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John Upton's Posts


Wind power boom could see British factories operating at night

Inside a factory

Factory workers in the U.K. might be put onto graveyard shifts in a bid to make the most of the country's wind energy supplies.

The National Grid, the power transmission network in the U.K., is considering paying factories and other big customers to operate through the night and during other quiet times. That would shift some commercial electricity demand from peak times to periods when demand is normally lowest but wind continues to blow. Here's The Telegraph with an explanation:


Washington coal export project dumped by Goldman Sachs

coal ship

Goldman Sachs is looking a tad less evil. It has dumped its holdings in a shaky project that would build the Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Wash., intended to be the West Coast's biggest coal export terminal.

It's not that the banking giant discovered a soul. Rather, it's realizing that coal projects in the U.S. are a dumb gamble. Last year, the group's commodity research team warned of "a sharp deceleration in seaborne demand" for coal in a paper titled "The window for thermal coal investment is closing."

Here's Oregon Public Broadcasting with the latest:


Yet another oil train explodes, this time in New Brunswick, Canada

Train tracks
Zach Bonnell

Looking for a way to warm yourself through this bitter North American cold snap? Just huddle around the nearest train tracks in hopes that one of the countless oil-hauling trains traversing the continent will pass by and combust.

It hadn't even been two weeks since a derailed train laden with crude exploded in North Dakota when a similar accident occurred last night near the village of Plaster Rock in New Brunswick, Canada, just beyond the Maine border.

Of the 15 rear cars that jumped the tracks, four were carrying crude oil and four were carrying propane. Derailed cars burned through the night, and emergency responders were unwilling to get close enough to figure out which of the carriages were ablaze. About 45 nearby homes were evacuated after the accident. Fortunately, no injuries have been reported.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Court battle could force New Jersey to resume carbon trading

Chris Christie
L.E.MORMILE / Shutterstock
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doesn't want carbon trading in his state, but he might not have a choice.

Last year was a good one for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-trading program in nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. And on Wednesday, environmentalists will push forward with a bid to make 2014 an even better year -- by dragging New Jersey back into the program.

RGGI, the first mandatory carbon-trading program in the U.S., caps the amount of CO2 that can be released by power plants and allows those facilities to buy and exchange the rights to release the pollution. RGGI revenue, which could hit $2 billion by 2020, is poured back into clean energy programs -- mostly into renewable energy and energy efficiency.

New Jersey was a participant in RGGI when it launched, but in 2011 Gov. Chris Christie (R) directed his administration to withdraw the state from the program -- and it did so without calling for any kind of public comment or debate. Christie and other conservatives at the time lamented the costs to electricity ratepayers and said RGGI wasn't performing as expected. "This program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future," Christie said. "It’s a failure." The majority of state lawmakers today want New Jersey to rejoin RGGI, but they don't have enough votes to overcome an inevitable Christie veto.

So attorneys with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey are rolling up their lawyerly sleeves and heading into an appellate court on Wednesday to battle it out against the state's legal team. Here is NRDC's Dale Bryk with an explanation of the groups' lawsuit:


Will the U.S. lift its 38-year ban on crude oil exports?

oil barrels

The U.S. could start sharing the crude spoils of its environment-ravaging drilling boom with other nations.

The country banned crude exports after the oil shocks of the 1970s. But oil producers and oil-loving politicians alike are starting to push for that export ban to be lifted. Oil companies last year began preparing a legal challenge to the ban, which may argue that it violates international law. And last month, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz suggested that it may be time to consider lifting the ban. "Those restrictions on exports were born, as was the Department of Energy and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, on oil disruptions," he said at an energy forum.


California’s cap-and-trade program could fund high-speed rail

High-speed rail
California High-Speed Rail Authority

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wants to take $250 million raised by the state's cap-and-trade program and put it toward high-speed rail. That plan is expected to be part of the budget he unveils on Friday, The Sacramento Bee reports.

