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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
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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"
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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
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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.

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Pennsylvania officials have no idea how to assess health threats of fracking

frackwell_marcellusshale
WCN 24/7

Could it be that frackers are die-hard Ravens fans? That might explain their cavalier attitude about the health of citizens in Steeler Country.

Kidding! Money is the motive, yinz -- and if Pennsylvanians are exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in the making of it, who cares?

An alarming new study by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, finds that current methods and tools used to measure harmful emissions from fracking wells don’t accurately assess health threats -- not even close, in fact.

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California’s cap-and-trade program pays loggers to clearcut old-growth forests

Clearcutting in in Tuolumne County
Ebbets Pass Forest Watch
Does this look climate-friendly to you?

Timber industry lobbyists clinched a nice little victory in Sacramento four years ago, and now forests and the climate are paying the price.

Under California's cap-and-trade program, which began in late 2012, timber companies can earn carbon credits by felling forests and chopping down old-growth trees -- and then replanting the razed earth with younger trees. Which they will eventually chop down, again, after they have grown. The idea was that the younger trees would suck up a lot of carbon dioxide as they grew. But that flies in the face of scientific findings, published earlier this year in the journal Nature, that older trees are far better than their younger cousins at sucking carbon out of the sky.

A coalition of environmental groups sent a letter on Tuesday to the California Air Resources Board and Climate Action Reserve, the state's carbon-offset registry, urging them to reconsider the wrongheaded rules:

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Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs

Supreme Court building
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You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals -- the Koch brothers, for example -- will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 -- a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

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Vermont expands solar net metering, gives finger to ALEC

Solar panels in Vermont
Tim Patterson

Bad news for the polluter-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, but wonderful news for the planet.

In 2012 and 2013, ALEC tried to roll back states' renewable energy standards, and failed. Now it's trying to roll back solar net-metering programs, which let homeowners sell electricity from their rooftop panels into the grid, and that campaign isn't going so well either.

Case in point: In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) just signed a bill that will expand the state's net-metering program, allowing solar panel owners to sell more of their clean electricity into the grid.

The bill will nearly quadruple the size of a cap on the amount of solar power that utilities must be willing to buy from their customers. It also creates pilot projects that could allow for solar projects as large as 5 megawatts to be built under the scheme. The AP reports:

Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.

"Our success exceeded our wildest dreams," Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state's electric grid.

Vermont's increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation's per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.