Skip to content Skip to site navigation
Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Who killed one of Virginia’s dirtiest power plants?

The GenOn plant in happier, more pollute-y times.

Here's your "war on coal."

For two generations, the electricity generated [at the GenOn power plant in Alexandria, Va.] helped power the post-World War II economic boom across the land. It provided a good living for thousands of employees and good profits for shareholders.

An unmistakable landmark, the plant’s five short smokestacks identified the Alexandria riverfront as much as the George Washington Masonic Memorial does from a hill near the King Street Metro station.

Those stacks also pushed untold tons of air pollution into the skies over the District, Maryland and Virginia, marking the plant as the largest single source of air pollution in the Washington region.

That's it, in summary. It provided cheap power and polluted like hell; now it's dead. The end.

Who does GenOn blame for the closure? Not Obama, unless "Obama" is a brand name of natural gas.


Up to 90 percent of illegal logging may be linked to organized crime

In your mind's eye, come up with the image of the sort of person responsible for rampant tropical deforestation. Got it?

I'm going to guess the person in your mind didn't look like this:

Al Capone.

But apparently it should have. From New Scientist:

It's not as glamorous as cocaine or diamonds, but the illegal logging industry has become very attractive to criminal organisations over the past decade. A new report finds that up to 90 per cent of tropical deforestation can be attributed to organised crime, which controls up to 30 per cent of the global timber trade.

90 percent.

Read more: Uncategorized


Picking winners and losers: Coal boondoggle could cost Indianans $1.1 billion

Making this into gas doesn't make much sense for Indiana.

The state of Indiana appears to have made a pretty bad deal.

Last year, it signed an agreement with Indiana Gasification LLC, a subsidiary of Leucadia National, to buy gasified coal for the next 30 years. Coal gas is exactly what it sounds like: a combustible gas created from coal. And for the privilege of using it, Indiana natural-gas customers could shell out an extra $1.1 billion over eight years.

From the Indianapolis Star:

All residential ratepayers -- regardless of their provider -- would see their monthly gas bills increase an average of about $3.90 during that period, according to estimates from Vectren Corp., a critic of the coal gasification plant. That's about $375 per ratepayer over eight years.

The plant's developer, Leucadia National Corp., called Vectren's estimates "absurd," and Gov. Mitch Daniels said through a spokeswoman that he continues to support the project.

But independent energy industry analysts agree with Vectren. Under the terms of a deal orchestrated by the Daniels administration, ratepayers will almost certainly end up subsidizing the plant for five to 10 years, they say.

The rate homeowners will pay over eight years pales compared to small businesses -- $2,000 -- and small industrial facilities -- $250,000.


With freeway closed, L.A. breathes easier — but not for long

Carmageddon II (subtitle: "This time, it's Mulholland") came and went over the weekend, shutting down for repairs a long stretch of what NBC News calls "405 Freeway," but what locals call "The 405."

Traffic was flowing through the Sepulveda Pass early Monday after bridge work that began Saturday as part of the freeway widening project. No major traffic problems were reported during the weekend-long freeway closure, which allowed crews to demolish the north side of the bridge. …

California Highway Patrol officers called the closure a success, but said several people broke onto the closed freeway. Seven people were detained, including rollerbladers and skaters, the CHP said.

California, man.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Obama blocks sale of Oregon wind farms to Chinese company

wind turbine
Photo by Eric Tastad.

From the Associated Press:

Citing national security risks, President Barack Obama on Friday blocked a Chinese company from owning four wind farm projects in northern Oregon near a Navy base where the U.S. military flies unmanned drones and electronic-warfare planes on training missions.

It was the first time in 22 years that a U.S. president blocked such a foreign business deal. ...


Support for fracking regulation drops even as Wyoming finds new groundwater pollution

In March, nearly two-thirds of Americans thought there should be more regulation of fracking. Now, only 56 percent do. This is not because of a slew of new, strict regulations.

An elegant, attractive fracking rig.

From Bloomberg:

Companies and industry groups, such as America’s Natural Gas Alliance in Washington, have sponsored advertisements that stress measures to protect the environment during drilling.

