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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Methane trapped in Antarctic ice will be a great help to the horrible warming feedback loop

As Arctic permafrost thaws, methane is released. Last December, we got the bad news that the release could be 2.5 times more than originally estimated. The more methane released, the more the global-warming impact -- and the faster ice melts and ground thaws, and the more methane released.

Permafrost was primarily a concern in the Arctic, not the Antarctic. Today, bad news: The amount of methane released by a melting Antarctic may be equivalent.

The Antarctic peninsula, biding its time. (Photo by mark 217.)

The Antarctic Ice Sheet could be an overlooked but important source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, according to a report in the August 30 issue of Nature by an international team of scientists.

That's according to the University of California at Santa Cruz, which released the findings earlier today. In the Arctic, the gas is in the soil. In the Antarctic, it's also in the ice itself.

Read more: Climate & Energy


A natural-gas pipeline grows in Brooklyn

This is a tricky one for environmentalists and urban advocates: Should New York City build a new gas pipeline?

The proposed location of the pipeline.

A proposal recently approved by the city would run a 30-inch pipeline along Flatbush Avenue in the southeastern part of Brooklyn -- an almost completely uninhabited part of the borough near Floyd Bennett Field, the first municipal airport in New York. Built by the Williams Companies, it would connect to an existing offshore pipeline -- meaning digging up the floor of the ocean for installation.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


GOP convention, day one: A platform built on oil, an argument based on inaccuracy

The Republican convention is underway. We've got robust coverage of their focus on climate change, but thought we'd look at what they're saying about energy as well. After all, who knows? Maybe Republicans are newly committed to building sustainable energy systems and Mitt Romney is just out of sync.

Photo by James Currie.

El oh el.

The current Administration has used taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers in the energy sector while publicly threatening to bankrupt anyone who builds a new coal-fired plant and has stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline. The current President has done nothing to disavow the scare campaign against hydraulic fracturing. Furthermore, he has wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars by subsidizing favored companies like Solyndra, which generated bankruptcies rather than kilowatts.

To kick things off yesterday, the party released its platform [PDF], from which that nugget above is extracted. It's from a lengthy section on energy containing nothing new, nothing based on existing science or assessments of energy realities -- and of course no mention of climate change. (The platform does, however, include the party's opposition to abortion for any reason, sharia law, and flag-burning.)

The New York Times compared this year's Republican platform to 1980's, finding that the party had moved forcefully to the right -- and not only on energy. There is also a lot of misinformation, any number of inaccuracies, and healthy doses of spin in the platform, as the party struggles to make the case for policies that are well past their prime. Fittingly, there was plenty of the same at the podium last night.


Frackers’ faulty concrete leads to methane in Pennsylvania wells

The famous (almost obligatory) still from the film Gasland.

Mike Leighton watched as his well overflowed, filled with methane. His neighbors, the Franklins, watched their well go dry, then turn black. Both families live in Leroy Township, Penn. -- over the Marcellus Shale, near where energy companies are fracking for natural gas. NPR has the story.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection blames a nearby hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operation. It says methane gas has leaked out of the well, which is operated by Chesapeake Energy, and into the Leightons' and Franklins' water supplies.

The danger goes beyond contaminated water. In a letter to both families detailing test results and preliminary findings, state regulators wrote that "there is a physical danger of fire or explosion due to the migration of natural gas water wells." Chesapeake has installed ventilation systems at the two water wells, but the letter warns, "it is not possible to completely eliminate the hazards of having natural gas in your water supply by simply venting your well."

NPR suggests that part of the problem is the concrete surrounding the pipe that extracts the natural gas.


Hurricane Isaac makes landfall on the Gulf Coast

Isaac from the ISS.

Hurricane Isaac has made landfall in southern Louisiana, seven years to the day from the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Click to embiggen.

Technically, Isaac arrived last night, prompting Ann Romney to open her Republican convention speech by saying that attendees should "hope and pray that all remain safe and no life is lost and no property is lost." But the real impact will be felt today, as the storm moves slowly in from the Gulf over New Orleans and surrounding parishes.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Mice are killing people in California, scaring away subway riders in Britain

Deer mice will also steal your chocolate. (Photo by C G-K.)

