Monday, August 22, 2011

Story on Digg: Shortage of key hospital drugs a "major crisis"

Check out this story I found on Digg. It has 127 Diggs so far!

"Shortage of key hospital drugs a "major crisis""
The Early Show: Shortage of key hospital drugs a "major crisis" - D...

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Huntsman Slams Perry on Climate and Evolution: We Are “On the Wrong Side of Science and Therefore in a Losing Position.”

Climate Progress

"Huntsman Slams Perry on Climate and Evolution: We Are "On the Wrong Side of Science and Therefore in a Losing Position."

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 08:31 AM PDT

Last week, Jon Huntsman began to call out Governor Rick "4 Pinocchios" Perry and others in his party for being anti-science.  He started with the tweet above that went viral.

On ABC's This Week, Huntsman went even further, explaining that being anti-science would harm his party — and America's future:

TAPPER: These comments from Governor Perry prompted you to Tweet, quote:  "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy." Were you just being cheeky or do you think there's a serious problem with what Governor Perry said?

HUNTSMAN:  I think there's a serious problem.  The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem.  We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.  When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science – Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.

The Republican Party has to remember that we're drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush.  And we've got a lot of traditions to draw upon.  But I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a – a party that – that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula.

Whether it's bad for the Republican party remains to be seen — that would require President Obama and his team (and other progressive politicians) to push back in the general election the way Huntsman has in the GOP race.

But there's no question that having one of the two major political parties in the most powerful country in the world being anti-science is a disaster for the nation and the world (see WashPost stunner: "The GOP's climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion").  I'll be expanding on that position in the coming weeks, but what is interesting is that in the full online interview with ABC (video below), Huntsman himself starts to explain just how counterproductive and self-destructive it is for the party:

I think we ought to be straight up and rational and stick with the facts.   And when we have a body of science, listen when — you know, if you had 98 out of 100 oncologists, cancer doctors, who basically said the following course of treatment is  going to be good for prostate, breast or colon cancers, we would all salute and say finally we have a consensus among the scientific community.

We raise up our young people we tell them to get a good education and tell them to move forward and solve the great challenges of today, find a cure for cancer, make the world a better place. We then get the results are willing to jettison it and to shun it?   I just think that's the wrong direction.

I'm here to tell you that a lot of people in this country, a lot of people the Republican Party I think are willing to embrace science and willing to embrace the realities that have been present around whether to surround evolution or whether its climate change.   And I'm here to tell you that for us to be successful as a party, we must be a party that respects science, not one that runs from science.

Will other leading Republicans stand up for science?

Here's the full interview (the science part quoted above start around 5:30):

As an aside, it would be nice if Tapper, rather than quoting the statistics about how many GOP voters have unscientific views, would actually take the time to point out that Huntsman indeed has the scientific view, as expressed by our leading scientific bodies.

Also, Tapper should have asked him what the heck Huntsman proposes to do about global warming, given his recent flip-flop against cap-and-trade.  More on that soon.

"The Lesson for Today" by Robert Frost

Posted: 21 Aug 2011 06:15 AM PDT

I'm liberal. You, you aristocrat,
Won't know exactly what I mean by that.
I mean so altruistically moral
I never take my own side in a quarrel. Times columnist Maureen Dowd ends her evisceration of President Obama's fecklessness with that quote from Robert Frost's poem "The Lesson for Today."  The poem is satirical (and not as easy to find online as one might expect — try here).

Frost read the poem at Harvard's Phi Beta Kappa Society seven decades ago — June 20, 1941.  Plus ça change.

My thought for the day:  Progressives are liberals who will take their own side!

Like so many Frost poems, the poem has a great ending:

And were an epitaph to be my story
I'd have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover's quarrel with the world.

My favorite Frost poem is an epitaph for the planet:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Sadly, the planet need only perish once — and fire melts ice….

Karl Rove Predicts Sarah Palin Will Run for President

Posted: 20 Aug 2011 03:34 PM PDT

Karl Rove aka Bush's Brain predicted this morning on Fox News that Sarah Palin "gets in" to the presidential race next month (h/t TP):

One can never really figure out Rove's machinations since he helped ruin the country and his own party as President Bush's consigliere. He and the Bush mob don't like Rick "Four Pinocchios" Perry — even though Rove  helped make Perry possible, as HuffPost has noted.

Certainly Obama looks beatable with his plummeting popularity and lame messaging, which is no doubt why Perry got it.  But if Palin were smart — yes, I know — why would she get in now, rather than a month ago, which might have forestalled Perry — or even earlier, to forestall  Michele Bachmann?  Her entry now means a three-way split for the tea party vote and would probably make Mitt Romney the happiest of all.

As for Palin herself, she makes Perry seem like Lincoln (see Palin blames 'Gore-gate' for "this snake oil science stuff").  During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Washington Post itself gave her its highest (which is to say lowest) rating of "Four Pinocchios" for continuing to "to peddle bogus [energy] statistics three days after the original error was pointed out by independent fact-checkers."

There aren't enough Pinocchios in a children's library for this crop of GOP presidential candidates.

"Dogs Philosophy 101"


"Dog Philosophy 101"


The reason a dog has so many friends is that he wags his tail instead of his tongue.


Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.

-Ann Landers

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.

-Will Rogers

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.

-Ben Williams

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.

-Josh Billings

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.

-Andy Rooney

We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's the best deal man has ever
-M. Acklam

Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.

Sigmund Freud

I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.

-Rita Rudner

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.

-Robert Benchley

Anybody who doesn't know what soap tastes like never washed a dog.

-Franklin P. Jones

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.

-James Thurber

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise.


My dog is worried about the economy because Alpo is up to $3.00 a can. That's almost $21.00 in dog money.

-Joe Weinstein

Ever consider what our dogs must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul -- chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth!

-Anne Tyler

Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

-Robert A. Heinlein

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.

-Mark Twain

You can say any foolish thing to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, 'Wow, you're right! I never would've thought of that!'
- Dave Barry

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

-Roger Caras

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.

-Phil Pastoret







Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Climate Progress" 8-14-11

"In Coverage of Extreme Weather, Media Downplay Climate Change" — Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 07:08 AM PDT

By Neil deMause, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the independent national media watch group

The Fires This Time

In coverage of extreme weather, media downplay climate change

On April 14, a massive storm swept down out of the Rocky Mountains into the Midwest and South, spawning more than 150 tornadoes that killed 43 people across 16 states (Capital Weather Gang, 4/18/11). It was one of the largest weather catastrophes in United States history—but was soon upstaged by an even larger storm, the 2011 Super Outbreak that spread more than 300 tornadoes across 14 states from April 25 to 28 (including an all-time one-day record of 188 twisters on April 27), killing 339 people, including 41 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN, 5/1/11).

Ensuing weeks saw Texas wildfires that had been burning since December expand to consume more than 3 million acres (Texas Forest Service, 6/28/11; CNN, 4/25/11), plus record flooding along the Mississippi River, which couldn't contain the water from April's storms on top of the spring snowmelt. On May 22, a super-strong F5 tornado killed 153 people as it flattened a large part of Joplin, Missouri (National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office, 5/22/11) ; in the first two weeks of June, a heat wave broke temperature records in multiple states, and the Wallow fire became the largest in Arizona state history (Washington Post, 6/14/11).

It was an unprecedented string of severe weather: By mid-June, more than 1,000 tornadoes had killed 536 people (NOAA, 6/13/11), nearly as many deaths as in the entire preceding decade. And it was only natural to ask: Were we seeing the effects of climate change?

Most scientists would say yes, or at least "probably." The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, a global scientific body that has been a target of conservatives despite a record of soft-pedaling its findings to avoid controversy (Extra!, 7/8/07), warned on February 2, 2007, "It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent." (In science-speak, "very likely" refers to a certainty of greater than 90 percent, and is as near as you get to a definitive conclusion.) Other forecasts (e.g., Environment America, 9/8/10) have projected that wet regions will receive record rainfall thanks to increasing evaporation, while dry ones get record drought, as climate patterns shift to accommodate the new normal.

Yet despite these dire predictions, U.S. media were hesitant to investigate the links between climate change and this spring's extreme weather. Much coverage settled for the cheap irony of contrasting extreme phenomena, as when NBC's Saturday Today show meteorologist Bill Karins (6/11/11) quipped:

Feast or famine's been the rule this spring. The northern half of the country, we've dealt with the heavy rain, the record snow pack that's now melting in the northern Rockies. That's causing the flooding. The southern half of the country, you would love some of that rain.

Even news reports that probed deeper into the causes of the spring's extreme weather, though, often stopped short of looking at climate factors. A Chicago Tribune story (4/29/11) headlined, "Why April Record for Twisters? Experts Call It Random, Say Nature Varies," noted that "some meteorologists" blame the periodic weather pattern known as La Niña, but then cited other scientists as saying the tornado outbreak was just random variation, with University of Illinois meteorologist Bob Rauber saying, "Global warming is occurring, but this is not a manifestation of it."

On the CBS Evening News (6/9/11), meanwhile, John Blackstone noted, "Perhaps the biggest weather troublemaker has been in the Gulf of Mexico, where sea surface temperatures have been almost 2 degrees [Fahrenheit] above average. That warm, moist Gulf air meeting the powerful jet stream created the string of tornadoes that killed 525 people." Yet, asked by anchor Scott Pelley why the Gulf of Mexico is hotter than usual, Blackstone replied only: "Well, it's related to the drought in the South—in the South-Southwest, with little clouds, lots of sunshine, the waters warming up and those warm waters could add energy to this hurricane season as well."

But while La Niña is a natural cyclical variation, the warming Gulf is not—at the very least, it's exacerbated by the global warming trend, which has pumped at least four times the heat energy into the oceans that it has into the atmosphere (NPR, 3/19/08). As National Center for Atmos-pheric Research climatologist Kevin Tren-berth explained to Extra!, the air over oceans now averages 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer and 4 percent wetter than it was before 1970. "So there is more warm moist air from the Gulf flowing into all spring storms that travel across the U.S. That destabilizes the air, provides fuel for thunderstorms and converts some thunderstorms into supercell storms, which in turn provide the environment for tornadoes to form."

The easiest connection for most reporters to make was with heat waves, probably because they match best with the popular image of "global warming." "Intense hot conditions will increase dramatically over the next 30 years," ABC News' Jim Avila (6/8/11) reported after June's record-setting heat wave. "Climatologists say it's clear: Global warming is beginning to show itself in plain sight."

For other extreme weather events, though, climate change only merited occasional mention. The wildfires that raged out of control across the Southwest in May and June were mostly covered as an unexpected natural disaster, without much thought of causes; in one exception, the Arizona Republic (6/12/11) fixed the blame squarely on the state having too many trees—a charge also brought up by the New York Times (6/11/11), which reported that, among other things, "Some [residents and experts] complained that it was environmentalists who had caused the forests to become tinderboxes by preventing the thinning of trees as they sought to protect wildlife."

This common conservative claim, Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm noted (6/12/11), was refuted in a 2006 paper (Science, 8/16/06) that found that fires were increasing the most at higher elevations, where forest restoration is less of an issue, but where warmer temperatures have a huge impact by melting winter snows earlier and increasing summer drought.

In fact, scientists have long predicted that one result of climate change would be a dramatic increase in Western wildfires, as Pete Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor explained in a rare article making such connections (6/9/11). The National Academy of Sciences projected (7/16/10) that a 1-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures—just half the best-case scenario in most climate models—could more than triple the acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. West. Washington Post blogger Jason Samenow (6/14/11) reported on this study, but it went unmentioned in the newspaper's wildfire coverage.

Similarly, a NASA wildfire model released last year (10/27/10) projected that climate change would lead to an increase of fires in the U.S. West of between 30 and 60 percent by 2100. "I want you to think a little bit of fire as a metaphor for the many things that climate change holds for us," NASA earth sciences director Peter Hildebrand told a conference in Colorado in early April—though the only reporter to note this statement was environmental journalist Brendon Bosworth on his self-titled blog (4/8/11).

As for tornadoes, news coverage was openly dismissive of their connection to climate change. A New York Times Q & A following the Joplin tornado (5/25/11) asked: "Can the intensity of this year's tornadoes be blamed on climate change?" and answered "Probably not. Over all, the number of violent tornadoes has been declining in the United States, even as temperatures have increased."

Indeed, while the number of reported tornadoes has steadily risen in recent years, prior to this year the number of strong tornadoes (category F4 or F5) had not, leading most scientists to conclude that the rising totals for weak storms are merely a result of more thorough reporting, thanks to sprawling development in tornado-prone regions that has put more people within sighting distance. And because the mechanics of tornado generation are poorly understood—and they depend on vertical temperature differential, so a warming lower atmosphere would predict more tornadoes, but a warming upper atmosphere would tend to reduce them—most scientists say that stronger and more frequent tornadoes can't be definitively linked to climate.

Still, Trenberth told the blog Think Progress (4/29/11) that it's "irresponsible" not to mention climate change in tornado coverage. "The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere: warm moist air at low levels with drier air aloft," he told the site. "With global warming, the low-level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms."

Most reporters, though, chose to stick to the narrower question of whether these particular tornadoes were caused by climate change—which, given all the factors involved to create any particular storm, is impossible to answer, except in the sense in which all weather today is the product of a warmed climate.

"Contributing to the thrashing were the La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean, unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the increase of moisture in the atmosphere caused by the warming climate," wrote the Washington Post (6/15/11) on the spring's tornadoes, fires and floods. The piece cited National Oceanographic and Atmo-spheric Administration climate director Thomas Karl as "caution[ing] against focusing on any single cause for the unusual chain of events," quoting him as saying that "clearly these things interconnect."

Karl also featured prominently in an article by the New York Times' John Broder (6/15/11) that reported, "Government scientists said Wednesday that the frequency of extreme weather has increased over the past two decades, in part as a result of global warming," but quickly added that scientists "were careful not to blame humans for this year's rash of deadly events." Broder's only evidence: Karl's statement that "since 1980, indeed, extreme climatological and meteorological events have increased. But in the early part of the 20th century, there was also a tendency for more extreme events followed by a quiet couple of decades."

The story's headline: "Scientists See More Deadly Weather, but Dispute the Cause." (Broder later apologized to Romm—Climate Progress, 6/18/11—for what he called a "crappy headline.")

In fact, though, Karl had previously made clear that climate change would result in more extreme weather. "How climate change will be felt by you and impact your neighbors is probably going to be through extreme weather and climate events," he told EarthSky (3/15/10). "We may be fine for many years, and all of a sudden, one particular season, one particular year, the extremes are far worse than we've ever seen before."

