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Wed, 2014-04-16 16:51Mike G
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New Study Shows Link Between Climate Change And California Drought

A study published by Geophysical Research Letters sheds new light on the connection between California's epic drought and human-induced climate change.

The study carries the decidedly wonky title, “Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint.”

A subscription is required to read the full thing, but you can read the abstract, which concludes that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

As the accompanying news release makes clear, this new research not only helps explain how global warming has intensified the drought in the Golden State, but also its role in the record-breaking cold weather that has hit the East Coast. But it's the climate-drought connection that is under the most scrutiny.

Essentially, an “anomalous high-amplitude ridge system,” or a ridge of exceptionally high atmospheric pressure, has contributed to what's known as a “dipole” — in this case, the two poles of the dipole being the high pressure in the Western U.S. and the low pressure in the East.

The researchers, from Utah State University, have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.” They go on to state that “it is important to note that the dipole is projected to intensify, which means more extreme future droughts for California.”

Not everyone accepts the connection between manmade climate change and the Cali drought. To wit, this study is likely to provoke another round in the very public debate between University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. and Obama Administration Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren.

Mon, 2014-04-14 10:44Mike G
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Why Isn’t Petcoke Regulated As a Public Health Threat?

Last year, a train leaving a Valero refinery in Benicia, CA derailed while carrying petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, a toxic byproduct of the crude oil refining process. None of the petcoke spilled that day as a result of the derailment, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean Benicia residents can breathe any easier.

Locals already have their concerns about the way petcoke is handled in their community and are questioning what public health impacts it might have. But California and federal law have a long way to go before they can be said to be adequately addressing those concerns.

Marilyn Bardet has been dealing with this issue ever since the 1980s, when she helped fend off a Koch Industries proposal to build a petcoke terminal in Benicia. (A smaller facility was eventually built in nearby Pittsburgh, CA, and it operates to this day.) But that early success didn’t mean the fight against petcoke was over for Mrs. Bardet and her fellow Benicians—far from it.

A friend of Mrs. Bardet’s who runs a business near the train tracks that lead in and out of the Valero refinery was able to easily scoop all of this petcoke right off the tracks “in one go”:

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:30Mike G
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Chevron RICO Verdict Sets Dangerous Precedent For Activists

Last week, Chevron's RICO suit against the lawyers representing 30,000 Ecuadoreans impacted by the company's oil pollution in the Amazon came to its inevitable conclusion when the judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, ruled in Chevron's favor.

Yes, that's RICO as in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the law written so that mob bosses could be prosecuted for running their criminal empires.

Faced with a $9.5 billion judgement in Ecuador's courts, Chevron came back to the US and counter-sued under RICO statutes, essentially saying the organized opposition to its attempts to evade responsibility in Ecuador amounted to a criminal conspiracy.

Let that sink in for a minute: The lawyers who were trying to help 30,000 Indigenous villagers, farmers, and other poor, rural Ecuadoreans demand accountability from a multinational corporation with a $221.3 billion market cap were charged with corruption by that very same multinational corporation, and a US judge went along with it.

What this means is that the Ecuadoreans are barred from seeking Chevron assets in the US to force the company to pay the $9.5 billion. Chevron has refused to comply with the Ecuador court's ruling, even though Chevron itself argued that Ecuador was the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit over its 18 billion gallons of oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Since the Ecuadoreans had no plans of pursuing Chevron on its own turf, this ruling doesn't have much practical impact on the matter.

What Kaplan's ruling does do, however, is set a terrifying precedent for any company looking to evade responsibility for the consequences of its business operations.

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:11Mike G
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Alberta Doctor: Canada Is "Lying" About Health Impacts of Tar Sands

Last month, a doctor from Northern Alberta asked a group of U.S. Senators to “keep up the pressure” on the Canadian government about an “ongoing tragedy” he has witnessed firsthand: a health crisis provoked by tar sands development.

Dr. John O'Connor doesn't just claim that the Canadian government is willfully ignoring the impacts of the tar sands on the environment and human health—drastically higher incidence of some rare cancers linked to contaminants released into the air and water by tar sands development, for instance—he claims that in their blind rush to make Canada an energy superpower, Canadian offiicals have been deliberately misleading the public.

O'Connor did not mince words. As the Vancouver Observer reported:

Tue, 2014-03-04 21:01Mike G
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Solar Power Had A Huge Year In 2013

A new report out from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) shows that solar power came an incredibly long way toward asserting itself as a key part of the U.S. energy mix last year.

The U.S. now has a total of 12.1 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) installations and 918 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP), enough to power 2.2 million homes.

Here are some of the other highlights from the Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013 report:

PV installations increased 41% over 2012 to reach 4,751 MW; these new installations have a $13.7 billion market value.

• 410 MW of CSP came online in 2013, increasing total capacity in the U.S. more than 80%.

• Solar accounted for 29% of all new electricity generating capacity, making it the second-largest source, exceeded only by natural gas.

• The cost to install solar fell throughout the year, reaching a new low of $2.59/W in the fourth quarter and ending 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012.

But these statistics don't tell the whole story.

Thu, 2014-02-20 15:22Mike G
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Peabody Energy Faces Popular Revolt at Illinois EPA Coal Hearing

Last night, at an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing about a water quality permit for the expansion of a Peabody Energy strip mine in Rocky Branch, IL, local residents made it clear that they've had enough of the coal industry's destructive presence in their community.

According to writer Jeff Biggers, residents outnumbered Peabody supporters four-to-one among those willing to make public comments, and they had one overriding message: “We the people of Rocky Branch,” one resident, Jennifer Dumberis, said, “we will decide what happens to us and our civil rights—not Peabody.”

This is not the first time Illinois residents have taken their concerns directly to Peabody and the regulatory bodies who are failing to protect Illinois communities from the impacts of the company's mining operations. Residents have presented ample evidence of what has been done to Cottage Grove township, which is adjacent to the strip mine Peabody is seeking to expand: blasting that is like “small earthquakes”toxic coal dust that seeps through cracks in their homes caused by the blasts, and polluted waterways that some residents fear will eventually make their homes uninhabitable altogether.

Peabody had already started clearcutting the area intended to become its Rocky Branch Mine, just south of the Cottage Grove strip mine, but federal regulators stepped in and ordered Peadody to stop logging immedately because it was being done in violation of the law.

It's unclear what, if any, benefits Peabody can offer the residents of Rocky Branch should its strip mine be allowed to expand. No jobs are expected to be created, and the state already loses an estimated $20 million annually to support the coal industry.

Citizen action to hold coal companies and regulators accountable is more important than ever in Illinois, as the coal industry does not seem to be waning in the state. Even while coal is losing market share across the country and renewable energies like wind power are rapidly achieving cost parity (in fact, wind is already cheaper than coal in Iowa, Illinois' neighbor), Illinois just received a $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue the controversial “clean coal” project FutureGen.

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