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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Virginia AG Cuccinelli leads charge to yank renewable energy credits

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants to be president. He wants it so bad that he can't drink coffee anymore because all he can taste is the White House. (I just made that joke up; feel free to use it for a small fee.) Last time Cuccinelli appeared in these pages, it was for his tax-dollar-funded campaign to discredit climate scientist Michael Mann. He's since written a book called The Last Line of Defense which is about the "fight for liberty." The cover of it looks like marble, which seems like a weird metaphor.

Ken Cuccinelli, looking pleased.

Anyway, part of freedom-fighter Ken Cuccinelli's plan to fight for freedom and America all the way from Richmond to Washington is revoking renewable energy incentives. Freedom! Eagles! From the Associated Press:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the state’s largest electric utilities are proposing to repeal financial incentives for using renewable energy after a report last year found that the millions of dollars in bonuses haven’t yielded the intended environmental gains and have contributed to increases in customer bills.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday by the attorney general’s office, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power would no longer be eligible to receive the bonuses called “adders” for using sources of renewable energy or building new power plants that use fossil fuels. Incentives will still remain for nuclear and offshore wind, but the bonuses would be reduced.

The agreement does not, however, repeal the state’s voluntary goals that utilities have 15 percent of their generation coming from renewable sources by 2025. And utilities can still seek to recover the costs related to reaching those goals, officials said.

Read more: Uncategorized


North Frackota’s population boom means more young men — and more problems

Huffington Post
Click to embiggen.

Last year, the North Dakota division of tourism unveiled an ad as part of a series that it hoped would lure people to the state. "Drinks, dinner, decisions," the ad copy read. "Arrive a guest. Leave a legend." Reaction to the ad (which you can see at right) was fast and strongly negative. The image of two men leering out a window at a group of women in short skirts struck many as sexist, tone-deaf, and worse.

It turns out that the ad's subtext may have been more accurate than we knew. From the Times:

At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.

“It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”

This has complicated life for women in the region as well.

Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.

Oil industry worker Bobby Freestone enjoys a day off at a so-called man camp outside Watford, N.D.
Reuters / Jim Urquhart
Oil industry worker Bobby Freestone enjoys a day off at a so-called man camp outside Watford, N.D.

North Dakota is the fastest-growing state in the country. Fracking the Bakken Shale formation for oil has brought thousands and thousands of young men to the state, given them good salaries, crammed them into whatever housing they can find. It has also created a massive imbalance in the number of men to women in some parts of the state -- and the men that have arrived are young and bored.


‘Sustainable communities’ give Glenn Beck nightmares

High-speed rail! Resilient cities! Cap-and-trade! Common good!

Quick: Is this a list of upcoming Grist posts or Glenn Beck's worst nightmare? Both, probably.


Beck is currently stirring up fear/promoting his new Agenda 21 novel, which imagines a future where only one young couple can save America from a violent and tyrannical government that promotes things like social justice and greenways, the horror.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Farmers hope to plow the way for sustainable U.S. hemp

A couple months ago, I asked if industrial hemp would make a resurgence thanks to new legalization and cultural acceptance of cannabis. A real hemp industry could be as much as 10 times bigger than legal marijuana, which is already a potentially $1 billion industry in Washington and $200 million in Colorado.


But back in November, farmers were a little skittish. "Yes yes, the U.S. is the biggest consumer of hemp which is pretty damn sustainable compared to other fibers and grows relatively easily without a bunch of pesticides, but the federal government is crazy and they're giving us so much money for all this corn!" they said (approximately).

Still, some farmers, like Michael Bowman in Colorado, are determined to cultivate the evil plant. “Can we just stop being stupid? Can we just talk about how things need to change?” Bowman asked The Washington Post, which did not have a very good answer.

Bowman’s project to plant 100 acres of hemp on his 3,000-acre farm on April 30 -- to coincide with the 80th birthday of his friend singer Willie Nelson, known for his support for hemp and marijuana legalization -- could run afoul of the Agriculture Department’s farm program, which helps subsidize his corn and wheat. He also grows edible beans, alfalfa and, occasionally, sunflowers.

In a statement, Agriculture Department spokesman Justin DeJong said that since hemp is considered “a Schedule I controlled substance” under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, it “cannot be grown on farmland” receiving federal commodity subsidies. If convicted of a violation, a farmer cannot get subsidies for five years.

Efforts to plant this seed aren't just relegated to Washington and Colorado, with their newly legal marijuana. “If we’re serious about climate change and the environment, there is no single thing we can do that is more impactful,” said Denver-based hemp-farming advocate Lynda Parker, who may or may not be smoking something. But hemp is also serious business, of the money-and-jobs kind.

Read more: Politics


Oh no, the Doomsday Clock didn’t change at all

This clock -- like all clocks -- is wrong.
This clock -- like all clocks -- is wrong.

If you are asked what time it is, the answer is 11:55. If you are asked what happens at midnight, the answer is "all of humanity is destroyed and the Earth becomes the crumbling home planet of resilient insects until it is eventually consumed by the sun." On the plus side, if you answer this way people will probably stop asking you what time it is.

Yes, our friends at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (not a supervillain meetup) have decided that we are five theoretical minutes from our complete destruction -- a determination that … doesn't change from last year. So that's good, I guess? From Live Science:

Keeping their outlook for the future of humanity quite dim, the group of scientists also wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to partner with other global leaders to act on climate change.

The clock is a symbol of the threat of humanity's imminent destruction from nuclear or biological weapons, climate change and other human-caused disasters. In making their deliberations about how to update the clock's time this year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists considered the current state of nuclear arsenals around the globe, the slow and costly recovery from events like Fukushima nuclear meltdown, and extreme weather events that fit in with a pattern of global warming.

I don't really get why the clock didn't change. We took more steps backward in 2012 than we did forward, according to analysis by yers truly. And isn't the nature of climate change such that the threat of it automatically increases over time?


California’s nutty farmland values are spiking

Over the past few years, farmland values have ballooned nationwide. In California, that rise has not only changed the economics of Central Valley farming, but the crops themselves.

A weak dollar has pushed up demand for exports of California's goods to Asia, especially almonds, pistachios, and walnuts. In 2011, almonds beat out California's iconic grapes as the state's second top commodity, at $3.9 billion a year. Nut-growing farmland value has grown 15 to 20 percent over the last two years, and it's still consistently selling for 10-20 percent above asking price.

Image (1) almond-trees-water-irrigation.jpg for post 42369

In the economically troubled Central Valley, this is the kind of market that makes short-sighted investors drool and long-view economists wince. From the Associated Press:

Investors both foreign and domestic have taken notice, buying up farmland and driving up agricultural land values in a region with some of the highest residential foreclosure rates.

California's almond industry, which grows about 80 percent of the global almond supply and 100 percent of the domestic supply, saw the most dramatic growth powered by strong demand from new money-spending middle classes in India and China. The growth has prompted a rush for almond-growing land and pushed almond land values through the roof ...


More Hill staff go on to lobby for the oil industry, because this is how politics works

lend me a lobbyist

Here's more of this nonsense. From The Hill:

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) has hired a pair of House GOP staffers to promote oil-and-gas development in Western states and the Gulf of Mexico.

The industry lobbying group said Tuesday that it’s expanding its government affairs staff by adding Mallori McClure, who was an aide to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), and Samantha McDonald, who worked for Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).

“Mallori’s and Samantha’s experience on Capitol Hill, both advising legislators who not only sat on the House Natural Resources Committee, but who represent important energy-producing states primes them perfectly to advocate for America’s independent oil and natural gas producers inside the Beltway,” said IPAA President Barry Russell in a statement.

Bullshit. Mallori and Samantha's relationships on Capitol Hill prime them perfectly to advocate for the industry with their friends and former associates.


2012, the hottest year in U.S. history, was one of the coldest years this century globally

This is the state of the climate as we know it now. 2012 was only the 10th-warmest year in recorded history around the world (though, of course, it was the warmest in U.S. history). Nonetheless, 2012 global land and sea temperatures were higher than every year in the 20th century, save one, 1998. Yet in terms of the 21st century, 2012 was one of the coldest.

Again, just to make the point: The hottest year in American history was one of the coldest worldwide this century.

Here's the overview from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

The globally-averaged temperature for 2012 marked the 10th warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average annual temperature was 1976. Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001–2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record.

Read more: Climate & Energy


As the House votes on Sandy aid, dudgeon and hypocrisy are in full effect

Do you remember superstorm Sandy? Big storm that happened last year. Wiped out a bunch of houses; knocked out the transportation system in the nation's largest city for a week. If you do remember it, you'll be glad to hear that word of the disaster has finally reached Washington, D.C., our nation's capital.


Today (already!) the House of Representatives will leap into action on providing aid to affected communities. We outlined how the vote was expected to go last week. Fox News provides an update:

The base $17 billion bill by the House Appropriations Committee is aimed at immediate Sandy recovery needs, including $5.4 billion for New York and New Jersey transit systems and $5.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund.

Northeast lawmakers will have a chance to add to that bill with an amendment by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for an additional $33.7 billion, including $10.9 billion for public transportation projects. ...

"We have more than enough votes, I'm confident of that," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., claiming strong support from Democrats and Republicans from the Northeast and other states for both the base $17 billion bill and the amendment for the additional $33.7 billion.

Well, we'll see about that. I haven't whipped the Congress, but I've seen enough of this House GOP to know that they won't spend a dime on New York liberals without throwing some sort of tantrum.

Credit where it's due, however. When the House passed the first part of a relief package, some $9.7 billion to support an almost-broke FEMA, a number of Republican lawmakers opposed the measure. One has changed his mind. From Talking Points Memo:


Feds mark territory all over L.A. wildlife habitat

Los Angelenos may be fond of their cars, but they're also fond of their diverse wildlife. That's probably not what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was counting on when it unilaterally and without warning decided to clear-cut 43 acres of wildlife habitat on L.A.'s Sepulveda Basin.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Much of the area's vegetation had been planted in the 1980s, part of an Army Corps project that turned that portion of the Los Angeles River flood plain into a designated wildlife preserve.

Tramping through the mud Friday, botanist Ellen Zunino — who was among hundreds of volunteers who planted willows, coyote brush, mule fat and elderberry trees in the area — was engulfed by anger, sadness and disbelief.

"I'm heartbroken. I was so proud of our work," the 66-year-old said, taking a deep breath. "I don't see any of the usual signs of preparation for a job like this, such as marked trees or colored flags," Zunino added. "It seems haphazard and mean-spirited, almost as though someone was taking revenge on the habitat."

In 2010, the preserve had been reclassified as a "vegetation management area" — with a new five-year mission of replacing trees and shrubs with native grasses to improve access for Army Corps staffers, increase public safety and discourage crime in an area plagued by sex-for-drugs encampments.

The Army Corps declared that an environmental impact report on the effort was not necessary because it would not significantly disturb wildlife and habitat.

By Friday, however, nearly all of the vegetation — native and non-native — had been removed. Decomposed granite trails, signs, stone structures and other improvements bought and installed with public money had been plowed under.

Since the razing, the Corps has posted many photos of happy birds in other parts of the basin habitat in an attempt to reassure the public, or at least the public that is aware of its Flickr page. The Corps said that "somehow" it "didn't clearly communicate" its intentions to plow under the habitat. Is it any wonder that excuse didn't go over so well with, well, anyone?

Read more: Cities