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California Gov. Jerry Brown blames climate change for early wildfires

Jerry Brown addressing journalists on Monday.
CAL FIRE
Jerry Brown tells journalists what's what on Monday.

California's governor was quick to blame climate change for the early-season wildfires that are already wreaking havoc in his state.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been an advocate for climate action and a fiery critic of climate deniers. On Monday, he visited the state fire department's aviation management unit as firefighters battled the remains of what a couple days earlier had been a raging blaze in the Santa Monica Mountains. While he was there, he shared some choice words with reporters about the causes and consequences of a fire season that's shaping up to be a big one. From the Los Angeles Times:

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Should America export its fracked gas? Why greens say no.

Cove Point, built as a natural gas import terminal, destined to be a natural gas export terminal.
Dominion
Cove Point, built as a natural gas import terminal, destined to be a natural gas export terminal.

Frackers already contaminate America's groundwatermake people sickproduce radioactive waste, and contribute to earthquakes. Processing and moving the natural gas that they produce leads to nasty spills and deadly explosions. And cheap natural gas makes it harder for renewable energy to compete.

But, hey, at least almost all of that cheap fuel is being used by Americans in America, right?

That may not continue to be the case. The Obama administration is poised to rule on a slew of applications to export natural gas to other countries through hulking industrial terminals dotted along U.S. coasts. Over the weekend, Obama appeared to reveal his hand on the issue, forecasting that the U.S. would likely become a net gas exporter by 2020, reports The Financial Times.

According to the newspaper, administration officials fear that a restriction on natural gas exports, as is being sought by American environmentalists and manufacturers, would send a bad signal about the country's support for free trade.

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One nuke plant in Wisconsin will shutter, another in California might not be switched back on

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
Shutterstock / Julius Fekete
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Americans worried by the threat of a nuclear meltdown could soon have two fewer reasons to fret.

A nuclear power plant in Wisconsin will be powered down on Tuesday and the owner of a trouble-plagued plant in California is considering shutting it down for good.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Kewaunee [Power Station] owner Dominion Resources Inc. has announced it will shut the plant on May 7, a move that is expected to result in the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The reactor is closing because the Wisconsin utilities that had purchased its electricity declined to continue buying it, citing the low price of natural gas. Dominion put the power plant up for sale in 2011, but no buyer emerged.

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Beware: Rough wildfire season ahead

Smoke from the Springs Fire blows over a dry Californian landscape.
wanderingnome
Smoke from the Springs Fire blows over a dry Californian landscape.

An inferno that led to the evacuation of thousands of Southern Californians last week was a harbinger of a nasty fire season ahead for America's West and Southwest.

A change in the weather on Sunday helped firefighters start to bring the Springs Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains under control, three days after it sparked to life amid hot and dry conditions.

Much of California is particularly dry and unseasonably brown this year. Storms stayed away from the state over the winter and mountains are covered with just a thin layer of snow.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Canadian tar-sands exec: ‘We do need Keystone’

Tar sands developments such as this one, in Northern Alberta, could be expanded if Keystone XL is approved.
Shutterstock / Christopher Kolaczan
Tar-sands developments such as this one, in northern Alberta, could be expanded if Keystone XL is approved.

The U.S. State Department has curiously asserted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline wouldn't significantly affect the development of tar-sands fields in Alberta, Canada. But that assertion is being contradicted by a big player in the Canadian tar-sands industry.

Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., told the Toronto Globe and Mail that "we do need Keystone" to be built if the industry is to increase its oil extraction in Alberta. Here's the quote in the context of the article:

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Hawaii could be hit by more hurricanes as climate changes

Hurricane Iniki performed a historically rare feat when it made landfall on Kauai in September 1992
NOAA via University of Hawaii
Hurricane Iniki performed a rare feat when it made landfall on Kauai in September 1992.

Despite living on a mere smattering of volcanic rocks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, Hawaiians haven't needed to worry too much about hurricanes. Just two such storms have hit the state in the past 30 years. But as the climate is changing, so too are the hurricane dangers facing the Aloha State.

New research suggests that the Pacific Ocean hurricanes of the future will be more rare than they are today, but the occasional ones that do get whipped into existence will be stronger and will wander farther across the sea. The number of such storms making it all the way to Hawaii is set to double or perhaps triple by the end of the century, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Why haven’t the big green groups divested from fossil fuels?

dollar bill dripping with oil
Dirty money.

Colleges and universities have started to do it. Cities like San Francisco and Seattle have started to do it. But many of the biggest environmental and conservation groups in the U.S. still haven't made any moves to dump their investments in oil, gas, and coal companies, reports Naomi Klein in The Nation:

One would assume that green groups would want to make absolutely sure that the money they have raised in the name of saving the planet is not being invested in the companies whose business model requires cooking said planet, and which have been sabotaging all attempts at serious climate action for more than two decades.

But in some cases at least, that was a false assumption. ...

Conservation International, notorious for its partnerships with oil companies and other bad actors (the CEO of Northrop Grumman is on its board, for God’s sake), has close to $22 million invested in publicly traded securities and, according to a spokesperson, “We do not have any explicit policy prohibiting investment in energy companies.” The same goes for the Ocean Conservancy, which has $14.4 million invested in publicly traded securities, including hundreds of thousands in “energy,” “materials” and “utilities” holdings. A spokesperson confirmed in writing that the organization does “not have an environmental or social screen investment policy.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Will natural-gas cars start to catch on?

Honda's natural gas-powered Civic.
Wikipedia / Mariordo
Honda's natural-gas-powered Civic.

Could the U.S. boom in natural gas lead to a boom in natural-gas cars? It can cost as little as $1 a gallon to fill them up in the U.S., says Bloomberg Businessweek, and there could be 25 million of them on roads worldwide by 2019.

To provide demand for a swelling supply of natural gas, the rush is on for investors, entrepreneurs, and the auto and energy industries to figure out how to power our transportation fleet with this abundant and relatively cleaner-burning fuel. Bloomberg reports:

Commercial vehicles, which generally rack up two or more times the annual mileage of consumer cars, are going first. In the last year many companies, including GE, UPS, FedEx, AT&T, PepsiCo, and Waste Management, the biggest trash hauler in the U.S., have announced plans to begin or expand conversions of their fleets to natural gas. Cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Fort Worth, Dallas, and San Francisco all have CNG [compressed natural gas] bus fleets. Large fleets of airport shuttles are converting as well.

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Study: When Republicans understand climate science, they support climate action

What happens when Republicans start to understand climate change?
Shutterstock
What happens when Republicans start to understand climate change?

Republican voters are told over and over by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and GOP leaders in Congress that climate change is a sham, a scare campaign orchestrated by scientists with liberal agendas. Ergo, Republicans are less likely than others to believe that fossil-fuel burning is changing the climate. It stands to reason, therefore, that they are less likely to support efforts to tackle the problem.

But once Republicans come to understand that the world is indeed imperiled by global warming, they begin to support government actions to try to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

That's the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Climatic Change. Researchers analyzed the results of a 2012 Gallup poll that asked around 1,000 Americans about their climate change views. From a Michigan State University press release:

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Big Coal loses out in Indiana, despite employing two state lawmakers

Matt Ubelhor is a Peabody Energy executive and an Indiana lawmakers. Where do his allegiances lie?
Indiana state
Rep. Matt Ubelhor moonlights as a Peabody Energy employee. Or is it the other way around?

Tough break for the coal industry in Indiana. Plans to build a $2.8 billion plant in Rockport to convert coal into synthetic natural gas have been doomed by new safeguards that protect ratepayers.

That's despite the best efforts of two senior coal industry executives who serve as lawmakers in the state legislature. There, they had tried, unethically and unsuccessfully, to prevent their colleagues from imposing the new standards, which will protect the state's gas and electricity customers from being ripped off.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ (R) administration signed a deal with the plant developers in 2011, which Indiana University researchers found would leave the state's ratepayers on the hook for all of the financial risks associated with the project. The researchers concluded [PDF] that the project would hurt the state's economy in the long run.

The deal was negotiated when natural gas prices were much higher than they are today, and when coal-to-gas technology was seen as being more lucrative. A court has ordered that the contract must be amended, and the newly approved state legislation will trigger a tough review before any amended deal can be signed.