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Safety rules to prevent oil-train explosions delayed

DOT-111 rail cars
U.S. Department of Transportation

Sounds like we might need to get used to oil-hauling trains exploding. New rules that would require railways to use stronger cars for transporting crude will not be ready until next year, the federal government announced this week.

There are a few reasons why we're seeing more oil-train explosions these days. The main one is the huge rise in the amount of oil being extracted in the U.S. and then transported by rail to refiners. Also, fracked crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota is particularly explosive thanks to its higher levels of light hydrocarbons and, possibly, the presence of flammable fracking chemicals. And DOT-111 tanker rail cars, which make up 70 percent of the nation’s tanker fleet, puncture easily. 

Here's Fuel Fix with an update on forthcoming railcar safety rules:


D.C. is leaking more methane than a burpy cow

Henry Patton

We've poked fun at cows for years for their leaky digestive systems, but Duke University's Robert Jackson has discovered that when it comes to methane burps and farts, cows have nothing on cities.

Jackson first looked at Boston and found 3,356 separate leaks of methane into the atmosphere. Then he went to D.C. and found even more -- about 6,000, which is "roughly four leaks every mile" and "more than twice the national average for cities," NPR reports..

A few of those leaks are dangerous, but the city's gas utility isn't doing much about it, according to NPR:

Read more: Cities, Living


U.S. CO2 emissions are on the rise, and coal-loving members of Congress want to keep it that way


If the steady decline in U.S. carbon emissions in recent years has lulled you into a sense of complacency, this fact should snap you to attention: Last year, U.S. CO2 emissions rose by 2 percent over 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Brad Plumer provides a good explanation in The Washington Post. Over the past few years, the natural gas boom has made gas cheap and helped it displace coal, hence the declining emissions. But the price of gas inched back up last year, thanks to tighter supply and more demand for home heating fuel, causing some power plant operators to turn back to coal.

So how could we get back on track? If polluters had to pay the social costs of their emissions, that would make both coal and gas a lot more expensive, and renewables comparatively cheaper. But that would require an act of Congress, and the votes just aren't there.

In the meantime, Obama has directed the EPA to exercise its authority under the Clean Air Act and place limitations on CO2 emissions from both new and existing power plants. The EPA already has such rules for other pollutants released by burning coal, such as mercury and sulfur dioxide. Why shouldn't CO2 be regulated too?

Well, Republicans and the odd coal-state Democrat in Congress have an answer for that: because they don’t care about climate change, but they do care a lot about the coal industry.


These unlucky fish got flash frozen while they were swimming

frozen fish

Fish, as a rule, are smart enough and fast enough not to hang around in parts of the water that are going to freeze. But in Norway, when the temperatures dipped to -18 degrees F, a school of fish ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time -- a bay that froze over before they could escape. Business Insider writes:

A fish expert at Norway's Institute of Marine Research told NRK that the saithe may have been chased into shallow waters by large, fish-eating birds called cormorants, and then became trapped in a large clump by the low-tide.

Read more: Living


The week in GIFs: Kerry Washington edition

The week's most Scandal-ous green moments, brought to you by Olivia Pope.

U.N.'s climate chief told big firms to move their investments from dirty to clean energy:


A permit to kill an endangered rhino was auctioned off for $350,000:


Morrissey says meat-eaters are like pedophiles:

Read more: Living


Big green groups demand an end to Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy

White House

Leading environmental groups are telling President Barack Obama that it's time to drop his climate-screwing "all of the above" energy strategy, which promotes rampant drilling and mining of fossil fuels as well as green alternatives.

Eighteen groups sent a letter to Obama on Thursday, pointing out that his strategy "fails to prioritize clean energy and solutions that have already begun to replace fossil fuels," and arguing that it's "a compromise that future generations can’t afford." The signers include the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Here's more from the letter:

We believe that continued reliance on an “all of the above” energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We understand that the U.S. cannot immediately end its use of fossil fuels and we also appreciate the advantages of being more energy independent. But an “all of the above” approach that places virtually no limits on whether, when, where or how fossil fuels are extracted ignores the impacts of carbon-intense fuels and is wrong for America’s future. America requires an ambitious energy vision that reduces consumption of these fuels in order to meet the scale of the climate crisis.


We can’t believe Blackfish got snubbed for an Oscar nomination

Mike Criss

If there’s one documentary people have been buzzing about lately, it’s Blackfish. We thought an Oscar nomination was a given, if not a straight-up win for Best Documentary (a la The Cove in 2010). So in current what-the-fuckery news, the Academy totally snubbed Blackfish. Instead, never-heard-ofs like Cutie and the Boxer and The Act of Killing snagged nominations.

To add insult to injury, SeaWorld’s stock promptly leapt 5.5 percent. GAH!

We’re not the only ones miffed. Ecorazzi too was confused yet managed to stay positive:

Read more: Living


Flood money: How Congress is botching the effort to climate-proof insurance


Congress appears to be on the brink of undoing a remarkable piece of legislation that reformed the outdated and hopelessly underwater National Flood Insurance Program. It's a pretty weird situation, as I wrote in a post earlier this week: Some of the lawmakers who championed the reforms (including the representative for whom the law is named) have become its most incensed critics.

But the irony doesn't end there. First, the push to undo the flood-insurance reforms comes, in part, from the victims of Hurricane Sandy -- a storm that revealed beyond a doubt just how broken the old system really was. And second, the reforms, while bold, were only a small first step; if coastal residents think these changes hurt, wait 'til they see what's coming.


U.N. climate chief calls for fossil-fuel divestment

Christiana Figueres
Arend Kuester

Take your money out of dirty energy and put it into clean energy. No, that's not talking (not this time, at least) -- that's from Christiana Figueres, chief of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

On Wednesday, Figueres called on big firms that manage trillions of dollars of investments to dump fossil fuel stocks in favor of greener alternatives, arguing that such a shift would help the firms’ clients as well as the climate.

“The pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds,” she said. “Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy.”


Pebble Mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could be environmentally devastating, EPA says

Boating on Bristol Bay
Friends of Bristol Bay
Locals enjoy Bristol Bay in its pre-polluted state.

A colossal gold, copper, and molybdenum mine near Alaska’s Bristol Bay could devastate the region’s ecosystem and fishing industry, according to a new report from the U.S. EPA.

“[L]arge-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed poses significant near- and long-term risk to salmon, wildlife and Native Alaska cultures,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran told reporters upon releasing the report.

Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty wants to build the Pebble Mine in the area, but it hasn't yet applied for federal permits, so the EPA's study was about the potential impacts of hypothetical mining in the region rather than the Pebble Mine specifically. Still, it was a damning indictment of Northern Dynasty's plans. (The U.K.-based Anglo American mining corporation dumped its stake in the project in September, and the U.K.-based Rio Tinto is considering whether to do the same.)

Tribes, fishermen, and environmentalists are pressuring the agency to block Pebble Mine under its Clean Water Act powers. This new EPA report was all about the science -- it doesn't make any policy recommendations -- but its findings could be used to support such a move.