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John Upton's Posts


Can clean energy replace a shuttered nuke plant in California?

solar panels going up on a roof
spirit of america / Shutterstock

Last year's decision to close the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California has created a challenge for utilities and utility regulators: How best to replace the facility's 2,200 megawatts of generating capacity?

The region's utility is pushing for more fossil fuel power. Environmentalists want a cleaner solution -- and the state's thriving cleantech sector says it could provide just that.

The California Public Utilities Commission is due next month to consider allowing construction of a natural gas–fired plant near the Mexican border. The commission had rejected the plant a year ago, but it's being reconsidered as part of a mixture of renewable and fossil fuel projects that could help meet the state's electricity needs in the wake of the San Onofre closure.

Environmentalists and neighbors of proposed new gas plants have been pleading with commissioners for months to reject such proposals. They want more solar, wind, and efficiency to help fill the gap left by lost nuclear power. A clear majority of Southern Californians agree, according to a poll conducted last year.

"There's all sorts of capacity for clean energy that will be able to take up the slack," Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Lesa Heebner told La Jolla Patch. "It's not in [San Diego Gas & Electric's] financial plan to have solar rooftops in their portfolio as a generator, because they can't control it."

And now the state's cleantech leaders are joining the fight, saying, "We got this." Here are highlights from a letter that a coalition of renewable energy investors, companies, and industry groups sent to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) this week:


Europe wimps out on climate and clean energy

EU flag

The European Union has long been a leader in the battle against climate change, but it's now shying away from the fight.

New goals proposed by the European Commission, the E.U.'s lawmaking body, fall far short of what's needed, say many activists, scientists, and leaders of poor countries. The proposal calls for E.U. nations to pump out 40 percent less greenhouse gas pollution in 2030 than they did in 1990, up from the current goal of 32 percent. That might sound pretty good, but it's not great. Bangladesh’s lead climate negotiator said the bloc of least developed countries had been hoping European nations would commit to a 65 percent reduction.

The E.U., mired in recession and jealous of the fracking boom in the U.S., is backing away not just from aggressive emissions goals but also from an ambitious renewable energy strategy. From The New York Times:


Enviros step up fight over oil shale mine in Utah

Book Cliffs
The mining is planned for Utah's Book Cliffs.

Environmentalists are, unsurprisingly, not happy about a scheme to strip-mine parts of the Utah desert and toast them at 725 degrees for months on end to get at oil shale deposits.

Oil shale doesn't actually contain oil, but it can be processed into synthetic oil via an elaborate and expensive process. This Utah project would be the first oil shale mine in the U.S.

Environmental groups are ratcheting up their fight against the plans. Here are the details from a press release put out Wednesday by the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and three other groups:


Nuclear plant leak patched up near Lake Erie

Perry nuclear power plant

A valve leak was discovered Monday at Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio, causing the release of radioactive tritium into groundwater near Lake Erie. Fortunately, it was patched up by Wednesday, according to plant owner FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. It’s not known when the leak sprung nor how much tritium it released.

Here’s more from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Cattle ranchers lose bid to shoot bison with biobullets

Don't shoot!

Most of the country's bison herds have crossbred with domestic cattle, but one purebred herd still roams in Yellowstone National Park. About half of the park's 4,600 purebred bison are thought to have been exposed to brucellosis, a bacterial infection that also affects cattle. 

Nearby ranchers want the wild beasts inoculated against the disease to help protect their cattle herds. Capturing the bison and administering vaccines is out of the question. Because they're wild. Is shooting medicine into each of the animals with an air gun every year the solution?

Ranchers say yes. Environmentalists say no. On Tuesday, following a decade of research and debate, the federal government sided with the environmentalists. Reuters reports:

Read more: Food


Beijing bans new power plants to help clear the air

testing / Shutterstock

Beijing, the hazy home of the world's most famous air pollution, announced new steps on Wednesday to help clear the air.

No new fossil fuel-burning power plants will be allowed to be built in the city, and existing facilities will not be allowed to expand. Same goes for steel and cement factories and oil refineries. The rules will take effect in March, Reuters reports:


Texans want frackers to stop causing earthquakes


Some North Texans who have been enduring a months-long flurry of earthquakes want the shaking to stop -- and they believe that means putting an end to a controversial fracking practice.

“Is somebody going to help us?” one resident asked the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas and oil drilling, during a hearing on Tuesday. “I’ve heard of tornado alley. I’ve never heard of earthquake alley.”

The dozens of residents who traveled to Austin for the hearing want frackers barred from injecting their wastewater underground at high pressure. Scientists have linked the practice to earthquakes in other regions.


Last year was the fourth hottest on record, or maybe the seventh


Our extreme-weather-wearied planet fell short in 2013 of breaking the record for hottest year in modern civilization, but it came close. Last year was either the fourth hottest since record-keeping began, or the seventh, depending on which U.S. agency's data you most trust.

At the surface of the seas and everywhere else around the world, last year was an average of 1.12 degrees F warmer than the 20th century average, NOAA concluded. That made 2013 the 37th year in a row with above-average global temperatures, according to NOAA's calculations.

NASA performed its own analysis, concluding that 2013 tied 2006 and 2009 as the seventh warmest year since 1880. explains that the discrepancy between the two agencies' findings is no big deal:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Plant STD linked to honeybee collapse

bee on flower

It's time to have a little talk about the flowers and the bees.

Major crops including soybeans and tobacco can suffer from a crippling malady called tobacco ringspot virus. The disease is spread through sex, which in the plant kingdom involves the freaky use of vibrating creatures: bees. Honeybees and other pollinators carry infected pollen from one plant to the other and, in doing so, can spread the virus, which is also called TRSV.

What's really freaky is that scientists have discovered that bees can become infected with the ringspot virus of the plants upon which they feed. The researchers report in the journal mBio that the unusual inter-kingdom host-species jump could be linked to colony collapse disorder. Here's more from Science Codex:

Read more: Food


Canada sued over approval of “toxic” GMO salmon

Atlantic salmon

Canadian officials ventured into uncharted legal and ecological waters when they approved the cultivation and export of genetically engineered salmon eggs last year. And now environmental groups have sued the government, claiming the approval illegally disregarded the potential for the transgenic fish to become an invasive species.

Quick background: AquaBounty Technologies Inc. has developed Atlantic salmon that grow more quickly than their natural cousins, thanks to the presence of DNA from Chinook salmon and from an eel-like fish called the ocean pout. The company wants to cultivate eggs for this AquAdvantage salmon on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, hatch the eggs and grow the salmon in Panama, then export the meat to the U.S. Approval from the U.S. government is still pending.

Some environmentalists worry that the GMO fish will escape, breed, and outcompete wild species. Under Canadian law, an invasive species can be defined as "toxic" in the environment. Three Canadian nonprofits are claiming that definition of "toxic" could apply to the AquAdvantage salmon and their eggs. Here's the crux of their legal argument, as described by Global News: