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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.

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Congress members ask EPA to reopen three fracking investigations

test water EPA
Shutterstock

A crew of Democratic House members are calling on the EPA to do its damned job -- specifically, to investigate potential links between pollution and fracking in three states where groundwater has been mysteriously poisoned.

Rep. Matt Cartwright's (D-Pa.) letter, sent Tuesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with signatures from seven other lawmakers, follows the agency's disturbing decisions to drop three investigations into possible connections between fracking and water contamination.

In mid-2012, the EPA dropped an investigation into water pollution in Dimock, Pa., despite internal warnings from one of the agency's scientists that methane levels jumped in aquifers following drilling -- "perhaps as a result of fracking." In early 2013, the agency dropped its investigation into water pollution in Parker County, Texas -- despite lacking confidence in the quality of water tests conducted by the frackers themselves. And in the middle of last year, the EPA dropped its investigation into water contamination around Pavilion, Wyo. -- despite findings in a draft report that fracking chemicals were likely to blame.

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Grandparents Just Don't Understand

You can pry my grandkids’ sheet cake from my cold, dead hands

birthday-cake-senior.jpg
Shutterstock

In a last-ditch effort to dissuade millions of American children from a diet of Funyuns and unadulterated corn syrup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to have given up on trying to reach them through their parents. (Cut to rush-hour scene of a bus full of adults gnawing on McRib sandwiches, in unison.)

“Grandparents Help Kids Develop Good Eating Habits,” a blog post by USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion nutritionist Trish Britten, dares to make the suggestion that The Greatest Generation take responsibility for introducing children to fresh fruits and vegetables:

Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer’s market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making -- choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them throughout their lives.

While recent CDC data showed a marked drop in obesity rates for very young children*, there are still a number of health-related red flags indicating that American kids might be in need of some guidance in the dietary department. Just this weekend, the Texas Children's Pediatrics Associates clinics presented a study at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session that showed more than a third of its subjects between the ages of 9 and 11 have borderline or high cholesterol levels.

Read more: Food, Living, Politics

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Parks and Reconciliation

To attract minorities, the national parks need some better ideas

confederate soldiers
Larry Darling

Last week, I wrote about the problems the National Park Service is having with hiring people of color. Despite having a major presence in predominantly black and brown cities like Washington, D.C., the Service’s workforce is around 80 percent white across the nation, even in places like New York City. This is obviously not a good look for a taxpayer-funded federal agency that is headed into its 100-year anniversary.

When I spoke with David Vela, the Park Service's associate director for workforce, relevancy, and inclusion, about why that is, he said of the problem, “We know that. We own that and we are developing strategies to deal with it.”

We talked quite a bit about those strategies in our discussion, which ran nearly 60 minutes. I asked about how they addressed legacy racism and current barriers that keep people of color away not only from the parks, but also from park jobs. It was the kind of conversation that helps you understand perfectly well why the Park Service has failed to connect with people who aren’t white.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics

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ExxonMobil: Carbon caps? Fat chance. We’ll just keep on drilling.

protester with "boo Exxon" sign
Shaw Girl

If you thought ExxonMobil might take climate risks seriously, think again.

Last week I explained why sustainability-focused investor advocacy organizations pressured Exxon to release a report on how government regulation of greenhouse gases would affect its bottom line. The hope was that Exxon would admit that if governments get serious about climate change, the company's vast reserves of oil and gas would become unprofitable to exploit. That, in turn, would make it see the light on renewable energy and shift business strategies.

No such luck. Exxon released a report to shareholders on Monday and -- much to the activists’ dismay -- denied that it has a problem. Rather than discussing what would happen to it if governments force the necessary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline, Exxon argues that it won’t happen. So the company will be just fine, thanks.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, upon releasing the report. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs.”

That’s corporate code for: “Governments will allow us to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels because the economy.”

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks climate solutions

Editor's note: The chat is over, but you can watch a replay below. 

Starting at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET, watch Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) discuss the push for climate action along the West Coast. This Climate Desk event will also feature Grist's David Roberts (not an April Fool's Day joke, we swear!), Bloomberg correspondent Paul Shukovsky, and University of Washington College of the Environment Dean Lisa Graumlich. Chris Mooney of Climate Desk will moderate.

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Republican’s bill calls for weather forecasting, not climate forecasting

Bridenstine squirrel
Scott Gentzen

If Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) were a squirrel, he'd have starved over the winter.

Like a maladapted rodent that's too short-sighted to save any nuts for the lean season ahead, the climate denier is sponsoring legislation that would force NOAA to focus on short-term weather forecasting at the expense of long-term climate modeling. The Hill reports that the bill, which now has 13 Republican and seven Democratic cosponsors, could get its first real hearing this week.

Bridenstine introduced the bill after 48 Oklahomans were killed by a brutal string of tornadoes last spring. "My state has seen all too many times the destructive power of tornadoes and severe weather," Bridenstine said at the time. Then he staged a bizarre tirade on the House floor in which he demanded that President Barack Obama apologize for spending "30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning."

That would be quite the funding imbalance, were it true. But it's not. The figure is just plain wrong.

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Is this man the greenest governor in America?

When Jay Inslee was elected governor of the state of Washington in November of 2012, climate campaigners rejoiced. As a congressman, Inslee had a top-tier environmental record, and not just that: He knew climate and clean energy issues inside-out. The coauthor of the 2007 book entitled Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, he also worked closely on the 2009 passage of cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a cofounder of the House's Sustainable Energy Caucus. No wonder that upon his election in Washington, the League of Conservation Voters declared that Inslee was poised to become "the greenest governor in the country."

Sure enough, Inslee's term got off to a great start: Last October, he joined the governors of Oregon and California and the premier of British Columbia in endorsing the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy which pledges that those states (or, in B.C.'s case, that province) will set a consistent price or cap on carbon dioxide emissions (something California and British Columbia have already done), adopt low-carbon fuel standards, and more.

But there's just one problem: Shortly after Inslee's election, two Democrats elected to caucus with the Republican minority in the Washington state Senate, thus thwarting what otherwise would have been a Democratic majority in both houses. Instead of holding a 26-23 majority in the Senate, Democrats instead became a de facto 25-24 minority. And that razor-thin edge in the Washington state Senate is currently blocking Inslee from achieving many of his objectives.

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Obama endorses Senate climate hawk Brian Schatz in Hawaii race

Brian Schatz and Barack Obama
White House / Pete Souza
Brian Schatz gets a nod from POTUS.

There is no surplus of environmental leaders in Congress right now, especially with the impending retirements of Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.). So it may alarm enviros to learn that the greenest new senator, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), is facing a primary challenge. And in an especially strange twist of fate, the amiable young liberal -- in a solidly Democratic state -- is being primaried from his right. Craziest of all is the fact that he could lose.

Luckily for Schatz, though, he just got a boost from Hawaii’s most famous son, President Barack Obama.

Here’s the backstory: Schatz’s seat was held for over four decades by Daniel Inouye (D). When Inouye passed away in December 2012, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) got to appoint a replacement. Inouye requested that he be succeeded by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D). Abercrombie -- a longtime rival of Inouye’s -- instead appointed Schatz, his lieutenant governor. Now Hanabusa is running against Schatz for the Democratic nomination in this year's election, and a February poll showed them in a dead heat.

In just over a year in the Senate, Schatz has quickly emerged as a leader on climate change and sustainability. Earlier this month, he organized the Senate’s all-night talkathon about climate change. He told Grist it was just the beginning of the work that he and his colleagues will do to raise awareness about the issue. He's also working on a bill that would require major polluters like oil companies to pay a fee for each ton of carbon they emit. And he has sponsored a raft of small-bore bills to incentivize energy efficiency and green technology.

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U.N. climate report offers lots of bummer news plus a few dollops of encouragement

The maintenance costs are going through the roof.
NASA

Climate change has broken down the floodgates, pervading every corner of the globe and affecting every inhabitant. That was perhaps the clearest message from the newest report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- the latest in a conga line of warnings about the need to radically and immediately reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Published Sunday, it's the second installment of the IPCC's fifth climate report. The first installment was released last September; the third comes out next month. (If you're wondering WTF the IPCC even is, here's an explainer.) This latest installment catalogues climate impacts that are already being felt around the world, including floods, heat waves, rising seas, and a slowing in the growth of crop yields:

Click to embiggen.
IPCC
Click to embiggen.

As we reported when a draft of key parts of the document was leaked in November, the IPCC says current risks will only worsen -- risks such as food crises and starvation, extinctions, heat waves, floods, droughts, violent protests, and wars.

Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke called the report an "S.O.S. to the world," reminding us that failure to "sharply curb carbon pollution" will mean more "punishing rainfall, heat waves, scorching drought, and fierce storm surges," and that the "toll on our health and economy will skyrocket."

But the report doesn't just focus on climate change's risks and threats -- it looks at ways in which national and local governments, communities, and the private sector can work to reduce those threats. And some of the news on climate adaptation is actually, gasp, slightly encouraging!