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Philip Bump's Posts


Vermont’s lieutenant governor has super-smart opinions on wind energy

Lieutenant governors never do anything. It's the Joe Biden of positions, and I don't mean in the sense that it's comparable to the vice presidency. But if it has any value, it's as a ladder rung in a political career, so people actually contest for it.

Scott suggests that a sign be hung from the bottom of this, reading, "Except wind people because we hate you."

One such contest is underway in Vermont, where the incumbent Republican Phil Scott is being challenged by Democrat Cassandra Gekas. There aren't any polls (that I can find), so it's not clear who's currently leading. But I have been able to figure out who's leading the race for IQ points.

The future of wind power in the state has become a key issue in the race for Lt. Governor.

Incumbent Republican Phil Scott supports a two year moratorium on all major wind developments in order to study the environmental impact of these projects.

This is from the Donald Trump school of talking-out-of-your-ass.

(Needless to say, that school lacks certification on this or any other planet.)


The N.Y. Times tells us how much energy the cloud uses — but not why it matters

The New York Times is two parts into a five-part series assessing the impact of the internet on our environment -- specifically, the cloud, the facilities and companies that store data and serve up sites and apps. Part one, "Power, Pollution and the Internet," focuses on the data centers that run servers 24 hours a day, using diesel generators as backup in the event of a power failure. Part two, "Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle," published today, focuses on one such facility owned by Microsoft that has led to power issues in both the electric and political senses.

The first two installments have done a good job of raising an important issue: A digital world is predicated on electricity. Electrons can't flip bits if they don't flow. What reporter James Glanz aims to do is articulate the extent of that electron flow. Oh, and while he's at it, critique the industry.

Some of the main points raised by Glanz.

  • "Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid, The Times found."
  • "Energy efficiency varies widely from company to company. But at the request of The Times, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations."
  • "To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show."
  • "Nationwide, data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, or roughly 2 percent of all electricity used in the country that year …"

The series (the first piece in particular) includes odd asides dinging tech companies. Like this, for example.

Improving or even assessing the field is complicated by the secretive nature of an industry that is largely built around accessing other people’s personal data.

It's a strange point to raise in the middle of an article about power consumption, perhaps revealing the reporter's bias against the industry, regardless of what the data shows.


If we criminalize arsenic in rice, only criminals will have arsenic-rich rice

This is a bag of rice, as you can see because it is labelled "RICE." (Photo by Shutterstock.)

Recent revelations that rice produced in some regions of the South have abnormally high levels of arsenic have prompted some congressmembers to spring into action. From the Hill:

Three House Democrats have proposed required federal standards on arsenic levels in rice and rice products after a recent Consumer Reports investigation that found high levels of arsenic in rice cereal. … The Reducing food-based Inorganic and organic Compounds Exposure (RICE) Act would require the Food and Drug Administration to set a maximum allowable level of arsenic in rice. [Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)] and other members noted that currently the only FDA rules on arsenic, a chemical that is poisonous in high doses, are related to bottled water.


  • Stop with the acronyms. Seriously.
  • I'm sure that the regulation-friendly House Republicans will rush to pass a bill that would have a negative economic impact on mostly Southern farmers.
  • Too bad the House just ended its session on Friday.


  • People would eat garbage -- literally garbage from a Dumpster -- if it contained enough sugars and saturated fats. So maybe limiting the amount of poison they ingest makes sense.
Read more: Food


Saudi Arabia turns to its other natural energy source: the sun

If you're looking to identify the mecca for solar power, here's a humble suggestion: Mecca.

According to a Bloomberg report, the holy city in Saudi Arabia is accepting bids to build 100 megawatts of solar capacity to power the city.

The plans are the latest indication that the desert kingdom is stepping up efforts to diversify its sources of energy as economic and population growth threaten to erode Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The central government is seeking $109 billion of investment for building a solar industry, aiming to get a third of Saudi Arabia’s power from the sun by 2032 compared with almost none now. The target is almost as much as the $136 billion invested worldwide in solar energy last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Mecca during the Hajj, 2008. (Photo by Al Jazeera.)

That's the interesting flip side to the effort: Even Saudi Arabia recognizes the need to diversify its power production. Its current electricity production, you'll be unsurprised to learn, is about 60 percent from burning oil and 40 percent from natural gas. That's not sustainable, particularly given that, as we reported earlier this month, the nation may be a net importer of oil by 2030. Diversification is a smart strategy -- and solar is the smart way to go about it.


PBS ombudsman explains how NewsHour got its climate change report wrong

"It was not the PBS NewsHour's finest 10 minutes."

Those are the first words of PBS ombudsman Michael Getler's response to the network's much-derided recent report that provided climate skeptics -- including a source with ties to the execrable Heartland Institute -- with a platform to argue against established science. Here's the report. Don't watch it if you have a history of high blood pressure.

The ombudsman outlines a number of problems with the report, but centers on Anthony Watts, a blogger and retired meteorologist who's linked to Heartland.


Chevron faces criminal investigation into attempts to hide pollution

After one of the distillation units at its Richmond, Calif., facility exploded last month, Chevron went into image rehabilitation mode. After this morning's San Francisco Chronicle story, the company's going to have to work a lot harder.

Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Chevron after discovering that the company detoured pollutants around monitoring equipment at its Richmond refinery for four years and burned them off into the atmosphere, in possible violation of a federal court order, The Chronicle has learned.

Air quality officials say Chevron fashioned a pipe inside its refinery that routed hydrocarbon gases around monitoring equipment and allowed them to be burned off without officials knowing about it. Some of the gases escaped into the air, but because the company didn’t record them, investigators have no way of being certain of the level of pollution exposure to thousands of people who live downwind from the plant.

According to investigators from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), Chevron ran 100 feet of three-inch pipe from a processing system to a flare tower (used for combusting waste gasses), in the process shunting the gas around a tool meant to monitor waste gas production. The company claimed that the pipe was used to "balance pressure." The BAAQMD "could find no legitimate use for it."

The August refinery explosion. (Photo by stephen schiller.)


House passes terrible ‘Stop the War on Coal’ bill before heading to recess

Photo by ashboy.

We haven't yet mentioned the "Stop the War on Coal Act" in these humble pages, for four reasons. First, there is not a "war on coal," though the world would be a better place if there were. Second, the legislation is basically an attempt to troll advocates for the environment, so to Hell with that. Third, it's not going to pass the Senate, and even if it did, Obama wouldn't sign it, and even if it did and Obama lost and it came before Romney, he wouldn't sign it. Fourth, it's so deeply, cynically political that it's embarrassing.

This bill is loaded with exceptionally shitty nonsense. Kate Sheppard has a good write-up at Mother Jones. (They've had a good week.) She explains that the bill ...

... would take away the power to regulate a lot of things -- mountaintop-removal coal mining, greenhouse gas emissions, coal ash disposal, mercury and air toxins. ...

It's just all kinds of bad -- throwing out many rules dealing with coal and preventing the EPA and the Department of Interior from regulating in the future. That includes both coal mining and coal burning in power plants.

The bill was passed in the House 233 to 175 on Friday, the last thing members did before walking out the doors of the Capitol and down the marble stairs into the sunset. AP summarizes their triumphant year:


Shell sues Greenpeace because it can’t sue its own incompetence

"I am here to drill up your ocean." (Photo by Fabio DiLupo.)

Embarrassing clown show Shell Oil is floating around the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, probably in poorly patched inner tubes while wearing those beer-can-straw hats. If you don't remember the full history of the company's sheer ineptitude in the area, it's here. It is perfectly fair to assume that it hired a bunch of interns, bought three rowboats and an augur, and gave Arctic drilling a shot.

Anyway, yesterday the company was granted yet another permit to poke around on the floor of the ocean near Alaska. Like a kid who's just coming off being grounded, it's on a short leash -- only allowed to drill into shallow areas and to work on a system to bury the blowout preventer beneath the ocean floor. Shell probably tried to talk back and got yelled at. It tried to get another permit, but that one was rejected because it can't properly operate the containment dome that is supposed to be used in the event of a spill. I think, anyway. I mean, I literally can't even keep track any more. This has been months of trying to track the bajillion errors and complaints and excuses Shell is laying out.

I also love that the argument in response to this from people like Sarah Palin would likely be, "There's too much regulation!" instead of "Thank fucking God that we have processes in place that keep companies with all of the dexterity of Cosmo Kramer from driving up to Alaska and creating conduits between pools of oil and polar bears' faces." More regulation on this shit, please.

But none of that is the point of this post. The point of this post is that Shell has finally figured out who to blame for the fact that it's terrible at the only thing it's supposed to be good at. Who's at fault? Greenpeace.


China, E.U. partner to bolster Chinese carbon trading

No country in the world produces more carbon dioxide than China. On a per-person basis, the nation trails the United States, and is about equivalent with Europe. But overall? There's no contest. China is often used as a cudgel in American politics: Why should our industries slash carbon emissions, the argument goes, when our output pales in comparison to theirs?

Here's an answer: Because China is working to cut its emissions. With support from the European Union, China will, among other projects, develop its own emissions trading schemes (ETSs). Or, in other words: cap-and-trade. From Reuters:

China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, has struck a deal to work with the European Union to cut greenhouse gases through projects including the development of Chinese emissions trading schemes, the European Commission said on Thursday. …

The European Union will contribute 25 million euros ($33 million) and technical assistance over a four-year period to three carbon-reduction projects.

Apart from helping with the design and implementation of emissions trading schemes in China, the other projects are to assist Chinese cities to be resource-efficient and to cut water and heavy-metal pollution and implement sustainable waste treatment policies.


Victory for raw-milk seller in Minnesota

If your cow looks like this, don't drink its milk.

Another day, another big update on legal issues surrounding milk.

A soft-spoken Minnesota farmer was cleared of violating state laws for distributing raw milk Thursday, a verdict advocates for such foods called their first major legal victory.

The farmer stands in contrast to all of those loud, rambunctious people for which Minnesota is famous.

After a three-day trial and more than four hours of deliberation, a Hennepin County jury found Alvin Schlangen not guilty of three misdemeanor counts of selling unpasteurized milk, operating without a food license and handling adulterated or misbranded food.

The trial highlighted a deep national divide between raw milk advocates who contend unpasteurized dairy products can relieve allergies and prevent illness and public health officials who warn that raw milk can cause serious and sometimes fatal diseases, such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria. …

Read more: Food, Living