The rail project would carry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours by 2029, then be extended to reach San Diego and Sacramento. A $250 million infusion "could provide a significant lift to the project," the Bee reports -- a lift that's sorely needed. The project has been beset by problems, and finding tens of billions of dollars to pay for it has proven challenging.

From the L.A. Times:


McDonald’s will shift (very slowly) to sustainable beef

A Big Mac

We aren't suggesting that you try this, but should you venture into a McDonald's a few years from now and order a hamburger, some of the beef you end up eating may have come from a sustainably raised cow.

The fast-food giant's first planned purchases of frozen beef patties from “verified sustainable sources" will begin in 2016, the company announced today. That's an important step because McDonald's is a huge international dealer in beef -- it sells more than $5 billion a year worth of Big Macs and less iconically branded hamburgers. Here's more from Joel Makower at GreenBiz:

“Our vision is to buy verifiable, sustainable beef in the future for all of our beef,” said Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president, global sustainability. “We have achieved internal alignment and energy around that aspirational goal, which is a big task,” he told me during a November visit to the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.

Langert says McDonald’s isn’t yet ready to commit to a specific quantity it will purchase in 2016, or when it might achieve its “aspirational goal” of buying 100 percent of its beef from “verified sustainable sources.” (The company will only say that, “We will focus on increasing the annual amount each year.”) Realistically, it could take a decade or more to achieve the 100-percent goal.


Another ship gets stuck in Antarctic ice, and it still doesn’t disprove global warming

Xue Long icebreaker
Arctic Climate Change, Economy and Society
The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, before it got stuck.

We told you last week about a Russian icebreaker trapped in Antarctic sea ice, and how this event doesn't mean climate change is magically not happening.

Now a Chinese icebreaker sent to rescue the Russian icebreaker is also stuck in sea ice, and this still doesn't mean climate change is magically not happening.

We’ve explained previously that the relatively thin crust of Antarctic sea ice appears to be growing, even as glaciers and ice sheets in the Antarctic melt and as Arctic sea ice turns to seawater. The “paradox of Antarctic sea ice” might, counterintuitively, be linked to climate change.

But the current sea-ice strandings cannot be blamed on climate change, nor on the lack of climate change. Rather, the unusual sea-ice conditions in this area of the Antarctic appear to be the result of a collision in 2010 between an iceberg and the edge of a glacier, according to Chris Turney, head of a scientific team that was rescued from the Russian icebreaker last week by helicopter.

Read more: Climate & Energy


U.S. sailors say Fukushima radiation made them sick

USS Ronald Reagan
U.S. Navy
The USS Ronald Reagan.

After Japan was pummeled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to deliver aid. The ship unwittingly sailed straight into a plume of radioactive pollution from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was melting down. Now at least 71 of those sailors are seriously ill.

The sailors are suing the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, owner and operator of the plant, alleging that it downplayed the dangers of the radioactivity -- radioactivity they say has left them riddled with cancers, thyroid problems, and other ailments. From Environment News Service:


California is dangerously short on snow

Lake Tahoe on Dec. 24, 2013
Light Brigading
Lake Tahoe looked enchanting when this photo was taken last month -- but there should be much more snow around it than this.

It might be hard for anybody suffering through a Midwestern blizzard to sympathize, but the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California is seriously short on snow.

That's not just bad news for skiers and for the wintertime industry that caters to them. When the snow melts, it provides water to residents all the way west to San Francisco and south to Los Angeles. It also replenishes streams and rivers used by salmon and other wildlife. Less snow in winter means less water later in the year. (Meanwhile, L.A. just set a new record for the lowest annual rainfall on record.)

Officials measured the Sierra snowpack on Friday and found it to be storing just 19 percent of the average amount of water for this time of year. That matches a record low set at this time last year, suggesting that the region is at the beginning of a third straight year of drought.

Read more: Climate & Energy