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Enviros urge U.S. to stop meddling in Indian solar affairs

India
Shutterstock

A U.S. push to smash open India's fast-growing solar market could end up hurting the climate.

That was the message from 15 U.S. environmental groups in a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, just days before his office plans to move forward with a World Trade Organization complaint against India's solar rules.

As we've told you before, India is going gangbusters for solar -- a commendable trend in a coal-reliant country. Solar installations doubled in 2013, driven largely by ambitious federal energy policies.

U.S. solar component producers, notably GE partner First Solar, want in on that action, but Indian officials are trying protect and nurture a domestic solar industry to help provide jobs for its impoverished populace.

Now American enviros are coming down heavily on India's side in the dispute. "We are writing to express our grave concerns that the United States plans to increase uncertainty in the Indian solar market by asking the World Trade Organization (WTO) to establish a panel to evaluate whether India’s national solar program violates international trade rules," write the environmental groups, including 350.org, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace USA, and the Sierra Club.

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If oil spills in the Arctic and no one is around to clean it up, does it just stay there?

polar bears
Shutterstock
Who will save them after an oil spill?

Oil and shipping companies are salivating as the climate change that they helped cause melts away the ice at the top of the world. Planning and exploration is underway for an Arctic drilling and shipping boom. But what aren't underway are meaningful preparations for responding to the oil that will inevitably be spilled into the remote and rugged Arctic environment by these accident-prone industries.

The National Research Council has catalogued these hazards in a new report, warning that the lack of Arctic infrastructure would become a "significant liability" should oil be spilled.

"It is unlikely that responders could quickly react to an oil spill unless there were improved port and air access, stronger supply chains, and increased capacity to handle equipment, supplies, and personnel," wrote the council in a report requested by the American Petroleum Institute and various U.S. agencies. "There is presently no funding mechanism to provide for development, deployment, and maintenance of temporary and permanent infrastructure."

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Oregon tells rail companies to keep oil deliveries secret

top secret
Shutterstock

Oregon transportation officials are doing everything in their power to keep the state's residents in the dark about the movement of crude-filled, explosion-prone rail cars.

The Oregonian won a two-month battle in March when the state Department of Justice ruled that the state Department of Transportation was of course legally required to provide information it receives about the oil shipments to the daily newspaper. Failing to do so "could infringe on the public’s ability to assess the local and statewide risks," a Justice Department attorney advised.

"Risks shmisks," the Transportation Department replied. It heavily redacted reports it had received from the rail companies before releasing them to the journalists -- and then kicked the intrasigence up a notch. The department told rail companies to stop submitting reports because such reports would become public. (Rail companies have broken promises to share this type of data with the federal government. Oregon transportation officials claim publishing the information is a security risk, despite the fact that oil-laden rail cars are already clearly labeled.) From The Oregonian:

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What are they on about?

It’s virtually certain that the IPCC needs to dump its “very likely” crap

What is the IPCC saying?
Shutterstock

It’s hard to understand what the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is yammering on about.

The IPCC -- which has released its latest climate assessment in three huge installments -- uses confusing language to describe how certain it is about its findings. This could be misleading the public into thinking scientists are less certain than they really are about global warming, according to a new study.

Consider this statement from the first installment of the IPCC report, which came out in September: “It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale.”

By using the phrase “very likely,” the scientists mean that there’s a 90 to 99 percent likelihood that the statement is true. But when normal people read "very likely" in a statement like that, they think the IPCC’s scientists are just 55 to 90 percent confident in it, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Here are the seven main descriptors that IPCC report authors are told to use, and what percentage of certitude they're meant to communicate:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Corn waste-based ethanol could be worse for the climate than gasoline

corn growing in stover
Ron Nichols, USDA
Young corn growing in the residue of the previous crop.

A lot of carbon-rich waste is left behind after a cornfield is stripped of its juicy ears. It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year -- a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

The problem is that after corn residue is torn out and hauled away from a farm field, more carbon is lost from the soil. This problem is pervasive throughout the cornbelt, but it's the most pronounced in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, owing in part to the high carbon contents of soils there.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Minnesota can’t say no to coal power, judge rules

coal power plant
Shutterstock

Minnesota did something really cool in 2007. As part of its Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce per capita fossil fuel use 15 percent by 2015, it effectively barred utilities from buying electricity from any fossil fuelburning power plants built after July 2009 -- unless the carbon emissions of those purchases were entirely offset.

In response, North Dakota, which gets a staggering 79 percent of its power from dirty coal, did something decidedly uncool. It sued its neighbor in 2011, claiming the air-cleansing and climate-protecting rule violated federal law because it limited interstate commerce.

And on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of North Dakota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

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Ukraine belatedly seeks renewable energy as weapon against Russia

Ukraine flag
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It took a military invasion to get Ukrainian leaders to look seriously at renewable energy.

Ukraine is buying up as much natural gas as it can from Russia before its military tormentors cut off the spigot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his Eastern European neighbor had a month to pay its back bills or be forced to start paying in advance for its gas. Bloomberg analyzed energy data and reported Monday that Ukrainians nearly trebled their daily gas imports following Putin's statement.

But the crisis hasn't just triggered a fossil fuel buying spree. It has prompted Ukrainian officials to reimagine their embattled nation's very energy future. From a separate Bloomberg article:

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It's just capitalism, right?

Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted

Deepwater Horizon
SkyTruth

When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP's oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, "Fuck this." He dumped his family's $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further.

But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well -- by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn't just make Seilhan an awful person -- it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday.

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BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ

Deepwater Horizon
Katherine Welles / Shutterstock

BP this week metaphorically hung a "mission accomplished" banner over the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems that it wrecked when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up and spewed 200 million gallons of oil in 2010. Funny thing, though: BP isn't the commander of the cleanup operation. The Coast Guard is. And it's calling bullshit.

Here's what BP said in a press statement on Tuesday, nearly four years after the blowout: "The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident. These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013."

Helpful though it may have seemed for BP to speak on behalf of the federal government, the Coast Guard took some umbrage. From The Washington Post:

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A bright idea

Obama makes a push for solar power

Obama and solar panels
Nellis Air Force Base

The White House threw a solar party on Thursday, and the streamers and ticker tape came in the form of millions of dollars of new support for solar projects. The Hill reports:

The Obama administration on Thursday announced a $15 million program to help state, local and tribal governments build solar panels and other infrastructure to fight climate change.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and White House counselor John Podesta announced the program at what the White House billed as a "solar summit" designed to push governments and private and nonprofit businesses to up their use of solar power.