being among the hardest hit, according to the findings. Of course, effects vary greatly for each species. Overall, though, it’s clear that many more animals are in trouble than had been thought. And given that the analysis looked only at mammals and birds, which are by far the most studied species but represent only a small percentage of the biodiversity on Earth, the problem could be far worse than the findings suggests, according to Watson.

House Passes NRA-Backed Bill Legalizing the Killing of Bear Cubs in Wildlife Refuges - The Republican-sponsored legislation was introduced by Alaska Rep. Don Young and was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a number of hunting groups House Joint Resolution 69 (H. J. Res. 69), citing authority under the Congressional Review Act, would rescind U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules enacted in August that are meant to maintain a sustainable population of native Alaskan wildlife. But on the House floor, Young said his measure was about overturning "illegal" Obama administration rules and ensuring the "right of Alaskans and the right of Alaska to manage all fish and game." He claimed that special interest groups were spreading "falsehoods" and "propaganda."  "They talk about killing [wolf] puppies and grizzly bears," Young said. "That does not happen nor, in fact, is it legal in the state of Alaska under our management."  Opponents argue that if the measure becomes law, it would allow the use of "inhumane" hunting tactics such as:
  • Killing black bear cubs or mother with cubs at den sites
  • Killing brown bears over bait
  • Trapping and killing brown and black bears with steel-jaw leghold traps or wire snares
  • Killing wolves and coyotes during denning season
  • Killing brown and black bears from aircraft
"This bill allows the use of inhumane tactics such as trapping, snaring, and baiting bears, and killing wolves and coyotes—and their pups. It even allows shooting bears from helicopters," said Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, who voted "No" on the resolution. "As a strong advocate for our public lands and natural treasures, I will continue to fight extreme proposals like this that erode bedrock conservation laws and expose animals to abuse." "Killing hibernating bears, shooting wolf pups in their dens, and chasing down grizzlies by aircraft and then shooting them on the ground is not the stuff of some depraved video game," After Thursday's vote, the bill is now up for possible consideration in the Senate.

India’s militant rhino protectors are challenging traditional views of how conservation works -- In Kaziranga, a national park in north-eastern India, rangers shoot people to protect rhinos. The park’s aggressive policing is, of course, controversial, but the results are clear: despite rising demand for illegal rhino horn, and plummeting numbers throughout Africa and South-East Asia, rhinos in Kaziranga are flourishing.  Yet Kaziranga, which features in a new BBC investigation, highlights some of the conflicts that characterise contemporary conservation, as the need to protect endangered species comes into contact with the lives and rights of people who live in and around the increasingly threatened national parks. India must balance modernisation and development with protections for the rights of local people – all while ensuring its development is ecologically sustainable.To understand what’s at stake in Kaziranga, consider these three crucial issues:
  • 1. The militarisation of conservation. The BBC feature shows park rangers who have been given the license to “shoot-on-sight” – a power they have used with deadly effect. In 2015 more than 20 poachers were killed – more than the numbers of rhino poached that year.  The programme accuses the rangers of extra-judicial killings of suspected rhino poachers. This resonates with a wider trend in the use of violence in defence of the world’s protected areas and the growing use of military surveillance technologies to support the efforts of conservation agencies.
  • 2. The rights of local and indigenous populations. The BBC story also points to the growing conflict in and around Kaziranga between the interests and rights of local and indigenous people and the need to protect threatened species. Groups including Survival International – which features in the BBC story – claim that well-meaning conservation projects have denied and undermined the rights of indigenous groups around the world. The group calls for these rights to be placed at the heart of modern approaches to conservation – and most enlightened environmentalists now agree. It’s increasingly hard to look at conservation without also considering human rights and social issues.
  • 3. Can we keep expanding protected areas? To protect threatened species across the world, conservationists have called for more and more land to be placed under protection. Renowned biologist EO Wilson, for instance, wants us to set aside “half the planet”. In an unconstrained world, dedicating half the earth to the protection of the most threatened species and the world’s important habitats might seem like a sensible way to avoid the risks of what people fear might trigger the next great extinction. In reality, there are few places left where such a proposal might practically be implemented.
From drought to flood, nation's biggest dam topped for first time in 50 years - -- California has spent the last six years grappling with a brutal drought. Now parts of the Golden State are suffering from the opposite problem: too much water. Extreme flooding this weekend washed away chunks of highway, derailed trains and inundated homes in Northern California. At Lake Oroville, a major man-made reservoir, water began flowing over a never-before-used emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam. On Sunday evening, the situation turned hazardous for residents near the 770-foot-tall dam. State officials warned around 4:40 p.m. local time that two of the dam's spillways could fail this afternoon due to severe erosion.  California's Department of Water Resources ordered residents to immediately evacuate from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream. A flash flood warning went into place for parts of Butte County. Oroville Dam lies about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco. Opened in 1968, the colossal infrastructure supplies water for farms in the Central Valley and homes and buildings in Southern California. Early Sunday morning, Lake Oroville crested at 902.59 feet above sea level — a record high, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The reservoir is considered full at 901 feet, and it reached that level around 8 a.m. on Saturday. That's when water began pouring over the emergency outlet for the first time in the reservoir's nearly 50-year history. Water had already started flowing through the dam's heavily damaged main spillway. Heavy rains late last week caused the concrete structure to unexpectedly cave in, leaving a 30-foot-deep hole that continues to grow.

Biggest fear at Oroville Dam: A 30 foot wall of water - A new storm system forecast for later this week put water officials on a race against time. Bill Croyle, the acting director of the state Department of Water Resources, said they planned to continue discharging flows at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, with the hope of lowering the reservoir level by 50 feet. The biggest concern was that a hillside that keeps water in Lake Oroville — California’s second largest reservoir — would suddenly crumble Sunday afternoon, threatening the lives of thousands of people by flooding communities downstream. With Lake Oroville filled to the brim, such a collapse could have caused a “30-foot wall of water coming out of the lake,” Cal-Fire incident commander Kevin Lawson said at a Sunday night press conference. Bill Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources, called the storms "fairly small" and said the public "won't see a blip in the reservoir" levels, now dropping about eight inches an hour. Croyle said it was not the weather he was concerned about so much as the damage done to the dam's already compromised main spillway during days of sustained heavy releases of water. "It's holding up really well," Croyle said, but continued mass water releases could be causing hidden damage to the rocky subsurface adjacent to the concrete chute. A swarm of trucks and helicopters dumped 1,200 tons of material per hour onto the eroded hillside that formed the dam ’s emergency spillway. One quarry worked around the clock to mine boulders as heavy as 6 tons. An army of workers mixed concrete slurry to help seal the rocks in place. At the main spillway, a different and riskier operation was underway: Despite a large hole in the concrete chute, officials have been sending a massive amount of the swollen reservoir’s water down the spillway to the Feather River in a desperate attempt to reduce the lake’s level. The objective is to lower the level enough so that the lake can accept runoff from the upcoming storms without reaching capacity.

Why America’s Tallest Dam Is Suddenly in Danger  Engineers are racing to lower water levels at Lake Oroville in northern California before storm clouds open up again, adding new strain to the nation’s tallest dam. When it comes to unthinkable disasters involving dams, one might think of war torn Iraq, where the beleaguered Mosul Dam is in critical condition after years of war and neglect. Suddenly, an infrastructure calamity was possible in America. How did this happen, seemingly all of a sudden? Events of the last week unspooled like the beginning of a disaster movie, with a partial collapse of the Oroville Dam’s main off-ramp for high water, and dangerous erosion beneath an emergency spillway. Almost 200,000 people downstream were evacuated—a precaution in the still unlikely event the movie ends very badly.  Dam operators have spent days preparing for new storms, continuing to spill enough water out of the lake to accommodate incoming rain, according to the California Department of Water Resources. More than 125 construction teams have set about 1,200 tons of rocks and boulders in place to shore up the emergency spillway, and the department is using drone video in addition to on-the-ground monitoring.The fast pace of events though has obscured a more basic question: Why is California flooding? After all, the last several years have seen combined heat and drought that became so bad that Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014. Weather whiplash, it turns out, is normal in the Golden State, even if this year falls toward the extreme. Conditions in the state are so variable that it’s common to see departures in precipitation of as much as 200 percent from long-term averages. The state experiences most of its rain between October and April. And when it comes down during those months, it can drop in sheets. Meanwhile, April to September are generally dry. It has no analog anywhere else in the continental U.S.

As Oroville Dam Drains, A Problem Remains --As discussed previously, the biggest priority for California officials tasked with restoring the damaged Oroville Dam as they race against a coming Wednesday storm, is to plug the hole in the damaged spillway while draining as much water as possible ahead of the coming rainfall. The good news, as the chart below shows, is how the water level at the Oroville reservoir has been declining over the last 24 hours. According to a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources water is pouring down the facility's damaged main spillway at a rate of about 100,000 cubic feet per second, or nearly twice the rate as water flowing into it. By 10 a.m., the lake's water level was 4 feet lower than the emergency spillway, which suffered damage during its first ever water release over the weekend. Officials added that the water level of Lake Oroville has been steadily dropping at a rate of roughly 3 to 4 inches per hour. A subsequent tweet by the California Office of Emergency Services updated that as of 12:30pm Pacific, the lake level had declined to 6 feet below the damaged emergency spillway. Video from 12:30 today. Water released over Lake Oroville spillway at 100K cfs. Lake level 6' below Emerg. spillway. pic.twitter.com/DKbe1mwgZi— Cal OES (@Cal_OES) February 13, 2017 

Workers with the CA Department of Water Resources are scrambling to reduce the lake's overall water level to 50 feet below the emergency spillway elevation of 901 feet. That mission has taken on added urgency ahead of the previously reported heavy rains expected later in the week. According to a subsequent tweet by the California DWR, the dam is now releasing over 110,000 cubic feet per second from the main Oroville Spillway, with the lake level dropping around 8' per day.And in addition to the threat of the upcoming rains, a residual risk with the emergency spillway is that the erosion from the overflowing water may erode the earth by the dam, destabilizing the structure. According to AP, the erosion at the head of the emergency spillway threatens to undermine the concrete wall and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville. Those flows could overwhelm the Feather River and other downstream waterways and levees and flood towns in three counties.

California Dam Crisis Leaves Power Market Short of Big Hydro -  As state officials rush to repair an emergency spillway for the Oroville dam -- just 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of San Francisco -- an 819-megawatt hydropower plant, capable of supplying about 600,000 homes with electricity, remains shut there until authorities judge it is safe to come back online. That’s the equivalent of two natural gas-fired power plants that will need to kick into gear elsewhere in California to make up for the lost supplies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  Almost 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate as the damaged spillway threatens to flood an area that’s also home to about a dozen power plants, based on data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The boost in gas demand resulting from their shutdown would come just as California’s supplies of the power-plant fuel are constrained. The Aliso Canyon gas storage field outside of Los Angeles has been closed since a massive leak in late 2015, and operators are still waiting for permission from the state to restart. “Gas generation probably needs to pick up the slack from what you lose at the Oroville Dam,” said Het Shah, an energy analyst at BNEF. “You need two gas facilities to fill in that gap.”On Monday, wholesale gas at the PG&E City Gate hub in Northern California was at a five-year high for the date, trading at a premium of 39 cents above the U.S. benchmark Henry Hub, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Three 230-kilovolt power lines in the area had been de-energized as of late Monday, said Steven Greenlee, a spokesman at California ISO, which oversees the region’s power grid. No other problems have occurred on the grid in relation to the dam, Greenlee said.

