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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


In win for fish, oil companies allowed to abandon old rigs

For all the harm that the oil and gas industry inflicts on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, it does offer the marine ecosystem at least one big benefit. Offshore oil-drilling rigs serve as artificial reefs, providing shelter for animals and an anchor for plants, coral, and barnacles. Yet once a well is tapped, the federal government has required the drilling company to uproot its rig to help clear clutter that could obstruct shipping.

Following complaints from fishermen and conservationists, however, the Obama administration is easing those rules. It announced this week that it is making it easier for states to designate abandoned drilling infrastructure as special artificial reef sites.

Oil rig ecosystem
Chris Ledford, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
A barracuda hanging out at a Texas oil rig.

The move is a win-win. Fish, turtles, and other wildlife get to keep their underwater metropolises -- and drilling companies can save on the costs of rig removal. From Fuel Fix:


U.S. and World Bank might stop financing dirty coal plants

Coal in China
Hunter Hogan
Coal processing in China.

The World Bank says it cares about climate change, so why is it providing loans to help developing countries build coal power plants? Same goes for America's support for coal plants abroad.

In recognition of this glaring climate policy disconnect, both the World Bank and the Obama administration appear to be finally backing away from  financial support of such dirty energy enterprises.

From Bloomberg:

The World Bank plans to restrict its financing of coal-fired power plants to “rare circumstances,” according to a draft strategy that reflects the lender’s increased focus on mitigating the effects of climate change.

The Washington-based lender will help countries find alternatives to coal, according to the draft obtained by Bloomberg News which lays out the bank’s policy on lending to its member countries. The paper, which is subject to revision, describes universal access to energy as a priority for the World Bank’s mission to help end poverty.

The bank “will cease providing financial support for greenfield coal power generation projects, except in rare circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives available to meet basic energy needs and other sources of financing are absent,” according to the report. Greenfield is a term for a new facility. ...


Americans are more worried about North Korean nukes than climate change

north korea and nuclear bombAAAARRRRGGGHHHH North Korea and nuclear bombs and other countries and stuff!!!!

Americans are less concerned about this climate change thing than other people around the world.

The Pew Research Group this week released the results of a worldwide survey of 37,653 residents of 39 countries, revealing that just 40 percent of Americans view global warming as a major threat to their country.

Across all countries surveyed, by comparison, 54 percent view global warming as a major threat. Concern was highest in Latin America and lowest in the U.S., with concern among Middle East residents nearly as low as those in America.

From the survey's findings:

Concern about global climate change is particularly prevalent in Latin America, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian/Pacific region, but majorities in Lebanon, Tunisia and Canada also say climate change is a major threat to their countries. In contrast, Americans are relatively unconcerned about global climate change. Four-in-ten say this poses a major threat to their nation, making Americans among the least concerned about this issue of the 39 publics surveyed, along with people in China, Czech Republic, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan.


Will dumping Australia’s climate-savvy prime minister help the climate?

Kevin Rudd, Australian Labor Party
Kevin Rudd is Australia's new prime minister, again. Now he has to defend that job from an opposition leader who once called climate science "crap."

In terms of climate policy, Australians face a choice between fairly good and downright evil in an upcoming federal election.

The face of evil belongs to climate skeptic Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition Liberal Party (which, in topsy-turvy Down Under fashion, is in fact conservative).

And the face of relative good is ... in some disarray at the moment. Power brokers in the Labor Party, which narrowly holds power in the country, this week stripped the prime ministership away from Julia Gillard and handed it back to former leader Kevin Rudd. They believe this move will help them win the election, which is tentatively scheduled for September.

The stakes are high. Australia is among the world’s worst per-person contributors to climate change. The country is a huge producer of coal, exporting a lot and consuming a good bit itself. And it's been suffering heavily from climate change in recent years, enduring epic heat, drought, wildfires, and floods.

But lately, the country been trying to mend its ways, and setting a global example in doing so. Over the last six years, under first Rudd and then Gillard, the Labor Party has introduced policies and taxes designed to battle and adapt to climate change. Reports are confirming that the new taxes and policies are doing what they were intended to do: curb power plant carbon emissions and accelerate investment in renewable energy.

But Labor's been flailing in the polls and weighed down by infighting. Rudd had been agitating for the top job for months, destabilizing the party. Now, after he was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday, Labor’s members of parliament are vying against each other for positions in his new cabinet, instead of focusing on their reelection campaigns.


EPA tells Ohio to stop keeping fracking secrets from first responders

He needs to know.

Ohio firefighters, cops, and local officials might soon learn a little bit more about the poisons that frackers are storing and injecting into the ground beneath their feet.

The U.S. EPA told the state that a 12-year-old Ohio law that lets the fracking industry conceal information from emergency-management officials and first responders violates federal law. From The Columbus Dispatch:

The state law, passed in 2001, requires that drilling companies share information about hazardous chemicals only with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which is supposed to keep the information available for local officials.


