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GOP throws tantrum over Obama’s EPA nominee

Gina McCarthy
Reuters/Jason Roberts
Gina McCarthy -- she's just too EPA-ish.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee refused to show up for work Thursday morning, basically because they really don't like the EPA.

The committee was scheduled to vote on the nomination of Gina McCarthy, President Obama's pick to head the EPA. The vote had already been delayed three weeks to accommodate grumbling Republicans, according to committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Then, this morning, right before the scheduled committee hearing, the eight GOP members sent a letter saying they were going to boycott.

From Politico:

“This has nothing to do with Gina McCarthy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who charged that the boycott has more to do with a desire to obstruct EPA’s role in climate change regulations. ...

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Tesla turns a profit, mulls driverless feature

Tesla roadsters charging in the parking lot at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.
John Upton
Tesla roadsters charging in the parking lot at the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.

Electric-car pioneer Tesla just reported its first ever quarterly profit, jolted into the black by strong sales of its all-electric sedans and by a form of carbon trading under California's clean-cars program.

And with that achievement under its belt, the Californian company is moving on to conjuring another type of magic. Tesla is in talks with nearby Google to develop a car that can run not only without any gas in the tank, but without anybody in the driver's seat.

First, the financial news. From CNNMoney:

The electric-car maker announced its first-ever quarterly profit on Wednesday, blowing past analyst estimates.

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This scientist needs your help to study air pollution from coal trains

Dan Jaffe
Dan Jaffe

“Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?”

Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, thinks that’s a fair question to consider as Washington state grapples with whether to allow the construction of coal-export terminals that could triple the amount of daily coal-train traffic chugging through the state.

But Jaffe, whose lab has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers on air pollution, hasn’t been able to scare up funding to research the potential air-quality impacts of those coal trains. In the absence of dollars from the usual government or corporate channels, he has turned to the internet to crowd-fund this vital research. Jaffe started a page on Microryza, a sort of Kickstarter for scientific research (a great idea with a name that unfortunately does not roll off the tongue). He writes:

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Joe Biden kinda sorta maybe opposes Keystone XL pipeline

Joe Biden and Elaine Cooper
Sierra Club
Sierra Club activist Elaine Cooper with Joe Biden.

Vice President Joe Biden told an activist on Friday that he doesn't support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, according to a post on the Sierra Club website.

While the veep was working the crowd at an event in South Carolina, Elaine Cooper got a moment with him:

I asked him about the administration’s commitment to making progress on climate and whether the president would reject the pipeline. He looked at the Sierra Club hat on my head, and he said “yes, I do -- I share your views -- but I am in the minority,” and he smiled. ...

I know that this vice president is a man who isn’t afraid to speak from his heart, and who sometimes gets out in front of the rest of the administration on moral issues. It was nearly a year before, on May 6, 2012, that Biden said that he was “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality. What the vice president said to me on Friday was equally brave and equally right.

Environmental leaders seized on the news, BuzzFeed reports:

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Nuclear plant spills radiation into Lake Michigan

Palisades Nuclear Generating Station
NRC
Palisades Nuclear Generating Station

Last summer, a leaky tank led to the shutdown of the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan. So plant owner Entergy patched up the leak, fired back up the reactor, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the best did not materialize.

The tank began leaking again. But no worries, thought the Einsteins at Entergy, it was only leaking a gallon a day. That was OK, they figured, because the NRC had allowed it to leak up to 38 gallons a day. As of Friday, they were still doing that whole "hoping for the best" thing.

But on Saturday the leaky drip turned into a gush, and all the hoping in the world couldn't hold back the tide of spilling radioactive water. Nearly 80 gallons of water containing small amounts of radioactive tritium and possibly trace amounts of cobalt and cesium spewed into Lake Michigan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the AP.

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PG&E hit with big penalty for big natural-gas explosion

The San Bruno explosion's aftermath, photographed 10 days after a pipeline ruptured and ignited.
Thomas Hawk
The aftermath of the San Bruno explosion, photographed 10 days after a pipeline ruptured and ignited.

It looks like Pacific Gas & Electric's shareholders are going to have to spend $2.25 billion on safety improvements because of a 2010 natural-gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco exurb of San Bruno.

That was the record-breaking penalty proposed this week by staff of the California Public Utilities Commission. The agency's five commissioners will have the final say on the proposal, and PG&E will have an opportunity to try to barter down that price tag. The company says it has already spent more than $1 billion on improvements since the fatal accident.

The penalty is being characterized by the agency and media reports as a "fine," but while fines are typically paid into general government coffers, this $2.25 billion would be invested fully in improving the safety of PG&E's infrastructure. And the money would need to come out of shareholder profits; it couldn't be gouged from customers by hiking their bills.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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WTO kills Ontario’s green jobs initiative

Wind turbines in Ontario, where a Canuck conspiracy to discriminate against Japanese and Europeans was foiled by world trade rules.
Shutterstock
Wind turbines in Ontario, where a Canuck conspiracy to discriminate against Japanese and Europeans was foiled by the WTO.

It's great to go green and it's laudable to go local. But don't you dare try to do both at once.

That's the message the World Trade Organization sent this week went it ruled -- again -- that Ontario’s Green Energy Act illegally discriminated against international renewable energy companies. Similar green jobs programs in other countries might also have to be disbanded following the ruling.

The Green Energy Act aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while encouraging energy conservation and fostering a jobs-rich renewable energy sector. Under the controversial elements of the act, electricity suppliers could charge premium prices for clean energy, but only if they produced that electricity using a certain amount of locally manufactured equipment like solar panels.

The European Union and Japan protested to the international trade body, claiming that the program illegally discriminated against their manufacturers. The WTO sided with the E.U. and Japan in a November ruling. Ontario appealed against that ruling, and on Monday the WTO rejected the appeal [PDF] while making some minor tweaks to its earlier ruling. From the Toronto Star:

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Conservative newspaper declares love for Obama’s fracker-friendly ways

A Washington Examiner front page in 2010, after Obama called on blacks, Hispanics, women and young people to vote.
Twitter user Maimonides, via The Washington Post
A Washington Examiner front page in 2010, after Obama called on blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people to vote.

Uber-conservative Beltway newspaper The Washington Examiner has revealed its secret crush on Barack Obama and his administration's fracker-friendly ways.

It's not often that the newspaper says anything nice about the president. The Examiner is owned by Philip Anschutz, an oil-drilling magnate, and the newspaper sometimes seems to exist only to beam its owner's conservative views into the brains of D.C. insiders.

In March, for example, the paper's editorial writers likened the president to "a desperate gambler who doubles down on a losing bet" after he called for more green energy spending. In January, the editorial writers charged that "Obamacare threatens states' fiscal autonomy." And, famously, back in 2009, Examiner political correspondent Byron York argued that Obama's "sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are" -- as if the opinions of blacks shouldn't count.

But when it comes to the Obama administration's complicity in the nationwide fracking spree, the Examiner has nothing but love. Here are some excerpts from "Two cheers for Obama on fracking," the newspaper's May 5 editorial:

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Youngstown, Ohio, voters on fracking: “Yes, please”

fracking-ohio-hplead
Jason Shenk

On Tuesday, voters in Youngstown, Ohio, gave the fracking industry carte blanche to continue pumping chemicals into the ground beneath them and pumping natural gas out.

A city charter amendment that would have outlawed hydraulic fracturing in the city was rejected by voters, with the unofficial final vote tally showing 3,821 votes against and 2,880 in favor. The ballot measure would also have banned new pipelines in the city and prevented oil-field waste from being transported through the city.

A fracking boom is underway in Ohio, especially in its east, where Youngstown is located. But the boom has not brought with it many jobs for Ohioans, despite promises otherwise, as most of the work is being done by specialists who've come in from other states. It has, however, brought with it water pollution problems.

Opposition to the ballot measure was spearheaded by a business-backed group calling itself Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment. That group was formed especially to defeat the ballot measure, and it easily outspent the measure's backers. In campaigning, the business group had described the ballot measure as unconstitutional, far-reaching, and unenforceable, and claimed it would send the wrong kind of message to the business community.

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Where did all the tornadoes go?

Remember these guys?
Shutterstock
Remember these guys?

The drought that parched much of the nation during the past year didn't just stunt crops -- it also stunted the annual yield of tornadoes. And an unseasonably chilly spring is so far helping to keep the hellish twisters at bay -- although weather forecasters warn that trend may be short-lived.

During the past 12 months, the U.S. was hit by an estimated 197 tornadoes rated EF1 or stronger on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which ranks tornadoes according to their destructive potential from a low "0" up to a devastating "5." That was the lowest number of such tornadoes during any 12-month period since record-keeping began in 1954 -- well below the previous low of 247 recorded between July 1990 and June 1991.

That's in huge contrast to the onslaught of tornadoes that tore deadly paths of destruction through the nation in 2011, which was a record-busting year of tornadoes galore.

Read more: Climate & Energy