Skip to content Skip to site navigation

John Upton's Posts


Floating offshore wind turbines spinning near Fukushima

wind energy

Even as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant sits idle, dribbling radiation and awaiting deconstruction, refreshing winds of change are gusting off the nearby shoreline.

A floating wind turbine began operating about 12 miles off the Fukushima coast on Monday, the first of many planned in a region best known for the 2011 meltdown. From Bloomberg:

The project, funded by the government and led by Marubeni Corp., is a symbol of Japan’s ambition to commercialize the unproven technology of floating offshore wind power and its plan to turn quake-ravaged Fukushima into a clean energy hub.

“Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,” Yuhei Sato, governor of Fukushima, said today at a ceremony in Fukushima marking the project’s initiation. “Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.”


Obama nominates BLM leader Neil Kornze to lead the BLM


President Obama has nominated Nevadan Neil Kornze to lead the Bureau of Land Management. Kornze has championed the administration's plans to lease public lands for solar-energy projects. He's also worked to boost oil and gas drilling on federal land. So it seems he's down with Obama's "all of the above" energy policy.

The nomination shouldn’t come as a huge surprise: Kornze has been filling the BLM’s top job on an interim basis since March. (The last permanent director retired in March 2012.) Kornze joined the agency in late 2011. Previously he worked for eight years as an aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev).

The BLM oversees more than 245 million acres of public land. It leases out land for energy production and farming, manages wildlife, oversees campgrounds and other recreational facilities, and works to control fires. That first responsibility -- leasing land for energy projects -- will keep the agency in the hot seat in years to come as controversy bubbles up about leasing land for fracking and coal mining as well as for solar and wind projects.


Enviros give a thumbs-up to Obama’s new climate chief


President Obama has picked Dan Utech, an experienced environment and energy wonk, to replace outgoing White House climate adviser Heather Zichal. The role doesn't require Senate confirmation, so Utech got right to work today.

His transition shouldn't be too difficult. Up until now he has served as the deputy director for climate at the White House, where he's worked since 2010. Before joining the Obama administration, Utech worked for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and served as energy and environment adviser to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y).


Train loaded with oil derails, explodes, pollutes Alabama wetlands

oil train
This is what an oil train looks like before it goes off the rails and blows up.

Yet another oil-hauling train has derailed and exploded, this one sending flaming cars loaded with North Dakota crude into Alabama wetlands.

The 90-car train derailed early Friday, causing flames to shoot 300 feet into the air. No injuries were reported. One family living in the marshy area was evacuated from their home following the accident. The L.A. Times has the details:

A train that derailed and exploded in rural Alabama was hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, according to officials.

The 90-car train was crossing a timber trestle above a wetland near Aliceville late Thursday night when approximately 25 rail cars and two locomotives derailed, spilling crude oil into the surrounding wetlands and igniting a fire that was still burning Saturday.


Philippines blames climate change for monster typhoon

boy at scene of devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan
Reuters/Erik De Castro

It's hard to comprehend the scale of the disaster in the Philippines, where a massive typhoon may have killed more than 10,000 people. But climate delegates who have gathered today in Warsaw, Poland, for a fresh round of U.N. climate talks will need to do just that.

The Philippines is a densely populated, low-lying archipelago state that sits in warm Pacific Ocean waters -- and warm ocean waters tend to produce vicious tropical storms. The country's geography puts its islands in the path of frequent typhoons (typhoon is the local word -- Americans call such storms hurricanes and others refer to them as cyclones). The Philippines' low and unequally distributed national wealth, meanwhile, leaves its populace highly vulnerable to them.

And in terrible news for Filipinos, climate models show that global warming is making typhoons even more powerful.

Meteorologists have blamed a rise in water temperatures of nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit and other weather conditions last week for stirring up Typhoon Haiyan, which grew to become one of the most damaging storms in world history. Here's a high-level account of the devastation from Reuters:

"The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Sardines have nearly disappeared off West Coast


When Canadian fishermen headed out for their annual sardine hunt in the Pacific Ocean earlier this fall, they got a rude surprise. Their nets came up empty.

Sardine numbers have been in severe decline along the entire West Coast this season, prompting U.S. fisheries authorities to slash catch limits. Fears abound that the fishery's decline will reverberate through the coming years, if not decades. It's happened before: Monterey, Calif.’s famed Cannery Row turned into a ghost town following a sardine collapse in 1950s.

