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John Upton's Posts


Bay Area commits to 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction


Air-quality officials in the oil-refinery-dotted and highway-laced San Francisco Bay Area committed Wednesday to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the famously progressive region.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District leaders directed agency staff [PDF] to begin the work needed to reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The unanimous vote by the air district's directors was celebrated by environmentalists, including and the Sierra Club, which described it as "historic."

"This is a little more significant than most climate action plans, in that the air district has real regulatory teeth," Bay Area spokesperson Rand Wrobel told Grist. "This resolution will mean that the five refineries in the Bay Area could basically not function, as they produce some 40 percent of the stationary source industrial and commercial emissions."

The heavily polluting refineries could be forced to cut output or vastly improve their environmental performance at a time when they are preparing to begin processing dirty tar-sands oil from Canada.


Kochs and Republicans launch bid to snuff out wind-energy tax incentives


A key tax incentive credited with boosting wind-energy capacity in the U.S. is due to expire in eight weeks, and fossil fuel lobbyists are working hard to blow it to oblivion.

The Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity is launching an advertising campaign calling on lawmakers to allow the production tax credit (PTC) to expire on Dec. 31.

The wind industry says the tax credit was critical in helping it to attract as much as $25 billion in private investment last year, all the while helping the country reduce carbon emissions. A single multinational company credits it with adding hundreds of jobs at its American factories.

Extending the tax credit for five years could cost the federal government $18.5 billion, by one congressional estimate. That's just too much, says the fossil fuel sector, which just so happens to compete with wind energy.


U.N.: Hurry up on climate action or we’re screwed!

How can we fix the world?

World, don't lose heart, but you really need to hustle.

That's the message from the United Nations as international climate delegates prepare to launch into a new round of negotiations next week aimed at cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.

The world agreed in 2009 to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.7 Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. But a report released Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program reminds us that we're not on track to meet that goal -- not even close.

Even if all the pledges made to date by various governments to reduce their emissions are fulfilled, the report warns that temperature rise would still overshoot the 2-degree goal. That's not to say it would be impossible to meet the goal, but a serious sense of urgency would be required.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Crowdfunded science suggests that coal-hauling trains cause air pollution

A coal train

Coal dust is blowing off rail cars and over neighborhoods located near train tracks that are used to haul coal in the Pacific Northwest.

Air monitors placed near the tracks in a Seattle residential area detected spikes in large particles of pollution when coal-hauling cars chugged by. They also picked up an increase in diesel particulate matter. These preliminary research findings suggest that plans to increase the amount of coal hauled from mines in Montana and Wyoming to proposed new shipping terminals in Washington and Oregon will worsen air pollution.

How do we know this? Because 271 people donated $20,529 through the research-focused crowdfunding site Microryza to help buy air monitors and pay for the labor of researchers and a technician.


Ballot effort to ban tar-sands oil from Maine city appears to have failed

"Don't Tar Our Port" signVoters in South Portland, Maine, split like a tar-sands pipeline on Tuesday over whether to allow tar-sands oil to be funneled through their city and loaded onto ships.

But it appears that a ballot initiative that would have prevented dockworkers from handling the Canadian crude failed by a small margin. The Waterfront Protection Ordinance [PDF] was supported by 4,261 voters and opposed by 4,453. Backers might request a recount.

The Bangor Daily News reports:

The ordinance sought to prevent the expansion of petroleum-related activities on the South Portland waterfront and, as a result, the potential transportation of tar sands through a 236-mile pipeline, owned by the Portland Pipe Line Corp., that runs from Montreal, through New Hampshire and into western Maine, where it passes Sebago Lake on its way to South Portland’s waterfront. ...

The Portland Pipe Line Corp. has not officially proposed any such project, but [the company's CEO] in the past has expressed interest in reversing the flow of its pipeline to carry tar sands from Montreal to South Portland harbor, where it would be loaded onto refinery-bound ships. Currently, Portland Pipe Line pumps crude oil from tankers that arrive in South Portland to refineries in the Montreal area, as it has done since 1941. ...


Colorado voters tell fracking industry to frack off

No-fracking sign
Helen Cassidy

Maybe it's the polluted groundwater, river water, and air. Perhaps it's the toxic stew that gushed over Colorado when it flooded. Or it could be the abject lies.

