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EV market threatened by spat over charger standards

"EV quick charging post" sign
Shutterstock
What flavor is this charging station?

It's like a rerun of the 1980s clash between VHS and Betamax.

The nascent electric-vehicle market is being served by two incompatible styles of rapid chargers. There's the Japanese-developed CHAdeMO standard, favored by Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. And then there's the Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) International J1772 Combo standard, which is backed by GM, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW.

While the two sides duke it out, cities have to gamble as they choose which kind of system to install at public charging stations. From ClimateWire:

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Company responsible for latest Gulf blowout complains about overregulation

The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out by nature.
Coast Guard via gCaptain
The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out.

You’ll never guess who spent the past several years arguing that the Obama administration should back off from its regulatory oversight of oil and gas drillers.

That would be James Noe, executive vice president of Hercules Offshore, Inc., which was operating a gas-drilling rig when it blew out and caught fire off the coast of Louisiana on Tuesday. It was just luck that the rig stopped burning on Thursday — sand and sediment plugged up the well hole, blocking the flow of leaking natural gas that had fueled the blaze.

From Fuel Fix:

[Noe] also is executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, an advocacy group that just three months ago issued a statement that suggested regulators were being too tough on the industry. The group is comprised of exploration and development companies, drilling contractors and service companies.

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Halliburton admits it destroyed Deepwater Horizon evidence

Deepwater Horizon
U.S. Coast Guard

As emergency workers scrambled to control oil that was spreading from the Deepwater Horizon site in 2010, Halliburton had other damage-control priorities on its mind: The company was busily destroying the results of computer simulations that suggested it shared some blame for the disaster.

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that the oil-industry giant had agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 blowout, explosion, and oil spill. It agreed to pay a $200,000 fine -- the maximum allowed under law. It also agreed to donate $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Congress in 1984 to hand out conservation grants.

The simulations that Halliburton workers destroyed contradicted the company's own claims that blame for the mechanical failures that led to the accident should be directed at BP -- not at itself. From The Washington Post:

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Want to win over young voters? Get serious about climate action

350.org volunteer at Radiohead showWe millennials may not have our shit together when it comes to our own individual futures (and whose fault is that, exactly?), but we’re pretty sharp when it comes to the future of humankind. Two-thirds of us accept the reality of human-caused climate change, according to a poll [PDF] conducted by a bipartisan pair of political strategy groups for the League of Conservation Voters.

Even some of those who reject the “human-caused” part apparently think we might as well do something about it anyway: A whopping 80 percent of voters ages 18-34 support Obama’s recently announced plan for climate action -- including 56 percent of the young voters who say they aren’t fans of the president in general.

Our preference for reality comes at a political cost to those still living in a parallel universe. The poll found that 73 percent of the youngs say they’re less likely to vote for a legislator who opposes the president’s plan. Fifty-two percent of self-identified young Republicans said the same thing. (They’re a dwindling group, anyway -- only 23 percent of Americans under 35 call themselves Republican).

Climate deniers, to our eyes, basically resemble the village idiots. Seventy-three percent of poll respondents chose the words “ignorant,” “out of touch,” or simply “crazy” to describe deniers. (“Independent,” “commonsense,” and “thoughtful” were the other options.) Two-thirds of independent young voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a denier.

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Antarctica’s permafrost is melting

Antarctic landscape
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
Antarctica.

Things are getting ugly on Earth's underside.

Antarctic permafrost, which had been weathering global warming far better than areas around the North Pole, is starting to give way. Scientists have recorded some of it melting at rates that are nearly comparable to those in the Arctic.

Scientists used time-lapse photography and LiDAR to track the retreat of an Antarctic ice cliff over a little more than a decade. They reported Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports that the cliff was "backwasting rapidly." The permafrost that made up the cliff was found to be disappearing nearly 10 times more quickly than was the case during recent geological history. And the rate of melting is picking up pace. From the Los Angeles Times:

Cliff-face measurements of the buried ice in the four-mile-long Garwood Valley revealed melt rates that shifted from a creeping annual rate of about 40,000 cubic feet per year over six milleniums, to more than 402,000 cubic feet last year alone. ... (That’s a leap from the capacity of about eight standard railroad boxcars to 77.)

The scientists also monitored the weather at the cliff and found that rising air temperatures were not to blame for the melt. Rather, they think it was caused by growing amounts of dark debris on the surface of the ice and snow that absorbed the sun's rays.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Court tells Transocean to stop obstructing Deepwater Horizon investigation

Deepwater Horizon aflame
Sky Truth
Transocean doesn't want federal investigators getting to the bottom of this.

Yes, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, you do have to cooperate with the federal government's investigation into the 2010 explosion and oil spill. The rest of us would like to see how such disasters could be avoided in the future.

That was the message sent by a U.S. Court of Appeals to Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling company, ordering it to finally turn over long-sought documents to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

Transocean has been appealing some of CSB's subpoenas, arguing that the board lacks the authority to probe the disaster. CSB investigates industrial accidents, but Transocean says the rig explosion is outside the board's purview partly because the rig was not a "stationary source."

But the company was sharply rebuked by a three-judge panel for that reckless intransigence. From The Louisiana Record:

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China to spend big to clean up its air

China plans a five-year, $277 billion spending spree to clean up the country's killer air.

The government of the heavily polluted nation pledged to clean up its skies after air-pollution levels reached dizzying new heights early this year. The announcement coincides with other nascent environmental initiatives, such as a carbon-trading system to tackle climate change and, bizarrely, legal changes that could see serious polluters executed.

Beijing
Chris Aston
Filthy air in Beijing.

Many wondered whether the pledge to tackle air pollution was mere rhetoric, but this week's announcement suggests that China is taking the problem seriously. From Reuters:

The money is to be spent primarily in regions that have heavy air pollution and high levels of PM 2.5, the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying. Wang helped draft the plan. ...

The new plan specifically targets northern China, particularly Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, where air pollution is especially serious, the newspaper said.

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Palm oil: Bad for workers as well as orangutans

Palm oil has stirred concern among treehuggers and animal lovers for years now. Following its explosion in popularity as a trans-fat-free alternative, we started finding out about the dark side of its production -- namely, the destruction of Southeast Asian rainforest, habitat to lovable orangutans. Ecological outrage conflicted with our fondness for favorite snack foods, like Girl Scout cookies, challenging our morals as conscious consumers.

Open burning in a newly cleared rainforest at Duta Palma's PT Ledo Lestari palm oil plantation.
David Gilbert/Rainforest Action Network
Open burning in newly cleared rainforest at Duta Palma's PT Ledo Lestari palm oil plantation.

But while the environmental sins of the palm oil industry have been well documented, its human-rights abuses have been overlooked -- until now. Bloomberg Businessweek reports on the findings of a nine-month investigation:

Among the estimated 3.7 million workers in the industry are thousands of child laborers and workers who face dangerous and abusive conditions. Debt bondage is common, and traffickers who prey on victims face few, if any, sanctions from business or government officials.

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Arctic methane escape could cost $60 trillion

ice and sea
Shutterstock
Beware of melting.

An almighty belch is building up deep in the belly of the Arctic, and it’s going to cost the world a pretty penny when it rips.

As the Arctic continues to melt, a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane trapped in permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea will be released -- perhaps steadily over five decades or perhaps during one sudden grandfatherly burp -- and that will cause an estimated $37 trillion to $60 trillion worth of damage. So say researchers in a commentary published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. "Higher methane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet," the researchers write. "The ramifications will be felt far from the poles."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Big Oil sued for destroying wetlands around Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana wetlands
Alicia Lee
Natural flood control in Louisiana.

Coastal Louisiana would like its wetlands back. It needs them to protect itself from rising seas and raging storms.

The agency charged with protecting New Orleans-area residents from floods is suing Big Oil, claiming it should repair damages that it caused to wetlands that once buffered the region from tidal surges.

The oil companies have recklessly torn out the marshes and plants that ringed the Gulf of Mexico as they laid pipelines and other infrastructure to serve their decades-long oil- and gas-drilling bonanza. From The New York Times:

The lawsuit, to be filed in civil district court in New Orleans by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.