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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!

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GOP lawmakers scramble to court Tesla

tesla cars factory
Tesla Motor Events

Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey ran out of batteries earlier this month, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state.

The move was a win for the state's surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby and a loss for one of the country's biggest electric car makers. But it also cemented New Jersey's place as a non-contender for the real prize: a $5 billion battery "gigafactory" that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State's clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile.

It's the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry's best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich quickly pounced on Christie after the direct sales ban for "artificially" insulating car dealers, just weeks after calling for John Kerry to resign after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his state's direct sales ban "antiquated" nearly a year after a Democrat-backed bill to change the policy was killed.

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Science alone can’t save us, says famous climate scientist (gulp)

heyhoe-katharine

Last week, I sounded off in response to a new climate change report released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The New York Times called the report a “sharper, clearer, and more accessible” explanation of climate change “than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date.” To me, and many others, it read like a rehash of the dynasty of reports we’ve already read about the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is real. I found few traces of urgency, but rather an appeal that lets most people and fossil fuel companies off the hook by assuming that the problem is that scientists simply haven’t articulated their case clearly enough.

In other words, it’s the kind of document the artist Basquiat would’ve slapped a fat "SAMO©" on.

Those scientists deserve the chance to respond. I reached out to one of the authors of the report, Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, the wife of an evangelical Christian minister and one scientist who’s been particularly effective in communicating climate change fuckery (that would be my word, not hers) beyond the science-geekspeak.

In our conversation, I learned, among other things, why the AAAS committee chose that particular focus for the report (hint: it used science!). Here are some snippets:

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Nancy Drew and the mystery of the secret oil spill

Sort of like this, but covered in oil.
Penny Meyer
Sort of like this, but covered in oil.

When oil spills across a national monument, and no one is there to see it, does it still leave a mark?

Apparently a really big one, but one that still takes a while to find. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just discovered four miles of oil damage in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument -- thanks to some thoughtful hikers who stumbled onto the scene and photographed the evidence.

Normally, the monument looks like the backdrop of a motivational calendar, but the area the hikers found was black and streaky. There were black bathtub rings around trees and rocks at the level of the spill's highest reach. The overall effect was like that of  a really poorly executed Andy Goldsworthy installation, or the mess left in the wake of the Cat in the Hat, if the Cat in the Hat were a wildcatter.

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Want to attract a new generation to the national parks? Find a few new rangers.

national-park-black-kids-binoculars
National Park Service

Come 2016, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. In anticipation of the centennial milestone, the agency announced this week a new public engagement campaign to “reintroduce the national parks … to a new generation of Americans.”

This is the federal agency responsible for not just Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, but also the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Governor’s Island in New York City, which holds the Statue of Liberty. Still, it is having a hell of a time attracting young people to the parks, particularly people of color.

Shelton Johnson, an African American ranger at Yosemite National Park in California, talked about the challenge of getting black youth into the great outdoors in Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. “How do I get them here?” Johnson asked. “How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here? How do I make that bridge, and make it shorter and stronger? Every time I go to work and put the uniform on, I think about them."

Part of the problem is that, despite the mosaic of nationalities of people who’ve frequented the parks, there’s not a lot of people like Johnson putting that uniform on. The staffing at the Park Service has remained perpetually and overbearingly white throughout its century-long history.

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Best tax ever!

Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective

vancouver gas tax
Steven Godfrey

Suppose that you live in Vancouver and you drive a car to work. Naturally, you have to get gas regularly. When you stop at the pump, you may see a notice like the one above, explaining that part of the price you're paying is, in effect, due to the cost of carbon. That's because in 2008, the government of British Columbia decided to impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, enacting what has been called "the most significant carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere by far."

A carbon tax is just what it sounds like: The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal. That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump -- for gasoline, it's 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) -- or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies. (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. "It made climate action real to people."

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Toto, our wind turbines are safe for another year!

turbinerainbow
Peter M2009

As we all know from that fine documentary film, The Wizard of Oz, Kansas has a lot of wind. Even when it isn’t sweeping away sullen little farmgirls into concussion-induced Technicolor allegory, it’s got enough windpower to put it smack dab in the area known as “The Saudi Arabia of Wind” -- that lavender trough of higher wind speed that runs through the middle of the U.S. Department of Energy’s utility-scale wind resource maps.

For this reason, Kansas has become one of the test kitchens experimenting with shifting away from digging stuff out of the ground and burning it, and towards making that wind do something useful for once. In 2007, after a tornado wiped out the farm town of Greensburg, the city was rebuilt, with solar panels and wind turbines within the city proper and a wind farm five miles out of town. The whole setup produces enough power for the entire city and a few neighboring municipalities as well. In 2009, Kansas passed a renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which mandates that local utilities get 10 percent of their power generation capacity from renewables from 2011 to 2015, 15 percent from 2016 to 2019, and 20 percent by 2020.

The RPS was passed with bipartisan support as part of a compromise bill -- approved by its opponents in exchange for the expansion of coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan. But even with bipartisan support, the standard caught the attention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a conservative think tank with close ties to the oil and gas industry that is opposed to just about everything to do with alternative energy.

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Christie’s new woe: Court rules he illegally dumped climate protections

Chris Christie
Gage Skidmore

As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't have enough problems!

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Christie's administration broke state law in 2011 when it withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

That's because it didn't bother going through any formal rulemaking procedures before pulling out of the carbon-cutting program. Instead, administration officials stated on a government website that the state wouldn't participate in the program -- and then argued in court that the online statement was sufficient public outreach under state law.

"The Christie administration sidestepped the public process required by law," said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, one of two nonprofits that sued the government over its hasty withdrawal from RGGI, following Tuesday's Superior Court ruling. "New Jerseyans support action to reduce the impacts of global warming. We hope that today’s ruling will help their voices be heard."