A new report [PDF] from the inspector general of the Interior Department reveals that the Bureau of Land Management routinely underestimates the value of coal, letting companies like Peabody and Arch Coal snap up federal mining rights for a song, often with little or no competition. More than 80 percent of coal leases up for auction in the past 20 years received only one bid, the report found.
The report said that the process by which the value of the leases is computed is faulty, costing the government millions. At the current rate of coal leasing, the inspector general found, every penny-a-ton undervaluation costs the taxpayers $3 million.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out an ambitious plan today to fortify the city against the extreme weather and storms we can expect thanks to a changing climate. “This is a defining challenge of our future,” Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The plan, estimated to cost $20 billion, includes 250 recommendations in all, covering everything from erecting bulkheads and levees to retrofitting old buildings to protecting the city’s power infrastructure. (Fifty-three percent of NYC’s power plants currently sit within the 100-year floodplain, and by the 2050s, 90 percent could be in that danger zone.)
The plan covers so many different parts of the city and calls for such a wide array of proposals that the estimated price tag could change – and given the history of large infrastructure projects, that means the cost is likely to grow.
The price estimate also does not include some of the more ambitious projects envisioned in the report that require further study, like the construction of a so-called Seaport City, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, modeled after Battery Park City, which would protect Lower Manhattan but cost billions.
The administration said that roughly half of the currently estimated $20 billion cost of the next decade would be covered by federal and city money that had already been allocated in the capital budget and that an additional $5 billion would be covered by expected aid that Congress had already appropriated. Most of that money was allocated, through a variety of programs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to the report.
While a $20 billion price tag sounds staggering, Bloomberg pointed out that Hurricane Sandy alone did $19 billion in damage to the city, and that a future storm could cause as much as $90 billion worth of destruction.
The world is driving itself into a future of climate hell, but experts say it's not too late to take the off-ramp.
Despite declining greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and other developed nations, global emissions broke a new record last year. They were pushed 1.4 percent higher than the year before by rapid growth in China and India, and by Japan turning to fossil fuels instead of nuclear power.
During U.N. climate negotiations held in Copenhagen in 2009, most of the world agreed to aim for a post-Industrial Revolution temperature rise of no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world keeps traveling along its current path, the International Energy Agency warns in a new report that long-term average temperature increases of between 3.6 and 5.3 degrees C are more likely.
Climate negotiations are underway to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which could help stem the tide of rising emissions. But no new agreement is expected to come into force until 2020 -- and who knows if it would even be strong enough to make a difference.
So it would be easy to conclude that we're royally fucked.
But in its new report, the IEA outlines four strategies that countries could pursue during the next seven years to help spare us the "royally fucked" scenario of skyrocketing temperatures -- all at zero net economic cost.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to figure out how to meet sequester cuts demanded by Congress -- without upsetting Congress by furloughing the agency's weather forecasters.
One proposed solution might sound fine if you just want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow, but it's not so fine if you care about improving the accuracy of such forecasts in the coming years.
An earlier proposal from NOAA that would have required employees of the National Weather Service to take some furlough days this year was recently nixed amid tornado-induced horror at the thought of meteorologists being kept away from work.
The agency's new plan would see funds drained instead from the COSMIC-2 satellite program, the second phase planned in a joint U.S.-Taiwan project that aims to improve weather forecasting. From Politico:
“The beauty of this program is it generates an extraordinary amount of useful data and we don’t have to pay the whole freight,” said Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
“It is an extraordinary mistake to take away the money,” he told POLITICO. “This will be really controversial in the discipline.” ...
That's pretty much all the untrustworthy company had to say to win yet another round in a drawn-out court battle with organic farmers and seed producers.
The U.S. court system is refusing to protect the organic growers from future Monsanto lawsuits in the event that traces of genetically engineered genes accidentally end up in the farmers' crops. That's because of a single paragraph on the biotech giant's website that says it has no such litigious intentions.
States have begun introducing taxes on not using gasoline.
As the number of electric vehicles on the roads starts to climb, a number of states are introducing new fees to offset the projected losses in gas-tax revenues.
The AP reports that at least 10 states have considered or passed legislation that would impose such fees on electric or hybrid cars.
The new charges could help governments build and maintain the roads and bridges upon which the new generation of vehicles are being driven. But it seems that owners of gas-free cars are also being eyed to plug holes left in government budgets by the improved efficiency of traditional vehicles.
Gas taxes are one of the main sources of funding for bridges and roads. But people are driving more fuel-efficient cars, and many states’ tax rates haven’t kept up with inflation during the past decade. That’s left less money available for repairs. Nationwide, gas tax revenue declined every year from $40.7 billion in 2004 to $37.9 billion in 2010, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research group in Washington.
That’s a big reason Virginia and Washington State are levying green-car taxes and New Jersey, North Carolina, Indiana, and at least four other states are considering doing the same. “The intent is that people who use the roads pay for them,” says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat who wrote a bill to tax electric-car drivers 1¢ for every mile they log on state highways under a yet-to-be-devised tracking system. “Just because we have somebody who is getting out of doing it because they have an alternative form of fuel, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay for the roads.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) loves fracking -- he once even drank fracking fluid to prove it -- but other elected officials in the state are not so gung ho. A handful of Colorado cities are trying to limit or ban the practice -- and are finding that it's not so easy to do.
Boulder is the latest Colorado municipality to take on the frackers. Last week, its city council unanimously passed a one-year moratorium on fracking within city limits and on city-owned open space, and council members are considering options for a more long-term policy. From the Boulder Daily Camera:
It would take an estimated 11 years and $40 billion to excavate a proposed canal through 130 miles of Nicaragua to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, providing shippers with an alternative route to the Panama Canal. And the project would have a huge environmental impact on the country, slicing through rainforest and messing with waterways.
But enough already with boring facts and details. President Daniel Ortega is trying to ram the project through his country's congress faster than Dick Cheney rammed America's Patriot Act through after 9/11.
Hydrofluorocarbons, the climate-changing twins of ozone-ruining chlorofluorocarbons, had best watch out. The world's two most powerful countries have agreed to join forces to prevent the harmful chemicals from entering the atmosphere.
Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping spent Friday and Saturday talking in California. They couldn't find much middle ground on cyberespionage, or on a handful of other security issues. But they agreed that their two countries will work together to tackle one of the world's greatest climate threats.
It's no secret that fracking companies engage in someshadybehavior. But a report in The New Republic reveals just how low they'll sink in the rush to exploit natural gas: Energy companies in eastern Ohio -- home to the world's largest Amish population and billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves -- have been convincing Amish farmers to sign away drilling rights to their land for far less than they're worth, knowing that because their religious tradition frowns on lawsuits, the landowners will have little recourse for justice once they realize they've been duped.
Lloyd Miller, for example, an Amish farmer near Millersburg, Ohio, said an agent from Kenoil offered him $10 an acre to drill for shale gas on his 158 acres, promising it was the best deal around. Strapped for cash at the time, Miller and his wife said yes, figuring, “Hey, that’s $1,500 we didn’t have,” Miller explained. But they soon found out many non-Amish farmers in the area were leasing drilling rights for as much as $1,000 an acre. Miller consulted with a lawyer, who told him the agent had committed fraud by promising that $10 an acre was the best he could get. The Millers had grounds to sue -- but that's something that, in accordance with their Amish beliefs, they'd never do. Of the Kenoil agent, Miller said: “He’s got to live with his conscience.”
The New Republic explains:
Their prohibition on the courts derives from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs his followers to turn the other cheek, and if they are sued for their coats, to give up their cloaks, too. The Amish interpret this to mean that the court is no place to right wrongs. In 2011, for example, after the Securities and Exchange Commission charged a local man, Monroe L. Beachy, with running a Ponzi scheme that wiped out nearly $17 million in Amish retirement savings, a committee representing his some 2,500 Amish creditors asked a judge to dismiss his bankruptcy case so that they could resolve his debts amongst themselves.
Lest you're tempted to give fracking companies the benefit of the doubt, a lawyer for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. told The New Republic that the Amish restriction on litigation is “a known fact to us.”
One local father-and-son law firm said it had consulted with dozens of Amish landowners in the area who had been misled by energy companies in a manner similar to the Millers.