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John Upton's Posts


American company sues Canada over fracking moratorium

The St. Lawrence River
The St. Lawrence River.

Quebec isn't entirely sure about this whole fracking thing. Amid reports from across the continent of groundwater pollution, air pollution, deforestation, and other environmental side effects of hydraulic fracturing, the Canadian province has placed a moratorium on the practice beneath the St. Lawrence River.

That doesn't sit well with Lone Pine Resources, a Delaware-based company that has long eyed the gas and oil that's locked up in the Utica shale beneath the grand waterway. The company claims it spent millions to get the appropriate permits to drill, and now that the fossil fuels seem out of reach, it says Canadians need to pony up more than $250 million in compensation.

The company last month submitted a claim [PDF] to an international arbitration system seeking damages because of "Quebec’s arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation" of its "valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River." The claim is based on Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows private companies to sue governments when laws hurt their expected profits.


Monsanto just dropped $1 billion on better weather forecasts

North Idaho wheat field
Gary Beck
Who's watching the weather for the farmers?

Congressional paralysis is freezing or slashing national spending on weather forecasting and monitoring. Plans to deploy a next-generation array of satellites known as COSMIC-2 could be cut by lawmakers as part of the sequester spending cuts -- if only they would pass a budget. And workers at NASA, which provide data used by climate researchers the world over, are being furloughed.

But Monsanto -- that profitable agro-corporation that wields ever-increasing power over the world's food supply -- is taking a smarter approach. As the effects of climate change devastate crops the world over, Monsanto has announced it is buying the Climate Corporation for $930 million. From the press release:

“Farmers around the world are challenged to make key decisions for their farms in the face of increasingly volatile weather, as well as a proliferation of information sources,” said David Friedberg, chief executive officer for The Climate Corporation. “Our team understands that the ability to turn data into actionable insight and farm management recommendations is vitally important for agriculture around the world and can greatly benefit farmers, regardless of farm size or their preferred farming methods. Monsanto shares this important vision for our business and we look forward to creating even greater experiences for our farmer customers.”

Modern Farmer explains the acquisition:

Climate Corporation underwrites weather insurance for farmers, basically in real time, using some of the most sophisticated data tools available to determine the risks posed by future weather conditions and events.


In Silicon Valley hub, new homes must be wired for electric cars

Tesla roadsters charging at the company's Palo Alto headquarters.
John Upton
Tesla roadsters charging at the company's Palo Alto headquarters.

If you build a new home in Tesla Motors' hometown, your electrician is going to need to wire it up for an electric vehicle charger.

The Palo Alto, Calif., City Council recently endorsed a building-code change that would require builders to include wiring in new homes that can easily be connected to a charger. The council also directed city staff to figure out how to make it easier and cheaper to obtain permits for new EV chargers.


Kiribati climate refugees fighting to stay in New Zealand

A Kiribati couple and their children have left their island home for New Zealand, seeking refuge from rising seas -- and the fate of their immigration case could shape the future for thousands of other climate refugees.

Kiribati looks like a tough place to leave -- but some of its citizens driven from their homeland by rising seas are telling New Zealand that they had no choice.

We told you last year that the 100,000 people who live on the low-lying Pacific Ocean archipelago are desperately seeking new homes, with waves already submerging some of its 32 carol atolls. Now, attention has turned to the case of a 37-year-old and his wife and kids who are seeking asylum in New Zealand after fleeing six years ago.

Here's the story the man told New Zealand's immigration tribunal, via the AP:

The man said that around 1998, king tides began regularly breaching the sea walls around his village, which was overcrowded and had no sewerage system. He said the fouled drinking water would make people vomit, and that there was no higher ground that would allow villagers to escape the knee-deep water.

He said returning to the island would endanger the lives of his two youngest children.

"There's no future for us when we go back to Kiribati," he told the tribunal, according to the transcript. "Especially for my children. There's nothing for us there."


Army going green to cut back on dangerous fuel convoys

Fuel convoy in Afghanistan
A Marine pours fuel into cans delivered by a convoy in Afghanistan.

We've written at length about the American military's push to go green, and how that's helping to turn the world's most powerful defense force into a leaner and meaner fighting machine.

But here's another reason for the guys and gals in green to ditch dirty fossil fuels: Shifting to solar or wind power can spare soldiers from the dangerous task of hauling massive amounts of incendiary fluids across battlefields -- becoming prime targets for anti-American forces.

In Afghanistan, one life is lost for every 24 deliveries that are attempted, according to a new article in Bloomberg:

With renewable energy, “there is no supply chain vulnerability, there are no commodity costs and there’s a lower chance of disruption,” Richard Kidd, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army in charge of energy security, said in an interview. “A fuel tanker can be shot at and blown up. The sun’s rays will still be there.”