“The oil and gas industry have been blanketing the airwaves with ads that tout gas as our savior,” Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, said in an e-mail. “They’re using Big-Tobacco style smoke and mirrors messaging to deflect genuine concerns about the health threats.”

It's not just voters that the natural gas industry is trying to woo. GigaOm reports on the industry's effort to ally with renewable energy advocates -- though it has a ways to go with NRDC, I think.


California’s governor signs a slew of new renewable energy bills

California Gov. Jerry Brown (previously the mayor of Oakland and, before that, the governor of California) was presented yesterday with about two dozen bills from the state legislature advancing efforts to increase the state's use of renewable energy and to reduce consumption. Brown signed 19 into law.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The bills include a measure by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that directs the state to coordinate implementation of policies advancing energy security with the Department of Defense.

“The health of the environment, job creation and indeed, the security of the nation, depend on how we end America’s dangerous addiction to foreign oil,” Brown said after signing SB 1409. “California and the U.S. military are working together to build a clean energy future and this bill helps make sure it happens.”

Brown also signed SB 1222 by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which seeks to encourage the installation of rooftop solar energy systems on homes by limiting residential permit fees charged by cities and counties to the cost of providing the permits.

Another bill signed by Brown clarifies what counts as renewable energy under the state's renewable mandate.

Tim Pearce
California is basically renewable energy plus this.


America, this is how you’re using your energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, an arm of the Department of Energy, is tasked with determining how much energy the United States uses and what it is used for. Wondering how much energy people use in their houses to stay warm? The EIA has that answer. Curious about fuel efficiency trends over time? Ask the EIA. Wondering how much oil America uses compared to how much it imports? Et cetera, et cetera.

Each year the agency puts together a massive report answering that question. Yesterday, it released the report for 2011. Here are some of the most interesting findings.

The big picture
Here's how U.S. energy consumption and production have compared over time. You'll notice that consumption has stayed flat recently, even declined slightly in the past five years -- while production is spiking and imports dropping.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Chinese economic slowdown means less demand for American coal

Chinese flag against sun
Looking for a culprit in the coal industry's decline? Blame China.

Mitt Romney's new coal-pandering ad (see here) warned coal miners that Obama hated them and also jobs are going to China. Here's the ironic twist: A slowdown in the Chinese economy may be hurting coal mines.

From the Wall Street Journal:

[T]he Chinese economy is slowing and so is its steel industry. That has sent the price of coal used for steelmaking down nearly 50% to $170 a metric ton. Those coal producers who counted on Chinese sales are reeling. …

While many have blamed the downturn in the U.S. coal industry on cheap natural gas supplanting coal and tougher environmental regulations, the slide in metallurgical coal demand has been equally devastating. Coal companies were caught flat-footed after ramping up production last year with the expectation that steep prices would cover their rising costs, despite coal's past cyclicality. Instead, demand in China began to falter just as Australian metallurgical coal production -- interrupted by floods last year -- surged back into the market. …

China's metallurgical coal imports dropped to 2.6 million metric tons in August, from an average of 4.5 million metric tons per month through July. Now coal mines are closing throughout Appalachia.

The U.S. sends a lot of coal overseas -- meaning that fluctuations in international demand can really hit home. The Journal outlines some of the recent coal company bankruptcies or contractions: Patriot Coal, Alpha, Consol.


BP fined after it fails surprise spill-containment inspections

The Environmental Protection Agency, no slouches, occasionally performs surprise tests of oil companies' ability to contain spills. Twice the EPA visited such tests on BP. You can guess how BP fared.

BP Products North America will pay $210,000 and create enhanced oil spill response programs at all of its U.S. oil facilities under the terms of a consent agreement announced Thursday. …

The EPA said the company twice failed to pass unannounced oil-spill exercises administered by the EPA and U.S. Coast Guard at the Curtis Bay Terminal [in Maryland]. BP was unable to contain a small-scale discharge of fuel from the facility in the time allotted for the test.

The Department of Justice, which levied the punishment, also demanded that BP review its response plans.