In many ways, articles like Broder's parallel the decades-long public debate over carcinogens: It's just as difficult to say whether any one person's cancer was caused by pollutants as whether one weather event was caused by climate change. And in both cases, statistical studies have a literally fatal drawback: By the time you've gathered enough data, it's too late to prevent the consequences.

Scientists, then, may conclude that it's "too soon to tell" exactly how climate change affects tornadoes and other severe weather, but that's not the same as saying it has no effect. As Trenberth tells Extra! of the spring's string of catastrophes: "Much of what goes on is natural variability and weather. But there is a component from human influences through global warming. While it may be modest, it is real and significant."

As noted, the role of climate change in the spring's severe weather wasn't entirely ignored. The Christian Science Monitor (6/9/11), in its report on Arizona wildfires that had "blackened an area half the size of Rhode Island," called them "the latest poster child for what some scientists see as a long-term trend toward larger, longer-lived wildfires in the American West," noting that "climate change appears to be an important contributor."

Urgency was left to op-ed pages: Climate activist Bill McKibben wrote a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post (5/23/11) that sarcastically suggested: "It's very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies." Environmental writer Chip Ward wrote an opinion piece on CBS (6/16/11): "Global warming, global weirding, climate change—whatever you prefer to call it—is not just happening in some distant, melting Arctic land out of a storybook. It is not just burning up far-away Russia. It's here now." (CBS News' television programs, meanwhile, never once mentioned climate change in their coverage of the spring's wildfires.)

One example of how to cover the story differently came from the Edmonton Journal (5/17/11), where columnist Graham Thomson wrote:

No scientist can guarantee that any of these events are caused by human-induced climate change. Climate change is all about trends.

However, the trends are consistent: The atmosphere is warming, the climate is changing and we are largely responsible through our burning of fossil fuels.

What scientists can tell us is that as the climate warms we'll experience more extreme weather events leading to floods, droughts, forest fires and crop failures. In other words, it's what we're seeing now.

Even Thomson, though, didn't try to suggest that we change our behavior to prevent extreme weather from becoming the norm.

Similarly, when the New York Times editorial page weighed in on what can be done about climate change (6/1/11), it was to praise the city of Chicago for building more rooftop gardens and adding air conditioning to classrooms as part of "long-term preparations for a warmer, stormier climate." Never mind that the electricity needed to power air conditioners is a major contributor of carbon emissions, or that air conditioning in schools is unlikely to do much to stem the additional 166 to 2,217 annual deaths that researchers Roger Peng and Francesca Domenici estimate Chicago will suffer by the end of the century as the result of climate change (Environmental Health Perspectives, 5/11).

And then there was the counsel given by Nightline anchor Bill Weir (4/26/11), who bent over backwards to avoid definitive conclusions on the causes of the deadly weather:

After months of epic droughts and floods, blizzards and heat waves, some are seeing proof of warnings past, while others refuse to believe that man could ever wreck God's planet. But neither side can deny that we are having one hellacious spring.

He informed viewers that a NASA scientist says blaming individual weather events on climate change is "a leap too far," then signed off with this advice: "In the near term, the best you can do is get a weather radio and try to stay dry."

SIDEBAR: Don't Need a Weather Channel to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

When NBC Universal purchased the Weather Channel in 2008, it was described by company CEO Jeffrey Zucker (New York Times, 7/7/08) as making the network "the pre-eminent leader in news and information. We're No. 1 in business news, No. 1 in general broadcast news, and now we're No. 1 in weather news too."

During this spring's extreme weather events, NBC certainly made use of its new property, with repeated appearances by familiar Weather Channel faces on its news programs. After the late April tornadoes, NBC anchor Brian Williams asked meteorologist Greg Forbes (4/28/11): "People ask the same question, what's going on here? Is this something we have done?" Forbes avoided the climate question: "Certainly the atmosphere has been in a frenzy. The jet stream just keeps blasting across the country, and then the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico just keeps feeding with instability, and so we've had tornado after tornado."

The next night (4/29/11), it was the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore—familiar to millions of viewers as the face peering out from inside a rain slicker during any number of hurricanes—who was similarly questioned by Williams, with no clearer results:

CANTORE: Brian, when you go back and you look for evidence of something, sometimes the most obvious things don't hit you until you just—they're right there in front of your face. If we have a warmer Earth, and the purpose of the jet stream is to help equalize all of that, well, because it's warmer, it's going to have to work a lot harder. And that, in addition to the fact that we have so much instability out there in this month of April, heat and humidity, those two things create this monster outbreak….

WILLIAMS: I guess we're all looking for ways to explain away what happened here.

CANTORE: It's hard to do that.
Forbes and Cantore should perhaps be cut some slack, as they're meteorologists, not climate experts. The Weather Channel used to have an environmental reporting team, including a weekly show called Forecast Earth that focused on climate change—but they were all laid off as one of NBC's first cost-cutting moves after purchasing the channel (,11/21/08).

– Neil deMause

Related Post:

We are at a Moral Crossroads with Coal Exports

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 06:03 AM PDT

by Tom Kenworthy and Kate Gordon

In late March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to Cheyenne, Wyo., to announce that his department would soon sell leases to 752 million tons of coal from public holdings in the Powder River Basin, and was proceeding on future sales of an additional 1.6 billion tons.

Salazar called coal "a critical component of America's comprehensive energy portfolio, as well as Wyoming's economy" and said "it's important that we continue to encourage safe production of this important resource." Salazar made no mention of the potential for some of that coal being sold and shipped to Asia. He may have been the only person in Wyoming that day with an interest in energy who wasn't thinking about coal exports.

Just before Salazar's visit to Wyoming, the two giant companies that mine about half of the state's annual coal production, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, announced deals that could lead to a big jump in the now relatively small business of sending Western U.S. coal to hungry markets in China, Japan, India and other Asian nations. In mid-June, newspapers in the Pacific Northwest reported that two Oregon ports on the Columbia River are also being considered as sites for exporting coal to Asia.

All of that has prompted an escalating battle in the Pacific Northwest over what could be the first U.S. coal export terminals on the West Coast. And, combined with Salazar's boosterism, it has raised questions about whether the United States is backsliding on the fight against global climate change.

China may be a world leader in developing clean, renewable energy, but it still has a huge appetite for coal and is expected to build 773,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity between 2007 and 2030. Even with the third largest coal reserves in the world, China is stepping up imports.

That rising demand is whetting the appetite of Wyoming producers. "We're opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation's largest and most productive coal region to the world's best market for coal," Peabody Energy Chairman Gregory Boyce said in a statement as his company announced a deal to ship up to 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through a proposed terminal near Bellingham, Wash.

Six weeks earlier, Arch Coal bought a 38 percent share of a company that has plans to build a second coal export facility in Longview, Wash.

Environmental and landowner groups from Puget Sound to the plains of eastern Montana are mobilizing to fight the terminals. They cite a menu of potential ill effects: small-town disruptions from the jump in rail traffic involving coal trains more than a mile long moving from Wyoming and Montana to the west coast; health impacts from fugitive coal dust blowing from open rail cars (up to 3 percent of the loads, according to BNSF), threats of coal train spills into the Columbia River.

Then there is the question of enabling China and other Asian nations to pump more carbon dixoide into the atmosphere. That, says KC Golden, policy director of the Seattle nonprofit Climate Solutions, is the "moral crossroads" faced by local and state officials in Washington State.

It's also the moral crossroads that ought to be engaging officials in the other Washington.

– Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Kate Gordon is the center's vice president for energy policy.  This piece was first published in the Denver Post.

EPA's Proposed Standards Would Limit Mercury, Arsenic, and Other Air Toxics from Power Plants for First Time

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 05:54 AM PDT

The coal-burning TransAlta plant near Centralia, WA.  AP Photo.

– A CAP cross-post

The Environmental Protection Agency took a critical step toward cleaner air on March 16, 2011, by proposing its air toxics standards for coal-fired power plants. The proposed rule would limit emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other air toxics from power plants for the first time.

These protections were called for in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, but they haven't been implemented, and they are long overdue. Toxic mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants have been spewing uncontrolled from power plants even though we fully know how bad they are.

Unfortunately, recent attempts by House Republicans to handcuff the EPA are threatening both decades of public health progress and the further action we need to clean up the air, which will lessen the burden of asthma and other health problems. The EPA's proposed air toxic standards and their other ongoing efforts should be defended both before Congress and in our public discourse.

To this end CAP's sister organization, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has helped lead a summer-long campaign urging Americans to submit their public comments to the EPA, calling for strong protection against harmful pollution. All told, over 800,000 Americans submitted comments to the EPA.

CAP's official comment submission

Dear Administrator Jackson:

The Center for American Progress writes in support of strong rules for reducing airborne toxic pollution from power plants. Such rules will protect us from mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and 34 other dangerous chemicals that power plants have been spewing uncontrolled for decades. These rules are long overdue: Countless American lives have been exposed to illness and premature death that could have been prevented. We cannot afford further delay.

Clean air is vital for public health

The public health protections from this new rule are significant. They will prevent approximately 17,000 premature deaths, 120,000 asthma attacks, and 12,000 hospitalizations and emergency room visits every year. Seventeen states have already taken steps to reduce these harmful pollutants, and over 800,000 Americans have sent comments to the EPA in support of stronger protections.[1]

Coal-fired power plants emit 772 million pounds of airborne toxic chemicals into the sky every year—more than 2.5 pounds for every American man, woman, and child in this country.[2] Nationwide, particulate pollution from power plants is estimated to kill approximately 13,000 people a year.[3]

Power plants also are the largest domestic source of airborne mercury in the United States, a particularly dangerous neurotoxin.[4] This toxic metal, which is expelled into the air as coal and burned for electricity, is especially dangerous for young and developing children because it impairs brain development.

Mercury has been linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, delays in the development necessary for children to walk and talk, and in some cases even cerebral palsy. Recent studies suggest that at least 1 in 12—and as many as 1 in 6—American women of child-bearing age have enough mercury in their system to put their babies at risk in the womb or through nursing.[5]

In addition to mercury and arsenic (used commercially as a rat poison), power plants also emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxin, and acid gases. Even small amounts of these extremely harmful air pollutants are linked to diseases including cancer, heart disease, brain damage, asthma attacks, and even premature death.

People will continue to suffer without significant reductions in these pollutants. Expediency and strong reductions will save human lives and prevent costly illness.

Clean air is good for the economy

We've heard much conjecture by polluting industries and their allies in Congress that adoption of the new toxics rules will harm our economic growth and slow job creation. These special interests have used their deep pockets to convince lawmakers that they should be allowed to spew harmful pollution regardless of the human impact. They have time and time again used debate over budget deficits and unemployment as a point of leverage to ease restrictions and delay rulemaking. Many polluting industries have presented the American people with a false choice: clean air or economic growth.

The EPA's thorough analysis disproves this false choice presented by polluters, and it asserts that stronger protections for public health will also net positive economic results.

Smarter rules based on peer-reviewed EPA science will prevent illnesses such as asthma attacks and other health and environmental impacts from burning coal, which cost this country upwards of $500 billion each year.[6] Fewer asthma attacks mean fewer hospitalizations and costly visits to the emergency room—an expense that is especially burdensome on families who lack health insurance.

This is of no small significance, as groups such as African Americans and Latinos, who have the highest rates of asthma in this country, are also the least likely to be insured compared to other ethnic groups in this country.[7]

Additionally, data from the 40-year history of clean air protections in the United States proves that less pollution in the air means a more efficient workforce and economy. According to EPA analysis, Americans have already gained $21.4 trillion in health and environmental benefits from clean air programs.[8] These protections have also saved 4.1 million lost work days and 31 million days in which Americans would have had to restrict activity due to air-pollution-related illness.[9]

These safeguards proposed by the new rules should also drive innovation and job creation by power companies as they devise new technologies and practices to reduce pollution in the most cost-effective manner possible.

A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute finds that the new regulations on mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from power plants will not slow economic recovery and would in fact increase job growth in coming years, leading to the creation of 28,000 to 158,000 jobs between now and 2015.[10] Likewise, a University of Massachusetts study found that together with the Clean Air Transport rule, which would reduce ozone and fine particle pollution, the air toxics rule will create 1.4 million jobs over the next five years.[11]

These studies are bolstered by real world experiences of power companies. Consider the case of Constellation Energy Group headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. They recently completed the installation of a major air quality control system at one of their major coal facilities. Construction took 26 months, employing nearly 1,400 skilled workers. The new system is reducing harmful emissions in compliance with state and federal requirements, and it is already helping them achieve the other emission reductions that they anticipate will be required under the Toxics Rule.

Further, power plants can be cleaned up in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The argument by polluting special interests that these improvements will cause higher electricity rates for consumers or disturbance in electricity reliability is simply wrong. Numerous testimonials by power company CEOs prove that reducing these toxic emissions does not affect the economic health of these industries.

We know that prior to 1990 three industry sectors made up approximately two-thirds of total U.S. mercury emissions: medical waste incinerators, municipal waste combustors, and power plants. The first two of those sectors are now subject to stricter pollution standards and have reduced their mercury emissions by more than 95 percent. In addition, mercury standards for other industries, such as cement production and steel manufacturing, have reduced mercury emissions from a wide range of sources.

According to a 2010 data collection survey completed by the EPA nearly 60 percent of responding coal-fired electricity units already comply with EPA's proposed mercury standard. A CAP analysis found that coal-fired power plants without pollution controls are more than 50 years old on average.

Plants in 17 states are already required to address their mercury pollution regardless of federal requirements. These measures vary in stringency, with some of them imposing more protective mercury emissions limits on coal-fired power plants than the EPA has proposed. Many of the power plants in these states have already installed the equipment necessary to reduce mercury pollution, though most state safeguards have yet to take effect. A CAP analysis of the coal-fired power plants in these 17 states found that more than half of their total electricity-generation capacity has pollution controls that can reduce mercury.

In a July 11 letter to congressional leaders, 36 energy companies from around the country noted that certainty of pollution reduction rules is critical for determining future investments. Delaying the air toxics rule will generate uncertainty among investors, as well as companies already preparing for compliance. This uncertainty will slow investments and economic recovery.

A similar letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journal by seven leading power company CEOs asserts that leveraging technology to clean up emissions from power plants and economic growth go hand in hand:

Contrary to the claims that the EPA's agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies' experience [in] complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.[14]

Numerous case studies—including one from Calpine, the largest independent power producer in the country—prove that industry is already taking the lead on reducing these harmful emissions and that the transition is both possible and economically viable for the industry.

Thaddeus Miller, executive vice president of Calpine, explains:

This is not a surprise, this is something we've all know about for 10 years, there's yet another three years to get ready for it…the system is ready. We have more capacity than we need, and we can afford to have some of the capacity come offline.[15]

This message is echoed by Jim Rogers, the president and CEO of Duke Energy:

[T]he anticipation of more stringent environmental rules has long been part of our business plan. Over the past 10 years, we have spent $5 billion retrofitting existing units with updated emissions controls…Today, approximately 75 percent of our current coal generation capacity has scrubbers in operation. This will increase to approximately 90 percent once our fleet modernization program and related retirements are completed…We have really mitigated a lot of the risk and the cost associated with this program by the early steps that we took.

Yet some utilities are still unwilling to modernize. They use the threats of power plant closures and lost jobs as a tool to delay EPA's proposal to require mercury reductions from coal-fired power plants. These outdated arguments are countered by the chorus of power companies who understand that the new mercury standards are achievable and good for business.

Finally, while cleaning up coal plants are an important first step in protecting public health, a real long-term solution must include policies to drastically reduce other pollutants—including particulates (soot) and carbon dioxide—from coal power plants. This can be achieved over time through investments in energy efficiency and expanded clean, renewable energy portfolio standards.

In the meantime, we commend EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for her leadership in proposing these rules that have been delayed for decades at the expense of human health and economic innovation.

An overwhelming 69 percent of Americans polled by the American Lung Association believe that EPA scientists, rather than Congress, should set pollution standards. Likewise, 69 percent think the EPA should update Clean Air Act standards with stricter limits on air pollution.[16]

We join over 800,000 Americans, along with numerous public health, faith-based, social justice organizations, and industry groups to urge the EPA to finalize its proposed airborne toxic pollution standards, which would achieve significant pollution reductions that protect our children, families, and communities from mercury and other toxic air pollution.


[1] Bob Perciasepe, Deputy Administrator U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending. July 26, 2011.

[2] American Lung Association, "American Lung Association Report Highlights Toxic Health Threat of Coal-fired Power Plants, Calls for EPA to Reduce Emissions and Save Lives" (2011).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Natural Resources Defense Council, "Mercury Contamination in Fish: a guide to staying healthy and fighting back" (2011).

[5] Sierra Club, "New Analysis Finds that Hispanics Face Disproportionate Health Threat from Coal Plant's Toxic Mercury Pollution" (2011).

[6] Tim Tyler, "Full Cost of Coal $500 Billion/Year in U.S., Harvard Study Finds" (2011).

[7] U.S. Census, "People Without Health Insurance Coverage by Selected Characteristics: 2008 and 2009" (2010).

[8] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act" (2011).

[9] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act," Press release, November 16, 1999, available at

[10] Economic Policy Institute, "News from EPI: Slow economic growth raising unemployment rate" (2011).

[11] Jams Heintz, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Ben Zipperer, "New Jobs – Cleaner Air" (University of Massachusetts, 2011).

[12] The Clean Energy Group, "The Electric Industry Can Comply with the Proposed Toxics Rule with Existing, Cost‐Effective Pollution Control Technologies and Compliance Will Not Compromise the Reliability of the Electric System," Press release, March 25, 2011, available at

[13] Letter from The Business Council for Sustainable Energy to The Honorable John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, July 11, 2011.

[14] "We're OK With the EPA's New Air-Quality Regulations," The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2010.

[15] Thaddeus Miller, Interview with Carol Browner (Washington: Center for American Progress, June 21, 2011).

[16] American Lung Association, "American Lung Association Bipartisan Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Lifesaving Clean Air Act" (2011).

See also:

Wyoming Coal to China? WHY? $$$

We are at a Moral Crossroads with Coal Exports

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 06:03 AM PDT

by Tom Kenworthy and Kate Gordon

In late March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to Cheyenne, Wyo., to announce that his department would soon sell leases to 752 million tons of coal from public holdings in the Powder River Basin, and was proceeding on future sales of an additional 1.6 billion tons.

Salazar called coal "a critical component of America's comprehensive energy portfolio, as well as Wyoming's economy" and said "it's important that we continue to encourage safe production of this important resource." Salazar made no mention of the potential for some of that coal being sold and shipped to Asia. He may have been the only person in Wyoming that day with an interest in energy who wasn't thinking about coal exports.

Just before Salazar's visit to Wyoming, the two giant companies that mine about half of the state's annual coal production, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, announced deals that could lead to a big jump in the now relatively small business of sending Western U.S. coal to hungry markets in China, Japan, India and other Asian nations. In mid-June, newspapers in the Pacific Northwest reported that two Oregon ports on the Columbia River are also being considered as sites for exporting coal to Asia.

All of that has prompted an escalating battle in the Pacific Northwest over what could be the first U.S. coal export terminals on the West Coast. And, combined with Salazar's boosterism, it has raised questions about whether the United States is backsliding on the fight against global climate change.

China may be a world leader in developing clean, renewable energy, but it still has a huge appetite for coal and is expected to build 773,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity between 2007 and 2030. Even with the third largest coal reserves in the world, China is stepping up imports.

That rising demand is whetting the appetite of Wyoming producers. "We're opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation's largest and most productive coal region to the world's best market for coal," Peabody Energy Chairman Gregory Boyce said in a statement as his company announced a deal to ship up to 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through a proposed terminal near Bellingham, Wash.

Six weeks earlier, Arch Coal bought a 38 percent share of a company that has plans to build a second coal export facility in Longview, Wash.

Environmental and landowner groups from Puget Sound to the plains of eastern Montana are mobilizing to fight the terminals. They cite a menu of potential ill effects: small-town disruptions from the jump in rail traffic involving coal trains more than a mile long moving from Wyoming and Montana to the west coast; health impacts from fugitive coal dust blowing from open rail cars (up to 3 percent of the loads, according to BNSF), threats of coal train spills into the Columbia River.

Then there is the question of enabling China and other Asian nations to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That, says KC Golden, policy director of the Seattle nonprofit Climate Solutions, is the "moral crossroads" faced by local and state officials in Washington State.

It's also the moral crossroads that ought to be engaging officials in the other Washington.

– Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Kate Gordon is the center's vice president for energy policy. This piece was first published in the Denver Post.

Best wishes always,
Bill Harasym

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless
means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." -Paolo Friere-

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Climate Progress" Aug. 12, 2011

Rick Perry Thinks America Desires Another Rigid, Anti-Science, Ideologue Governor From The Great State of Big Oil

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 09:02 AM PDT

Perry on why he split with Al Gore over climate (12/09): "I certainly got religion. I think he's gone to hell."

Rick Perry, Obama's dream opponent, is a climate hawk's nightmare.

First the dream. It is a mark of how weak the Republican field is that Perry, a candidate who is so ill-suited for beating Barack Obama, is viewed as a savior for the party.

The key point about the 2012 election are that Obama is eminently beatable because he is dreadful at messaging, has a poor economy, and is in an unpopular war with meaningful casualties. The latter two factors are key in the "Bread and Peace" model by political scientist Douglas Hibbs (via Salon)

I'm not saying this simplistic model is determinative, only that anyone who thinks Obama is a lock for reelection isn't paying attention.

What Obama most needs is opponent who gives him an obvious storyline even his team of dreadful communicators can't screw up. Romney the job-killing flip-flopper certainly does.

But what Obama most wants to do is run as the future versus the past (since the present ain't hot for him) and to tie his opponent to the increasingly unpopular Tea Party extremists whom independents correctly blame for the debt ceiling debacle.

