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Ohio cracks down on methane pollution from fracking

Criminalize fracking
Bill Baker
This guy probably understands that Ohio's new rules don't go far enough.

Drillers in the heavily fracked Buckeye State will now have to do more to find and fix leaks in their systems, part of the latest initiative to crack down on climate-changing methane pollution. The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

Ohio on Friday tightened its rules on air emissions from natural gas-oil drilling at horizontal wells. ...

Drilling companies now are required to perform regular inspections to pinpoint any equipment leaks and seal them quickly.

Such leaks can contribute to air pollution with unhealthy ozone, add to global warming and represent lost or wasted energy. Fugitive emissions can account for 1 to 8 percent of methane from an individual well, according to some studies. ...

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In the battle against proposed coal terminals, you are kicking ass

beating coal
Shutterstock

Companies that want to build hulking coal export terminals in Washington state have put out an industrywide mayday after a string of similar proposed projects were defeated amid fierce local opposition from activists and neighbors.

Opponents of such projects are worried about climate change and local air pollution and congestion. And now the terminal developers are worried that they are staring down complete and utter defeat. The Missoulian reports on a delightful tidbit from an energy conference last week:

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Not so fast

States try to block cities’ transit plans

bus rapid transit sketch
Will Tennessee's Republican-controlled state legislature kill this proposed bus rapid transit line in Nashville?

As more cities come to terms with Americans’ shifting desires to get out of cars and onto mass transit, we are beginning to see bus and rail projects in some unexpected places. Mass transit isn’t just for your Europhile socialist coastal enclaves anymore. Cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt are trying to develop well-planned transit systems such as light rail and bus rapid transit.

But there is a hitch: States tend to control both how transportation funds are raised and how they are spent. Even federal transportation dollars are mostly disbursed to states rather than localities. Many states, even liberal California and transit-rich New York, prohibit cities from levying most kinds of taxes without state permission, making it hard for metropolitan areas to raise funds for their own projects.

And, you’ll be shocked to discover, Republican state legislatures aren’t so keen on mass transit. In Indiana, for example, the counties in the Indianapolis region need state approval just to hold a referendum on whether to fund mass transit projects. And the state legislature would not give them that permission unless they dropped a light rail system from the proposal, and also dropped a corporate tax to pay for it.

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How to catch a coal ash spill? Send lawyers, boats, and airplanes

Waterkeeper Alliance Coal Ash Dumping
Waterkeeper Alliance

Peter Harrison has an enviable life: He spends a lot of time in a boat, exploring the waterways of North Carolina. Peter Harrison also has an interesting life: Other boats sometimes follow his, with huge cameras pointed in his direction, shutters clicking away.

"It's just intimidation," Harrison says. The people with cameras tend to be security guards for Duke Energy, the state's largest electricity provider, and a company that Harrison spends a lot of time investigating.

Over the past few years, environmental groups like the one that Harrison works for, Waterkeeper Alliance, began to notice that every time they have tried to sue Duke over coal ash dumps that are spilling arsenic and mercury into North Carolina's drinking water, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would find a way to block or delay the lawsuit.

It also did not escape their notice that the state's governor, Pat McCrory, had worked at Duke for 28 years before running for political office. Or that the secretary of DENR was a McCrory appointee who described his approach to running the agency as being “a partner” to those it regulates.

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FDA tells livestock and dairy farmers: We’re cutting you off — no more beer!

cows_and_beer
Shutterstock

The United States is about to have a slew of hungry and sober cows on our hands, which, for the record, is not a good combination for any mammal.

The FDA’s proposed Food Safety Modernization Act guidelines would prohibit breweries from sharing their fermented grains with livestock farmers. Farmers have long been using this boozy mash as free feed for their cows, and this relationship has provided an efficient way for the beer industry to repurpose its waste.*

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Europe wimps out again on airlines’ carbon pollution

China Airlines
Shutterstock / Lukas Rebec

European efforts to force international airlines to pay for their carbon pollution will stay parked on the runway for at least several more years.

Airlines are covered by the European Union's Emissions Trading System. Airfares for flights within Europe have included a carbon fee under that system since the beginning of 2012. The plan has been to expand the program to include international flights that begin or end in Europe, but that proposal has been vigorously opposed by China, the U.S., and other countries. China had put a large order for aircraft from Europe-based Airbus on hold over the dispute.

On Thursday, amid promises that the climate-unfriendly airline industry will soon launch its own climate program, the U.S. and China prevailed, again, clinching a years-long delay. Members of the European Parliament voted 458 to 120 to exempt flights in and out of Europe from the emissions trading program until early 2017. A bid to delay the program until 2020 was rejected by the lawmakers.

"We have the next International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in 2016," parliamentarian Peter Liese said. "If it fails to deliver a global [climate] agreement, then nobody could justify our maintaining such an exemption." But so far the aviation industry's efforts to develop its own climate plan have been feeble.

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Republicans join Democrats in trying to revive wind energy incentives

Wind energy
Shutterstock

The political winds in the nation's capitol shifted on Thursday in favor of wind energy.

A Senate committee passed a bill that would restore two key tax credits for the wind industry. Both credits have helped spur the sector's rapid growth in recent years, but Congress allowed them to expire at the end of last year. Uncertainty over whether the incentives would be extended into 2014 was blamed for a startling decline in wind farm construction last year, when just 1 gigawatt of capacity was installed -- down from 13 gigawatts the year before.

Thursday's move by the Senate Finance Committee doesn't guarantee that the full Senate will support resurrection of the credits, much less the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But encouraging signs emerged after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) tried to kill the credits. He argued that restoring them would amount to picking energy-industry winners and losers and forcing taxpayers to "subsidize inefficient, uncompetitive forms of energy." (Meanwhile, taxpayers continue a century-long tradition of subsidizing fossil fuels.) CleanTechnica reports on the encouraging bipartisan response to Toomey's effort:

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Obama admin sued for dragging feet on studies of climate impacts

alarm clock that says "late"
Shutterstock

Just over a year ago, we told you that the Obama administration would soon start requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects that need federal approval. Bloomberg reported in March of last year that the new guidelines would "be issued in the coming weeks."

But many weeks have come and gone and the guidelines still haven't been released, so now activists are suing the administration to hurry things along.

The lawsuit revolves around the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of projects they oversee and to develop strategies for reducing those impacts. Since passage of the landmark law in 1969, NEPA assessments have covered a variety of potential environmental impacts. In early 2008, major environmental groups petitioned the George W. Bush administration to include climate impacts among them. After Obama came into office, his administration said it would broaden the scope of NEPA studies to cover climate change, and in 2010, it issued draft guidelines to this effect, but they've been bottled up at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) ever since.

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What’s worse than burning coal? Burning wood

wood fire
Shutterstock

In its scramble for new and clean energy sources, the U.S. government is failing to see the forest for the burning trees.

The burning of biomass to produce electricity is marketed as clean and renewable, and promoted by federal policies. But a report published Wednesday concludes that burning wood is more polluting than burning coal.

More than 70 wood-burning plants are under construction or have been built in the U.S. since 2005, with 75 more planned, according to the analysis by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Integrity.

For every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, even the "cleanest" of the American biomass plants pump out nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-burning plants, PFPI staff researcher Mary Booth, a former Environmental Working Group scientist, concluded after poring over data associated with 88 air emissions permits. The biomass plants also produce more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter as coal plants.

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5 ways Paul Ryan’s budget screws the climate and environment

Rep. Paul Ryan
Gage Skidmore

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Very Serious Person? Before he was his party’s nominee for vice president, and his extreme ideology became more widely understood, Ryan was the Washington media establishment’s favorite Republican. In 2011, Time magazine named him a runner-up for Person of the Year, crediting his “hard work ... and possibly suicidal guts” with making him “the most influential American politician.” Ryan had built up this mythology by releasing his “Roadmap” to a balanced budget, which won accolades for wrestling with projected deficits. In truth, his plan consisted mostly of lazy hand-waving gestures about spending cuts. You can say future Congresses must cut discretionary domestic spending by some huge amount, but you’re not really showing courage unless you’re actually in office when the cuts take place, turning down cries for help from your constituents. Meanwhile, Ryan proposed big regressive tax cuts, and his most concrete proposals to limit spending would do so by ending the healthcare guarantees of Medicare and Medicaid.

Well, Ryan is still chair of the House Budget Committee, and he is trying to rebuild his brand. Whatever his goal -- replace retiring Ways and Means Chair David Camp (R-Mich.), become speaker of the House, or run for president in 2016 -- Ryan wants to be considered politically brave and fiscally responsible. Recently he’s even been talking about poverty. But his new “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint for fiscal year 2015, released on Tuesday, is mostly a rehash of his old ideas. And like every Ryan budget, it's full of right-wing hobbyhorses that would do untold damage to the environment.

Here are the five main ways Ryan's plan would increase pollution, accelerate global warming, despoil public lands, and stymie Americans’ efforts to get out of their cars.