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Stuff that matters


Hot air

We fact-checked Donald Trump’s latest comments on renewable energy.

Turns out, they’re not all true.

The Republican presidential nominee appeared on Herman Cain’s radio show on Tuesday, and he had quite a bit to say about wind and solar power, and birds too. Here’s part of the transcript, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with our fact-checking notes added in brackets:

Trump: Our energy companies are a disaster right now. Coal. The coal business is — you know, there is such a thing as clean coal [False]. Our miners are out of work — now they’re just attacking energy companies like I’ve never seen them attack anything before.

They want everything to be wind and solar. Unfortunately, it’s not working on large-scale [False]. It’s just not working [False]. Solar is very, very expensive [False]. Wind is very, very expensive [False], and it only works when it’s windy [False].

Cain: Right.

Trump: Someone might need a little electricity — a lot of times, it’s the opposite season, actually. When they have it, that’s when you don’t need it. So wind is very problematic [False] and — I’m not saying I’m against those things. I’m for everything. I’m for everything.

Cain: Right.

Trump: But they are destroying our energy companies with regulation [False]. They’re absolutely destroying them [False].

Cain: But their viability has to be demonstrated before you shove it down the throats of the American people. That’s what you’re saying.

Trump: In all fairness, wind is fine [True]. Sometimes you go — I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Palm Springs, California — it looks like a junkyard [False]. They have all these different —

Cain: I have.

Trump: They have all these different companies and each one is made by a different group from, all from China and from Germany, by the way — not from here [False]. And you look at all these windmills. Half of them are broken [False]. They’re rusting and rotting. You know, you’re driving into Palm Springs, California, and it looks like a poor man’s version of Disneyland [False]. It’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen [False].

And it kills all the birds [False]. I don’t know if you know that … Thousands of birds are lying on the ground. And the eagle. You know, certain parts of California — they’ve killed so many eagles [False]. You know, they put you in jail if you kill an eagle. And yet these windmills [kill] them by the hundreds [False].

But solar and wind power are on a meteoric rise, whether Trump likes it or not.


cracked

A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart.

That’s the buzz this week in the polar science community after a big new iceberg emerged at Petermann Glacier in far northwest Greenland. Scientists first spotted an extensive network of cracks in Petermann earlier this yearThe worry is that those cracks may widen during the next few weeks, the warmest part of the short Greenland summer.

Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet. That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels. Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.

Major breakups also happened at Petermann in 2010 and 2012, but the location of the current cracks suggests the glacier could soon shrink to its smallest size in recorded history. Research conducted in the last two years has shown that it’s melting from both below and above, speeding up its eventual collapse. Another recent study showed that meltwater from Greenland is now the leading cause of global sea-level rise, increasing more than five-fold since 1993. Not good.


join the charge

The U.K. is banning sales of diesel and gas cars by 2040.

Three weeks after France announced it would ban fossil-fueled vehicles, the United Kingdom is following suit.

The decision was largely motivated by protecting people’s health, though the U.K. government considered the effects of climate change, too. Among European nations, the United Kingdom has the most diesel-run vehicles.

“Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the U.K.,” a government spokesperson told the Guardian. A February report found that 40,000 people die prematurely in the country each year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution from cars, household cleaners, and more.

Britain’s ban forms the backbone of an air quality plan released Wednesday, which budgets $322 million for short-term fixes like retrofitting vehicles. The U.K. has slated an additional $1 billion for driverless and zero-emissions technology research.

Even so, some activists have called the ban of gas and diesel vehicles a publicity stunt. According to analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, nearly 80 percent of cars purchased in the U.K. by 2040 would be electric under existing policies.


on tap

Want to know what’s in your drinking water? Just click here.

With a national database that went live today, the Environmental Working Group offers residents the opportunity to search contaminants in their drinking water by zip code.

Live in Los Angeles? If you’re one of nearly 4 million people that gets water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, EWG’s database shows that your water has elevated levels of arsenic and cancer-causing bromate. Hail from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, like me? (Hi!) Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen from plastic manufacturing, just exceeds the legal limit there.

The database includes both regulated and unregulated contaminants, giving residents a full picture of the chemicals in their water. But what can you do with that information? EWG also recommends water filters that work best for the contaminants in your area.

Data comes from state agencies and the EPA, but EWG’s database is more user-friendly than the EPA’s drinking water data portal.

The database’s release comes after a Natural Resources Defense Council report that a quarter of Americans drink contaminated water or get water from a source that’s not properly monitored.


slow play

Trump has stymied at least two dozen environmental rules.

That’s according to a new analysis by Scientific American. The administration’s decisions to stay or place rules related to environment or energy policy under review look like an attempt either to defang them or to scrap them altogether.

However, the strategy might not work.

Earlier this month, a D.C. appeals court overturned one of those delays. The judges ruled that an Obama-era regulation designed to limit methane leakage from oil and gas wells was essentially a law that had to be enforced. Rather than staying it, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would need to rewrite it.

The ruling offered an opening for environmental groups to challenge delays on other regulations that were being delayed — often so that industry could marshal new arguments against them. For instance, the EPA is being sued over its decision to postpone the implementation of new ozone standards. And the Bureau of Land Management is facing a challenge to its decision to push back monitoring of methane leaks due to oil and gas exploration on Native American land.

“We’re seeing so much sloppy work,” says George Washington University Law School Professor Emily Hammond. “We’re seeing stays that aren’t sufficient to withstand judicial review.”


dakota access

Two Dakota Access protesters say they purposely damaged the pipeline.

Today, outside offices of the Iowa Utilities Board, Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek cited several instances where they used torches to cut through empty pieces of pipeline and pipe valves and burned construction equipment. The pair’s activity started the night of November 8, Election Day.

After describing the vandalism, the pair began to remove letters from the Utilities Board sign and were arrested by state troopers. “To all those that continue to be subjected to the government’s injustices, we humbly stand with you,” Reznicek said. “And we ask now that you stand with us.”

An Iowa Sierra Club lawyer condemned their actions. Another activist thanked the two for their courage as they were carted away. And a spokesperson for a pro-pipeline group called them “violent criminals.” Opinions seem as mixed as those over the pipeline itself.

Both Reznicek and Montoya have been arrested before for involvement in protests. “The system is broken and it is up to us as individuals to take peaceful action and remedy it,” Montoya told reporters.


#everbodyknew

Utility companies knew about climate change for decades, too.

A report out today from the Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy organization, provides evidence that scientists warned utility companies about the potential dangers of climate change as early as 1968. That’s about two decades before global warming generally broke into the public consciousness.

Researchers at the institute have unearthed speeches from scientists to utility companies and industry groups, as well as government reports that those groups contributed to, both of which predicted that fossil fuels could spur climate change — although the scientific consensus then wasn’t as solid as it is now.

The Electric Research Council, a research group with input from utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, set aside $1.5 million to study the long-term effects of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in 1971, the documents show.

Knowledge, or at least suspicion, of the impending crisis from utilities adds to the list of fossil fuel industry leaders who were aware of the risks of global warming well before they emerged on the world stage. Activists say that by keeping mum on the topic, those leaders “robbed humanity of a generation’s worth of time to reverse climate change.”