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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Another climate delay from the Obama admin?

With Congress unwilling to do anything about climate change (or anything about anything), climate hawks have been looking to President Obama to take executive actions that don't need approval from Capitol Hill. A big one everyone is waiting for: greenhouse gas regulations for new power plants.

Well, don't hold your breath. Looks like it might still be a while. From The Washington Post:

The Obama administration is leaning toward revising its landmark proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, according to several individuals briefed on the matter, a move that would delay tougher restrictions and could anger many environmentalists.


Oil industry ad campaign: ‘Give us tax breaks or everybody gets hurt’

A message from your friendly neighborhood petro-giant
A message from your friendly neighborhood petro-giant.

"I think taxing the oil and gas industry does nothing but harm the country."

And with that doublespeak, doublespoken by some actor, the American Petroleum Institute opens one of two new television ads it is about to begin screening around Washington, D.C. The advertisements are shot to make it look like ordinary folk are worried that higher taxes on the country's energy giants would hurt their ordinary families.

The planned advertising blitz is part of a desperate and dishonest bid by the energy sector to cling to its billions in annual tax breaks. President Barack Obama and other Democrats want to strip some of those tax breaks away from oil and gas companies, which are among the most profitable, price-gouging, Earth-destroying, and environmentally irresponsible companies operating today.


Bottled water doesn’t actually come from where you think it does

Image (1) bottledwater.jpg for post 30853Are you still hung up on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's post-State of the Union weird water flub? Well, Peter Gleick sure is. The author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water (and the underhanded liberator of those climate-denying documents from the Heartland Institute) has been researching bottled water for years, and after Rubio's odd moment with a bottle of Poland Spring, Gleick saw his chance to finally nail Poland Spring bottler Nestlé on where the water actually comes from.

A "distinct character profile" and not quite 1/3 legit? Sounds Rubio-appropriate. Mother Jones reports:

In researching the book, Gleick said he found that most of the companies that he talked to were cagey about their water sources. "They don't like to advertise that fact, and there's no legal requirement that they say on their label where the water comes from," he says. As a result, despite spending $11 billion a year on bottled water, most Americans don't know much about the origins of these beverages.

There are a few rules that bottled-water brands have to follow, however. In order to be called "spring water," according to the EPA, a product has to be either "collected at the point where water flows naturally to the earth's surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source." Unlike the term "spring water," other terms like "glacier water" or "mountain water" aren't regulated and "may not indicate that the water is necessarily from a pristine area," according to the EPA.

Gleick found that only about 55 percent of bottled waters are actual spring water. The other 45 percent of brands is mostly treated tap water. Aquafina, PepsiCo's bottled water brand, and Dasani, which is Coke's, are from municipal sources. ...

Read more: Food


Obama admin wants hundreds of tiny nuclear reactors built in U.S.

Small nuclear reactors are just like big nuclear reactors, but smaller. And portable.

The Department of Energy is working on a strategy that could see as many as 50 small modular nuclear reactors built by the private sector every year by 2040. Many would be sold to the U.S. government; others would be exported and some more might even be imported.

The strategy is being pitched as a way to plug energy holes as the nation's coal power plants are retired. Never mind all that cheap wind and solar that's coming online, hey Obama?


Protesters target firms angling for a piece of pipeline profits

Tomorrow marks the start of a week of actions and information sessions nationwide aimed at throwing a monkey wrench into the Keystone XL pipeline construction. There are 24 planned events across 20 cities.

Tar Sands Blockade

Want to march and chant? Want to dance? Want to learn how best to lie limp in front of a bulldozer or U-lock your neck to a piece of heavy machinery? (Protip: A little Maalox and water will wash that pepper-spray out right quick.) Rallies, protests, flash mobs, trainings, and Idle No More round dances will take place from Seattle to Washington, D.C., rain or shine. The whole effort is spearheaded by the tireless folks at Deep Green Resistance and the Tar Sands Blockade.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Obama to require climate assessments for big projects like highways and pipelines

'Say, Jack, what if we used NEPA to slow down them there rising seas?'
White House
"Say, Jack, what if we used NEPA to slow down them there rising seas?"

Industries that warm the globe, take note: It might be time to freak out.

The Obama administration will soon start requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects that need federal approval. This would include pipelines, highways, coal and natural-gas export facilities, and even new logging roads, if they're on public land or subject to federal oversight.

That’s according to Bloomberg, which reports that Obama will be issuing new guidance under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the federal government to conduct environmental impact assessments for significant projects.

The change wouldn't mean that any project affecting the climate would be nixed, but industry lobbyists worry it could lead to more delays and lawsuits.


Are municipal utilities more resilient during disasters?

Boulder, Colo., wants to dump its investor-owned utility and start up a publicly owned one that's more in line with the city's pinko-commie agenda aggressive environmental goals, as Grist's David Roberts has written about (twice). But even cities and towns without pinko-commie tendencies are looking to switch to municipal utilities in order to lower rates and get faster responses to outages caused by our new extreme weather.

Not everyone agrees, though, that public utilities are better capable of getting their act together in an emergency. The New York Times reports:

In Massachusetts after Hurricane Irene in 2011, for instance, municipal utilities in some of the hardest-hit areas were able to restore power in one or two days, while investor-owned companies like NStar and National Grid took roughly a week for some customers. According to an advocacy group called Massachusetts Alliance for Municipal Electric Choice, government-owned utilities on average employ more linemen per 10,000 customers than the private companies. ...

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


U.S. to help Pacific islands cope with climate change

International help is on its way for Vanuatu, which is threatened by climate change
Shutterstock / Karin Wassmer
Some help is on its way for Vanuatu, which is threatened by climate change.

Unless you're among the growing number of Americans whose homes are powered entirely by renewable energy, every time you switch on a light you're doing your part to sink a Pacific island.

Many of the thousands of tropical islands that dot the Pacific Ocean are low-lying and will be among the first countries to sink as the world's seas continue their steady rise.

But beyond the risks posed to their very survival, these islands face additional acute threats from freshwater shortages, coral bleaching, higher temperatures, and other hazards wrought by climate change. This despite the fact that their inhabitants have low carbon footprints and are contributing relatively little to the climate problem.

It is against this backdrop that the U.S. has spent the past year preparing aid projects designed to help a dozen Pacific island countries brace themselves against the growing threats posed by global warming.

Read more: Climate & Energy


E.U. car efficiency info may be more ‘creative’ than accurate

When it comes to legit auto fuel-economy data, a new report suggests there may be some sugar in the gas tank.

Activist group Transport & Environment says European car makers are consistently "optimizing" their cars' performances on fuel efficiency and emissions tests, i.e. cheating. Overall, T&E estimates that European car manufacturers are falsely claiming their cars are 25 to 50 percent more efficient than they really are.

"It's lots and lots of small tweaks," T&E's Greg Archer told the BBC. "And they all add up."

The report accuses car-makers of all sorts of MacGyver-like fuel-efficiency tricks used just during testing: taping up tiny cracks around doors and windows to reduce air resistance; lightening their cars; using special lubricants; slicking up test tracks; and stopping the car's battery from recharging. "Creative, but legal," according to The Guardian.

Click to embiggen.
Transport & Environment
Click to embiggen.

All that alleged trickery adds up to car drivers thinking they're getting a more efficient, cheaper vehicle, and officials thinking they're getting lower emissions and a cleaner environment. From The Guardian:


Big Sugar could get a big government bailout

sugar.jpgTrigger warning, healthy eaters. The USDA is considering a big sugar bailout. Here's how that would work: The agency would buy 400,000 tons of sugar from surprisingly productive sugar companies in order to give those sugar companies enough cash to pay back the the $862 million they borrowed from the USDA last October. And then you would riot in the streets because what the hell is going on, USDA?!

The Wall Street Journal reports on the part before the rioting:

The USDA makes loans to sugar processors annually as part of a program that is rooted in the 1934 Sugar Act. The loans are secured with some 4.1 billion pounds, or 2.05 million tons, of sugar that companies expect to produce from the current harvest. That comes to almost a quarter of total U.S. output that the USDA forecasts for this year.

If domestic sugar prices bounce back before a final decision [on the bailout] is made, the USDA would back away from plans to intervene in the market, [said USDA economist Barbara Fecso]. A final decision could come as early as April 1. ...

The loan program was designed to operate at no cost to taxpayers. A June 2000 study by the Government Accountability Office, then called the General Accounting Office, estimated the program's cost to the U.S. economy at $700 million in 1996 and $900 million in 1998.

The bailout would help bolster the price of sugar, therefore driving up the cost of sweetened goods. But even if you hate sugar and all the terrible things it does to our bodies, you're still paying for it.

Is that enough, though, to ally carrot and cupcake lovers in what New York Magazine wishes were a militant social movement?