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Picturing international coal trends

Cross-posted from Sightline Daily. In the course of looking into some larger questions about the global coal trade, I stumbled upon several fascinating pictures of world coal production and consumption during the last three decades. Here’s what global coal “production” (i.e. mining) looked like in 2010: I wasn’t able to embed the animated image, but you can watch 30 years of coal production play out here. Now here’s a closer look at trends within Asia, the world’s dominant coal producer: Watch the animated version here. That’s the production side. The other side of the coin, of course, is coal consumption. So, let’s …

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Why railroads care about coal exports

Cross-posted from Sightline Daily. Here are three pictures that help explain why American railways seem to be supporting coal export proposals in the Northwest. It's because railways are very closely connected to the coal industry. Consider: Coal so dwarfs every other rail-hauled commodity that it is almost as important as all the other commodities combined. (Note: This picture excludes "intermodal" freight.) But while coal is a huge component of rail freight, it declined noticeably in 2009 and 2010: Presumably, a good deal of the recent decline is related to a lousy economy and the attendant reduction in demand for electrical power and industrial uses of coal. …

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Coal-burning energy company demands more regulation

Baltimore company Constellation Energy has retrofitted two coal-burning power plants in anticipation of new EPA emissions laws. Now a lawsuit has delayed the new regulations from being enacted, and Constellation is pissed; if they're going to shell out $885 million to be in compliance, by god everyone else should have to, too. So they're flipping a Uie from usual energy company behavior, and agitating for stricter rules. The new technology allows Constellation's plants to produce 90 percent less nitrogen oxide and 95 percent less sulfur, plus way less of all the other gross stuff too. But it also takes more …

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Critical List: Toxic chemicals on the rise; baby seals in trouble

The EPA may retest water in Dimock, Pa., where residents have linked polluted water to fracking operations. In its first round of testing the town's water, the EPA declared it safe. GM is fixing up the Volt in order to avoid in real-life battery fires like the ones that started during testing. As winter sea ice disappears in the Arctic, fewer baby harp seals are making it. The amount of toxic chemicals shunted into the environment went up 16 percent between 2009 and 2010, according a new EPA report. The president of the Maldives has a message for Australia: The …

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Fossil fuels receive 250 different kinds of subsidies

Even though renewables get federal subsidies for research and development, they’re still at a disadvantage when competing with fossil fuels, because fossil fuels receive even more subsidies. We basically all knew that already, but few of us realized it was quite this bad. Turns out fossil fuels get 250 different kinds of subsidies, and they’re getting more all the time. According to research by GigaOm's Adam Lesser, buried in a 351 page report from the International Energy Agency is the fact that fossil fuels currently receive subsidies via "at least 250 mechanisms." And unlike federal subsidies for renewables, which are …

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Santorum vs. Romney: The climate is screwed either way

Romney and SantorumRomney & Santorum, both bad news for the environment.Photos: WEBN TV's Political Pulse & IowaPolitics.comRick Santorum, who surged at the last minute to give Mitt Romney a real run for his money in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, is less green than his rival, and decidedly nuttier when it comes to climate change. But let's not split hairs here. Both men will staunchly defend fossil fuels, and neither is likely to do much of anything to fight global warming.

Mitt Romney has expressed qualified concern about climate change over the years, and then vacillated about how much of it is human-caused and whether we should try to do anything about it.

No wobbling of that sort from Santorum -- he's an out-and-out denier. "There is no such thing as global warming," he told a smiling Glenn Beck on Fox News in June 2011. That same month, he told Rush Limbaugh that climate change is a liberal conspiracy: "It's just an excuse for more government control of your life and I've never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."

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Confused with a chance of flip-flop: Mitt Romney’s views on climate and energy

Mitt RomneyMitt Romney.Photo: Gage SkidmoreWhere does Mitt Romney stand on climate change and energy issues? Brace yourself: He doesn't have that flip-flopper reputation for nothing.

Then

Romney used to be one of the more sane Republicans when it comes to climate change. He would play up uncertainty and use weasel words, but he still acknowledged global warming as a problem.

In his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Romney wrote:

I believe that climate change is occurring -- the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control.

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Critical List: The shortest day of the year; some grey wolves to come off endangered species list

Today marks the solstice: the shortest day of the year and the beginning of winter. Things will only get better from here on out, as long as by “things” you mean “the amount of daylight available in the Northern hemisphere.” Grey wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin will be taken off the endangered species list. A 40,000-barrel oil spill in Nigeria could be the area's worst in a decade. In a climate-changed world, fewer malaria parasites are infectious, which means fewer people could get malaria. (Stand by for Rush Limbaugh complaining that liberals and Al Gore just want us all …

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Three cheers for new mercury pollution standards

New mercury pollution standards: something everyone should celebrate.Environmentalists and public health advocates have a reason to stand up and cheer: Finalized rules to cut down on mercury air pollution are set to be announced today by the EPA. But economists can also feel good about this holiday-season gift of clean air: Two decades of agency analysis have found the EPA's new mercury standards for power plants to be overwhelmingly cost-benefit justified. With annual compliance costs around $11 billion, and health benefits estimated to be up to $140 billion per year, even the most hard-nosed bean counter should be feeling festive. …

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The U.S. electricity mix in 20 years: A prediction

What will the U.S. power mix look like in 10 to 20 years? It's impossible to predict for certain, of course, because there's no way to know what regulators will do. Given the heavily regulated nature of the electric sector, even in so-called "deregulated" markets, surprises tend to come from regulatory reform, not innovation. (The U.S. electric grid has shown itself capable of rapid, large-scale transformation in response to regulations.) Nevertheless, there is insight to be gained from thinking through how the generation mix would evolve in the absence of regulatory reform. Despite the lengthy time required to design, finance, …