Big Coal buries Obama’s renewable-friendly energy regulator

Ron Binz
Ron Binz.

Anybody casting an eye down the desolate hallway of a furloughed federal department might conclude that Congress is incapable of doing anything. But that's not quite true. This week it succeeded in hounding a well-qualified energy regulator out of the energy-regulating job to which he had been nominated.

President Obama had nominated Ron Binz to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But after being attacked for weeks by coal companies and their Republican (and Democratic) friends in Congress, the former chair of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday gave up any hope of securing the blessing that he needed from lawmakers.

Why all the hate? Because Binz supports solar and wind power -- renewable forms of energy that he has concluded can help America hedge against the economic volatility and environmental hazards posed by fossil fuels.


Florida citrus growers binge on pesticides, endangering bees

Girl in an orange grove
Don't breathe in!

Floridian citrus growers are upping the chemical ante as they struggle to save their groves from citrus greening -- a devastating bacterial infection spread by tiny invasive insects known as Asian citrus psyllids.

While the orange growers used to spray insecticides a few times a year, The Ledger newspaper reports that they are now dousing their groves monthly. (And we recently told you about a Florida's Natural supplier that was accused of spraying its crops every four days with multiple chemicals, killing off honeybee colonies and leading to a $1,500 fine.)

Needless to say, the region's apiarists are none too pleased to see their bees being killed by the insecticides. The Ledger article describes a growing war between Florida's powerful citrus growers and the smaller apiary industry:

Read more: Food


Lawmakers seek answers after oil gushes during Colorado floods

This used to be a hiking trail.
It can be easier to tell what Colorado's floods washed away than what they left behind.

More than 60,000 gallons of oil and other petrochemical-laced fluids are now confirmed to have been spilled from fracking operations during recent floods in Colorado -- and two congressmembers are calling for a hearing into the toxic eruption.

State oil officials have been doing their best to track oil spills and equipment leaks amid floods that killed eight and destroyed 1,800 homes. In an update published Monday [PDF], the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said it is tracking 14 "notable" oil spills that released an estimated 44,000 gallons. It is also monitoring 12 leaks of "produced" water --  an estimated 17,000 gallons of water polluted with oil and gas residue from fracking operations.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, think that's pretty effing disturbing. They sent a letter [PDF] last week to committee chair Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) asking him to schedule a hearing into the effects of leaks from Colorado's fracking sector during the floods:

As Congress continues to consider policies to expand domestic oil and gas production, we would benefit from learning more about how disasters like this can impact local communities, states, and federal regulators. We respectfully request that you hold a committee hearing as soon as possible so that we may fully understand the potential grave consequences resulting from this flood.


Frackers are chewing up Pennsylvania’s forests

A Pennsylvania road
Roads carved through Pennsylvania's forests cause habitat fragmentation and reduce biodiversity.

Frackers don't just foul the air and the water -- they trample nature and carve up ecosystems into inadequate little pieces.

That's the message coming out of the U.S. Geological Survey, which studied aerial photographs of a handful of Pennsylvania counties where gas companies are using hydraulic fracturing to tap deposits in  the Marcellus Shale. The survey's analysis revealed sweeping damage and forests fragmented by new well pads, roads, and pipelines.

Jason Bell, a member of Marcellus Outreach Butler, told the Valley News Dispatch that the new study offers yet another example of why more careful regulation of the fracking boom is needed. "Often we don't get a bird's-eye view of what's happening," he said. "It's easy to see one or two wells and think it's having isolated effects."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate adaptation goes mainstream in Wisconsin

Federal agencies released their plans for adapting to climate change in February. The European Commission approved its adaptation strategy in April. New York unveiled a $19.5 billion plan in June, prompted by Hurricane Sandy to join the likes of London, Chicago, and Quito, Ecuador.

But climate adaptation isn't just for the big players. Today, Dane County, Wis., which has a population of 500,000, will propose a budget that includes nearly $1 million worth of climate-adaptation spending -- aimed at everything from new storm water infrastructure to sand bags and other emergency equipment.

A storm over Madison
Richard Hurd
A summer storm over Wisconsin's capital, Madison, which is in Dane County.

“We’re looking at warmer and wetter weather and preparing for the potential challenges,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told The Cap Times:

Dane County may have already experienced what a warmer Wisconsin could look like. Last year saw a summer drought, a winter of few but major snow events, a quick spring meltdown and then summer thunderstorms that brought flooding.

UW-Madison climate scientists are now predicting that by 2050, statewide annual average temperatures are likely to warm by 6 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, with three or more weeks per summer where temperatures exceed 90 degrees.

Read more: Climate & Energy