Stuff that matters

fixer upper

Here’s an idea for retired coal mines: Turn them into giant batteries.

Energy companies are looking to retrofit old mines to store power from solar and wind, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The mine-turned-battery concept relies on something called “pumped hydro.” Basically, when you have extra power you want to store, you just use it to pump water uphill. When you want to use that power again, you release the water to flow back downhill, spinning a turbine to generate electricity.

It turns out the structure of coal mines is perfect for building these systems: Water can be cycled between reservoirs deep in the mine and holding ponds at the surface.

But, like all nice things, pumped hydro can be pretty pricey. In Virginia, where two energy companies are looking to build pump systems near old mines, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill allowing the companies to raise electricity rates to help get the projects up and running.

Still, pumped storage is more reliable than chemical batteries like lithium ion, which degrade over time. As more solar is added to the grid — and the need for electricity storage ramps up — giant coal-mine batteries could just keep going and going right into the future.

site for sore eyes

Rebellious cities team up to post climate data taken down by the EPA.

Burlington, Vermont, just became the 14th city to republish deleted EPA information on its municipal website.

The info, which concerns climate change and its effects, was taken down for review by President Trump’s EPA two months ago and has since been republished by major cities like Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle.

“Climate change is real, and deleting federal web pages that contain years’ worth of research does not alter this global, scientific consensus,” Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement.

The City of Chicago kickstarted the movement in May by publishing the deleted info on its website, along with a helpful “Climate Change is Real” guide that encourages other cities to do the same.

It’s not the only way cities across the United States have committed to fighting climate change. Dozens have pledged to go 100 percent renewable, and major cities have joined an alliance to uphold the Paris Agreement’s objectives, despite Trump’s policy changes. No ragrets.

lake bloomer

The Great Lakes are already grimy. Trump wants to zero out cleanup funding.

President Trump’s proposed budget suggests axing $300 million in federal dollars for the Great Lakes. Yet, a new report from the EPA and its Canadian counterparts found that the lakes — Erie, Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Ontario — aren’t doing so hot.

The spread of invasive species and algal blooms continues to degrade water quality and threaten lake ecosystems, particularly in Lake Erie. Algae can hamper commercial fishing and recreation as well.

But hey, some good news: As chemical bans take effect, the amount of toxins in the waters is improving.

At a hearing last week on the EPA’s budget, Administrator Scott Pruitt faced tough reception about the Great Lakes cuts from both sides of the aisle — even as he defended the administration’s math. “I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trim budget,” Pruitt said. “We are committed to working with all states in that region to ensure water quality standards are advanced and protected.”

Good luck with that.

that's hot

An idea: Get a supermodel to tweet some climate policy at Trump.

I mean, it worked in Brazil, where Gisele Bündchen — supermodel, World Wildlife Federation representative, and behind-the-scenes shaper of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s political consciousness — tweeted at Brazilian President Michel Temer:

Bündchen’s tweet concerns legislation that would have removed protection from some parts of the Amazon rainforest. Temer’s administration has been remarkably anti-conservation, threatening indigenous lands in favor of new agricultural, mineral extraction, and hydroelectric developments.

And lo! Temer responded:

That means, “I vetoed those bills, because you are extremely beautiful.” NO! It just means, “I vetoed those bills.”

This seems like a good approach to try in America. Can someone please text Kendall Jenner to ask if she feels like doing something substantive for the greater good? The EPA is really hot right now.

Behind the Trumpocene

EPA employees speak out about the agency’s problems under Trump.

A report by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative examines the threat the new president poses to American environmental and energy policy — and includes concerns from nearly 60 current and former EPA workers.

In excerpted interviews, employees talk of micromanagement by new administrator Scott Pruitt, close associations with business interests, and the grave danger facing the EPA’s essential mission.

“I have worked under six administrations with political appointees … from both parties,” one employee said. “This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration.”

The report points to two historical precedents for Trump’s attack on environmental policy: Ronald Reagan’s first two years  — when 21 percent of the EPA’s budget was slashed — and Stephen Harper’s nine-year, climate-denying tenure as Canada’s prime minister. Trump is on track to do more damage to the environmental agenda than either Reagan or Harper, by clawing back all manner of EPA regulations and axing its scientific research.

“Trump is concerned about trade equality, Making America Great Again,” one interviewee pointed out. “How can we possibly be on top and competitive with Japan and these other countries if we don’t excel in science, engineering, and technology?”

Family feud

A battle royale has broken out between clean power purists and pragmatists.

Two years ago, a paper came out arguing that America could cheaply power itself on wind, water, and solar energy alone. It was a big deal. Policy makers began relying on the study. A nonprofit launched to make the vision a reality. Celebrities got on board. We named the lead author of the study, Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of our Grist 50.

Now that research is under scrutiny. On Monday, 21 scientists published a paper that pointed out unrealistic assumptions in Jacobson’s analysis. For instance, Jacobson’s analysis relies on the country’s dams releasing water “equivalent to about 100 times the flow of the Mississippi River” to meet electricity demand as solar power ramps down in the evening, one of the critique’s lead authors, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, told the New York Times.

Jacobson immediately fired back, calling his critics “nuclear and fossil fuel supporters” and implying the authors had sold out to industry. This is just wrong. These guys aren’t shills.

It’s essentially a family feud, a conflict between people who otherwise share the same goals. Jacobson’s team thinks we can make a clean break from fossil fuels with renewables alone. Those critiquing his study think we need to be weaned off, with the help of nuclear, biofuels, and carbon capture.

Grist intends to take a deeper look at this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

don't mine if I do

Watch John Oliver call BS on Trump’s promises to coal miners.

President Donald Trump has been less than subtle about his reluctance to address coal’s catastrophic effects on the planet. But Last Week Tonight host John Oliver says the president doesn’t seem to care about the miners he’s supposedly helping, either.

Trump’s promise that coal miners will be saved by reducing regulations on coal companies is dishonest, Oliver explained on Sunday night’s segment, since the goals of those companies and the miners they employ aren’t the same. (Ever heard of Don Blankenship?)

“Stop telling them that their jobs are all coming back when they’re not,” Oliver said. Coal jobs have declined for decades, and workers continue to be replaced by machines. A comeback for coal is about as plausible as a resurgence of horse-drawn carriages.