Evacuees from California dam allowed home even as storms near | Reuters: Californians who were ordered to evacuate due to a threat from the tallest dam in the United States can now return home after state crews working around the clock reinforced a drainage channel that was weakened by heavy rain. Officials had ordered 188,000 people living down river from the Oroville Dam to evacuate on Sunday and reduced that to an evacuation warning on Tuesday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. That means people can move back to their homes and businesses can reopen, but they should be prepared to evacuate again if necessary, Honea told a news conference. Both the primary and backup drainage channels of the dam, known as spillways, were damaged by a buildup of water that resulted from an extraordinarily wet winter in Northern California that followed years of severe drought. The greater danger was posed by the emergency spillway, which was subject to urgent repairs in recent days. Though damaged, the primary spillway was still useable, officials said. More rain was forecast for as early as Wednesday and through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service, but the state Department of Water Resources said the upcoming storms were unlikely to threaten the emergency spillway. Evacuees received more good news from President Donald Trump, who declared an emergency in the state, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Oroville Dam: Feds and state officials ignored warnings 12 years ago - More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that the massive earthen spillway at Oroville Dam — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 185,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe.  Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside. The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam, built and owned by the state of California, and finished in 1968, did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as “loss of crest control.” This weekend, as Lake Oroville’s level rose to the top and water couldn’t be drained fast enough down the main concrete spillway because it had partially collapsed on Tuesday, millions of gallons of water began flowing over the dam’s emergency spillway for the first time in its 50-year history.  On Sunday, with flows of only 6,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second — water only a foot or two deep and less than 5 percent of the rate that FERC said was safe — erosion at the emergency spillway became so severe that officials from the State Department of Water Resources ordered the evacuation of more than 185,000 people. The fear was that the erosion could undercut the 1,730-foot-long concrete lip along the top of the emergency spillway, allowing billions of gallons of water to pour down the hillside toward Oroville and other towns downstream. Such an uncontrolled release from California’s second-largest reservoir while it was completely full could become one of the worst dam disasters in U.S. history.

Oroville Dam unprepared for climate change, critics warned years before crisis: For nearly nine years, two California counties have been waging a legal fight with the state’s Department of Water Resources over how the agency manages Oroville Dam. Plumas and Butte counties, which surround the reservoir and stretch from snowy peaks in the Sierra Nevada to farmlands in the Central Valley, sued in 2008 to challenge an environmental review that was part of the state’s application for a new federal permit for the dam. The counties accused state officials of recklessly failing to take into account the impacts of global warming in their long-term plans for operating the dam. Now county officials say the emergency of the past few days, including the sudden evacuation of more than 180,000 people, shows just how well-founded their concerns were – and how important it will be for California to change how dams are managed as rising temperatures shrink the average snowpack in the Sierra and change the timing of snowmelt runoff. Bruce Alpert, the Butte County counsel, said state officials should have changed their procedures for operating Oroville Dam years ago to begin to adapt and reduce the risks of dangerous floods. “They just haven’t been operating it with an eye towards the range of possibilities, from extreme drought to extreme precipitation,” Alpert said. “They could have studied the 21st century range of climate a lot better than they did.”That complaint adds to a list of concerns that have been voiced about the dam for years but have now taken on new urgency. Activists and county officials are also pointing to what they say are design flaws in the dam, accidents and maintenance problems, and a resistance among water districts that depend on water from the reservoir to pay for safety-enhancing upgrades.

Broken California Dam Is a Sign of Emergencies to Come - A deluge of repeated rainstorms set the stage for the near-disaster at the Oroville Dam in California, a crisis that foreshadows what the Golden State can expect more of with climate change, several experts said. The situation at Oroville — in Butte County, Calif., northeast of Sacramento — happened after both an infrastructure failure and a weather event, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with UCLA. A series of storms powered by a phenomenon known as the atmospheric river hit Northern California this winter. Those filled Oroville, prompting the release of water onto its spillway. Then that structure suffered a sinkhole that became apparent last week. Dam operators over the weekend stopped sending water down the spillway, and flows crested the alternate “emergency” spillway, essentially a hillside. When that caused soil erosion headward, or in the direction toward the structure, dam officials feared the concrete spillway would collapse, sending a 30-foot wall of water downstream, causing “catastrophic flooding,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said in a letter to President Trump yesterday. The state ordered evacuations, and 188,000 people left their homes. While it's too soon for studies that would look for a climate link to the Oroville drama, experts said climate models show California likely will swing between devastating droughts and extreme storms. That could cause significant problems if the state's infrastructure isn't ready, they said. “These biggest events that cause the biggest problems are the ones we are pretty sure are going to become more common,” Swain said. “We're seeing the stresses of the current climate upon our infrastructure, and seeing in some cases it's enough to cause really big problems.” “And we know that in the future, we're going to add to those stresses at both ends of the spectrum,” he added.

20% of dams in populated areas lack emergency plan: As the nation's 84,000 dams continue to age, a growing number of people downstream are at risk, experts say. That's not only because of older infrastructure but also because of population growth around some of the dams. More than a quarter were developed primarily for recreational purposes, according to National Inventory of Dams data from 2016. "The nation’s dams are aging, and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise," according to a 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. "Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase." That problem was highlighted this week as nearly 200,000 people evacuated an area near California's Oroville Dam, about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco. California water officials were worried that erosion they discovered Sunday at the top of its emergency spillway could send a 30-foot tall wall of water down the Feather River and through the Northern California cities of Oroville, Yuba City and Marysville. The population of Oroville, the county seat of Butte County that's less than 10 miles downriver from Oroville Dam, has more than doubled since the dam was completed in 1968. Most U.S. dams were completed between 1950 and 1980. A small fraction of dams, 2.8%, were built before 1900.

The Oroville Crisis Exposes The Vulnerability Of America's Entire National Dam System - Adam Taggart - To make sense of the fast-developing situation at California's Oroville Dam, Chris spoke today with Scott Cahill, an expert with 40 years of experience on large construction and development projects on hundreds of dams, many of them earthen embankment ones like the dam at Oroville. Scott has authored numerous white papers on dam management, he's a FEMA trainer for dam safety, and is the current owner of Watershed Services of Ohio which specializes in dam projects across the eastern US. Suffice it to say, he knows his "dam" stuff.Scott and Chris talk about the physics behind the failing spillways at Oroville, as well as the probability of a wider-scale failure from here as days of rain return to California.Sadly, Scott explains how this crisis was easily avoidable. The points of failure in Oroville's infrastructure were identified many years ago, and the cost of making the needed repairs was quite small -- around $6 million. But for short-sighted reasons, the repairs were not funded; and now the bill to fix the resultant damage will likely be on the order of magnitude of over $200 million. Which does not factor in the environmental carnage being caused by flooding downstream ecosystems with high-sediment water or the costs involved with evacuating the 200,000 residents living nearby the dam. Oh, and of course, these projected costs will skyrocket higher should a catastrophic failure occur; which can't be lightly dismissed at this point. Scott explains to Chris how this crisis is indicative of the neglect rampant across the entire US national dam system. Oroville is one of the best-managed and maintained dams in the country.  If it still suffered from too much deferred maintenance, imagine how vulnerable the country's thousands and thousands of smaller dams are. Trillions of dollars are needed to bring our national dams up to satisfactory status. How much else is needed for the country's roads, railsystems, waterworks, power grids, etc?

The UN is warning of catastrophic dam failure in the battle for Syria - (Reuters) - The United Nations is warning of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Tabqa dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by Islamic State (IS) and further damage from air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition. The earth-filled dam holds back the Euphrates River 40 km (25 miles) upstream of the IS stronghold of Raqqa and has been controlled by IS since 2014. Water levels on the river have risen by about 10 meters since Jan. 24, due partly to heavy rainfall and snow and partly to IS opening three turbines of the dam, flooding riverside areas downstream, according to a U.N. report seen by Reuters on Wednesday. "As per local experts, any further rise of the water level would submerge huge swathes of agricultural land along the river and could potentially damage the Tabqa Dam, which would have catastrophic humanitarian implications in all areas downstream," it said. The entrance to the dam was already damaged by airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, it said. "For example, on 16 January 2017, airstrikes on the western countryside of Ar-Raqqa impacted the entrance of the Euphrates Dam, which, if further damaged, could lead to massive scale flooding across Ar-Raqqa and as far away as Deir-ez-Zor." The town of Deir-ez-Zor, or Deir al-Zor, is a further 140 km downstream from Raqqa, and is besieged by IS. The U.N. estimates that 93,500 civilians are trapped in the town, and it has been airdropping food to them for a year.

Has this year’s record rain finally ended California’s epic drought? Not really. - After praying for rain over five dry years, Californians are now praying for a break. The state is being soaked. Its biggest reservoirs, once at record lows, are at capacity or overflowing from record-setting rain and snow. That includes the Oroville Lake reservoir behind the Oroville Dam, where nearly 200,000 Northern California residents were evacuated for fear that an eroding wall that holds water back would crumble and wash them away. The drama caused by massive amounts of precipitation raises a question: Is California’s epic, record-setting drought, five years long, finally over? The answer is yes and no. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the northern half of the state that gets more winter rain is drought-free, while much of the middle and southern portion is still in moderate to severe drought. Santa Barbara County, where a lake that supplies its water remains at 16 percent capacity despite rain elsewhere in the state, is still experiencing extreme drought. “The further south you go, well, it’s pretty arid down there,” said David Miskus, a meteorologist for the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA. Lake Cachuma, shared by Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, fell as low as 7 percent of capacity in October, but the area is “target zero for some heavy rain coming in the next few days.” That was then, Miskus said, and what’s happening now is a potential game changer. California’s last abnormal winter, 1982 to 1983, brought precipitation that was 88 percent higher than the 30-year average. This winter’s precipitation is nearly 120 percent higher. Together with last year’s high winter precipitation, it’s making a huge dent in the drought. Last year the snow stopped a bit too soon. This year there’s so much more that “if it stops snowing completely and melted normally,” Miskus said, precipitation is so high that it would remain significantly above normal by April 1, when California’s winter ends and state water officials measure the amount of snow that will recharge rivers and reservoirs.

Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis — On bad days, you can smell the stench from a mile away, drifting over a nowhere sprawl of highways and office parks. When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries. Only it didn’t, pretty much from the start. The canal was based on gravity. And Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, was sinking, collapsing in on itself. It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse.In the immense neighborhood of Iztapalapa — where nearly two million people live, many of them unable to count on water from their taps — a teenager was swallowed up where a crack in the brittle ground split open a street. Sidewalks resemble broken china, and 15 elementary schools have crumbled or caved in.  Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.

February 2017 ENSO update: bye-bye, La Niña!  -NOAA blog - Well, that was quick! The ocean surface in the tropical Pacific is close to average for this time of year, putting an end to La Niña, and forecasters expect that it will hover around average for a few months. Let’s dig in to what happened during January, and what the forecast looks like.  This La Niña wasn’t exactly one for the record books. Our primary index, the three-month-average sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Niño3.4 region, only dipped to about 0.8°C cooler than the long-term average during the fall of 2016. However, these cooler-than-average temperatures persisted for several months, and the atmosphere over the tropical Pacific responded as expected to the cooler waters. Namely, during the fall and winter to date, the Walker Circulation was strengthened: stronger near-surface east-to-west trade winds, stronger upper-level west-to-east winds, more rain than usual over Indonesia, and less rain over the central Pacific. Monthly sea surface temperature in the central tropical Pacific Niño 3.4 region, from OISST.v2 temperature data. Data shown is the difference from the 1981-2010 average. Climate.gov graph from CPC data. During January, the sea surface temperature edged close to normal, and the average temperature in the Niño3.4 region was just about 0.3°C below normal by the end of the month. (Note, this is using the weekly OISST data. There are some differences between our sea surface temperature data sets, which Tom described in detail here.) Another factor that we watch is the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean below the surface. Over the past few months, the amount of cooler-than-average water at depth has been decreasing, and by the end of January it had disappeared. These deeper waters often give an idea of what we can expect at the surface in following months. Meaning, the lack of cooler water at depth makes it unlikely that the surface will cool off again substantially in the next few months.

