Recent Press & News
1. Last week, nearly 200 countries adopted a global agreement to phase down the powerful climate-warming gases called hydrofluorocarbons. A widely carried Associated Press piece quoted David Doniger, who was at the negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda, saying the new agreement is “equal to stopping the entire world’s fossil-fuel CO2 emissions for more than two years.” The piece was picked up by PBS News Hour, Politico, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance, Fox News, ABC News, Albany Times Union, San Francisco Gate, MSN, Times of India, South China Morning Post, and over 250 other outlets.
2. David Doniger also spoke to The New York Times about the collaboration between industrial and environmental groups behind the Kigali deal, saying the chemical industries “learned that without a rule change, their new products couldn’t compete. They woke up and said, ‘The science is real.’” The piece was picked up by MSN. In addition, David was quoted on the agreement in The New York Times’ blog “Dot Earth,” Politico, International Business Times, Christian Science Monitor, Buffalo News, Mashable, and a ClimateWire piece carried by Scientific American.
3. Tracy Quinn expressed concern about California water usage to The New York Times, criticizing the lifting of the mandatory conservation targets earlier this year. “We had one normal, average precipitation year among five. We certainly don’t know what the next few years will bring,” Tracy said. The article was also carried by Las Vegas Sun.
4. Kate Poole was quoted in an Associated Press piece on water regulators’ finding that endangered native fish in the California Delta need more water to survive. The article ran in over 130 outlets nationwide, including Yahoo! News, CNBC, US News, ABC News, Washington Times, Fort Wayne (Indiana) News-Sentinel, Baltimore Sun, Seattle Times, and Daily Mail.
5. In a Washington Post piece highlighting how the floods in North Carolina following Hurricane Matthew spurred renewed criticism of factory farming practices, Mae Wu explained that “what this flooding does is really bring to light all the human health and environmental consequences of letting them have these open pits of [fecal] waste just sitting out there.” The piece was picked up by Houston Chronicle, Standard Examiner, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Virginian-Pilot, Jacksonville (North Carolina) Daily News, and UK Progressive Magazine. United Press International also quoted Mae on the issue.
6. David Wallinga spoke to Bloomberg News about how despite new FDA efforts to reduce antibiotic abuse in livestock and limit the rise of superbugs, the pharmaceutical industry continues to market antibiotics to veterinarians while expanding sales internationally. “It just underscores that this has to be a change that happens across the entire world. And the companies bear a big responsibility for that approach,” David explained. The story was picked up by Chicago Tribune, (Magic Valley, Idaho) Times-News, Pharmacy Choice and The Malone (New York) Telegram.
7. Scott Slesinger spoke to Bloomberg BNA about conservationist efforts to block some of the harmful environmental riders in FY17 budget legislation. Riders aimed at scaling back environmental regulations have spiked significantly in recent years. “The one thing that seems to bring together the old, business-friendly Republican caucus and the Tea Party is rolling back environment regulations,” Scott said.
8. Franz Matzner expressed concern to The San Jose Mercury News over a new solar enhanced oil recovery program that uses sunlight instead of gas to pump oil, explaining that pollution, land degradation and negative health impacts are still associated with petroleum production. It’s “a sign of solar’s advantages over oil and coal and gas,” he said. The piece was picked up by East Bay Times.
9. Sasha Stashwick spoke to Offshore Wind about a new NRDC study showing that wind and solar are likely to be less expensive than burning trees for replacing coal power in the United Kingdom, saying “the emissions risks associated with biomass are simply too big to be ignored, and now we see that the economics of biomass don’t make sense” either. Sasha was also quoted on the report’s finding by Business Green, Bioenergy Insight Magazine, Clean Energy News, Clean Technica, and Debbie Hammel was also quoted by EU Reporter Energy in its coverage of organizations participating in the International Day of Action on Bioenergy.
10. Ralph Cavanagh appeared on Greentech Media’s podcast, “The Interchange.” Ralph discussed how to transition to a clean, decentralized grid with a representative from the Edison Institute for Electric Innovation, answering questions about how to charge customers, recover fixed costs, and more.
11. Mae Wu spoke to The Liberty Beacon about the dangerous levels of pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals in drinking water throughout the country, saying “This hasn’t been getting enough attention. The problem hasn’t been getting better because we are just ignoring it.” Mae also highlighted that “consumers shouldn’t just assume that bottled water is more clean, more safe and pure than tap water” to Montgomery County (Maryland) Sentinel, advocating for stricter regulations on both bottled and tap water. Likewise, The Washington Post discussed EPA admitting it should have intervened in the Flint water crisis earlier, mentioning that NRDC petitioned the agency to take emergency action last October.
12. Richard Schrader talked to Morning Ag Clips about a letter NRDC and coalition groups sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to sign the “Farm to Food Bank” tax credit bill into law. “This legislation helps farmers and the hungry as well as mitigating climate change. It should be signed into law,” said Richard. The Associated Press also mentioned NRDC in its coverage of the issue.
13. In an EcoWatch story unveiling the devastating environmental impact of American homeowners’ desire to keep their lawns greener and lusher than their neighbors, Ed Osann pointed to sustainable landscaping strategies that move away from mowed turf and water-guzzling, chemical-hungry lawns.
14. Ashok Gupta spoke to St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a recently released scorecard issued by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) that showed Missouri is the most improved state in the nation in terms of energy efficiency. “The improvement was great. The question is: How are we going to continue to improve?” asked Ashok.
15. Inside EPA Climate featured Jackson Morris and NRDC in its coverage highlighting that RGGI states are expected to adopt a stronger 2020-2030 greenhouse gas cap. “It’s a question of how much more stringent” than EPA’s rule it will be, Jackson stated, adding that the 5 percent reduction is “entirely realistic and viable.”
Recent Press & News
1. The New York Times highlighted NRDC court filings and a new public relations campaign to defend the Clean Power Plan in advance of a federal court hearing on the rule. The filings were also covered by Politico and Bloomberg Government, which quoted David Doniger that “the Clean Power Plan stands on solid legal ground.” Samantha Williams also explained to Midwest Energy News that while the Supreme Court stay is in effect, states such as Ohio should continue to move forward with cutting their own carbon emissions.
2. Morgan Wyenn spoke to the Los Angeles Times and KPCC—Southern California Public Radio about an NRDC victory in a multi-year lawsuit against the Port of Los Angeles and Burlington Northern Santa Fe over a railyard project that would increase toxic air pollution for nearby communities. “This is just not the right location for a rail yard. Anytime you concentrate that many trucks in one small area, the air pollution for that area is going to increase, no matter the way you look at it,” Morgan said.
3. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an op-ed from Max Baumhefner on the impact of a new agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric to deploy 7,500 electric vehicle charging stations in the city, including in disadvantaged communities where zero-emission vehicles are needed most.
4. Sharon Buccino talked to The Washington Post on the worsening financial crisis for big coal companies across the country and their failure to pay for the cleanup of mining sites after they are shut down saying “We should not have to sacrifice the health of the land and its residents to the financial health of coal companies.”
5. David Wallinga spoke to National Geographic about a one-year progress report from President Obama’s Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, noting a failure to reduce misuse of the critical drugs in raising livestock. “The Advisory Council should take a step back and evaluate what’s not working in the U.S. to reach its ultimate goal of reducing widespread overuse of antibiotics,” he said. Politico and Ars Technica also quoted David on the federal antibiotics report.
6. Dana Gunders was a guest on KPCC—Southern California Public Radio “Air Talk with Larry Mantle,” where she discussed a new California bill to improve expiration date labeling in the state, in order to cut down on consumer confusion and reduce food waste.
7. Harvest Public Media—a collaboration of several Midwest radio stations—included Darby Hoover in a story about the prospects of using food waste to produce energy by using anaerobic digestion to generate gas, where Darby explained that “Anaerobic digestion is one promising piece of a much larger puzzle to solve the food waste problem.” KUNC—Northern Colorado Public Radio, and KMUW—Wichita Public Radio also ran the story.
8. Joel Reynolds discussed the top candidate in consideration to lead California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District board, Wayne Nastri, with the Los Angeles Times, saying “He has a strong environmental record, a good sense of strategy and an understanding of how important the public is in environmental decision-making.”
9. Tracy Quinn spoke to the Associated Press about California’s annual snowpack report, its impact on the drought and possibly on state water conservation regulations. “It’s important to remember we’ve had several years of exceptionally hot and dry weather and it’s going to be a long road to recovery. We don’t know what the next year and several years will bring,” she explained. Tracy was also quoted in the San Jose Mercury News about the report.
10. Rebecca Riley talked to WUIS—Springfield Public Radio in Illinois about the decline of bees in the state. “Last year, 60 percent of Illinois beehives collapsed, devastating beekeepers and putting our favorite fruits and vegetables at risk,” she explained.
11. David Pettit spoke to KPCC—Southern California Public Radio about Governor Jerry Brown dropping his opposition to an environmental review of an expanded lead cleanup around Exide battery recycling plant. “This is the correct thing to do to protect the community,” David said.
12. Alaska Dispatch News reported on the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Alaska’s legal challenge to the U.S. Forest Service’s so-called “roadless rule,” ending the state’s attempt to circumvent logging rules in the Tongass National Forest. The story quoted Niel Lawrence as saying “It feels terrific to put this case to bed once and for all.”
13. Doug Obegi spoke to the Ventura County Star about Senator Dianne Feinstein and 12 Republic House Members from California asking President Obama to increase pumping of water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta. “It’s deeply disappointing that the members (of Congress) are demanding that the agencies ignore the biological science and monitoring data on California’s fisheries, threatening not just salmon and endangered fisheries, but the thousands of fishing jobs that depend on them,” he said. Doug was also quoted on the topic in Energy and Environment and the Fresno Bee.
14. Jeff Benzak spoke on behalf of E2 with Midwest Energy News about the clean energy sector in Ohio and other Midwest states. “The clean energy economy is growing fast and you’re really starting to see competition heat up between states seeking to attract clean energy business,” he said.
15. A New York Times article featured a study that NRDC has begun with the University of California, Berkley to assess the effect of new car sharing services, such as UberPool and Lyft Carpool, on the number of cars on the road.
Recent Press & News
1. Rhea Suh spoke to Bloomberg BNA about the implications of the Paris Agreement for businesses and financial markets worldwide. “The fact is that the world is now saying this is the direction we are going in; the markets are listening. And frankly, the markets weren’t just listening because of Paris; the markets were already pivoting before Paris,” she said.
2. Indian officials this week launched a program to protect citizens from extreme heat waves which had killed over 2,500 people in their country last year. The Associated Press quoted Anjali Jaiswal, who said, “If you want to save lives you have to be prepared. When it comes to protecting communities and people, it takes leadership.”
3. Jake Schmidt and others set high expectations in advance of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit to Washington this week. Jake correctly predicted in the Washington Post that Canada would agree to the Obama Administration’s targets for reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Franz Matzner lauded the anticipated meeting to Bloomberg BNA, saying “We’re looking at the dawn of a new level of cooperation,” spotlighting an Arctic drilling ban as a top priority.
4. David Doniger spoke further on the bilateral agreement to cut oil-and-gas methane emissions by at least 40 percent by 2025 telling Politico, “No credible plan to combat climate change can ignore methane emissions, which are the second largest industrial source of climate-changing pollution after power plants.” Bloomberg cited David in saying that going forward, the majority of the upstream petroleum industry’s methane emissions will come from the existing sources targeted by Obama and Trudeau, rather than the existing sources for which the EPA has already proposed regulations.
5. The Atlantic’s “CityLab” reported on a new food waste report from NRDC and a host of collaborators. Dana Gunders told CityLab that cutting food waste would require a paradigm shift in consumer attitudes on top of a suite of policy solutions along the supply chain. Dana also spoke to CNBC, saying, “Our whole food system is based on maximizing profit. It’s not based on maximizing food use,” and a 2012 food waste report from NRDC was cited by USA Today and Vox.
6. Yang Fuqiang was quoted by Reuters estimating that a target energy consumption cap set by China for the first time is conservative. While the proposed target would cut energy intensity by 15 percent, he believes that an 18 percent cut is feasible because, as Barbara Finamore told China Daily, “China has already been taking a slew of actions to cut its use of coal, which is responsible for about 80 percent of its CO2 emissions…”
7. The firing of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s longtime executive director drew criticism from environmental groups due to a concern that the board is “kicking him out to replace him with someone who’s industry friendly and less committed to environmental regulations,” said Morgan Wyenn to the Associated Press.
8. “Communities are left testing their soil, testing their children, testing their homes and saying, well, how come I see these contaminations?” contended Miriam Rotkin-Ellman in Reuters, as the test results on soil from neighborhoods near two Portland glass factories accused of spewing toxic metals into the air for years are due to be released. The results may indicate that emissions were far higher than previously reported by the factories.
9. Mae Wu joined the “Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC 93.9 FM to discuss the discovery of elevated levels of lead in drinking water at schools in Newark. Between Flint and Newark, she said, we’ve reached a point where lead contamination of drinking water is no longer “out of sight, out of mind…the only real way to deal with this problem is to get the lead pipes out of the ground.
10. Henry Henderson told Michigan Public Radio, that he hopes the court will quickly respond to a City and State motion to dismiss NRDC’s Flint lawsuit filed in January, saying “The water remains too dangerous for Flint residents to drink, cook in or bathe in….it’s a scandal.” The local and state government’s requests come on the heels of a lawsuit that NRDC is litigating, as reported by CNN and others. And Dimple Chaudhary told Environment and Energy Daily how troubling she found it that the EPA didn’t enact emergency action in Flint until January of this year when we had petitioned the agency to do so last October.
11. The appliance manufacturing trade association has proposed that utilities compensate consumers for the purchase of more efficient appliances to help comply with the clean power plan. Bloomberg quoted Noah Horowitz tentatively supporting such proposals, saying, “These programs can make a lot of sense when well-designed and sufficient care is taken to make sure the claimed savings are accurate.”
12. Andrew Wetzler was heartened by the news that the Louisiana black bear is no longer threatened, officially. “There is a rewilding of America going on,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.
13. Sharon Buccino appeared on RT’s “Watching the Hawks” (segment begins at 16:30) to talk about Utah Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. “Federal lands belong to all of us and are held in trust for all of us,” she said. “The drive to extract resources was dominant in the past but now we look to these lands for so many other uses, whether it’s recreation, ecology, safe drinking water, or clean air.”
14. Noah Horowitz informed the San Jose Mercury News that new efficiency standards the U.S. Department of Energy proposed last month for CFL and LED bulbs would set the bar so high it’s unlikely that many CFLs will be able to meet it. “The net effect is everything is going to be an LED,” he said.
15. Noah Long spoke to Greentech Media about Oregon’s landmark bill passed this week to eliminate coal purchases by 2035 and double its renewable energy target to 50 percent by 2040. “In my view, this bill does everything Oregon has legal authority to do to cut the market out from underneath coal plants from other Western states.”
Recent Press & News
1) Erik Olson joined NPR’s “On Point” program for a roundtable discussion of lead contamination in Americans’ drinking water in the wake of the Flint crisis. Among other things, Erik discussed the impacts of lead contamination on children and communities, and explained that low-income families are more frequently exposed to dangerous levels of lead due to a variety of systemic failures.
2) Erik Olson was also a guest on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” this week to talk about the national implications of the Flint water crisis. In the course of the discussion, Erik covered the disproportionate burden of contamination borne by communities of color, the need for improved transparency from water utilities, and EPA’s failure to regulate another toxic substance, perchlorate, in drinking water.
3) Dimple Chaudhary spoke to the Good Housekeeping magazine about the lawsuit NRDC filed on behalf of impacted Flint residents and the fact that this is not a Michigan-only problem, saying “The water system in a lot of cities is old and full of lead pipes.”
4) Henry Henderson told Mother Jones that lead-related projects are “often stigmatized as just a sinkhole of meaningless environmental spending,” which is just one explanation for the sorry state of our nation’s drinking water systems.
5) The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” blog pointed readers to David Doniger’s blog on the Supreme Court’s stay of Clean Power Plan implementation. David also expressed optimism for the future of the plan in the Boston Globe, saying the ruling will not “dampen the overwhelming public support for action on climate change and clean energy.” And he was quoted by The Hill and Mashable in their coverage of the court’s decision, as well.
6) Michael Wall spoke to the Wall Street Journal about how a set of laws passed by Wyoming’s legislature that criminalize the capture and transmission of data or photos on open land. Michael explained the new laws are “trying to make criminals out of Americans who see someone polluting and tell the government about it.”
7) David Pettit talked to the Associated Press about upcoming legal battles in the aftermath of the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak in California, saying “the government wants this to be so expensive that this company and others are going to take such exceptional care in their operations that this never happens again.” Briana Mordick also spoke to Quartz about the regulatory failures that lead to the leak, saying it has been “a long-standing concern that [the state’s Natural Resources Agency] is too close to the industry that it regulates.” The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” blog explained how the leak highlights the need for federal action to address the oil and gas industry’s massive methane pollution problem nationwide, crediting a “convincing” NRDC action plan for EPA to follow. And Alex Jackson told LA Weekly that having the gas utility responsible for the leak buy carbon credits would be the “cleanest way of ensuring the atmosphere is made whole” from the impacts of the Aliso Canyon disaster.
8) Tracy Quinn criticized a proposal from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to cut a rebate program that encourages homeowners to remove artificial turf from their yards in the Los Angeles Times. She said dropping the program would be a “huge missed opportunity,” as there is no certainty around the area’s future ability to replenish depleted groundwater reserves.
9) Pierre Delforge explained to Consumer Reports that power adapters were a prime target for federal energy efficiency standards because of their wasteful nature. He explained that the adapters—which convert power from a wall outlet into the lower voltages needed to charge laptops, smartphones, and other devices—draw energy even if the devices they’re charging are already at full power.
10) VICE News, as part of a joint series with the Center for Public Integrity, spoke to Jen Sass for an investigation into concerns that two scientific journals are peddling industry-backed “junk science.” Jen explained that a weak, industry-influenced peer-review process “actually muddies the independent scientific literature” and stacks weight on industry’s “side of the scale.” The investigative report was also picked up by Yahoo! News.
11) Veena Singla worked with WJLA-TV—the local ABC affiliate in Washington, DC—to investigate whether consumers’ mattresses release toxic chemicals into the air. Finding respiratory irritants and potential carcinogens, Veena told WJLA that although the chemicals weren’t measured at levels above approved standards, we don’t fully understand the effect of ingesting small amounts of toxics over long periods of time, and it could be very harmful.
12) Karen Hobbs criticized a Milwaukee suburb’s tepid water conservation proposal being used to bolster its attempt to gain access to Great Lakes water in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, saying that it “is too reliant on voluntary and educational measures.”
13) President Obama last week established three new national monuments to protect 1.8 million acres of California’s Mojave Desert, a move Helen O’Shea heralded as “an absolutely essential element of an overall vision for California’s desert—a vision that includes both conservation and renewable energy development in the right places,” in Environment and Energy Daily.
14) Kate Kiely spoke to Yahoo! Health about the environmental benefits of living with other people, saying: “As a general rule, the more you share, the less you waste. When more people use the same amount of resources, it reduces your individual environmental footprint.”
15) A TIME magazine article encouraged readers to buy longer lasting vegetables to help save money and reduce food waste, citing an NRDC study that found about 40 percent of food grown and sold in America is thrown out. The Christian Science Monitor and Salinas Californian also pointed to the same study for articles on penny-pinching and food waste legislation, respectively.
Recent Press & News
1. President Barack Obama announced a groundbreaking new transportation spending plan on Thursday that calls for a $10-a-barrel tax on oil to be phased in over five years. USA Today quoted Rhea Suh, who hailed the announcement as “the right move at the right moment” and “the appropriate next step in moving America beyond the dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate change.” Rhea was also quoted in Vice News and Scientific American.
2. Roland Hwang was quoted in a USA Today article about Ford’s foray into the electric vehicle market. Max Baumhefner spoke to ClimateWire, noting California’s role at the vanguard of the electric vehicle revolution. Simon Mui (SF, Energy & Transportation) was quoted in a GreenWire piece on regulations that stunt electric vehicle growth outside of California.
3. Henry Henderson was quoted in a Detroit Free Press piece that was critical of the EPA response to the Flint water crisis saying, “I think it’s not just a regulatory failure, it’s a moral failure of astonishing proportions.” Dimple Chaudhary was quoted in an Ebony article about the Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit NRDC filed last week.
4. The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed penned by Doug Obegi that illustrates how weakening regulations in the face of California’s drought impact its native fish and wildlife.
5. Morgan Wyenn described the disclosure that the Port of Los Angeles failed to meet pollution reduction requirements as “significant in that it shows that the port allowed noncompliance, and didn’t tell the public about it” in a Los Angeles Times piece. David Pettit was quoted in a Daily Breeze article covering the news.
6. Sylvia Fallon was featured in a Chicago Tribune piece detailing a court decision that clears the way for the use of Dow Chemical’s pesticide, Enlist Duo. Although disappointed with the verdict, Sylvia noted that it “still gives EPA the ability to more fully evaluate the effects of Enlist Duo or even to cancel it entirely” and that “now is the time for the agency to get it right.”
7. Matt Skoglund appeared in a Montana Public Radio piece about Governor Steve Bullock’s decision to allow wild bison to roam outside Yellowstone National Park into Montana state and private lands.
8. Bloomberg Government profiled Scott Slesinger and delved into his extensive work experience in the field of environmental legislation.
9. In its ongoing coverage of the Porter Ranch gas leak, Huffington Post enlisted the help of Briana Mordick to create a graphic illustration of the massive amount of methane that has been released up to this point.
10. Dana Gunders was featured in a Reuters article that detailed a myriad of simple ways to eliminate food waste. The article includes many direct quotes of advice from her new book Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook. According to Dana, “Nobody wakes up in the morning wanting to waste food, but it happens in little bits and pieces.” TIME and Business Insider India reprinted the article.
11. Sami Yassa was quoted by Politico in a story about an amendment directing federal agencies to create biomass policies that recognize forest bioenergy as carbon neutral. Due to concerns the amendment will interfere in the Clean Power Plan’s treatment of the resource, Sami said “this amendment will set back our efforts to address climate change.”
12. Marc Boom pointed out in a Think Progress piece that “coal already gets such favorable treatment under the federal government” that not much can be added to favor the industry in pending federal energy legislation.
13. David Doniger was quoted in a ThinkProgress piece decrying the group of states pushing for the Supreme Court to block the Clean Power Plan. David duly notes that “the Supreme Court almost never gets involved on a case in this stage, on this type of issue, especially when there’s been no lower court decisions.”
14. Pierre Bull was featured in a Q&A about net-metering in Alt Energy Mag. In addition, Pierre was quoted in an Al Jazeera America article on the topic.
15. Lena Brook spoke to Huffington Post for a piece detailing a coalition effort calling for Yum! Brands to commit to purchasing antibiotic-free meat and poultry. Lena was quoted saying that “No one wants their favorite pizza, taco or fried chicken place to undermine the effectiveness of our antibiotics.”
Recent Press & News
1. Rhea Suh discussed the impact of the California drought on the agriculture sector with Public Radio International’s “The World.” “Drought looks like no food on the table. Drought looks like no jobs to be had,” Rhea said, highlighting the disproportionate impact of the drought on minority communities in the U.S.
2. NRDC filed suit to bring clean water back to Flint, Michigan this week. Dimple Chaudhary (DC, Litigation) told The New York Times, Gizmodo, and The Detroit News that “We are asking a federal court to step in because the people of Flint simply cannot rely on the same government agencies that oversaw the destruction of its infrastructure and contamination of its water to address this crisis.” The suit was covered by Newsweek, CNN, Time, ABC and many other outlets nationally.
3. Henry Henderson highlighted the role of the EPA in the Flint water crisis with the Washington Post, Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, stating that “EPA, in the instance of Flint, was unambiguously part of the problem.” He was also quoted in Vice on the Flint lawsuit.
4. Sarah Tallman (CH, Litigation), spoke with the Associated Press about the need to replace the lead pipes in Flint, commenting that “The only way to permanently and completely fix the problem of lead in drinking water is to conduct the full replacement of the lead-containing pipes and solder in a water system.” The piece was also picked up by the Leader-Telegram, with NRDC also mentioned in ABA Journal, MLive, Global Post and Fox News on the replacement of the lead pipes.
5. Allison Clements (NY, Energy and Transportation) was quoted in USA Today and Politico on the Supreme Court decision that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can offer a cut in prices in exchange for reduced usage to large energy users, saying that the decision “gives clean energy a huge boost and keeps America moving forward toward our critical goal of slashing climate-warming emissions, while maintaining a clean, affordable, and reliable electric system.” The Supreme Court decision was also discussed in Energywire, Fortune and Vox.
6. David Doniger (DC, Climate and Clean Air) was quoted in the Los Angeles Times and Energywire, saying that West Virginia and Texas lawyers that are trying to stop Clean Power Plan rules “have trotted out the same arguments that failed to persuade the D.C. circuit panel.”
7. A Bloomberg Business piece brought attention to the global spread of bacteria that’s resistant to a last-resort antibiotic. Carmen Cordova (SF, Health) illustrated 19 countries that colistin-resistant bacteria had been detected in, according to a new NRDC analysis, and highlighted how overuse of antibiotics in livestock plays a role in threatening human health. Carmen was also quoted in Consumerist explaining that once resistance genes are acquired “it can transform bacterium from one posing little threat to a potentially lethal superbug that resists treatment by multiple antibiotics.”
8. The Obama administration proposed rules to curb methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations, which Meleah Geertsma commented on in Vice, The Hill and Energywire, stating that while the rules are an important start to reduce potent methane pollution, “At a minimum, the administration should require the industry to put all of the available and cost-effective measures in place to curb this rampant air pollution problem.”
9. Roland Hwang (SF, Energy and Transportation) was quoted in the National Journal and Grist on the pros and cons of driverless cars, highlighting that “There are clearly a lot of benefits associated with this technology, especially if we harness it and push it in the right direction… But we could create a situation where we might undermine our clean transportation systems.”
10. Midwest Energy News talked to Katharine McCormick (CH, Energy and Transportation) about a bill proposed by a Missouri state lawmaker which would require utility bills to include a separate line item for expenses related to the Clean Power Plan. Kate said the bill emphasizes compliance costs but ignores the benefits of reducing pollution and that “Determining what costs could be attributed to the Clean Power Plan would be a tricky business, because a lot of this transition is happening for purely economic reasons.”
11. Dana Gunders (SF, Health) spoke to Politico after the Rockefeller Foundation pledged to support food waste reduction at the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying that reducing food waste in developing counties requires investments in infrastructure and technology.
12. Noah Horowitz (SF, Energy and Transportation) spoke to Greenwire about California Energy Commission’s newly adopted rules for LED lighting standards, which are the first in the nation and make bulbs use less electricity and last longer, saying “Let’s hope these California standards serve as a model and catalyst for future adoption by other leading states and eventually at the national level.”
13. The New York Times published a letter to the editor from Lisa Speer (NY, Oceans Program) about the wonders of the deep ocean and the need for a strong agreement at upcoming United Nations negotiations aimed at better managing and protecting the deep ocean.
14. Research NRDC and UC Berkley are working on to study the effects of ridesharing services on the environment was highlighted in KQED News in light of new rules proposed for ridesharing services in California.
15. The Los Angeles Times noted a letter from NRDC to the California Coastal Commission expressing concern about the attempted ouster of one of its executives.
Recent Press & News
1. New York Times, “Nuclear Waste is Allowed Above Ground Indefinitely”
August 29, 2014
By Matthew L. Wald
As the country struggles to find a place to bury spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has decided that nuclear waste from power plants can be stored above ground in containers that can be maintained and guarded indefinitely.
The decision, in a unanimous vote of the commission on Tuesday, means that new nuclear plants can be built and old ones can expand their operations despite the lack of a long-term plan for disposing of the waste.
The chairwoman of the commission, who voted with the majority but dissented on certain aspects, said Friday that the vote risked allowing Congress to ignore the long-term problem.
“If you make the assumption that there will be some kind of institution that will exist, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that will assure material stays safe for hundreds or thousands of years, there’s not much impetus for Congress to want to deal with this issue,” the chairwoman, Allison M. Macfarlane, said Friday. “Personally, I think that we can’t say with any certainty what the future will look like. We’re pretty damned poor at predicting the future.”
In the 1980s, Congress picked Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, as the prime location for a burial site, but that consensus fell apart in the face of sharp opposition from Nevada and a changing political balance. The Energy Department is now saying that a burial site will be established by 2048, but the agency has no method for finding one.
The commission approved a generic environmental impact statement, under which nuclear activities can continue, but did not address the impact to the environment if the stored nuclear waste were abandoned, which would leave it vulnerable to attack or allow the containers to break down.
Ms. Macfarlane said it was wrong to predict institutional control indefinitely. “Best not to say anything about something so uncertain,” she said, “and just to work with what we can know for sure.”
For decades the commission has allowed nuclear plants to operate under what it called its waste confidence rule, which said that although there was no repository, there would most likely be one by the time it was needed, and in the interim, the storage of the highly radioactive waste in spent fuel pools or in dry casks would suffice. But in June 2012, a court ruled that the commission had not done its homework in studying whether the waste could be stored on an interim basis. As a result, the commission froze much of its licensing activity two years ago.
On Tuesday, however, the commission approved a finding by its staff that waste could be stored — as opposed to disposed of — indefinitely. The vote was 4-0.
Some nuclear opponents say the issue is certain to wind up back in court. As the Natural Resources Defense Council, Geoffrey H. Fettus, the lead lawyer in the original case, said in a statement: “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to analyze the long-term environmental consequences of indefinite storage of highly toxic and radioactive nuclear waste; the risks of which are apparent to any observer of history over the past 50 years. The commission failed to follow the express directions of the court.”
The action, though, allows the commission to extend the licenses of two reactors in Pennsylvania, Limerick 1 and 2, and to extend the license for storage casks holding spent fuel at another two-unit plant, Calvert Cliffs, in Maryland.
Several other license renewals would have had to have been denied had the new policy not been put in place, including Indian Point 2 and 3, in Buchanan, N.Y., but those license applications still have other unresolved issues. Likewise, several applications to build reactors would eventually have been blocked, except that those plants were not very likely to be built in the near future.
In coming years the agency will need to reconfigure its staff to handle a different problem: an increased number of plants shutting down and entering the decommissioning process, Ms. MacFarlane said. And, she said, the commission needs to rewrite its rules for decommissioning plants. For example, she said, once the nuclear fuel has been removed from a reactor core, the security requirements at the plants should probably be relaxed because the risk is reduced.
2. Associated Press, “Illinois Issues Long-Awaited Fracking Rules For Oil and Gas Companies”
August 29, 2014
By Kerry Lester
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Stricter requirements for disclosing the use of chemicals are part of new proposed rules issued by the state Friday as part of the process of regulating fracking, the high-volume oil and gas drilling method that proponents hope will bring a surge of jobs to Illinois.
The highly anticipated rules, released by the state Department of Natural Resources, come after months of complaints about delays from industry officials anxious to begin hydraulic fracturing in what they say are southern Illinois’ rich deposits of natural gas. The state was hailed last year for legislation seen as a model of compromise on how to regulate the drilling practice, but that cooperation broke down when draft rules were criticized by both industry and environmental activists.
State officials expressed confidence that the new rules would address all the concerns raised in 30,000 comments they received in response to those initial rules. DNR director Marc Miller said his staff had done “a thorough and thoughtful job” in crafting a balanced, 150-page report delivered to an administrative oversight committee tasked with reviewing them over the next 45 days before they can take effect.
But both environmentalists and industry officials also were poring over the report Friday, and some indicated that the battle over the regulations may not be over. Mark Denzler, chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, said hopeful drillers were not happy with the requirement for more detailed disclosure of specific chemicals, which he said could threaten “trade secret protections.”
“From a cursory review, there are concerns that the new rules exceed the scope of the legislation,” Denzler said.
The department also clarified rules to ensure that wastewater would not be stored in open pits for more than a week at a time, which environmentalists had said would lead to contamination. And it stipulated that public hearings for fracking permits should not be held further than 30 miles from where a well site would be located.
Some environmentalists offered tepid praise for the department’s attention to their concerns, while saying they would be pouring over the new rules over the next few days.
“The agency clearly paid attention to some of the public comments that were out there, but given the technical nature of things it remains to be seen if those issues are fixed,” said Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Hydraulic fracturing uses a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to crack open rock formations thousands of feet underground to release trapped oil and gas. Opponents fear it will pollute and deplete groundwater or cause health problems, while the industry insists the method is safe and will cause the same economic boom seen in other states such as North Dakota. They warned that Illinois risked losing out on a bonanza as the months went by while the DNR crafted the rules.
Miller, the DNR director, said he was “optimistic” the state could now meet a Nov. 15 deadline for the rules to be in place. He noted that the agency has hired 24 of 53 employees it needs to issue permits, inspect wells and perform other tasks associated with the anticipated influx of drilling activity. The Associated Press reported last month the agency had hired only four workers at that time.
The bipartisan panel reviewing the rules has 45 days to sign off on the suggested rules, change them or block them. It also can ask for a 45-day extension in making recommendations.
If the committee signs off on the plan, Miller said drillers could begin applying for permits later this fall. Permits, according to the rules, must be approved within 60 days.
If the panel rejects the rules, Miller said, the department would begin another lengthy hearing process.
3. NBC Los Angeles, “California Drought Threatens Nation’s Most Productive Farming Valley”
September 1, 2014
By Patrick Healy
[Watch Monty Schmitt and Kate Poole’s video appearances here]
In the rich farmland of the San Joaquin Valley it’s summertime — peak growing season for many crops. But every sunbaked, scorching day brings another test of water reserves in a region running on empty.
The dearth of irrigation water from rivers or reservoirs has forced growers in the valley 80 miles north of Los Angeles to rely almost entirely on water pumped from wells.
“I’m worried from a couple of standpoints,” said grower Stuart Woolf, as he stood in a field of tomatoes at harvest time. “One, I’m worried that we just flat run out of groundwater.”
Some growers have already taken draconian steps to deal with the reality that they don’t have enough water for all their crops. Near Fresno, Shawn Stevenson bulldozed a third of his orange grove.
“When these trees are gone they’re not going to use any more water so I can put that water on another crop,” Stevenson said.
In this third year of record drought, other growers have idled acreage for annual row crops.
“If this was a regular year, this would have been re-planted either to corn or to sorghum,” said Tipton farmer Tom Barcellos, as he showed a reporter a field he’s fallowed “either one of them would have been about 10 feet tall right at this point so we’d been walking here and you’d never see us.”
Not far away, Vince and Pam Sola watched their almonds being harvested next door to a field they’ve left unplanted. Permanent tree crops are different. If you can’t water them, you not only lose that year’s income; you lose your investment.
“It’s sad to see this land just lay there vacant,” said Pam Sola, shrugging her shoulders as her husband finished her thought.
“Without surface water, we decided we had to leave some land idle and divert the water to less acres,” said Vince Sola.
It is a summer of crisis for the Solas, Barcellos, and Woolf, but the crisis is hardly unique to them, with the drought stressing agriculture in virtually the entire San Joaquin Valley.
Its farming region stretches from the Tehachapi Mountains to Stockton, bounded by the Coast Range to the west and the Sierra Nevada to the east. Blessed with rich soil, an abundance of sun, but minimal rainfall even apart from drought years, the valley has relied for half a century on water imported from Northern California to become the nation’s most productive growing region, known for its citrus and grapes and increasingly for specialty tree crops such as almonds and pistachios, walnuts and cherries.
“This is an impact across the country,” warned Barcellos. “You look at the number of nuts and grapes — everything that’s on somebody’s table sometime of the day comes from this valley.”
Barcellos is primarily a dairyman in a corner of Tulare County that produces 12 percent of the nation’s milk. He worries about cows that need water every three hours, and rely on misters to avoid overheating in triple-digit temperatures.
“There is no surface water to buy here for this district,” Barcellos laments, as he shows a reporter a bone-dry and dusty irrigation ditch that had been serving his farm for decades. He wistfully recalls playing in the ditch water as a teenager, even water skiing as a buddy pulled him along with a tractor. No more.
Since shortly after World War II, and with rare exceptions, the region farmed by Barcellos and the Solas has been able to rely on irrigation water from the federal Central Valley Project. The Bureau of Reclamation dammed the San Joaquin River, and diverted almost its entire flow into two irrigation canals for the eastside growers. A third canal, from the San Francisco Bay Delta to Mendota, was built for growers with rights to the San Joaquin River to replace the water no longer flowing downstream. Surplus water from the Delta Mendota Canal became available for growers including the Woolf Farm on the west side of the valley, and the region flourished, despite nagging concerns that in dry years, relying on junior rights, it would be the first to be cut off.
Statewide, agriculture takes an estimated three-quarters of the water California consumes. Farming is by far the state’s largest single water user, dwarfing the amount city-dwellers use to boil their potatoes, brush their teeth, wash their clothes and water their yards.
Over the decades, periodic droughts have reduced or even interrupted deliveries, but nothing like this past year of drought, when only the holders of original, so-called “riparian” rights to the San Joaquin River received surface water; for other growers, the federal allocation was reduced to zero, leaving them almost entirely dependent on groundwater.
Not every farm has sufficient well capacity to serve all of its needs. In some cases, wells have gone dry as the water table is drawn down. Even farms with adequate well water see profits decimated by the cost of purchasing the electrical power needed to pump deep-lying groundwater hundreds of feet to the surface.
This past week, the California state legislature took initial steps toward tracking and eventually regulating groundwater withdrawals, a level of regulation to which some farmers are resistant, but others are resigned.
“We have to be saved from ourselves,” said Vince Sola. “Otherwise we’re just going to pump, pump, pump, and it will be all gone.”
Using satellite technology, a new study by UC San Diego found 63 trillion gallons have been lost from the groundwater reserves of the western U.S. That’s enough to cover all the land west of the Rockies in four inches of water, the authors noted. As reserves drop, wells go dry, and drillers cannot keep up with the demand for drilling deeper.
“We’re 12-13 months behind,” said Steve Arthur of Arthur & Orum Well Drilling, as he watched his crew go down 600 feet for a new well to supply an almond grove outside Caruthers. In another area to the north of Fresno, another grower had Arthur dig down 2,000 feet. The water table is not yet that low, Arthur explained, but the grower wants reserve room as the groundwater is drawn down further.
Wells that deep cost as much as $750,000, Arthur said, not including the pump and other expenses before the well becomes operational.
It’s deja vu.
Before the Central Valley Project and California’s State Water Project, San Joaquin Valley growers relied almost exclusively on groundwater. So much was pumped out, that the floor of the valley began dropping, or “subsiding,” as the weight of the ground above crushed the waterless Earth below. By 1977, the ground near Mendota had subsided some 30 feet, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
That subsidence has again reared its head is not disputed by growers.
“In some regions you can actually see the ground around the well site — it looks like the well is growing — it’s coming out of the ground,” said Woolf, explaining that in reality, the ground is dropping around the wellhead, exposing more of it.
To stetch their water, growers have been switching to more efficient irrigation techniques, including expensive drip systems.
Running Dry
It has also lead to unintended consequences. Drip means that the mineral contaminants in groundwater are concentrated at the seed row. Avoiding overwater also limits the water that in the past would have percolated through the soil to replenish the underground water table.
Drought Threatens California Farming Valley
Where the drought is reducing crop yields may lead to higher prices — but not necessarily for crops in competition with other regions, and the California drought impact at the grocery checkout stand so far has been minimal.
“If all you know is you go to the store and the food is there and it doesn’t cost any more, then you don’t seen the impact,” Pam Sola said.
Growers hope it does not get to that point before they get assistance. They are calling for the government water projects to build additional storage, so that more of the snowmelt and river runoff during wet years can be saved for drought years.
Some $2.7 billion would be dedicated to new storage if California voters approve the water bond that the legislature has placed on the November ballot. Many growers think it should be more.
In addition, growers bristle at environmental conservation rulings and decisions that have placed limits on the amount of river water that can be withdrawn and delivered by the water projects for irrigation.
Some characterize the dispute as Farmer vs. Fish.
Of particular concern are the salmon that swim through the vast Delta where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers reach the San Francisco Bay. Salmon still spawn upstream in the Sacramento Rivers. Federal rulings have effectively placed limits on water releases from upstream dams in order to insure that river temperatures remain cool enough for salmon to spawn.
Under a separate agreement to restore the salmon runs in the San Joaquin River, 17 percent of the average flow long diverted to irrigation canals will be again sent downstream for the fish.
The agreement does recognize the impact of periodic droughts. This year, no water is being released into the San Joaquin River for restoration, according to Monty Schmitt of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
That is not the only impact of the drought on environmental restoration. It has also limited the amount of water for the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in an area that once was periodically flooded by the San Joaquin River and was a natural wetland. That ended when 19th century ranchers established grazing fields and built levees to protect them.
The value of maintaining wetlands and native grasslands became a goal of the US Dept. of the Interior after it became apparent that one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century, the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, was enabled by the removal of native grasslands for farm crops that could not be sustained during a drought.
Since the 1960’s, some of the water delivered by the Delta Mendota Canal has gone to flooding the Refuge every September. This drought year, the allocation has been reduced to 65 percent of normal, according to Karl Stromayer, Refuge Asst. Manager, and that will affect the habitat in this portion of what is known as the Pacific Flyway.
“When migratory birds get here, we have less food for them,” Stromayer said.
Ironically, during this drought summer there is now more water in the San Joaquin than there has been for decades, because it is being released to satisfy the riparian rights of downstream properties that for decades until this year had been served by the Delta Mendota Canal.
That water is being released from Friant Dam, rather than being diverted into the Friant-Kern canal, is the reason Barcellos and his fellow Tulare County growers are not receiving any Central Valley project water this year.
Growers acknowledge the need to protect habitat, but challenged the benefits of how it has played out. A longtime sore point for growers is a ruling that effectively limits how much freshwater can be withdrawn from the Delta in order to protect a finger-size fish known as the Delta Smelt, an endangered, and therefore protected, species.
Woolf observed the hand-wringing in Los Angeles in July when a water main failure sent 20 million gallons of water through the UCLA campus en route to storm sewers.
“Here this season over one 60 day period we sent 260 million gallons under the Golden Gate Bridge for a benefit nobody knows what it was,” complained Woolf.
Environmental activists contend there are tangible benefits.
“It’s very shortsighted to wipe out fisheries to get a little water now that does not benefit us in the longrun,” said Kate Poole, senior attorney with the NRDC.
Regardless, the battle will continue to be fought in court.
The environmental issues have had less impact on farming regions in the Delta, and to the north in the Sacramento Valley, where growers rely on water districts with riparian rights to the Sacramento River, which delivers are more than the San Joaquin. Growers in California’s next largest agricultural region, the Imperial Valley near the Mexican border, import their water from the Colorado River, which has been less affected by the California drought.
All with stakes in California’s water supply worry about the effect of climate change adding to unpredictability. But as it is, California’s surface water resource has been frustratingly unpredictable since epic flooding overwhelmed the San Joaquin Valley’s first generation of farmers back in the 19th Century after the Gold Rush.
It’s been four decades since a drought as severe as the current one, but since 1977, not a decade has passed without a drought, and the one just 5 years ago triggered conservation responses still in place in many areas, including Los Angeles.
By the same token, every 4 years on average there is a rainy season wet enough to produce flooding. The last one occurred in the winter of 2011, when reservoirs ran out of capacity and instead of banking water for summer during winter and spring, had to release it.
“We never get an average amount of water,” Schmitt said. “It’s always too much or too little. The key is: how do we manage it so we will have vibrant agriculture industry, while also having a healthy river and community resource.”
4. Sacramento Bee, “Conservation Conundrum: Water Use Varies Greatly Across California”
August 31, 2014
By Matt Weiser
Drive across city limits in virtually any part of California, and you will also cross another kind of frontier, one gaining more attention during the worst drought in a generation: The borders between cities also define different ideas about water. One city may have gutters coursing with wasted water, while its neighbor lives by the highest conservation standards.
The differences can be glaring, according to a Bee review of data submitted by water agencies, and they highlight some of the challenges in achieving broad conservation goals during the ongoing drought. In a hypothetical tour of the state, according to the data, the well-informed traveler would encounter the following disparities:
• In the tony hillside mansions of Los Altos, residents in 2012 consumed an average of 197 gallons of water per person each day. Step across the city limits into Mountain View, and consumption drops to 139 gallons per day.
• In Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, per capita consumption is 163 gallons per day. Next door in Garden Grove, the average is only 128 gallons each per day.
• In the state capital’s metro region, Folsom residents consume 329 gallons each per day. Their neighbors in adjacent Orangevale consume significantly less, 225 gallons per day.
Water consumption varies enormously across California, and the reasons are not easy to pin down. But it is an issue of growing importance as the state struggles to contain water demand.
In the most recent report to the State Water Resources Control Board, a survey of water agencies showed that Californians in May failed to achieve the 20 percent conservation goal sought by Gov. Jerry Brown in his emergency drought proclamation. They failed to get even close: Consumption actually increased by 1 percent compared with the prior year.
“Most people haven’t been cutting back,” said Dale Creasey, 81, a resident of Orangevale. He reduced his most recent water bill by 43 percent, despite growing more than 1,300 pounds of zucchini that he donated to charity. His personal goal is 50 percent. “I believe in God, I attend church, and I feel that you’re supposed to help take care of your fellow man. When there’s a water shortage, you cut back so everybody can have some.”
Tracy Quinn, a policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council who specializes in California water issues, said residents can save more. “We live in a state that’s susceptible to epic drought,” Quinn said. “It’s up to all of us to do our part to save in good times and in bad.”
Where water runs high
Expecting every resident of the state to use the same amount of water, or even adopt the same conservation measures, seems like a reasonable expectation on the surface. But California’s geographic and socio-economic diversity make this difficult, if not unreasonable, said Gregory Weber, executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council. The council collects consumption data from many water agencies as part of an agreement with the state.
“It’s hard to tell a single story about why people across the state have such differences,” said Weber. “Every water agency out there is going to claim they have unique circumstances, and to a large extent it’s true.”
Weber and other water experts say California’s many unique microclimates are one explanation for the wide differences in water consumption. For example, residential properties in Sacramento and Berkeley, all else being equal, will consume very different amounts of water simply because the former experiences hotter temperatures much of the year.
“Everything we do in Sacramento to try and survive the hot summers uses more water than some parts of the state,” said John Woodling, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Water Authority.
But beyond climate, other factors come into play, especially when comparing neighboring communities that experience similar weather. Household size, property size and income level also have a role.
For example, Los Altos consists of 84 percent owner-occupied homes, vs. 64 percent in neighboring Mountain View, according to U.S. census data. Also, median household income in Los Altos, at $140,000 per year, is 53 percent greater than in Mountain View.
“If you don’t mind paying a large water bill – if that’s a small proportion of your income – there really is less of an incentive to save,” said Quinn.
That would seem to be the case in places like Rancho Santa Fe. The community near San Diego is considered one of the wealthiest in America, with a median household income of $173,000 annually. It also has one of the highest rates of water consumption in the state: Within the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Rancho Santa Fe and several nearby communities, per capita water consumption in 2012 was 485 gallons per day.
In comparison, consumption in neighboring San Diego was just 128 gallons per person per day.
Rancho Santa Fe was also one of the communities that caused California as a whole to miss the 20 percent water conservation target in May: Water use in Rancho Santa Fe actually increased 23 percent in May compared with the prior three years. The area gets about 65 percent of its water from imported supplies, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Jessica Parks, a spokeswoman for the district, said most residential properties in the area are large – 1 to 3 acres in size – and have small orchards of lemon, orange or avocado trees that demand water.
“We are an irrigation district,” Parks said. “However, it’s pretty much transformed over time to being an urban water provider now. We have large lots that need irrigation. So when one person is living on a 3-acre lot, it does look like they’re using a lot of water.”
The district has had conservation programs in place for many years, including rebates on some water-saving technologies that are not offered in the Sacramento area, such as weather-sensitive irrigation timers, soil-moisture sensors and rain-collection barrels.
But until recently, it had only voluntary watering restrictions in place, despite the governor’s emergency drought proclamation in January. On Aug. 21, the district’s board of directors adopted mandatory watering restrictions that limit outdoor irrigation to certain days of the week based on address, and only in the morning and evening hours.
Unlike many other areas of the state, there will be no “water cops” roaming the avenues of Rancho Santa Fe to look for violations.
“We don’t have the staff resources for that,” said Parks. “We can’t be everywhere, so we’re hoping our customers can also help us in finding that water waste.”
Where water runs low
Far to the north in Sonoma County, the culture of conservation is very different. In Santa Rosa, the region’s largest city and the county seat, residents consume an average of just 106 gallons per person each day, one of the lowest rates in the state.
Santa Rosa depends on the Russian River for more than 90 percent of its water supply. It’s a a tempestuous source: The river can cause floods in winter, then dry up the following year. It is also home to imperiled salmon and steelhead runs, a reality that many residents connect with their own water consumption.
“We have a lot of really concerned and active and engaged citizens in Santa Rosa,” said Kimberly Zunino, the city’s water resources sustainability manager. “We find, in Santa Rosa, it’s not always about money. They want to do their part.”
The city is rolling out a new program to replace older water-saving toilets with even more miserly ultra-high efficiency toilets that use only 0.8 gallons per flush. It is not a rebate program, but rather a package deal in which customers pay $375 for a toilet and the services of a contractor to install it. The package also includes a water-saving showerhead and faucet aerators for kitchen and bathroom.
Customers can pay for the toilet-replacement package with a $7 monthly charge on their water bills. In the long run, Zunino estimates, many customers will end up saving money on their water bills because the new toilets are so efficient.
The city has also hired consultants to find water savings in the commercial sector, a conservation opportunity that is largely untapped in many communities. For example, it paid a consultant $14,000 to help city staffers understand the food industry to work more effectively with Amy’s Kitchen. The organic food processor has a packaging plant in Santa Rosa and is one of the city’s largest water users.
The resulting water savings will save the company money, and Zunino said the city also expects to recover the consultant’s cost through savings in city operations.
She said other communities should make a similar effort.
“There are things, I think, that every agency and municipality can do,” Zunino said. “If we can teach all of our residents and customers to actually change their behavior, we can reduce water use everywhere. It’s getting out there and talking to those customers and trying to get people to realize that water is not an endless supply.”
5. Inside Climate News, “Keystone Ads Mislead on Canada’s Deep Cuts to Environmental Monitoring”
September 2, 2014
By Mike De Souza
The ads were hard to miss for anyone taking the subway in Washington, D.C.—particularly someone working at the White House, the State Department or Congress.
They included images of children waving the American and Canadian flags, a green mountain with a river running through it, and construction workers building a new pipeline in Texas.
The ads in some of the capital’s busiest Metro stations are but a small part of an aggressive, ongoing campaign that targets the most powerful people in Washington. The goal: President Obama’s approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, a major expansion project that could bring more of Canada’s carbon-intensive tar sands oil into the United States.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has set aside $22.7 million for an advertising blitz this year to promote oil and Canada’s other natural resources in the United States, Europe and Asia. But scientists and environmental groups say the advertising message is misleading its target audience about the Canadian government’s failure to clean up the oil sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Those [advertising] messages aren’t accompanied by any changes in policy—they’re basically defending Canada’s current record, which we know to be quite poor when it comes to climate,” said Danielle Droitsch, the Canada project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group that has criticized the Keystone pipeline project and the expansion of Canada’s oil sands industry.
Environment Canada, the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently issued a report that projected a 42 percent cut in its pollution management and mitigation programs before the 2016-17 fiscal year. A labor union representing federal scientists, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, has estimated the Canadian government is in the middle of a three-year purge, cutting nearly $3 billion in spending and up to 5,000 jobs from its science-based departments.
Meanwhile, Canada’s advertising campaign—which includes the pro-oil sands government website—touts Canada as a reliable partner and a “world environmental leader in the oil and gas sector.” It also boasts of a new oil sands monitoring system “founded on science and transparency.”
Harper’s government defends the campaign, saying it wants to ensure that other countries get all the facts. But one fact the ads don’t mention is that the oil sands industry’s rising carbon footprint is projected to wipe out reductions elsewhere in Canada’s economy, putting Harper’s commitment to reduce annual emissions to about 3 percent above 1990 levels by 2020 out of reach.
Promise vs. Performance
Environment Canada estimates that greenhouse gases from the oil sands industry grew by 62 percent from 2005-2011. They are projected to grow a further 84 percent by 2020.
Harper has repeatedly pledged, but delayed, introducing rules to reduce those greenhouse gases. At the same time, his government dismantled a team of seven specialists who helped design the oil sands monitoring program. They also had the expertise to draft credible tests and regulations for air pollution and greenhouse gases in the oil sands. The government eliminated their jobs, forcing some into early retirement or transfers.
It has also apparently prevented the remaining three members from using all their skills to tackle the environmental challenges in the oil sands. An internal email, distributed within Environment Canada’s Emissions Research and Measurement Section (ERMS), revealed that the section’s manager couldn’t find any work for the specialists in the new federal and provincial Joint Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM) initiative that the government promotes in its advertising campaign.
“All of the staff are affected by the fact that there is no oil sands work…as a result of the changes,” wrote the manager, Fred Hendren, in the leaked email sent on April 14. “The intent is to find permanent duties for all of the staff.”
Environment Canada confirmed that the joint monitoring plan won’t be testing stack emissions directly from the source. Instead, the plan will test ambient air “at some distance from sources.”
Former members of the emissions research team, speaking through their union, have urged the government to allow them to measure emissions directly from stacks, in order to establish baseline data on mercury and other substances. The union said that would also allow the government to collect other information it needs to draw up credible regulations to reduce air pollution, water pollution and greenhouse gases.
Department spokesman Mark Johnson said the work done under the joint monitoring plan was meant to complement Alberta’s existing regulatory approach, which uses emissions data reported by oil companies.
But the union representing the scientists said the absence of independent data will compromise the credibility of any new regulations.
With the internal team disbanded, the department now hires consultants when it needs emissions research.
“When you cut an entire group and then simply farm it out to an outside contractor that really isn’t even qualified to do that work, that to me smacks of incompetence,” said local union president Stephen Vanneste. “But it’s also pretty mean-spirited. There’s no good intention there.”
The union said it is looking into possible grievances but needs one of the government scientists or engineers to make a formal complaint.
“People are very reluctant to stick their neck out because they are very much afraid—and justifiably so—that they’re going to get their heads cut off,” Vanneste said.
Peers, Papers and Potatoes
The Canadian government’s advertising also fails to mention some of the new peer-reviewed research emerging from the oil sands as part of the new monitoring program.
Those include studies that have documented rising toxic pollution such as mercury and cancer-linked compounds around oil sands production. But in most cases, the government scientists that have produced this research were unavailable for interviews, feeding into criticism that Harper is muzzling scientists who produce inconvenient research for industry. The allegations prompted a probe launched last year by a federal watchdog.
An industry spokesman told InsideClimate News that he wasn’t aware of recent cases of alleged muzzling of scientists. He said the industry supports transparency and wants scientists to provide context about their research and data, which is featured on the monitoring plan’s online public website.
“That’s really the foundation that we’ve been [doing by] trying to increase the level of transparency of all of the monitoring in that region,” said Greg Stringham, vice president of oil sands and markets at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
The oil sands are natural deposits of bitumen—a tar-like heavy oil—mixed with sand under forests in northern Alberta. It takes massive amounts of water and energy to extract and process the oil, leaving a significant footprint on the surrounding water, air, wildlife and climate.
The process is more expensive than conventional oil production, but the industry has historically received billions of dollars in subsidies or tax incentives. It has also created tens of thousands of jobs while generating billions of dollars in tax revenues for both Alberta and Canada.
Stephane McLachlan, a professor of environmental science at the University of Manitoba, has praised his peers in government for doing credible research but he is concerned that the joint monitoring plan fails to examine human health impacts.
“It’s the hot potato that no one wants to hold,” said McLachlan.
He said his own research, examining consumption habits of local aboriginal communities and their traditional sources of food, found additional evidence of toxins accumulating in ducks, fish and some mammals that are putting human health at risk.
McLachlan said he felt compelled to release the data prior to peer review because of those risks.
The federal Canadian Health Department downplayed McLachlan’s findings, saying he hadn’t showed “conclusive” evidence linking the oil sands activities to human health problems.
It declined a request for an interview with one of its experts.
Environment Canada has also declined interviews with scientists who published recent peer-reviewed papers on mercury contamination. It didn’t provide an explanation for the lack of media access but instead provided written statements that downplay some aspects of the evidence.
The Harper government previously spent at least $9 million on a domestic ad campaign in 2012 to convince Canadians it was promoting economic growth while “maintaining high environmental protection standards.” These ads followed a first round of budget cuts to environmental monitoring programs, combined with new laws that reduced federal oversight.
Meantime, there’s no sign that public relations and marketing efforts are slowing down. The Harper government is paying international public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard at least $5 million to plan and manage the campaign. It recently renewed the firm’s contract until 2015, which could mean more ads are on the way.
“Often when we talk with decision makers on Capitol Hill, they also have observed that there really isn’t a difference between the government of Canada and the tar sands industry,” said Droitsch, the NRDC Canada project director. “I think that for those members of Congress who are concerned about the tar sands issue, it hasn’t helped Canada [and the industry] to be so closely aligned.”
6. Missoulian, “Columbia Falls Sawmill Announces Layoffs, Cites Timber Blocked by Litigation”
August 29, 2014
By Vince Devlin
COLUMBIA FALLS – F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber on Thursday announced it will curtail production at its sawmill here by the end of September, and lay off nine to 10 of its 120 employees.
In a written statement, company officials appeared to lay much of the blame on a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy last week that blocked a plan to build new logging roads into 36,700 acres of grizzly bear habitat in the Stillwater State Forest near Olney.
But Stoltze resource manager Paul McKenzie said the Stillwater Forest case was just a small part of a larger picture in which he says 200 million board feet of timber in western Montana is tied up in litigation.
“What (Molloy’s) decision did to us was make it critical we do it (lay off the 9 to 10 employees) right away,” McKenzie said.
Molloy concluded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by approving a state plan to issue a permit to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to “take” grizzly bears (i.e., harm their habitat) in the state forest.
“It is with extreme frustration that we announce this curtailment,” Stoltze Vice President Chuck Roady said in the news release. “At a time when lumber markets are rebounding, we are faced with having to reduce production due to lack of access to the raw material.”
Timothy Preso, the attorney who represented conservation organizations in the Stillwater case, questioned whether Molloy’s decision – cited in the first sentence of Stoltze’s press release – was the real reason.
“The area affected has been off-limits to logging for decades,” Preso said, adding that approximately two-thirds of the Stillwater Forest’s nearly 100,000 acres are not affected by Molloy’s ruling and remain available to logging.
Preso said Roady, who was not available for comment Thursday afternoon, “acknowledged they were faced with the need for layoffs anyway.”
Roady was quoted in the Flathead Beacon Thursday as saying, “We were facing this anyway. But the (Molloy decision) was the final jab in the gut.”
“He’s right,” McKenzie said of Preso. “Judge Molloy was not the deciding factor. Log supply has been the issue for a long time.”
But Molloy’s decision did trigger the company’s decision to reduce production hours from 80 to 60 a week, and lay off approximately 8 percent of its sawmill workforce, next month, McKenzie said.
The cuts are scheduled to take place Sept. 29. Stoltze has been operating for 102 years, and is the oldest family-owned sawmill in Montana.
“As a forester, it is disheartening to be surrounded by highly productive forests that could benefit from active management, yet still not have access to sufficient log supply to meet the production needs of our sawmill,” McKenzie said in the press release.
It is “extra frustrating,” McKenzie told the Missoulian later, that just as the economy is recovering from the worst markets he’s seen, a lack of supply has forced Stoltze’s hand.
“The Kootenai National Forest alone has a target of harvesting 50 million board feet, and we have a hard time getting to half that,” McKenzie said. “The primary reason is litigation.”
Representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Montana Environmental Information Center and Friends of the Wild Swan, plaintiffs in the Stillwater lawsuit, hailed Molloy’s ruling as critical for the protection of grizzly bears.
Grizzlies are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The judge found that Fish and Wildlife Service officials lacked a rational scientific basis when they approved new road construction in what is known as the “Stillwater Core.” The permit to “take” grizzly bears – again, “take” refers to habitat destruction that drives grizzlies out of their territory and leads to reduced reproduction – would have lasted for 50 years.
Earthjustice, the environmental law firm Preso works for that represented the conservation organizations involved in the lawsuit, said the state’s plan to log the Stillwater Core would have eliminated the last non-road grizzly habitat on state lands in Montana.
State land managers said impacts to grizzlies would be minimized by imposing seasonal restrictions on road use and logging.
“This is incredibly important to grizzly bears in the Stillwater State Forest,” Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan, said. “Bears don’t use calendars to know when an area is safe to raise their young and avoid conflicts with people. The court’s ruling ensures that bears get a fair shake.”
Matt Skoglund, director of the Northern Rockies office of the National Resources Defense Council, agreed.
“Fifty years is a long time, especially with the sobering reality of the impact of climate change in the Northern Rockies,” he said. “Building new roads in secure grizzly habitat is a dangerous road to go down.”
Preso said female grizzlies need areas like the Stillwater Core to raise their cubs, and that “Federal officials played fast and loose with the science in claiming otherwise. Fortunately we have courts in this country that require federal officials to make rational decisions and follow the rule of law.”
7. Greenwire, “Power Use by TV, Broadband Boxes Down 5% Under Voluntary Agreement – Report”
August 28, 2014
By Katherine Ling
Cable, satellite and broadband boxes last year saved consumers $168 million and enough electricity to power Pittsburgh homes for one year, as part of a voluntary energy efficiency agreement that industry hopes can pave the way for similar standards for other home gadgets.
The almost 5 percent drop last year in electricity consumption by digital video recorders (DVRs) and cable boxes found in 92 million homes across the nation was unveiled today in the 2013 progress report on the “set-top box” agreement between the pay TV industry and energy efficiency advocates.
Under a business-as-usual scenario without the voluntary agreement, set-top boxes would have cost consumers almost $350 million more in energy bills and emitted nearly 1.75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the output of a 500-megawatt power plant, according to the study.
Set-top boxes consume the second-greatest amount of power in a home among consumer electronics — 18 percent — trailing behind televisions, which consume the most, at about 33 percent, according to a recent study from the Consumer Electronics Association (Greenwire, June 24).
The set-top box progress report — prepared by efficiency analysis firm D&R International Ltd. on behalf of the voluntary agreement steering committee — is the first annual report based on data provided by the service providers as required under the unusual collaborative approach agreement.
“The voluntary agreement is off to a great start,” Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a lead negotiator of the agreement, said in a statement. “The savings that were achieved this year will grow dramatically over the next few years as the older less efficient models are eventually retired and replaced by new and improved models in the future.”
First signed in 2012 and expanded in 2013, the voluntary agreement aims to improve the efficiency of set-top boxes by up to 45 percent — saving an amount of energy equivalent to the output of three new power plants — cut consumers electric bills by $1 billion annually, and cut 5 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year through 2017.
The Energy Department and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) praised the final agreement, signed six months ago, applauding the persistence and cooperation of signatories include NRDC, the CEA, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Comcast, DIRECTV, DISH Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, and manufacturers Cisco and EchoStar Technologies (E&ENews PM, Dec. 23, 2013).
The CEA cites the voluntary agreement as a model for future energy efficiency standards for consumer electronics, as DOE has turned its attention to the swiftly increasing battery chargers, computers and other gadgets becoming an integral part of everyday life and energy consumption. The CEA is critical of DOE’s regulatory process as inflexible and even counterproductive for the innovation and quick evolution in the consumer electronics industry.
CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro said the report “provides transparency, public accountability and a progress check on this non-regulatory initiative designed to deliver comprehensive energy and related cost savings for consumers and the country, while also protecting innovation and competition within our industry.”
Many in the pay TV industry found energy savings for set-top boxes while improving functionality and providing a better user experience by introducing the “whole-home” DVR — removing the need for a full box in every household room with a television and replacing it with a simpler, less power-hungry “thin client,” according to the report.
Companies also were able to include automatic power-down in at least 90 percent of the set-top boxes, and on average, new cable boxes used 14 percent less energy than those installed in 2012, the report says. The industry also made energy efficiency information on set-top boxes purchased after Jan. 1, 2014, readily accessible to consumers, in accordance with the agreement.
An independent auditor will verify the reported savings data from the services providers this fall, under the terms of the agreement, and a random audit of one of the service providers is currently ongoing, the study says.
Still, NRDC’s Horowitz said, the industry must still tackle the largest waste of energy: the sleep mode.
“In order to dramatically bring down national set-top box energy use and consumer utility bills, the pay TV industry and their suppliers must find a way to reduce the roughly $2 billion per year worth of electricity that existing set-top boxes consume when they are not being used,” Horowitz said. “We know the industry is hard at work to develop much more efficient models and are hopeful they are able to incorporate some of the energy-sipping technology currently used in smartphones and tablets.”
Service providers deployed software updates and equipped new equipment with “light sleep” mode, but at least one provider found that it “degraded the consumer experience” and is still working to find a solution, according to the report.
Also, the better capabilities of high-definition and advanced video processing increased the power consumption of devices that enable digital services on analog televisions, known as digital transport adapters (DTAs), although they still met basic energy efficiency requirements, the report says.
Under the agreement, service providers are set to test a “deep sleep” option this year.
8. WyoFile, “Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Remain Genetically Isolated”
September 2, 2014
By Kelsey Dayton
In 2005 a grizzly bear from the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem was found dead southwest of Anaconda, Montana. Frank van Manen, team leader of the interagency grizzly bear study team, didn’t know the cause of death, but the sub-adult male was found about half way between the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem — home of the Glacier National Park grizzlies — and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It was the closest attempt at the two populations mingling that biologists know of in recent history.
As wildlife managers consider removing Yellowstone grizzly bears from the endangered species list this year, the animals remain genetically isolated, a fact that worries some biologists while others say it isn’t an issue.
Genetic diversity helps animal populations thrive and also survive unforeseen challenges like disease or climate change, said Christine Wilcox, a biologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Linkage is one of the top concerns among conservations groups when it comes to survival of the Yellowstone grizzly, she said. The bear population might be healthy now, but the species could find itself in trouble in the future without more genetic diversity. Wilcox said that by the time a problem is detected, it will be too late to protect linkage areas, which could be lost to development, and it will be even harder for the populations to naturally connect.
Grizzlies used to occupy so much territory, including the space between the Northern Continental Divide and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystems, it was common for bear populations to mingle. Today the two populations are separated by about 150 miles. Bears have been known to travel 100 miles in a season, so they could potentially still meet, but it’s a dangerous journey.
“Right now it’s a gauntlet run,” Wilcox said. “Yes they can make it. But the chance of a conflict, which leads to mortality, is really high.”
That will likely only get worse when the bears are delisted and protections in the linkage zones disappear. Some separation between the populations is fine, but total isolation isn’t good for either population, Wilcox said.
The Yellowstone bear’s genetic diversity is considered “moderate,” van Manen said. There are populations, such as in coastal Alaska, that have much lower diversity than the Yellowstone bears, and those animals are still healthy and vigorous, he said.
There also hasn’t been a decline in genetic diversity in the Yellowstone population. The inner agency grizzly bear study team monitors the genetic diversity of the bear population using DNA collected each time biologists capture bears. That genetic information tells scientists the age of the animal, and also provides data on the overall genetic diversity of the population, van Manen said. The monitoring would show if an animal from another ecosystem traveled into the Yellowstone, which hasn’t yet happened, but van Manen said he isn’t worried.
“It’s always desirable to have genetic exchange among populations,” van Manen said. “That allows populations to have that genetic diversity that allows the population to adapt to new circumstances. However, if you ask me if it’s essential, or a big concern for the greater Yellowstone, my answer is ‘no.’ We don’t see anything in our data that shows that would create a concern.”
Genetic issues don’t manifest unless population numbers are really low. It’s rare for wildlife populations to cross that threshold where the animals start inbreeding and it causes survival issues, van Manen said. If the bears were delisted and there were signs of genetic diversity declining in the Yellowstone bears, there’s protocol built into the conservation strategy including transplanting bears from other populations if necessary.
Genetic changes can take a long time to detect and often by the time there are obvious changes, the population is in serious trouble, said Erin Edge, Rockies and Plains representative with Defenders of Wildlife.
“Long-term connectivity is really important for resiliency of the population and long-term genetic health,” she said.
It’s particularly important in the Yellowstone population which, with an estimated 741 bears, has less genetic diversity than the Northern Continental Divide bears, which has a population estimated at about 1,000 bears and also could be delisted soon.
How the bears might naturally meet is unknown.
“It’s still kind of a best guess as to where and how the bears will connect, and none of it will matter if they get into trouble along the way,” Wilcox said. “In the end the grizzly bears will tell us where and how they’ll move.”
As that happens it’s important to educate people about living in what is again becoming bear country, Edge said.
Bears in both populations are expanding their range beyond the core areas into places they haven’t habituated for decades. The best way to encourage genetic health of the populations is to allow the bears to mingle and that means bear mortalities need to be minimized in the linkage areas, Edge said. Much of the land between the two ecosystems is private land and people who own it aren’t used to seeing bears.
The important thing is working on preventing human-bear conflicts by educating people about securing their property and attractants, like garbage, bird feeders and pet food. People must also become familiar with resources and strategies such as electric fences to protect livestock and orchards, Edge said.
Delisting the bears removes protections that help ensure safety as the bears move into new areas, but connectivity is still possible in a delisting world, she said.
How delisting the Yellowstone bears from the endangered species list, expected to happen this year, will impact that expansion is unknown. “It’s hard to predict how the states will manage the bears,” said van Manen.
The further bears move away from the core area, the higher the mortality rates as they encounter more roads and unsuitable habitat. In Yellowstone the bears are expanding their range further south and east more so than moving northwest toward the Northern Continental Divide population. But van Manen said he believes that eventually some bears, likely from the larger Northern Continental Divide population, will move into new genetic territory.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some genetic exchange within the next 10 years or so,” he said.
The study team and van Manen plan to present population and mortality numbers for the bears for the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee at its next meeting of wildlife managers and agencies on October 28 in Bozeman, Montana. A decision on whether or not to delist grizzly bears is expected by the end of the year.
Recent Press & News
1. Regulate Canadian, Nit American Metals Mine, Murkowski Says”
August 14, 2014
By Alan Neuhauser
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has called for greater oversight of a Canadian metals mine – even as she lambastes federal regulation of a similar proposed mining project in Alaska.
“It’s an irony, because the risks associated with Pebble Mine are precisely those that we have seen unfolding before our eyes over the past week in British Columbia,” says Joel Reynolds, western director and senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That is to say, a major containment dam failure resulting in significant off-site contamination in salmon habitats.”
Last week, a dam containing the wastewater pond for Canada’s open-pit Mount Polley mine ruptured, sending millions of gallons of potentially contaminated water spilling into a river along the Alaska border (Canadian officials lifted a ban on drinking tap water Tuesday). Later that week, Murkowski dashed off a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to impress upon Canadian leaders “the potential impacts that large-scale mining in Canada could hold” for the state’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its indigenous population.
“The tailings pond breach at Mount Polley on August 4 has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large-scale hardrock mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers,” Murkowski wrote. “I therefore urge you to accelerate your work with your Canadian counterparts to confirm that new mining activities are subject to proper review and continued oversight.”
Just three weeks earlier, however the senator was railing against federal environmental oversight of the controversial proposed Pebble Mine, a strikingly similar waterfront open-pit metals mining operation – but instead on the Alaskan side of the border.
“There’s a pretty obvious disconnect between her position as far as Canada goes, and her position as far as Alaska goes,” Reynolds says. “On the one hand, she is encouraging federal oversight of mining in Canada; on the other hand, she has been consistently opposing federal oversight of mining in Alaska.”
Murkowski was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Yet in a statement last month, the senator declared that “the EPA is setting a precedent that strips Alaska and all Alaskans of the ability to make decisions on how to develop a healthy economy on their lands. This is a blueprint that will be used across the country to stop economic development.”
Murkowski, like many of her Republican colleagues, has regularly opposed certain EPA environmental protections. In June, she asserted that the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan – the first federal action to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants – would threaten the reliability of the energy grid. In fact, in 2010, she sought a rare Congressional “disapproval resolution” to oppose another EPA clean air action.
“If you got a political institution such as the EPA coming out with restrictions that inhibit the freedom of your mining industry, it’s difficult,” says Jerry McBeath, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alaska and, in the 1980s, a staffer for the senator’s father, Sen. Frank Murkowski. “She will go and criticize the EPA for ‘imperial overreach.’”
However, he adds, there’s also intense local opposition to the proposed mine, meaning the EPA’s “intentions in this particular case happen to side with the interests of more of her constituents than otherwise would be the case…. There may be a fine line there that she’s trying to stay on.”
Lindsey Bloom agrees. A commercial fisherman and fisheries consultant in Juneau, Bloom contends that the senator’s positions on Pebble Mine and Mount Polley are not necessarily incompatible.
“It is important to distinguish that she has not come out in support of Pebble,” Bloom writes in an email to U.S. News. “Sen. Murkowski has family in the fishing industry and a real understanding of the importance of robust wild salmon fisheries and intact habitat to our fishing families, jobs and economy in Alaska.”
With the rupture at Mount Polley, Bloom adds, “you have a foreign country where there was just a huge dam breach and environmental disaster on Canada’s largest salmon system. They don’t have the same environmental safeguards that we do such as the Clean Water Act.”
Reynolds, however, is not convinced. The tailings pond dam that ruptured at Mount Polley, he points out, was designed by the very same consulting firm retained to draw-up a similar dam for Pebble Mine – an ominous omen for the proposed project, he says.
“The parallels with Pebble are pretty obvious here. And I think that magnifies the irony of Sen. Murkowski’s position,” Reynolds says. “I don’t take issue with her letter to Sec. Kerry, I take issue with the blind spot she seems to have with respect to the risks posed to Bristol Bay by the Pebble Mine.”
2. “A $Billion Bet on Clean Energy”
August 14, 2014
By Brian Dumaine
With its new “Green Bank”, New York aims to boost solar, wind, and smart-grid technology.
The solution to global warming is obvious—reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Accomplishing that goal, however, requires radical action. Few understand that better than Richard Kauffman, an ex–Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley banker whom New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed last year as the state’s first energy czar. Kauffman has visions of New York as a 21st-century clean-tech powerhouse. But for now, he admits, it remains more of a 20th-century energy dinosaur.
“We’re not on a sustainable path either environmentally or economically,” says Kauffman of his state. “We’re not installing enough renewables, and we’re not getting the economic-development boost that a transition to a new-energy economy can provide. We need to rethink what we do.”
To kick-start that process of reinvention, Kauffman has taken some radical actions of his own: Earlier this year he rolled out a state-owned financing startup with $1 billion in assets called N.Y. Green Bank. The hope is that, through strategic lending, the state can give the private sector the incentive to help transform New York State’s power system. If it works, the project could provide a template for other states to follow. According to the OECD, N.Y. Green Bank is only the second state-run institution of its kind in the U.S. Connecticut launched a green bank in 2011 but on a smaller scale, with $117 million in net assets.
New York’s list of energy challenges is long. It lags behind California and other big states in the adoption of renewables. Last year, for instance, the Golden State installed 2,621 megawatts of solar energy, compared with New York’s paltry 69 megawatts. New Yorkers pay some of the highest electrical rates in the nation. At the same time, the state’s utilities are struggling. Electricity demand is weak, and the cost to maintain an aging grid is rising. The price tag simply to keep New York’s antiquated grid running over the next decade is an estimated $30 billion.
Gov. Cuomo has given Kauffman the clout to make big changes. As New York’s chairman of energy and finance, he has the sway and the budget to push for change in almost every aspect of the state’s energy system. He has already launched a multi-front offensive. Kauffman is pushing for regulatory reform that would encourage the state’s utilities to run more energy-efficiency programs and make smart-grid investments to reduce load and the need to maintain expensive backup power plants. He’s also pushing for utilities to invest more in clean, distributed energy.
Other states have tried such measures with only moderate success. Although wind and solar power are growing quickly, their share of the nation’s total power generation is only about 4%. Kauffman is hoping the Green Bank can push New York way past that level in coming years. The bank, funded by a surcharge paid by utility customers, aims to help finance clean-energy projects throughout the state. The Green Bank plans to announce its first investments this fall.
When he took the energy czar job, Kauffman, 59, brought with him a strong belief that the government was lousy at picking winners and losers. (Consider the Energy Department’s disastrous $535 million investment in solar-panel maker Solyndra.) He began searching for private sector solutions to the state’s energy problems. “It’s going to be the markets that will give customers what they want,” says Kauffman. “I have no idea what new energy systems are best. Apple, for example, allows outside programmers to make apps for its products because that’s the way innovation happens—you open up competition.”
So the Green Bank will not dole out grants or fund risky clean-tech startups. Rather, it will offer “gap” financing. That means providing loans, debt guarantees, and other financial products to help private sector bankers fund more clean-tech deals—whether for solar, wind, smart-grid technology, battery storage, or energy-efficient buildings. Says Douglas Sims, the director of strategy and finance at the Natural Resources Defense Council and an adviser on the project: “They will provide comfort to private lenders who want to employ capital in this space. They’re enablers. To me, that’s the most radical thing about it.”
While large-scale wind and solar projects can typically get financing, Kauffman says that there are many smaller clean-tech projects that are viable but just can’t find the right debt structure. For example, universities, hospitals, and municipalities that want to install solar systems or energy-efficiency technology often have good credit ratings but don’t have the upfront capital. A bank might be willing to offer a 10-year loan, but the organizations might need a 15-year loan to make the debt service more affordable. So the Green Bank could step in and provide the financing for years 11 through 15. Another area where it could help is in solar installation. Companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun, and Sungevity have little trouble raising financing for residential customers who have top credit scores of around 700, but they find it much harder to raise money for leases or loans for those with scores of 650—even though these customers are considered creditworthy. The Green Bank could guarantee the financing on those deals.
Perhaps the biggest impact the Green Bank could make is in securitization. (Think mortgage-backed securities with better due diligence.) So far the bond market has been largely absent when it comes to financing renewables. Why? Big banks don’t like to dabble in small loans. The Green Bank plans to securitize clean-energy projects—bundling 40 or 50 solar loans, each worth about $1 million, into one security and then selling the $50 million bond to institutional investors. That would open an entirely new source of capital for the sector and spur growth, Kauffman believes.
As promising as the Green Bank sounds, some in the environmental community worry that even $1 billion in capitalization won’t be enough to turn New York green. After all, energy is an extremely capital-intensive industry.
But Kauffman believes that the first step is for the Green Bank to show that it can make money. If the bank is profitable, it will be self-sustaining, he argues. And it can leverage that $1 billion in a way that would have a significant, long-term impact on the clean-tech industry. “We want to get a market rate of return and then step out of the way,” says the energy czar. “We want to be on the frontier of new markets, providing the necessary support to get the private sector fully engaged.” And if that happens, Kauffman’s radical plan might make a real impact.
3. “California Lawmakers Negotiate Exempting Tesla Battery Plant from Environmental Review”
August 14, 2014
Two powerful Sacramento lawmakers are proposing that a battery plant for “green” auto manufacturer Tesla be partially exempted from California Environmental Quality Act regulations, as reported by the L.A. Times.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Ted Gaines (R-Northern California) are working on a package of incentives to lure Tesla’s plant along with its 6,500 new jobs and $5 billion in spending. Environmental advocates says CEQA does not apply differently to different companies.
What are the environmental risks associated with a battery plant? Are those risks balanced by the zero-emissions cars manufactured by Tesla? What about the pioneering research? Is this move really an attempt to reform CEQA by lawmakers who in the past have sought changes to the landmark law?
Marc Lifsher, business reporter in Sacramento for the L.A. Times
Jennifer Hernandez, attorney with Holland & Knight law firm; Hernandez specializes in CEQA on behalf of developers; she co-chairs Holland & Knight’s National Environmental Team and leads the West Coast Land Use and Environment Practice Group for the San Francisco firm
David Pettit, senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council and director of NRDC’s Southern California Air Program
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4. “Can Conan Convince Californian’s to Save Water?”
August 14, 2014
Alexis Petru
California’s historic drought is no laughing matter. But the state of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council are trying to inject some humor into their efforts to encourage Californians to conserve water, teaming up with Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter on a series of public service announcement (PSA) videos that feature water-saving tips.
Part of California’s “Save Our Water” drought awareness campaign, the new PSAs cover topics from car washing (you can save 60 gallons of water by taking your car to a carwash rather than washing it by hand – and you can bathe your kids there, too, Richter points out) to pool covers (swimming pools evaporate up to 40,000 gallons of water a year; even if you don’t have a pool, you can buy a pool cover to impress people and make them think you have one, the funnymen say).
The comedians even poke fun at the idea that saving water takes too much work; there are many “lazy” ways to conserve water, they say: running dishes through a dishwasher instead of washing them yourself, using a carwash rather than hand-washing your car and their more tongue-in-cheek suggestion of skipping showers.
2013 was the driest year on record in many parts of California, leading Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in January. In addition to directing state agencies to expedite farmers’ access to water, safeguard drinking water and prepare for an extreme fire season, Brown also called on his fellow Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. The “Save Our Water” campaign, a partnership between the Association of California Water Agencies and the California Department of Water Resources, aims to meet the governor’s target, promoting simple water-conserving tips through lawn signs, social media campaigns, billboards and radio ads.
The partnership with O’Brien and Richter isn’t the first time that the “Save Our Water” project has recruited celebrities or come up with creative marketing campaigns: It has already featured PSAs from Lady Gaga and Sammy Hagar and included the clever “Brown is the New Green” slogan to urge Californians to let their lawns go brown by watering only twice a month.
California’s education campaign may be light-hearted and silly, but the Golden State is starting to get serious about restricting water use. Most communities across the state have been relying on voluntary water restrictions to motivate residents to do their part during the record-breaking drought. But in mid-July, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted regulations that allow municipalities to impose fines of up to $500 a day for water-wasting activities such as runoff from outdoor sprinklers and hosing down driveways and sidewalks.
Will O’Brien and Richter’s comedic PSAs help the convince Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent? The results of celebrity social and environmental awareness campaigns have historically been mixed – from “We Are The World” and Farm Aid to the campaign to end genocide in Darfur. Whether or not “Team Coco” can lend its star power to the cause of water conservation, social marketing studies have shown that positive campaigns like this one, highlighting simple ways individuals can make a difference, are much more effective than negative ones that focus on doom and gloom. While the water-conservation jokes may not be as funny as O’Brien and Richter’s standard material, these PSAs are certainly more upbeat than Keep America Beautiful’s iconic “crying Indian” commercial from the ‘70s and don’t reprimand individuals for eco-unfriendly lifestyles, like the Californians publicly “drought shaming” their water-wasting neighbors on Twitter.
5. “Proposed Law Aims to Restrict Antibiotic Use on Farms”
August 13, 2014
By Kerry Grens
California lawmakers this week (August 11) approved a bill restricting the use of antibiotics in farm animals to cases substantiated by prescriptions and requiring that drugmakers label antibiotics as prescription-only. Although federal guidelines request similar practices, if enacted, this would be the first instance of such restrictions becoming law.
The rule is intended to curb the practice of using antibiotics to beef up livestock, a tactic that has been fingered as augmenting antibiotic-resistance in humans. Yet, environmental advocates are disappointed.
The bill “would prohibit drug manufacturers from selling antibiotics for ‘growth promotion’ uses, but would allow the very same drugs to be used routinely to help animals survive unhealthy living conditions,” Jonathan Kaplan, the director of the National Resources Defense Council’s Food and Agriculture program, wrote on his staff’s blog. “It’s a gigantic loophole that we fear will do little to change actual drug use.”
The bill’s author, Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), responded to critics in July, writing in the Sacramento Bee that “preventative use can be judicious. . . Just as humans are given prophylactic antibiotics when a doctor deems it necessary, there are situations in which a veterinarian may determine that livestock need prophylactic antibiotics.”
In June, the US Food and Drug Administration reported that all 26 antibiotics producers have signed on to the voluntary guidelines for phasing out the use of their drugs for food production.
6. “Five Ways to tame ‘Accidental’ Data Centers”
August 14, 2014
The best-laid plans for green office buildings are meaningless if the occupants ignore them. Remember the flap last August over how much power the Platinum LEED Bank of America tower in New York was using? Suffice it to say, way more than anticipated.
Few things can skew energy usage more insidiously than the energy for running and cooling random computer servers, storage arrays and network gear shoved into closets or conference rooms originally intended for other purposes. Unfortunately, outside of big Fortune 500 companies that can for data center gurus, this practice is apparently pretty common: the Natural Resources Defense Council figures that at least half of U.S. servers are unmanaged, accounting for between 30 percent and 50 percent of all the electricity being used in small and midsize offices.
“Whether it’s accidental or not, it starts with one or two servers, which isn’t necessarily a big deal. But all of a sudden, you have a small server room that is far less efficient that what you might find in a big data center or colocation facility,” said Pierre Delforge, director for high-tech sector energy efficiency for NRDC.
“For perspective, the amount of power we’re talking about is equivalent to approximately 20 500-megawatt, coal-fired power plants.”
The fact that this is a surprise to many facilities or office managers is one reason it keeps happening. “Every company is vulnerable to this. Large companies usually have the resources to address the problem, but smaller ones might not have the wherewithal or the motivation to do so,” said Allison Bard, associate with sustainability business consulting firm Cadmus Group.
The reality is leases and space constraints might force small or midsize businesses to get creative about how they accommodate on-premises IT equipment. “Even a one-floor office can need a data center or computer room that requires support and cooling, backup power, the standard features you would expect in a big one,” said John Weale, associate with Integral Group.
The good news is it doesn’t take much effort to rectify the situation. Here are five best practices for businesses not quite big enough to have a dedicated data center, but growing fast enough to require sophisticated computing infrastructure.
1. Assess the magnitude of the issue
Cadmus classifies unplanned computing real estate in the following way: localized data centers with 1,000 square feet of “white space,” server rooms smaller than 500 square feet and server closets less than 200 square feet. The tipping point seems to be when a business is running more than 10 servers, according to experts. “These small spaces are pretty ubiquitous,” noted Robert Huang, senior associated with Cadmus.
Short of walking around to peek into all the nooks and crannies of an office space, analyzing submeter data can help your organization gauge if it has a problem. If the amount of electricity used outside business hours is almost the same as when employees are around, there’s cause for concern.
“If the difference is relatively low, it means that something pretty large is running 24×7,” Delforge said. That’s simply because unmanaged or outdated IT equipment uses roughly the same amount of power when it’s idle as when it’s fully used.
2. Invest in outside expertise
Most U.S. utilities have a vested interest in helping businesses reduce power consumption, and some even offer incentives for moving on-premises equipment to off-site data centers optimized for energy efficiency. Increasingly, they are focusing attention on smaller spaces, Huang said.
The challenge is assigning someone to be accountable. “Quite often, the person paying the bill isn’t accountable for this,” Bard said. “So, maybe you should hire an outside expert to help you understand the potential impact of certain actions.
3. Consolidate the equipment
Instead of buying a new server every time your organization adopts a new application, use virtualization technologies to add them to existing equipment.
According to the figures you cite, anywhere from 8 percent to 10 percent of the servers in use today are running for no apparent reason and it would be relatively easy to decommission them, or shut them off. Others could serve as the foundation layer for consolidation projects. “You don’t necessarily need to eliminate them, but you need to be aware of them,” Weale said.
4. Organize the space thoughtfully, and don’t fret so much about the heat
Instead of randomly sticking IT equipment based solely on where there’s space available, smaller organizations can address this issue more strategically by putting the gear in space where the plug loads can be managed centrally and where there’s already a concentration of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment that can help control humidity and cooling.
Finding a way to bring in outside air for cooling, and organizing the servers so heat is dispersed more efficiently can help, Huang said. Speaking of heat, the latest ASHRAE standards allow temperatures of up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, something many facilities managers don’t realize.
“Actually design a room to support the equipment you’re putting into it,” Weale said. Figure out what you need, and then design to support that without erring on the side of overkill.”
5. Consider the cloud instead
One option increasingly to smaller companies are cloud infrastructure-as-a-service or software-as-a-service offerings that allow them to adopt new applications or services without having to invest in on-site servers. Even though, however, this might mean supporting a deeper onsite investment in networking gear and switches to optimize connection speeds. “People are sometimes hesitant because of bandwidth, speed considerations or colocation costs, but it’s something more organizations should take time to consider,” Bard said.
7. “No Million by 2015, But Electric Vehicles are Surging”
August 14, 2014
By Pete Danko
Quiz time. Which of the following two statements is true:
Electric vehicle sales in the United States are growing at a remarkably fast rate.
Electric vehicle sales are a small fraction of what many advocates had been hoping for just a few short years ago.
OK, maybe you sniffed out the gambit – both are true.
The EV-promoting Electric Drive Transportation Association reported this week that the number of plug-in electric vehicles on U.S. roads nearly doubled in the past year – from 119,404 in July 2013 to 234,023 at last month.
And yet even with that 96 percent surge, plug-ins are on track to fall far short of the one million goal announced by President Obama in his State of the Union address in 2011 (a goal that, admittedly, the administration began backing away from in early 2013).
In a way, plug-in electrics are experiencing the fate of any paradigm-shifting, energy-related technology. Look at solar power. It’s growing at breakneck speed – in the 18 months up to April 1, cumulative PV capacity more than doubled in the United States, rising from 5,999 megawatts to 13,395 MW – yet solar remained a bit player in the electricity market, struggling to account for even 1 percent of total generation.
Plug-ins, even with their high rate of growth, account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the253 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads. But advocates for electric vehicles are hardly daunted.
“I come from a perspective that we’ve been doing things the same way for 100 years,” Luke Tonachel, senior analyst and director for vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an interview. “Against that reality, we’re on the right road.”
Tonachel said consumers are beginning to understand what electric vehicles have to offer – more virtuous driving, sure, but cheaper driving as well.
Congressional Budget Office analysts last year reported that “at current vehicle and energy prices, the lifetime costs to consumers of an electric vehicle are generally higher than those of a conventional vehicle of similar size and performance, even with the [federal] tax credits, which can be as much as $7,500 per vehicle.” But Tonachel said that with high gasoline prices and additional incentives from all but a couple of states, the picture is shifting.
Plus, manufacturers are offering their own incentives to make electrics more competitive than earlier analysis might suggest. Tesla got the ball rolling with its free, proprietary Supercharger network, up to 104 stations in the United States. And now Nissan is offering two years of free charging with new Leaf purchases or leases through its “No Charge to Charge” promotion.
“Consumers are beginning to see the benefits that electric vehicles can offer – they want to take advantage of the cost savings,” Tonachel said.
There is some evidence that EVs are performing better than might reasonably have been expected. A May 2014 report from IHS noted that electrics are doing better at a comparable stage of their development than hybrids were. The firm said the Toyota Prius had cumulative sales of 52,000 in its fourth year, while the all-electric Leaf – aided of course, by government incentives that the Prius didn’t enjoy – was near 100,000 last year, its fourth year since introduction.
“With EV adoption exceeding the historical precedent of hybrids, this means that the trend toward EVs is still progressing,” IHS analyst Ben Scott said when the report was released, “although at a slower rate than many had expected.”
Slower than President Obama expected – yet Tonachel said setting that lofty goal still served a purpose. He noted that when Obama began talking about getting 1 million EVs on the road by 2015, there were only two EVs for sale in the U.S. market. Now the field is nearing 20. “That shows how targets can help spark ingenuity and innovation,” Tonachel said.
Recent Press & News
1. Times-Picayune “What Environmental Groups Are Saying About EPA’s Proposed Carbon Pollution Limits For Power Plants”
June 2, 2014
By Mark Schleifstein
National and state environmental groups Monday largely welcomed the EPA’s proposed guidelines requiring 30 percent cuts in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by power plants nationwide by the year 2030, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
The proposal, however, drew quick opposition from Louisiana’s congressional delegation. (Read a story on the political reaction.)
The rules would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 500 million metric tons a year by 2030.
The proposed rules also would result in reductions in particle pollutions, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent, which EPA officials say would result in 6,600 fewer premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks by children a year, when fully implemented. The health improvements also would result in the avoidance of 490,000 missed work or school days, which EPA says represents savings of $93 billion a year.
EPA also says that because the rules will require increased use of energy efficiency and reduction of demand for electricity, nationwide, electric bills would shrink by 8 percent.
The rules have been criticized by electric utilities that predominantly use coal and the coal industry as too expensive. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity contends the rules will stress state-based power grids, increase electric bills and increase the risk of rolling blackouts.
Here’s what some environmental leaders are saying:
Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, which includes more than 50 local environmental organizations among its members, said the new program is long overdue.
“We are at a time in the history of our country and our world where we must no longer talk about the impact of climate change, but take concrete actions to reduce greenhouse emissions to help the health and the economy of our state, nation and world,” Orr said.
“The Clean Power Plan is very important because it reduces carbon pollution from existing power plants,” she said. “There are four carbon/lignite powered plants in Louisiana. This plan will go along way to reduce greenhouse gasses and help public health. Natural gas powered plants will also reduce emissions.”
Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, which tracks environmental issues involving oil refineries, said she expects Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the proposed rules.
“Here in Louisiana we should celebrate these new rules, for our state is the state most vulnerable to climate change,” Rolfes said, pointing to the contribution that rising sea levels caused by global warming has on the loss of the state’s coastline and its increased vulnerability to hurricane storm surges.
“Our congressional delegation and senators will decry this rule, but they should be celebrating it and asking the EPA to do more,” she said. “Our leadership instead suffers from a lack of imagination and creativity regarding job creation. What about investing intensely in renewable energy? We don’t need any more dirty jobs.”
“The bottom line is that it’s unfortunate that our state will fight these rules when we should be a leader in implementing them, given our vulnerability to climate change,” she said. Instead, she said, it’s time for the state to set similar rules for other major carbon-producing industries in the state, including refineries and chemical plants.
“Many of the facilities in Louisiana are now producing chemicals and energy for export. Do we really want to ruin Louisiana so that people on the other side of the globe can consume more? We have become a colony. It is unacceptable,” Rolfes said.
“The first project that should be stopped because of this is the Sasol facility near Lake Charles,” she said. “It will add an unbelievable amount of greenhouse gases to the air. It is a devastating project for Louisiana, one that provides temporary jobs and long-term sickness.”
Sasol’s proposed $16 billion to $21 billion natural gas to liquids refinery would also produce 10.7 million tons of carbon gases a year, according to its permit requests.
America’s WETLAND Foundation sees the legislation’s “cap and trade” provisions, which allow industries to to pay for credits generated by carbon storage projects, including the creation of wetlands, as a potential benefit for the state.
“We view the President’s plan as having strong potential for coastal sustainability, if state plans along the Gulf Coast will allow restoration as one of the tools to meet their targets,” said a statement by the foundation’s managing director, Valsin Marmillion. “Particularly in Louisiana and Texas, where sea level rise adds to the loss of critical wetlands and coastal landscapes at alarming rates daily, our states can ensure that coastal restoration qualifies under any guidelines created.
“This action supports public sentiment from America’s WETLAND Foundation polling, where seventy-one percent of voters support building wetland as carbon sinks and 72 percent feel that sea level rise is a serious problem tied to climate change,” Marmillion said.
The American Lung Association focused on the proposal’s health benefits in a statement of support.
“Power plant pollution makes people sick and cuts short lives,” said Harold Wimmer, national president of the American Lung Association. He said that when completely adopted in 2030, the new rules will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths and 150,000 asthma attacks a year.
“Cleaning up carbon pollution will have an immediate, positive impact on public health; particularly for those who suffer from chronic diseases like asthma, heart disease or diabetes,” Wimmer said. “Steps to clean up carbon pollution can reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, both poisonous emissions from coal-fired power plants that are also major precursors to lethal ozone and particulate matter pollution.”
The Sierra Club also supports the proposal.
“Climate disruption is the greatest challenge facing our generation,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club in a statement. “Until now, power plants have been allowed to dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air, driving dangerous climate disruption, and fueling severe drought, wildfires, heat waves and superstorms. Extreme weather, and the costs to Americans’ health and wallets, will only worsen unless we act.”
Also supportive was the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“The EPA’s proposal to limit carbon pollution from power plants for the first time ever is a giant leap forward in protecting the health of all Americans and future generations,” said Frances Beinecke, NRDC president, who also served on the President’s Commission on the BP Deepwater Oil Spill.
“It sets fair targets for each state and empowers the states with the flexibility to craft the best local solutions, using an array of compliance tools,” Beinecke said. “And if states embrace the huge energy efficiency opportunities, consumers will save on their electric bills and see hundreds of thousands of jobs created across the country.”
Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law organization that has represented environmental groups in lawsuits attempting to strengthen EPA regulation of emissions, also praised the new rules.
“There is no graver challenge facing humanity right now than reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses,” said Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen. “And there is no better place to start than the aging power plants currently pumping out 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution. The substantial reduction in greenhouse gasses achieved by these safeguards will help avert or mitigate the ongoing disaster of climate change and the widespread effects it will have on public health.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists praised the new policy and said its own recent study indicates that even larger, cost effective carbon emission reductions are possible beyond the 30 percent goal set by EPA.
“With the flexibility to include renewable energy and energy efficiency in state plans to meet these new standards, the proposal presents a significant opportunity for states to make meaningful reductions in their emissions,” said UCS President Ken Kimmell, former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and former Board Chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, in a news release.
The new UCS analysis concluded that combining more aggressive power plant standards with strong renewable and efficiency policies could cut power sector carbon emissions by 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2020 and by more than 50 percent by 2030.
“While the power plant carbon standard is a tremendous step forward, ultimately we will need to make much deeper cuts in emissions to help limit worsening climate impacts, something the administration cannot do alone,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist with UCS and a co-author of the report. “Congress must step up and enact legislation that will lead to deep cuts in emissions throughout the economy.”
Meanwhile, two environmental organizations said the proposal doesn’t go far enough in regulating greenhouse gases.
“We applaud the President for using the tools he has available, with a Congress that refuses to act and for setting hard targets for emissions reductions,” said a joint statement by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, and Janet Redman, program director for the Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program. “However, the targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in seeking emissions reduction.
“Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy, existing coal-fired power plants, the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goals for developed countries of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission by 2020,” Hauter and Redman said. “With these targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.”
Opposing the legislation is American’s for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group supported by the energy industry’s Koch brothers that was formed to fight big government and spending.
“Once again the Obama Administration is putting its own global-warming ideology ahead of the interests of hardworking taxpayers,” said AFP president Tim Phillips. “These proposed EPA rules will lead to higher energy bills for families, lost jobs, and diminished economic growth. Even worse, this proposal comes just days after it was revealed that last quarter the U.S. economy actually shrank for the first time in three years.
“The tragedy is that while the new EPA regulations will hit taxpayers square in the pocketbook, even the administration admits they are ‘unlikely’ to have any meaningful impact on the environment,” Phillips said in a news release after McCarthy’s announcement.
2. WBUR, Here & Now, “EPA Sets New Rules On Power Plant Emissions”
June 2, 2014
[Listen to the Interview]
The U.S. Environmental Protect Agency today announced new regulations that will limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years.
Power plants are the single largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, and scientists say CO2 is the main cause of climate change.
Environmentalists are applauding the move, which is the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan. But the coal industry and members of Congress from coal-producing states say the measure will kill jobs and raise electricity costs.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He tweets @p_lehner.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association.
3. Wall Street Journal, “Emissions Cap Is A Relief For Some Power Plants, Coal Firms”
June 2, 2014
By Alicia Mundy and John W. Miller
The coal industry quickly and loudly criticized proposed new U.S. emissions rules for power plants, saying that the proposal was tougher than expected and posed a threat to the industry.
But behind the scenes, some people in the industry said were relieved.
“This is a vast overreach,” said Vic Svec, director of investor relations for coal miner Peabody Energy Corp. BTU -0.31% “It’s being billed as a coal measure, but when you hit coal, you hit the American consumer hard.”
National Mining Association President Hal Quinn called the new Environmental Protection Agency draft “a major gamble that America cannot afford to make.”
The coal and utility industries had been hoping that the agency would apply emission-reduction standards from a baseline of 2005, since emissions from electric plants have dropped since then. Yet despite rounds of increasingly intense phone calls and meetings between energy lobbyists and the administration, the White House had taken 2005 “off the table,” a lawyer for coal interests said Friday. The coal industry feared that the EPA draft would use a more recent, and thus tougher-to-meet baseline, for example, 2012, he said.
By Sunday, though, word was spreading in Washington that the administration had decided on 2005, after all.
“We aren’t sure how that happened, but it’s a big relief,” a coal-industry lobbyist said Monday.
Scott Segal of law firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLC in Washington, who works with coal-fired power plants expressed a similar view. “This rule could have been a whole lot worse. But as it is, it will still inflict considerable economic harm for little or no benefit,” said Mr. Segal, who is director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which lobbies for coal-fired utilities.
The EPA said 2005 is an international benchmark year in comparing pollution across countries.
David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental advocacy group said that states that already have developed strong programs to reduce power-plant emissions had wanted the White House and the EPA to include 2005 for state planning because after that, their emissions began to fall.
Coal-fired power plants won’t have much difficulty meeting the EPA’s mandate for a 30% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030, a lobbyist for the industry said; carbon emissions from coal plants have dropped 14% since 2005. Also, many coal-fueled electric plants already are scheduled to be retired over the next several years because of regulations involving mercury emissions and because a glut of lower-emission natural gas has lowered prices for that fuel.
Coal companies and electric plants still are concerned about an earlier deadline to reduce emissions 25% by 2020, since that means finding ways to cut 11% in relatively short order.
“People thought these would be watered down, and this is not watered down,” said Matt Preston, an analyst with consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. “This is pretty dramatic. The 2020 limits are pretty aggressive.”
Beyond electric plants, other big consumers of power said they, too, could have a tough time with the new rules.
The rules “could severely harm the international competitiveness of energy-intensive, trade-exposed U.S. industries like steel,” said the America Iron and Steel Institute trade group. “Energy—in particular electricity—is one of the most significant cost drivers for the production of steel,” said institute President Thomas Gibson. “This proposal may adversely impact the affordability and reliability of electricity supply to major industrial consumers, which will harm workers, jobs and further impede the postrecession growth of American manufacturing.”
4. Chicago Tribune, “With Carbon Rule, Illinois Power Struggle Begins”
June 3, 2014
By Julie Wernau
President Barack Obama’s announcement Monday that it will be up to states to decide how to enforce his vision for a low-carbon future portends a battle among Illinois’ power giants, with Exelon in a great bargaining position.
“I expect a pretty big fight within all the competing interests,” said Jane Montgomery, a specialist in environmental law at Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago.
With a power mix that’s split mostly between carbon-heavy coal-fired power plants and carbon-free nuclear power, Illinois is also home to the corporate headquarters of more than a dozen wind companies. Still, none is better positioned under the new rule than Chicago-based Exelon Corp., parent company of Commonwealth Edison. Exelon owns six nuclear plants in Illinois and has threatened to close plants if energy policies don’t go its way.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s aggressive goals of 30 percent greenhouse gas reductions from 2005 levels by 2030 give Exelon a strong hand if the company demands rules that reward its nuclear plants. Closing just one of those plants would set the state back in its goals because the formula that the EPA proposes to calculate state-by-state emissions rates gives the state credit for its nuclear plants.
On Thursday, Exelon Chief Executive Chris Crane said he was looking for a “clean energy standard that would compensate or have some clean energy credits for generation that is carbon free.” He called the market-based system a “probable path in some of the states, including Illinois.”
The company generates 175 million megawatt-hours nationally, on an annual basis, of carbon-free electricity, mostly from nuclear plants, Crane said. In Illinois, a $1-per-megawatt-hour price on carbon would add $100 million to the company’s gross margins, he said.
As a result of competition from lower-priced forms of power, Exelon’s earnings have suffered, and it has said at least three plants in the state could be forced to close.
According to the draft rule, the EPA believes that about 6 percent of nuclear generation in the United States is at risk for retirement absent the rule.
Robert McCullough, managing partner at McCullough Research in Portland, Ore., said a carbon rule won’t solve all of Exelon’s problems.
“The downward pressure on prices comes from inexpensive natural gas and zero marginal cost renewables,” McCullough said.
In what the White House is calling a “flexible” approach, states can choose from a menu of measures to reach targets.
Rebecca Stanfield, deputy director for policy in the Midwest for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Illinois already has energy-efficiency goals on the books, as well as goals for renewable energy that, if met, will get the state most of the way toward its targets.
“We know that Exelon would really like it if their nuclear fleet was part of the state standards as well; there’s going to be competition for that space,” she said. “We should compare the cost of keeping those plants open with the cost of replacing those plants with something that’s cleaner and cheaper like renewables.”
Exelon officials said they needed time to read the more than 600-page climate rule document.
Changes afoot for Illinois’ coal plants could also help the state meet carbon targets.
Even before the carbon rule was announced, Houston-based Dynegy, owner of nine Illinois coal plants, signaled that it might shut some of them.
New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc., which recently bought four Illinois coal plants, has talked about converting coal plants to natural gas, a fuel that emits half the carbon of coal.
“If you repower with gas, you’re replacing half right there,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. He called the flexibility of the draft rules a “pragmatic attempt to get us on a path to significant carbon reductions by 2030.”
NRG on Monday said it endorses a policy that gives it time to shift to a more clean, tech-focused business model. The company has been investing significantly in solar power but has said the market will continue to need coal plants in the near term.
NRG said it has concerns that the EPA’s “dramatically varying state emission targets” could adversely affect electricity reliability and create legal uncertainty.
Bob Flexon, chief executive of Dynegy Inc., said the devil will be in the details. For instance, the company has talked about ways it could sell fly ash to reduce carbon, but it’s not sure if that will count under the new rules.
“It’s safe to assume that we’re more impacted in the state of Illinois than any other generator,” Flexon said. “We would advocate for a number of things we would work on that create carbon offsets, and we want to make sure things of that nature are reflected in the state plan.”
Flexon said consumers can expect to pay more for electricity as a result of the rule as major power producers charge more as costs increase. He said the company has been preparing for a carbon rule for some time.
“I think if you sit there and do nothing or sit there and try to fight it, you could find yourself in a difficult place,” Flexon said.
Since 2005, Illinois has achieved 8 percent of the EPA goals, according to an analysis by Georgetown Law. But a glitch in the state’s renewable energy law has held up wind and solar build-outs. Attempts to fix the law haven’t passed muster in Springfield. Advocates of renewable energy are hoping that a carbon standard will force a legislative fix to move forward.
“If you’re looking for the easiest, most rapidly scalable, cheap forms of emissions reductions, we’ve got one,” said Kevin Borgia, public policy manager for Wind on the Wires in Illinois. “And that’s wind power. We can do it in communities in rural Illinois right now.”
But critics said it would take an area the size of Rhode Island to replace a nuclear plant with enough wind power to produce a similar amount of energy. Critics also said the wind power would not be dispatchable unless the wind was blowing.
5. KBIA, “New Carbon Dioxide Limits Could Bring Changes For Coal-Powered States Like Missouri”
June 3, 2014
By Véronique LaCapra
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the first-ever rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
The new regulations would set different emissions targets for each state, and would leave it up to the states to figure out how to meet them over the next 15 years. David Weiskopf is with the Midwest office of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says Missouri’s target rate for 2030 is higher than what many states are emitting now. “I think what this rule is reflecting is an acknowledgement that Missouri is heavily reliant on power plants that are fueled by coal. And it’s not asking anybody to shut them all down and replace them with cleaner power plants immediately.” Weiskopf says Missouri should be able to meet its reduction targets by continuing to invest in renewable energy and increasing its energy efficiency. Ameren says it’s already making those investments. The company says the EPA’s proposed emission reductions are unrealistic and would result in higher electricity rates for consumers.
6. The Desert Sun, “California Is OK With Obama Climate Goal”
June 2, 2014
By Raju Chebium
California should have little trouble meeting the Obama administration’s new pollution-reduction goals for the nation’s existing power plants, officials said Monday.
California has long been cleaning up its air and increasing energy efficiency, well ahead of Uncle Sam, said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.
“We believe that the proposed regulation supports and confirms the programs that we already have in place. We feel that we are ahead of the curve as we usually are, and we will continue on our trajectory,” he said in a telephone interview. “We are very confident that we will be able to meet this.”
Environmentalists also weren’t worried about California doing its part to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emissions reductions of 30 percent from existing power plants nationwide by 2030 as compared to 2005 levels. It would be up to states to figure out how to meet the pollution targets.
“We are well on our way, but we’re going to have to continue to make the steady progress we already have,” said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. “California’s program is a good example of how you can cut pollution and have strong economic growth at the same time.”
The EPA said California power plants in 2012 emitted 698 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour — a commonly used measurement in the electricity industry. If Monday’s regulations are finalized as written, power plants currently in use would have to cut that to 537 pounds per megawatt-hour.
Some steps the California State Legislature has taken in recent years:
• Capping emissions and lowering the caps every year through 2020.
• Requiring 33 percent of the electricity used statewide to come from wind, solar, geothermal or some other renewable resource, also by 2020.
• Enacting a tough “cap-and-trade” system to discourage utilities from buying power from polluted sources.
• Passing a law in 2006 barring utilities from signing long-term contracts with power plants that spew more pollution than a typical natural gas facility.
California also has no coal-burning power plants, which spew the most pollution. There are 895 power plants in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has long urged the EPA to regulate emissions from existing power plants. New power plants are already required to be cleaner.
On Monday, she praised the proposal, saying it would improve public health, save lives and create jobs.
“America will finally lead on a path to averting the most calamitous impacts of climate change — such as sea level rise, dangerous heat waves and economic disruption,” she said.
Read the first part of The Desert Sun’s three-part series about climate change in the Southwest, including Joshua Tree National Park
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., encouraged other states to follow California’s lead. Existing power plants, she said, “account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. emissions and need to be regulated.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, welcomed the possibility for greater regional cooperation and noted that last year’s climate agreement between California, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia would complement the federal effort. The Pacific Coast Climate and Energy agreement calls on the four jurisdictions to coordinate their climate and energy policies and come up with ways to increase the use of clean energy throughout the region.
Complying with the regulations would be harder for many Midwestern and Southern states, which have a number of coal-burning plants.
The rule, which will likely spark legal challenges, isn’t scheduled to take effect for at least two more years.
Republicans and powerful business groups such as the U.S. Chambers of Commerce blasted the proposal.
“The president’s plan is nuts,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Americans are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come. Americans are already paying more for everything, and here he is condemning them to higher bills and lower incomes long after he leaves office.”
USA Today contributed to this report.
Scorched Earth
Read the first part of The Desert Sun’s three-part series about climate change in the Southwest, including Joshua Tree National Park, at, where you’ll find an in-depth story, interactive maps, videos and photo galleries.
Learn more about the EPA’s new emission-cutting proposals in today’s USA Today section in The Desert Sun.
Carbon emission cuts could shift energy mix.
7. New York Times, “A Role For G-7 In Global Warming Battle”
June 2, 2014
By David Jolly
PARIS — When the leaders of the Group of 7 meet this week in Brussels, they will have plenty on their plates, not least the crisis in Ukraine and the energy security issues it raises. If history is any guide, they will pay little more than lip service to a subject where international leadership is needed: climate change.
Cooperation on halting rising global temperatures has been scant since the 2009 debacle at the Copenhagen climate conference, and time is short if the next big meeting, in the autumn of 2015 in Paris, is to have a chance for success. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, is so concerned that he has asked world leaders to a climate summit meeting this September.
“The G-7 should be in the lead,” said Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the main international body for addressing the problem.
“They should be familiarizing themselves with the long-term challenge that science is calling on us to face,” Ms. Figueres added, namely holding the rise in global temperatures below the benchmark target of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The fact that the United Nations climate conference has been making so little progress suggests that it makes sense to consider other institutions,” said Robert N. Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.
The G-7 countries contribute a significant percentage of global emissions, Mr. Stavins noted, and it would be “a lot easier to work out a deal” with a handful of nations than with around 180 countries of the United Nations convention.
There have been steps at the level of individual nations. On Monday, the Obama administration was to announce it was going over the head of a reluctant Congress to require carbon emissions cuts from America’s 600 coal-fired power plants. China said last week that it would take more than five million of the worst polluting cars off its streets.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, said the best thing the leaders could do this week would be to cut emissions through a carbon tax or the cap-and-trade system, but that doing so was not politically feasible.
“There’s nothing the G-7 can do to affect the domestic U.S. climate deniers or the carbon-intensive industry lobby,” said Mr. Stiglitz, who served as a lead author for the International Panel for Climate Control’s 1995 report.
Congress, fearing a loss of competitiveness for American corporations, has been unwilling to back any agreement that doesn’t require all nations to shoulder an equal burden, he said. But China and many developing nations argue that the countries that have produced most of the man-made greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere should bear most of the cost.
Considering the stalemate, he said, it would be a major step forward if the G-7 could agree on the necessity of enforcement action for whatever deal is finally reached, through trade sanctions against countries that fail to meet the limits: “They’d be saying that this is a global problem and there won’t be any global free riders.”
Jo Leinen, a German member of the European Parliament’s climate committee, said the biggest priority for the G-7 should be to provide promised financing for the Green Climate Fund, agreed on at Copenhagen, to help poor countries embrace low-carbon energy and adapt to a warming climate. That fund was supposed to have gotten off to a quick start, with $10 billion annually to operate from 2010 to 2012. “It’s an empty box now,” Mr. Leinen, a Social Democrat, said. “There’s no money in it.”
Mohamed Adow, climate policy adviser for Christian Aid, a nonprofit development organization, said the G-7 could give the global climate negotiations “a dramatic boost by living up to the spirit of the climate convention.”
The group combines most of the countries “with the greatest emissions and the greatest wealth,” he said. “If they raised their pledges for emissions cuts and finance for helping the poor who desperately need it to survive, that would provide a huge injection of trust into the negotiations.”
Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the most important thing the G-7 could do would be “to give a clear signal” that they planned to put serious emissions cuts on the table next year in Paris.
“If the G-7 don’t do it, how can you ask China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Korea to come forward with targets for the next round?” he asked.
Scott Barrett, a professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, said another approach would be to act on a relatively modest objective to demonstrate that global leaders actually can cooperate on global warming.
One candidate, he said, would be to strongly back a proposal, championed by the United States and others, to assign a type of refrigerant known as hydrofluorocarbons — among the most potent of the man-made greenhouse gases — to the Montreal Protocol, the agreement that was created to end the use of gases that deplete the ozone layer.
In contrast to the failed Kyoto Protocol for combating climate change, the Montreal treaty includes an enforcement mechanism, in the form of trade sanctions, and has been used to phase out nearly 100 dangerous gases.
“The Montreal Protocol didn’t set out to protect the climate, but it has been very successful,” Mr. Barrett said.
Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said by e-mail that for the G-7 to help galvanize action, it needed ultimately to embrace a positive message. “It is critical to emphasize the hope of taking action, not the despair of doing nothing,” he said.
“We have the technology to transition to a low-carbon economy,” Mr. Pachauri said, “and the pathways along which we can move toward that goal. We can make that transition without imposing an unacceptable burden on the global economy.”
8. Wall Street Journal, “N.Y., N.J. To Receive Nearly $1 Billion To Protect Against Future Storms”
June 2, 2014
By Laura Kusisto
The federal government plans to spend nearly a billion dollars to build earthen levees, add a system of water pumps and construct partially submerged barriers that will double as marine habitat to guard New York and New Jersey against future storms, officials said Monday.
The money represents a down payment on the daunting task of protecting one of the most densely populated coastal areas in the U.S., one expert said.
“You’ve got to start somewhere and this can best be seen as a creative beginning to a long-term challenge,” said Eric Goldstein, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization.
Appearing together at a news conference, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, promised the region wouldn’t be as vulnerable if it were rocked by another storm on the scale of superstorm Sandy.
“Sandy was devastating, and frankly as a nation and as a region, we were unprepared. That won’t happen again, plain and simple, because of what we have done here today,” said Mr. Schumer, who spoke at the event held at a public-housing complex on the far east side of Manhattan.
The $920 million will be distributed among six projects in New York and New Jersey. The largest share—$335 million—will go toward building a portion of the first phase of a 10-mile protective barrier on Manhattan’s east side. The first step will be creating an earthen berm 10 to 20 feet tall that will run along the middle of East River Park and FDR Drive and will connect residents to the river by sloping bridges over the highway.
The project represents one element of a larger vision presented by BIG, an architecture firm, to protect the lower half of Manhattan with structures that also serve as recreation sites. The entire first phase of the project would cost about $1.2 billion, according to the team.
In another winning proposal, interconnected pumps and drainage routes would capture and store excess rainwater and prevent flash flooding in Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken. The initial $230 million would be focused in Hoboken. HUD officials said that award could help attract additional public and private investment through a “Flood Development Corporation” or “Resilience District” model.
Another idea, which received $60 million, would create partly submerged barriers known as breakwaters off the south shore of Staten Island to dampen the impact of storms while promoting habitat for marine life, including lobster and oysters.
The federal competition, called Rebuild by Design, offered a way for HUD to distribute some of the money allocated as part of a $60 billion aid package to help the region recover from superstorm Sandy, which blasted the area in October 2012.
Mr. Donovan, a former New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner, is said to have been inspired to hold the competition by his work in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, which launched such programs to tackle public projects while also creating an atmosphere of excitement.
The federal housing department is trying to distribute about $1 billion of the remaining money through a national resiliency competition. Mr. Goldstein said some of those funds could instead be used to pay for needed infrastructure.
Projects will need to seek additional money from federal, city and state governments, as well as private sources, HUD officials said.
Mr. Bloomberg’s administration issued a report outlining billions of dollars of initiatives to help protect the city, though those initiatives remain largely unfunded.
Henk Ovink, a senior adviser to Mr. Donovan who ran the competition and is a deputy director at the Dutch ministry for infrastructure and the environment, said it was intended to spark a greater recognition of the need for large-scale resiliency projects in the U.S.
“A cultural change always starts small,” he said. “It will take a long time. With Rebuild by Design, we set some steps in this cultural change.”
Recent Press & News
1. Thomson Reuters, “U.S. industry gears up to fight Obama’s climate rules”
May 28, 2014
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, May 28 (Reuters) – A U.S. plan to curb carbon emissions from power plants is likely to come under attack this summer by industry opponents in a bid to stir voter anger ahead of elections in November, when voters in states such as Kentucky and West Virginia could decide whether Democrats keep control of the Senate.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose on Monday new rules to crack down on power plant emissions as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report on Wednesday that predicted the regulations would cost consumers $289 billion more for electricity through 2030 and crimp the economy by $50 billion a year.
The EPA called the report “nothing more than irresponsible speculation” and said it was based on unfounded assumptions about future requirements for natural gas plants.
“The chamber is using the same tired play from the same special interest playbook that is engineered to continue polluting and stall progress,” EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds said in a statement.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said there is a “moral obligation” for the new climate change rule.
“Every time America has taken common sense steps to protect air quality and the health of our children, polluters have made doomsday predictions – and every time they’ve been wrong,” Lehrich said.
Industry lobbyists plan to say the new rules will probably raise household electricity costs, prompt power brown-outs during heat waves and cold snaps and destroy jobs at coal mines and manufacturing plants.
“We fully expect that whatever comes out will be overly stringent, and will be something that is not good for American consumers or businesses,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
In March, Sheehan’s group, which represents coal mining companies as well as owners of coal-fired plants like American Electric Power and Southern Co, released a report warning that the EPA plan may kill more than 2.85 million jobs.
The National Mining Association, which represents large coal mining companies including Peabody Coal Co, Arch Coal Inc , Alpha Natural Resources and Cloud Peak Energy Inc has spent $1 million on advertising in five states depicting shocked consumers opening expensive electricity bills.
Environmental groups plan to fight back with their own projections. On Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council is expected to release a report concluding the EPA rule would create “hundreds of thousands of jobs” and save consumers “tens of billions of dollars” on electricity.
“The chamber’s so-called study is the latest in a long series of ‘sky-is-falling’ claims that cleaning up harmful air pollution will cost jobs,” said David Hawkins, director of NRDC’s climate programs.
Because the new U.S. rules would take years to implement, perception matters more than facts, particularly ahead of November elections, said Andrew Holland, a former Republican legislative aide who is now an energy analyst at the American Security Project, a nonpartisan think tank.
The industry’s arguments have “the virtue of not being testable” before the midterm elections, he said, noting previous EPA rules have ended up being cheaper than industry feared.
“It turns out that engineers are better at this than the lawyers expect them to be,” said Holland.
Industry groups made their concerns clear to regulators. For example, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association sent three of its experts to a White House meeting to show how not-for-profit co-ops that rely on coal for fuel and provide power to some of the nation’s poorest regions could be pinched by the new EPA proposal.
And some industry coalitions have said they will try to work with the EPA and state officials to craft practical rules.
After the EPA first said in 2008 that it would treat carbon as a pollutant, power companies including AES and NRG and manufacturers including Boeing and 3M formed the National Climate Coalition.
It wants the EPA to phase in standards, and eventually develop rules for companies and states to trade credits for carbon-reducing actions, said Robert Wyman, a partner with law firm Latham & Watkins, who represents the coalition.
The coalition will take at least a week to read and understand the EPA rule before responding, Wyman said.
“Obviously the more politicized the issue becomes, the more likely it is that rhetoric will overshadow some of the technical issues,” he said.
2. Fox News, “Looming EPA power plant rules fuel industry concerns”
May 29, 2014
By Doug McKelway
Lawmakers and Washington interest groups are engaged in a battle over whether looming EPA rules will help or hurt as President Obama prepares to announce a highly anticipated performance standard for power plants June 2.
The proposed standard will require existing natural gas and coal-fired power plants to release no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity – easily done with natural gas but unobtainable by present day coal plants.
Although coal still provides almost 40 percent of U.S. electricity, the White House’s new point man on energy, John Podesta, said Wednesday that climate change necessitates coal’s demise. “President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to act now to curb climate change,” he said.
While Podesta affirmed the president’s commitment to address climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was releasing a study that found the new standard will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
“The American household will lose $586 billion of disposable income. That means a household losing over $3,400 of income they’d otherwise be spending on something else,” said Karen Harbert of the Chamber of Commerce.
The White House dismissed the Chamber of Commerce study. In an email, spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote that while the White House was still reviewing the study’s methodology, “Polluters have made doomsday predictions, and every time they’ve been wrong.”
Environmental groups believe the transition to cleaner energy will stimulate the economy. Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Fox News, “We think this plan is going to drive American innovation and investment and jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, all over the country.”
He added, “These are good paying jobs, doing good work that are going to help save money for our families and are going to protect future generations from the greatest threat of our time, which is global climate change.”
Under the new standard, states will have broad flexibility in how to comply. But most are expected to use a cap and trade type of system. Electric plants that don’t meet the standard may be able to trade carbon credits with other businesses that do. The details have yet to be worked out.
Even so, seven energy state Democratic Senators, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mark Warner, D-Va., who are all facing tough re-election battles, wrote the president last week expressing “deep concerns” about the plan. Among other concerns, they fear it will kill incentive for ongoing research into clean coal combustion.
After the president announces the new standard next week, a one-year public comment follows. States will have to notify the EPA as to how they’ll implement it the following year, but lawsuits and the potential for Republican control of Congress or the White House could undo it all.
3. Bloomberg News, “Lobbies debate climate rules’ effect on jobs”
May 28, 2014
By Mark Drajem
WASHINGTON — The nation’s biggest business lobby says President Barack Obama’s plan to tackle climate change could cost the U.S. economy $50 billion a year. Supporters predict that it will create jobs and lower power bills.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Natural Resources Defense Council are both releasing economic impact studies this week, signaling that the political battle over the president’s plan will be fought over dollars and cents. For Mr. Obama, the risk is the plan gets labeled a job-killer just as campaigns heat up for an election that could determine Senate control.
In an analysis released Wednesday — days before the Environmental Protection Agency unveils a proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — the Chamber said an ambitious pollution-control effort could force more than a third of the coal-fired power capacity to close by 2030, resulting in economic losses of $50 billion a year and the elimination of 224,000 jobs.
“This raises serious questions that need to be answered,” Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in an interview. “Utilities will be faced with some very unappealing choices.”
While the Chamber isn’t taking a position on the proposal before its release, the dire economic warnings in its analysis shows that the lobbying powerhouse is unlikely to back off opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to fight climate change. Environmental groups such as the NRDC say the EPA’s pledge to give states wide leeway will limit the costs, which could be offset by lower electric bills for consumers as utilities become more efficient.
The administration is focusing on an approach that would let states set up their own systems to achieve mandated cuts, including linking into existing cap-and-trade networks, or expanding use of renewable energy, according to people familiar with the plan.
And the EPA, which said any details about the rule are speculation at this point, says the economic risks of not dealing with the threat of climate change are real as well.
“The cost of inaction on climate is the real drain on our economy,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in an email. “In 2012, we saw the second-costliest year in U.S. history for natural disasters. Even the strongest sectors can’t escape the pressures of a changing climate, so it is time for us to lead.”
NRDC is set to release a report today showing that the rules could create hundreds of thousands of jobs and cut health care costs and power bills.
“The costs are certainly quite modest,” said NRDC fellow Starla Yeh, who helped develop and analyze its proposal. With efficiency programs, she said, “the savings in fuel and maintenance you forgo balances out the costs.”
In fact, while the Chamber study predicts that electricity costs will increase, especially in the coal-heavy states of the Midwest and South, the NRDC says efficiency gains will mean a drop in wholesale electricity prices, which has led some utilities to complain about “demand destruction,” Ms. Yeh said.
Mr. Obama has pledged to use his regulatory powers to cut U.S. greenhouse gases about 17 percent by 2020 over 2005 levels, with deeper cuts to follow. Groups such as Resources for the Future say achieving those reductions requires the EPA to order cuts deeper than 17 percent in power-plant emissions. Power plants are the top source of carbon dioxide, and the rules aimed at electricity generators could be followed by similar efforts for refineries, steelmakers and cement plants.
The Chamber hired the independent research firm IHS Energy to analyze a plan produced by the NRDC that people familiar with the deliberations say was considered by the Obama administration in developing its approach. The NRDC proposal, released in late 2012, calls for using a broad approach to achieve emissions cuts of as much as 30 percent by 2020 compared with 2005. For its analysis, the Chamber extended those cuts out for another decade, to achieve reductions of 40 percent by 2030.
Under those assumptions, coal’s share of the generating mix would fall to 14 percent from about 40 percent now, while 114 gigawatts of coal-fired generating plants would shutter, it said. The compliance costs over that period would be $28 billion a year, with $17 billion of that passed on to consumers as higher electricity costs, the study said. Those higher rates are “an issue of competitiveness with the rest of the world.” Ms. Harbert said.
The Chamber’s analysis differs from that of NRDC because it forecasts a steady increase in demand for electricity and predicts that the energy-efficiency savings the NRDC forecasts aren’t possible.
And the costs come on top of the billions of dollars utilities are now spending to comply with the EPA’s mercury rule, which phases in by 2016. To be sure, a $50 billion cost represents 0.31 percent of the overall U.S. gross domestic product, and critics say business groups have a long history of overstating their predictions of what EPA rules will cost.
“Critics have tried for years to convince people that more pollution equals more jobs and a better economy, but history has proved them wrong over and over again,” the EPA’s Ms. Purchia said. “Climate action sharpens America’s competitive edge and spurs innovation.”
And not all of what it counts as costs are universal negatives for companies. Nuclear-reliant power producers such as Exelon Corp. and Entergy Corp. say the EPA rules could help their struggling plants get a leg up in the competitive power markets.
Under the Chamber’s analysis, use of natural gas would increase to 46 percent of total generation by 2030 from about 27 percent now, which could be a boon for gas producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp., and power generators with gas plants.
Also this week, companies such as OPOWER Inc., which helps consumers monitor and cut electricity bills, will showcase ways that their technology could prosper under the EPA rules.
“We see EPA’s carbon rules as a huge opportunity to modernize our grid, and that will help the economy overall,” said Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for government affairs at Advanced Energy Economy, a business group that represents lower-carbon power suppliers and efficiency companies. “We see this as a real opportunity.”
4. KTVU, “More illnesses linked to Foster Farms chicken”
May 28, 2014
[Click Here to view the segment]
5. The Oregonian, “Foster Farms salmonella cases slow but chicken outbreak one of biggest, longest”
May 28, 2014
By Lynne Terry
The Foster Farms outbreak is one of the biggest and longest in recent history, with no end in sight. But federal officials said Wednesday that fewer cases are popping up each week, indicating the company is making progress in tackling its salmonella problem.
“People are still getting sick,” said Ian Williams, who oversees multistate outbreaks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But we’re heading in the right direction.
The outbreak started in March 2013. At its height later that year, the CDC received reports of 20 cases a week. Those have slowed in the past few weeks to about six, Williams said.
The CDC announced on Tuesday that 50 new cases had popped up since March, bringing the total to 574 in 27 states, including Oregon, and Puerto Rico. Williams said that freshly purchased chicken – not long-stored items retrieved from a freezer – was still making people sick.
He said most of the patients have reported eating a range of Foster Farms products produced on different days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pinpointed the outbreak to three Foster Farms plants in central California, including one that it shut in January over a cockroach infestation. The plant reopened three weeks later.
Foster Farms said in a statement Tuesday that tests of processed chicken had a 10 percent rate of salmonella contamination compared with 25 percent before. But test results do not guarantee food safety.
“You can’t test your way to safety,” Williams said. “It indicates if the process is in control or not.”
Clearly, Foster Farms continues to have a production issue, Williams said.
This is not the first time. Another salmonella outbreak that started in June 2012 was also traced to Foster Farms chicken. It ended in April last year, with 134 sickened, mainly in Oregon and Washington. That outbreak was traced to the company’s plant in Kelso, Wash.
Foster Farms said it stepped up food safety controls at the plant to end the outbreak. It’s done the same thing this time around while also stepping up measures in poultry houses. It’s not clear why this outbreak is more persistent.
But both have involved antibiotic strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, which can cause a higher hospitalization rates and pose problems for treatment. Williams said in the latest outbreak that of 61 patients tested, 38 showed resistance to at least one antibiotic and 19 were resistant to several drugs. Seven antibiotic resistant strains have been detected.
Though none was resistant to drugs used to treat severe salmonella infections, antibiotic resistance in general poses a huge public health threat, with the specter that in the future that infections now easily treatable could be fatal.
Federal and world health authorities have warned against misuse of antibiotics, including on the farm. Foster Farms has acknowledged using antibiotics, according to Jonathan Kaplan, head of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Scientists know that when chicken producers use antibiotics routinely, some bacteria become resistant and escape into the environment,” Kaplan wrote in a statement. “Is this happening at Foster Farms?”
The family owned company has declined to disclose details about its antibiotic use, Kaplan said. It also has not released specifics about measures taken to fight salmonella contamination.
6. The Kansas City Star, “KCP&L’s energy efficiency plans again plugged in”
May 28, 2014
By Steve Everly
In 2012, the utility dropped energy efficiency plans that would have, among other steps, given customers rebates for more efficient air conditioners and provided programmable thermostats.
At the time, the move was harshly criticized by environmental groups. But a settlement Wednesday among the utility, environmental groups and state regulatory staffers would allow the programs to finally become a reality as early as July.
“KCP&L has taken a huge step in improving Missouri’s stature as an energy efficient state,” P.J. Wilson, director of the clean energy group Renew Missouri, said in a statement.
The Missouri Public Service Commission still has to give its approval, but such settlements like the one reached Wednesday usually smooth the way for that to happen.
For the last year and a half KCP&L has been offering energy efficiency programs, including the rebates for cooling equipment, to customers in western Missouri who were once served by Aquila Inc. in suburbs like Raytown. Those programs will continue and the settlement will for the first time offer them instant rebates when purchasing more efficient lighting.
But the big change is bringing those programs, which were once offered as a pilot, to KCP&L’s traditional service territory, including most of Kansas City. The utility in 2012 said it wouldn’t proceed with its energy efficiency plans in that area because there was more than enough power to serve those customers and spending money on energy efficiency was not cost effective.
The utility now wants to proceed, believing that eventually demand will outrun supply and it will take a while for energy efficiency to grow and displace enough demand to start making a difference.
“We believe now is the time,”’ said Katie McDonald, a spokeswoman for KCP&L. “We’re excited about making the Kansas City region a leader in the state.”
KCP&L doesn’t offer energy efficiency programs in Kansas, but the state recently approved legislation that will make them possible in the future.
The environmental groups involved in the settlement said that even with the utility’s energy efficiency programs, Missouri will continues to lag behind the rest of the country.
But their relationship with KCP&L has clearly improved with the settlements and an announcement in January that the utility will use more wind power.
“For the second time in less than six months, KCP&L has demonstrated that clean energy can deliver significant savings to its customers,” said Holly Bender, deputy director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
The settlement reached Wednesday sets a goal to save enough electricity through 2015 to power more than 5,000 homes. That will be enough to eliminate 101,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant, or eliminate the same amount of emissions produced by 21,000 cars on the road for a year.
“Programs like these represent exactly the kind of win-win solutions we’re hopeful Missouri will place at the center of its energy policy and emissions reduction plans under the carbon standards for power plants we expect EPA to unveil next week,” said David Weiskopf, sustainable energy fellow for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
7. Crain’s Detroit Business, “Michigan drops in state rankings of renewable-energy jobs”
May 22, 2014
By Jay Greene
For several years, Michigan’s job creation numbers in the renewable energy industry had been growing, but that streak came to a halt in 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs.
In 2013, businesses in Michigan announced more than 1,700 clean energy jobs, including 910 in energy efficiency positions, 277 in wind energy, 205 in solar and 380 in clean vehicle manufacturing, according to an E2 report.
But those numbers are down from 2012, when E2 said Michigan announced 2,262 renewable energy and vehicle manufacturing jobs.
During the first quarter of this year, Michigan also didn’t rank in the top 10 for clean energy jobs as it had several times in the past. Top states include Idaho, Texas, California, Missouri, New York, Kansas, Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico and Louisiana.
E2 said congressional inaction on key clean energy tax policies and political attacks on state renewable energy programs led to a dramatic decline this year in clean energy job announcements.
Some 5,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the first three months of this year, down from 12,000 such jobs reported in the comparable period in 2013, E2 said.
“Congress pulled the plug on smart clean energy tax policies at the end of last year, while in the states, lawmakers are getting bullied by special interests that don’t want our country to produce more clean, renewable energy,” said E2 executive director Bob Keefe in a statement.
Keefe said Congress should act this year to reinstate federal tax incentives, including the Production Tax Credit for wind. The American Wind Energy Association estimated loss of tax incentives have led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs nationally.
Next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue new standards for existing power plants that will for the first time limit carbon pollution.
Keefe said the new carbon limits pave the way for manufacturing and power-generation companies in clean energy and energy efficiency sectors to invest in operations and add jobs.
8. FuelFix, “Texas ranks high for green job growth”
May 22, 2014
By Jennifer A. Dlouhy
WASHINGTON — Texas added nearly 800 clean energy jobs during the first three months of the year, putting the Lone Star State second in the nation just behind Idaho and well above California, according to an analysis released Thursday.
But that’s where the good news ends, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the non-partisan business group that put out the figures.
Although E2 counted 5,600 new clean energy and clean transportation jobs announced nationwide during the first quarter, that’s fewer than half the 12,000 reported in the same time frame last year, and it marks a steep drop from the past two quarters.
E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe suggests more declines could be on the horizon, amid uncertainty about the future of state mandates and federal tax incentives driving renewable energy investments around the country.
“Congress pulled the plug on smart clean energy tax policies at the end of last year, while in the states, lawmakers are getting bullied by special interests that don’t want our country to produce more clean, renewable energy,” Keefe said in a statement.
Texas success: Renewable energy production up 12 percent
The biggest hit at the federal level is the disappearance of the renewable energy production tax credit which allows project owners to reduce tax bills by 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced over 10 years.
Prospects for quickly reauthorizing the credit are slim, with the Senate stalemated over a measure to extend it and a slew of other expired tax breaks, and House leaders committed to tackling the provisions individually.
Wind industry leaders who have championed the PTC also are up against significant opposition in the House from lawmakers who say it is no longer needed.
An investment tax credit that has been used to finance solar projects with long lead times is also set to expire in 2016.
Tax credits for investing in efficiency improvements and constructing efficient homes also are in limbo.
Outside of Washington, D.C., in statehouses across the country, lawmakers also are weighing measures that would scale back or repeal existing mandates that utilities derive some of their electricity from renewable sources such as the wind and sun.
New customers: Transmission line could expand Texas wind market outside state
So far, renewable energy advocates have been prevailing in most of those fights, most notably when the Kansas House voted to retain the state’s requirement that utilities draw 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. But a similar battle is under way in Ohio, where the state Senate has passed legislation to freeze efficiency and renewable energy targets for 2014.
E2′s assessment, updated quarterly, tracks announcements of new jobs tied to renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biomass, as well as initiatives involving recycling, public transportation infrastructure, smart meters, transmission improvements and building efficiency.
Nationwide, the group documented a shift in the solar sector, from larger, utility-scale projects to residential initiatives and distributed solar generation. Some sun-drenched states, such as California, have exceeded state quotas for renewable energy, which may be one reason for the shift.
In Texas, the group counted four big new projects: the Barilla Solar project in Pecos County, the Plainview Orchard Wind project in Plainview, the First Wind project in Armstrong and Carson counties and Austin-based Thomas Biodiesel’s plans to locate a 25,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Temple. The wind and solar projects announced in Texas during the first quarter have a combined capacity of 249 megawatts.
Texas narrowly lost the top spot by 11 jobs to Idaho, where a single project — a 25-megawatt geothermal project — is responsible for 800 planned jobs.
Other top-ranking states:
3: California, with four projects tied to 660 jobs.
4: Missouri, with three projects tied to 449 jobs.
5: New York, with three projects tied to 435 jobs.
6: Kansas, with two projects worth 355 jobs.
7: Arizona, with two projects tied to 342 jobs.
8: Hawaii, with two projects tied to 340 jobs.
9: New Mexico, with two projects tied to 328 jobs.
10: Louisiana, with 1 project tied to 300 jobs.
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