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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


How the Koch brothers screwed over the climate even more than you know

Koch brothers
The Koch brothers.

Billionaire oil moguls Charles and David Koch have had a pernicious effect on climate and energy policy, a host of other progressive issues, and American democracy itself, as we've reported many times before. But a new report by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University reveals even more about how the Koch brothers have undermined climate action.

Since 2008, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity has been urging candidates and politicians to sign its “No Climate Tax Pledge." In 2010, we noted that many Republican House and Senate candidates had signed it, and in 2011, that at least one GOP presidential candidate had.

But it turns out the pledge has been far more widespread and influential than most people realized. From the Investigative Reporting Workshop:

A quarter of senators and more than one-third of representatives have signed a little-known pledge — backed by the Kochs — not to spend any money to fight climate change without an equivalent amount of tax cuts.


Energy Secretary Moniz says Obama is not waging war on coal


Coal lovers can breathe easy (as long as they're not downwind of a coal-fired power plant, that is). President Obama's new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, has dismissed conservative claims that his boss is waging a war on coal, assuring Americans that the dirtiest fossil fuel will remain a vital part of America's energy mix in the years to come.

From Reuters:

Obama "expects fossil fuels, and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time," Moniz told Reuters in Vienna, where he was to attend a nuclear security conference.


Hawaiians fight back against GMO experiments

The state of Hawaii has become a lot like the island of Dr. Moreau. Except that instead of Dr. Moreau -- the mad scientist in H.G. Wells's 1896 novel who vivisected animals into beast-people -- Hawaii is ruled by the GMO industry.

The Big Island, Hawaii
The Island of Dr. Monsanto.

Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, and BASF use the Pacific archipelago as open-air testing grounds for their experimental genetically modified crops, and they spray those crops with herbicides and other chemicals to test how they respond.

But now many residents, including lawmakers, are saying they have had enough of this science-fictionesque madness.


Oil trains and terminals could be coming to the Northwest

Port of Vancouver
Loco Steve
The Port of Vancouver, Wash., might get more oily.

Pacific Northwesterners worried by three planned new coal export hubs along their shorelines have something new to fear.

Oil refiner Tesoro and terminal operator Savage are trying to secure permits to build the region's biggest crude oil shipping terminal at the Port of Vancouver, along the Washington state side of the Columbia River.

KPLU reports that the proposed terminal would receive crude by rail from oil fields in North Dakota and transfer it onto oceangoing tankers for delivery to refineries along the West Coast. And that's just one of many plans to boost shipments of oil through the region to coastal ports. Environmentalists are not pleased, fearing oil spills among other problems.

From The Columbian:

The Port of Vancouver got an earful Thursday from backers and opponents of a proposed crude-oil transfer terminal who packed the Board of Commissioners' hearing room to trumpet their arguments.


What’s up with Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head the EPA?

Gina McCarthy
Reuters/Jason Roberts

Many of Obama’s nominees have not been popular with Republicans in the Senate, but Gina McCarthy has faced a particularly tough fight. GOP senators boycotted a committee vote on her nomination two months ago, mostly because of their knee-jerk hatred of all things related to the EPA (or, as some prefer to call it, the job-killing organization of America).

McCarthy has a reputation as a tough and experienced policymaker committed to fighting climate change, whose work as Massachusetts’ top environmental advisor contributed to the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 ruling giving EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. She's worked for Republicans as well as Democrats and collaborated constructively with industry, but that background hasn't calmed GOP worries about what the EPA might do on climate change.

Over recent months, McCarthy repeatedly assured senators that the EPA was not working on carbon regulations for existing power plants. But then last week, Obama announced in his big climate speech that he planned to order EPA to develop just such regulations. Politico reported last week that this could further endanger McCarthy's nomination because GOP lawmakers might accuse her of misleading them or argue that she was out of touch and incompetent (although the only people Politico quoted to support that theory were an oil-industry lobbyist and a GOP energy strategist).

But now, a week later, Politico reports that, on the contrary, a McCarthy confirmation is looking increasingly likely.


