Blog Archive

Sunday, June 11, 2017

rjsigmund: Environmental and Climate News, week of June 9, 2017

Baby teeth link autism and heavy metals, NIH study suggests – Baby teeth from children with autism contain more toxic lead and less of the essential nutrients zinc and manganese, compared to teeth from children without autism, according to an innovative study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. The researchers studied twins to control genetic influences and focus on possible environmental contributors to the disease. The findings, published June 1 in the journal Nature Communications, suggest that differences in early-life exposure to metals, or more importantly how a child’s body processes them, may affect the risk of autism. The differences in metal uptake between children with and without autism were especially notable during the months just before and after the children were born. The scientists determined this by using lasers to map the growth rings in baby teeth generated during different developmental periods.The researchers observed higher levels of lead in children with autism throughout development, with the greatest disparity observed during the period following birth. They also observed lower uptake of manganese in children with autism, both before and after birth. The pattern was more complex for zinc. Children with autism had lower zinc levels earlier in the womb, but these levels then increased after birth, compared to children without autism. The researchers note that replication in larger studies is needed to confirm the connection between metal uptake and autism.

No unborn baby is safe from toxic pollutants – The womb is no longer a safe place for babies, as the placenta, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord are unable to filter out contaminants. Babies are born pre-infected and pre-polluted by chemicals that we adults have created and dispersed. According to Frederica Perrera, a professor and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, there has been a notable increase in development problems in children worldwide that parallels the increase in toxic contaminants in water, air, soil, and consumer goods, as well as the mounting effects of global warming. She writes in the New York Times: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds dozens of toxic chemicals, pollutants and metals in pregnant women, many of which are also found in cord blood of newborns. These include pesticides sprayed in inner-city buildings and on crops, flame retardants used in furniture, combustion-related air pollutants from fossil-fuel-burning power plants and vehicles, lead, mercury and plasticizers. All have been shown in epidemiologic studies in the United States and elsewhere to be capable of damaging developing brains, especially while babies are exposed in utero or in their early life.” Research shows that climate change is increasing the incidence of infectious diseases, malnutrition, heat-related sicknesses, and mental trauma from catastrophic natural disasters. All of these factors, Perrera writes, “can directly or indirectly affect early brain development, the cognitive and behavioral functioning of children and their ability to learn.”

Meat packer blames ABC's 'pink slime' for nearly killing company | Reuters: ABC News' characterization of a South Dakota meat processor's ground-beef product as "pink slime" almost put Beef Products Inc out of business, BPI's lawyer said on Monday in the opening salvo of a closely watched trial. The $5.7 billion lawsuit pitting big agriculture against big media is the first major court challenge against a media company since accusations of “fake news” by U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters have become part of the American vernacular. The trial is expected to run eight weeks. BPI claims ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co, and its reporter Jim Avila defamed the company by using the term “pink slime” and making errors and omissions in its 2012 reporting. But ABC lawyer Dane Butswinkas said "pink slime" was a common term, used more than 3,800 times in the media prior to ABC's reports. In the aftermath of ABC's broadcasts, BPI closed three of its four processing plants and said its revenue dropped 80% to $130 million. "That success took about 30 years to succeed and it took ABC less than 30 days to severely damage the company," a lawyer for BPI, Dan Webb, said in court. Butswinkas countered that BPI had already lost multiple customers for LFTB, including major fast food chains, prior to the ABC reports, due to unhappiness with the product. ABC has said its coverage was accurate and deserved protection under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, speech and the right to a free press. ABC denies any wrongdoing and is confident its reporting will be "fully vindicated," a lawyer for ABC and Avila, Kevin Baine of Williams & Connolly, has said.

Food poisoning warning: Hepatitis E found in European pig products – Cases of hepatitis E virus – which attacks the liver and in extreme cases can paralyse and kill – are rising, Dr Harry Dalton told a conference in Liverpool. The gastroenterologist at Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust said the vast majority of cases can be tracked to European pig products such as hams and salamis. HEV is particularly dangerous for the elderly, the pregnant and people with suppressed immune systems. Public Health England said that confirmed or reported cases rose from 368 in 2010 to 1,244 last year. Its scientists added there was “a trend towards more severe and prolonged illness.” A joint Food Standards Agency and European Food Safety Authority workshop has found that there are up to 100,000 foodborne HEV infections a year in England alone – most of which are not recognised. It said Public Health England had found that infection was associated with eating processed pork. Though up to 90 per cent of British pigs may carry the virus Dr Dalton said the human health problem is caused by European meat. He said the origin of the virus in patients can be traced at a molecular level. And 80 per cent of cases now can be traced back to European pig products. He said: “I call it the Brexit virus. It attacks the liver and nerves, with a peak in May. It is particularly dangerous for people with suppressed immune systems such as those who have had organ transplants and possibly cancer.” 

Roundup Revealed: Glyphosate in Our Food System – Rising use of glyphosate, the world's most heavily applied herbicide, is putting people at risk of significant health problems, according to a report released Tuesday by As You Sow .  Glyphosate is applied frequently to the most popular crops in the U.S., including corn, soybeans and wheat, and has been found in many common food products including "all-natural" Quaker Oats . The report, "Roundup Revealed: Glyphosate in Our Food System," raises concerns about the health and environmental impacts of current glyphosate use, gaps in the regulation of pesticides and how large chemical companies are promoting the use of glyphosate.  The report consolidates years of research, cutting through to the heart of the controversy over glyphosate. One key finding showed that glyphosate is increasingly being sprayed on crops just before harvest to dry out ("desiccate") the plants to speed up harvest operations. This practice results in greater residues of glyphosate in foods. The report's analysis finds that in 2015, nearly a third of U.S. wheat was treated with glyphosate, likely through pre-harvest use in most cases. A recent biomonitoring study revealed that 93% of Americans tested had glyphosate in their bodies. In 2015, glyphosate was classified as a probable carcinogen by the world's leading cancer authority, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. Recent research suggests that glyphosate is likely to cause other chronic health impacts, including disruption of the body's endocrine system.  American regulators are dismissing key scientific data and continuing to raise the allowable limits for glyphosate residue in food, leaving the population at risk of health harms. The widespread use of glyphosate is also creating environmental problems, including herbicide-resistant weeds and reduced biodiversity. For too long, pesticides have been the foundation of agriculture, with glyphosate as the cornerstone; the cracks in this system run deep.

Herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets accounted for 98% of sugarbeet acreage by 2013 (with graph) | USDA – The United States produced about 8 million metric tons of sugar in 2013. Over half of that sugar came from sugarbeets. However, weed infestations can reduce yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Compared to conventional sugarbeets, planting genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant (GE HT) sugarbeets simplifies weed management. Specific herbicide (such as glysophate) applications kill weeds but then leave the GE HT sugarbeets growing. Studies suggest that farmers who plant GE HT sugarbeets can increase yields, while reducing the costs of weed management. Once introduced commercially in 2008, U.S. farmers adopted GE HT sugarbeets quickly. That year, farmers planted GE HT sugarbeets on about 60 of all sugarbeet acreage; by 2009, that number had grown to 95 percent. As of 2013, approximately 1.1 million acres of GE HT sugarbeets (98% of all sugarbeet acreage), with a production value of over $1.5 billion, were harvested in the United States. Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Michigan accounted for over 80% of sugarbeet production that year. This chart is based on the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

7,000 Kansas Farmers vs. Syngenta Over GMO Corn Dispute – Thousands of Kansas farmers claimed in district court in Kansas City on Monday that Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta rushed its genetically modified (GMO) corn seed to the U.S. market in 2010 before getting China's approval for imports, which rejected shipments of the corn over GMO contamination and caused turmoil in commodity markets. As Bloomberg explains, the plaintiffs claim that "this move, coupled with U.S. corn farmers' inability to regain a foothold in China once other countries filled the void, almost wiped out the U.S. corn market for several years and continues to depress corn prices even today."  The plaintiffs are seeking $200 million in lost sales, plus punitive damages. "Every bushel of corn grown in this country is worth less today than it would have been had Syngenta" waited for China to approve the product, plaintiffs lawyer Scott Powell told jurors.  According to court filings cited by the Associated Press, Syngenta knew Chinese approval was going to be a problem but aggressively marketed its MIR162 corn anyway. Per the AP: "Court papers show that Syngenta initially assured stakeholders that China would approve MIR162 in time for the 2011 crop. But the date kept slipping. Some exporters sent shipments containing the trait to China anyway. After two years of accepting them, China began rejecting them in late 2013." Syngenta's MIR162 corn, aka Agrisure Viptera, is genetically engineered to resist pests such as earworms, cutworms, armyworms and corn borers. China did not approve the trait until 2014. The Basel-based company denies wrongdoing over its product, contending that it was a 2013 corn glut, not China's rejection, that impacted U.S. corn prices. "Syngenta acted responsibly when it began selling Viptera in 2010," company attorney Michael Brock said in his opening statement. "It was a product that farmers wanted and needed."  A slew of related trials are pending, with around 350,000 U.S. corn growers claiming up to $13 billion in losses, Bloomberg noted.

Slugging It Out With a New Contender in the GMOs Debate –  I had never met the entomologist John Tooker before he opened his door at Penn State, where I was giving a lecture this April, and invited me into his office.  “I thought it might be worth meeting,” he said, “because I read the piece where you said GMOs had decreased the amount of insecticide used.”  As long-time Grist readers know, I’ve explored this topic in depth. Over the last few decades, farmers have been using more of a type of insecticide called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short.  Neonics are mostly used as seed coatings. They’re one part in a cocktail of fungicides, insecticides, and beneficial microbes swaddling nearly every seed that modern farmers stick in the ground — GMO seeds and non-GMO alike. But, Tooker argues that the increase in genetically modified crops is what’s really causing the use of neonics to skyrocket, to the point that just about every kernel of field corn planted in the United States is coated with this class of insecticides. The reaction to the widespread use of neonics, like so much in agriculture today, has been polarized and divisive. Farmers love them.  Those ground treatments and sprays kill beneficial insects along with the pests. But a tiny drop of neonics applied right to the seed casing gets sucked into the plant as it grows. Bugs that chomp down on the neonic-infused leaves get a killer dose of the chemical. What’s not to love? Environmentalists, by contrast, see neonics as a catastrophe that is wiping out valuable pollinators and other beneficial insects along with their target pets. Greens point to studies that suggest farmers gain little to no economic benefit from seed treatments. There’s some evidence — in Europe, at least — of a marked decline in many insect populations, although data on what’s causing this remains scant. (I go deeper here, if you want more background on the bee crisis and its possible causes.)  Farmers can’t see any downside to neonic seed treatments. Environmentalists can’t see any upside. When people can’t see the other side of any debate, they become vulnerable to a form of blindness. Which is what made me wonder: Has everyone become so blinkered that we’re unable to see what Tooker sees, and there really is a massive, under-the-radar increase in insecticide use?

7 States Challenge Trump EPA Over Toxic Pesticide – The fight to ban chlorpyrifos has been heating up this week. Natural Resources Defense Council, together with a coalition of advocacy groups—and now seven state attorneys general —are ramping up the pressure on Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban a pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children. It is widely used on food crops in the U.S., including kid favorites like apples, oranges and strawberries. Most recently, the attorneys general of New York, California, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont formally requested that EPA take immediate action to ban chlorpyrifos in a filing made public today. The states argued that Trump EPA's refusal to ban this pesticide from food crops—despite the agency's own analysis finding it too dangerous for children—must be overturned.  Chlorpyrifos residues widely found on fruits and vegetables, according to the state AGs, put the residents of their states at risk and represent a source of exposure difficult for states to address due to national, and international, markets for food. They call on EPA to fulfill its "legal responsibility to protect Americans from unsafe residues on food, and particularly to protect infants and children against potential neuro-developmental and other adverse effects." In filing formal objections, the state AGs join forces with public health, farmworker and environmental advocates—including NRDC—that also filed a formal administrative appeal with the EPA yesterday, urging the agency to ban the chemical and challenging the agency on its continued use after EPA scientists have determined it to be unsafe. After close to a decade of extensive scientific review, EPA experts found widespread risk to children from contaminated air, water and residues on food.

Georgia peach crop faces nearly 80% loss this year (AP) — Georgia's peach crop is suffering much worse than expected after an overly warm winter and a hard freeze in early spring. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/2se5RVK ) Tuesday that nearly 80% of the state's peach crop has been wiped out because of the weather. Black says the lack of peaches could mean a shorter season for Georgia consumers. He says farmers probably won't ship out of state. Initially, farmers hoped to salvage about 70% of the crop. The newspaper reports that the loss, combined with a blow to this year's blueberry crop, could mean a $300 million hit to farmers. The peach crop issue has been worse in neighboring South Carolina, where Black says he's told more than 85% of the crop was lost.

Brave Police Save Town From Man Selling Veggies – It is the simplest, most basic aspect of life: you need food, so you grow some vegetables. If you have extra you sell them on a street corner to your neighbors, and if you live in California you get arrested for it.  Licensing is when the government takes a right from you, and sells it back. This California man failed to purchase his rights back from the state. But the poor police had pictures taken of them while arresting the man, and now they are hearing from the public about their unjust actions. The Sheriff’s Department of Alameda County, Florida, responded on Facebook to the public outrage, including thousands of criticisms posted to their Facebook page. Selling food on street corners violates county ordinances and public health codes. Persistent street vending harms local businesses, especially small, start-up food vendors… There you have it, from the horse’s mouth in plain black and white: the point of licenses is protection. You pay to play, if you don’t pay off the city and county, they will send their hired thugs to rough you up and demand the protection money.  It harms local businesses: apparently it is the government’s job to make sure there is no competition for certain businesses. God forbid the consumer has a choice. And why isn’t this guy’s produce selling operation considered a small, start-up street vendor? Simple because he didn’t pay for his rights.

7 Years of Work on Food Forest Destroyed Over Permit – Imagine working for seven years to build a community food forest. It would be a very fulfilling project to take a neighborhood and transform it into a living food source full of fruit trees, luscious vines, and edible ground cover. And imagine all your hard work being torn away in an instant by the city council. Literally torn away; what would you be thinking and feeling as they sent landscaping crews to tear out the trees, some with fruit still one them, and grind them into wood chips. Unfortunately, what could only be a feeling of utter exasperation and crushing disbelief was forced upon residents of Sunshine Coast, Australia. The people of a section of the city banded together to transform 11 city blocks into a food forest of which at least 200 people enjoyed the fruits. The city council felled an entire stretch of this Urban Food Street, even preventing residents from collecting the fruit before the destruction. Counselor Ted Hungerford said the felling of the trees was disappointing, but the council was left with no option after a resident had not applied for a permit, nor opted to relocate the trees to private property. He said the requirement for a free permit and public liability insurance applied throughout the region, and so far 23 residents had fulfilled those requirements. Some residents said they didn’t even know about the requirements, but that hardly matters. What matters is that some bullies in the local government care more about pieces of paper than human beings. They care more about protecting their worthless pathetic City Council jobs, and probably imagine themselves quite the adept local governors. Clearly, they are out of touch with reality. Because the city claims ownership over the property in front of people’s homes where a sidewalk would go, they were required to get permits to have fruit trees in that space — and most everyone did. However, because one resident didn’t apply for a permit, the entire area was leveled.

U.S. Pays Farmers Billions To Save The Soil. But It’s Blowing Away – Soil has been blowing away from the Great Plains ever since farmers first plowed up the prairie. It reached crisis levels during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when windblown soil turned day into night. In recent years, dust storms have returned, driven mainly by drought. But Shook — and others — say farmers are making the problem worse by taking land where grass used to grow and plowing it up, exposing vulnerable soil. "The first soil storm that I saw was in 2013. That was about the height of all the grassland conversion that was happening in this area," he says. This is where federal policy enters the picture. Most of that grassland was there in the first place because of a taxpayer-funded program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rents land from farmers across the country and pays them to grow grass, trees and wildflowers in order to protect the soil and also provide habitat for wildlife. It's called the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP. Ten years ago, there was more land in the CRP than in the entire state of New York. In North Dakota, CRP land covered 5,000 square miles. But CRP agreements only last 10 years, and when farming got more profitable about a decade ago, farmers in North Dakota pulled more than half of that land out of the CRP to grow crops like corn and soybeans. Across the country, farmers decided not to re-enroll 15.8 million acres of farmland in the CRP when those contracts expired between 2007 and 2014. Environmentalist Craig Cox wants this on-again, off-again cycle of land protection to end. Cox is in charge of advocacy and research on agricultural policy at the Environmental Working Group. The EWG just released a report calling for big changes in how the Department of Agriculture spends billions of dollars in conservation money. According to Cox, when farmers decide to take land out of the CRP, it means that most of the money spent on environmental improvements on that land is wasted. He says that instead of renting land for 10 years, the government should buy more easements — legal restrictions ensuring, for instance, that a farmer cannot plow a piece of land for the next 30 years ... or forever.

Photos: Here's what climate change looks like to Uganda's coffee farmers – If you've ever bought coffee labeled "Uganda" and wondered what life is like in that faraway place where the beans were grown, now's your chance to see how climate change has affected the lives of Ugandan coffee farmers — through their own eyes. Rising temperatures and prolonged drought can make coffee trees less productive and increase their exposure to pests and diseases. This is especially a problem in Uganda, where nearly all of the coffee is produced by small farmers who have little access to irrigation or other modern farming conveniences. Coffee is by far the country's most valuable industry: It accounts for one-fifth of export revenue, and about 1 in 5 Ugandans rely on it for part or all of their income. Yet climate change could slash the country's coffee production in half by 2050 —a loss worth $1.2 billion, according to a 2015 economic analysis commissioned by the Ugandan government. Because Uganda is a relatively small player in the global coffee market, disruptions there won't necessarily affect the price of your morning joe in the U.S. But within the country, a disturbing new reality is taking root. To find out exactly how Uganda's coffee farmers view their experience of climate change, I recently equipped a dozen of them with disposable cameras.

Environmental Protection and Africa's Cities – Africa's cities are growing rapidly, which presents both an environmental problem and a policy opportunity. The problem is that many of these cities already have severe environmental issues. The opportunity is that because these cities are much smaller than they will be in a few decades, there are opportunities now to guide and shape their growth in ways that can be much more cost-effective than trying to clean up the mess after it has already happened. Roland White et al. explore these issues in a World Bank report, Greening Africa's Cities : Enhancing the Relationship between Urbanization, Environmental Assets, and Ecosystem Services (May 2017). On the patterns of urbanization in Africa, they write:"Urbanization in Africa began later than in any other global region and, at a level of about approximately 40%, Africa remains the least urbanized region in the world. However, as indicated in Figure 3, this is rapidly changing: SSA’s cities have grown at an average rate of close to 4.0% per year over the past twenty years, and are projected to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% annually from 2015 to 2055 (Figure 3). By contrast, globally the average annual urban population growth rate is projected to be between 1.44% and 1.84% from 2015 to 2030 (WHO 2015). From an environmental perspective, this has two important implications. On the one hand, most of Africa’s urban space has yet to emerge. Much of the area which will eventually be covered by the built environment has not yet been constructed and populated. Crucial natural assets – and significant biodiversity – thus remain intact in areas to which cities will eventually spread. On the other hand, this is changing quickly: pressures on the natural environment in and around cities are escalating steadily and these assets are increasingly under serious threat."  "For the entire region the proportion of urban residents with access to sanitation was estimated to be only 37% in 2010. Solid waste coverage also remains very limited with collection rates for many African cities at below 50% ..." Here's a figure showing particulate concentrations in a range of cities. You think some cities in China have problems with air pollution? On this measure, a number of cities in Africa are considerably worse.

Brazil's environment risks political capsize  – Brazil faces an unpredictable political crisis as the country's president fights demands for him to leave office. And as the price of his survival, he is making damaging concessions on Brazil's environment. President Michel Temer is facing calls to resign after the owners of Brazil’s biggest meat-packing industry, JBS, alleged he had been involved in bribery and the obstruction of justice.  To retain support in congress, he is now working with the powerful farmers’ lobby, the bancada ruralista, which wants to reduce conservation areas and weaken environmental licensing laws. He hopes to cling to power by making concessions to the bancada. In exchange for support from the Parliamentary Agriculture Front (FPA), the bancada’s formal name, he tore up the government’s project for modernising the environmental licensing law, telling lobby members they could present whatever amendments to it they liked. So a congressional committee is now about to approve a radically different version of the government’s original proposal for a new General Licensing Law. Dubbed “flex licensing,” it dispenses with the need for licences in some of the areas where they are most needed – large–scale cattle ranching, mining in protected areas, and even roadbuilding in the Amazon, one of the biggest causes of deforestation. Once past the committee stage, it will be voted into law in a plenary session. This is a serious blow to the environment minister, José Sarney Filho, who spent a year negotiating a more reasonable version of the bill with environmentalists, farmers, and industry. Nevertheless, he has chosen to remain in the government, although his party, the Greens, together with several other small parties, has decided to abandon the ruling coalition in protest at President Temer’s alleged involvement in corrupt practices. The minister says he has decided to stay in order to defend the “cause of sustainability and the green economy" and his achievements.  The political turmoil has left Sarney Filho powerless to stop the tide of anti-conservation legislation being tabled by the farmers’ lobby in their desire to open up to economic exploration previously protected land like indigenous areas and national parks.

20 million starving to death: inside the worst famine since World War – In February, the United Nations estimated that 100,000 South Sudanese were starving, and that 5 million more — 42% of the country’s population — have such limited access to proper food that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. More recent figures are not available yet, but aid agencies fear the situation could be much worse now. There are two things you need to understand about the famine decimating South Sudan, the world’s newest country and one that came into existence largely because of enormous assistance from the US. First, South Sudan isn’t the only country in the region facing mass starvation. A potentially historic famine is also threatening Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. Far from Western eyes and far from the headlines, an estimated 20 million people in those four countries are at risk of dying due to a lack of food. The UN has already officially declared a full-fledged famine in parts of South Sudan and warned that the other three countries will suffer mass death from food and water shortages if “prompt and sustained humanitarian intervention” doesn’t happen soon. Second, these famines weren’t caused by natural disasters like crop failures or droughts. They were man-made — the direct result of the bloody wars and insurgencies raging in all four countries.  The upshot is that the current famines, unlike others in recent history, could have potentially been prevented.

New Report Investigates Failures, Costs and Dangers of Biofuels | Global Justice Ecology Project – First-generation biofuels from corn, sugar, palm oil and soya are linked to deforestation and land conversion, competition with food, loss of biodiversity, land grabs and human rights abuses; along with reliance upon genetically engineered crops. But we are told that the “next generation” of ligno-cellulosic and algal fuels, made from “non food” biomass, will be better. Researchers are engineering trees and crops to produce massive amounts of biomass designed for refinery processes, and are manipulating the genome of microbes, including micro-algae to secrete oils, enzymes and other chemicals of commercial and industrial interest. This is a primary focus of biotechnology, with a massive wave of new patent applications and the lure of large profits. But these engineered organisms are largely unregulated and poorly understood. They pose a serious threat to ecosystems and human health if they are released or escape into nature, which is inevitable. After at least a century of unsuccessful attempts to turn solid biomass into liquid biofuels through the use of heat and pressure, researchers and companies are focusing on biotechnology as key to cellulosic biofuel production and to a wider bioeconomy. This includes the use of potent new biotechnology tools, i.e., synthetic biology (aka “new breeding technologies”). Even after decades of research, there is no commercial production of ligno-cellulosic and algal biofuels. Companies are turning instead to using their genetically engineered organisms to production small quantities of high end consumer goods – expensive cosmetics, flavorings, nutraceuticals, and various coproducts to maintain their profit margins. Some genetically engineered microorganisms are also being used to make conventional corn ethanol production more efficient. Taxpayers are footing the bill, strung along by grossly hyped up claims about new technological breakthroughs just over the horizon – breakthroughs that will finally provide a clean, green and sustainable path to “consumerism as usual.” However, there is little basis for assuming that ligno-cellulosic and algal biofuels, if they were to ever be produced on a commercial scale, would in fact represent any improvement over first generation biofuels, since they too require land, water and agrochemicals as well as genetically engineered microbes. 

How climate change helped Lyme disease invade America - Yale epidemiology researcher Katharine Walter studies Lyme disease, the tick-borne illness that’s spreading frighteningly quickly in the Eastern and Midwestern US, due in part to climate change. Lyme cases have more than doubled since the 1990s, and the number of counties that are now deemed high-risk for Lyme has increased by more than 320% in the same period. 2017 is also shaping up to be a particularly bad year for Lyme. “These effects of climate change will be felt globally, but also here in the US,” Walter said, “and here in New York, in Trump’s backyard.” New York state is an epicenter for Lyme. More than 90% of cases in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and mid-Atlantic. And it’s why New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has been calling on the federal government to more aggressively tackle Lyme. But Trump’s policies on climate change, Walter said, will likely do the opposite, and make climate-sensitive infectious diseases like Lyme even more common. Here are four things to know as we enter the season for the disease.
  • 1) Lyme disease spreads to people through tick bites — but the disease can be really hard to diagnose.  Lyme is the most common vector-borne disease in the US, more common West Nile or the Zika virus. But unlike Zika, which is transmitted from mosquitoes to humans, Lyme reaches people through tick bites after circulating through a chain of other species. The bacteria typically live in mice, chipmunks, birds, and deer in wooded areas. And these are all animals that ticks feast on.
  • 2) Lyme disease has become increasingly common
  • 3) A major reason for the uptick in Lyme incidence: global warming The Environmental Protection Agency tracks the number of Lyme cases, along with heat-related deaths and severe weather events, as an indicator of global warming.  That’s because researchers think climate change is another major driver of the trend — and they expect the situation to get much worse during the 21st century.
  • 4) 2017 is expected to be a very bad year for Lyme. There are other factors that influence how far Lyme can spread: plentiful acorn seasons. It may sound weird, but it’s another fascinating aspect of the ecology that helps Lyme proliferate — and why 2017 is shaping up to be a very bad year for the disease.
There's an Algae Bloom The Size of Mexico in The Arabian Sea Right Now, And It's Not Good – An algae bloom the size of Mexico has appeared in the Arabian Sea, thanks to a growing 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Oman. It's not the first time the build-up of green slime has appeared during the winter months, but the bloom now stretches all the way from the shores of Oman on the west, to India and Pakistan on the east, turning the waves "almost guacamole-like," according to a NASA biologist. And it's not a good sign for the local ecosystem. While these algae blooms might look pretty from space or at night – they're the same 'sea sparkles' that are responsible for bioluminescence – up close, they can have serious consequences.  Not only do they smell and look terrible, putting tourists off visiting local beaches, but these blooms can trigger the release of ammonia that poisons nearby marine life. This Mexico-sized bloom is now forming twice a year in the Arabian Sea, and NASA satellite images show that it's growing. The algae bloom is caused by Noctiluca scintillansoften called sea sparkles – which are microscopic dinoflagellates. These dinoflagellates are strange, tiny creatures that feed on plankton and suck up energy from the Sun via microscopic algae living within their cells. In a typical marine ecosystem, they make up just a small part of the food chain. But when there's a build-up of plankton, they can form massive blooms that begin to dominate the local area. And that's not great for the environment. "When the [sea sparkles'] cell breaks down, ammonia is released, and the massive bloom could become a deadly cloud," "It can change the flavour of the water and it's noxious to fish ... As creatures go, it's more of the unwanted kind. In extreme cases it can cause fish kills; it does it all over the world,"  That's a massive threat for local industry, seeing as fishing sustains around 120 million people living on the edge of the Arabian Sea. But what's really concerning is the fact that these dinoflagellate blooms weren't regularly seen until the past decade or so, and now are becoming increasingly common around the planet – particularly in the Arabian Sea.

Climate change raises new risk: Are inland bridges too low? (AP) – Climate change is often seen as posing the greatest risk to coastal areas. But the nation's inland cities face perils of their own, including more intense storms and more frequent flooding. Even as President Donald Trump has announced his intention for the U.S. to withdraw from a global climate agreement, many of the nation's river communities are responding to climate change by raising or replacing bridges that suddenly seem too low to stay safely above water. The reconstructed bridges range from multi-lane structures that handle heavy traffic loads to small rural spans traversed by country school buses and farmers shuttling between their fields. The bridges are being raised even in states such as Texas, where political leaders have long questioned whether climate change is real. In Milwaukee, bridges have been raised as part of $400 million in flood-management projects across a metro area with 28 communities. In Reno, Nevada, officials spent about $18 million to replace a bridge over the Truckee River last year and plan to replace three more after flood-danger projections were increased by up to 15 percent. No one tracks how many communities are raising bridges or replacing them with higher ones, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it's now routinely providing money for this purpose, although no dollar total is available. Typically, more than 1,500 bridges are reconstructed each year for an assortment of reasons. Schwab said he's sure hundreds and possibly thousands of bridge-raising projects have been completed recently or are planned. A cursory check by the AP in a handful of states found at least 20 locations where bridges have been raised or construction will begin soon. FEMA is now finalizing a rule that states that floods "are expected to be more frequent and more severe over the next century due in part to the projected effects of climate change." That could mean higher costs for a country that sustained more than $260 billion in flood damage between 1980 and 2013. 

 ‘A once in a lifetime opportunity.’ Who made money off the Oroville Dam crisis? – The helicopters alone cost more than $100,000 a day at one point. Weeks of dredging debris ran to more than $22 million. And on the day after the massive evacuation, as the crisis was peaking, the state spent $3,902 on breakfasts and lunches for emergency workers. The fracture of Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway created a near-catastrophe, spawned multiple investigations and left lawmakers and locals grumbling about the state’s stewardship of the structure. One group isn’t complaining, though: the dozens of concrete and gravel contractors, trucking firms, engineering consultants and others that have been paid millions to help the state clean up the mess. “It was a tremendous opportunity for us … a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jeff Lund of Lund Construction Co. in North Highlands, which helped excavate debris from the river channel beneath the crumpled spillway. Lund said his firm was paid about $5 million for its work at Oroville. Well over $400 million will have been spent by the time Oroville’s facilities are restored. The single biggest jackpot belongs to Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Neb., the construction colossus that won the $275 million contract to repair the battered spillway over the next two years.  Kiewit’s big payout represents only a fraction of the financial windfall created by the Oroville crisis. Thousands of pages of invoices and receipts submitted to the state Department of Water Resources, released to The Sacramento Bee under a Public Records Act request, provide a vivid picture of how the 4-month-old emergency has generated work for all manner of companies, many of them from Northern California.

Historic Heat Wave Sweeps Asia, the Middle East and Europe – During the last week of May, an impressive dome of overheated air with an isotherm of 35 °C (95 °F) at 850 hpa (approximately 5,000 feet) extended across the Strait of Hormuz near southern Iran and southwestern Pakistan. In places where this air was being forced downward, the extreme heat allowed for strong compressional warming that produced exceptional surface temperatures. On May 28, after a minimum temperature of 34.5 °C (94 °F), the high temperature in the Western Pakistani town of Turbat reached 53.5 °C (128.3 °F) in mid-afternoon. This tied the all-time highest temperature ever recorded in Pakistan, and the world record of highest temperature for May – both set in Mohen Jo Daro on May 26, 2010. There is a controversy about the correct maximum temperature in Turbat, though. It was reported by the Pakistan Meteorological Department as 53.5 °C (the precision of the thermometer is 0.5 °C, like in most Pakistani stations), but the temperature was later rounded to 54.0 °C (129.2 °F). If that is correct, it would tie the highest reliable temperature ever recorded in the planet, the 54.0 °C reading set on July 21, 2016, in Mitribah, Kuwait.  A dome of high pressure from Morocco extended over Western Europe beginning on May 24, then moved north and then east. As a result, monthly records of highest temperatures were widespread in Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Germany, and Austria. Very high temperatures were also set in the Alps, with an amazing 58 °C (42.4 °F) on May 27 on the top of Italy’s Col Major (elevation 4,750 meters or 15,584 feet), just at the side of Mount Blanc. In particular, two national records for the month of May were broken: in Norway with 32.2 °C (90 °F) at Tinnsjø, on May 27, and in Austria with 35.0 °C (95 °F) at Horn, on May 31.  An intense heat wave caused by downslope winds from the Laotian mountains towards the Vietnamese coast affected the area around Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi in early June, particularly between June 2 and 4. The central observatory of Lang on June 4 recorded 41.5 °C (106.7 °F), destroying its previous all-time record of 40.4 °C set in 1971. On June 4, the district of Ha Dong (which hosts an international weather station representative of Hanoi) recorded 42.5 °C (108.5 °F), by far the highest temperature ever recorded in the Hanoi area. In the central area of Hanoi, near Hoan Kiem Lake, the humidity is usually higher than its surroundings, and the combination of temperatures as high as 41 °C (105.8 °F) with humidity values near 50% made the heat index an unbearable 55 °C (131 °F).

Global warming effect: More heat wave deaths as temperatures rise across India –  Hindustan Times: Rising summer temperatures are leading to more heat-related deaths in India. As parts of India reel under a heat wave, a study has said summer temperatures had gone up by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius on an average over five decades, and that this rise has increased the probability of deaths caused by heat by 146%. The study by University of California, Irvine (UCI), with co-authors from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) and IIT-Delhi, analyzed daily temperatures from 395 weather stations between 1960 and 2009, and the death rates during those years. They found there were more heat wave days and that duration of heat waves had increased by 25% in most regions. There was a moderate rise in summer temperatures, but this made it one-and-a -half times more likely for a heatwave that could kill more than 100 people. The study, ‘Increasing probability of mass mortality during Indian heat waves’ was published in the journal Science Advances on Tuesday. A heat wave is when temperatures rise above 40 °C in the plains and 30° C in the hills, and is more than four degrees above the normal for the period being studied. High temperatures not only affects health, but also decreases the quality of the air you breathe, lowers crop yields, increases energy consumed, and makes droughts worse. The study found there were more (by 50%) heat waves in southern and western India between 1985 and 2009, when compared to 1960 and 1984. Heatwave deaths almost doubled from 1,300 in 2010 to 2,500 in 2015.     

A climate chain reaction: Major Greenland melting could devastate crops in Africa – As melting Greenland glaciers continue to pour ice into the Arctic Ocean, we have more than the rising seas to worry about, scientists say. A new study suggests that if it gets large enough, the influx of freshwater from the melting ice sheet could disrupt the flow of a major ocean current system, which in turn could dry out Africa’s Sahel, a narrow region of land stretching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east. The consequence could be devastating agricultural losses as the area’s climate shifts. And in the most severe scenarios, tens of millions of people could be forced to migrate from the area. “The implications, when expressed in terms of vulnerability of the population in the region are really dramatic and bring home just how sensitive livelihoods are in this region to climatic change,” said Christopher Taylor, a meteorologist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom and an expert on the West African climate, who was not involved with the new research. The study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses a climate change model to investigate the influence of different amounts of ice loss from Greenland, corresponding to different amounts of global sea level rise, on the western Sahel’s climate system. Prior studies have suggested that this region may be particularly vulnerable to climatic changes produced by disruptions in the ocean.  The idea is that large volumes of meltwater from Greenland have the potential to slow down a major system of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC. Experts have described it as a kind of giant conveyor belt, which carries warm water from the equator to the Arctic and cooler water back down south. This transport of heat influences atmospheric processes and helps regulate climate and weather throughout the Atlantic region.

NASA: Greenland Ice Loss 2002-2016 (video from NASA) Link: https://gracefo.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/33/  The mass of the Greenland ice sheet has rapidly declined in the last several years due to surface melting and iceberg calving. Research based on observations from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites indicates that between 2002 and 2016, Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year, causing global sea level to rise by 0.03 inches (0.8 millimeters) per year. These images, created from GRACE data, show changes in Greenland ice mass since 2002. Orange and red shades indicate areas that lost ice mass, while light blue shades indicate areas that gained ice mass. White indicates areas where there has been very little or no change in ice mass since 2002.  In general, higher-elevation areas near the center of Greenland experienced little to no change, while lower-elevation and coastal areas experienced up to 13.1 feet (4 meters) of ice mass loss (expressed in equivalent-water-height: dark red) over a 14-year period. The largest mass decreases of up to 11.8 inches (30 centimeters) equivalent-water-height per year occurred along the West Greenland coast. The average flow lines (grey), created from satellite radar interferometry, of Greenland’s ice converge into the locations of prominent outlet glaciers and coincide with areas of high mass loss.

Trump Buys Into Putin Plan To Melt The Arctic | HuffPost: – The genius of Vladimir Putin is that he makes his aims crystal clear, as clear as a block of ice in the Arctic. Ice and cold have always defined and limited his vast country. For centuries the chief Russian geopolitical imperative was the search for “warm-water” ports to its south. Now the grand aim is to allow global climate change to melt the Arctic and turn the water at the top of the world into a lucrative oil and gas field, as well as a network of efficient new sea lines Russia will control. Putin, in essence, is gaining U.S. backing for his vision as his pal, President Donald Trump, signals that America will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on combating climate change.The Russian leader has made no secret of his plan. In fact, he has proclaimed it from the literal rooftop of the world, most recently at a conference on the future of the Arctic region in March. “Climate change brings in more favorable conditions and improves the economic potential of this region,” Putin said told CNBC while attending the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia. “Today, Russia’s GDP is the result of the economic activity of this region.” Russia planted a flag on the floor of the Arctic Sea in 2007 and claimed most of it based on an extensive continental shelf beneath. 

Why Trump Actually Pulled Out Of Paris – POLITICO Magazine: Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement was not really about the climate. And despite his overheated rhetoric about the “tremendous” and “draconian” burdens the deal would impose on the U.S. economy, Trump’s decision wasn’t really about that, either. America’s commitments under the Paris deal, like those of the other 194 cooperating nations, were voluntary. So those burdens were imaginary. No, Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn’t seem willing to pay for Trump’s border wall—and Mexico certainly isn’t—so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation. Trump’s move won’t have much impact on emissions in the short term, and probably not even in the long term. His claims that the Paris agreement would force businesses to lay off workers and consumers to pay higher energy prices were transparently bogus, because a nonbinding agreement wouldn’t force anything. But Trump’s move to abandon it will have a huge impact on the global community’s view of America, and of a president who would rather troll the free world than lead it. 

Turning against Trump: how the Chinese covered the climate pact exit –  President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change accord drew criticism from leaders around the world. In China, the government seized the moment to cast doubt on American democracy and promote an image of China as a responsible superpower. Here’s how the state-controlled news media covered Mr. Trump’s decision and what the portrayal suggests about China’s efforts to extend influence across the globe.  | CCTV-4 Video by CCTV – Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement gave fresh material to one of the state media’s favorite propaganda themes: the idea that Western democracy is flawed, chaotic and prone to social 
strife. The news media highlighted protests and criticism of Mr. Trump in the United States, suggesting that America was facing a crisis. In the video above, shown on the state channel CCTV, an announcer likens Mr. Trump’s decision to an earthquake. He asks, “Will the already divided America become even more torn apart?” Images of protesters loom in the background. Commentators pointed to the disarray of the 2016 presidential election as evidence of the perils of democracy. Now they are showcasing the political divisions among Americans under Mr. Trump as evidence of the decline of the United States. Mr. Trump has many fans in China, where he is known for his business acumen and ostentatious displays of wealth.  But Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement provoked widespread fury. On social media, news outlets referred to Mr. Trump as a “public enemy of the world,” saying he was endangering the health of the planet. On Weibo, a Twitter-like service, a CCTV post portrayed Mr. Trump as childish and impulsive in a fake chat with current and former world leaders.

Michael Bloomberg pledges his own money to help U.N. after Trump pulls out of Paris climate deal – Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose because of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the landmark Paris climate deal. The billionaire’s charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, on Thursday pledged to shoulder the United States’ share in the operating costs of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organization’s climate negotiating body in charge of helping developing countries fulfill environmental requirements under the 2015 pact. “Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Just the opposite — we are forging ahead,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the UN — and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals that the U.S. made in Paris in 2015.” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, applauded Bloomberg for the contribution. “While funding from governments remains central to our work, this kind of support is crucial for the work of the Secretariat to assist nations in their efforts to implement their commitments under the Paris Climate Change Agreement,” Espinosa said in a statement. Bloomberg’s pledge comes as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 mayors, denounced Trump’s decision and affirmed their cities’ commitment to meet climate-change goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions locally — even without the participation of the federal government.

Trump climate move could divert FDI, spark litigation: U.N. | Reuters: U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord will affect foreign direct investment (FDI) and may lead to investor-state disputes, the head of investment at the U.N. trade and development agency UNCTAD said on Friday. James Zhan, senior director of investment and enterprise at UNCTAD, told reporters that U.S. policy was an important influence in the global pattern of FDI flows such as crossborder corporate mergers and investment in start-up projects abroad. "We cannot quantify it but we see there will be an important impact on global FDI and on FDI into the U.S. as well," he said, referring to Trump's announcement. Many countries have signed up to investment treaties that protect the rights of companies, allowing firms to sue a government in an ad hoc arbitration if they feel their rights have been abused, such as by a change in the legal basis on which their investment was made. So-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is intended to reassure investors but it is controversial because it gives companies rights over governments, and has led to huge payouts, such as Ecuador's agreement to pay Occidental Petroleum Corp roughly $980 million for seizing one of its oil fields. The full impact of Trump's decision still depended on whether other countries would follow the U.S. lead and decide to withdraw from the pact, he said. Many countries had already put policies in place relating to the Paris deal, he added. "And now what are they going to do? Are they going to adjust for that? Investors have already envisaged the investment prospects and the business prospects and the potential benefit from the policies that have been put in place." So far, no countries have said they will follow Trump's lead, which has been widely condemned, with China and Europe pledging to unite to save "Mother Earth" in the face of Trump's decision to take the world's second largest carbon polluter out of the Paris climate change pact. 

What Exiting The Paris Agreement Means For U.S. Utilities – Jeremy Grantham, a pillar of the Boston investment community and one of the most respected investors in the U.S., commented on the clean energy movement that: “I think it’s happening much faster than most well-educated business people in America realize. Because the science is being deliberately obfuscated in the U.S., the consequences are being obscured as well.” The Financial Times concluded that President Trump was trying to “unwind” President Obama’s clean energy policies, but that "in the rest of the world… the future of green power appears assured.” President Trump does not think so, apparently. Attempts by various segments of the business community to keep the U.S. in the Paris agreement seem to show that they may see an opportunity in climate mitigation. Industry researchers predict solar electric power generation will be even more competitively priced (vis a vis fossil generation) by 2020, reaching three cents per kwh. And, they predict, solar power combined with battery storage could provide electric grid competitive services by 2030. If correct, the problems of coal and natural gas suppliers to the electric industry will derive mainly from economics and not government policies. Removing the U.S. from the Paris agreement will have little impact on fuel mix or competitive advantage. But it actually gets worse. Despite the President's action, a growing reliance on renewable energy suggests that a significant percentage of electric utility equipment presently in use, no matter how recently installed and "undepreciated," will be at risk from technological obsolescence. Stated another way, a new technology with zero fuel costs might produce the identical commodity product as the old plants, electricity, but at a lower overall cost – all considerations of externalities and carbon taxes aside for the moment – which would make renewables all the more compelling. Let’s consider whether the U.K.-based Financial Times story is correct in the sense that political leaders here in the U.S. refuse to appreciate the gravity of global climate issues, or simply don’t understand green energy and are engaged in a sort of energy-related American exceptionalism.

In the Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Koch Brothers’ Campaign Becomes Overt – If there was any lingering doubt that a tiny clique of fossil-fuel barons has captured America’s energy and environmental policies, it was dispelled last week, when the Trump Administration withdrew from the Paris climate accordSurveys showed that a majority of Americans in literally every state wanted to remain within the agreement, and news reports established that the heads of many of the country’s most successful and iconic Fortune 100 companies, from Disney to General Electric, did, too. Voters and big business were arrayed against leaving the climate agreement. Yet despite the majority’s sentiment, a tiny—and until recently, almost faceless—minority somehow prevailed. How this happened is no longer a secret. The answer, as the New York Times reported, on Sunday, is “a story of big political money.” It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history. As the climate scientist Michael Mann put it to me in my book “Dark Money,” when attempting to explain why the Republican Party has moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world, “We are talking about a direct challenge to the most powerful industry that has ever existed on the face of the Earth. There’s no depth to which they’re unwilling to sink to challenge anything threatening their interests.” For most of the world’s population, the costs of inaction on climate change far outweigh that of action. But for the fossil-fuel industry, he said, “It’s like the switch from whale oil in the nineteenth century. They’re fighting to maintain the status quo, no matter how dumb.” Until recently, those buying the fealty of the Republican Party on these issues tried to hide their sway, manipulating politics from the wings. But what became clear this past weekend is that they Charles and David Koch remain anonymous no longer.

Withdrawing from the Paris deal takes four years. Our next president could join again in 30 days – While President Trump has vowed to formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, sparking international outrage, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of U.S. involvement forever. A future president could have us back in the agreement in as little as 30 days, legal experts say. Under the rules of the Paris agreement, parties are allowed to exit and reenter as they choose, although withdrawing is a much lengthier legal process than returning. And there are no provisions stipulating how much time has passed after withdrawal before a nation can begin the process of rejoining the agreement. “A subsequent president would thus be able to submit a document stating the United States’ intention to become a party to the Agreement as soon as she or he wanted to,” Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, said in an email to The Washington Post — although he added that such an action is certainly outside the norm. “Countries don’t typically withdraw from complex international agreements that they led the way in negotiating,” he said.   According to the rules of the Paris agreement, nations wishing to exit must first submit a document to the United Nations specifying their intent to withdraw. However, this is permitted only after three years have passed since the agreement entered into force — and that date was Nov. 4, 2016. This means that the U.S. can submit its written notice Nov. 4, 2019, at the earliest. After that, the rules specify that the official withdrawal will take effect exactly one year later at the earliest, or potentially on a later date of the party’s choosing. In that intervening year, a nation may decide to cancel its withdrawal at any point, said Maria Manguiat, a climate expert with the United Nations Environment Program’s Law Division. “It doesn’t make the country look very good, but legally it’s entitled to do that,” she told The Washington Post. Altogether, if Trump acted as quickly as possible to withdraw from the agreement, the process could be completed Nov. 4, 2020, at the earliest. That’s the day after the next presidential election.

Germany accuses Theresa May of being ‘complicit’ in Trump policies putting Europe at risk – Germany has accused Theresa May of being “complicit” in some of Donald Trump’s policies which they claim is putting Europe’s security at risk. In a damning speech, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel claimed all world leaders who fail to “determinedly oppose” the US President’s stance on climate change, religion and war are equally accountable. He roundly condemned Mr Trump’s policies, and launched an implicit attack on the British Prime Minister – who has ignored calls to convince Donald Trump to keep the US in the Paris Agreement. And Mr Gabriel made clear there is a growing political divide between the European Union and America, with the UK hanging on the sidelines. Mr Gabriel said: “Whoever accelerates climate change by not protecting the environment adequately, whoever sells more weapons into war zones, whoever does not choose to resort to politics to resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk. “The Trump administration wants to end climate deals, distribute more arms in crisis region and prevent people of some religions from traveling into [the US]. “If we Europeans don’t determinedly oppose this today, then the flows of migration into Europe will only become greater. “Whoever does not oppose these US policies is making themselves complicit.” In contrast, Ms May has talked ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK stronger. She has also been accused of being Mr Trump’s “mole” in the EU, ahead of the Brexit negotiations. 

France 'corrects' White House video on Paris accord –  Al Jazeera: Foreign ministry releases edited version of White House video that said Paris climate deal was bad for American jobs. A day after Donald Trump decided to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, the French government has cheekily hit back by releasing a pointed fact check of the US president's claims about the landmark agreement. France's finance ministry posted a tweet with an embedded link to a video that amounted to a wry, but very public rebuttal of Trump's assertions. On Thursday, the White House had tweeted, "The Paris Accord is a bad deal for Americans," and linked to a video which said the agreement "undermines" US competitiveness and jobs, was "badly negotiated" by former President Barack Obama and "accomplishes little." In its surprise response on Friday, France's foreign ministry tweeted, "We've seen the @WhiteHouse video about the #ParisAccord. We disagree – so we've changed it." We've seen the @WhiteHouse video about the #ParisAccord. We disagree – so we've changed it. #MakeThePlanetGreatAgainpic.twitter.com/8A92MBwe6c— 

France Diplomacy (@francediplo_EN) June 2, 2017 Its own edited video uses the same format – background, font, images and music – as the White House but includes what French officials believe are the facts to debunk the White House claims.

Donald Trump’s Triumph of StupidityDer Spiegel – Until the very end, they tried behind closed doors to get him to change his mind. For the umpteenth time, they presented all the arguments – the humanitarian ones, the geopolitical ones and, of course, the economic ones. They listed the advantages for the economy and for American companies. They explained how limited the hardships would be. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the last one to speak, according to the secret minutes taken last Friday afternoon in the luxurious conference hotel in the Sicilian town of Taormina – meeting notes that DER SPIEGEL has been given access to. Leaders of the world's seven most powerful economies were gathered around the table and the issues under discussion were the global economy and sustainable development. The newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, went first. It makes sense that the Frenchman would defend the international treaty that bears the name of France's capital: The Paris Agreement. "Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries," Macron said. Then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the U.S. president how successful the fight against the ozone hole had been and how it had been possible to convince industry leaders to reduce emissions of the harmful gas. Finally, it was Merkel's turn. Renewable energies, said the chancellor, present significant economic opportunities. "If the world's largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese," she warned. Xi Jinping is clever, she added, and would take advantage of the vacuum it created. Even the Saudis were preparing for the post-oil era, she continued, and saving energy is also a worthwhile goal for the economy for many other reasons, not just because of climate change. But Donald Trump remained unconvinced.  Trump's withdrawal is a catastrophe for the climate. The U.S. is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases – behind China – and is now no longer part of global efforts to put a stop to climate change. It's America against the rest of the world, along with Syria and Nicaragua, the only other countries that haven't signed the Paris deal. But the effects on the geopolitical climate are likely to be just as catastrophic. Trump's speech provided only the most recent proof that discord between the U.S. and Europe is deeper now than at any time since the end of World War II.

85% of the top science jobs in Trump’s government don’t even have a nominee – Presidents invariably encounter key moments where they need to rely on scientific expertise. George W. Bush faced an anthrax attack after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Barack Obama faced the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Ebola outbreak. Now President Trump has made a momentous decision about climate change. “When the crisis occurs, whether it’s an oil well blowout or an emerging disease or a tunnel collapse at a nuclear facility, that’s too late to get up to speed,” said Rush Holt, the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “You want people who are up to speed before the crisis occurs.” Trump is facing science-focused problems and issues with a key limitation: lack of staffing. As of June 6, Trump had announced a nominee for just seven, or 15%, of 46 top science posts in the federal government that require Senate confirmation, according to a Post analysis. This failure to fill top science jobs across the federal government has become even more pointed in light of his Paris choice. Recaps of Trump’s decision-making process have highlighted many influences upon it, but none of them principally scientific in nature. It’s also not clear whom he would consult for advice about climate change: Trump has not appointed a presidential science adviser, nor has he appointed a head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a lead federal agency that focuses on climate change science, or a chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

If Trump gets his way, world may not know if US emissions rise –  President Donald Trump’s critics argue that pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. If Trump has his way, the world may never know. The president’s budget request to Congress would eliminate or gut core programs across the federal government that track the heat-trapping gases. If those cuts go ahead, the government may not be able to tell if emissions are rising or falling. "The first step in any decent regulatory program is a requirement for monitoring," David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview. "If you don’t know what’s there, it’s harder for the public or the regulators to do anything about it." Stephen Cole, a spokesman for NASA, which is slated under the president’s proposed budget to lose money for a satellite-based carbon-measuring system, said the cut reflects budget constraints. "NASA remains committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but we are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us," he said in an email. Whether the cuts happen will depend on Congress, and the degree to which Republicans share Trump’s priorities. Critics of government climate efforts, meanwhile, support the administration’s cuts, calling emissions-monitoring programs a waste of taxpayers’ money. "This doesn’t necessarily need to be housed within the federal government," said Nick Loris, a research fellow for the Heritage Foundation. "If the private sector wants to continue to pursue greenhouse gas monitoring, that’s fine."

6 Ways NOAA Budget Cuts Will Impact Weather Reporting – At a time when storms are getting more destructive, floods more devastating and people and property more vulnerable, accurate weather forecasting is more critical than ever. Which is why the Trump administration's brazen proposal to slash funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) most important forecasting and storm prediction programs has set off alarms in recent days. In all, the president wants to slash the agency's budget by 16 percent.  Having spent more than six years as a NOAA scientist, I know there are ways to become more efficient and make government work better. Many dedicated professionals within the agency would be eager to partner with the administration to develop that kind of action plan. Except, efficiency is not what this proposal is about. Rather, it blatantly disregards science and how it protects lives and property.  Here are a few of the NOAA budget lowlights, and why they could matter to you:
  • 1. Delays Hurricane Forecast Improvements. Several NOAA programs are developing advanced modeling to make weather and storm forecasts more accurate and reliable. But the same week NOAA called for an above-average season of hurricane activity, the Trump administration requested a $5 million funding cut for these important programs.
  • 2. Eliminates Critical Tornado Warning Program
  • 3. Terminates Arctic Research Protecting Fishermen.  The president wants to cut a total of $6 million from two NOAA programs that support improvements to sea ice modeling and predictions, along with a program that models vulnerabilities among ecosystems and fisheries.
  • 4. Closes Lab Tracking Mercury Pollution, Fallout. NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory researches how mercury and other harmful materials travel through the atmosphere and fall to Earth. The lab's models also help emergency agencies and the aviation industry minimize and respond to pollution disasters such as radioactive fallout or anthrax attacks.  And yet, the administration has requested a $4.7 million decrease to close the entire lab.
  • 5. Slows Flood Forecasting Improvements A $3.1 million cut would slow upgrades to the National Water Model, an initiative hailed as a "game changer" for flood prediction when it launched in 2016.
  • 6. Scales Back Forecasts of El Niño. A $26 million cut targets programs that monitor the tropical Pacific Ocean and help forecasters predict El Niño and other global environmental weather patterns. Such cuts would make it much harder to anticipate short-term climate events such as droughtexcessive flooding and other extreme weather.
How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science – It is difficult to reconcile the Republican Party of 2008 with the party of 2017, whose leader, President Trump, has called global warming a hoax, reversed environmental policies that Mr. McCain advocated on his run for the White House, and this past week announced that he would take the nation out of the Paris climate accord, which was to bind the globe in an effort to halt the planet’s warming. The Republican Party’s fast journey from debating how to combat human-caused climate change to arguing that it does not exist is a story of big political money, Democratic hubris in the Obama years and a partisan chasm that grew over nine years like a crack in the Antarctic shelf, favoring extreme positions and uncompromising rhetoric over cooperation and conciliation. “Most Republicans still do not regard climate change as a hoax,” “it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.” Since Mr. McCain ran for president on climate credentials that were stronger than his opponent Barack Obama’s, the scientific evidence linking greenhouse gases from fossil fuels to the dangerous warming of the planet has grown stronger.  That scientific consensus was enough to pull virtually all of the major nations along. Conservative-leaning governments in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan all signed on to successive climate change agreements.  Yet when Mr. Trump pulled the United States from the Paris accord, the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise.  Those divisions did not happen by themselves. Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

Climate Change: “It Depends on How We They Value Time” – Naked Capitalism blog – Yves here. This short post makes a point that can’t be stated strongly enough: the way that economic concepts and methodologies are applied to situations where they are inappropriate, producing garbage-in, garbage out results. Sandwichman discusses the use of the finance concept, the time value of money, to climate change. The basic idea of the time value of money is that someone who has money expects to get a return if they give the money to another party with a promise to get it back in the future. That line of thinking undergirds financial analysis and capital budgeting. Michael Hudson has described how unworkable this becomes when indebtedness becomes significant on a societal level. The interest payments eat into productive activity, which in ancient times led to periodic debt jubilees. The modern solution was bankruptcy, where the debt is written down to some level the borrower can pay (or forgiven if the borrower has nothing left, such as in Chapter 7 bankruptcies). However, no one goes into a cost of capital analysis when their teen daughter gets pregnant, wants an abortion, and needs the Bank of Parents to pay for it, or when someone had a heart attack and needs a bypass to survive. Nor do we do cost of capital analyses when giving time and money to community and charitable activities.

Senators accuse DeVos of ‘quick about-face’ on climate change – A conservative think tank that does not believe in human-induced climate change has been sending to tens of thousands of K-12 and college science teachers materials that reject basic principles on which nearly all climate scientists agree — and now, some U.S. senators are asking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos whether staff members in her department have anything to do with it. The Education Department did not respond to a query about the letter sent by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. The reason the senators are asking, they said, is because DeVos issued a statement last week — her first about any non-education-related White House actions — in support of President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris climate agreement (which all countries had signed except Syria and Nicaragua). The Michigan billionaire said in her statement: “The announcement made today by the President is one more example of his commitment to rolling back the unrealistic and overreaching regulatory actions by the previous Administration. President Trump is making good on his promise to put America and American workers first.” Shortly after she issued the statement, DeVos was asked by reporters whether she believes in human-caused climate change. She responded, “Certainly, the climate changes. Yes.” Then, asked what should be done about it, she responded: “I don’t have any answer. I’m here to talk about students in schools today.” The senators reacted with a letter that accuses DeVos of having done a “quick about-face” from statements she had made in her February confirmation hearing before the Senate.

Nobody at White House will say whether Trump believes in climate change | Reuters: Nobody at the White House was able to say on Friday whether President Donald Trump believes in climate change. It was a burning question the day after Trump announced that he had decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Trump in recent years has expressed skepticism about whether climate change is real, sometimes calling it a hoax. But since becoming president, he has not offered an opinion. Reporters have asked several senior officials about Trump's view, but have not gotten an answer. "I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt gave his own view on the subject, saying he believes human activity plays a role in global warming, but measuring that contribution with precision is difficult. But speaking to reporters at the White House, Pruitt declined to directly answer questions about whether the president still believed global warming was "a hoax." Pruitt, asked if he himself believed climate change is occurring, said he has indicated that "human activity contributes to it in some manner. Measuring with precision, from my perspective, the degree of human contribution is very challenging." Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" show whether Trump believed in climate change. She said he believes in clean air and water and a clean environment. Pressed on Trump's view, she said: "You should ask him that. And I hope you have your chance."

'President Trump believes the climate is changing': Ambassador Haley | Reuters: U.S. President Donald Trump "believes the climate is changing," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Saturday after Trump's decision to take the United States out of the Paris climate accord sparked dismay across the world. "President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation," Haley said during an excerpt of a CNN interview released on Saturday. The interview will be broadcast on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. Trump "knows that it's changing and that the U.S. has to be responsible for it and that's what we're going to do," Haley said. On Thursday, Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate change pact, tapping into his "America First" campaign theme. He said participating in the pact would undermine the U.S. economy, wipe out jobs, weaken national sovereignty and put his country at a permanent disadvantage. "Just because the U.S. got out of a club doesn't mean we aren't going to care about the environment," Haley said.

Tillerson: Trump isn't 'walking away' from climate change issue – POLITICO: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday said the president is still committed to addressing climate change even though he withdrew from the Paris climate pact last week. “He’s not walking away from it — he’s simply walking away from what he felt was an agreement that did not serve the American people well,” Tillerson said, according to his remarks released by the State Department. The secretary of state spoke in Sydney alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis in their first joint appearance in a foreign country. Tillerson said President Donald Trump is interested in “perhaps a new construct of an agreement” and believes climate change “is still important and that he wants to stay engaged on the issue.” Trump on Thursday vowed to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, saying it puts the U.S. at a “very big economic disadvantage.” He also said he’s open to renegotiating the agreement, though France, Germany, Italy, and the United Nations stated after Trump withdrew that the pact isn’t renegotiable.

Hawaii enacts law committing to goals of Paris climate accord | Reuters: Hawaii has become the first U.S. state to enact legislation to bring its environmental standards in line with the Paris climate accord, officials said on Wednesday, less than a week after President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the global agreement. Hawaii Governor David Ige signed a bill on Tuesday requiring state officials to plan a response to climate change that aligns the state with the standards and goals of the Paris pact, according to Scott Glenn, an environmental adviser to the governor. "People come to Hawaii to enjoy its environment," Glenn said. "When climate change is threatening our reefs and threatening our weather ... then it's threatening our economy, too.” Although Hawaii already has strong environmental rules, the new law is the first to directly refer to the standards of the Paris agreement, said Glen Andersen, who tracks energy and climate issues at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Along with setting climate change as a priority for the state, the bill creates a state commission dedicated to studying climate change and putting out detailed plans for responding both to sea-level rise and climate change as a whole, with the stipulation that the plans align with the Paris agreement. Trump said on Thursday that the landmark 2015 climate agreement threatened millions of jobs and productivity, and that he would start a multi-year process to withdraw from the deal, which has been signed by almost every other nation on Earth. The governors of Washington, California, and New York on the same day announced the creation of a "climate alliance” of states that would remain committed to the Paris goals. Ige joined the alliance on Friday.

