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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Turns out there are a few Republicans who want to do something about climate change


Here's a helpful reminder that not all Republicans oppose climate action. Former EPA administrators who served under Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush I and II spoke out on Wednesday in support of federal efforts to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants. They appeared at a Senate hearing organized by Democrats to discuss EPA's recently proposed power-plant rules. From USA Today:

"We have a scientific consensus around this issue. We also need a political consensus," said Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey Governor and first EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, who resigned her post after disagreeing with the White House's direction on pollution rules.

Whitman was joined by William Ruckelshaus, the nation's first EPA administrator under President Richard Nixon, William Reilly, who led the EPA under President George H.W. Bush, and Lee Thomas, who was administrator under Reagan. ...

[T]he four EPA administrators ... said the Obama administration had worked hard to make the proposal flexible and workable, using authority provided by Congress.

More from McClatchy:


get out!

Oakland votes to keep coal and oil trains away

Freight train in Oakland
Paul Sullivan

The working-class city of Oakland, Calif., wants to stop trains carrying crude, coal, and petroleum coke from reaching local refineries and export terminals.

The city council voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to "oppose" the "transportation of hazardous fossil fuel materials" along existing rail lines and through “densely populated” and waterfront areas -- which includes much of the city.

The city will now formally urge California and regional governments to take action on oil-train safety, and will consider formally opposing projects that threaten to bring fossil fuel–bearing trains into Oakland.

Lawmakers in the Californian cities of Davis and Berkeley have passed similar resolutions that attempt to block oil trains. San Francisco is considering something similar too. Tuesday's vote was particularly significant, given that Oakland operates a large port, which has recently been rejecting coal industry efforts to use its terminals for exports. Like Berkeley and San Francisco, Oakland, which is also in the Bay Area, is located close to major oil refineries, some of which are being expanded.


another bright idea

Now Elon Musk wants to revolutionize solar panel production

Steve & Michelle Gerdes

Thanks in part to Elon Musk, the world's biggest and most advanced solar panel factory could be built in the U.S. in the coming years.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur, fresh off announcing an effort to spur growth in the electric auto industry by opening up access to hundreds of Tesla Motors patents, on Tuesday pushed the cleantech envelope even further, announcing a bid to massively expand the solar panel industry.

Musk, chair of the solar panel installation giant SolarCity, told reporters that in the coming years the company plans to build a solar panel factory in the U.S. that's "an order of magnitude bigger than any of the plants that exist" anywhere in the world today.

SolarCity is responsible for about a quarter of America's residential solar panel installations every month -- three times as much as its closest competitor. Its market dominance has been earned in part through its "zero-down" financing model. But that's not enough. Musk says he worries that the company's ongoing growth will be so rapid that it will start to encounter solar panel shortages, despite what now is an international glut of mostly Chinese-made panels.

So SolarCity is jumping into the development and manufacture of advanced solar panels through the acquisition for $200 million or more of Silicon Valley-based solar panel company Silevo, which has developed highly efficient rooftop photovoltaic cells. Using more efficient cells means fewer panels are needed for each rooftop, helping to push down the price of residential solar systems.


Berkeley could mandate climate warnings on gas pumps

pumping gas

Motorists in the famously lefty city of Berkeley, Calif., could one day be confronted with a "CO2 ALERT" when they fill up their tanks.

Berkeley's Community Environmental Advisory Commission has approved a proposal to mandate climate warning labels on gas pumps. It would require the approval of the city council before it could take affect; a council vote is expected in the coming months.

Proposed Berkeley gasoline warning label
City of Berkeley

The idea is to mimic warning labels on cigarettes. It’s being pushed by Beyond The Pump, a group of San Francisco Bay Area activists associated with 350 Bay Area. If approved by the council, Berkeley would become the first American city to impose such a requirement. (Similar, but more specific, labeling proposals have been floating around Europe for years.) The tentative label design is shown on the right.

"I'd like to see this become a statewide policy for transportation emissions," campaign manager Jamie Brooks told Grist. "We’d like to see it as a systematic point-of-sale ordinance, like the cigarette packs. We want to connect cause and effect for consumers."


Obama to create largest marine protected area ever, because bigger is better


Say what you will about the U.S., when we do something, we do it supersized.

So when Obama decides to make a marine reserve, he doesn't just put your average patch of ocean off-limits to commercial fishing, energy exploration, and other shenanigans. No. It's a massive portion of the Pacific that more than doubles the total amount of protected ocean. In the world. From The Washington Post:

[T]he Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.

“It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the pristine ocean,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has researched the area’s reefs and atolls since 2005.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


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Hillary Clinton won’t discuss Keystone XL

Hillary Clinton
JStone /

Hillary Clinton is talking up a storm as she promotes her new book on TV shows and at readings across the country, but there's one subject she doesn't feel like chatting about: the Keystone XL pipeline.

As secretary of state, Clinton oversaw some of the protracted decision making over whether to approve the pipeline to carry Canadian tar-sands oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast. So she understands the environmental issues involved. And she also appears to be highly sensitive to the political issues involved.

The Toronto Globe and Mail published a Q&A with Clinton that included an oddly framed question about Keystone and her waffling answer:


Kochs in the kitchen again

The Kochs are cooking up a new dirty-energy political scheme

The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over the location of oil billionaires David and Charles Koch's latest secret political strategy meeting, with a banner reading "Koch Brothers: Dirty Money."
Gus Ruelas / Greenpeace

The Koch brothers have seen Tom Steyer's $100 million bet and they're raising it by almost $200 million more.

Steyer, billionaire hedge-fund manager turned climate activist, set a goal earlier this year of spending $100 million in the 2014 midterm elections to support candidates who care about climate change. So far fundraising for his super PAC has been weak, but the Kochs aren't taking any chances.

The Daily Beast reports that "the billionaire Koch brothers and scores of wealthy allies have set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million which should boost GOP candidates and support dozens of conservative groups -- including a new energy initiative with what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin." Here's more:


We’re massively underestimating climate costs, experts warn

climate costs

Crank up global temperatures by 30-odd degrees and humans could plummet toward extinction. Yet one of the world's most cited economic models on climate-change effects projects just a 50 percent reduction in global economic output if temperatures rise that much.

That's an example of how substantially we've been underestimating the costs of climate change. So argues a new peer-reviewed paper in The Economic Journal written by Nicholas Stern, author the famed 2006 Stern report on the economics of climate change, and Simon Dietz, both of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

And, in part because we're relying on an outdated economic model, carbon-trading programs are woefully undercharging polluters for their climate-wrecking emissions.

Read more: Climate & Energy


HBO shocks us again: Did Gina McCarthy just declare war on coal?

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 2.04.17 PM

This weekend, HBO aired something fairly astounding.

“I know!” you’re thinking. “A dwarf murdered his father on the toilet with a crossbow! Siblings had sex with each other! A paraplegic used psychic powers to fight off inexplicably enraged skeleton snow zombies!” (Spoiler alerts, whatever.)

To which I say: SNOOZEFEST! Unlike everyone else writing on the Internet today, I’m actually not talking about Game of Thrones. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy went ahead and all but declared the Obama administration’s war on coal on Real Time with Bill Maher. Admittedly, that declaration came with some prompting, and with a fuzzy pronoun reference that makes it possible for her to say she did nothing of the sort. See for yourself:

Maher: Last week Obama announced the Clean Power [Plan]. Some people called it "The War on Coal." I hope it is a war on coal -- is it?

McCarthy: Actually, EPA is all about fighting against pollution and fighting for public health. That's exactly what this is. Exactly.

[Raucous audience applause, smiles all around.]


India blames environmental activists for its economic problems

Greenpeace in India
Salvatore Barbera

India's economy is growing, but not as quickly as some pundits had forecast. You might guess that rampant corruption was curbing the country's economic potential. Or maybe you would put some blame on worsening heat waves, which have been knocking out electrical grids. Or perhaps the crippling health effects of pollution from coal power plants?

Well, we've got some surprising news for you from India's intelligence agency: Environmental activists like you must shoulder some of the blame. Your peeps in India have been accused of reducing the nation's GDP by 2 to 3 percent every year. Reuters reports: