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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Steve King insults climate scientists and religious Americans simultaneously

Steve King
Gage Skidmore
Steve King knows that cantaloupes don't grow in seawater.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has, shall we say, a vivid oratorical style.

Last month, he noted that not all of the young immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act are star students. “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he said.

This week, he turned his eloquence to the topic of climate change. Here's what he said on Tuesday at an event sponsored by the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity, as reported by The Messenger of Fort Dodge, Iowa:

King said efforts to fight global warming are both economically harmful and unnecessary.

"It is not proven, it's not science. It's more of a religion than a science," he said.


Here’s the anti-Keystone ad one NBC station doesn’t want you to see

NextGen Climate Action, the group founded by billionaire climate-action booster Tom Steyer, had submitted the ad to run on D.C.-area NBC affiliate WRC-TV during Obama’s Tuesday appearance on The Tonight Show, with the aim of reaching the influential inside-the-Beltway crowd. But at the last minute Tuesday evening, the station informed NextGen that the ad wouldn’t run after all, because it violated guidelines as “an attack of a personal nature.”


NRA attacks “shadowy network” of enviros and zoos fighting to ban lead bullets

In search of the truth.
In search of the truth.

You might think the NRA would be busy enough fighting its current battles, fending off crazy ideas like expanded background checks for gun sales. But no. The group is now picking a whole new fight, this one against activists who want to ban lead bullets.

Studies have shown that as many as 20 million birds, including endangered California condors, die each year from lead poisoning after ingesting bullet fragments. Ammunition is likely the greatest unregulated source of lead released into the environment, according to a statement [PDF] from scientific experts in lead and environmental health. Some states, notably California, are now weighing regulations to outlaw the use of lead in bullets.

The NRA isn't going to stand by and let that happen. The group has launched a campaign called Hunt for Truth to fight back against “the assault on traditional lead ammunition” by targeting the groups and individuals -- mostly scientists, nonprofits, and government agencies -- behind this unconscionable attack on American values.


Seven ways the drought in the West really sucks

animal skeleton in the desert
Johnida Dockens

Almost 87 percent of the Western U.S. is in a drought, the Los Angeles Times reports today in a big, gloomy article with big, gloomy pictures. New Mexico is 100 percent droughty. Here are just a few of the ways that sucks.

1. The Rio Grande is so dry that it's been dubbed the Rio Sand. Satellite photos show reservoirs drying up too.

2. People in parts of New Mexico are having to take drastic measures to get water. "Residents of some towns subsist on trucked-in water," the L.A. Times reports, "and others are drilling deep wells costing $100,000 or more to sink and still more to operate."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Offshore fracking in California: What could go wrong?

Exciting new update in the chronicles of America’s domestic oil-and-gas boom: Not only is offshore fracking a thing, but it’s been happening off the coast of California for a good 15 years now, in the same sensitive marine environments where new oil leases have been banned since a disastrous 1969 spill.

Drillin' U.S.A.
Drillin' U.S.A.

If that’s news to you, you’re not alone -- the California Coastal Commission was unaware, until recently, that the seafloor was being fracked. Because these drilling operations happen more than three miles off the coast, they’re under federal jurisdiction, but the state has the power to reject federal permits if water quality is endangered.

The Associated Press has the story:

Federal regulators thus far have exempted the chemical fluids used in offshore fracking from the nation's clean water laws, allowing companies to release fracking fluid into the sea without filing a separate environmental impact report or statement looking at the possible effects. That exemption was affirmed this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the internal emails reviewed by the AP. …

The EPA and the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement or BSEE, conduct some routine inspections during fracking projects, but any spills or leaks are largely left to the oil companies to report.

Although new drilling leases in the Santa Barbara Channel’s undersea oil fields are banned, drilling rights at 23 existing platforms were grandfathered in. Offshore fracking -- pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the sea floor -- can stimulate these old wells into production again.


Keystone study contractor under scrutiny by State Dept. watchdog

Does the consulting firm studying the environmental effects of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have a conflict of interest?

For months, climate activists have been raising the alarm about Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the main firm contracted by the State Department to write the official environmental impact statement for Keystone.

Now State's Inspector General is looking into allegations of improper ties and incomplete disclosures.

From The Hill:

The State Department’s internal watchdog has “initiated an inquiry” into whether the contractor Foggy Bottom used for a draft environmental analysis on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline had a conflict of interest.


The first rule of fracking is: Don’t talk about fracking


The Hallowich children were just 7 and 10 years old when their family received a $750,000 settlement to relocate away from their home in Mount Pleasant, Penn., which was next door to a shale-gas drilling site. By the time they’re grown up, they may not remember much about what it was like to live there -- the burning eyes, sore throats, headaches, and earaches they experienced thanks to contaminated air and water. And maybe it’s better if they don’t remember, since they’re prohibited from talking about the experience for the rest of their lives.

The terms of Stephanie and Chris Hallowich’s settlement with Range Resources included, like most such settlements do, a non-disclosure agreement preventing them from discussing their case or gas drilling and fracking in general. But the agreement’s extension to their children is unprecedented; one assistant law professor at the University of Pittsburgh called it “over-the-top.”


Big nuke company decides renewables are a better bet in the U.S.

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Md
EDF is selling its stake in Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland.

The world's largest operator of nuclear power plants is dumping its stake in American reactors, turning its focus instead to wind and solar power.

French utility company EDF announced this week that it will sell its stake in Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG), which operates five nuclear reactors in New York and Maryland.

EDF cited cheap power produced by fracked natural gas as the big reason why it's abandoning its American nuclear facilities. But the company said it will now focus its American business strategy not on fossil fuels but on renewable energy. From Reuters:

"Circumstances for the development of nuclear in the U.S. are not favorable at the moment," [EDF Chief Executive Henri] Proglio said.


Cuba is finally embracing solar power

Havana, Cuba
Even Havana might one day get solar power.

Cuba has been slow to catch on to the clean energy trend, but it's now giving solar a go. The Communist nation's leaders know they need new energy options "after four failed attempts to strike it rich with deep-water oil drilling and the death of petro-benefactor Hugo Chavez," the AP reports.

The country's first solar power plant opened in the spring, and six more are in the works. More from AP:

The solar farm now generates enough electricity to power 780 homes and had saved the equivalent of 145 tons of fossil fuels, or around 1,060 barrels of crude, through the end of July. Peak capacity is expected to hit 2.6 megawatts when the final panels are in place in September.


TransCanada plans colossal trans-Canada oil pipeline


While the Obama administration dithers over whether to approve TransCanada's planned Keystone XL pipeline, the pipeline builder announced Thursday that it will pursue an even bigger project connecting Alberta's tar-sands oil fields with refineries in the nation's east.

The 2,700-mile, $12 billion Energy East Pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels per day, making it more than a third larger than Keystone XL, which is intended to carry 800,000 bpd.

From Reuters:

The line, which still needs regulatory approval, could be in service by late 2017 for deliveries to Quebec and 2018 for New Brunswick, potentially reshaping the Atlantic Basin oil market and opening up new markets for Canadian crude.