So Long, La Niña; Arctic Temperatures Soar 63°F in 24 Hours - In its latest monthly advisory, issued Thursday, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) sounded the death knell for the 2016-17 La Niña. SSTs in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region (in the equatorial Pacific) warmed to 0.3°C below average during early February; SSTs of 0.5°C or more below average in this region are required to be classified as weak La Niña conditions. As further evidence of the demise of La Niña, subsurface cold waters across the equatorial Pacific have completely vanished, and much warmer-than-average waters built off the coast of Peru in late January and early February, bringing unusual El Niño-like flooding rains to that nation. The 2016 - 2017 La Niña event was one of the weakest and shorted-lived La Niñas on record, lasting just six months and peaking with sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Niño3.4 region of 0.8° below average. According to CPC, only one other La Niña since 1950 has been this short and weak: the 1967 - 1968 event, which lasted five months, and also peaked at SSTs of 0.8°C below average in the Niño 3.4 region. . Some of the computer models are calling for a return of El Niño conditions by the second half of 2017. CPC’s current consensus forecast for the September—November 2017 period estimates a 12% chance of La Niña conditions, 40% chance of neutral conditions, and a 48% chance of El Niño. The latest Australian Bureau of Meteorology models are more aggressive about El Niño, showing development by this spring. If El Niño materializes in 2017, it would give us an unusual three-year series of El Niño/La Niña/El Niño: something that has only happened once since 1950—in 1963/1964/1965.  

The temperature at the northernmost land station in the world, Kap Morris Jesup, located on the northern coast of Greenland at 83.65°N latitude, soared to a remarkable 35°F (1.5°C) on Wednesday—beating the previous day’s high of -22°F by a shocking 57°, and marking a temperature more typical of June at this frigid location. The mercury skyrocketed an astonishing 63°F (34.8°C) in just 24 hours, from -29°F at 15 UTC February 7 to 33°F at 15 UTC February 8. As summarized by Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang on February 6, the incredible warmth in the Arctic is due to a massive hurricane-force North Atlantic storm that bottomed out on Monday with a central pressure of 932 mb—a common reading in Category 4 hurricanes, and one of lowest pressures ever measured in a storm in this region.  The warm air flowing into the Arctic this week was reinforced by a second massive extratropical storm that pounded Iceland on Wednesday, which brought sustained winds of 61 mph, gusting to 91 mph, to the Reykjavik Airport.

Meet El Niño’s cranky uncle that could send global warming into hyperdrive -- You’ve probably heard about El Niño is driven by changes in the Pacific Ocean, and shifts around with its opposite, La Niña, every 2-7 years, in a cycle known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO.  But that’s only part of the story. There’s another important piece of nature’s puzzle in the Pacific Ocean that isn’t often discussed. It’s called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, or IPO, a name coined by a study which examined how Australia’s rainfall, temperature, river flow and crop yields changed over decades. Since El Niño means “the boy” in Spanish, and La Niña “the girl,” we could call the warm phase of the IPO “El Tío” (the uncle) and the negative phase “La Tía” (the auntie).These erratic relatives are hard to predict. El Tío and La Tía phases have been compared to a stumbling drunk. And honestly, can anyone predict what a drunk uncle will say at a family gathering? Like ENSO, the IPO is related to the movement of warm water around the Pacific Ocean. Begrudgingly, it shifts its enormous backside around the great Pacific bathtub every 10-30 years, much longer than the 2-7 years of ENSO. The IPO’s pattern is similar to ENSO, which has led climate scientists to think that the two are strongly linked. But the IPO operates on much longer timescales.   Several recent studies have shown that the IPO phases, El Tío and La Tía, have a temporary warming and cooling influence on the planet.Rainfall around the world is also affected by El Tío and La Tía, including impacts such as floods and drought in the United StatesChinaAustralia and New Zealand.  In the negative phase of the IPO (La Tía) the surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than usual near the equator and warmer than usual away from the equator.

January 2017: Earth's 3rd Warmest January on Record -- January 2017 was the planet's third warmest January since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Thursday. NASA also rated January 2016 as the third warmest January on record. The only warmer Januarys were 2016 (highest) and 2007 (second highest). Global ocean temperatures during January 2017 were the second warmest on record, and global land temperatures were the third warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in January 2017 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the sixth warmest in the 39-year record, according to the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH).  It's remarkable that Earth saw its third warmest January on record without any help from El Niño, which works to raise global air temperatures by exporting heat from the oceans. Sea-surface temperatures in the Niño 3.4 region of the tropical Pacific rose into the cool side of the neutral range during January, although a La Niña Advisory was still in effect. In contrast, the warmest and second warmest Januaries (2007 and 2016) both occurred during an El Niño event.

NSW heatwave: Unprecedented fire conditions are 'as bad as it gets': NSW is facing the "worst possible fire conditions" in its history with a "catastrophic" warning in place across large slabs of the state after a heatwave smashed temperature records on Saturday. Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the situation was as "bad as it gets" and warned it was set to get worse on Sunday when winds are expected to sweep through scorched parts of mid to northern NSW."To put it simply [the conditions] are off the old scale," he said. "It is without precedent in NSW." Commissioner Fitzsimmons said "catastrophic" fire ratings had been issued only once before in NSW - in 2013 - since national standardised ratings were introduced in 2009. Sunday's catastrophic fire rating will stretch from Dubbo to Coonabarabran to Port Stephens, affecting the Central Ranges, North Western NSW and the Greater Hunter. Related Content NSW's biggest power user Tomago pleads for AGL not to curb supply Threat of blackouts looms as NSW bakes in heatwave "This is an area three to five times larger than January 2013," he said, when more than 140 fires burned across the state. "[Any fire] will consume whatever is in its path." On Saturday afternoon, the RFS said 49 bushfires or grassfires were already burning across NSW, 17 of which were not contained but no loss of life or property had been recorded. Commissioner Fitzsimmons said conditions in some parts of NSW could be worse than Victoria's Black Saturday fires, Australia's worst ever fire disaster which claimed 173 lives in 2009.

Humans causing climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces -- For the first time, researchers have developed a mathematical equation to describe the impact of human activity on the earth, finding people are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces. The equation was developed in conjunction with Professor Will Steffen, a climate change expert and researcher at the Australian National University, and was published in the journal The Anthropocene Review. The authors of the paper wrote that for the past 4.5bn years astronomical and geophysical factors have been the dominating influences on the Earth system. The Earth system is defined by the researchers as the biosphere, including interactions and feedbacks with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and upper lithosphere. But over the past six decades human forces “have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth system,” the authors wrote, giving rise to a period known as the Anthropocene.   Explaining the equation in New Scientist, Gaffney said they developed it “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life.” “For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others,” he wrote. “In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now. All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.” Greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans over the past 45 years, on the other hand, “have increased the rate of temperature rise to 1.7 degrees Celsius per century, dwarfing the natural background rate,” he said. This represented a change to the climate that was 170 times faster than natural forces.

Toxic Chemicals Banned in 70s Found in Deep Ocean Creatures - English researchers have discovered an alarming amount of toxic pollution in the bodies of amphipods living in the deep sea trenches of the Pacific Ocean . The research team from Newcastle University, the James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen caught and tested small crustaceans in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches, which reach about 30,000 feet deep. Dr. Alan Jamieson led the team and is lead author of the study , Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in the deepest ocean fauna , which was published online in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution in February. "Here we identify extraordinary levels of persistent organic pollutants in the endemic amphipod fauna from two of the deepest ocean trenches … " the study abstract states. The study also explains that the creatures tested contained more pollutants than similar crustaceans from some of the earth's most polluted waters, including China's Liaohe River and Japan's Suruga Bay.  The amphipods held "10 times the level of industrial pollution than the average earthworm," a Newcastle press release stated.

‘Extraordinary’ pollution found in deep Mariana trench - Highly toxic pollutants have been found in the world’s deepest sea trenches, a sign of the environmental damage wreaked by human activity on even the planet’s most remote habitats, according to new research. The results of surveys in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches, published in the latest edition of Nature Ecology & Evolution, highlight both the scope of human ecological impact and the resilience of some synthetic compounds used in common industrial and consumer products. Scavenging, shrimp-like crustaceans in Pacific Ocean canyons many kilometres underwater are contaminated with extremely high levels of long-banned chemicals that have persisted in the environment for decades, scientists say. Alan Jamieson, an academic from the UK’s Newcastle University who led the research, said his team found contamination levels similar to those in Japan’s Suruga Bay area, a notorious industrial pollution black spot in the Pacific Ocean. “We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” Mr Jamieson said. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants in one of the most remote and inaccessible habitats on earth really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.”

Scientists study ocean absorption of human carbon pollution -- As humans burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases, those gases enter the atmosphere where they cause increases in global temperatures and climate consequences such as more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, changes to rainfall patterns, and rising seas. But for many years scientists have known that not all of the carbon dioxide we emit ends up in the atmosphere. About 40% actually gets absorbed in the ocean waters. The process of absorption is not simple – the amount of carbon dioxide that the ocean can hold depends on the ocean temperatures. Colder waters can absorb more carbon; warmer waters can absorb less. So, a prevailing scientific view is that as the oceans warm, they will become less and less capable of taking up carbon dioxide. As a result, more of our carbon pollution will stay in the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. But it’s clear that at least for now, the oceans are doing us a tremendous favor by absorbing large amounts of carbon pollution. How much carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the oceans is an active area of research. In particular, scientists are closely watching the oceans to see if their ability to absorb is changing over time. Such a study is the topic of a very recent paper published in the journal Nature. The authors studied recent ocean carbon dioxide uptake and in particular the mystery of why it appears the oceans are actually becoming more absorbing. The authors describe a slowdown in a major ocean current called the overturning circulation. That circulation brings dense salty water from the surface to the depths of the ocean while simultaneously bringing colder but less salty and dense water upwards. Why is this important current slowing down? It’s possible that global warming is a culprit.

As sea levels rise, vital salt marshes are disappearing: (AP) — The Ridgway's rail is a rare bird that relies on the salt marshes south of Los Angeles to survive. And that's why its future is in doubt — the salt marsh is disappearing under rising seas. Scientists working with the federal government said the rail's plight at Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge is indicative of what's happening to salt marshes around the country. Their assessment of eight of the country's coastal salt marshes found that half will be gone in 350 years if they don't regain some lost ground. The other four also are backsliding, and coastal communities and wildlife will suffer as the marshes continue to deteriorate.Salt marshes are ecosystems along the coast flooded frequently by seawater. They provide vital habitat for animals, such as birds, crustaceans and shellfish, and are important for their role in protecting coastal areas where people live from flooding and erosion. The U.S. Geological Survey set about to determine the danger that erosion poses to eight salt marshes on the two coasts. The group, led by Ganju, a Woods Hole, Massachusetts-based oceanographer, was surprised to find all eight marshes losing ground, some significantly. Their findings were published in January in the journal Nature Communications. The scientists said salt marshes around the country are falling victim to pressures such as sea-level rise and including land development and damming rivers. Natural erosion also plays a role.

Reclaiming native ground: Can Louisiana’s tribes restore their traditional diets as waters rise? -- When Theresa Dardar was growing up in Houma, her mother used to take her to visit relatives across land thick with oak, hackberry, and palmetto until they reached her grandfather’s house. Back then, tribal members fed themselves well—with seafood, of course, but also with the livestock they raised, the fruits and vegetables they planted, and the marsh hens they extricated from their fur traps. They hunted for turtle and alligator, too, and gathered medicinal plants from the land.  That’s because there was land. Viewed from above in the early 20th century, Pointe-au-Chien was surrounded by a dense thicket of green, broken up by splashes of blue. Those proportions flipped over Dardar’s lifetime. The land vanished until the community became a narrow neck of high ground surrounded almost entirely by open water. The area immediately around Terrebonne Bay, which includes Pointe-au-Chien, went from 10 percent water in 1916 to 90 percent in 2016, according to geographer Rebekah Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University. The U.S. Geological Survey said the larger Terrebonne Basin lost almost 30 percent of its land from 1932 to 2010. Today, the property surrounding Dardar’s grandfather’s home bears little resemblance to the place she visited as a child. “There’s no more trees,” she said. “There’s a little strip of land where he and my uncle lived. … The piece of land is so small now that I don’t think anyone would be able to live there.” This is the dilemma Dardar spends much of her time agonizing over. She has lived in Pointe-au-Chien for more than 40 years, in a house overlooking a bayou lined with shrimp boats.  She’s watched that shrimping business dwindle, and the trapping business disappear altogether. And she’s seen neighbors give up on their gardens and animals.

In order to understand the danger posed by sea-level rise, we need to look to the past - Climate scientists predict that, by the end of the century, rising temperatures could melt enough ice from the Arctic and Antarctica to raise sea levels by two to four feet, depending on how much more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans continue to pump into the atmosphere. But our oceans are subject to natural fluctuations as well; everyone knows about daily tides, but scientists also study what they call “interannual sea level variations”—tidal cycles that can span years or decades, which govern just how far inland the oceans reach.  A new study finds that, thousands of years ago, the waters around Southeast Asia—specifically, the Java Sea—temporarily rose nearly two feet. Should such a rise naturally occur again, coupled with climate change-induced sea level  increases, it could spell disaster for the tens of millions of people who live near sea level in the region. Clearly, understanding how sea levels have fluctuated in the past can provide critical insights into what will happen along coasts in the future, but observational records only go back so far. To estimate sea levels going back thousands of years, the researchers looked at coral microatolls—small, circular coral colonies. Microatolls grow outward in concentric rings, and the top layer grows or dies down over time, based on the height of the water. Much as scientists can use a tree’s rings to measure its age and growing conditions, researchers can approximate historical sea levels from analyses the coral structures. While it’s becoming ever more clear that the Earth responds rapidly to climate change, exactly what caused the rapid rise of the ocean in Southeast Asia over 6,000 years ago is still a mystery. “One of the things that my community—sea level geologists—try to do is go back into the past to try and work out when sea levels changed, how fast they changed, and what the mechanisms are,” Horton says. “And in this case we’ve solved the first two. Now our community is trying to understand the processes.”

Scientists have just detected a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate -- A large research synthesis, published in one of the world’s most influential scientific journals, has detected a decline in the amount of dissolved oxygen in oceans around the world — a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues. The paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature by oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. The loss, however, showed up in some ocean basins more than others. The largest overall volume of oxygen was lost in the largest ocean — the Pacific — but as a percentage, the decline was sharpest in the Arctic Ocean, a region facing Earth’s most stark climate change. The loss of ocean oxygen “has been assumed from models, and there have been lots of regional analysis that have shown local decline, but it has never been shown on the global scale, and never for the deep ocean,” said Schmidtko, who conducted the research with Lothar Stramma and Martin Visbeck, also of GEOMAR. Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish, Schmidtko explained. Moreover, he added, just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen mixes into the ocean; the vast majority remains in the air. Climate change models predict the oceans will lose oxygen because of several factors. Most obvious is simply that warmer water holds less dissolved gases, including oxygen. “It’s the same reason we keep our sparkling drinks pretty cold,” Schmidtko said. But another factor is the growing stratification of ocean waters. Oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, from the atmosphere and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms. But as that upper layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.

It’s about 50 degrees warmer than normal near the North Pole, yet again -- Peer at a map of the Arctic and it glows fluorescent red. The warmth, compared to normal, is again nearly off the charts. It’s crazy and perhaps unsettling, but we have seen it coming.  In my Feb. 1 story, ‘Beyond the extreme’: Scientists marvel at ‘increasingly nonnatural’ Arctic warmth, I stated computer models predicted yet another round of incredible warmth in a week’s time. Current data show these predictions have verified.Friday’s temperatures very near the North Pole are about 50 degrees warmer than normal, according to a temperature analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Reports from the ground offer further evidence of the unusual intensity of the high-latitude warmth.On Wednesday, as the flux of warm air surged into the Arctic, the northernmost land station in the world in northern Greenland shot up 43 degrees (24 Celsius) in just 12 hours, cresting the melting point: Early in the week, weather station Nord, in northeast Greenland, broke its all-time February high-temperature record by almost four degrees (two Celsius), the Danish Meteorological Institute reported. In Svalbard, Norway, the island located about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, high temperatures in the settlement of Longyearbyen have hovered near 40 degrees this entire week, compared with normal highs in the low-to-mid teens. Each day, these temperature were near or exceeded records. The warmth funneled toward the North Pole as winds converged winds between a monster storm in the North Atlantic and a giant area of high pressure over northern Europe.

 Something is very, very wrong with the Arctic climate - This Arctic winter has startled even the most even-keeled scientists, with records set for low sea ice extent, high temperatures and other indicators of a climate gone awry. Sea ice has plummeted to record lows and stayed there as pulses of unusually warm air have swept across the region, with the latest one set to reach the North Pole on Thursday. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), sea ice extent hit record lows for the months of November, December and January.   This comes on the heels of a year in which sea ice extent hit its second-lowest level on record at the end of the summer melt season in September.  The new figures for January sea ice extent, released on Tuesday, showed sea ice extent averaged 5.17 million square miles for the month, which was the lowest January extent in the 38-year satellite record. This is 100,000 square miles, or slightly larger than the state of Oregon, below the previous lowest January extent in January 2016. To put it in a longer-term perspective, sea ice extent during January was 487,000 square miles below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average. This means the Arctic was missing an area of sea ice about the size of South Africa. Keep in mind that this is the middle of winter, when much of the high Arctic is still shrouded in darkness.Sea ice throughout the past three months has been especially low in the Kara, Barents and Bering Seas. Remarkably, during January the sea ice edge remained north of the Svalbard Archipelago in far northern Norway, which typically is surrounded by sea ice during the winter. This retreat, the NSIDC stated, was "largely due to the inflow of warm Atlantic water along the western part of the archipelago." The NSIDC cited the analysis of a NASA researcher, Richard Cullather, who found that the winter of 2015-2016 was the warmest on record in the Arctic during the satellite era, which began there in 1979.

Sea Ice Hits Record Lows at Both Poles - Arctic temperatures have finally started to cool off after yet another winter heat wave stunted sea ice growth over the weekend. The repeated bouts of warm weather this season have stunned even seasoned polar researchers, and could push the Arctic to a record low winter peak for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, Antarctic sea ice set an all-time record low on Monday in a dramatic reversal from the record highs of recent years. Prelim NSIDC (daily) data indicates #Antarctic sea ice has dropped below its previously all-time lowest #seaice extent on record (satellite) pic.twitter.com/gKTrHzXumw 
Sea ice at both poles has been expected to decline as the planet heats up from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That trend is clear in the Arctic, where summer sea ice now covers half the area it did in the early 1970s. Sea ice levels in Antarctica are much more variable, though, and scientists are still unraveling the processes that affect it from year to year. The large decline in Arctic sea ice allows the polar ocean to absorb more of the sun’s incoming rays, exacerbating warming in the region. The loss of sea ice also means more of the Arctic coast is battered by storm waves, increasing erosion and driving some native communities to move. The opening of the Arctic has also led to more shipping and commercial activity in an already fragile region.Temperatures in the Arctic have repeatedly spiked since the beginning of the freezing season last fall. The influx of warmth is caused by storms moving up from the Atlantic Ocean dragging warm air with them. During this latest event, temperatures above 80 degrees north latitude reached nearly 30°F (15°C) above normal winter temperatures of about -22°F (-30°C). Temperatures over the weekend peaked above even the maximum seen during last winter, another exceptionally warm one for the Arctic. The temperature rise, along with the winds and waves churned up by the storm, can stymie sea ice growth and even cause local melt.

Antarctica just shed a Manhattan-sized chunk of ice - The growing crack in the Larsen C ice shelf is the most dramatic example of change in Antarctica right now. But it isn’t the continent’s only frozen feature changing in a warming world. Ice around the continent is disappearing as the air and water heat up and the less dramatic breakdowns are just as important to understanding the fate of the ice and the world’s coastal areas. The Pine Island Glacier on the coast of West Antarctica is a case in point. A massive iceberg roughly 225 square miles in size — or in more familiar terms, 10 times the size of Manhattan — broke off in July 2015. Scientists subsequently spotted cracks in the glacier on a November 2016 flyover. And in January, another iceberg cleaved off the glacier. Satellite imagery captured the most recent calving event, which Ohio State glaciologist Ian Howat said “ is the equivalent of an ‘aftershock’” following the July 2015 event. The iceberg was roughly “only” the size of Manhattan, underscoring just how dramatic the other breakups have been.

The Antarctic ice sheet is the smallest it’s ever been - A few days ago, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that the Antarctic sea ice contracted to just 883,015 sq. miles, which is the smallest on record. Experts assert that, if changes are not made to pollution and our fossil fuel industry, a number of species will be threatened as sea levels (and temperatures) continue to rise. The Antarctic ice sheet goes through a cycle of expansion and contraction every year. Ultimately, the ice that exists around the continent melts during the southern hemisphere’s summer, which occurs towards the end of February, and expands again when autumn sets in.However, that melting is increasing dramatically. 

This week, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that the sea ice contracted to just 883,015 sq. miles (2.28m sq. km). The announcement came on February 13, and these numbers mean that the ice is now at the smallest extent on record, reaching just a little smaller than the previous low of 884,173 sq. miles, which was recorded February 27, 1997.  NSIDC director Mark Serreze asserts that we will need to wait for measurements in the coming days before officially confirming this new all-time low; however, he is not optimistic. “Unless something funny happens, we’re looking at a record minimum in Antarctica,” Serreze told Reuters.

Could a £400bn plan to refreeze the Arctic before the ice melts really work? -- Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap. The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change. “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer. Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn (£400bn). It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030.

US GDP, Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions - A review of the structure of US GDP, imports and exports shows that none of these variables has contributed to the fall in US CO2 emissions post-2008 finance crash. The main contributions to reduced CO2 come from high energy prices and recession (36%), gas substitution for coal (20%) and growth in wind and solar (15%) which more or less corroborates the findings of Roger Andrew’s in his recent post on this topic. At the review stage of his recent post The causes of the recent decrease in US greenhouse gas emissions, I suggested to Roger that he may wish to look into US exports and imports and the changing shape of US GDP as possible additional causes for the recent fall in US CO2 emissions. Roger suggested that maybe I could do this.  We have heard a lot recently about offshoring US industry, and the need to account for CO2 embedded in traded goods and so I decided to have a look. Figure 1 The makeup of US GDP according to  UN Statistics.  There are a number of interesting and key observations to be made from Figure 2. 1) “Services” that includes things  like government, healthcare, education, defence and finance accounts for over 50% of US GDP but the proportion has changed little over the 45 year period, 2) transport etc and retail etc have both expanded steadily. The consumption part of the economy has grown and now accounts for 25%; 3) Construction has declined steadily and now accounts for only 4% (Figure 3); 4) manufacturing accounted for 13% of the economy in 2015 (Figure 3) and has changed little over 45 years, which is difficult to reconcile with the rhetoric emanating from the Trump camp. One must presume that manufacturing jobs lost in the rust belt have been replaced in other parts of the country; 5) Mining etc appears to have contracted with time, with perhaps a minor expansion in the last decade marking higher energy prices and the shale boom; and finally 6) agriculture etc, comprises only 1% of the US economy which I find to be astonishingly low. There are two further points to make. First, I can see nothing in these data to account for the decline in CO2 emissions since 2008. And second, agriculture accounts for around 7% of US emissions, but only 1% of the economy.

