Briefly

Stuff that matters


Peak foiled

There’s a lot more oil to keep in the ground all of a sudden.

Spanish oil company Repsol just announced that it has made the largest onshore oil discovery in the United States in 30 years: a find of 1.2 billion barrels beneath Alaska’s North Slope.

“Keep it in the ground” has become a rallying cry for climate and environmental activists in recent years, and they’re particularly intent on stopping Arctic drilling. A study published in Nature in 2015 argues that all Arctic oil needs to stay underground if we’re going to have any hope of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C, the point at which scientists think the shit will really hit the fan.

If there’s anyone still waiting for peak oil to save us from climate change, get over it. People just keep getting better at finding crude. If anything can get us out of this mess, it won’t be a scarcity of fossil fuels but an abundance of creativity. The same innovative capacity that allows humans to keep expanding the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the earth can also create laws to stop the flow and cleaner technologies to use instead.

We better get moving, though, because otherwise this new batch of oil could start flowing in 2021.


Still Rickin', Still Rollin'

Al Franken had to explain the scientific method to Rick Perry.

During his Thursday testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about his department’s 2018 budget request, Minnesota Senator Al Franken decided to take Energy Secretary Rick Perry to task for statements he made on Monday.

Perry claimed that most changes in climate are due to “naturally occurring events, the warming and the cooling of our ocean waters, and some other activities” rather than CO2. What?

“Don’t you think it’s okay to have this conversation about the science of climate change?” Perry said. “What’s wrong with being a skeptic about something … that’s going to have a massive impact on the American economy?”

Franken was quick to point out that Perry is describing our old friend “the scientific method,” the type of skeptical analysis that is “exactly how science works.” Scientists have exhaustively debated and examined the cause of increasing global temperatures and concluded that, yes, it’s man-made climate change. The warming oceans are the result of climate change, not a cause of it.

“There’s no peer-reviewed study that doesn’t say this is happening,” Franken said.


into the void

EPA science adviser says clearing board of experts leaves “huge void.”

On Monday, 38 of the EPA’s research advisers found out that their terms, set to end in August, would not be renewed.

One of them is Elena Craft, a senior health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It creates a huge void in terms of scientific capacity,” Craft told Grist. “Systematically gutting these committees is essentially cutting off access to some of the greatest science advisers really in the world.”

The purge will leave 11 members on the Board of Scientific Counselors’ subcommittees. The latest move follows sweeping cuts to federal agencies in April. The empty seats on the EPA’s advisory board are expected to be filled with a more industry-friendly bunch.

Craft said that after the announcement, Robert Kavlock, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s research arm, told the advisers in a phone call that he expected the board to pay less attention to climate change.

The board of experts has counseled the EPA on its research programs for two decades. Last year, the board’s subcommittees recommended that the agency work on engaging with communities in its clean-air programs and investigate environmental risks from toxic chemicals. All this advice comes free of charge.

“For an agency that is slated to have its budget cut fairly significantly, cutting out all of the free labor and free help doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Craft said.


Actually What

We broke down Trump’s baffling speech on the “solar wall.”

In a speech this week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, President Trump discussed one of his favorite topics: The Wall, which may one day be festooned with “beautiful” solar panels.

Let’s attempt to understand what he said, one clause at a time:

  1. “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall so it creates energy and pays for itself.” A comprehensible, if flawed, premise.
  2. “And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money and that’s good, right? Is that good?” Less is certainly closer to “nothing,” which is the amount that Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has agreed to pay for the wall.
  3. “You’re the first group I’ve told that to.” No, you’re not.
  4. “Solar wall. Makes sense. Let’s see. We’re working it out. We’ll see. Panels, beautiful. The higher it goes the more valuable it is. Pretty good imagination, right? Good? My idea! So we have a good shot.” W H A T
  5. “That’s one of the places that solar really does work. The tremendous sun and heat. It really does work there. So we’ll see what happens.” This is impossible to argue with: There is certainly a non-negligible amount of sun and heat around the U.S.-Mexico border, solar will “work there” (as it does everywhere), and we have no choice, unfortunately, but to “see what happens.”

rick rolled

Meteorologists aren’t having Rick Perry’s climate denial.

Today’s forecast: cloudy with a chance of burn.

Weather scientists from the American Meteorological Society wrote Energy Secretary Rick Perry a letter on Wednesday informing him that he lacks a “fundamental understanding” of climate science.

Let’s rewind: Perry appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday, where host Joe Kernan asked him about the role that carbon dioxide plays in climate change. Perry responded that CO2 is not a primary cause of global warming — instead, he pointed to “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

Kernan called it a “pretty good answer.” It’s not, according to 97 percent of climate scientistsSquawk Box has become a safe space for climate deniers in the Trump administration, as Emily Atkin writes for New Republic.

The meteorologists’ letter concludes that Perry needs to get a grasp on the “best possible science” to make sound policy decisions about the nation’s energy needs.

It almost makes you wish Perry’s dancing career never met an untimely end. Almost.


so sue me

Just as John Oliver predicted, a coal tycoon is suing him.

The nation’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy, just filed a lawsuit against the Last Week Tonight host over the show’s recent segment. Oliver had criticized the company’s CEO, Robert Murray, for acting carelessly toward miners’ safety.

Murray Energy’s complaint stated that the segment was a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray by broadcasting “false, injurious, and defamatory comments.”

Oliver shouldn’t be too concerned, according to Ken White, a First Amendment litigator at Los Angeles firm, who told the Daily Beast that the complaint was “frivolous and vexatious.”

The lawsuit is hardly a shocking development. Before the show aired, Oliver received a cease-and-desist letter from the company. He noted that Murray has a history of filing defamation suits against news outlets (most recently, the New York Times).

Oliver said in the episode, “I know that you are probably going to sue me, but you know what, I stand by everything I said.”


dakota access

Oil will keep flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline — for now.

At a Wednesday hearing, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg established a summer timeline for the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux to submit arguments that the pipeline should be shut down while additional environmental review takes place.

Both sides of the lawsuit — which alleges the Army Corps of Engineers violated treaties by permitting construction under Lake Oahe — will be able to submit comments in July and August. That means a decision about shutting down the pipeline could come as early as September, according to Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux.

Last week, Boasberg ruled that the Army Corps’ previous environmental review was inadequate, sending the agency back to the drawing board to reconsider impacts on fishing, hunting, and environmental justice.

At the hearing, Army Corps lawyer Matthew Marinelli declined to give a timeframe on the new review, but said he would offer an update July 17. “The Corps is just starting to grapple with the issues the court has identified,” Marinelli said.