Briefly

Stuff that matters


Executive inaction

A court says the Trump administration broke the law in not enforcing methane-leak rules.

On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management acted illegally in suspending enforcement of an Obama-era regulation to plug gas leaks at public land drilling sites. That means that companies operating some 100,000 oil and gas wells suddenly have to scramble to come into compliance.

Methane is 30 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The amount of methane escaping each year is enough to provide electricity for nearly 740,000 homes.” And if companies paid royalties on that gas, it would add $23 million to public treasuries.

This is just the latest in a series of wins for Democratic attorneys general, who have managed to stall the Trump administration’s attempts roll back or simply stay fossil fuel regulations. Grist recently put a spotlight on two vanguards of this resistance, profiling California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and interviewing Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“As a result of this rule’s implementation, oil and gas operators on federal and Indian lands will be compelled to prevent the waste of natural gas,” Becerra said in a statement. “No one is above the law.”


de-newable energy

The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

Federal tax credits are essential to driving growth in the United States’ wind and solar energy industries. Those credits, which were first introduced in 1992 and only stabilized in 2015, are now on the chopping block.

The government has a long history of subsidizing major industries, from food to fossil fuels. The renewable energy tax credits were supposed to apply through the year 2020, but the GOP tax bill (both the House and the Senate versions) suggests modifying provisions that were key to driving growth in the industry. That could seriously undermine future investment in solar and wind projects, as well as jeopardize existing projects that rely on credits for energy they produce.

And reneging on the 2015 deal could result in significant job losses, too. The current House version of the tax bill would eliminate adjustments to inflation and accelerate the phase-down schedule of federal tax credits, putting 60,000 wind industry jobs at risk.

The House tax bill also would have terminated tax credits for electric vehicles and wind production, but the final compromise will keep those tax breaks, Bloomberg reports.

It’s still unclear what combination of the House and Senate bills will Frankenstein its way to President Trump’s desk, but it’s not looking good for the industry that has created jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.


climate changed

2 independent studies say climate change worsened Hurricane Harvey’s rains.

A new report by the World Weather Attribution consortium finds that warming boosted downpours associated with the storm by 15 percent. Separate research out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, thanks to climate change, the amount of precipitation caused by the hurricane could have been nearly 40 percent higher than expected.

Both studies were announced at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans. Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in less than a week — roughly the amount of precipitation Houston gets in an entire year.

Scientists have already linked global warming to an increase in extreme weather events, meaning systems like this hurricane season’s superstorms — Harvey, Maria, and Irma  — are going to get more severe and more frequent. Both studies released this week estimate that the likelihood of another devastating storm happening has at least tripled.

“Communities all along the Gulf Coast need to adapt to a world where the heaviest rains are more than we have ever seen,” David W. Titley, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University who was not connected to either report, told the New York Times.


There will be flood

Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

As I wrote in a cover story last month, massive sheets of ice in Antarctica essentially hold humanity hostage, placing hundreds of millions of people at risk of inundation from rising seas.

A new study, which factors in the global implications of Antarctic tipping-point mechanisms for the first time, confirms the importance of these glaciers in predicting the odds of rapid sea-level rise.

The results, published in the journal Earth’s Future, point to two possible pathways: 1) a relatively steady but substantial rise in sea levels even if we sharply reduce global emissions, flooding 100 million people’s homes worldwide by the end of the century, and 2) a wild-card world that could jeopardize civilization itself if fossil fuels continue to dominate.

The study’s mid-range estimate under this second scenario predicts almost 5 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. That was essentially the worst-case scenario in a similar study by the same authors just three years ago. At the high end, the new study estimates there’s a 10 percent chance that seas will rise more than 8 feet this century — enough to flood nearly every coastal city on Earth.

That stunning revision upwards highlights the urgency of reducing emissions. “We can basically rule out 6 feet of rise if we get securely on a trajectory toward net zero emissions,” the study’s lead author, Bob Kopp, told Grist.


Shocking!

Here’s a $17 billion blueprint for how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.


the kids v. Trump

Trump’s lawyers tried (and probably failed) to throw out the kids’ climate lawsuit.

On Monday, a group of young people suing the U.S. government for willfully infringing on their constitutional right to a stable climate had their (initial) day in court. The oral arguments lasted about an hour at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Trump administration lawyers are trying to get the case thrown out on a technicality, alleging that the act of sifting through decades of documents in preparation for trial would cause the government “irreparable harm.”

In a nutshell, the youth are suing to establish new environmental protections on the basis of intergenerational equity. Their lead lawyer, Julia Olsen, called the lawsuit “this generation’s Brown v. Board of Education.”

Experts on climate law say there’s good reason to think the kids’ case will be allowed to proceed. Moments after Monday’s hearing, Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, tweeted that two of the three judges on the panel appeared worried that throwing this case out now would have wide-ranging repercussions.

Should the lawsuit move on, the next step will be the trial itself in February. The Trump administration’s lead lawyer, Eric Grant, has already called it the “trial of the century.”


nail in the tire

The warming Arctic could put a serious dent in wind energy production.

There’s a pretty steep temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator. But that difference — which fuels atmospheric energy, powering storm systems and the breeze — is shrinking, and it’s altering the distribution of wind energy resources around the globe.

This could put significant strain on wind power production in the United States, Europe, and Asia, a study published Monday in the journal Nature suggests.

The study shows that warming temperatures could result in a 17 percent drop in wind power in the U.S. and a 10 percent decline in the U.K. by 2100. On the upside, wind power in Australia, Brazil, and West Africa could actually increase.

China, for one, has already seen dips in wind power in some areas due to climate change.

In response to the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, many countries have adopted emissions reduction targets that incorporate wind power. But as the study’s authors point out, those assessments are based off of today’s climate, not the global atmospheric conditions of the future.