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Big green groups demand an end to Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy

Obama
White House

Leading environmental groups are telling President Barack Obama that it's time to drop his climate-screwing "all of the above" energy strategy, which promotes rampant drilling and mining of fossil fuels as well as green alternatives.

Eighteen groups sent a letter to Obama on Thursday, pointing out that his strategy "fails to prioritize clean energy and solutions that have already begun to replace fossil fuels," and arguing that it's "a compromise that future generations can’t afford." The signers include the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Here's more from the letter:

We believe that continued reliance on an “all of the above” energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We understand that the U.S. cannot immediately end its use of fossil fuels and we also appreciate the advantages of being more energy independent. But an “all of the above” approach that places virtually no limits on whether, when, where or how fossil fuels are extracted ignores the impacts of carbon-intense fuels and is wrong for America’s future. America requires an ambitious energy vision that reduces consumption of these fuels in order to meet the scale of the climate crisis.

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U.N. climate chief calls for fossil-fuel divestment

Christiana Figueres
Arend Kuester

Take your money out of dirty energy and put it into clean energy. No, that's not 350.org talking (not this time, at least) -- that's from Christiana Figueres, chief of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

On Wednesday, Figueres called on big firms that manage trillions of dollars of investments to dump fossil fuel stocks in favor of greener alternatives, arguing that such a shift would help the firms’ clients as well as the climate.

“The pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds,” she said. “Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy.”

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Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could be environmentally devastating, EPA says

Boating on Bristol Bay
Friends of Bristol Bay
Locals enjoy Bristol Bay in its pre-polluted state.

A colossal gold, copper, and molybdenum mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could devastate the region’s ecosystem and fishing industry, according to a new report from the U.S. EPA.

“[L]arge-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran told reporters upon releasing the report.

Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty wants to build the Pebble Mine in the area, but it hasn't yet applied for federal permits, so the EPA's study was about the potential impacts of hypothetical mining in the region rather than the Pebble Mine specifically. Still, it was a damning indictment of Northern Dynasty's plans. (The U.K.-based Anglo American mining corporation dumped its stake in the project in September, and the U.K.-based Rio Tinto is considering whether to do the same.)

Tribes, fishermen, and environmentalists are pressuring the agency to block Pebble Mine under its Clean Water Act powers. This new EPA report was all about the science -- it doesn't make any policy recommendations -- but its findings could be used to support such a move.

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Older trees best at fighting climate change

Redwood
mindgrow

As humans age, we tend to pass more gas. As trees age, they tend to suck more of it up.

A new paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature has blown away old misconceptions about the roles that the most mature trees in forests play in combating climate change.

It has long been believed that younger trees are better than their older neighbors at absorbing carbon dioxide. But the new research suggests that the opposite is true. It turns out that big trees just keep on growing, at fast rates, and the growth depends on carbon that the trees draw from the air around them.

"In whatever forest you look at, be it old or new growth, it is the largest trees that are the greater carbon sinks," William Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, told Grist. "Not the smaller, younger trees, as was previously thought."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Major newspaper coverage of climate change plummeted last year

stack of newspapers
Shutterstock

We were feeling optimistic a couple of weeks ago when we reported that mainstream media coverage of climate and energy issues was up last year. But it turns out that if you remove the "and energy," the numbers are actually pretty depressing.

The University of Colorado’s Center for Science & Technology Research monitors mentions of “global warming” and “climate change” in five major U.S. newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Check out the following sad graph showing its latest findings:

Click to embiggen.
University of Colorado
Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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North Dakota’s top oil regulator is also its top oil promoter

pom-poms
Shutterstock

In North Dakota, where an oil boom is leading to spills and explosions, the top oil regulator also serves as a cheerleader for the oil industry. And some Democrats think it's time for the pom-poms to change hands.

The Forum News Service reports that state's Senate and House minority leaders have asked the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which oversees industries including oil and gas, to separate the oil regulation and promotion responsibilities of the Department of Mineral Resources's boss.

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Fungi could help boost crops and slow global warming

mushroom pizza
k.segars
Mmmm, fungi.

If not for an underground love affair between the fungal and plant kingdoms, today's planet would be a far less hospitable place.

Mycorrhizal fungi are critical for more varieties of crops than are bees -- nine out of 10 crops have roots that are encrusted with these fungal tentacles. The fungi rummage through soil, fetching water and nutrients and delivering them to the roots of crops and other plants, receiving carbon-rich sugars produced through photosynthesis in return. The fungi protect the plants, which they are basically farming for sugar, from diseases and drought. The myco relationship was formed some 460 million years ago, allowing plants to migrate from the sea onto land, where they started helpfully drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, stowing carbon in the soil, and releasing oxygen into the air.

As scientists search for new ways to boost crop yields, they are turning their attention to this ancient and oft-ignored union between plants and fungus. Along the way, their research could have the additional benefit of slowing down climate change. From a magazine piece that I wrote recently for The Ascender:

The power of myco fungus lies in its partnership with plants. The relationship is known as mutualism -- each species benefits. But what if we could make a fungus more generous -- turn it into a selfless worker that fetches nitrogen, phosphorous and water for plants while asking for a pittance in return?

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researcher Toby Kiers thinks cheap-date-tolerating fungi hold promise for the ecosystems of the future -- a world in which land recovers more quickly and produces more bountiful crops than ever before.

Kiers is preparing to conduct a series of experiments using different strains of myco fungi. She has secured funding to watch mycelia squeeze through tiny mazes, peering at them through microscopes as they trade nutrients with plants for sugars under different conditions. The goal, she says, is to “study their decision-making skills.”

And here's Modern Farmer describing research by Monsanto, which is studying how fine-tuning myco fungi and other naturally occurring microorganisms could boost farm productivity:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Disney radio will stop shilling for frackers

Mickey Mouse playground equipment
chuck holton

A Radio Disney station in Ohio recently teamed up with the state's oil and gas industry on an "educational program" promoting resource extraction -- from Never Land to Gasland, you might say. The partnership made many parents and environmentalists unhappy.

From Al Jazeera:

The program, called Rocking in Ohio, went on a 26-stop tour of elementary schools and science centers across the state last month. It involves interactive demonstrations of how oil and gas pipelines work, and is led by three staffers from Radio Disney’s Cleveland branch. It is entirely funded by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), which gets its money from oil and gas companies.

The Wooster Daily Record described the tour's stop at the Wayne County fairgrounds last year:

Radio Disney of Cleveland and its road crew promoted the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, with games pitting all ages of children vs. their peers and even families vs. families and dads trying to beat other dads in a variety of challenges. All the challenges, except perhaps the dads' dance competition, related back to the science behind oil and gas production and their value as natural resources. ...

One of the challenges was "literally creating our own pipeline," [said Jag, the Radio Disney master of ceremonies], using balls and tubing to demonstrate "how we get oil and gas to your home."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Canada’s energy officials take over job of protecting fish from pipelines

A salmon in Canada
Arthur Chapman

Move aside, Canadian federal fisheries and oceans officials. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's administration has decided that the nation's fossil-fuel-friendly energy regulators would do a better job of protecting fish in streams and lakes that cross paths with gas and oil pipelines. Northwest Coast Energy News has the scoop:

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has handed responsibility for fish and fish habitat along pipeline routes over to the National Energy Board. ...

DFO and NEB quietly announced a memorandum of agreement on December 16, 2013, that went largely unnoticed with the release three days later of the Joint Review Panel decision on Northern Gateway and the slow down in news coverage over the Christmas holidays. ...

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Tests show Texas well water polluted by fracking, despite EPA assurances

A well
Shutterstock

Environmentalists and residents of Parker County, Texas, were dismayed last year when the EPA dropped an investigation into complaints that fracking by Range Resources was contaminating local water supplies with methane.

As part of a legal settlement that got the EPA off its back, the company agreed to test well water in the city of Weatherford, where the complaints were centered. Sure enough, Range's test results found minimal levels of methane in the water.

"According to the EPA, the sampling that Range Resources has completed indicates no widespread methane contamination of concern in the wells that were sampled in Parker County," the agency's inspector general wrote last month in a report requested by lawmakers.

But here comes the report's kicker: "However, the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination." In the report, the inspector general called on the EPA to evaluate the testing results being provided by Range Resources and to work with the state to "ensure appropriate action is taken" to address any methane and benzene pollution.

And now, less than a month after the inspector general's report was published, Bloomberg has a disturbing new update:

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.

Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case.

The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy.