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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Typhoon and earthquake strike Fukushima

Gates of hell
The trail to Fukushima.

Two and a half years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi power facility was knocked out by a tsunami and earthquake. Myriad troubles ensued. Then this week it was hit by a typhoon, flooding, and another earthquake. Can't a nuclear plant catch a break?

On Monday, Typhoon Man-yi smacked into Japan, causing flooding in some parts of the country, and new troubles at Fukushima.  From Agence France-Presse:

The operator of the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it dumped more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea after a typhoon raked the facility. …

Read more: Climate & Energy


Is this the beginning of the end for coal?

A train loaded with coal in Wyoming
Aaron Hockley
Coal is going off the tracks.

From a failed coal auction in Wyoming to slowing demand in China, times are tough for the world's dirtiest fossil fuel. And that's before we even get to EPA's new proposed power-plant rules.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management held an auction Thursday for the right to mine 167 million tons of coal from the 1,254-acre Hay Creek II coal tract in Campbell County, Wyo. The highest bid of $35 million, by Kiewit Mining Properties, was so low that the bureau rejected it. From Bloomberg:

The company’s offer was less than one-fifth what mining companies paid for similar deposits last year, and the lowest amount per ton since 1998. It didn’t meet the government’s estimate of fair value, the bureau said in a statement.

“The bottom has just dropped out of the market,” Mark Northam, director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, said by telephone. “This represents a high degree of uncertainty about whether coal will stay robust in the future.”


Ahead of IPCC report, fossil-fuel groups organize climate denial campaign

tiny man, huge megaphone
If only they would shut up.

Watch out: A tsunami of stupidity is due to crash over the world next Friday.

That's when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a summary of its big new climate assessment report, the first since 2007. But that's not the stupid part.

A global campaign funded by fossil-fuel interests has been steadily building to discredit the report. That's where the stupidity comes in. From The Guardian:

Organisations that dismiss the science behind climate change and oppose curbs on greenhouse gas pollution have made a big push to cloud the release of the IPCC report, the result of six years of work by hundreds of scientists.

Those efforts this week extended to promoting the fiction of a recovery in the decline of Arctic sea ice.

Read more: Climate & Energy


California wins right to clamp down on carbon from gasoline, diesel

Gas pumps
Pick your poison. Whatever your choice, it'll be cleaner in California.

California can finally begin forcing producers, refiners, and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce their effect on the climate following a legal victory on Wednesday.

The state began crafting its Low Carbon Fuel Standard [PDF] in 2007 -- an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of fuels sold in the state by 10 percent. The carbon footprint is calculated by considering a wide array of factors, such as transportation of the fuels to gas stations and ways in which various biofuels are cultivated.

Energy interests sued, claiming out-of-state producers were put at an unfair disadvantage because importing fuel into California increased their climate impacts. And in 2011 they won -- a federal judge in Fresno said the fuel standard violated the Constitution's commerce clause. But on Wednesday that ruling was tossed out with a 2-1 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. From the L.A. Times:

The decision allows the California Air Resources Board to begin implementing the law and restores the state's ability to punish fuel wholesalers and refineries that sell gasoline or biofuels with carbon footprints that exceed California's guidelines.


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: