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Philip Bump's Posts


Japan bails out company behind Fukushima meltdown

Remember how mad everyone got at the bank bailout? "I hate you banks!" people yelled, and, "I don't like bailouts!" and, "We shouldn't provide tax money to you, given the role you played in the financial crisis!" That last one was a very popular chant at Occupy Wall Street.

Well, gang, it could have been far, far worse.

The Japanese utility that operates the nuclear power plant sent into meltdown by last year's tsunami received a trillion yen ($12.8 billion) public bailout Tuesday, effectively putting it under government control.

Ha ha. Can you imagine? Imagine if the banks had not only contributed to a massive implosion of the economy, but also, through their own ineptitude, left huge portions of America uninhabitable. And then the government was like, It's cool. We'll help you out. Talk about toxic assets! (Please go click this button.)

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, now proudly owned by the Japanese government.


Fireball engulfs Tulsa oil refinery in record heat

At about 3:30 a.m. Eastern, 2:30 local time, an oil refinery in Tulsa, Okla., owned by HollyFrontier exploded.

Read more: Uncategorized


This 1956 cartoon will convince you to marry oil and have oil babies

Guys, I found something pretty amazing yesterday. In 1956, the American Petroleum Institute commissioned a really spectacular cartoon, titled:

I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it is the most awesome piece of horrible propaganda I've ever seen.

Here's the premise. Mars is run by a dictator who hates free enterprise. (I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT WHO THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO REPRESENT.) Because his limo doesn't work right (or something) the dictator, Ogg, sends Captain Cosmic to Earth to figure out how cars run (or something). And there, Captain Cosmic experiences a revelation.

Read more: Climate & Energy


A series of important updates about the drought, with jokes

Let's check in on our old friend the drought, shall we? Here's the key takeaway, if you're in a big rush:

It still exists.

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added another 218 counties to the list of drought-afflicted disaster areas, meaning we've officially passed the halfway mark. Fully one out of every two American counties has been so designated. Here's the current map.

Map via the USDA.

Just to save some effort, here's our projection of that map a month from now.

(I made this one.)

To be fair, that's not exactly a scientific assessment, but it will either be proven correct or the situation will be better than this. We did it that way because we like to aim high.

Read more: Uncategorized


Congress will likely go on recess without any resolution on farm bill

The Capitol, embarrassed by its denizens, tries to hide behind a tree. (Photo by Photo Phiend.)

As we mentioned yesterday, Congress heads out for vacay on Friday, having solved all of our nation's problems except for most of them.

One big issue that remains unresolved: the farm bill. The current version of the broad-ranging legislation that governs nearly every aspect of our food supply is due to expire at the end of September. Congress spent the spring running around, passing a version of a replacement bill in the Senate and a far-less-thorough stopgap in the House. And then it stalled.

It's a complicated issue, to be fair, and there is significant disagreement on what should be included. The Senate version of the legislation includes protection of food-stamp programs and reforms to payment systems. House conservatives, on the other hand, want to gut everything and then laugh at it. The way the process usually works, the two sides would now be in conference to resolve the dispute. But it appears there's no movement at all.

Earlier this week, House Republican leadership sought a one-year extension to the current bill, hoping to push off debate -- and any internal party disputes -- until 2013. The move met with broad condemnation: conservatives who want to spike any bill; agriculture activists worried about long-term planning for farmers; lobbying groups that want to cut any and all funding right now. Late yesterday, the extension plan was scrapped.

Read more: Uncategorized


Coal-generating power company in Illinois likely to file for bankruptcy

Not one of the affected coal plants.

Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison Mission Energy that runs six coal-fired power plants in Illinois, announced yesterday that it will likely declare bankruptcy -- which may or may not lead to all of its plants being shuttered.

It's been a tumultuous year for Midwest. In February, the company agreed to shut down two plants in Chicago, in a deal brokered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the urging of activists. In March, it announced it was considering closing all six. And then, yesterday's announcement.

Midwest Generation's customers are not in danger of having their lights turned off. The region's grid operator is responsible for ensuring that customers get power and, if necessary, will pay suppliers to ensure power is flowing to homes and businesses. Such arrangements can remain in place as long as needed to prevent blackouts. …

Officials at Edison International, the holding company of both Edison Mission Energy and Midwest Generation, said Edison is not expected to have sufficient cash flow to repay a $500 million debt due in June 2013, and Midwest Generation is in danger of defaulting on leases at Powerton and Joliet [power plants]. Company officials said Midwest Generation also is being squeezed by depressed power prices.

As we've indicated several times before, coal is increasingly expensive compared to natural gas, putting coal-fired plants at a competitive disadvantage.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Use of dispersants at BP spill may have wiped out middle of the Gulf food web

Following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill in 2010, BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants in an effort to break up the oil. The dispersants also wiped out plankton, according to a new study.

From the Associated Press:

For the study, Alabama researchers pumped water from Mobile Bay into 53-gallon drums, then added oil, dispersant or both in proportions found during the oil spill to simulate the spill's effects on microscopic water-life in the bay. …

The researchers found that, within days, the numbers of plant-like phytoplankton and ciliates — plankton that use hairlike cilia to move — increased under an oil slick. But they dropped significantly in the drums with dispersant or dispersed oil, while the numbers of bacteria increased. …

"In those tanks, all of the energy seems to get trapped in the bacterial side. There were lots of bacteria left but no bigger things. It's like the middle part of the food web is taken away," said lead researcher Alice Ortmann of the University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

It's not clear how the effects researchers observed might play out in the real world. As one researcher notes, fish populations didn't demonstrate big negative impacts until years after the Exxon Valdez spill.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Let the games begin: The rush for resources in Greenland

Ice in Greenland. See it while you can! (Photo by christine zenino.)

Everyone got pretty freaked out last month when we learned that 97 percent of Greenland's ice sheet surface melted over the course of a week in July.

Well, almost everyone. Some people saw dollar signs. Literally, like in the cartoons.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: There's no stronger indictment of modern civilization than that one of the first topics of conversation after learning that climate change is melting ice is how quickly we can extract the climate-change-inducing resources that were trapped under all of that ice. If time travel existed, I suspect we'd see time travelers armed with future-laser-weapons ringing Greenland, politely suggesting that ravenous prospectors turn their ships around. (Not to mention a visitor or two to Titusville, Penn., circa 1859.)

But time travel doesn't exist, so various corporate entities are sitting at a big wooden dining table around a big map of Greenland, napkins tucked into their starched collars, knives in each hand.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The House will use the last few hours before summer break to undermine the Clean Air Act

Patriotic image for Americans by Beverly and Pack.

On Friday, Congress will begin its five-week recess. At 3:00 p.m., the doors to the Capitol will swing open and congressmembers will come bounding down the old marble steps, peeling off jackets and ties, tossing water balloons, creating mayhem. Congressional districts across the country will brace for all sorts of hijinks, many passing special curfews for federal politicians to keep things from getting too out of hand.

Having put in a good half-year's work, Congress is scrambling to wrap up all the important loose ends. You know, like revisiting the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. So, a House subcommittee scheduled two hearings for this week to review the amendments "piece by piece," as Politico puts it.

Now, you may ask: Why would we need to revisit the Clean Air Act? The answer is simple. Despite the fact that the amendments passed by overwhelming majorities, Republicans now realize that the Clean Air Act has been brutal for jobs. It's just as Milton Friedman said:

The Clean Air Act's unduly stringent and extremely costly provisions could seriously threaten this nation's economic expansion.

Exactly! Milton Friedman, right once again! I mean, look at how these key economic indicators did in the decade after Friedman said that and the law went into effect.


Storms are bigger, wetter, and more frequent than 60 years ago

One of the problems with the term "global warming" is that people don't really have any idea what it means. They understand that hot days might be related; it says so right there on the box. But when it comes to some of the other possible impacts of climate change -- severe weather, hurricanes, etc. -- people have a harder time drawing a straight line.

Today, Environment America is trying to make that line obvious. According to a new analysis by the group, extreme downpours (rain or snow) now occur 30 percent more often than they did in 1948.

Click to embiggen.

In other words, large rain or snowstorms that happened once every 12 months, on average, in the middle of the 20th century now happen every nine months. Moreover, the largest annual storms now produce 10 percent more precipitation, on average.

Read more: Climate & Energy