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John Upton's Posts

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California and Illinois release draft fracking rules, and California’s are better

fracking site
Bureau of Labor Statistics

If poring over draft fracking regulations is your cup of tea, then we've got a big steaming teapot for you.

California and Illinois both proposed rules governing hydraulic fracturing on Friday, after their governors signed bills requiring them earlier this year. A quick read of the tea leaves suggests that frackers are going to continue plundering Illinois with little thought given to environmental impacts. Frackers operating in California, however, will need to abide by some tough new regulations -- but not tough enough to mollify environmentalists, who continue to call for a fracking moratorium in the Golden State.

Let's look at Illinois first. "The new rules will include requirements that oil and gas companies test water before, during and after drilling, and hold them liable if contamination is found after drilling begins," the Associated Press reports. But that's not good enough, greens say.

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Eight more U.S. coal generators bite the dust

Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky
JHP
The Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky will shut down two of its three coal-burning units.

The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down eight of its coal-burning generating stations in Alabama and Kentucky. Board members of the federally owned utility agreed to the plan last week, reacting to changing market conditions and federal environmental rules. The move will reduce coal generation by 3,300 megawatts in the two states.

The decision is being seen as a blow to the local coal industry, but a boon for the region’s air quality. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) met with TVA's CEO in a bid to dissuade the utility from shuttering coal plants, but to no avail. Enviros, meanwhile, cheered the development.

Absent from the seemingly positive news, however, is any mention of renewables. Wind and solar farms are being built across the country, but TVA said it’s hoping to turn to natural gas and nuclear power to help it plug the gaps created by its abandonment of coal.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Logging on the rise again in the Brazilian Amazon

Deforestation in the Amazon
Sam Beebe, Ecotrust
Can you tell which part has been logged?

Buried amid the bleak news in a forest study that we told you about last week was a glimmer of hope: Analysis of satellite images taken from 2000 to 2012 revealed that deforestation was slowing down in Brazil.

But new Brazilian government figures, from August 2012 to July 2013, indicate that bad news is back: Amazonian deforestation over that period increased by 28 percent compared to the preceding 12 months. The Guardian reports:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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U.N. climate talks: Four countries behaving badly

climate protesters in Warsaw
Oxfam International
Climate activists are not happy with Japan, Poland, Australia, and Canada.

There have been more disappointments than encouraging signs at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, which have just passed the halfway mark. They're intended to lay the groundwork for a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but it's not going well so far. Rich countries are not outlining how they will fund the planned $100-billion-a-year Green Climate Fund. Discussions involving agriculture have been taken off the table, even though farming reforms could substantially reduce global carbon emissions. And nobody can agree on how best to protect carbon-soaking forests.

But of the 190 countries that have sent delegates to Warsaw, four in particular have been the target of international anger over recent announcements, acts of obstructionism, and failure to commit to protect the world from global warming.

Japan

Japan is the fifth biggest greenhouse gas polluter, but it had committed to reducing its carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Then Fukushima melted down and the country switched from a nuclear-powered diet to a fossil-fueled one. Now the country's leaders are pointing to that tragedy as they walk away from their climate-change goals. Japan's new goal? Emissions in 2020 that are 3.5 percent below 2005 levels. Which is even worse than it sounds. That means a 3.1 percent emissions increase from 1990 to 2020.

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Entire Texan town evacuated after pipeline explosion

milford-explosion.jpg
NBC

A Texas town an hour's drive from Dallas was a ghost town over the weekend. Plumes of smoke hung ghoulishly over its sky, visible from more than 25 miles away.

Which company ruined the weekend of the entire town, condemning its residents to crappy nearby hotel rooms? Chevron.

One of the company's pipelines exploded early Thursday as a Chevron crew was working on it, triggering a long-burning fire and the nearby town's evacuation. No injuries were reported. From a CNN report on Saturday:

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Bill would promote bogus wind-turbine syndrome lawsuits in Wisconsin

Wind energy in Wisconsin
- Deb -

Wind-turbine syndrome doesn't exist. Sure, wind turbines can be annoying. But there isn't a shred of peer-reviewed medical evidence that they can actually make anybody sick.