Lawmakers move to protect funding for climate change research | The Hill: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging appropriators not to cut funding from one of the federal government’s climate change research accounts. In a letter penned by Reps. Don Young(R-Alaska) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the members told appropriators to preserve the $25.3 million in funding for the National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers. The program, established in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, provides climate-related research to fish and wildlife managers as a way to help them “prepare for, respond to, and reduce the negative consequences of climate extremes,” according to the letter. The Trump administration has requested $17.3 million for the program in 2018, a $7.9 million cut from current levels. In a letter to Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Interior and Environment panel, the members said the program has “helped natural and cultural resource managers assess climate-related vulnerabilities in their local jurisdictions as a first step in enhancing preparedness.” “We support the reputable and important work of the [Department of Interior’s] National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers," they wrote. “We understand that their return-on-investment is large and we encourage continued stable support and full funding for the program.” The Trump administration proposed slashing funding for several science research accounts in its 2018 budget request, which lawmakers are beginning to consider this week. 

UK Lobbied European Union To Weaken Climate Rules – Leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace’s Energydesk reveal that the UK Government lobbied the European Union to weaken its own energy regulations on the very same day that UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, the country’s ‘Brexit’ out of the EU. According to the leaked documents obtained by Energydesk, UK Ministers, part of the British delegation that is formally part of the Department for Exiting the EU, attempted to weaken rules and regulations set out by the EU for energy efficiency and renewable energy governance. Specifically, the UK provided a series of ‘amendments’ it recommends be made to EU regulations that only serve to reduce key renewable energy and energy efficiency targets proposed by the European Commission, make them non-binding and give Member States a lot more leeway to wiggle, or even scrap them altogether (in some cases). “The government is trying to lock the rest of the EU into weaker energy policies, just as we are leaving,” added Hannah Martin, Greenpeace UK’s Head of energy.

Theresa May accused of being ‘Donald Trump’s mole’ in Europe after UK tries to water down EU climate change policy – Theresa May has been accused of being Donald Trump’s “mole” in Europe after leaked documents showed the UK attempted to water down EU policies designed to tackle climate change. While other European politicians have made clear to the Republican billionaire that his denial of climate science is a problem, the Prime Minister has remained resolutely silent on the issue. Her visit to Washington – when the two leaders were pictured holding hands – was widely regarded as an attempt to build a strong relationship with Mr Trump, despite concerns about his attitudes towards women, migrants, Islam, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and other issues. The leaked documents, obtained by Greenpeace’s Energydesk, show the UK tried to make a policy designed to improve energy efficiency – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making goods cheaper to run for consumers – voluntary rather than mandatory. It also essentially argued EU member states should be allowed to make no progress at all towards a 2030 target on renewable energy until the last moment. Barry Gardiner, the shadow International Trade Secretary, who speaks on climate change issues as a result of Ms May’s decision to scrap the dedicated climate change Cabinet post, told The Independent: “After the G7 [meeting], the word was put out that six countries were on track, pursuing the objective of the Paris Agreement. Only one country, America, was out of step. “That simply has been proven not to be the case by this leak, which shows Donald Trump actually has a mole within the EU and that mole is the UK. “The UK is, behind the scenes, trying to water down the commitments and make them voluntary instead of mandatory.”

EU climate laws undermined by Polish and Czech revolt – East European EU states are mounting a behind-the-scenes revolt against the Paris Agreement, blocking key measures needed to deliver the pledge that they signed up to 18 months ago. Under the climate accord, Europe promised to shave 40% off its emissions by 2030. But documents seen by Climate Home show that Visegrad countries are trying to gut, block, or water down all of these efforts, in a rearguard manoeuvre that mirrors president Donald Trump’s rollback of climate policy in Washington. Energy efficiency is supposed to make up around half of Europe’s emissions reductions by 2030, but a Czech proposal could cut energy saving obligations from a headline 1.5% a year figure to just 0.35% in practice.  Below the radar, Poland has also launched a manoeuvre that may block the EU’s winter package in its entirety – particularly a planned limit on power plant emissions – if it is signed up to by a third of EU parliaments, or 10–13 states. The EU’s various wings will eventually thrash out a compromise between the commission’s original proposal – which was calibrated to meet the Paris pledge – and the counter-proposals designed to weaken this.

 EU, China trade spat blocks climate statement – The European Union and China warned U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday he was making a major error by withdrawing from the Paris climate pact, but the pair failed to agree a formal climate statement because of divisions over trade. Speaking alongside Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the EU's Donald Tusk said efforts to reduce pollution and combat rising sea levels would now continue without the United States. But a spat on trade and steel production underscored the differences in a sometimes difficult EU-China relationship. "We are convinced that yesterday's decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake," Tusk, who chairs EU summits as the head of the European Council, told a news conference with Li and the EU's chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker. "The fight against climate change, and all the research, innovation and technological progress it will bring, will continue, with or without the U.S.," Tusk said. In their meeting, the three leaders committed to cutting back on fossil fuels, developing more green technology and helping raise funds to help poorer countries cut their emissions, but a dispute about trade ties scuppered plans for a formal joint statement. Despite what officials described as a warm meeting, China and the European Union could not agree on a broader final communique meant to focus on a range of other issues discussed at the talks, including a commitment to free trade and measures needed to reduce a global steel glut. According to one person present at the summit, China's insistence on a reference that the European Union will eventually recognize China as an economy driven by the market, not the state, blocked the final 60-point statement. That also meant there could be no agreement on a formal pledge to work together to reduce global steel production.

NY prosecutor says Exxon needs to hand over documents on climate change risk – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants a state court to make oil giant Exxon Mobil turn over more documents in an investigation into whether the company lied to investors about the risks of climate change policy. Schneiderman launched the investigation of Exxon in 2015, claiming that the company was downplaying climate change and the problems that could arise for the company because of it in a way that defrauded investors. Exxon, one of the top US companies by market capitalization and also one of the top five polluters in the US, has claimed that complying with current subpoenas from the state’s top prosecutor is unduly burdensome. The court filing today (PDF) claims that New York’s investigation so far “has uncovered significant evidence of potential materially false and misleading statements by Exxon” concerning how the oil giant calculated the cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its investment decisions. According to the attorney general, Exxon was assuring its investors that it was using a “proxy cost” for GHGs, including any fees or penalties that governments might impose to mitigate the impact of climate change, to calculate the viability of certain investments. However, the filing claims the company directed its employees to ignore the proxy cost or apply it in unrealistic ways to make those investments seem better than they were. "Exxon's own documents suggest that if Exxon had applied the proxy cost it promised to shareholders, at least one substantial oil sands project may have projected a financial loss, rather than a profit, over the course of the project’s original timeline," the filing claims. The attorney general also claimed that “Exxon may still be in the midst of perpetrating an ongoing fraudulent scheme on investors and the public."

Groups Sue Trump's EPA for Rolling Back Climate Standards – The Sierra Club and its allies sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt today for delaying crucial safeguards that reduce climate pollution, smog-forming compounds and air toxins from oil and gas facilities. This action represents the first lawsuit against the Trump administration for rolling back EPA climate standards.  Unfortunately, there will surely be many more lawsuits to come: Trump's decision last week to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord —egged on by Scott Pruitt—demonstrates the crass and reckless disregard this president has for public health and the environment (to say nothing of his contempt for science, diplomacy and even smart business sense).  This same disregard is apparent in Pruitt's decision to suspend these critical leak detection and repair ("LDAR") requirements for the oil and gas sector, which were finalized under the Obama administration and were scheduled to take effect last Saturday. Pruitt has moved to delay these vital protections by 90 days on legally baseless grounds, and is planning to delay them indefinitely after that. We anticipate that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where we filed our case, will strike down this lawless action.  A little background on the LDAR program is in order. Leaking oil and gas equipment is one of the country's biggest sources of methane pollution, a dangerous greenhouse gas that is 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. We won't be able to curb the worst effects of climate change unless we limit harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. In addition, when they leak methane, these same equipment parts emit smog- and soot-forming volatile organic compounds, which cause serious lung and heart problems, and air toxins like benzene and formaldehyde, known human carcinogens.

Lawsuits are challenging almost all Trump’s environmental offensives | Fusion: Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge. Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100. A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these. What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. “Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.” 

Pruitt Tables EPA Order on GE to Remove PCBs From River – This past May, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt raised some eyebrows when he issued a memorandum insisting he be personally involved in decisions regarding Superfund cleanups that cost $50 million or more.  Now we might know why he made that move. As noted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), one of Pruitt's first acts under the memo was tabling an October 2016 EPA order that General Electric (GE) spend $613 million to remove PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that the company's plant in Pittsfield dumped into the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts from the 1930s to the 1970s. Before Pruitt was tapped to head the EPA, GE appealed the EPA's order last fall, criticizing it for being too costly, as it required the excavation of contaminated soils within a 10-mile stretch of the river from Pittsfield to Lenox. Officials with the company considered the government's 13-year "Rest of River" plan a violation of an earlier settlement, and noted that more than $500 million had been spent since the 1990s to clean two miles of the river closest to the plant.  But now, the Boston-based industrial giant might have a powerful, business-friendly ally in the Trump administration. The new EPA chief is inviting GE to negotiate a new compromise, PEER said. "Pruitt has positioned himself to hand out multi-million dollar favors to corporate polluters subject to almost no review," stated PEER New England Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientist and attorney, adding that Superfund is Pruitt's sole affirmative or non-rollback initiative. "The main way to 'streamline' these inherently contentious and costly cleanups is offer responsible industries sweetheart deals they can't refuse."

Business leaders push back against Trump’s energy research cuts | The Hill: A group of business and energy industry leaders is pushing back against President Trump’s proposed cuts to federal energy research and development programs. More than a dozen executives sent a letter Thursday to congressional budget and appropriations leaders asking that they prioritize energy research and development — and make sure that it is sufficiently funded. They asked Appropriations Committee and Budget Committee leaders to “invest in America’s economic and energy future by funding vital programs in energy research and development at the Department of Energy.” The letter was signed by executives including Christopher Crane of Exelon Corp., Bruce Culpepper of Shell Oil Co., Thomas Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce, and Tom Fanning of Southern Co. Trump’s first budget proposal, released last month, sought massive cuts to key Energy Department research and development programs, including a 36.5% cut in nuclear research, 58% in fossil fuel technology and a 35% reduction in science and energy innovation, as well as eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy and its $306 million budget. While the letter does not explicitly mention that budget proposal, it depicts federal energy investment as an important piece of how energy innovation happens. “Leveraging its expertise, the private sector has invested billions of dollars to commercialize new energy technologies. Critical to this process is the feedstock supplied by federal investments, especially in early-stage and high-risk research,” they wrote. 

 U.S. airlines affirm aviation emissions deal after Trump's Paris pullout | Reuters: U.S. airlines on Tuesday affirmed their support for a plan to curb emissions from flights, under review by the administration of President Donald Trump who recently decided to take the country out of Paris climate change accord. Several U.S. airlines and industry groups said they back the global aviation agreement approved by 70 countries, including the United States, to curb greenhouse gases from international flights. Trump said on Thursday the United States would withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris pact to fight climate change, raising questions about whether he would also seek to back out of the 2021 voluntary phase of the airlines agreement. Air Transport Action Group told reporters at an industry gathering in Cancun, Mexico, on Tuesday that the deal was less costly for carriers than navigating around multiple regional or national rules. Airlines for America, the trade group for major U.S. carriers, said in response to queries from Reuters that it remained committed to the agreement brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). At the Mexico event this week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and carriers like American Airlines (AAL.O) and United Airlines (UAL.N) reiterated their support for the deal. A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said in an email that the aviation agreement was under review, as were all regulatory policies agreed by the Obama administration. There is no deadline for action, she said. Under the global deal, airlines will buy carbon credits from environmental projects around the world to offset growth in emissions from international commercial flights. 

