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Storm that already hit Mexico turns into a hurricane, threatens to strike again

Click to embiggen.
Forecast wind strength from Hurricane Manuel. Click to embiggen.

More storm-blown devastation is headed for Mexico, which has already been hammered by the remnants of hurricanes on its east and west coasts during the past week. The tropical storms left at least 80 dead, with dozens more still missing.

And as Mexicans brace for a hurricane that has formed off its west coast, meteorologists are warning U.S. Gulf of Mexico residents that a tropical storm could reach there next week.

Tropical storm Manuel hit Mexico's western coastline on Sunday before heading back over the Pacific Ocean. But before it left it dumped enough rain to trigger a landslide in a mountainside coffee-growing village, burying homes and leaving 58 people unaccounted for. Tropical storm Ingrid hit the county's east coast at about the same time, wreaking carnage and leaving tourists stranded in Acapulco.

Since returning to the ocean, Manuel has been picking up strength. Early Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that Manuel was a Category 1 hurricane that was "crawling" northward -- back in the direction of Mexico's coastline. From an A.P. report:

The storm that devastated the Pacific resort over the weekend regained strength on Wednesday and became hurricane Manuel, taking a route that could see it make landfall on Mexico's north-western coast. It would be a third blow to a country still reeling from the one-two punch of Manuel's first landfall and hurricane Ingrid on Mexico's eastern coast.

Read more: Climate & Energy


The best (and worst) quotes from the silly House climate hearing

Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill

Republicans in the U.S. House hosted a dog-and-pony show in the nation's Capitol on Wednesday. During a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee, they subjected EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to a barrel of climate ignorance and peppered them with criticisms of Barack Obama's climate policies.

The debate progressed along lines that were predictable, given that about a dozen members of the committee are climate deniers. Republicans accused Obama of being a job-killing, coal-hating president who believes fairy tales invented by mischievous scientists. They claimed his plan to move forward on climate regulations without Congress' support is an abuse of his authority. Team Obama wearily explained the relatively simple science of climate change to the lawmakers and emphasized that the administration is acting completely within the law.

We won't bore you with all the details. Instead, here are some of our favorite quotes from the hearing:


Delaying climate action will triple costs

We can pay now, or we can pay later -- with interest.

If the world puts off cooperative efforts to fight climate change until 2030, they will be more than three times as expensive as they would be in 2015.

That’s according to a study led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters. A team of researchers modeled the economic impacts of possible international climate agreements and found that if the world starts in 2015 to take the difficult but necessary steps to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, then international economic growth would be crimped by 2 percent. But delaying those steps until 2030 would mean growth is curtailed by about 7 percent. (Those figures refer to the effect of climate policies during the first decade, not sustained impacts.)


British anti-fracking occupation will continue

Balcombe protest
Push Europe
British fractivists making some noise.

British opponents of fracking will continue to occupy the side of a road in a village 35 miles south of London -- and they won't have to fear being arrested for trespassing. A court ruled that a local council's eviction notice was flawed.

The encampment of anti-fracking protesters in the village of Balcombe has become a symbolic occupation that at times has swollen to thousands of people. More than 100 have been arrested during protests since July. It's the highest-profile battle in a war being waged across Europe by environmentalists and regular citizens who don't want their countries to emulate America's fracking boom.

The West Sussex County Council issued an eviction notice last week, ordering the protesters to clear out their belongings and break down the camp, which was set up near an exploratory drilling rig operated by Cuadrilla. But attorneys for the protesters argued in court that the notice violated their rights -- rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

Read more: Climate & Energy


USDA doesn’t care about GMO contamination of alfalfa

baled alfalfa
Is this normal hay or a freak Monsanto strain? The lines have getting blurry, and the government doesn't care.

The federal government has refused to take any action in response to a Monsanto variety of alfalfa ending up in a Washington farmer's supposedly GMO-free crop.

The farmer's harvest was rejected for export because tests showed it was tainted with Monsanto's Roundup Ready variety. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture just considers contamination like that to be the new normal. From Reuters:


Big Coal, Republicans go after Obama’s energy nominee, saying he’s too green

Ron Binz
Ron Binz

Ron Binz is an experienced electricity regulator who understands the important role that wind and solar power are playing as they pour electrons into grids across the country. He was the lead author of a paper last year that described how boosting renewable energy infrastructure could hedge against fossil-fuel cost increases, aging equipment, and other risks.

"This is no time for backward-looking decision making," he wrote in that paper [PDF], published by the nonprofit Ceres. "It is vital -- for electricity consumers and utilities’ own economic viability -- that their investment decisions reflect the needs of tomorrow’s cleaner and smarter 21st century infrastructure and avoid investing in yesterday’s technologies."

So no frickin' way is this guy qualified to oversee the nation's power lines! Am I right?

No, of course I'm not right. But that's what the coal sector is arguing as it desperately rallies Republican opposition to President Obama's nomination of Binz to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The New York Times reports that the "fight over Mr. Binz has been unusually public, considering that the job at stake is at an agency most people cannot name." From Bloomberg's coverage of a Senate confirmation hearing held on Tuesday:


Fracking study downgrades methane worries, escalates enviro infighting

pie fight
No pies have been thrown yet, but we wouldn't rule it out.

The latest research on methane emissions at fracking sites is dividing environmentalists.

A study of 190 natural gas fracking sites, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that methane leaks at the sites were notably lower than fracking critics have warned.

The New York Times reports that the study is "the most comprehensive look to date" at the issue of methane leakage during natural gas drilling and production:

The study, conducted by the University of Texas and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and nine petroleum companies, ... concluded that while the total amount of escaped methane from shale-gas operations was substantial — more than one million tons annually — it was probably less than the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2011.

From the AP:

The findings bolster a big selling point for natural gas, that it's not as bad for global warming as coal. And they undercut a major environmental argument against fracking, a process that breaks apart deep rock to recover more gas. The study ... doesn't address other fracking concerns about potential air and water pollution.


America’s kids eating healthier, getting fitter

Kids exercising
Yay for exercise and healthy food.

Here's news as sweet as a fistful of blueberries: American kids aged 11 to 16 were eating more fruit and vegetables in 2009 than those who came before them just eight years earlier, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Kids are also cutting back on sweets and sugary drinks, eating breakfast more regularly, spending more time exercising, and spending less time in front of the television, the study found:

Read more: Food, Living


Pebble Mine project in Alaska is on the ropes

Bristol Bay
Friends of Bristol Bay
A waterway that leads to Bristol Bay.

The future of the controversial Pebble Mine, which could excavate 186 square miles [PDF] of pristine Alaskan terrain, is now very much up in the air.

The proposed mine near Bristol Bay would dig up an estimated $300 billion worth of gold, copper, and molybdenum. But it would threaten another treasure: one of the world's biggest salmon runs, which provides half the world's supply of sockeye.

One of two global mining giants involved in the project announced Monday that it was walking away from what it regards as a high-risk venture. U.K.-based Anglo American had spent $541 million getting the 50/50 joint-venture project nearly to the point where it could begin applying for state and federal permits. By quitting now, it avoids spending nearly $1 billion more it had agreed to sink into development of the mine. Anglo told shareholders it would write $300 million of intangible assets off of its ledger at the end of the year -- the price of walking away from a deal that it once thought would lead to bountiful riches.

It's too early to say what this will mean for the fate of the project, but environmentalists rejoiced in the news while investors choked on it.


Herbicide drift threatens vineyards


Vineyards might not be the first agrarian landscape to spring to mind when you think about Wisconsin, but a thriving wine and grape juice industry is emerging in the Badger State.

The problem is that a lot of the corn and soy grown nearby is genetically engineered to withstand herbicides. As Wisconsin's farmers douse their crops with chemicals such as dicamba and 2,4-D, a lot of those herbicides are blowing over neighboring vineyards -- a problem called pesticide drift.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reports that the number of grape farms in the state has doubled since 2005. There are now more than 100 commercial vineyards in Wisconsin, which generate $100 million a year in sales and farm work. But those drifting herbicides are a serious problem for the viniculturists:

Herbicides that are used to kill weeds in crops such as corn and soybeans can be deadly to other plants, including grapes. Food or wine grape vines exposed to the chemicals may shrivel up, turn colors and grow strange, elongated new leaves.