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Guess which two words can make your nonpartisan education reforms a hot potato?

globe in hands
Podoc

Depending on who you're talking to, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-- the first major national recommendations for teaching science to be made since 1996 -- either painfully water down the presentation of climate-change information or attempt to brainwash our nation's youth into believing climate change is real.

The backlash to the NGSS began last year, but now, we also have the backlash to the backlash -- an effort by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others, to frame science education as a civil rights issue and mobilize a grassroots movement around the idea of a Climate Students Bill of Rights. The idea is to ensure that the new standards actually wind up getting taught.

If you're the kind of person who likes geeking out over curricula, you'll find the NGSS's website fascinating. How do we teach climate change? It's such an awkward thing to explain to children, who have not caused the problem and have yet to have a chance to help make it better. Or worse, for that matter.

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Is the carbon bubble about to bust? One unlikely pundit thinks so

bubble
Jeff Kubina

As Grist readers, I'm sure you've heard of the "carbon bubble" -- the idea that the oil, gas, and coal industries are overvalued in the market because that value is calculated using energy reserves that they won't be able to sell in any future that isn't a climate apocalypse.

I've read a lot of articles about the carbon bubble, but recently I ran across a particularly interesting one, written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph -- which, as Britain's Tory paper, isn't exactly a hotbed of anti-corporate sentiment.

Evans-Pritchard sees a lot of crazy things going on in the markets right now -- China's construction boom, in particular -- but he says that the most disconcerting is the amount of effort that oil and gas companies are spending looking for new resources in areas with such low profit margins. The gradual end of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing policy in the U.S., and similar monetary tightening elsewhere, may also cause oil and gas prices to fall, turning the infrastructure that has been invested in finding oil and gas and getting it to market into an expensive liability.

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Utilities to battery-powered solar: Get off our lawn

solar-panels-no
Shutterstock

In Wisconsin, utilities are jacking up the price to connect to their electrical grid. In Oklahoma, utilities pushed through a law this spring that allows them to charge the people who own solar panels and wind turbines more to connect to their electrical grid. In Arizona, the state has decided to charge extra property taxes to households that are leasing solar panels.

Welcome to the solar backlash. In Grist’s “Utilities for Dummies” series last year, David Roberts prophesied that solar and other renewables could “lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground.” And lo, it is coming to pass -- though not without a fight from the utilities first.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Meet the Andy Griffith who’s going after fracking polluters

oil-spill-boots-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Back when I was a city reporter in San Francisco, one of my jobs was to take the daily crime report and type it up in a friendly, engaging way. The crime report was pretty par for any major metropolitan area: mugged, burgled, occasionally shot, or stabbed. But based on the tips we got from readers, things happened in the neighborhood, all the time, that never made it into the official police document that arrived on our desk.

Sometimes the reason for the omission was clear: something so unpleasant had just happened the police didn't want to deal with any publicity from it. Sometimes whatever had happened involved people who weren't into filling out police reports. And sometimes, I suspect, whoever was typing up the crime report just thought the crime was boring.

For that reason, I am a fan of the reporting that David Hasemyer has been doing for Inside Climate News -- because he's been covering the kind of crime that a reporter has to go out and look for. Earlier this month, Hasemyer profiled Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche of Alice, Texas. Zertuche is a 70-year-old long-timer who was assigned to the "environmental crimes" unit in 2006 -- basically, tracking down people who dumped broken-down sofas on back roads. While patrolling the mattress-in-a-ditch beat, Zertuche noticed that people were dumping something else: something black and slippery and awful-smelling. That something turned out to be benzene-laced fracking waste.

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Slash and burn

House Republicans to EPA: “We’ll take your money and give it to fires!”

Firefighters battle the so-called Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California May 14, 2014.
Reuters/Sam Hodgson

Republicans in the House are pushing a budget bill that would cut EPA's funding by 9 percent, or $717 million. It wasn't hard to see this one coming. Republicans have long loathed the EPA.

But these days the loathing is even more intense than usual. Last month, President Obama unveiled a key component of his environmental legacy: proposed EPA rules to cut CO2 emissions from existing power plants, aka the Clean Power Plan. While many climate hawks have noted that the plan doesn't cut emissions nearly enough, it does cut them enough to send House Republicans into apoplexy. So the proposed budget would stop the EPA from using any of its funds to work on rules to that curb carbon pollution from power plants, essentially defunding Obama's new proposal as well as an earlier proposal to limit emissions from new power plants.

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

money
JSlavy

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 …

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Situation normal, all trucked up

Um, TransCanada just bought off a town with a firetruck

Mattawa_ON_1.png
P199

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 …

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Between a hawk and a hard place

Rats! Rodent poison kills hawks, too

red-tail-hawk
Robert

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

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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

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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.