In Trump Country, Renewable Energy Is Thriving – Two years ago, Kansas repealed a law requiring that 20% of the state’s electric power come from renewable sources by 2020, seemingly a step backward on energy in a deeply conservative state. Yet by the time the law was scrapped, it had become largely irrelevant. Kansas blew past that 20% target in 2014, and last year generated more than 30% of its power from wind. The state may be the first in the country to hit 50% wind generation in a year or two, unless Iowa gets there first. Some of the fastest progress  on clean energy is occurring in states led by Republican governors and legislators, and states carried by Donald J. Trump in the presidential election. The five states that get the largest percentage of their power from wind turbines — Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Dakota — all voted for Mr. Trump. So did Texas, which produces the most wind power in absolute terms. In fact, 69% of the wind power produced in the country comes from states that Mr. Trump carried in November. Renewable energy that produces no carbon dioxide emissions is not solely a coastal, blue-state phenomenon. From Georgia to the Dakotas, business and political leaders are embracing clean energy sources even as the Trump administration pushes for more exploitation of oil, gas and coal. These red states are not motivated by a sudden desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nor are they joining solidly Democratic New York, Washington, and California in defending the Paris climate agreement that President Trump walked away from last week. Instead, their leaders see tapping the wind, and to a lesser degree the sun, as an economic strategy.

If you thought getting Mexico to pay for the wall couldn’t get weirder, you were wrong –  President Trump has come up with a new idea on how to cover the costs for a proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico: build it with solar panels. At a White House meeting Tuesday, Trump floated the concept of “beautiful structures,” 40 to 50 feet high, that generate clean electricity from the sun — and would help cover the cost of the project, according to comments reported by Axios. The U.S. border with Mexico is almost 2,000 miles long. Trump has said his wall, designed to prevent immigrants from crossing into the United States illegally, will cover 1,000 miles, with natural obstacles doing the rest of the work. That's a lot of solar panels, potentially generating a significant amount of energy. But the realities of building a 1,000-mile wall covered with solar panels — and then getting that electricity to market on either side of the border — are not so simple. With few actual details about the design of the wall, the cost of building it or the price that would be paid for the electricity, it is difficult to make any realistic conclusions about the impact of Trump’s solar wall — assuming it ever gets built.  Predictions vary dramatically based on what assumptions about solar wall construction are factored in to the calculations. Tom Gleason, owner and founder of a company that submitted a proposal to build a solar border wall, has said that his design could generate two megawatts of electricity per hour, would cost about $6 million per mile to build and would pay for itself in 20 years.  An estimate from Elemental Energy, a solar installation firm based in Portland, Ore., found that 1,000 miles of solar wall could generate 2,657 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, which would be worth $106 million. But  the wall design itself could prove problematic for a solar-panel installation, according to an analysis in the Financial Times. Fixing the panels vertically could lead to an efficiency loss of around 50%, the analysis says, with the angle at which the sun would hit the wall losing an additional 10% in efficiency. Given that an average solar panel operates at about 20% efficiency, and factoring a few other challenges, this leaves the solar border wall operating at just 8% efficiency. That's a big disadvantage. Then there is the question of finding a market for any electricity that would be generated by a solar wall in a remote section of the country.

Why Do Federal Subsidies Make Renewable Energy So Costly?  – On a total dollar basis, wind has received the greatest amount of federal subsidies. Solar is second. Wind and solar together get more than all other energy sources combined. However, based on production (subsidies per kWh of electricity produced), solar energy, has gotten over ten times the subsidies of all other forms of energy sources combined, including wind (see figure). According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the University of Texas, from 2010 through 2013, federal renewable energy subsidies increased by 54%, from $8.6 billion to $13.2 billion, despite the fact that total federal energy subsidies declined by 23%, from $38 billion to $29 billion. Subsidies then decreased dramatically from 2013 to 2016, because:
  • • tax incentives expired for biofuels,
  • • the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds were used up,
  • • energy assistance funds decreased,
  • • there was a 15% decrease in fossil fuel subsidies from $4.0 billion to $3.4 billion, and
  • • a 12% decrease in nuclear subsidies from $1.9 billion to $1.7 billion.
But the subsidies for nuclear and fossil fuels are indirect subsidies like decommissioning and insurance assistance, leasing of federal lands, and other externalities, unlike the subsidies for renewables which are directly for the production of electricity and directly affect cost and pricing. Within the renewables, electricity-related subsidies increased more than 50% for wind and solar, whereas conservation, end-use, and biofuel subsidies deceased more than 50%. This is unfortunate since conservation and efficiency usually yield great results with little cost or infrastructure requirements. The Institute for Energy Research and the University of Texas calculated the subsidies per unit of energy produced, or cents per kWh. This is a more relevant number for comparing different energy sources as it normalizes to the amount of energy produced (see figure above). Between 2010 and 2016, subsidies for solar were between 10¢ and 88¢ per kWh and subsidies for wind were between 1.3¢ and 5.7¢ per kWh. Subsidies for coal, natural gas and nuclear are all between 0.05¢ and 0.2¢ per kWh over all years.

50% RE in the UK – the Ugly FactsNational Grid has reported, that for the first time, over 50% of UK electricity came from renewable electricity (RE) on 7th June. Is this a cause for celebration or not? With biomass generators being subsidized to the tune of £43/MWh and offshore wind producers to the tune of £89/MWh (source Drax), this effectively doubles generation costs. I imagine that the RE generators will be breaking out the Champagne. While if you are a hard-pressed, energy poor pensioner, you are probably wishing you’d bought another blanket. The celebratory way the BBC has broken this news you’d think they were in the employ of the fat cat renewables generators and not the British public. This must change! I begin with Roger Harrabin’s report from the BBC and follow with a detailed analysis of UK generation on 7th June together with my opinions on these events. The BBC… Renewable sources of energy have generated more electricity than coal and gas in the UK for the first time. National Grid reported that, on Wednesday lunchtime, power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy. Add in nuclear, and by 2 p.m. low carbon sources were producing 72.1% of electricity in the UK. Wednesday lunchtime was perfect for renewables – sunny and windy at the same time. Records for wind power are being set across Northern Europe. The National Grid, the body that owns and manages the power supply around the UK, said in a tweet: “For the first time ever this lunchtime wind, nuclear and solar were all generating more than both gas and coal combined.” On Tuesday, a tenth of the UK’s power was coming from offshore wind farms – a newcomer on the energy scene whose costs have plummeted far faster than expected. So much power was being generated by wind turbines, in fact, that prices fell to a tenth of their normal level. Environmentalists will salute this new record as a milestone towards the low carbon economy. Critics of renewable energy sources will point to the disruption renewables cause to the established energy system. At the time of Wednesday’s record, 1% of demand was met by storage; this will have to increase hugely as the UK moves towards a low-carbon electricity system. 

U.S. aid agency under scrutiny for renewable energy loans in Chile – The U.S. government is auditing a foreign aid program that loaned almost $1 billion to renewable energy projects in Chile – including solar farms in such deep financial trouble that the loans may never be fully repaid, according to people familiar with the matter. The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID OIG) is examining approximately $890 million of loans approved by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), it confirmed in an emailed statement after inquiries by Reuters. The audit, which began in 2016 and has not been previously reported, is centered on OPIC’s decision to fund five Chilean solar farms and a hydroelectric project in 2013 and 2014. OPIC, which aims to advance U.S. interests by lending to overseas business ventures, has come under fire from critics who say private banks are best suited to make investment decisions and that it places too much emphasis on renewable energy. U.S. President Donald Trump proposed cutting funding for any new OPIC projects in his 2018 budget outline released last week.  If OPIC's funding is cut, it will be due in part to questions about investments such as its loans to the Chilean solar projects. At least three of its five solar projects have started restructuring their debt, according to two people familiar with the projects' finances. They said OPIC's losses on the solar deals are likely to exceed $160 million. OPIC in a statement said it was confident it would recover the loans over the coming decades, but acknowledged its original timeline for repayments had changed. The agency, which emphasized that most of its worldwide projects are on firm financial footing, added that it would assess the OIG's recommendations once the audit is complete.

Germany accuses Audi of cheating on emissions tests – Audi also installed emission-cheating software in some 24,000 luxury models, according to German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt. His admission follows ructions at Volkswagen over health-damaging exhaust gases. Dobrindt announced Thursday that the luxury carmaker had been told to recall its A8 and A7 models fitted with V6 and V8 diesel motors and sold between 2009 and 2013 in Europe. The minister said he had spoken with chief executive of Audi's parent company Volkswagen, Matthias Müller, earlier on Thursday. In March, Audi's chief executive Rupert Stadler had said that all aspects of the company's operations were being reviewed as a result of the affair. Germany's tabloid newspaper Bild said Müller had been "summoned" to the transport ministry in Berlin. The Volkswagen subsidiary was under pressure to present a concept for the refitting of affected vehicles by 12 June to reduce pollutants, Bild said. 

Study reveals that green incentives could actually be increasing CO2 emissions – Globally, from China and Germany to the United States, electric vehicle (EV) subsidies have been championed as an effective strategy to boost production of renewable technology and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  But a new study by Concordia economics professor Ian Irvine shows that subsidizing EVs in the North American context will not reduce GHG emissions in the short-term, and may even increase them—at a cost to taxpayers. Recently published in Canadian Public Policy, Irvine's study compared the incentives for producing EVs that are found in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, North America's fuel-efficiency regulations, with new EV subsidy policies in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. He found that, while the subsidies encourage the production of more EVs, they undermine the efficiency requirements of existing incentives for conventional vehicles. This results in a zero or negative near-term GHG benefit. "Sometimes you have more than one policy aimed at a particular goal, and usually those policies are complementary," Irvine notes. "But in this case, they work at cross purposes." In 2012, CAFE was amended to require manufacturers to continuously reduce the average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of their fleets by five per cent a year between 2017 and 2025.  Typically, the amount of CO2 each vehicle is allowed to emit is related to its footprint, defined as the area between its wheels. However, Irvine says, because the annual GHG reduction targets are organized on an average fleet-wide basis, manufacturers are allowed some flexibility in how they distribute the annual efficiency improvements within and across different vehicle categories.

Canada Pushes For Zero Emission Vehicle Strategy – On Friday, Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport and Navdeep Bains, Manage Articles Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced that the government is now creating a national strategy to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVS) on Canadian roads by 2018. Partners include provinces and territories, industry, consumer and non-government organizations, and academia. Qualifying ZEVs include battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles. Canada sees a two-fold benefit in going this route, supporting emissions reductions and economic gains. The policy points to greenhouse gas reductions being supported with transportation making up 24% of carbon emissions in Canada. On the economic front, it’s seen as a way of creating more high paying middle-class jobs to manufacture, market, and support more ZEVs in country. Those participating in the national Advisory Group will look into critical issues in five key areas: vehicle supply, cost and benefits of ownership, infrastructure readiness, public awareness, and clean growth and clean jobs. It’s also influenced by the previously adopted Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change aimed at hitting national targets for overall 2030 emissions reductions. The national government would like to coordinate several projects being carried out at the province level. Quebec has played a leading role, hosting the international Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS29) in Montreal last year. Garneau and Bains made the announcement at an electric vehicle show in Montreal last week. The province of Quebec, and Canada overall, have been influenced by California’s zero emission vehicle policy tied into hitting greenhouse gas emissions reductions in part through the state’s low carbon fuel standard. That guideline is based on reducing carbon emissions in vehicles 10% by a given timeline. It’s considered to be technology and fuel neutral, allowing stakeholders to choose their own alternative fuels to meet the requirement. Electric vehicles have been the leading technology in California to meet mandates on emissions reductions.

Coal industry begs Congress to save carbon capture from Trump –  Coal companies who once thought president Donald Trump an ally in the search for next-generation technology are now looking to Congress to save them from the White House. In his first budget proposal to Congress, Trump shocked coal advocates by suggesting a steep cut to carbon capture and storage (CCS) research funding. In all, Trump floated a 77% cut, down to $31 million in fiscal year 2018. Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal from the Paris climate deal last week has thrown up barriers between US companies and a potentially lucrative international market for CCS projects that some agencies say are necessary to meet climate goals. The moves contrast with campaign images of Trump touting coal miners as the archetypal American worker and repeated references to “clean coal” on the campaign trail. Since the announcements, coal companies are being deferential to the White House, but quietly shifting their emphasis to Congress to save CCS funding in the budget. Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for coal company Cloud Peak Energy, said that Trump has been “extremely supportive of America’s coal miners” and that he “has a difficult task in prioritising issues and balancing the budget.” But, Curtsinger added in a n email: “We are hopeful that Congress will support the further development and commercialisation of the carbon capture technology that we believe is necessary for coal to be able to play a long-term role in providing secure, reliable, and affordable electricity while addressing concerns about CO2 and climate.”

China, the King of Coal, Is Getting Gassy – With factories and power plants across China burning half the world’s coal, the government’s latest targets for using more natural gas to ease the country’s worsening air pollution seemed too ambitious. Though gas remains a small and expensive component in China’s fuel mix, demand is rising faster than expected for domestic and imported supplies. In April, consumption was 22% higher than the same month in 2016, and the total for the first four months of the year is up more than 12%, data from the National Development and Reform Commission show. The results are encouraging analysts to upgrade their demand forecasts and may signal the government is on track to reach its goal of getting as much as 10% of its energy from gas by 2020. It’s also bolstering the outlook for hundreds of billions of dollars in possible investments by companies as far away as Russia, Australia and the U.S. to build gas pipelines and export infrastructure to feed the growing Chinese market. “China’s targets are looking more and more achievable,” said Laban Yu, head of Asia oil and gas equity research at Jefferies Group LLC in Hong Kong. “It has nothing to do with China’s economy, or natural gas and coal prices. It’s policy driven, and it’s about whether the government is serious about doing what it says it will do.” Unlike the U.S., where cheap and ample supplies of gas led to a surge in use by power plants and factories that now exceeds coal, China’s domestic output costs more to produce and the country relies on long-distance imports, including liquefied natural gas carried by tankers. Government-set prices are among the highest in the world, leaving no incentive to switch unless pushed by regulation.

India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green — Just a few years ago, the world watched nervously as India went on a building spree of coal-fired power plants, more than doubling its capacity and claiming that more were needed. Coal output, officials said, would almost triple, to 1.5 billion tons, by 2020. India’s plans were cited by American critics of the Paris climate accord as proof of the futility of advanced nations trying to limit their carbon output. But now, even as President Trump pulls the United States out of the pact, India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar power. Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade, given that existing plants are running below 60% of capacity, but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs. Rather than building coal-fired plants, it is now canceling many in the early planning stages. And last month, the government lowered its annual production target for coal to 600 million tons from 660 million. The sharp reversal, welcome news to world leaders trying to avert the  potentially deadly effects of global warming, is a reflection both of the changing economics of renewable energy and a growing environmental consciousness in a country with some of the worst air pollution in the world. What India does matters, because it is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. And its energy needs are staggering — nearly one-quarter of its population has no electricity and many others get it only intermittently. With India’s power needs expected to grow substantially as its economy continues to expand, its energy use will heavily influence the world’s chances of containing the greenhouse gases that scientists believe are driving global warming.

Vietnam Turns to Coal – Shaken by news that Vietnam had confirmed plans to build another 40 gigawatts worth of coal-fired power plants by 2030, World Bank President  Jim Yong Kim ad-libbed a few lines into a May 2016 speech to an audience of government and business leaders. “If Vietnam goes forward with 40 GW of coal, if the entire region implements the coal-based plans right now, I think we are finished,” Kim said. “That would spell disaster for us and our planet.” The people in Hanoi who make energy policy were very likely startled to learn that what Vietnam does or does not do as it develops its energy sector has world-shaking importance. In a mere quarter century Vietnam has raced from the back of the Third World pack to middle-income status. In the process, however, Vietnam’s economic growth has had an outsized environmental impact; between 1991 and 2012, the country’s GDP grew by 315%, while its greenhouse gas emissions rose by 937 percent. Now that China, which took the “capitalist road” a decade earlier than Vietnam, is stepping up to the challenge of climate change and taking bold steps to clean its air, its neighbor Vietnam risks becoming the new pariah polluter.

South Korea plans energy U-turn away from coal, nuclear | Reuters: A proposed energy U-turn by South Korea's new government would put the environment at the center of energy policy, shifting one of the world's staunchest supporters of coal and nuclear power toward natural gas and renewables. If implemented, the ambitious plans by the world's fourth biggest coal importer and No. 2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) buyer will have a big impact on producers. South Korea's LNG imports could jump by more than 50% by 2030, while coal shipments could peak as early as next year. But experts warn that any move to halt construction of a raft of new coal and nuclear plants, many of which are already being built, could threaten energy security, spark claims for massive compensation and push up electricity prices. The plan by the new administration of left-leaning President Moon Jae-in which took power in early May would move a notable laggard in renewables toward green energy, responding to public concerns over air pollution and nuclear safety. "The government can't neglect people's demands and in the long term it's right to pursue clean and safe energy. But there will be many challenges," said Sonn Yang-Hoon, Economics Professor at Incheon National University. South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, gets 70% of its electricity from thermal coal and nuclear reactors, and offers tax benefits to both sectors to ensure abundant electricity at affordable prices.

Ten new nuclear reactors went online in 2016, bringing capacity to highest level ever – Ten new nuclear reactors began generating electricity in 2016, which brought net nuclear capacity to the highest level in history, according to the 2017 edition of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Nuclear Power Reactors in the World report. As of December 31, 2016, 448 reactors were operating worldwide with a net capacity of 391 gigawatts (GW) of electricity. This is the second year in a row that 10 reactors came online, which is the highest number since the 1980s, according to the report. “This demonstrates the important role that nuclear power continues to play in meeting growing energy demand throughout the world.”  Three reactors were permanently shut down and 61 nuclear reactors were under construction during 2016. Two reactors remain in long-term shutdown.

Regional Officials to Ask Trump Administration to End Uranium Mining Ban Near Grand Canyon –  A draft letter backed by officials in Arizona and Utah is urging the Trump administration to review the uranium mining ban near the Grand Canyon. The letter, which is expected to be sent to Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke on Monday, asks the department to completely overturn the Obama-era environmental protections.  The 20-year ban was issued in 2012 by former Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. It prohibits new claims for mining in the region, which includes more than 1 million acres of public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon. The ban, however, does not restrict existing mines, four of which continue within just a few miles of the rim of the Colorado River. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed many reports on the safety of the water in the region, which helped lead to the ban. In 2010, they found that 15 springs and five wells contained concentrations of uranium that exceeded drinking water limits. Also in 2010, the USGS found radioactive dust several hundred feet from the Kanab North Mine Site at more than 10 times the background concentration for uranium, according to Grand Canyon Trust.  But the draft letter to be sent by the Mohave County board and other regional leaders says that the ban is unlawful and stifles the economic growth of the mining industry. A second letter, planned to also be sent on Monday, will ask the federal government to rollback national monument protections for popular tourist destinations, including the Vermilion Cliffs area in northern Arizona and the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix.

Grand Canyon at risk as Arizona officials ask Trump to end uranium mining ban – A coalition of influential officials in Arizona and Utah is urging the Trump administration to consider rolling back Obama-era environmental protections that ban new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. They argue that the 20-year ban that came into effect in 2012 is unlawful and stifles economic opportunity in the mining industry. But supporters of the ban say new mining activity could increase the risk of uranium-contaminated water flowing into the canyon. Past mining in the region has left hundreds of polluted sites among Arizona’s Navajo population, leading to serious health consequences, including cancer and kidney failure. The new appeal to the Trump administration appears in the draft of a letter expected to be sent on Monday to the US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, by the Mohave County board of supervisors, whose region borders the north side of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Similar letters are being drawn up by other regional leaders in neighboring county governments in southern Utah, to be sent to Washington by the end of the week, according to officials. The Mohave County leaders also plan to dispatch a second letter on Monday asking the federal government to scrap national monument protections for lands of natural wonder “throughout Arizona,” claiming their designation is unconstitutional and prevents economic development of coal, oil and gas deposits. Utah leaders will follow with letters requesting the government shrink national monuments in southern Utah, such as Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, in order to open up a greater area for mineral exploitation, the Guardian has learned. The battle to restore mining activity near the Grand Canyon is part of broader push by conservatives to roll back protections on America’s 640 million acres of public land. Earlier this year, Congress reversed the Bureau of Land Management’s “Planning 2.0” rule, an Obama-era initiative that gave the public greater input on how land should be used. At the same time, Zinke has ended the moratorium on federal coal leases while pledging to open up public lands to greater oil and gas extraction. Trump has also ordered Zinke to review 27 national monument designations and report as to whether some parks might be reversed or reduced in size.

New Law Could Declare Nuclear Reactors To Be ‘Green Energy’ – Connecticut lawmakers have proposed legislation to save in-state nuclear reactors by classifying them as green energy, which would allow them to better compete with heavily subsidized wind and solar power. The Republican-backed bill allows nuclear power to participate in a state green energy power markets since it doesn’t generate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Last year, electricity prices in New England hit near-historic lows, forcing nuclear reactors to effectively pay to remain operational. Unions, business groups and some environmentalists support the legislation, arguing that keeping the reactors running would save the local economy from collapse and help the environment. Many environmentalists oppose the legislation, however, arguing it would make it harder for wind and solar power to compete.

Nuclear Regulators’ Flawed Analysis Leaves Millions at Risk From Radioactive Fires – As the United States continues to grapple with long-term storage of highly-radioactive spent fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants, science watchdogs are warning of serious flaws with the current storage method, which involves densely packing the combustible spent fuel assemblies under at least 20 feet of water in pools located at individual plants while awaiting creation of a permanent repository. The warning came in the May 26 issue of the journal Science, in a policy forum article titled "Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era: Flawed analyses underlie lax US regulation of spent fuel." The authors are physicists Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program and Michael Schoeppner and Frank von Hippel of Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security. Following the 2011 disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered a comprehensive review of regulations. While the buildings that housed the Fukushima plant's spent fuel pools were destroyed, the spent fuel fortunately remained covered with enough water to keep the metal cladding that encloses the uranium from catching fire. Scientists working for the NRC estimated that a fire in one of the plant's pools would have dramatically increased the amount of radioactive pollution released and could have led to the forced long-term relocation of between 1.6 million and 35 million people from Japan's East Coast rather than 150,000. The NRC adopted a number of safety upgrades after the Fukushima disaster but rejected a measure to end dense packing of the 90 spent-fuel pools located at nuclear plants across the US – a technique utilities use to reduce storage costs. But the authors say the screening process failed to adequately account for the impacts of "large-scale land contamination events" from spent-fuel-pool fires. The NRC's own technical evaluation estimated that a fire in a densely-packed, spent-fuel pool at the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania just north of the Maryland border would require the evacuation of 4.1 million people from an area of over 9,400 square miles. "Unless the NRC improves its approach to assessing risks and benefits of safety improvements – by using more realistic parameters in its quantitative assessments and also taking into account societal impacts – the United States will remain needlessly vulnerable to such disasters," the authors warned.

Fukushima Remains "A Nuclear Radiation Nightmare," In Pictures --"This is an accident that does not exist in the past tense, but in the present progressive form," exclaimed Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori earlier in March, criticizing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for not explicitly mentioning the disaster in his annual speech. “It’s not possible to avoid using the important and significant terms of the nuclear plant accident of nuclear power disaster.” As IBTimes's Juliana Rose Pignataro notes (and exposes in the images below), it's been an uphill battle for the coastal prefecture of Fukushima, Japan, since an earthquake and tsunami devastated the region in 2011, causing a nuclear disaster at its power plant. Six years later, workers are still battling to decommission the plant, where radiation is deadly. Officials expect the cleaning won’t be finished for decades.

British Think Tank Warns Hackers Could Access Nuclear Subs, Fears "Catastrophic Exchange Of Warheads" -- Cyber security has become a preeminent issue in the modern world. That’s because so much of our standard of living is now reliant on computers that can often be easily hacked. Computers may make our lives easier, but they’ve given our civilization a whole new vulnerability to worry about. Our privacy, our infrastructure, and our financial systems are now at the mercy of hackers. But those threats pale in comparison the vulnerability of our nuclear arsenals. Yes, you read that correctly. You’d think that the nuclear arsenals fielded by Western governments would have levels of security that are so tight, that they’d be virtually impossible to hack, but that’s not the case. According to the British American Security Information Council think tank, the UK’s Trident nuclear submarines are certainly vulnerable to hackers, contrary to the claims of the government. “Submarines on patrol are clearly air-gapped, not being connected to the internet or other networks, except when receiving (very simple) data from outside. As a consequence, it has sometimes been claimed by officials that Trident is safe from hacking. But this is patently false and complacent,” they say in the report. Even if it were true that a submarine at sea could not be attacked digitally, the report points out that the vessels are only at sea part of the time and are vulnerable to the introduction of malware at other points, such as during maintenance while docked at the Faslane Naval Base in Clyde, Scotland. The report says: “Trident’s sensitive cyber systems are not connected to the internet or any other civilian network. Nevertheless, the vessel, missiles, warheads, and all the various support systems rely on networked computers, devices, and software, and each of these have to be designed and programmed. All of them incorporate unique data and must be regularly upgraded, reconfigured, and patched.”

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