Climate change and financial markets - In February 2016, the ESRB published a report estimating the impact of a transition to clean energy on financial markets. Keeping global warming below 2°C  – as agreed in Paris – will require substantial reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. To reduce emissions, economies must reduce their carbon intensity. Given current technology, this implies a decisive shift away from fossil-fuel energy and related physical capital.The ESRB argues that if the transition were to occur too late and/or abruptly, it could affect systemic risk via three main channels:
(i) the macroeconomic impact of sudden changes in energy use
(ii) the sudden revaluation of carbon-intensive assets
(iii) a rise in the incidence of natural catastrophes
To quantify the importance of these channels, the ESRB report proposed that policymakers aim for enhanced disclosure of the carbon intensity of non-financial firms. They called for the related exposures of financial firms be stress-tested under the adverse scenario of a late and sudden transition.  Using a sample of firms that covers the full range of carbon intensity from renewable energy firms to coal firms, Sowerbutts examines the effect of the Paris agreement on their returns in the framework of an event study. Comparing the cumulative abnormal returns experienced by a petroleum refining company (CVR Energy) and a wind turbine manufacturing company (Nordex) in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015, he finds that the reaction was immediate and persistent. Prices jumped immediately on the first trading day, meaning a positive abnormal return of 4% for Nordex and a negative abnormal return of 4% for CVR energy, with gradual declines to end up at a cumulative abnormal return of 6% over the whole period (see figure below).

The New York Times on the Republican carbon tax proposal - From the editorial page: The new Climate Leadership Council argues that conservatives should support a carbon tax because it is a more market-friendly approach than Mr. Obama’s regulations. And after a carbon tax is put in place, the council says, the government should eliminate most of those rules, since they won’t be needed. But there are legitimate fears that the tax alone might not achieve emission reductions on the scale needed to save the planet from out-of-control warming, and that regulations and other policies like public investments in renewable energy will be needed, too. Neither President Trump nor Republicans in Congress have embraced the proposal. Many conservatives believe they’ll be able to dismantle Mr. Obama’s regulations through administrative, legal or legislative maneuvers, without compromising. Plus, many are philosophically opposed to, and politically fearful of, any new taxes. Their dismissal of the council’s proposal is myopic and puts their party out of step with the country. A large majority of Americans want the government to address climate change — 78 percent of registered voters support taxing emissions, regulating them or doing both, according to a Yale survey conducted after the election. The Republican elders are offering their party an opening to change the conversation. It should take the cue. Here is my previous post on the proposal.

The Distributional Consequences of the Carbon Tax from the Climate Leadership Council --Martin Feldstein, Ted Halstead, and Greg Mankiw (FHM) are singing the praises of a proposed carbon tax:  First, the federal government would impose a gradually increasing tax on carbon dioxide emissions. It might begin at $40 per ton and increase steadily. This tax would send a powerful signal to businesses and consumers to reduce their carbon footprints. Second, the proceeds would be returned to the American people on an equal basis via quarterly dividend checks. With a carbon tax of $40 per ton, a family of four would receive about $2,000 in the first year. As the tax rate rose over time to further reduce emissions, so would the dividend payments … According to a recent Treasury Department study the bottom 70 percent of Americans would come out ahead under a carbon dividends plan. Some 223 million Americans stand to benefit.  The study by John Horowitz, Julie-Anne Cronin, Hannah Hawkins, Laura Konda, and Alex Yuskavage is interesting in many ways including: To examine the effects of a sample carbon tax, OTA estimated the 10-year revenue effects of a carbon tax that started at $49 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (mt CO2-e) in 2019 and increased to $70 in 2028. We estimate that such a tax would generate net revenues of $194 billion in the first year of the tax and $2,221 billion over the 10-year window from 2019 through 2028. This revenue could finance significant reductions in other taxes. In 2019, this carbon tax revenue would represent approximately 50 percent of projected corporate income tax payments or 20 percent of the OASDI portion of the payroll tax. If the revenue were rebated to individuals it would amount to $583 per person in the U.S.

If you’re going to border-adjust a carbon tax, why stop there? -- The massive growth in China’s share of global exports coincided not only with a big decline in rich-world manufacturing employment and ensuing political turmoil, but also with a significant redistribution in world carbon dioxide emissions: So it’s interesting to read a proposal from Republican eminences arguing the government should tax carbon dioxide emissions, including from imported goods, and rebate the revenues to the public: Border adjustments for the carbon content of both imports and exports would protect American competitiveness and punish free-riding by other nations, encouraging them to adopt carbon pricing of their own. Exports to countries without comparable carbon pricing systems would receive rebates for carbon taxes paid, while imports from such countries would face fees on the carbon content of their productsIn the absence of “border adjustment,” domestic consumers could avoid paying their carbon taxes — and, in principle, methane taxes, nitrous oxide taxes, and fluorinated gas taxes — by importing products from countries with laxer attitudes toward climate change. Emissions might drop in one part of the world but this would be mostly offset as pollution simply relocates elsewhere, such as to China. It would be the environmental equivalent of tightening regulatory standards on bank holding companies while letting risk migrate to other areas of the financial system. The best way to ensure fairness across countries is therefore to penalise imports from places without comparable systems. If a country really wants to discourage greenhouse gas emissions with taxes, those taxes have to be levied on all goods and services, not just those produced domestically. Anything else, such as the European Union’s proposed emissions trading system, would simply subsidise polluters abroad,  As it happens, any comprehensive greenhouse gas tax regime would tend to favour domestic production. Moving billions of tonnes of goods tens of thousands of miles is associated with a little more than three per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, or about as much as all the emissions associated with industrial production and fossil fuel consumption in Japan. All of this makes sense, and seems to be legal under existing trade rules. The question is why the logic isn’t applied more broadly. If “border adjustment” is appropriate for discouraging pollution, why shouldn’t it also be used to uphold labour standards? What’s the point of having minimum wages, protections for collective bargaining, and occupational safety requirements if the jobs are just going to be offshored to countries — often less-than-democratic ones — with different priorities?

Conservative groups fight carbon tax proposal | TheHill: A coalition of conservative groups is fighting back against Republicans who are pushing for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. The groups, including American Energy Alliance, Heritage Action for America and Americans for Tax Reform, are asking for a meeting with high-level White House officials to rebut last week’s meeting and presentation by former Republican officials like James Baker and Martin Feldstein. “Such a policy would place undue economic burdens on American families and businesses by intentionally increasing the cost of the energy they rely on every day,” the conservative groups’ leaders wrote to Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council. “A carbon tax would also be regressive — doing the most harm to our nation’s economically disadvantaged — and would destroy American jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector.” The authors of the letter include some close Trump allies, like American Energy Alliance President Tom Pyle and the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, both of whom served in leading roles in Trump’s transition team. The Republicans pitching the carbon tax last week framed it as a conservative solution to climate change that would reduce the size of government by repealing nearly all of President Obama’s climate regulations. But Trump is unlikely to come out in favor of a carbon tax. He ruled it out completely during his campaign and said he believes that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Furthermore, the Republican-led House overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution last year strongly denouncing a carbon tax.

Trump Names Industry Lobbyist and Climate Science Denier Mike Catanzaro as Top White House Energy Aide - Steve Horn - GreenWire has reported that climate change denier Mike Catanzaro — a lobbyist for oil and gas companies Noble Energy,Devon EnergyEncana Oil and Gas,  American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and Hess Corporation — will soon become a top energy policy aide for President Donald Trump. Catanzaro's lobbying disclosure forms for quarter four of 2016 serve as a potential preview of energy policy to come from the Trump White House. During that quarter, Catanzaro lobbied against U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) methane regulations, against U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement offshore drilling regulations, and for oil and gas development on U.S. public lands. As DeSmog has reported, Catanzaro served as a top energy aide during Trump's presidential campaign. According to GreenWire, he is expected to serve as special assistant to Trump for energy and environmental issues under the umbrella of the White House National Economic Council. His activities will include “implementing the president's domestic energy and environment agenda and kind of managing the inter-agency process that deals with those issues,” a source close to the Trump administration told GreenWire. “This is likely to be the most influential domestic energy policy position within the White House [and] will comfort industry and conservatives who view him as a champion for free-market energy and environment policy.”

Acting EPA head: Hiring freeze challenges ‘our ability to get the agency’s work done’ -- The Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator, Catherine McCabe, told employees this week that the Trump administration’s federal hiring freeze “is already creating some challenges to our ability to get the agency’s work done.”The comments came in a weekly video update that McCabe, a career EPA employee who previously served as a top official in its New York regional office, has been producing for staff since President Trump took office last month.Virtually each week, she has sought to reassure EPA employees who privately — and publicly in some cases — have expressed concerns about Trump’s promises to scale back the agency’s regulatory role and his nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a longtime EPA antagonist, as its next leader.“We do recognize the transition has brought some challenges,” McCabe says in the most recent video, adding, “Whatever changes and challenges come, we know we can count on you to respond with professionalism. We will continue to do our best to ensure that this agency’s decisions and actions are based on our two bedrock principles: carrying out the law and ensuring that the best science informs all that we do.” McCabe didn’t elaborate on specific ways that the hiring freeze is hindering EPA’s work, but her brief comments echoed other government officials, who have argued that such a freeze is shortsighted.

Senate Dems want Pruitt vote delayed over emails | TheHill: Senate Democrats want to delay a vote on President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee due to a pending court case regarding email records. Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. Tom Carper(D-Del.), said that emails Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office is likely to release publicly soon may be important in considering his nomination. “Granting this request — to schedule consideration of Mr. Pruitt’s nomination at a time that permits Senators to receive and review the information we previously requested — is compelled, in our view, by the Senate’s obligation to provide advice and consent on Mr. Pruitt’s nomination,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.). “These records are needed for the Senate to evaluate Mr. Pruitt’s suitability to serve in the position for which he has been nominated.” McConnell on Monday teed up a vote in the full Senate on Pruitt’s nomination. That vote will likely happen sometime this week. Pruitt has at times acted in his role as Oklahoma's attorney general in ways that benefit fossil fuel companies, including submitting a letter to the EPA that was written by an oil company.

Judge orders EPA nominee Scott Pruitt to turn over emails: An Oklahoma County District Court judge on Thursday ordered President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the EPA to turn over thousands of communications to a watchdog group. The order is the latest turn in a lawsuit against Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt brought by the Center for Media and Democracy earlier this month. CMD charges Pruitt violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act for declining to make public official documents the group has requested since 2015. Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons of the District Court of Oklahoma County instructed Pruitt's office to hand over the emails to CMD by Tuesday. The Oklahoma attorney general has 10 days to comply with the group's other records requests, Timmons ruled. CMD has sought correspondences between Pruitt's office and Koch Industries, other mining and drilling companies, and the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Pruitt chaired. As of Thursday's hearing, the office had produced 411 of the 3,000 emails CMD requested, according to the group. Timmons found "there was an abject failure to provide prompt and reasonable access to documents requested" by CMD.show chapters Controversy surrounds Trump's pick to lead EPA Wednesday, 18 Jan 2017 | 4:47 PM ET | 01:21 The decision comes ahead of Pruitt's confirmation to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which is expected to take place on Friday.

EPA employees call on senators to reject Trump EPA pick: report | TheHill: In an unusual show of opposition for federal employees, Environmental Protection Agency workers have been calling their senators to urge them to reject President Trump’s pick to lead their agency, The New York Times reported Thursday. Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, has sued the EPA more than a dozen times in his current post, alarming many of the agency’s employees, who fear that, if confirmed, he will work to dismantle its work. On the campaign trail, Trump railed against the environmental agency, calling it a “disgrace” and vowing to undo federal environmental rules and regulations.“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to EPA,” John O’Grady, a longtime EPA employee and president of the union representing its workers, told The Times. Still, the effort to rally the opposition of enough senators to reject Pruitt during his confirmation vote on Friday is a longshot. Only one GOP senator, Susan Collins (Maine), has said she will vote against Trump’s EPA pick. And Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Heidi Heitkamp Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) have both said they will support Pruitt.

