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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Sometimes a hybrid is greener than an electric car

green-colored car
Which car is greenest in your state? Find out.

If you live in California, the most climate-friendly car you can drive is a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. If you live in Ohio, you could go easier on the climate by driving a regular ol' non-plug-in Prius. And in Vermont, the best pick would be an all-electric Honda Fit.

That's according to a new report from Climate Central: "A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars." Here's how the researchers explain the state-by-state differences:

An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars.


Can a giant ice wall stop Fukushima radiation from leaking into the sea?

ice wall
The Fukushima ice wall would not look anything like this.

It's been almost two and a half years since the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the place is still a huge, scary mess.

Here's how The New York Times introduced this week's grim news from the plant:

First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.

It turns out that radioactive water has been spilling into the sea almost since the initial disaster, at a rate of 75,000 gallons, or 300 tons, a day.

So now Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, which owns the plant, has a plan to build an underground wall of frozen earth to stop the radioactive water leakage. NPR explains:


Electric roads could make plugging in your EV a thing of the past

Alas, in real life, you can't actually tell it's electric.
Alas, in real life, you can't actually tell it's electric.

One major barrier to bringing electric vehicles to the masses is range anxiety -- not the fear that you left the stove on at home, but the fear that your EV will run out of juice before you can get to the next charging station. But creative solutions are in the works. This week, South Korea debuted the world’s first electric road, 15 miles of city streets with underground cables that charge EVs parked or driving above -- no plug-in stations necessary.

In the city of Gumi, two commuter buses will be the first to test the program, and the city plans to add 10 more over the next two years. Known as Online Electric Vehicles or OLEVs, the buses have batteries about one-third the size of the typical electric car battery.


Is Keystone XL a distraction from more important climate fights?

Keystone protest sign in front of White House
Emma Cassidy
Say what you will about the anti-Keystone movement, but it's gotten a lot of activists enraged and engaged.

A new article in Nature highlights a supposed rift among some scientists over Keystone XL: Is it a smart focus for climate activists or a distracting sideshow?

There doesn't seem to be nearly as much of a rift as author Jeff Tollefson suggests, but he does talk to some scientists who are conflicted over the Keystone focus:

The issue has ... divided the scientific community. Many climate and energy researchers have lined up with environmentalists to oppose what is by all accounts a dirty source of petroleum: emissions from extracting and burning tar-sands oil in the United States are 14–20% higher than the country's average oil emissions. But other researchers say that the Keystone controversy is diverting attention from issues that would have much greater impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, such as the use of coal.


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.