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Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy

Wildfire
EricF2000

Like a tree in a greenhouse, America's forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country's shifting fire threats.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. "No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation," the strategy states.

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Oil companies would rather let trains explode than cooperate with feds

DOT-111
PHMSA

As federal officials work frantically to reverse an uptick in explosions and oil spills from crude-hauling trains, the companies that are fracking the crude and transporting it by rail are responding with an unhelpful collective shrug.

Lawmakers and regulators want information from the oil companies about their rail shipments. The oil companies initially made helpful-sounding noises and pledged to cooperate. Now, however, it seems they're more worried about keeping corporate secrets than protecting Americans from their explosive loads. From The Hill:

“Just last month before the Commerce Committee, the crude oil industry assured us they were focused on safety and willing to work on this issue," [Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)] said in a statement. "Since then, I’ve seen nothing to convince me this was more than just lip service."...

Rockefeller said he and other legislators had received assurances from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that the crude industry was on board with the push to increase the safety of oil trains.

But the West Virginia senator said on Monday that Congress was still waiting to see the promised assistance.

Rockefeller's frustrations mirror those of top rail regulators. As Reuters reported last week:

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That blows

Brits may ban new onshore wind power

wind power in England
Shutterstock

Britain's conservative government is preparing to make an unusual pledge -- a crackdown on clean energy.

Prime Minster David Cameron, leader of the bluntly named Conservative Party (aka the Tories), is overseeing the drafting of a "manifesto" ahead of next year's national election. That manifesto might come dressed up in a stifling windbreaker. The Guardian explains:

The Guardian understands that Cameron has brokered a compromise between warring Tories by agreeing to include measures in the manifesto for next year's general election that will in effect rule out the building of onshore windfarms from 2020. ...

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Bird body count still rising following Galveston Bay oil spill

Galveston Bay cleanup
NOAA

There have been so many oil spills lately -- from trains, from pipelines, from barges, from a refinery -- that it's easy to forget about the particulars of each one. Unless you're an unlucky local resident or an emergency responder.

In Texas, where more than 100,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled into Galveston Bay two weeks ago following a collision between a barge and a ship, the Coast Guard has recovered more than 300 oiled birds -- nearly all of them dead. The Texas Tribune reports:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Ohio cracks down on methane pollution from fracking

Criminalize fracking
Bill Baker
This guy probably understands that Ohio's new rules don't go far enough.

Drillers in the heavily fracked Buckeye State will now have to do more to find and fix leaks in their systems, part of the latest initiative to crack down on climate-changing methane pollution. The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

Ohio on Friday tightened its rules on air emissions from natural gas-oil drilling at horizontal wells. ...

Drilling companies now are required to perform regular inspections to pinpoint any equipment leaks and seal them quickly.

Such leaks can contribute to air pollution with unhealthy ozone, add to global warming and represent lost or wasted energy. Fugitive emissions can account for 1 to 8 percent of methane from an individual well, according to some studies. ...

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In the battle against proposed coal terminals, you are kicking ass

beating coal
Shutterstock

Companies that want to build hulking coal export terminals in Washington state have put out an industrywide mayday after a string of similar proposed projects were defeated amid fierce local opposition from activists and neighbors.

Opponents of such projects are worried about climate change and local air pollution and congestion. And now the terminal developers are worried that they are staring down complete and utter defeat. The Missoulian reports on a delightful tidbit from an energy conference last week:

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Europe wimps out again on airlines’ carbon pollution

China Airlines
Shutterstock / Lukas Rebec

European efforts to force international airlines to pay for their carbon pollution will stay parked on the runway for at least several more years.

Airlines are covered by the European Union's Emissions Trading System. Airfares for flights within Europe have included a carbon fee under that system since the beginning of 2012. The plan has been to expand the program to include international flights that begin or end in Europe, but that proposal has been vigorously opposed by China, the U.S., and other countries. China had put a large order for aircraft from Europe-based Airbus on hold over the dispute.

On Thursday, amid promises that the climate-unfriendly airline industry will soon launch its own climate program, the U.S. and China prevailed, again, clinching a years-long delay. Members of the European Parliament voted 458 to 120 to exempt flights in and out of Europe from the emissions trading program until early 2017. A bid to delay the program until 2020 was rejected by the lawmakers.

"We have the next International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in 2016," parliamentarian Peter Liese said. "If it fails to deliver a global [climate] agreement, then nobody could justify our maintaining such an exemption." But so far the aviation industry's efforts to develop its own climate plan have been feeble.

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Republicans join Democrats in trying to revive wind energy incentives

Wind energy
Shutterstock

The political winds in the nation's capitol shifted on Thursday in favor of wind energy.

A Senate committee passed a bill that would restore two key tax credits for the wind industry. Both credits have helped spur the sector's rapid growth in recent years, but Congress allowed them to expire at the end of last year. Uncertainty over whether the incentives would be extended into 2014 was blamed for a startling decline in wind farm construction last year, when just 1 gigawatt of capacity was installed -- down from 13 gigawatts the year before.

Thursday's move by the Senate Finance Committee doesn't guarantee that the full Senate will support resurrection of the credits, much less the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But encouraging signs emerged after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) tried to kill the credits. He argued that restoring them would amount to picking energy-industry winners and losers and forcing taxpayers to "subsidize inefficient, uncompetitive forms of energy." (Meanwhile, taxpayers continue a century-long tradition of subsidizing fossil fuels.) CleanTechnica reports on the encouraging bipartisan response to Toomey's effort:

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Obama admin sued for dragging feet on studies of climate impacts

alarm clock that says "late"
Shutterstock

Just over a year ago, we told you that the Obama administration would soon start requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects that need federal approval. Bloomberg reported in March of last year that the new guidelines would "be issued in the coming weeks."

But many weeks have come and gone and the guidelines still haven't been released, so now activists are suing the administration to hurry things along.

The lawsuit revolves around the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of projects they oversee and to develop strategies for reducing those impacts. Since passage of the landmark law in 1969, NEPA assessments have covered a variety of potential environmental impacts. In early 2008, major environmental groups petitioned the George W. Bush administration to include climate impacts among them. After Obama came into office, his administration said it would broaden the scope of NEPA studies to cover climate change, and in 2010, it issued draft guidelines to this effect, but they've been bottled up at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) ever since.

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What’s worse than burning coal? Burning wood

wood fire
Shutterstock

In its scramble for new and clean energy sources, the U.S. government is failing to see the forest for the burning trees.

The burning of biomass to produce electricity is marketed as clean and renewable, and promoted by federal policies. But a report published Wednesday concludes that burning wood is more polluting than burning coal.

More than 70 wood-burning plants are under construction or have been built in the U.S. since 2005, with 75 more planned, according to the analysis by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Integrity.

For every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, even the "cleanest" of the American biomass plants pump out nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-burning plants, PFPI staff researcher Mary Booth, a former Environmental Working Group scientist, concluded after poring over data associated with 88 air emissions permits. The biomass plants also produce more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter as coal plants.