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Hand it over!

Europe really wants America’s oil and gas

EU flag

It isn't just oil companies that are pushing the U.S. to drop its near-total ban on crude oil exports. European Union negotiators are trying to convince America to not only end the ban but agree to a "legally binding commitment" that would guarantee both oil and gas exports to its members.

The Washington Post got its hands on a secret E.U. document describing negotiations related to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The free-trade agreement could affect $4.7 trillion in trade between the U.S. and Europe -- and energy supplies are at the forefront of the European negotiators' minds.

"The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources," the "restricted" European Council document states.

So far, it seems that U.S. negotiators have been stonewalling the bid for such a legally binding commitment. "The U.S. has ... been hesitant to discuss a solution for U.S. export restrictions on natural gas and crude oil in the TTIP through binding legal commitments," the document says.


Zero-energy house of the future could be lurking in your neighborhood


Wondering what houses will look like in the future? Wonder no longer! Gaze upon the net-zero energy test house built by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)! Gaze, I say!

Have you gazed yet?

And you’re back?

OK, so houses in the future will look exactly like every other boring house in the dull neighborhoods replacing amber waves of grain from coast to coast. And as far as it goes, that’s a good thing. People love boring. Community associations love boring. Boring is sexy. If it looked like an H.R. Giger fever dream people wouldn’t build them.

This particular house was built to do everything the typical American family of four does and end up using zero net energy, and after a year, it turns out it didn’t quite work out: Despite massive snowfalls and a rough winter, the home actually produced 441 more kilowatts of energy than it used, enough to drive an electric car over 1,400 miles -- which, considering the house was built in Maryland’s D.C. suburbs, the most boring place in America, might be far enough to get you someplace interesting.


Wanna see a magic trick?

Environmental free-trade deal could help tar-sands producers

environmental goods

Negotiations began Tuesday at the World Trade Organization on a free-trade agreement that would free "environmental goods" from the shackles of tariffs and other protectionist measures. Such measures have been put in place around the world to protect domestic manufacturing industries and jobs from cheaper imports. They can increase the price of the products compared with, say, if they were all made in Vietnamese sweatshops.

The WTO talks in Geneva are a big deal -- they involve the United States, China, the European Union, and 11 other countries. They could affect $1 trillion worth of trade every year.

So why aren't environmentalists shouting, "Hallelujah?"

Because it's a ruse.

"These negotiations are less about protecting the environment than they are about expanding free trade," Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, told Grist. "Of course we support the increased use of, and trade in, environmentally beneficial products. But we have really serious concerns about the approach that the World Trade Organization is taking."


“It’s raining renewable energy loans!” shrieks DOE, racing to the dance floor


Last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $4 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. It was like the first few delicate wildflowers poking out of the scorched base of the volcano that was Solyndra. Incredible! It's been three years now, and not only did President Obama fail to die from bad-solar-panel-investment shame, but solar power is going gangbusters, even if Solyndra is still toast. Internationally, renewable energy, but solar in particular, looks to be going through a process similar to what happened to the personal computer starting in the 1980s: Technology leaps, prices drop, and in …


Will gas get a free pass?

Oil companies try to weasel out of California’s cap-and-trade program

tailpipe emissions

Like climate change, California's cap-and-trade program is an evolving and growing beast. Since its official launch last year, power plants, cement producers, glass manufacturers, and some other heavy industries operating in the Golden State have been required to reduce carbon emissions and pay for the privilege of polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. In January of 2015, the program is due to expand to affect suppliers of natural gas and motor fuels, helping to further slow global warming and raise billions more dollars for climate and environmental programs.

But, whoa, hold up there, you crazy Left Coasters. Including gasoline in the program would slightly raise gas prices and provide financial support for alternatives, such as electric-vehicle charging stations and solar panels. And that's the last thing Big Oil and its pals want.

ClimateWire reports that oil companies and big business groups have been pushing state lawmakers to exempt gasoline from the cap-and-trade program, pointing out that Californian motorists would be burdened with increased prices at gas pumps. And it seems that some lawmakers have been listening carefully. Last week, Assemblymember Henry Perea (D) amended legislation in such a way as to exempt motor fuels from the program for an additional three years.

"The cap-and-trade system should not be used to raise billions of dollars in new state funds at the expense of consumers who are struggling to get back on their feet after the recession," Perea said in a press release.


Situation normal, all trucked up

Um, TransCanada just bought off a town with a firetruck


Pipeline company TransCanada recently gave Mattawa, a small town in Ontario, Canada, about $28,200 ($30,000 Canadian) to spend on a rescue truck. Mattawa's volunteer fire department plans to use the truck to put out fires, and rescue people who've fallen through the ice or gotten themselves into car accidents. Sounds nice, right? Who doesn't like to be pulled out of a ice-cold lake, or a flaming car wreck by a nice new truck, especially when the newest truck your volunteer fire department has is over a decade old? Well, the truck came with a few catches, which interested parties can …


This fake LEGO ad shows the Arctic drowning in an oil spill

I don't know who thought it was a good idea to get their kids a Shell-themed LEGO set, but apparently someone did, or Greenpeace would not have had to make this depressing video protesting the advertising partnership between the world's largest toy company and a global fossil fuel conglomerate. (I mean, child-me would definitely have coveted those polar bear and husky minifigs, but a flaming oil rig?)

In fact, LEGO and Shell go way back, to the 1960s when the popular build-it-yourself toy company started selling Shell-branded toys to future engineers. But now, with Shell making persistent yet tentative moves in the warming Arctic, Greenpeace is calling out the companies' 2012 contract, which they claim is worth $116 million to Shell's PR department. The run of logo-bedecked toys are sold at gas stations in 26 countries, and have supposedly been accompanied by a 7.5 percent increase in Shell sales.


Will the U.S. keep spending taxpayer money on dirty coal plants abroad?


Congress could get in the way of Obama's efforts to clean up power plants -- not just here at home, but abroad.

A year ago, when President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan, he declared that the U.S. would stop funding most coal projects in other countries. “I’m calling for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity,” Obama said in his big climate speech. In December, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps American firms access markets abroad, changed its lending guidelines to conform with Obama’s edict.

But now pro-coal members of Congress are moving to block the new guidelines. The Hill reports:


Need to charge your phone while herding? There’s an ass for that

Rachele Totaro IT

Most of you may know "Solar Donkeys" as the name of my ill-fated 1987 sci-fi rock opera, but as is so often the case, life is finally imitating art. The desperate need to stay connected being the mother of 21st century invention, village herders in Turkey found the most obvious solution to keeping their cellphones juiced on those long nights out with the flock. They mounted solar panels to donkeys, which may sound strange at first until you realize they didn’t have access to llamas.

Now I can’t imagine why a Turkish herders needs a constant connection to his Foursquare account ("Just checking in. Day 32, still in a field next to my robodonkey"), but that herder is probably wondering why I think the world needs my up-to-the-minute opinions on the latest episode of America’s Got Talent, so que sera, sera.


hacking the climate

In the Colombian rainforest, an experiment in community-driven climate protection

Tolo River patrol

On a stifling hot afternoon, five men make their way through the dense rainforest of northern Colombia. Frazier Guisao, a former logger, heads the single-file line, slicing through the thick undergrowth with a machete to carve out a narrow tunnel.

Guisao and his team wear T-shirts embossed with bright letters spelling out COCOMASUR, an abbreviation of the Spanish name of their small Afro-Colombian enclave, known as the Black Communities of the Tolo River and Southern Coast.

Hallie Bateman

When the group pauses for a break at the base of a giant almendro tree, Guisao looks up to examine it. Trees in this region can reach as high as 10-story buildings. The trunk of this one would take 15 people hand-in-hand to surround. “This wood is worth around three million pesos in town,” he says. That’s about $1,500.

Guisao and his team are here to make sure that these trees are never cleared for profit, though.

Three years ago, the Tolo River community decided not to log its 32,000 acres of rainforest, and instead to protect it for its pristine habitat and the river that gives the community both its name and its only source of fresh water.

In addition to these obvious benefits, the forest offers another valuable service: The trees and soil are a safe depository of carbon. When rainforests are burned or cleared, carbon escapes into the air in the form of carbon dioxide, a gas that warms Earth’s climate.

Increasingly, companies and governments around the world are willing to pay communities like the Tolo River to preserve rainforests as a way of offsetting their own carbon emissions, and slowing climate change. In 2012, governments and corporations bought a half a billion dollars worth of carbon offset through a global, United Nations-lead initiative known as REDD -- short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The program has drawn criticism for corruption, improper carbon accounting, and project developers taking advantage of illiterate indigenous peoples. Still, forest conservation through REDD can be part of the solution to both deforestation and climate change.

This is the story of one community that found a way to do it right.