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Guess which two words can make your nonpartisan education reforms a hot potato?

globe in hands
Podoc

Depending on who you're talking to, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-- the first major national recommendations for teaching science to be made since 1996 -- either painfully water down the presentation of climate-change information or attempt to brainwash our nation's youth into believing climate change is real.

The backlash to the NGSS began last year, but now, we also have the backlash to the backlash -- an effort by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others, to frame science education as a civil rights issue and mobilize a grassroots movement around the idea of a Climate Students Bill of Rights. The idea is to ensure that the new standards actually wind up getting taught.

If you're the kind of person who likes geeking out over curricula, you'll find the NGSS's website fascinating. How do we teach climate change? It's such an awkward thing to explain to children, who have not caused the problem and have yet to have a chance to help make it better. Or worse, for that matter.

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U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar panels break trade rules, WTO says

solar panels
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When it comes to global trade in solar panels and components, the U.S. trade representative wants to have his suncake and eat it too. Even as the trade rep has been hauling India before the World Trade Organization, complaining that the country's requirements for domestically produced solar panels violate global trade rules, the U.S. has been imposing new duties on panels imported from China and Taiwan. By some estimates, the U.S. duties could increase solar module costs in the country by 14 percent.

On Monday, WTO judges who were mulling China's complaint against the U.S. over its duties on solar panels and steel ruled in favor of -- you guessed it -- more world trade. Reuters reports:

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Another court victory for EPA — this time on mountaintop-removal rules

mountaintop removal rules
Nicholas A. Tonelli

Blowing up mountains so that their coal-filled bellies can be stripped of their climate-changing innards doesn't just ruin Southern Appalachian forests. It also poisons the region's streams, as fragments of rock and soil previously known as mountaintops get dumped into valleys. A government-led study published two weeks ago concluded that this pollution is poisoning waterways, leading to "fewer species, lower abundances, and less biomass."

Concern about just this kind of water pollution is why the EPA stepped in five years ago using its Clean Water Act mandate to boost environmental oversight of mountaintop-removal mining, creating a joint review process with the Army Corps of Engineers to help that agency assess mining proposals under the Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The EPA can't really do anything these days without the attorneys of polluters and the states that they pollute crying foul in court about "agency overreach." So it was with the EPA's 2009 "Enhanced Coordination Process." The National Mining Association, West Virginia, and Kentucky filed suit, and a federal court sided with them. But on Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that decision, issuing a 3-0 ruling in favor of the EPA. The Charleston Gazette reports:

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Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

burningmoney
Mike Poresky

You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.

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Food fight

Eden Foods hit by backlash for fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate

empty Eden cans

We told you recently that Eden Foods, a widely distributed organic brand, has sued the Obama administration over the requirement that companies cover contraception as part of employee health-care plans. As word has spread, outrage has spread.

More than 112,000 people have a signed a petition organized by progressive group CREDO Action:

Tell CEO of Eden Foods, Michael Potter:

"I won’t buy Eden products until you stop playing politics with women’s health and drop your attacks on birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act."

Some are tweeting out Eden-shaming selfies:

Read more: Food, Living, Politics

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Rich Republicans are the worst climate deniers

rich businessman throws money
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We've known for some time that as Republicans become more highly educated, or better at general science comprehension, they become stronger in their global warming denial. It's a phenomenon I've called the "smart idiot" effect: Apparently being highly informed or capable interacts with preexisting political biases to make those on the right more likely to be wrong than they would be if they had less education or knowledge.

Now, a new study in the journal Climatic Change has identified a closely related phenomenon. Call it the "rich idiot" effect: The study finds that among Republicans, as levels of income increase, so does their likelihood of "dismissing the dangers associated with climate change." But among Democrats and independents, there is little or no change in climate views as levels of income increase or decrease.

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Triple threat

Cowboys, hunters, and enviros team up to fight natural gas drilling

If you take off in a plane from the airport in Aspen, Colo., you'll soon see exactly what natural gas drilling looks like -- and exactly why so many residents of the surrounding region, from ranchers to business owners to greens, are fighting to keep it in check.

Fly north over the Thompson Divide, a region mostly contained within the White River National Forest, and all you see is green, lush mountains and valleys. This is a habitat for migratory species from birds to elk.

Thompson Divide
Bruce Gordon / EcoFlight

Continue on, and tilt a bit west, and you enter the Piceance (pronounced “Pee-once”) Basin. There you see patches of denuded brown dirt with long thin lines leading to them, like the pitcher's mound on a baseball field. These are some of Colorado’s roughly 30,000 active gas wells, and the roads built to service them. (Many thanks to EcoFlight, a nonprofit environmental education group, for showing me the views.)

Grassy Mesa
Bruce Gordon / EcoFlight

Gradually, over the course of recent years, the drilling has spread eastward, over each successive hill. Now residents in the Thompson Divide area are worried it will come down to their communities and soon their pristine landscape will look like their neighbors' to the west. The threat has been hanging over them for a decade, but they are now trying to round up the votes in Congress to roll it back.

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Meet the Andy Griffith who’s going after fracking polluters

oil-spill-boots-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Back when I was a city reporter in San Francisco, one of my jobs was to take the daily crime report and type it up in a friendly, engaging way. The crime report was pretty par for any major metropolitan area: mugged, burgled, occasionally shot, or stabbed. But based on the tips we got from readers, things happened in the neighborhood, all the time, that never made it into the official police document that arrived on our desk.

Sometimes the reason for the omission was clear: something so unpleasant had just happened the police didn't want to deal with any publicity from it. Sometimes whatever had happened involved people who weren't into filling out police reports. And sometimes, I suspect, whoever was typing up the crime report just thought the crime was boring.

For that reason, I am a fan of the reporting that David Hasemyer has been doing for Inside Climate News -- because he's been covering the kind of crime that a reporter has to go out and look for. Earlier this month, Hasemyer profiled Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche of Alice, Texas. Zertuche is a 70-year-old long-timer who was assigned to the "environmental crimes" unit in 2006 -- basically, tracking down people who dumped broken-down sofas on back roads. While patrolling the mattress-in-a-ditch beat, Zertuche noticed that people were dumping something else: something black and slippery and awful-smelling. That something turned out to be benzene-laced fracking waste.

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Slash and burn

House Republicans to EPA: “We’ll take your money and give it to fires!”

Firefighters battle the so-called Poinsettia Fire in Carlsbad, California May 14, 2014.
Reuters/Sam Hodgson

Republicans in the House are pushing a budget bill that would cut EPA's funding by 9 percent, or $717 million. It wasn't hard to see this one coming. Republicans have long loathed the EPA.

But these days the loathing is even more intense than usual. Last month, President Obama unveiled a key component of his environmental legacy: proposed EPA rules to cut CO2 emissions from existing power plants, aka the Clean Power Plan. While many climate hawks have noted that the plan doesn't cut emissions nearly enough, it does cut them enough to send House Republicans into apoplexy. So the proposed budget would stop the EPA from using any of its funds to work on rules to that curb carbon pollution from power plants, essentially defunding Obama's new proposal as well as an earlier proposal to limit emissions from new power plants.

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Hand it over!

Europe really wants America’s oil and gas

EU flag
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It isn't just oil companies that are pushing the U.S. to drop its near-total ban on crude oil exports. European Union negotiators are trying to convince America to not only end the ban but agree to a "legally binding commitment" that would guarantee both oil and gas exports to its members.

The Washington Post got its hands on a secret E.U. document describing negotiations related to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The free-trade agreement could affect $4.7 trillion in trade between the U.S. and Europe -- and energy supplies are at the forefront of the European negotiators' minds.

"The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources," the "restricted" European Council document states.

So far, it seems that U.S. negotiators have been stonewalling the bid for such a legally binding commitment. "The U.S. has ... been hesitant to discuss a solution for U.S. export restrictions on natural gas and crude oil in the TTIP through binding legal commitments," the document says.