Fishermen lucky enough to come across schools of sardines off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington during the first six months of next year will be allowed to haul in no more than 5,446 metric tons of the baitfish, down nearly 70 percent from the quota this year. The Associated Press reports:

Marci Yaremko of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says the [Pacific Fishery Management Council] decided to take an even more precautionary approach than management guidelines call for because the current assessment was lacking some information, such as surveys showing too few sardines are being born to replace the ones that are caught or eaten by other fish.

"Nothing is suggesting the biomass is stable," said Yaremko, who made the motion to cut the harvest. "Everything suggests a decline."


Obama admin keeps trying to help coal industry, coal industry keeps whining


It would be nearly impossible for any new coal power plants to meet stringent climate regulations proposed by the Obama administration without using carbon-capturing technology. But never fear, coal industry. Here comes Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, reassuring you that "the technology is ready" -- and sprinkling public research funds like fly ash over your sector just to be sure.

Carbon capture involves funneling carbon dioxide produced by power plants deep beneath the ground, where it should do the climate no harm. There's plenty of space beneath some parts of North America where the greenhouse gas could be stashed (sorry, coal-burning Wisconsin, not so much near you, though). But so far affordable methods for injecting CO2 underground remain out of reach.

On Thursday, Moniz announced nearly $84 million in grants to help make economical carbon-capture technology a reality.


U.N. climate talks will be all about the Benjamins

dollars and euros

To slow climate change and protect the world's vulnerable poor from the effects of global warming, the West is going to have to give developing nations a hand. And that hand will need to come in the form of cold, hard cash.

Unfortunately, not a lot of that is on offer right now. That fact will take center stage during international climate talks in Poland over the next two weeks.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's next Conference of the Parties, commonly known as a COP, begins Monday in WarsawOfficials representing nearly 200 countries will bicker and beg as they try to move forward in the quest for a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. That deal was struck way back in 1997. The U.S. never ratified it, Canada ultimately walked away from it, and the agreement expired last year. It's been sticky-taped together through amendments to extend its life until a new agreement can be reached.

During COP talks in Durban, South Africa, in 2011, delegates struck a deal to strike a deal: They agreed to finalize an agreement by 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new agreement would cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit) and begin to take force in 2020 -- and that's under a best-case scenario. Which is also a horrible-case scenario, given that the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise every year.

The issue of equity is always one of the biggest sticking points in U.N. climate talks. How much should rich countries sacrifice and how much should developing countries sacrifice as they try to curb emissions together? It was during the talks in Durban that a solution to this conundrum was concocted: Rich countries would provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the warming world.

Guess how that's going.


Exxon fined for Arkansas spill, sued over Yellowstone spill, and still just keeps making piles of money

oil rigs on piles of money

The federal government wants to fine Exxon $2.7 million for the March oil spill from its 70-year-old pipeline in Mayflower, Ark. The ruptured pipe spewed 5,000 gallons of tar-sands oil and triggered the evacuation of 22 houses, some of which had to be bulldozed.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent a letter [PDF] to the Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. on Wednesday proposing the civil penalty because the company failed to heed test results and take other steps that could have prevented the spill. The fine isn't final yet; Exxon has 30 days to file an appeal. And an appeal seems likely considering that Exxon is claiming PHMSA's analysis contains "fundamental errors."


More nukes? Are you kidding? Enviros push back against Hansen’s call

nuclear power plant

We told you on Monday about an open letter penned by James Hansen and three other prominent climate scientists calling on the world to ramp up development and deployment of "safer" nuclear power. The scientists argue that renewable energy isn't enough to spare the world from the wrath of global warming, and that the power of the atom needs to be better tapped to help get us off fossil fuels.

Publication of the letter coincided with the buildup to this evening's screening by CNN of the controversial pro-nuclear documentary Pandora's Promise.

The issue of nuclear power bitterly divides environmentalists, so plenty of people were not pleased to hear Hansen, a darling of climate-activism circles, leading a call for more nuke power. Many of the environmentalists and scientists who have written rebuttals in recent days have focused on safety concerns and the flailing economics of nuclear power. Here are excerpts from a few of those rebuttals.