Climate & Energy

Notable quotable

Nate Tyler, organizer of Lights Out San Francisco: If we don’t do something, by 2050, all the polar bears will be gone. That’s where Santa …

Why coal is the enemy of the human race: Reason no. 836,372

Mercury moves from coal plant to fish dinner as fast as its name implies

A Scientificblogging post explains that it only takes three years for mercury emitted by coal-fired plants to travel up the food chain into fish that we eat: "Before this study, no one had directly linked atmospheric deposition (mercury emissions) and mercury in fish," says study co-author Vincent St. Louis of the University of Alberta.The experiment filled a major gap in scientists' understanding of how mercury moves from the atmosphere through forests, soils, lakes and into the fish that people eat.It's immediate value is that it provides undeniable proof of a direct link, said St. Louis, who specializes in what is called whole-ecosystem experimentation.He said it should spur policy-makers to enact regulations for more rapid reductions in mercury emissions by industry.


We had a lot of great stuff on the blog yesterday — so much that it was difficult to keep up. If you have time, …

Discover Brilliant: Trends in smart-grid policy

Next up, a discussion of trends in energy industry smart-grid policy. Starring: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Rob Pratt, Staff Scientist and Manager of Gridwise Activities …

EPA to Supreme Court: Take a hike!

EPA gives permit to new Utah coal plant; Waxman cries foul

Given the opportunity last month to adhere to the Supreme Court's findings in the case of Massachusetts vs. EPA, the EPA chose instead to completely ignore the ruling and proceed as if the case had never been heard. It issued a permit to Deseret Power to construct a 110-megawatt coal-fired power unit at an existing power plant in Uintah County, Utah. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, today sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson urging him to reverse his decision and asking him to answer some important questions. The letter is available at this link. Here are highlights: On August 30, 2007 , EPA issued a permit to Deseret Power for the construction of a 110-megawatt coal-fired power unit at the Bonanza Power Plant in Uintah County, Utah. The Deseret Bonaiua permit decision presented EPA with its first opportunity since the Supreme Court ruling to address the global warming harm from a major new stationary source of greenhouse gases. While relatively small, this unit has the potential to emit up to 90 million tons of CO2 over an estimated 50-year lifetime. As the permitting authority for this plant, EPA had to decide whether to issue the permit and whether to require carbon dioxide pollution controls or other mitigating measures under the permit ... ... EPA ruled in the permit decision that CO2 is not "subject to regulation" under the [Clean Air] Act and thus that EPA cannot require the plant to apply the best available control technology to reduce greenhouse gases. According to EPA, CO2 cannot be considered "subject to regulation" because CO2 is not yet regulated by "a statutory or regulatory provision that requires actual control of emissions." In essence, the EPA argument is that because EPA has not regulated CO2 emissions in the past, the agency cannot regulate CO2 emissions now. This is a bootstrap argument that conflicts with the plain language of the statute and blatantly misconstrues the Supreme Court's recent holding. ... ... I request your cooperation in the Committee's investigation into the process that led to the Deseret Power decision. First, I ask that you provide the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform copies of all documents relating to communications between EPA and any other federal agency or the White House that relate to (1) the Deseret Power application or (2) the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when making permitting decisions for new coal or gas-fired power plants. The tentative deadline for that information and the answers to other questions in the letter is October 3.

Discover Brilliant: Smart grid R&D

Next up, a discussion of trends in energy industry R&D. Starring: Gridwise Council, Alison Silverstein (Moderator) PIER and California Energy Commission, Merwin Brown, Director of …

When the heat and the humidity are in tandem

Another positive feedback loop

Scientificblogging reports on the link between atmospheric water vapor and greenhouse gases: The water vapor feedback mechanism works in the following way: as the atmosphere warms due to human-caused increases in carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons, water vapor increases, trapping more heat in the atmosphere, which in turn causes a further increase in water vapor. Basic theory, observations and climate model results all show that the increase in water vapor is roughly 6 percent to 7.5 percent per degree Celsius warming of the lower atmosphere. The authors note that their findings, when taken together with similar studies of continental-scale river runoff, zonal-mean rainfall, and surface specific humidity, point toward an emerging human-caused signal in the cycling of moisture between the atmosphere, land and ocean. "This new work shows that the climate system is telling us a consistent story," Santer said. "The observed changes in temperature, moisture, and atmospheric circulation fit together in an internally- and physically-consistent way."

San Francisco plans hour of darkness for October

If you’ll be in San Francisco between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, be sure to have a candle handy. Green group …

Mr. Clinton goes to the public-goods markets

The promise of governmental buyers’ clubs

We often wonder whether the government is better suited to solving many of our problems, or whether the market should take the lead. The current issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an article concerning the efforts of Bill Clinton's foundation which addresses this issue. The article shows how governments can work with markets for the benefit of large numbers of people and the planet by guaranteeing demand for a particular product or service. By doing this in the long-term, the production of beneficial goods and services can achieve the economies of scale that will make them practical to use within a few years, instead of decades from now. The Clinton Foundation used this powerful idea to cut prices for AIDS drugs in Africa and the Caribbean for hundreds of thousands of people. In Clinton's words, "All we did was take something that people would naturally do in a purely business market and apply it to the public-goods market." I'm not sure if Clinton is referring to the technical definition of "public goods" here, which refers to a good whose consumption does not reduce any other's consumption of that good, and a good that all have access to, such as information or air. The Earth's climate is most certainly a public good, and its radical warming would most certainly be a public bad. So the Clinton Foundation worked with a new group of cities, the C40, to create large-scale demand. If big cities could come together to provide a market to jumpstart new, energy-savings technologies, it would give quite a boost to efforts to mitigate global warming. As the author of The Atlantic article points out, cities have quite a source of demand at their disposal: