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Obama: “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”

Obama
whitehouse.gov

President Obama laid out a detailed plan to address the causes and impacts of climate change in a speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday. "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing," he said.

A thread throughout Obama's plan is the idea that addressing climate change is a "moral obligation" to our children. The two-page outline of the plan [PDF] sent to reporters Monday evening came with the subhead "Taking Action for Our Kids," and mentioned "kids" or "future generations" a total of four times. The theme carried throughout his speech on Tuesday. "Your children's children will have to live with the consequences of our decisions," he said.

Here are the key components of the plan aimed at reducing U.S. emissions:

  • Directs the EPA to issue draft emission rules for existing power plants by June 2014, to be finalized by June 2015.
  • Asks the EPA to "work expeditiously" on finalizing rules for new power plants that the agency issued in March 2012 (though does not appear to include a due date for that).
  • Pledges that the federal government will draw 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Sets a goal of permitting an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.
  • Sets a goal of putting 100 megawatts of renewable energy on federally subsidized housing by 2020.
  • Creates a new, $8 billion loan guarantee program for advanced fossil fuel projects at the Department of Energy (think clean coal, etc.).
  • Directs the EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans for after 2018 (following up on the 2014-18 rules they rolled out in 2011).
  • Sets a goal of cutting at least 3 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through improvements in energy efficiency standards.
  • Calls for an end to U.S. funding for fossil fuel energy projects overseas unless they include carbon capture technology.

The rules for existing power plants could be huge news, as old, dirty plants account for 40 percent of all emissions in the U.S. But there are scant details on what exactly those rules will entail.

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FEMA report: Climate change could increase areas at risk of flood by 45 percent

Damaged homes along New Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy.
Greg Thompson / USFWS
Damaged homes along New Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy.

Rising seas and increasingly severe weather are expected to increase the areas of the United States at risk of floods by up to 45 percent by 2100, according to a first-of-its-kind report released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday [PDF]. These changes could double the number of flood-prone properties covered by the National Flood Insurance Program and drastically increase the costs of floods, the report finds.

The report concludes that climate change is likely to expand vastly the size and costs of the 45-year-old government flood insurance program. Like previous government reports, it anticipates that sea levels will rise an average of four feet [PDF] by the end of the century. But this is what's new: The portion of the U.S. at risk for flooding, including coastal regions and areas along rivers, will grow between 40 and 45 percent by the end of the century. That shift will hammer the flood insurance program. Premiums paid into the program totaled $3.2 billion in 2009, but that figure could grow to $5.4 billion by 2040 and up to $11.2 billion by the year 2100, the report found. The 257-page study has been in the works for nearly five years and was finally released by FEMA after multiple inquiries from Climate Desk and Mother Jones.

The report attributes only 30 percent of the increased risk of flooding to population growth; 70 percent is due to climate change. FEMA designates what are known as special flood hazard areas, where there is a 1 percent risk in any given year of a major flood occurring. (They're also known as 100-year floodplains.) If you have a federally backed mortgage on your home and it's in a special flood hazard area, you are required by law to carry flood insurance. As of 2013, the NFIP insures 5.6 million properties. But that number could double by 2100, to as many as 11.2 million, the report found.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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On natural gas, green groups can’t make up their minds

Photo by Shutterstock.

Gas is the new coal. At least that's what the Obama administration seems to think. In accepting his nomination to run for a second term, President Obama pledged to "continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet," and to create 600,000 new jobs in the natural gas industry.

The two goals are directly related in the administration's policies; in March 2012, the Obama EPA announced new emissions rules for power plants that meant no new coal plants will be built in the U.S. All those coal plants will likely be replaced with gas-fired plants -- a trend that was already in the works thanks to declining gas prices and increasing supply.

But Obama's enthusiasm for gas puts the big, national environmental groups in a bit of a tough spot. While many recognize that burning gas to generate electricity emits 47 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than coal, concerns about environmental problems stemming from hydraulic fracturing have led many green groups to moderate their stance.

Take, for example, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In late August, EDF announced a $6 million donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, to work on fracking rules in 14 states. Multi-billionaire Bloomberg is a gas booster, but wants to ensure that it's "done through strong, responsible regulation." EDF agrees: "'No drilling no place' is not a strategy, that's a bumper sticker," Jim Marston, vice president of the energy program, told me a few days after the Bloomberg grant was announced.

In short, fracking is going to happen, so EDF might as well make it as safe as possible, Marston argues.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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For Pennsylvania’s doctors, a gag order on fracking chemicals

Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction—but they won't be able to share it with their patients. A provision buried in a law passed last month is drawing scrutiny from the public health and environmental community, who argue that it will "gag" doctors who want to raise concerns related to oil and gas extraction with the people they treat and the general public.

Pennsylvania is at the forefront in the debate over "fracking," the process by which a high-pressure mixture of chemicals, sand, and water are blasted into rock to tap into the gas. Recent discoveries of great reserves in the Marcellus Shale region of the state prompted a rush to development, as have advancements in fracking technologies. But with those changes have come a number of concerns from citizens about potential environmental and health impacts from natural gas drilling.

Read more: Natural Gas

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This is what global warming looks like

Alun Hubbard, a researcher at Aberystwyth University's Center for Glaciology in Wales, recently returned from Greenland's Petermann Glacier. Polar scientists last photographed the glacier, located in the northwest corner of the country, in the summer of 2009. They went back this summer to see how much ice it has lost in just the last two years, and the results were dramatic. "Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the breakup, which rendered me speechless," Hubbard said in response to the images. Below, you …

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Did ExxonMobil break its promise to stop funding climate deniers?

Photo: taberandrewBack in 2008, ExxonMobil pledged to quit funding climate change deniers. But according to new documents released through a Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act request, the oil giant was still forking over cash to climate skeptics as recently as last year, to the tune of $76,000 for one scientist skeptical of humankind's role in global warming. This -- and much more -- came to light in a new report about the funding [PDF] of Wei Hock "Willie" Soon, an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon has been a favorite among climate skeptics for years, since coauthoring a …

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BP’s still making bank

Looks like the past year hasn't been so bad after all for BP, which today reported a 16 percent increase in profits over the first quarter of 2010. The company reported $7.2 billion in net earnings -- compared to $6.2 billion for the first three months of last year. The company sold off a bunch of assets in order to pay for the Gulf oil disaster, which is how they managed to keep the profits up. BP also hasn't been drilling in the deepwater since that whole giant oil catastrophe it unleashed last year. But to still report an increase …

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‘BP hasn’t made people whole’

The Gulf oil disaster largely disappeared from the headlines last August, after the well was finally capped and the federal government declared that most of the oil was "gone." For Gulf coast residents, though, the nightmare was just beginning. A year later, business hasn't come back for many in fishing and tourism, and the compensation check from BP still hasn't arrived. In the areas closest to the shores, people are reporting health problems consistent with exposure to chemicals. Dead turtles, dolphins, and fish are still washing ashore. So are tar balls. So while most of the country has moved on, …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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10 reasons to still be pissed off about the BP disaster

BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. When the Department of Interior issued its first deepwater permit since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it was for a well that BP owns half of. Earlier this month, company officials also announced that they are seeking an agreement with the U.S. government to resume drilling at their 10 deepwater wells in the Gulf this July, arguing that they will follow tougher safety rules, The New York Times reported earlier this month. This comes even as the government is said to be considering manslaughter charges against the oil giant for the deaths of 11 workers …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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Did we learn anything from the BP oil spill?

What did we learn?The National Oil Spill Commission on Tuesday released a voluminous report on the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its implications for the future of offshore drilling in the United States. The report, a doorstop of more than 300 pages, contains a long list of advice for the oil industry and federal regulators about how to avert a future catastrophe. But many of the commission's recommendations require action from Congress -- and given the current political climate, those changes might be hard to make for at least the next two years. "The industry fought measures in …