Whatever the fracking industry has done to earn the hostility of voters in at least three Colorado cities, it couldn't be undone by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a pro-fracking ad blitz in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, voters in Boulder, Fort Collins, and Lafayette all approved measures that either banned or placed a moratorium on the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Boulder was the most decisive: Three-quarters of votes cast were in opposition to fracking. A similar initiative in Broomfield was failing by a mere 13 votes at the end of unofficial counting.


More corn grown in U.S. this year than ever before. Thanks, biofuels.

Harvesting corn

Cars and cows are slurping up the largest corn crop ever grown in the U.S.

With the fall corn harvest three-quarters done, traders are anticipating a yield of about 14 billion bushels, Bloomberg reports. That exceeds forecasts and is 30 percent greater than last year. Growers are thanking agreeable weather for this year's early and bountiful harvest, a notable shift after last year's drought woes.

The amount of land used to cultivate corn has been growing during the past 25 years, displacing grasslands and other crops. Meanwhile, the amount of corn grown per acre has tripled since the 1950s due largely to new varieties and heavy doses of herbicides and fertilizers, which have been polluting waterways and fueling algae blooms.


Schools install pricey filters to protect kids from frac sand


Kids should play in sand, not breathe it in.

Wisconsin's New Auburn school district is upgrading air filters to prevent sand fragments from floating in from nearby frac-sand mines and getting into children's lungs.

Much of the sand in the state is perfectly suited to be mixed with water and chemicals and used in fracking operations, where it holds open fractures in shale and allows gas and oil to escape. That's fueling a $1-billion-a-year sand-mining boom, which is bringing notable environmental and health risks to the state.

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports:

Four sand mines operate within a few miles of the school, with the closest less than a half-mile away.


Carbon tax revenues could dwarf fossil fuel losses


Fossil fuel companies stand to miss out on $9 trillion to $12 trillion in profits by the end of the century if carbon emissions are taxed at a high enough level to meet international climate goals. Cry us a river, right?

That's because demand for coal, oil, and natural gas would fall as prices are pushed higher, leading companies to leave vast volumes in the ground, according to a new study.

On the flip side, how much revenue would be generated through taxes or the sale of carbon allowances? The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, found the fossil fuels that are mined and burned would generate carbon-tax or carbon-auction revenues of $21 trillion to $32 trillion during the same period. That means a net economic benefit of as much as $20 trillion.

"Implementing ambitious climate targets would certainly scale down fossil fuel consumption, so with reduced demand their prices would drop," said Nico Bauer, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “The resulting profit loss would be overcompensated by revenues from auctioning emissions permits or taxing CO2."

After crunching numbers with an energy-economy-climate model, Bauer said the researchers were surprised that "revenues from emissions pricing were found to be at least twice as high [as] the profit losses we estimate for the owners of fossil fuels.”


Frackers might soon be allowed to float their wastewater down rivers

A barge on the Mississippi River

We told you the other day that frackers are drawing millions of gallons of water from rivers and streams to pump into their wells. Now the U.S. Coast Guard wants that water returned to the rivers -- floating on barges and laced with radioactive contamination.

Wastewater is a huge problem for the fracking industry. It's produced when the water that frackers pump into the ground returns to the surface -- contaminated with fracking chemicals and also with toxic substances that naturally linger deep beneath the soil. Some of the wastewater is pumped back into the ground, but that can trigger earthquakes. Some of the wastewater is treated like sewage and then poured back into rivers and streams, but that pollutes waterways with the hitherto-subterranean radiation.

The industry wants to be allowed to ship its wastewater away from frack sites to be dumped, stored, or recycled in far-off locations, even in other states. And the Coast Guard is giving the public a month to comment on its proposal to allow this precarious practice to begin. From PublicSource, a news outlet in the heavily fracked state of Pennsylvania:

The Coast Guard began studying the issue nearly two years ago at the request of its Pittsburgh office, which had inquiries from companies transporting Marcellus Shale wastewater.

If the policy is approved, companies can ship the wastewater in bulk on barges on the nation’s 12,000 miles of waterways, a much cheaper mode than trucks or rail. ...