Senator Collins to Oppose EPA Administrator Nominee’s Confirmation - — U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced today that she will oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to become Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her full statement follows: “After careful consideration, I have decided to oppose the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, the nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I have met at length with Mr. Pruitt, who is an accomplished attorney with considerable knowledge about environmental laws. We discussed many important environmental issues about which I care deeply—from EPA’s enforcement of landmark environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, to climate change and the Clean Power Plan, to protections from harmful pollutants such as lead and mercury. I also have reviewed testimony from his confirmation hearing. “In keeping with my past practice, regardless of which party is in the White House, I will vote for cloture on his nomination so that every Senator can have a clear, up or down vote on this important nomination of a member of the President’s Cabinet. But I will vote no on Mr. Pruitt’s confirmation. “The fact is, Mr. Pruitt and I have fundamentally different views of the role and mission of the EPA. That does not mean that I agree with every regulatory action that EPA has taken. At times, the Agency has been difficult to work with and unresponsive to bipartisan congressional concerns. But the EPA plays a vital role in implementing and enforcing landmark laws that protect not only our environment but also public health. “Specifically, I have significant concerns that Mr. Pruitt has actively opposed and sued EPA on numerous issues that are of great importance to the state of Maine, including mercury controls for coal-fired power plants and efforts to reduce cross-state air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is consistent with the Agency's critical mission to protect human health and the environment...

Scott Pruitt, longtime adversary of EPA, confirmed to lead the agency -- Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general spent years suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to regulate various forms of pollution, was confirmed Friday as the agency’s next administrator. Pruitt cleared the Senate by a vote of 52-46, winning support from two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him, saying he had “fundamentally different” views than she about the EPA’s role. The vote came after Democrats held the Senate floor for hours overnight and through the morning to criticize Pruitt as a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry and to push for a last-minute delay of his confirmation. Part of their argument was an Oklahoma judge’s ruling late Thursday that Pruitt’s office must turn over thousands of emails related to his communication with oil, gas and coal companies. The judge set a Tuesday deadline for the release of the emails, which a nonprofit group had been seeking for more than two years. Republicans pressed forward with the afternoon vote, saying Pruitt had been thoroughly vetted in recent months and calling on Democrats to end what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called “a historic level of obstruction” in holding up Trump administration nominees. Pruitt’s confirmation marked a serious defeat for environmental advocacy groups, which wrote letters, waged a furious social media campaign, lobbied members of Congress, paid for television ads and sponsored a series of public protests to keep the Oklahoman from taking the reins of EPA. “Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA likely means a full-scale assault on the protections that Americans have enjoyed for clean air, clean water and a healthy climate,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an interview. “For environmental groups, it means we’re in for the fight of our lives for the next four years.”

EPA Official, After Years of Work to Thwart the Agency's Mission, Returns to Carry Out Trump Agenda -  David Schnare's career with the Environmental Protection Agency began in the agency's infancy in 1978 with the critical mission of implementing the new Safe Drinking Water Act. Over the next 33 years, he would call the EPA home as an enforcement lawyer and policy analyst, while also working in his outside time to try to undermine some of the agency's pressing priorities.  During his tenure at the EPA, Schnare simultaneously directed a conservative think tank's environmental program that opposed regulation as a pollution remedy. He testified to Congress that carbon regulations do greater harm to the environment than carbon dioxide. He also co-founded a legal organization funded partly by fossil fuel interests, and through that group launched an effort to make public climate scientists' private emails to call their work into question. Now in his late 60s, Schnare returns to the EPA in a far more powerful role: reshaping it under another foe of regulation, President Donald Trump. He is one of 11 appointees to the agency's beachhead team that is beginning to implement the administration's agenda, which Trump has promised will include a rollback of environmental regulations. Schnare said he's been asked to stay on full-time beyond the transition. That's a chilling prospect for environmental and climate activists, who worry his history of aggressive campaigns against scientists and fossil fuel regulation mean he will work against the agency's mission.

EPA staff told to prepare for Trump executive orders: sources | Reuters: Staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been told that President Donald Trump is preparing a handful of executive orders to reshape the agency, to be signed once a new administrator is confirmed, two sources who attended the meeting told Reuters on Wednesday. A senior EPA official who had been briefed by members of the Trump administration mentioned the executive orders at a meeting of staffers in the EPA's Office of General Counsel on Tuesday, but did not provide details about what the orders would say, said the sources, who asked not to be named. "It was just a heads-up to expect some executive orders, that's it," one of the sources said. The second source said attendees at the meeting were told Trump would sign between two and five executive orders. Trump administration officials did not respond to requests for comment. Trump has promised to cut U.S. environmental rules - including those ushered in by former President Barack Obama targeting carbon dioxide emissions - as a way to bolster the drilling and coal mining industries, but has vowed to do so without compromising air and water quality. Trump has also expressed doubts about the science behind climate change and promised during his campaign to pull the United States out of a global pact to combat it. Since his election in November, he has softened that stance, saying he would keep an "open mind" to the climate accord. Trump's pick to run the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is scheduled to face a Senate confirmation vote on Friday, according to a Senate aide, after a contentious hearing last month in which lawmakers pressed Pruitt on his ties to the oil industry. Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times to block its regulations while he was the top prosecutor for the oil and gas producing state.

GOP bill would gut EPA - A House Republican is sponsoring legislation to do away with large portions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including environmental justice and greenhouse gas programs. Rep. Sam Johnson(R-Texas) introduced the Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act on Thursday, saying it would save $7.5 billion annually. That would leave the agency with a budget of less than $1 billion. Major EPA climate change programs would be eliminated under the measure.The legislation would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property. “As a fiscal conservative, I believe Washington should be a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars,” Johnson said in a statement. “Part of being a good steward includes reining in unnecessary spending, holding agencies accountable for ‘waste,’ and getting rid of politicians’ ‘pet projects.’ For example, American taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the EPA’s many vacant and underutilized properties that the EPA’s own Inspector General identified as wasteful,” he said. The legislation is modeled after a report from the Heritage Foundation, which identified the EPA programs as wasteful.

One of the shortest bills ever was just introduced in Congress, it's basically just 'KILL THE EPA': So much for ponderous legislation that's too lengthy for lawmakers to read before voting. A new bill that would have sweeping consequences for every resident of the U.S., and in fact the world at large, contains just a single, all-important sentence. The bill, sponsored by freshman Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, seeks to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As in, get rid of it entirely. Bing, bong, boom, poof... gone. Just like that! Who knew that destroying an entire bureaucracy could be so easy? Never mind sweating the small stuff, like who would then be in charge of regulating air and water pollution, environmental enforcement, Superfund sites and more. (Forget, too, about referring to all the relevant sections of U.S. law where the EPA appears, since that would cause the bill to add many pages, let alone another sentence.) With the EPA out of the way, presumably all environmental regulation would occur at the state level. To say the least, if the EPA is abolished, it would be a challenge to regulate pollutants like acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and global warming-causing carbon dioxide which don't fit neatly within state lines. Not to mention, it would also be a tough task to pull off considering the paucity of state resources. Here's the entire bill: "The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018." Is a screenshot more your thing? Here you go:

Scientists across the US are scrambling to save government research in 'Data Rescue' events -- Laptops in hand, roughly 150 people descended on an NYU building over the weekend to spend their Saturday downloading data.   Amid pizza boxes stacked next to a variety of 2-liter soda bottles, volunteers — mostly programmers, software developers, system administrators, scientists, and librarians by day — made their way through a list of government websites, flagging them to be preserved and downloading the data sets they contained. The 8-hour event, called Data Rescue NYC, is the latest in a series of similar gatherings organized by a group called the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI). The organization is attempting to download and archive data generated by government agencies like the EPA and NOAA that they believe is at risk of being taken down by the Trump administration. EDGI is also working to save versions of webpages and monitor sites for changes to wording about topics like climate change.   By the end of the day on February 4, the New York volunteers had archived over 5,000 websites and downloaded nearly 100 gigabytes worth of data sets.   The downloading efforts have only been underway for a few months — EDGI formed after Trump’s election — but the work is already yielding results. The group’s monitoring work has revealed that descriptions of the negative environmental impacts of coal, as well as graphs showing the carbon dioxide emissions levels associated with different energy sources, are gone from the EIA website. On the EPA’s site, references to the US commitment to UN climate negotiations have been deleted, and phrasing has been changed on a variety of pages to emphasize “adapting” to climate issues, rather than mitigating the problem by addressing emissions. EDGI has also found that reports detailing the progress made on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan have disappeared from the State Department’s website. The plan itself was briefly taken down and then put back up.  “We feel like the administration has been called on a couple things they’ve tried to take down, and they’ve backtracked on a few things.”

Racing to the Bottom on Methane Emissions  – Clean air advocates are concerned that a bill in the state Senate would undermine efforts to control a major contributor to climate change. Over a 20-year time period, methane, the main component of natural gas, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. And Pennsylvania puts a lot of methane into the atmosphere – 115,000 tons in 2014 alone, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. SB 175 would 
prevent the DEP from imposing any regulations on emissions of methane that are more restrictive than federal regulations. But according to Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, federal regulations are intended to be the floor, not the ceiling. "The very way that the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are written is to provide states the opportunity to go beyond the minimum that EPA requires," he points out. Pennsylvania is the second biggest producer of natural gas, and sponsors of the bill say imposing additional restrictions on methane emissions would put the state at a competitive disadvantage. But Minott contends that the legislature has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the people of the state.

Trump admin. wants Gold King Mine spill case dismissed | TheHill: The Trump administration is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over a 2015 mine-waste spill caused by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Justice Department filed a brief Monday arguing that the EPA, as a government agency, has sovereign immunity because its workers and contractors were trying to clean up the abandoned Gold King Mine when it caused the spill in Colorado. The government is continuing the same argument of the Obama administration, which concluded in January that the EPA was legally barred from paying out the $1.2 billion in claims from people, businesses, governments and others who said they were harmed by the spill. Republicans and government representatives near the spill site slammed the Obama administration for that decision, saying its response to the incident was inadequate. “These claims against EPA ignore well-settled law that [the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] does not waive EPA’s sovereign immunity to suit when its sole connection to the site at issue arises from exercising its authority under CERCLA to respond to other entities’ legacy contamination,” the Justice Department wrote to the federal court in New Mexico, referring to the 1980 law that established the Superfund program for major environmental cleanups. “Plaintiffs’ own allegations acknowledge that EPA became involved at the Gold King Mine not because of any historic involvement in the operations that resulted in mining waste, but rather by exercising its authority under CERCLA to assist in responding to environmental contamination caused by others,” attorneys wrote. The 2015 spill was caused by an EPA contractor who, working with federal and state employees, miscalculated the pressure of wastewater at the abandoned mine.

How Fishermen, Hunters, Bikers, and Hikers Are About to Lose Their Say on Public Land Use -  The House and Senate are getting rid of the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows members of Congress to vote on "resolutions of disapproval" during the initial 60 days after an agency publishes the new rule. Striking it this way also allows Congress to do it without public input, and it forbids the agency from revisiting or improving the rule in the future. Since the beginning of the year, the GOP majority in Congress has used the CRA to eradicate Obama administration rules barring the dumping of coal waste into streams, sales of guns to people with mental health disorders, methane leaks and flaring by oil and gas drilling operations on public lands, and payments to either the U.S. or foreign governments for the rights to extract oil, natural gas, or minerals.Killing the rule would be a huge setback for the $646 billion outdoor recreation industry, said Jessica Wahl of the Outdoor Industry Association. “Public lands are the backbone of our industry,” she told Men’s Journal. “In many of these states, the recreation economy is king. So you can’t say that on the one hand you support job creation, and on the other take a step that hampers the growth of the outdoor recreation industry.” Athan Manuel, the director of the Lands Protection Program for the Sierra Club, terms Planning 2.0 “a very common-sense modernization” that “takes into account everyone’s perspective, whether you’re an oil company or an environmental group,” by increasing transparency and public participation in a process barely changed in over 30 years. “I guess that level playing field bothered Republicans who want to go back to the days of the BLM only permitting logging, grazing, mining, and drilling.”

The Slow Confiscation of Everything – Laurie Penny - These days, the words of the prophets are written in whimsical chalk on the hoardings of hipster latte-mongers: “The end is nigh. Coffee helps.” In the days running up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, I saw this sort of message everywhere, and as panic-signals go, it’s oddly palliative. The idea that the Western world might soon be a smoking crater or a stinking swamp in does, in fact, make me a little more relaxed about the prospect of spending five dollars on a hot drink.  Fuck it. The planet, as we keep telling each other, is on fire. Might as well have a nice latte while we wait for the flames to slobber up our ankles. When you consider that some desperate barista boiled the entire philosophy of post-Fordist public relations down to its acrid essence,  it would be ungrateful not to. What have you got to lose? Five dollars and your pride, in the short term, but what will those be worth next year? Next week? Have you looked at the Dow Jones lately? Have you turned on the news? On second thoughts, best not—just drink your coffee and calm down. Look, they’ve drawn a little mushroom cloud in the milk foam. It’s quite beautiful, when you think about it.  The topic of apocalypse comes up a lot these days. It’s slipped into conversation as compulsively as you might mention any other potentially distressing disruption to your life plans, such as a family member’s member’s illness, or a tax audit. And yet the substance of the conversation has shifted in recent weeks and months from an atmosphere of chronic to acute crisis. The end seems to be slightly more nigh than it was last year; we talk about the Trumpocalypse with less and less irony as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the Doomsday clock half a minute closer to midnight.  Of all the despicable things the runaway ghost train of the Trump administration has done in its first ferocious weeks, the attempt to utterly destroy every instrument of environmental protection is perhaps the most permanent. The appointment of fossil fuel tycoons and fanatical climate change deniers to key positions in energy and foreign policy, the immediate reinstitution of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, the promise to pull out of the Paris Climate Pact—all moves crafted to please the oil magnates who helped put him in power—these are changes that will hasten the tick of the time bomb under civilisation as we know it. Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide towards bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. We don’t get a do-over on climate change. The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse for as long as they can.

Trump signs law rolling back disclosure rule for energy and mining companies - President Trump signed a measure Tuesday that could presage the most aggressive assault on government regulations since President Reagan. The bill cancels out a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that would have required oil and gas and mining companies to disclose in detail the payments they make to foreign governments in a bid to boost transparency in resource-rich countries. It is the first of a series of bills Congress is considering that would take advantage of the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which had been used only once before today. The act gives a new president and Congress the power to revoke rules and regulations promulgated by the previous administration in its final 60 legislative days. The previous time the review act was invoked was in 2001 to overturn a Clinton administration regulation about ergonomics. “It’s a big deal,” Trump said as he signed the measure in the Oval Office. “The energy jobs are coming back. Lots of people going back to work now.” The White House later issued a background paper saying the measure Trump signed “blocks a misguided regulation from burdening American extraction companies.” Hill Republicans are also seeking to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn regulations that would: prevent coal-mining operations from dumping waste into nearby waterways; restrict methane emissions by oil and gas operations on federal land; require federal contractors to self-certify that they comply with U.S. labor laws; require each state to issue annual ratings for teacher-prep programs; and introduce a planning rule for federal lands.

Trump signs bill undoing Obama coal mining rule | TheHill: President Trump on Thursday signed legislation ending a key Obama administration coal mining rule. The bill quashes the Office of Surface Mining's Stream Protection Rule, a regulation to protect waterways from coal mining waste that officials finalized in December. The legislation is the second Trump has signed into law ending an Obama-era environmental regulation. On Tuesday, he signed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution undoing a financial disclosure requirement for energy companies. Both the mining and financial disclosure bills are the tip of a GOP push to undo a slate of regulations instituted in the closing days of the Obama administration. The House has passed several CRA resolutions, and the Senate has so far sent three of them to President Trump for his signature.Regulators finalized the stream protection rule in December, but they spent most of Obama’s tenure writing it. The rule is among the most controversial environment regulations the former administration put together. The coal mining industry said it would be costly to implement and lead to job losses across the sector, which is already suffering from a market-driven downturn in demand for its product. At the signing, Trump called the regulation "another terrible job killing rule" and said ending it would save "many thousands American jobs, especially in the mines, which, I have been promising you — the mines are a big deal." "This is a major threat to your jobs and we’re going to get rid of this threat," he added. "We’re going to fight for you."

Without Clean Power Plan, coal use could rise again -  The U.S. Department of Energy expects coal to regain its spot as the nation’s main energy source if the Clean Power Plan is not implemented, which would reverse a trend of natural gas dominance driven by lower prices and government incentives to switch to cleaner energy.In 2016, natural gas became the dominant source of energy in the U.S., and in Europe a surge of wind power was bumped coal from its number two spot as main energy provider.The Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule implementing the Clean Power Plan in 2015, but the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the enforcement of the rule pending legal challenges. Nonetheless, states and energy companies have created their own clean energy goals and plans, pushing towards a future with less reliance on coal and more use of natural gas and renewable energy. But President Donald Trump has pledged to curtail the EPA’s work to reduce the impacts of climate change, and has promised to rescue beleaguered coal country by rolling back the Clean Power Plan.But the economics and the politics of coal have been out of sync. While Trump plans to save coal, record low natural gas prices made it the top energy source for the first time last year. Energy companies around the country, stung by the high cost of burning coal, have switched plants from coal to natural gas, and other coal-fired power plants have been shut down. But without enforcement of the Clean Power Plan looming on the horizon, that trend could reverse, the Energy Department said. “In the scenario where the Clean Power Plan is not implemented, coal again becomes the leading source of electricity generation by 2019 and retains that position through 2032,” the department said in an analysis by the Energy Information Administration

Say Goodbye to Coal-Free Streams -- President Trump has officially killed the Office of Surface Protection's Stream Mining Rule, as he signed legislation undoing the Obama era protection Thursday. Surrounded by lawmakers, coal miners and friendly coal executives , Trump blasted the rule as "another terrible job killing rule" and promised to save jobs "especially in the mines, which, I have been promising you—the mines are a big deal." A report issued by the Congressional Research Service last month found that the rule would have eliminated a minimal amount of jobs in the coal industry, while generating an additional 250 jobs per year. "If Central Appalachian legislators really had the best interests of their constituents at heart, they would not have attacked this moderate rule," said Erin Savage of Appalachian Voices . "Instead of doing the bidding of coal industry lobbyists, they should be working to protect the health and well-being of Appalachian communities that depend on clean water."

Dominion plan to bury coal ash near Potomac River faces renewed opposition -- Environmental groups are mounting opposition to the final phase of a Dominion Virginia Power plan to bury nearly 1 million tons of coal ash at the utility company’s Possum Point plant near the Potomac River.The state Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on Dominion’s application for a permit to permanently seal the coal ash with vegetation, soil and synthetic membranes as part of the company’s efforts to comply with a nationwide federal mandate to safely dispose of all forms of the pollutant. Dominion, which stopped burning coal at the Prince William County site in 2003, had been storing the ash in five retention ponds.Last year, the state water board granted the company permission to discharge about 215 million gallons of treated coal ash water into a Potomac tributary, allowing Dominion to dredge the ash sediment and consolidate it into one pond that will also be drained before it is sealed.Environmentalists, who fought to block the earlier permit, say that evidence of some groundwater contamination at the Possum Point site makes the plan to keep the coal ash there dangerous to nearby residents and wildlife. Trucks excavate and carry coal ash from drained coal ash pond E at Possum Point Power Station in Dumfries, Va., in June, 26, 2015. (Kate Patterson /The Washington Post) Monitoring wells have shown elevated levels of nickel, boron and other metals in the groundwater, prompting Dominion to offer local households with private wells financial help to connect to Prince William’s public water system.Environmental groups and some local elected officials argue that the state should require the ash to be carted away and disposed of elsewhere, or recycle it into a cleaner form of ash that is used in cement, silica and other building materials.Dominion already recycles coal ash produced at some of its other sites in Virginia, selling about 1.4 million tons commercially during the past two years, according to a company spokesman.

In Australia and the US, sound climate policy is being held hostage by vested interests - The inauguration of billionaire property developer and reality TV star Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has presaged a new Dark Age of climate politics.  In an opening fortnight of controversial executive orders, President Trump has decreed the expansion of major fossil fuel developments including the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and the neutering of long-standing environmental protections. In addition, he and his leadership team have made it plain they intend to dismantle many of the Obama administration’s climate initiatives and withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. All this runs in direct counterpoint to the rapid decarbonisation required to avoid dangerous climate change. For Australian fossil fuel interests, President Trump’s war on climate appears particularly opportune. Just last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his senior ministers floated the idea of government backing for new coal-fired power stations as part of the government’s response to Australia’s “energy security” and expressed reticence over the country’s Renewable Energy Target.   For a country that has nurtured world-leading innovations in solar photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies and that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – be it in the form of record heat, devastating floods, more widespread drought, coastal inundation from sea level rise combined with stronger tropical storms, or the demise of the Great Barrier Reef – doubling down on the traditional fossil fuel energy path is particularly short-sighted. Of course this hostility to climate action and the decarbonisation of our economies is not new. The attacks on climate action by the Trump presidency and the Turnbull government’s embrace of the discourse of “clean coal” reflect the toxic, partisan political war that has engulfed US and Australian climate policy over several decades. Sound policy has been held hostage by the same vested interests of a large and powerful fossil fuel sector and a traditional vision that jobs and economic growth can only come from the “extractivism” that has defined 19th and 20th century economics.

Power blackout tipped to spread nationwide - As Australia remains in the grip of a heatwave, the federal government has been warned of potential nationwide blackouts.The oppressive temperatures scorching much of Australia has already led to blackouts in South Australia, with the Coalition blaming the state’s energy shortfall on its reliance on renewable energy, sparking another fiery day in Parliament. But according to the Australian Energy Council (AEC) the entire nation’s system needs an immediate upgrade saying energy reliability is not just a state issue. “We’re seeing generators leave the market and we are not replacing them,” AEC chief executive officer Matthew Warren told ABC. “If you keep doing that, you will have more blackouts.” According to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) forecast, load shedding could cause blackouts in New South Wales on Friday. “A tightening supply/demand balance across South Australia and New South Wales over the coming days,” it said in a statement. Mr Warren said South Australia was the first to experience the power outages, “but Victoria is next”. “And if we don’t do anything about this, if we keep just doing nothing about energy policy … this will spread to New South Wales and Queensland and to the rest of the country,” he said.

