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Philip Bump's Posts


Shocker: Oil sheen over BP spill site is from BP spill

Last week, a new patch of oil popped up on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone was like, "Gee, I wonder if that's from the BP spill," all sarcastically. BP was all, "Woah woah, guys, the jury's out! Let's just wait and see! Maybe there's a new type of fish that is turning into oil spontaneously or something. Our scientists say it's possible!" And the scientists were like, "Yeah, that's possible," as they were depositing their big paychecks. (This thing about the oil fish is just a joke, I guess I should point out.)

Even small incidents like this can have a lasting consequence.

Anyway, the oil was from the Deepwater Horizon spill, surprising no one. From the Washington Post:

The oil in a slick detected in the Gulf of Mexico last month matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill two years ago, the Coast Guard said Wednesday night, ending one mystery and creating another.

“The exact source of the oil is unclear at this time but could be residual oil associated with the wreckage or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard added that “the sheen is not feasible to recover and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.” One government expert said the thin sheen, just microns thick, was 3 miles by 300 yards on Wednesday.

Some oil drilling experts said it was unlikely that BP’s Macondo well, which suffered a blowout on April 20, 2010, was leaking again given the extra precautions taken when it was finally sealed after spilling nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the gulf.

Right. And BP's anti-spill precautions have a sterling track record.


So long, warmest April-to-September in American history!

With autumn upon us, the outrageous extremes of heat we've been enjoying will only be outrageous extremes in the context of the time of year. Which is kind of sad for those of us who like to sit and watch the thermometer all summer, looking to see when the mercury crests over the most recent high, like marking a kid's height in a door frame. Our little climate's growing up / becoming a living horror scene.

Old and busted.

Each month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cobbles together a helpful compendium of all of the ways that the previous month's weather was horrible. It just released the data for September. Turns out we've had the hottest "warm season" -- April-to-September stretch -- in U.S. history, and the year so far has been the warmest ever.

Other highlights, such as they are:

  • The average contiguous U.S. temperature during September was 67.0°F, 1.4°F above the 20th century average, tying September 1980 as the 23rd warmest such month on record. September 2012 marks the 16th consecutive month with above-average temperatures for the Lower 48.
  • According to the October 2, 2012 U.S. Drought Monitor, 64.6 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, slightly larger than the extent of drought at the end of August. The percent area of the nation experiencing exceptional drought, the worst category of drought, remained nearly constant at about 6 percent.
  • The contiguous U.S. warm season, defined as the six-month period from April-September, had temperatures that were record warm. The six-month average temperature of 68.2°F for the Lower 48 was 2.6°F above average.
  • The January-September period was the warmest first nine months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 59.8°F was 3.8°F above the 20th century average, and 1.2°F above the previous record warm January-September of 2006. During the nine-month period, 46 states had temperatures among their ten warmest, with 25 states being record warm. Only Washington had statewide temperatures near average for the period.

It's worth also looking at the list of temperature anomalies, year-to-date. It will take a while to scroll down.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Asshole coal boss: ‘I’m not an asshole’

Last time on Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, Is a Remarkably Sketchy Person, we discovered that he was facing potential investigations into his practice of coercing managers into making political donations to Republicans while simultaneously helping Mitt Romney shoot ads featuring coal miners who were forced to go to a Romney rally without pay.

But, Robert Murray insists, he's the victim of persecution. Like Jesus, he'd probably argue, though he didn't explicitly here.

From The New Republic, which broke the story about Murray's coercion of his managers:

The company's general counsel denied that Murray was pressuring employees to give or rewarding them in any way for their contributions, as ... sources had described occurring. Now comes Murray himself with, as far as I can tell, his first public comments on the matter, in an interview with Erich Schwartzel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "It's timed to shut me up. It's a dishonest, totally false and fabricated group of charges to embarrass Gov. Mitt Romney, my family, our company and me." …

Murray also denied an account that had emerged in the weeks prior to my article—that he had forced miners in southeastern Ohio to attend Romney's speech at the Murray mine in Beallsville, Ohio in August. … Murray told the Post-Gazette he had shut down operations not to help build up the crowd but because of safety concerns: "Secret Service snipers had positioned themselves around the location, and the event logistics made it impossible to continue work, Mr. Murray said. 'I'm not going to put anybody in a coal mine when I can't rescue them,' Murray said."

The Secret Service is trained to shoot any first responders to industrial accidents.

Mitt Romney
"Hey guys, your boss is cool."


Amtrak ridership up as icy hand of budgetary death stays its touch yet again


Amtrak (have you seen its most recent ad?) has a bit of good news: Ridership is up for the third straight year. Between Oct. 1, 2011, and Oct. 1, 2012, the train system shuttled 31.2 million passengers around, often on time. As its celebratory blog post notes, that's a 49 percent increase over 2000.

(The drop in 2009 is often attributed to the economic downturn, but is actually because Joe Biden started using Air Force Two.) (If I don't make a Biden joke in every Amtrak post, I get fired. It's in my contract.)

So that's good news, anyway. And the agency is making more money, if not enough. Revenue increased 6 percent last year, making up half the budget of the $4 billion agency.


Insurer: Hey, these climate-related disasters are getting expensive

There is no industry less enthusiastic about climate change than the insurance industry. After all, if something bad happens to a house or a business or a person, it's the one that has to pay out -- and its entire business model is predicated on minimizing how often it has to pay out. More and more floods and fires and derechos and who-knows-what means more and more checks flowing out of corporate headquarters. Not a pleasant prospect.

Bruna Costa
"Please don't hit that house; please don't hit that house."

Munich Re is a reinsurance company, a company that insures insurers. Munich Re, then, is on the hook another level up. Today, the company is releasing new data on how much its clients will be affected by climate change. It's not excited about what it found. From USA Today:

The report finds that weather disasters in North America are among the worst and most volatile in the world: "North America is the continent with the largest increases in disasters," says Munich Re's Peter Roder.

The report focuses on weather disasters since 1980 in the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. ...

Some of the report's findings:

  • The intensities of certain weather events in North America are among the highest in the world, and the risks associated with them are changing faster than anywhere else.
  • The second costliest year of the study period, 2011, was dominated by strong storms. Insured losses in the U.S. due to thunderstorms alone was the highest on record at an estimated $26 billion, more than double the previous thunderstorm record set in 2010.
  • Insured losses from disasters averaged $9 billion a year in the 1980s. By the 2000s, the average soared to $36 billion per year.


CEO of Lockheed Martin clear-cuts protected trees, pays staggering $1,000 fine

One of Stevens' favorite birds.

Robert Stevens is the CEO of Lockheed Martin, a company that has spent $23 million lobbying the government over the past two years. For the sake of convenience, Stevens has a house just outside D.C., along the Potomac River in a scenic area run by the National Park Service.

In June, Stevens cut down almost an acre of protected trees without a permit, trees that coincidentally stood between his house and the beautiful scenery of the nearby waterway. The Washington Post:

Late last month, Montgomery County issued a $1,000 fine to Robert J. Stevens, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin. Federal park police have opened a criminal investigation into whether the tree-cutting in the Merry-Go-Round Farm community also violated a federal easement designed to protect the canal, the river and scenic vistas.

And environmentalists said they were enraged that another large swath of trees has been cut down.

“This is outrageous,” said Dolores Milmoe of the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase. “Once again, people of great wealth feel entitled that they can just end run the permitting process or not get permits.”

Read more: Living, Politics


Fracking oversight: With regulators hobbled, good samaritans step in

Friends (allies? sweethearts? paramours? hot erotic lovers?) of the fossil fuel industry have done a hell of a good job shutting down official government observation of what it is they're up to. Not as good as the industry would like, mind you, but a very, very good job in the eyes of those skeptical that their stewardship of the Earth is sincere. We've been sucking oil out of the ground for a century, so the two sides -- the people extracting behind dark curtains and the people paid with tax money to politely ask if they might take a peek -- have refined the points of friction to very specific points of debate.

Why on Earth would this need to be regulated?

Fracking, on the other hand, is fairly new. So fossil fuel companies are rushing forward, tossing cash into the boiler to build up speed, while their allies on Capitol Hill keep saying "woah woah woah not so fast" to regulators hopping from foot to foot, pointing after the frackers anxiously. From The Hill:

Congressional auditors conclude in new reports that the Environmental Protection Agency faces big hurdles overseeing a U.S. oil-and-gas drilling boom that’s creating “unknown” long-term health risks.

One of two Government Accountability Office reports made public Tuesday lays out “challenges” facing regulators amid the growth of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the development method that’s enabling major oil and natural-gas production increases. …

For instance, the report notes that it’s tough to inspect the large number of new well sites in Ohio, where the Utica shale play is attracting development, because EPA “generally does not receive information about new wells or their location.”

Yeah, sure. Why tell the EPA? Who made them the protectors of the environment, anyway? (Nixon.)


Guess how many times the House voted for fossil fuels and against clean energy

Here's a game for you.

Without peeking down below, try and guess how many times since January 2011 the U.S. House of Representatives voted against clean energy or in favor of fossil fuels. Keep in mind that there have been about 450 weekdays during which votes could have been cast between then and now.

Have a number in your head? OK.

The correct answer is 223. The House voted 223 times in support of a dirty-energy economy.

The figure comes from a database compiled by Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Ed Markey (Mass.), Democratic members of the House Natural Resources Committee.

  • 42 votes against clean energy and energy efficiency
  • 54 votes for subsidies or other giveaways to the oil and gas industry, including votes to rush approval of Keystone XL
  • 127 votes to cut or block health, safety, or environmental protections for the fossil fuel sector

To underscore the futility of the effort: precisely zero became law.


Massive wildfires are chewing through budgets as fast as they are forests

This has not been the worst year for wildfires in the past decade.

At least, not in terms of raw numbers. So far, 2012 has seen 49,555 wildfires in the U.S. Sounds like a lot, but it's actually the fewest number of fires in 10 years. Where 2012 excels is in the ferocity and scale of the fires, the number of acres burned per fire, as we've noted before.

National Interagency Fire Center
Click to embiggen.

What this means is that the fires are putting an unexpected strain on government resources. From the Washington Post:

In the worst wildfire season on record, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service ran out of money to pay for firefighters, fire trucks and aircraft that dump retardant on monstrous flames.

So officials did about the only thing they could: take money from other forest-management programs.


Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Rep. Upton proposes eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, kind of

This is Fred Upton. This is not Kate Upton, I assure you.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) serves as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. (He is also the uncle of highly photogenic model Kate Upton, who I mention because people sometimes search for “Kate Upton” and maybe they’d like to learn a little something about energy subsidies instead of seeing photographs of Kate Upton.) Upton (I'm talking about Fred here; I don't know about Kate) used to want to combat climate change until the Republican Party moved 45.6 million light years to the right of its pre-2000 political positions.

Upton, like every member of the House, is running for reelection, which means that he now has to move about 45 feet back to the left. And, voilà:

Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is calling for removal of oil-and-gas industry tax breaks if subsidies for green energy are also eliminated.

Upton’s comments, at a Monday night debate with Democratic challenger Mike O’Brien, arrive a week after Mitt Romney said billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks would likely be jettisoned under his proposal to lower the overall corporate tax rate.

“I’m for putting all of these on an even footing,” Upton said. “Let’s look at the oil and gas subsidies, let’s take them away. Let’s let them compete just like everyone else at the same level. We can do that with the tax code to take those special provisions away.”

Here he is saying it, via the Kalamazoo Gazette:

Sounds reasonable! It isn't.