Yosemite National Park is warning recent visitors about an outbreak of hantavirus that has already killed two people.

Federal epidemiologists learned over the weekend of the fatality. That case and another brings to four the number of people who have contracted Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, which can be carried by dust particles that come into contact with the urine, saliva or feces of an infected deer mouse. …

In each of the four cases, visitors stayed in the Curry Village "Signature Tent Cabins," canvas-sided lodging insulated against the elements. The four people known so far to have contracted the illness stayed around the same time in June.

Yosemite officials are warning those who stayed in the village's tent cabins from mid-June through the end of August to beware of any symptoms of hantavirus, which can include fever, aches, dizziness and chills. Park officials warn anyone with these flu-like symptoms to seek medical help immediately. There is no specific treatment for the respiratory illness.

A study released in 2011 suggested that a die-off of aspens in the Western U.S. following the 2002 drought was linked to hanta-carrying deer mice.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Obama administration finalizes 54.5 mpg standard for automobiles

In the future, all cars will be like Knight Rider, maybe. (Photo by Pop Culture Geek.)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our new fuel-efficiency standards, at long last.

The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels. …

President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.

Sounds good! Bear in mind that only two cars currently meet the standard: the Chevy Volt and a thing called a "Ford Focus BEV FWD" that I've never heard of.

Environmental groups are pleased. Says the Sierra Club's Michael Brune, "President Obama has taken the most significant action by any President in history to move our country off oil and slash dangerous, climate disrupting pollution that threatens our children’s future." There you go. Carmakers are happy, enviros are happy. Who could be against this?


Romney includes one wind rep on his 50-person Colorado energy task force

wind turbinePhoto by Eric Tastad.

According to his official energy policy, Willard "Mitt" Romney wants states to have final authority over drilling and power generation. It's basically his way of undermining the EPA, allowing states to trump federal regulation.

Romney is providing a preview of what a state-determined energy program could look like. In Colorado, a critical swing state, the candidate is convening a working group, an advisory committee, to consider energy policy. The group has 50 members. Exactly one of them represents the wind industry.

From the Denver Post:

The Romney campaign Monday announced a 50-person Colorado energy advisory committee with a heavy tilt toward the mining and oil and gas industries.

… [A]ll but six members of the group were associated with mining and drilling industries or former Republican officials.

Of those six others, three were from solar generators. And there, in the last paragraph, lonely Sean Tufts from RES Americas, which develops wind power as well as other renewables projects.


Isaac just graduated to hurricane, is aimed right at New Orleans

An update a few minutes ago from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:


Here's the projected path, as of 10 a.m. Eastern.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy


Republican convention flooded with corporate money

Last night, reporters in Tampa idled by the cancellation of the first night of the Republican convention ran into oil mogul David Koch at a local restaurant. One got a photo:

— Matt Laslo (@MattLaslo) August 28, 2012

(Shortly afterward, a staffer with Koch asked that the reporters not reveal their location to "your 'Occupy' friends.")

A Koch spotting at the convention should not come as a surprise. The convention exists for three reasons, in decreasing order of importance: to generate several days' worth of live prime-time television coverage, to create a way for donors and candidates to mix and mingle, and to set a party platform and nominate a candidate.

Over the weekend, The New York Times looked at that second element, the ecosystem of donors and parties and events and giveaways that surrounds each convention.

When thousands of delegates, elected officials and party leaders begin arriving in Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention, hundreds of lobbyists, corporate executives, trade associations and donors will be waiting for them, exploiting legal loopholes -- and the fun-house atmosphere -- that make each party’s quadrennial conventions a gathering of money and influence unrivaled in politics.

In many ways, their activities amount to a parallel convention, one in which access to elected officials, party leaders and delegates provides corporations, interest groups and lobbyists a chance to advance their causes as the party goes about its official business nearby.

Lobbyists and trade groups, virtually all with business before Congress and federal agencies, are paying for a nonstop schedule of beach parties, concerts and cocktail hours.