SA power cuts: Nuclear energy should be considered as solution - Despite opposing a high-level nuclear waste dump in South Australia, state Liberal leader Steven Marshall is now proposing nuclear power as a potential solution to the state's energy reliability issues.Mr Marshall made the claims after last night's load shedding, which meant 90,000 customers lost power during extreme heat. That blackout followed other significant outages in recent months, including September's state-wide loss of power. A citizens' jury rejected high-level nuclear waste storage in November, prompting Mr Marshall to declare plans of "turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump" were "now dead." But today he said that did not mean he or his party were against the production of high-level nuclear waste in South Australia, via nuclear energy generation. "We've never ruled out the nuclear opportunity for energy. We made it very clear that we were not in the slightest bit interested in continuing to pour money into the hopeless case which was a nuclear repository in South Australia," he said.Mr Marshall denied the policy was hypocritical, but did not offer an explanation as to what would become of the highly radioactive spent fuel rods if a nuclear reactor was built in South Australia.He said all options should be on the table to "get baseload back in South Australia," including restarting the decommissioned Port Augusta power station — despite the demolition of one of its chimney stacks. "We need to consider reopening Port Augusta, we need to consider solar thermal, we need to consider nuclear opportunities, we need to consider pumped hydro," he said.

Climate change may overload US electrical grid -- As the planet warms due to climate change and hot days become more common, the US electrical grid could be unable to meet peak energy needs by century’s end, researchers warned Monday. The cost to upgrade the US electrical grid so it could cope with peak demands may be on the order of $180 billion, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “As the electricity grid is built to endure maximum load, our findings have significant implications for the construction of costly peak generating capacity,” said the study. The current study factors in the effect of ever-more frequent and intense heat when it comes to peak electricity demand, or the maximum amount of electricity a given area would need at one time. Some areas will likely use less electricity, for instance in the northwestern United States, where cold days will become less intense. But other areas, like the southern United States, “could experience an increased number of spikes in electricity use as hot days become more prevalent,” said the study.These jumps in peak electricity demands “may require substantial investments by US electricity grids into peak electricity generating capacity.” Much of the costs to upgrade the grid would involve capacity, storage and transmission investments—not simply the cost of generating electricity.

US electric grid isn’t ready to handle our future climate -- Climate change is driven in part by our production of electricity. And there's a chance for feedback here, as the warming will significantly impact our overall consumption of electricity. In fact, it has been suggested that the majority of costs of climate change will likely come from the additional expense of indoor cooling. This will come through both a steady background of warmer temperatures and periods of high demand during extreme heat events. As it stands, the electricity grid is designed to withstand days of high usage, which typically fall on the hottest days of the year. Right now, US grid operators are typically capable of supplying 15 to 20 percent above the forecasted peak electricity load. If the intensity or frequency of these extreme heat days increases, our current grid may not be able to meet the demand. If it won't, then we need to evaluate the electricity supply infrastructure and provide additional investments in peak generation capacity, transmission, and storage.  The researchers combined their understanding of how peak load responds to daily temperature and combined it with projections of future temperature derived from climate models. This produced estimates of the changes we'll see in average load and daily peak load  through the end of the century. As a direct result of climate change, they predict a 2.8 percent increase in average hourly load and a 3.5 percent increase in daily peak electricity demand. Peak loads would get peakier. The top 5 percent of daily peak load events would see usage up by anywhere from 6 to 21 percent, depending on the details of the model used. We'd also see more peaks. The number of days where the load was projected to be above the current top 5 percent went up significantly, doubling on the low range of estimates and going up by four times the current levels at the high end. The number of days above the current top 1 percent of days could be up to 1,500 percent more frequent. All of which tells us that increases in electricity generation or storage should be planned to overcome future climate change-induced temperature increases.

For the First Time, Wind on the Plains Supplied More Than Half Region’s Power -- Wind turbines across the Great Plains states produced, for the first time, more than half the region’s electricity Sunday. The power grid that supplies a corridor stretching from Montana to the Texas Panhandle was getting 52.1 percent of its power from wind at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, Little Rock, Arkansas-based Southwest Power Pool Inc. said in a statement Monday. As more and more turbines are installed across the country, Southwest Power has become the first North American grid operator to get a majority of its supply from wind. That beats the grid’s prior record of 49.2 percent and the 48 percent that a Texas grid operator reached in March, Derek Wingfield, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Ten years ago we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Bruce Row, Southwest Power Pool’s vice president of operations, said in the statement. “Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent. It’s not even our ceiling.” The power pool operates 60,000 miles of power grid across 14 states. Texas leads the U.S. wind industry with more than 20 gigawatts installed, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Coal dominates in Texas as energy source -- According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, coal was the number one energy source for Texas in January, reports FuelFix. Coal provided nearly 36 percent of Texas’ energy, followed by natural gas at 30 percent and wind at 20 percent. Natural gas prices increased in January, which led to higher demand for the cheaper coal. Typically, natural gas is the dominant source of energy in Texas, with coal, wind, and nuclear power all following suit. However, wind energy is now the dominant source of renewable energy in the state, above hydroelectric and solar power. Last year, half of all electricity in the United States was produced by wind or natural gas. Texas leads the nation in energy production from wind. The state produced more than 20,000 megawatts of electricity, according to Houston Public Media. “That’s enough energy to power more than 5.7 million homes here in Texas, and also provide more than 25,000 jobs here in Texas,” said Tom Kiernan, head of the American Wind Energy Association.

As Poland chokes on smog, groups prepare complaint to EU (AP) -- TV stations flash pollution alerts. People don masks for their morning jogs. Preschools stop taking children outside to play. As smog across coal-addicted Poland hits crisis levels, four environmental groups announced Friday that they are preparing a complaint to the European Union accusing Poland of violating EU laws meant to control air pollution. Poland is one of the two most polluted countries in the 28-member bloc, along with Bulgaria. The main cause of air pollution is people burning poor quality coal, sometimes even plastics and other garbage, often in home furnaces that are not equipped to filter out damaging particles. One key pollutant is benzopyrene, a cancer-causing substance. Benzopyrene concentrations are on average five to seven times higher than the legal norm across Poland, and 12 to 15 times the legal norm in the dirtiest regions, particularly the regions around Krakow and Lodz, according to Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan, legal counsel on clean air for ClientEarth, one of the groups preparing the complaint. Warsaw's air is traditionally better than the southern areas, but this winter it has been bad as cold temperatures force people to burn more coal. A lack of strong winds has added to the problem and suddenly this year people have started wearing smog masks in public as awareness of the problem has grown.

India optimistic of being coal-free by 2050 -- India will not need to build another coal power plant after 2025 if renewables continue to fall in cost at their current rate, according to a report that suggests that carbon levels could be cut significantly beyond parameters agreed at the Paris climate talks. A report published on Monday by The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) in New Delhi suggests that as long as renewables and batteries continue getting cheaper, they will undercut coal in less than a decade. If that happens, it will reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 600m tonnes, or 10 per cent, after 2030, the report said. India is the world’s fastest growing major polluter, and its ability to curb carbon emissions will be vital in capping the rise in global temperatures. The report suggests that if the Indian ministers get their policies right, they will be able to go much further than they have already promised, and even eliminate coal-fuelled power entirely by the middle of the century. Ajay Mathur, director-general of Teri, said: “This is perfectly achievable if government gets its policies right. India’s power sector could be coal-free by 2050.” India is currently the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China and the US, contributing about 4 per cent of the world’s total.

 Utilities vote to close Navajo coal plant at end of 2019 -- The utilities that own the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near Page are tired of overpaying for power and decided Monday to close the plant when their lease expires at the end of 2019. To run that long, the utility owners need to work out an arrangement with the Navajo Nation, which owns the land, to decommission the plant after the lease expires. Otherwise, the owners will have to close at the end of this year to have time to tear down the plant's three generators and be gone by 2020. Environmentalists cheered the decision to shutter one of the biggest polluters in the nation, while other stakeholders such as the U.S. Department of the Interior and coal supplier Peabody Energy hope to find a way for the Navajo Nation or another entity to step in and keep the plant going beyond 2019. The clock is ticking. The utilities want the lease extension settled with the tribe by July 1. The three-unit, 2,250-megawatt plant has been more expensive to run than natural-gas-burning plants. The closure will affect not only about 430 workers at the plant but also another 325 at Peabody's Kayenta Mine 80 miles away, which straddles the Navajo and Hopi reservations and has nowhere else to sell its coal, especially with the fuel falling out of favor nationally. An official of Salt River Project, an owner and the plant's operator, broke the news to plant employees Monday. "Obviously it is a difficult announcement to make, but a lot more difficult of an announcement to hear, and we are understanding of that," Deputy General Manager Mike Hummel said. "Our focus now is to take whatever steps we can take to keep the plant running through 2019." SRP officials said the power plant has been important in developing Arizona, but that the public utility has a duty to its 1 million customers to minimize costs. Hummel said discussions with the Navajo Nation already are underway to amend the lease to keep the plant running through 2019.

Geochemist Asks: Who Needs Yucca Mt. Anyway? - Dr. James Conca, in an article published in Forbes, sees the Yucca Mt. solution to the nation's spent fuel storage problem as, essentially, moot. “The problem this time is that most of our high-level nuclear waste is no longer high level,” Conca explains. “And most scientists agree we shouldn't dispose of spent nuclear fuel until we reuse it in our new reactors that are designed to burn it,” he said. Similar to car engines that re-burn exhaust that still carries volatile fuel atoms that can be for better gas mileage while burning up pollutants in the process, Conca is asking why the country would bury spent fuel that could be re-used in modern reactors, thereby stealing new energy from the same fuel and coming away with a less volatile radioactivity in the spent fuel in the process. In addition, if we buried useful fuel, we would just need to mine more uranium out of the ground for the new reactors. As a geochemist, Conca doesn't like the Yucca Mountain option, anyway. He doesn't argue that it is not safe, but argues that it would be a needlessly expensive project. “Besides, the highly-fractured, variably-saturated, dual-porosity Yucca Mt. volcanic tuff with highly oxidizing groundwater was the wrong rock to begin with, causing the cost to skyrocket and the technical hurdles to keep mounting,” he said. He argues that there are four types of radioactive waste. Transuranic waste (TRU) from the nuclear weapons program has a place to go – the Waste Isolation Pilot Program's underground repository near Carlsbad, N.M. Similarly, low-level radioactive waste (LLW) has six storage sites around the country. That takes care of the third most radioactive waste – transuranic – and the fourth most (or least) radioactive waste. While it may have made some sense to place the two hottest waste materials underground at Yucca Mountain forty years ago, when the proposal was first developed, it no longer does, says Conca.  Some of the TRU waste in storage in New Mexico is, in fact, hotter than some of the HLW stored at Hanford that has been in limbo for decades. During those same decades, and due to time and chemistry, the need for a separate repository for spent nuclear fuel and HLW fades, Conca says.

Toshiba’s Nuclear Reactor Mess Winds Back to a Louisiana Swamp (BBG - If you want to understand why Toshiba Corp. is about to report a multi-billion dollar write-down on its nuclear reactor business, the story begins and ends with a one-time pipe manufacturer with roots in the swamp country of Louisiana. The Shaw Group Inc., based in Baton Rouge, looms large in the complex tale of blown deadlines and budgets at four nuclear reactor projects in Georgia and South Carolina overseen by Westinghouse Electric Co., a Toshiba subsidiary. On Tuesday, Toshiba is expected to announce a massive write-down, perhaps as big as $6.1 billion, to cover cost overruns at Westinghouse, which now owns most of Shaw’s assets. The loss may actually eclipse the $5.4 billion that Toshiba paid for Westinghouse in 2006 and has forced the Japanese industrial conglomerate to put up for sale a significant stake in its prized flash-memory business. Toshiba had to sell off other assets last year following a 2015 accounting scandal. Toshiba made a big bet on a nuclear renaissance that never materialized, in part because it couldn’t build reactors within the timelines and budgets it had promised. The company had anticipated that Westinghouse’s next-generation AP1000 modular reactor design would be easier and faster to execute -- just the opposite of what happened. Now the Japanese company may exit the nuclear reactor construction business altogether and focus exclusively on design and maintenance. “There’s billions and billions of dollars at stake here,” says Gregory Jaczko, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). “This could take down Toshiba and it certainly means the end of new nuclear construction in the U.S.”