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John Upton's Posts


Big biz fights Obama admin’s calculations on carbon costs

The White House
Is he pondering the social cost of carbon?

Big business doesn't like the way the Obama administration tallies the costs of carbon pollution. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and other industry groups are fighting the federal government's latest "social cost of carbon" calculations.

The social cost of carbon is an attempt to quantify the climate-related costs of fossil-fuel burning — costs associated with floods, falling farmland productivity, and climate-related illnesses. The social cost of carbon was raised by the Obama administration in May, from $23.80 per ton to $38.

The change would help justify federal policies that more aggressively rein in carbon pollution. And that’s not something that groups representing America’s biggest and dirtiest companies want.


ExxonMobil company charged with fracking-related crimes

Image (5) exxon_flag.jpg for post 9090ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy is being prosecuted for alleged environmental crimes after it spilled fracking wastewater into a Pennsylvania river in 2010.

The company's response? It claims the criminal charges could harm the environment.

We told you about this spill in July -- that's when the company agreed to pay a $100,000 federal fine for spilling 57,000 gallons of contaminated fluids out of sloppily maintained tanks in Penn Township and into a tributary of the Susquehanna River. It also agreed to spend $20 million to get its frackwater treatment and disposal facilities up to scratch in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Following a grand jury investigation, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office announced this week that XTO was also being charged with five counts of violating Pennsylvania law:


Let’s fight the 1 percent — of power plants

Navajo Generating Station
One of the dirtiest power plants in America.

It's time to target the 1 percent.

But we're not talking about bankers or CEOs this time. We're talking about the nearly 1 percent of American power plants -- 50 of them, all fueled by coal -- that produce 30 percent of the U.S. power sector's climate-changing pollution.

A new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center says America's 6,000 power plants, which collectively produce 41 percent of the country's carbon emissions, are the world's single greatest contributor to climate change. To address that problem, the authors recommend targeting the dirtiest facilities:

Dirty power plants produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution -- especially given the relatively small share of total electricity they produce. For example, despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, the 50 dirtiest power plants only produced 16 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011.


Hay contaminated with Monsanto GMOs rejected for export

Alfalfa, aka lucerne
Bad news for Washington farmers?

Pity a Washington farmer who grew a crop of GMO-free alfalfa only to have it rejected for export -- because tests showed it had been tainted by a genetically modified variety.

An exporter found the farmer's hay to have been contaminated with Roundup-resilient alfalfa, which was developed by Monsanto and approved for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011. Farmers who grow the GMO alfalfa can douse their fields with the herbicide Roundup without hurting the crop.

Reuters reports:

GMO opponents have warned for more than a decade that, because alfalfa is a perennial crop largely pollinated by honeybees, it would be almost impossible to keep the genetically modified version from mixing with conventional alfalfa. Cross-fertilization could devastate conventional and organic growers' businesses, they said.

But even though U.S. regulators have deemed biotech alfalfa to be as safe as non-GMO varieties, many foreign buyers will not accept the genetically modified type because of concerns about the health and environmental safety of such crops.


Should North Dakota be exempt from federal fracking rules?

fracking equipment
Frack that.

Draft federal fracking rules unveiled in May were awfully fracker-friendly, but North Dakota lawmakers are still arguing that they would stifle the industry in their state. They are asking the Interior Department to exempt the drilling bonanza in North Dakota's Bakken oil fields from the new federal rules.

"The unique geology, technology, and innovation in North Dakota exemplifies why a one-size-fits-all approach to oil and gas regulation does not work," wrote Sen. John Hoeven (R), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) in an Aug. 23 letter dug up by The Hill.


Sorry, skeptics: Arctic ice is still melting quickly this summer

A polar bear on Arctic Ice
Click to embiggen.
National Snow and Ice Data Center
Click to embiggen.

First the good news: Arctic ice melt has not been as extreme this summer as during last year's historic collapse.

The bad news is that the melt has been more extreme this summer than the 20-year average -- no surprises there, given the icy clime's rapid decline.