Oregon bans some insecticides following bee deaths

Safari pesticide
Forestry Distributing
Banned in Oregon.

Bees and other insects can breathe a little easier in Oregon -- for now. The state has responded to the recent bumbleocalypse in a Target parking lot by temporarily banning use of the type of pesticide responsible for the high-profile pollinator die-off.

For the next six months, it will be illegal to spray Safari or other pesticides [PDF] containing dinotefuran neonicotinoids in the state.

Oregon's ban comes after more than 50,000 bumblebees and other pollinators were killed when Safari was sprayed over blooming linden trees to control aphids in a Wilsonville, Ore., parking lot. A similar incident in Hillsboro, Ore., was also cited by the state's agriculture department as a reason for the ban.

Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba said in a statement [PDF] that she has directed her agency to impose the ban to help prevent further such "bee deaths connected to pesticide products with this active ingredient until such time as our investigation is completed. Conclusions from the investigation will help us and our partners evaluate whether additional steps need to be considered.”


U.S. will help electrify Africa, but will the energy be clean or dirty?

Obama in Cape Town
Stephen Koigi
Obama addressing an audience in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday.

President Obama said on Monday that it's "unacceptable" that more than two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans don't have access to electricity, and he has a plan to help solve the problem. On Sunday, he unveiled a new Power Africa initiative intended to double electricity access in the region.

The initiative calls for more than $7 billion in U.S. funding over five years to help build new power plants in six African countries and bring electricity to more than 20 million households and businesses. It's also intended to help American companies get a foothold in Africa.

Obama introduced the program in a speech in South Africa on Sunday:

Now we’re going to talk about power — Power Africa — a new initiative that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. Double it. We’re going to start by investing $7 billion in U.S. government resources. We’re going to partner with the private sector, who themselves have committed more than $9 billion in investment. And in partnership with African nations, we’re going to develop new sources of energy. We’ll reach more households not just in cities, but in villages and on farms. We’ll expand access for those who live currently off the power grid. And we’ll support clean energy to protect our planet and combat climate change.


Chinese wind power company charged with stealing American trade secrets


One of China’s biggest wind turbine manufacturers is accused of stealing software from an American firm, then using the ill-gotten trade secrets in turbines in the victim's own backyard of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts-based AMSC, which makes software and equipment that regulates the flow of electricity from wind turbines to the electrical grid, was allegedly betrayed by an employee of one of its subsidiaries. The U.S. Justice Department charges that the employee stole the software by downloading it to a computer in Austria, then sold it to Chinese company Sinovel, which had formerly been an AMSC customer. Justice has indicted Sinovel, two Sinovel executives, and the rogue AMSC employee.

The theft led to the loss of 500 jobs and $800 million, AMSC says. U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil says it was "nothing short of attempted corporate homicide."


House responds to Obama’s climate plan with an offshore drilling plan

offshore drilling rigRepublicans in the House want to see a lot more of this.

Not pleased with the modest climate and energy reforms Obama unveiled Tuesday, the House sought to drown out the president's call to "invest, divest" with a reprise of its favorite "drill, baby, drill" chorus.

In a 235-to-186 vote Friday, House lawmakers passed the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which Climate Progress said "reads like Big Oil's Christmas list":

It would open virtually all of the U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space to new drilling; require the Obama administration to create a new Five-Year Plan for offshore operations; and generally perpetuate an energy agenda driven by climate deniers.


Centuries worth of CO2 emissions could be stored underground, but at what cost?

underground sign
Radoslaw Maciejewski / Shutterstock
We could store CO2 underground, though not in the London Underground.

We could liquefy and cram our carbon dioxide emissions into the ground for some 500 years before America's geologic basins started to overflow with the stuff.

That's according to a new assessment by federal scientists, who spent years scouring America for porous rocks thousands of feet beneath the ground that might be appropriate for carbon sequestration.

They studied 36 geologic basins that could be suitable and found that the best region for storing waste CO2 would be the Gulf Coast. From the Houston Chronicle: