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Obama points out economic downsides of Keystone XL

President Obama doesn't seem sold on the economic benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry carbon-intensive tar-sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast for export.

President Barack Obama
The White House

In his most extensive public comments to date on Keystone, made during an interview with The New York Times, he stressed the neutral or negative economic aspects of the proposed project.

First, he pointed out that Keystone would create few permanent jobs:

Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in a economy of 150 million working people. ... that is a blip relative to the need.


Clean energy clash: Solar advocates and conservationists butt heads

Nevada desert
Tela Chhe
A good spot for solar? Depends on who you ask.

It’s out with the old and in with the photovoltaic -- or the CSP.

The Obama administration is pushing forward with plans for renewable energy projects on public land. Last week, it banned new mining claims on more than 300,000 acres in the West to make sure the areas are available for solar power installations.

But as more government land is earmarked for solar, wind, and geothermal projects, some conservationists are not happy. The Center for Public Integrity reports:

The administration generally wins plaudits from environmentalists for its effort to expand energy that doesn't belch smoke, cancer-causing chemicals or heat-trapping carbon dioxide. But there is growing concern among a number of environmentalists, particularly in the West, about the impact on fragile ecosystems, plants and animals. Some have filed lawsuits that could slow the effort to devote more public land to renewable energy. ...


EV market threatened by spat over charger standards

"EV quick charging post" sign
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:


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.


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:


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


Antarctica’s permafrost is melting

Antarctic landscape
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

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


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:


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.

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.


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.