Anthony Foxx, transit booster, confirmed as transportation secretary

Anthony Foxx.
U.S. Department of Labor
Anthony Foxx.

Anthony Foxx, the transit-friendly mayor of Charlotte, N.C., has been confirmed as Obama’s transportation secretary in a rare unanimous Senate vote. (GOP lawmakers must be focusing all their energy on obstructing Gina McCarthy’s nomination for EPA chief.) He’ll be the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet.

From the Associated Press:

Foxx, 42, is considered a charismatic rising figure in the Democratic party and was a staunch and active campaigner for President Barack Obama in North Carolina, including playing host to the Democratic National Convention. …

Foxx is expected to continue in the vein of [former Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood. He told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that safety would be his top priority at a nomination hearing a month ago.

His short tenure as mayor, and his professional background, suggest he will also carry on LaHood's fondness for rail and transit.

Foxx worked to expand Charlotte’s light-rail system, break ground on an electric streetcar project in the city, and build electric vehicle-charging infrastructure. During his three and a half years as mayor, Charlotte’s unemployment rate dropped more than 3 percent, in part thanks to Foxx’s efforts to bolster the city’s reputation as an energy-industry hub.

Read more: Cities, Politics


L.A. launches nation’s largest solar rooftop program

Bits of a new solar power plant could go there. And there. And there and there and there and there and there.
Bits of a new solar power plant could go there. And there. And there and there and there and there and there.

The first small shoots of what will grow into a sprawling solar power plant have sprouted in Los Angeles.

L.A.'s Department of Water and Power is rolling out the country's biggest urban rooftop program, which will pay residents for solar energy they produce in excess of their own needs. That will give residents a reason to install more solar capacity on their roofs than they can use in their homes.

On Wednesday, the first solar-generated watts produced under the Clean L.A. Solar program came from the rooftop of an apartment complex in North Hollywood. From the L.A. Times:

The goal of the effort, the brainchild of the Los Angeles Business Council, is to generate 150 megawatts of solar electricity, or enough to power about 30,000 homes. The council hopes to attract investments totaling $500 million from a growing list of companies that want to invest in L.A.'s push to go green by setting up large clusters of rooftop solar panels.


Republicans say Obama’s climate plan is a war on America

war in front of American flag

By announcing that his administration will tackle climate change by curbing power plant emissions, Barack Obama isn't just waging a war on coal. He's waging a war on the United States of freakin' America.

We know that because Republicans told us so.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Leading Republicans were using phrases like “anti-American” and “war on American energy” to describe President Obama’s new plan to combat climate change, escalating the rhetoric even before the President’s Georgetown University speech outlining his program.

“President Obama’s anti-American energy plan will increase the price of energy and hurt job creation,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., tweeted. Bachmann is a longtime climate change denier who has defended the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

And it isn't just Republicans. Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- he of the notorious shoot-the-cap-and-trade-bill ad -- is also escalating the martial rhetoric. (As it happens, Manchin has earned millions from a coal brokerage he used to help run, and coal-dependent energy companies are among his biggest campaign contributors.) From Climate Progress:


Giant, oil-belching sinkhole dooms more than 100 homes in Louisiana

It's looking like a neighborhood in Assumption Parish, La., has been permanently wiped out by a sloppy salt-mining company.

A sinkhole in the area has grown to 15 acres since an old salt mine that was emptied to supply the local petrochemical industry with brine began collapsing in August. Hundreds of neighbors were long ago evacuated, and many of them are now accepting that they will never return to their homes.

The sinkhole isn’t just endangering homes, it is also burping out oil, natural gas, and debris, shaking the area so powerfully that seismic equipment is being used to monitor the site. And brine from the sinkhole is in danger of contaminating local waterways. This thing is so big it even has its own Facebook page.

This is not a lake. It's part of the 15-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish.
On Wings of Care
This is not a lake. It's part of the 15-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish.


Study says tar-sands oil not more likely to leak; activists fault study


Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline cheered Tuesday’s release of a study that deemed diluted bitumen -- the heavy crude mined in Alberta’s tar sands that Keystone would carry to Texas -- just as safe to transport via pipeline as other forms of crude oil. They see the results as further clearing the way for approval of the pipeline.

But environmental groups criticized the methodology and limited scope of the study, which was conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. From Inside Climate News:

[T]he conclusions were based not on new research but primarily on self-reported industry data, scientific research that was funded or conducted by the oil industry, and government databases that even federal regulators admit are incomplete and sometimes inaccurate.

Critics also faulted the study for comparing diluted bitumen (or dilbit) to other heavy Canadian crudes, instead of to the conventional light oils for which most U.S. pipelines were built. Environmentalists have argued that tar-sands and other heavy oils, which must be diluted with chemicals in order to be moved through pipelines, could be more corrosive to those pipelines. And the study only addressed the likelihood of a spill, not the negative impacts -- to the economy, the environment, and human health -- were a spill to occur.