Skip to content Skip to site navigation


“It’s raining renewable energy loans!” shrieks DOE, racing to the dance floor


Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $4 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. It was like the first few delicate wildflowers poking out of the scorched base of the volcano that was Solyndra. Incredible! It's been three years now, and not only did President Obama fail to die from bad-solar-panel-investment shame, but solar power is going gangbusters, even if Solyndra is still toast. Internationally, renewable energy, but solar in particular, looks to be going through a process similar to what happened to the personal computer starting in the 1980s: Technology leaps, prices drop, and in …


Situation normal, all trucked up

Um, TransCanada just bought off a town with a firetruck


Pipeline company TransCanada recently gave Mattawa, a small town in Ontario, Canada, about $28,200 ($30,000 Canadian) to spend on a rescue truck. Mattawa's volunteer fire department plans to use the truck to put out fires, and rescue people who've fallen through the ice or gotten themselves into car accidents. Sounds nice, right? Who doesn't like to be pulled out of a ice-cold lake, or a flaming car wreck by a nice new truck, especially when the newest truck your volunteer fire department has is over a decade old? Well, the truck came with a few catches, which interested parties can …


Between a hawk and a hard place

Rats! Rodent poison kills hawks, too


Several years ago, I noticed that hawks had moved into my neighborhood. Well, one hawk. A dead hawk, actually. It was lying on its back on my front porch with its little feet in the air, looking fierce and magnificent and just totally dead. I had never seen a hawk that close before. My roommate stood over it, taking pictures with her phone.

"Juvenile red tail," she said. "I already posted a picture on the internet and three people already asked if they could come by and pick it up. What is it with our neighbors and taxidermy?"

The realization of how the hawk had come to die on our front porch sank in gradually. Hadn't the landlords said something a few weeks ago about sending someone over to "deal with" the mice that were establishing a dynasty in the wall behind our stove? Hadn't I not heard from the mice in a while?

The hawk had probably thought that it was its lucky day, finding these sluggish mice in our yard, probably all fattened up on our organic kitchen scraps. It wouldn't have realized they were stuffed with poison.

Read more: Cities, Living


Mine Shafted

One judge’s smackdown of a Colorado coal mine could help fight carbon projects everywhere

wilderness sunset area
Wild Earth Guardians

Last week, a federal judge blocked a coal mine expansion on public land in Colorado for what could be a precedent-setting reason: failing to consider how that expansion could exacerbate climate change.

This is a big deal. Battles like the one over the Sunset Roadless Area -- a patchwork of aspen, scrub oak and wildflowers in rural Colorado -- have for the most part been obscure and regional. Areas like Sunset may be very attractive public land, but they rarely enter the national consciousness the way national parks do, and so decisions about what to do with them rarely transcend the influence of local good-ol'-boy politics. This is a remote part of the country that isn't used for much except for grazing, hunting, and the occasional hiking expedition. But a ruling like this forces the people making decisions to answer to the rest of the country for digging that coal out of the ground.

Read more: Climate & Energy


This might get loud

Is this pipeline company ready for some whale hazing?

orcas in the ocean
Pavel Lunkin

The pipeline situation in Canada has been contentious for a while. But now, it's getting positively weird. In the latest twist, the energy giant Kinder Morgan is proposing a novel wildlife protection scheme. If a pipeline expansion that boosts oil exports out of Vancouver leads to a massive new spill, Kinder Morgan says it knows just what to do: It will spook the whales.

OK, I know that's a lot to take in, so let's back up a bit.

Canada, pipeline-wise, is starting to look a lot like the U.S. It has become a place where putting in a new pipeline is so controversial that the most expedient thing is to take an old one and make it bigger. For example: one new pipeline, the Northern Gateway, is facing a cavalcade of legal challenges and protests.


With one more nail in its coffin, is Keystone XL history?

Cowboy Indian Alliance
Matt Sloan/Bold Nebraska

This past weekend, on June 29, TransCanada's permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to build the Keystone XL pipeline quietly expired.

Well, sort of quietly. The Cowboy & Indian Alliance, which marched on Washington in opposition to Keystone XL earlier this year, held a celebratory buffalo roast at the Rosebud Sioux Spirit Camp and raised a flag with an image of a black snake cut into three parts.

The flag referenced an old prophecy about a black snake that would threaten the community's land and water. Earlier interpretations had held that the snake was the railroad, and then the highway system. But when the plans for Keystone XL emerged, it seemed clear that, since both black snakes and Keystone XL traveled underground, this was definitely the black snake -- or at the very least another one.


First Nations, first dibs, says Canada’s Supreme Court

indigenous protest
Jennifer Castro

With just one court ruling, the situation of pipelines in Canada has changed in a big way.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a 14-year-old battle over logging rights on Tsilhqot’in Nation territory in British Columbia. Its decision says that any First Nation land that was never formally ceded to the Canadian government cannot be developed without consent of those First Nations that have a claim to it.

To say that this has huge implications for the Canadian oil industry is an understatement. The only thing that stands between Alberta, the province that is the hub of the country's oil boom, and the Pacific Ocean, which connects Canada to the lucrative oil markets of Asia, is unceded First Nations territory. The Northern Gateway pipeline, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved earlier this week, runs along a route that First Nations have already begun blockading, a full 18 months before the pipeline is expected to begin construction.


The public comment process is where bureaucracy and democracy get a room

Kelsey Amelia Bates

On a beautiful summer afternoon recently, a handful of people across America decided it was high time to make their feelings known about the Obama administration's most significant response yet to climate change -- the EPA's Clean Power Plan. Here is what they wrote:

"I am thrilled that the EPA is tackling this issue ... Stand firm against the inevitable backlash - countless lives (our own descendants!) are quite literally at stake." -- Anonymous

"The EPAs proposed carbon reduction rule is a flawed rule based on hopes and dreams. ... If these rules go through and we have 60000 megawatts of coal power closing in 2015, if another polar vortex hits us, there will be a lot more people die than what asthma will ever effect. Thousands of people will freeze to death.” -- Anonymous

"Thanks EPA for making the new bold rules to limit the carbon emissions from power plants this is one step in the right direction hopefully more to come." -- Kenneth Weiss

"Dear EPA: Shut down the EPA and get government out of the way." -- Sincerely, Mr. David Robertson Sr.

Welcome to the most democratic, weird, and earnest corner of our federal government: the public comment system. On any day, you can go scrolling through and offer up your learned (or completely unlearned) opinion on upcoming federal regulations.

Public comment is the place where the 400-page environmental analysis compiled by the Sierra Club sits next to the two-sentence statement typed in by a busy suburbanite. It's also where the party is right now. That's because, after the cap-and-trade bill crashed and burned, the Obama administration figured out that it simply wasn't going to get any environmental legislation through Congress and pragmatically shifted its focus to the kind of work that didn't need congressional approval -- but does require public comment.


Hope springs infernal

To motivate climate activists, use optimism

sign pointing to the village of Hope, Derbyshire UK
Pol Sifter

So it turns out, hope is important.

Did we know that already? We sort of knew that already. But -- according to a new study put together by researchers at George Mason University and Yale's Climate Change Communication Project -- hope is particularly critical as a motivator in the very doom-heavy world of climate change activism.

The paper's authors contacted a "nationally representative" sample of  50,000 people across the U.S. via an online survey, and asked whether they had contacted their elected officials to support climate change mitigation action; attended climate-related rallies or meetings; or donated to or volunteered with an organization working to reduce global warming.

One thing that was interesting -- but not especially cheering -- about the results: Believing climate change is a major risk does not necessarily predict you will take any kind of action about it. Out of the 2,164 people who actually responded to the survey, 16.9 percent had done at least one of the above things in the last year. While the people who had taken some action were more likely to believe that climate change was a serious problem, a substantial portion of people shared that belief but said they were planning on doing absolutely nada about it. Among the reasons given for not participating were: not thinking they were an "activist" (33 percent) and not believing that humans could get their act together in time to make a difference (78 percent).


Ma, why does my scratch and sniff smell like a gas leak?


Back in January, I interviewed a very nice Texan who was organizing a neighborhood pipeline watch. While both oil and natural gas pipelines are the responsibility of the companies that build them (and the agencies that are supposed to keep an eye on them), in reality, the majority of leaks -- both natural gas and crude  -- are spotted by regular people.

Which is why the news that the pipeline company TransCanada is handing out scratch-and-sniff cards to Canadian farm kids so that they can identify pipeline leaks is both sensible and creepy. Sensible because: These kids and the pipelines occupy the same rural territory, so what kind of a jerk would judge an attempt to make that relationship safer? Creepy because: Children already have to deal with so much from adults -- is asking them to monitor our pipelines for us taking it a little too far?