The Arctic's August 2013 ice coverage is shown in the image on the right. The black cross shows the North Pole and the magenta outline shows the average ice cover at the same time of year from 1981 to 2010.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Is this a La Niña or El Niño year? Try La Nada

C'mon Pacific Ocean, heat up or cool down. All this average crap is making us nervous.

Meteorologists base a lot of their long-term weather projections on temperatures in the globally influential Pacific Ocean. But for more than a year the world's most expansive ocean has been devoid of its famed El Niño and La Niña patterns -- anomalously higher-than-average or lower-than-average bands of sea-surface water that help govern major weather events.

For now, the Pacific is stuck in a stubborn La Nada state: near-normal surface height and temperatures. Scientists say it could last into the spring, but that's not so unusual: La Nada rules the Pacific about half the time. But it makes life difficult for weather forecasters, and it threatens to ignite unpredictably extreme weather. From NASA:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Carbon-friendly skies: Flying smaller airlines reduces your footprint

Alaska Air
Frank Kovalchek
Alaska Air is the most climate-friendly domestic airline.

Air travel is the most carbon-intensive mode of transportation, and the industry has long resisted efforts to improve its efficiency --- which is weird, given the high price of aviation fuel (it's basically the Moët & Chandon of refined oil).

But some airlines are more efficient than others. The nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation analyzed domestic airlines' fuel consumption, passenger and flight data from 2010 to produce a fuel-efficiency metric.

The analysis revealed that you can personally reduce your airborne carbon footprint by traveling with smaller carriers. The most egregious global warmers tend to be merger-prone corporate giants. From the findings, published in a new report [PDF]:

Of the carriers with above average fuel efficiency in domestic operations, Alaska Airlines (ranked first), Spirit Airlines (tied for second), and Hawaiian Airlines (tied for second) are relatively small carriers serving geographically limited markets.


We don’t need no stinking permits: California frackers get their way

Fran Pavley and Jerry Brown
Senator Fran Pavley on Facebook
Calif. Sen. Fran Pavley lost her spine. Will Gov. Jerry Brown protect his state?

Until last week, the days of unbridled fracking in California appeared to be drawing to a close. But then legislation that would require drillers to obtain permits before work could begin was abruptly watered down, potentially handing the oil and gas industry a significant lobbying victory.

Senate Bill 4 passed the state senate last week following its approval by the assembly -- but not before its author, a Democrat from Los Angeles, watered down her own legislation. The bill will now head back to the lower house for another vote there.

Environmentalists who had cautiously supported the bill, which many described as flawed, have turned into vociferous opponents. The East Bay Express explains:

Last week, after intense backroom lobbying, the powerful oil and gas industry convinced state Senator Fran Pavley of Los Angeles, the sponsor of SB 4, to further weaken her legislation and include poison-pill amendments. If enacted, it promises to do more harm than good.

Under the eleventh-hour changes, SB 4 would require state regulators to green-light all fracking requests by oil and gas companies in California until at least July 1, 2015, when the state is scheduled to complete an environmental review of fracking in California. You read that right. Before the environmental review is complete, the bill says that state regulators "shall" approve all requests to shoot toxic chemicals and water into the earth to release otherwise trapped fossil fuels.


There’s arsenic in your rice, but don’t worry about it, says FDA

A rice paddy.
Rice grows in water, which is often contaminated with arsenic.

Whenever you eat rice, a prevalent but poisonous element is all over your meal like, well, white on rice.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration tested 1,300 samples of rice and rice-based products and found that they all contained very low levels of arsenic [PDF].

Grains of rice tested had average levels of inorganic arsenic ranging from 2.6 to 7.2 micrograms per serve. Tragically, instant rice contained the least amount of arsenic and brown rice had the most. Products containing rice ingredients also contained arsenic.

That isn't much arsenic -- a microgram is one-millionth of a gram, and there are 28 grams in an ounce. But is it dangerous?

Read more: Food