Yet a new Wisconsin bill scheduled for a hearing next week would make it easier for people living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue the energy developer for "physical and emotional harm suffered by the plaintiff, including for medical expenses, pain, and suffering." And to sue for relocation expenses if they want to move away from turbines. And to sue over drops in property values. Never mind that researchers have also ruled out any impacts of wind farms on the value of nearby properties.  

SB 167 wouldn't just affect new turbines. It could be applied retroactively to sue existing wind farms out of existence.

Needless to say, the bill is just another effort to stamp out the growth of renewable energy in coal-friendly Wisconsin, which is already lagging behind much of the rest of the country in wind power.

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Court upholds California’s cap-and-trade system

industrial-in-california.jpg
Timothy Wells

Some California polluters don't think they should have to pay for the right to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so they sued the state to try to block its year-old carbon-trading system.

But a state judge this week rejected those lawsuits. One of the suits was filed by the California Chamber of Commerce. The other was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to "protect businesses against unfair burdens," part of its master plan for "rescuing liberty from coast to coast." The chamber and the liberty rescuers both pledged to appeal the ruling.

From KQED:

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Arizona utility scores tiniest possible victory in war on solar

solar panels on roofs
David Crummey

Arizona Public Service Co. isn't very happy that so many of its customers have solar panels. It wants to sell electricity to them, not the other way around. So it has been campaigning to convince regulators to impose new rules that would make it more expensive for customers to maintain solar arrays on their roofs.

Currently, under a net-metering program, the utility must buy excess power produced by customers' rooftop solar panels. It's been proposing that it should pay a lot less for that power -- $50 to $100 less a month.

On Thursday, following two days of hearings, regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission voted 3-t0-2 to reject the utility company's bid. Instead, they imposed a fee on new net-metering customers that will work out to about $5 a month. Current net-metering customers are exempt from the new fee. 

Bloomberg reports:

Arizona is one of 43 states that require utilities to buy solar power from customers with rooftop solar systems. This lowers consumers’ monthly power bills and reduces revenue for the power companies. The decision at a hearing yesterday in Phoenix validates APS’s position that the arrangement is unfair because it shifts some of the costs of maintaining the grid to consumers who don’t have photovoltaic panels.

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The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll

Deforestation in Thailand
Shutterstock

A little more than 300,000 square miles of forest was established or replanted worldwide between 2000 and 2012. Unfortunately, almost 900,000 square miles was destroyed during the same time period -- logged, ravaged by fire, or attacked by insects.

Those are the main conclusions of a study that examined hundreds of thousands of images snapped by the U.S. government's Landsat satellites. Academic researchers partnered with Google staff to produce stunning maps displaying the world's forests and areas that have been deforested or reforested since 2000. Those maps were used to produce the following short videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeZ4yjPqTPw&feature=share&list=PLWw80tqUZ5J_AlZ3dFFi9ePzifX6Ln6Cg

About a third of the deforestation occurred in the tropics, and half of that was in South America. Logging and clearing of land for farming were responsible for much of the loss. Hearteningly, the researchers found that deforestation has been slowing down in Brazil, where worldwide concerns about the loss of the Amazon have helped spur domestic efforts to save the rainforest. But that slowdown was offset by increasing losses in other countries.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Anti-fracking activists celebrate victory in a fourth Colorado city

celebration
Shutterstock

It turns out that it was a clean sweep for opponents of fracking during last week's elections in Colorado.

Voters in the city of Broomfield narrowly approved a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The initial vote tally indicated that the ballot measure had failed by 13 votes, but by the end of an exhaustive recount on Thursday it was revealed it had actually succeeded by 17 votes. The result is expected to be legally certified today, but because the vote was so close there may still be one more recount.

If the latest vote count holds up, it means that measures to ban or suspend fracking succeeded in all four Colorado cities where they were on the ballot. That despite the oil and gas industry pouring more than $870,000 into efforts to defeat the measures, which were promoted by cash-poor but determined grassroots efforts. Boulder and Fort Collins voters extended existing moratoriums on fracking, while Lafayette straight-up outlawed the practice.