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Critical List: John Bryson’s green credentials; biodegradable cups end as methane

John Bryson, Obama's new pick for commerce secretary, is a dyed-green-in-the-wool environmentalist (he co-founded NRDC), who's taken a swing through the corporate world. The U.N. carbon market shrunk for the first time since it was founded in 2005. Who's to blame? The U.S. Senate, of course! (Well, among others, but we have the most fun pinning stuff on the Senate.) The Keystone pipeline is spilling Canadian oil all over states like North Dakota and Kansas. Okay, this time, you CAN blame Canada. More bad weather news: As the Missouri River floods in South Dakota, evacuating residents are being told they …

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How to get to a fully renewable power system

How can we scale up the clean and phase out the dirty?What's it going to take to substantially ramp up the amount of renewables in the electricity system? There are many nerdy discussions of that question on the interwebs, but lemme try to talk about it in reasonably non-nerdy language. There's a certain amount of demand for electricity that is steady and reliable. Above that, there are fluctuating "peaks" of demand each day, usually evening, when everyone gets home and starts watching TV and running the dishwasher, or in hot areas, the afternoon. For that steady core of demand, we …

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Pro-fracking ad accidentally reveals dangers of fracking

ExxonMobil has been running full-page ads that make underground hydraulic fracturing operations -- the same ones responsible for massive environmental problems all over the U.S. -- look about as threatening as a World Book encyclopedia illustration of a water pipe. The ads highlight the multiple layers of steel and concrete used to protect shallow aquifers. Too bad this casing fails regularly, according to ProPublica, leading to multiple accidents in the American Northeast, as well as Colorado and Ohio. The ad also falsely implies that these layers of protection extend the full length of the well -- turns out that they don't. That's …

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Maybe fracked natural gas isn’t dirtier than coal, after all

The climate story on natural gas is gnarlier than ever. First there was a paper from Robert Howarth of Cornell claiming that natural gas from fracking is worse than coal, as far as net warming effect on the earth. Now the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has fired back, sort of, with a report that seems to have already been in progress when Howarth published his. NETL says that when natural gas is used to produce electricity, it results in 50 percent less greenhouse-gas emissions than coal over a 20-year time horizon, and 54 percent less when …

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Fracking with our food: how gas drilling affects farming

Photo: Gilt Taste This story originally appeared on Gilt Taste. There's a stunning moment in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, where a man touches a match to his running faucet -- to have it explode in a ball of fire. This is what hydraulic fracturing, a process of drilling for natural gas known as "fracking," is doing to many drinking water supplies across the country. But the other side of fracking -- what it might do to the food eaten by people living hundreds of miles from the nearest gas well -- has received little attention. Unlike many in agriculture, …

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Obama’s oil plan shows he still doesn’t get post-truth politics

In his weekly address, Obama once again promoted an energy plan that centrally involves increased domestic drilling for oil and gas. You can read the ugly details at The New York Times or Politico. Here's the political thinking that informs this move: Gas prices are rising and people are angry. Republicans and conservative Dems are blaming gas prices on Obama and bashing him for not drilling enough. Yet his left base hates drilling and oil companies. The answer? Engage in what a Politico reporter called the "triangle strategy" -- more drilling to please his critics, reduced oil subsidies to please …

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Critical List: The Mississippi River, unleashed; ‘The Dirty Dozen’ list under attack

The mighty Mississippi just can't be held down. This weekend, the Army Corps of Engineers opened four gates to the Morganza Spillway, which hasn't been used since 1973. Corps officials told residents: "Prepare for the worst. It's coming." President Obama said Saturday the administration would begin auctioning oil and gas leases in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve. Point, Republicans. NOAA has sentenced up to 85 sea lions per year to death. Their crime: feasting on endangered salmon. The U.K. parliament has agreed to back a "carbon budget" that by 2027 will have cut carbon emissions to half of 1990 levels. …

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The most danceable fracking explainer you’ll see today

"My Water's On Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song)" is "Why Does The Sun Shine?" for fracking. ("Your groundwater is a mass of incandescent gas ...") It explains enough about hydraulic fracturing -- what it's for, how it works, where it can go wrong, why your sink just went up in flames -- for you to get through a reasonably intensive cocktail party conversation, or understand most news articles on the subject if you're the type of person who never gets invited to cocktail parties and instead just sits home reading the Times. (It was made by journalism students, so you …

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Saudi Arabia scrambling to get off own oil, build 5 gigawatts of solar power by 2020

What do you do when you're basically a giant welfare state whose stability depends on keeping the money tap open, yet your population is set to double and your electricity consumption to triple by 2032? If you're Saudi Arabia, the answer is build renewable energy as fast as you can. The first volley is a goal of 5 gigawatts of solar power by 2020. That's an enormous amount of generating capacity to build in just 9 years -- fully a third of Germany's entire installed base. The idea is that replacing the country's current energy mix with renewables will free …

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Critical List: Fracking connected to flammable tap water; eco-friendly paintballs

Remember those people with flammable tap water? Yup, hydrofracking is responsible, according to Duke University scientists. Chile wants to dam two incredible rivers, despite opposition from both locals and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. A judge in Utah shut down Koch Industries' search for the clever people who sent out a fake press release claiming the company had embraced the idea of climate change. A quote from the Kochtopus’ inner monologue: “How dare you, Utah judge? Nobody says Koch Industries believes in science and gets away with it! Nobody!” Angela Merkel is kicking other world leaders' butts on clean energy policy. …