Perry is, ironically, the worst of both possible worlds for the GOP. He is easily cast as "George W. Bush The Sequel" because that is what he is: A Rigid, Anti-Science, Ideologue Governor From The Great State of Big Oil. And indeed he is a Tea Party darling for his extremist, wacky statements, such as his talk of Texas secession (for more, see TP's Top 10 Things Texas Gov. Rick Perry Doesn't Want You To Know About Him).

Remember, to win (lose?) in 2000, Bush himself ran originally as a faux caring, moderate "compassionate" conservative, who advocated in public spending on education and regulating greenhouse gases. Sure he was religious, but he had a classic story to tell, the reformed or saved wastrel. But Perry has no such story, he is just the hardcore zealot Bush turned into — on steroids (see, for instance, Prayer as an adaptation strategy: Texas plans to cut budget of agency battling record wildfires). Indeed even moderate Republicans like Joe Scarborough mock him (see TP's Scarborough Mocks Perry: Jesus Said To 'Let People Take Images Of You Praying So They'll Think You're A Holy Man).

If Obama wants to run a story line that his opponent represents the past, the policies that put us in this "mess from Texas," Perry is from central casting.

Don't get me wrong. Obama could lose to Perry, much as he could lose to Romney — but I don't think they will unless the economy gets worse.

For climate hawks, Perry is a nightmare.

Once Gore's presidential Texas campaign chair (in 1988), he now says global warming is "all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight. He even "Prays for the EPA to Stop Environmental Regulations."

As the Politico reports:

Rick Perry's likely entry into the GOP presidential race comes without the green skeletons many of his rivals have tried to shed.

Unlike Mitt Romney, the Texas governor doesn't believe in global warming science. And unlike Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, there are no viral ads of Perry touting the virtues of bipartisanship as a solution to climate change….

Texas under Perry's watch has also become a thorn in the side of the Obama EPA, with the governor often accusing the administration of unfairly targeting the Lone Star State for political purposes.

Perry's Texas is a lead challenger to the EPA's "endangerment" finding that declares carbon dioxide emissions a public health threat, setting the stage for regulations. And last month, Perry lashed out against the EPA for including Texas in a rule aimed at blocking power plant pollution from drifting across state lines, calling it "another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington, D.C."

… "With a Texan in the race, EPA is going to be right in the middle of the show," said Mike McKenna, a GOP-based energy strategist.

Obama has been lackluster in his EPA. Against Perry, he'd actually have to stand up for clean air, clean water, and a livable climate. Hmm. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

While Perry says Gore has gone to hell because of climate change, the state with the hellish climate is, ironically, Texas. As Grist notes:

But plugging your ears and going "la la la la" doesn't make global warming disappear. Perry's state is getting absolutely hammered by heat and the worst one-year drought in its recorded history. The hot, dry weather in Texas is desiccatingrivers and lakes, devastating farmers and ranchers, and driving wildfires that have burned up millions of acres. In the face of these crises — which are just what you'd expect in a climate-changed world — Perry proposes neither adaptation nor mitigation but rather supplication. He's been praying for rain and calling on other Texans to do the same. So far no luck….

As a Texas Republican, Perry is, of course, a friend of the oil and gas industry. He even stuck by BP during the Gulf of Mexico gusher, saying the well blowout was "an act of God" and insisting that he had "full confidence" in the company's response.

Perry has cozied up to the oil-baron Koch brothers. In June, he flew off secretly to Colorado to speak at an exclusive closed-door meeting convened by the Kochs — even as his state was suffering through some of the worst wildfires in its history. In 2010, the Koch Industries' PAC gave $50,000 to the Texans for Rick Perry PAC.

Perry is big fan of coal too. He tried to speed up approvals and smooth the way for a number of controversial coal-fired power plants proposed for Texas in the mid-00s.

Yes, Texas has pushed wind. But if you want to know the energy future of the U.S. under Rick Perry, you need only look at the eight previous years before Obama took office.

Puerto Rico's Battle Over the Via Verde Natural Gas Pipeline: The Right Choice for the Island's Energy Future?

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 08:10 AM PDT

A partnership between energy developer, EcoElectrica, and the Puerto Rican government seeks to build a massive 93-mile natural gas pipeline that will cut directly through the interior of the U.S. island territory.  The governor's office and the Puerto Rican Power Authority (PREPA) are touting the economic benefits that this massive project will bring to the poverty-stricken island.  While these supposed benefits vary depending on who you are asking — and what side of the argument they are on — one fact remains strikingly clear: an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans on both the island and the mainland oppose this project and are calling for cleaner energy alternatives.  Jorge Madrid and Brennan Alvarez of the Center for American Progress have the story.

Officially named Via Verde (Green Way) by the government, the proposed pipeline has been dubbed Via de la Muerte (Death Route) by its opponents, prompting protests and petitions to stop it.  A recent poll conducted by El Nuevo Dia (one of Puerto Rico's largest news outlets) indicates that 70 percent of citizens oppose the construction of the pipeline, 61 percent are "very worried" about the safety of this project and its impacts, and 56 percent of people are not convinced that the pipeline will achieve its primary goal of reducing the cost of electricity, compared to 27 percent who believe that it will.

Earlier this year, 30,000 Puerto Ricans took to the streets in protest, including a broad coalition of labor groups and community organizations.  The opposition has spread across the Atlantic to Puerto Rican activist groups in New York, and highly popular Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has elevated this issue, calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to halt this "extremely unpopular" project.

Despite the large public outcry, Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño continues to make a case for the project.  "With Vía Verde we will enter a new energy era that strengthens the competitiveness of our economy and improves the quality of life of our people," Fortuño said, calling the high price of energy the main obstacle to the island's economic and social development.

Just last month Daniel Pagán, an engineer from PREPA, claimed that Via Verde would cut electricity cost by 30 percent, reduce emissions by 60 percent, and generate 4,500 new jobs.  The project is also expected to decrease the island's oil dependence to 12 percent of power generation by 2012, while boosting natural gas usage to 71 percent from its current 15 percent, according to PREPA projections.  Currently, the island produces about 70 percent of its power from imported oil, with the rest split evenly between natural gas and coal.

These claims by PREPA have been refuted by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, however.  Most notably, data released from a 2011 study that concludes the best case scenario for Vía Verde will provide savings of only one cent per kilowatt-hour. (In its own estimation, PREPA suggests that the savings are in the order of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Still, for an island with an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent, where 48 percent of residents live in poverty, and the average family makes only $17,184 while paying double the U.S. rate for energy, the promise of new jobs and a reduction in energy costs is a welcome.

But the story is much more complex.For one, many Puerto Ricans fear that poor communities, including large populations of senior citizens, will be pushed out of their homes; many are already feeling pressures to sell their properties well below market value to clear a way for the pipeline.  Rep. Gutierrez recently criticized the project on the floor of the U.S. Congress calling it a "$500 million pipeline designed to benefit the richest people in Puerto Rico."

Many Puerto Ricans are also highly concerned about the project's impact on the natural beauty and ecosystem of the island, whose tourism industry employs 60,000 people, attracts 3.9 million tourists yearly, and accounts for 7 percent of the island's total GNP.  Critics of the project also fear potential leakage or explosion – both of which could occur in an area that is prone to flooding and extreme weather.

A petition signed by over 7,000 people notes that the pipeline will cause more than 8 million cubic meters of earth to be displaced, affect multiple bodies of water, lakes, and the fishing industry, as well as permanently impact more than 1,500 acres of forests, and more than 369 acres of wetlands. It will also impact the habitat of 34 endangered species, along with 235 rivers and streams, including a critical conservation zone which produces 25 percent of the water consumed in Puerto Rico.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, many Puerto Ricans do not want their economic development and energy future to be directly tied to the fossil fuel industry. A large and growing coalition of Puerto Ricans favor deployment of renewable energy, and many believe the funds can be better spent deploying renewable energy and efficiency projects.  Others see natural gas as a cleaner alternative to burning oil and coal, but oppose the invasive and volatile nature of the pipeline, and its influence on the long-term energy portfolio of the island.

Professor Dr. Massol-Deya from the University of Puerto Rico points out in a recent presentation to labor leaders, "there are short term values of natural gas, but this pipeline is permanent and sets up the island to burn natural gas for the next 30-40 years…it will produce 70 percent of the energy on the island…it will be one addiction for another."

Julissa Corporan, a life-long resident of the island and operator of Atabey Ecotours, says that residents don't want to be stuck in the fossil fuel economy, "People are educating themselves, and we want renewable energy…we don't want to work in the past, in fossil fuel energy, they don't last forever and we know that."

August 12 News: Heat Wave Reduces Crop Harvests; Senate Democrats Urge White House to Act on Smog Rule

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 07:45 AM PDT

A round-up of recent climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

Smaller Crops Forecast by U.S. After Planting Delays, Heat Wave

Corn, soybean and spring-wheat harvests in the U.S., the world's largest exporter, will be smaller than the government forecast last month after a damaging heat wave that may signal higher costs for food and biofuel.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its corn-crop estimate by 4.1 percent, reduced the soybean forecast by 5.2 percent, and said spring-wheat production will be 5.2 percent below what it predicted in July. The harvests for all three crops would be less than expected by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Parts of the Midwest, the main growing region, were the hottest since 1955 last month. Smaller supplies of corn may increase costs for ethanol refiners such as Poet LLC, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Valero Energy Corp. and meat producers Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc., which buy the grain for feed. The price of corn, the biggest U.S. crop, jumped 68 percent in the past year before today.

White House faces Senate, industry pressure on smog rule

A group of Senate Democrats is pressing the White House to "stand strong" against immense industry pressure to weaken or scuttle smog standards that have been repeatedly delayed.

In a letter to President Obama Thursday, seven Democrats and two independents that caucus with the party express "disappointment" at administration delays in issuing Environmental Protection Agency ozone standards.

The letter urges the administration to issue a standard consistent with the 60 to 70 parts-per-billion level recommended by EPA's formal science advisers.

"We write to express our disappointment at the Administration's continued delay in setting a health-protective ozone air quality standard. We urge you to follow the requirements of the Clean Air Act, the peer-reviewed science, and the federal Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), and set a strong standard as soon as possible," states the letter from senators including Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and other Northeastern members.

Bachmann knocks Pawlenty on cap-and-trade at Iowa debate

Rep. Michele Bachmann wants to tether Tim Pawlenty to his past support for cap-and-trade policies to curb climate change, even though Pawlenty has fled from the position during the GOP presidential campaign.

The two Minnesotans traded blows at Thursday night's GOP debate in Iowa ahead of that state's critical straw poll on Saturday (The Hill's Cameron Joseph has much more from the Iowa debate here).

Bachmann listed Pawlenty's support for cap-and-trade – a policy that has become politically toxic in GOP circles – among several positions he staked out as governor that Bachmann said have made Pawlenty's record consistent with President Obama's views.

"I would say Governor, when you were governor in Minnesota, you implemented cap-and-trade in our state," Bachmann said, while casting herself as a fighter against cap-and-trade and several other Democratic policies.

EPA yanks tree-killing herbicide Imprelis off market

DuPont announced that it is conducting "broad scientific and stewardship reviews" after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pulled its herbicide Imprelis off the market Thursday.

In its Stop Sale, Use, or Removal Order, the EPA said that DuPont had test data that showed its herbicide Imprelis was harmful to Norway spruce, balsam fir and other trees when it was given EPA approval last August.

Despite that test data, DuPont "does not warn or caution about potential damage to trees," the EPA said. There was nothing in the labeling or instructions that indicated that it could hurt certain species of trees, the EPA said.

Conocophillips ups estimate of China oil spill

ConocoPhillips China, a subsidiary of the Houston-based oil company ConocoPhillips , said on Friday that as much as 2,500 barrels of oil and mud leaked from an oilfield in China's northern Bohai Bay.

A recent survey at the C platform of Penglai 19-3 oil field identified more oil-based drilling mud on the sea floor than originally estimated, the company said on its website (, adding that it expected to complete a cleanup by the end of this month.

Last month, ConocoPhillips estimated around 1,500 barrels (240 cubic metres) of oil and oil-based drilling fluids had been released into the sea and that an order to shut down the platforms would result in a temporary output reduction of about 17,000 barrels of oil per day.

USDA announces $100 million for Florida wetland restoration

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  announced $100 million in financial assistance for Florida wetland restoration today, the largest amount of funding the state has received through the Wetland Restoration Project in a single year.

The funds will go toward acquiring easements from eligible landowners in four Florida counties, Glades, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee — maintaining that land as agriculture and open space. The easements will form a conservation corridor from the Kissimmee River to Everglades National Park, and "assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed," according to a release sent out today.

The effort aims to reduce the amount of surface water leaving the land, and should ultimately lessen the concentration of nutrients reaching Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. Nutrients in Florida waterways are a major problem, and contribute to toxic algae growth and massive fish kills. The Everglades suffers from methylmercury poisoning.

$29.1 million tab from Michigan oil spill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it spent more than $20 million in cleanup operations from an Enbridge oil spill last year in Michigan.

More than a year after an oil spill near Marshall, Mich., the EPA said it was still working on remediation efforts in Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The EPA said its response prevented the spill from reaching Lake Michigan.

"The EPA has incurred $29.1 million in cleanup costs, which Enbridge will be required to reimburse," the agency said in a statement.

Line 6B of the Lakehead oil pipeline ruptured last July near Marshall, Mich. The EPA said it estimated more than 23,000 barrels of heavy oil from Alberta tar sands spilled from the pipeline.

The nature of oil from tar sand deposits causes some of it to sink to the bottom of the river, where it has soaked about 6 inches of sediment along the river bottom.

The EPA recovered about 18,000 barrels of oil that was on the surface. EPA officials said it was unclear how the remaining oil would affect the environment because there is no other spill with which to compare the Enbridge leak.

Poll: Majority of public opposes mountaintop-removal mining

The majority of the public opposes a controversial mining practice in which companies blow up parts of mountains in order to gain access to valuable coal seams underneath, a new CNN poll says.

The poll, conducted by CNN and Opinion Research Corp., finds that 57 percent of the public is opposed to mountaintop-removal mining. Thirty-six percent of those polled support the practice and 7 percent are neutral, according to CNN.

Mountaintop-removal mining, a technique used in Appalachian coal-mining operations, has come under fire from environmental groups and others, who have raised red flags about its effects on public health and nearby waterways and streams.

At Fox News, Planet Earth Is Sponsored By ExxonMobil

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 06:39 AM PDT

— by Shauna Theel, in a Media Matters cross-post

We noted in June that Fox News' iPad app was sponsored exclusively by ExxonMobil, a corporation known for paying think tanks to obfuscate the scientific consensus on climate change. Now's "Planet Earth" section is also brought to you by the oil giant:

In fact,'s entire Science & Technology section and their opinion page appear to be sponsored by ExxonMobil; the other sections of their website are not.

Earlier this year, sought to debunk the fact that Earth has warmed over the past 30 years, as well as the notion that human activity has contributed to the warming with a "Planet Earth" article,  portions of which "are utter nonsense" and "do not make sense" according to climatologists consulted by Media Matters.

Two recent stories that Fox News' Planet Earth section ran on climate change were based around claims pushed by the Heartland Institute's James Taylor and quoted Taylor's views. A post by Taylor, which baselessly claimed a research group "doctors sea level data" to exaggerate climate change, inspired a article asking, "Is climate change raising sea levels, as Al Gore has argued — or are climate scientists doctoring the data?"

And after a Forbes column by Taylor misinterpreted a climate study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," Fox News' Planet Earth asked "Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" The article falsely claimed the study showed the "planet isn't heating up" and featured this image and caption:

The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think tank that hosts regular conferences disputing mainstream climate science and received $676,500 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2006, including $90,000 specifically for "General Operating Support — Climate Change."

ExxonMobil pledged in 2008 to stop funding groups "whose positions on climate change could divert attention" from the need to develop secure, clean energy. But Exxon's continued funding of Fox News' ventures seems to contradict this pledge. Fox routinely pushes false claims about climate science, and it has even been the policy of Fox News to question the basic fact that the planet has warmed in recent decades.

— Shuana Theel, Media Matters

Related Climate Progress Post:

Wallace Broecker's Remarkable 1975 Global Warming Prediction

Posted: 12 Aug 2011 04:45 AM PDT

Wallace Broecker's 1975 temperature prediction, adjusted to reflect measured CO2 changes, vs. GISTemp observed global surface temperature changes.

– dana1981, in a Skeptical Science cross-post

Wallace Broecker was among the first climate scientists to use simple climate models to predict future global temperature changes.  His 1975 paper Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming? is widely credited with coining the term "global warming".

In that paper, Broecker modeled the effects of the expected future increase of CO2 due to humans burning fossil fuels, combined with a natural climate cycle which he estimated based on Greeland ice core records, and tweaked to match the observed temperature record at the time — see figure below:

Broecker's global temperature prediction [click to enlarge]

This was a very simple model, excluding the effects of the sun, volcanoes, other greenhouse gases, aerosols, and so forth, which Broecker acknowledged:

"In this report only the interaction of the CO2 effect and natural climatic change is considered.  As other anthropogenic effects are shown to be significant and as means to quantitatively predict their future influence on global temperatures are developed, they can be included in models such as this."

As it turns out, Broecker has been fortunate, because the cooling effects of human aerosol emissions have roughly cancelled out the warming effects of human non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions since 1975, and solar activity has been flat over that period.  So the net effect of the factors which he did not take into account has been close to zero.  However, Broecker was also smart; the dominant effect on temperature since 1975 has been from CO2, as he expected.  It's better to be lucky than good, but it's best to be both.

Broecker anticipated the actual increase in CO2 very closely, predicting 373 ppm in 2000 and 403 ppm in 2010 (actual values were 369 and 390 ppm, respectively).  Broecker also used an equilibrium climate sensitivity of 3°C for doubled CO2; however, his model's transient climate sensitivity worked out to be 2.4°C for doubled CO2.  Current climate models put equilibrium sensitivty at 1.5 times transient sensitivty, so Broecker effectively underestimated the thermal lag of the climate system, and the equilibrium sensitivity in his calculations was approximately equivalent to 3.6°C for doubled CO2 – a bit higher than today's best estimates of 2°C transient sensitivity, 3°C equilibrium sensitivity.

We digitized Broecker's prediction from Figure 1, and compared it to the observed global temperature change since 1975 [see top figure].  We adjusted it slightly to reflect the current atmospheric CO2 concentration (390 ppm) as opposed to his predicted 403 ppm, because we're interested in the accuracy of Broecker's temperature predictions, not his CO2 predictions.

As you can see, Broecker's prediction has matched the net global temperature change quite closely over the past 35 years.  His 'natural cycle' estimate held his prediction below the actual global temperature increase for most of the period, but  as illustrated in Figure 1, he predicted its effects would approach zero after 2000.  Not coincidentally, this is when his prediction most closely matches the observed global temperature.  Broecker overestimated the amount of global warming by 2010 slightly, by a bit less than 0.2°C.  This is probably mainly due to his slight overestimate of climate sensitivity, and potentially due to the increased cooling effects over the past decade.

It's quite remarkable that a prediction made in 1975 using such a simple model of the climate system could so accurately match the observed global temperature change.  It's a testament to the dominant effect of CO2, and the fact that we have had a solid understanding of the fundamental workings of the Earth's climate for many decades.

Nevertheless, those who are "skeptical" that humans are driving global warming, including the few climate scientists in this category, often emphasize and exaggerate what we don't know about how the Earth's climate functions.  In his testimony before US Congress earlier this year, "skeptic" climate scientist John Christy compared the state of climate science research in the 1970s to that today, saying "our ignorance about the climate system is just enormous".

While it's true that there remain some features of the climate system which we still don't fully understand, Broecker's success illustrates that climate scientists have long had a good grasp on the main drivers of the global climate.

While the "skeptics" enjoy criticizing climate scientists, they rarely put their money where their mouths are in terms of making predictions of their own.  We previously examined one of the exceptions – Don Easterbrook, who has been predicting imminent global cooling since approximately 2000.  He stood by that prediction in December 2008, presenting his projections of future global temperature change at the American Geophysical Union annual conference.  Easterbrook's model is even simpler than Broecker's, only taking into account his estimates of past natural climate cycles, assuming they will continue in the future, and effectively presuming that CO2 has no effect on global temperatures (throwing out the centuries-old physics of Tyndall and Arrhenius).  Figure 3 compares Broecker's prediction and two of Easterbrook's to the observed global temperature.

Broecker's 1975 prediction was within 0.2°C of the observed global temperature in 2010, while Easterbrook's, last made in December 2008, were off by 0.3 to 0.5°C.  This illustrates the importance of basing future predictions on solid physical footing, and also shows that climate scientists understand the inner workings of the global climate much better than the "skeptics" would have us believe.  In fact, in the 1970s, climate scientists understood how the Earth's climate works better than many "skeptic" scientists do in 2011!

– dana1981, in a Skeptical Science cross-post

Arctic Ice Thinning 4 Times Faster Than Predicted by IPCC Models, Semi-Stunning M.I.T. Study Finds

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 07:45 PM PDT

According to new research from MIT, the most recent global climate report fails to capture trends in Arctic sea-ice thinning and drift, and in some cases substantially underestimates these trends….

After comparing IPCC models with actual data, [lead author Pierre] Rampal and his collaborators concluded that the forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it's drifting twice as quickly.

I'm technically on vacation, so I don't have time to respond to every misleading claim or inadequate study.

But it's very safe to say that two-dimensional analyses of sea ice trends — ones that don't model ice thickness and hence ice volume — are going to miss crucial feedbacks and dynamic changes.  That is the central point of this new MIT study, which will be stunning only to those who don't follow either this blog or the recent scientific literature.

Recent statements that we are seeing an "Arctic Death Spiral" focused on volume.  In the words of National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) director Mark Serreze, who is most associated with that phrase:

Serreze (9/10): "There are claims coming from some communities that the Arctic sea ice is recovering, is getting thicker again. That's simply not the case.  It's continuing down in a death spiral.  Every bit of evidence we have says the ice is thinning.  That means there's less energy needed to melt it out than there used to be."

Serreze (7/11):  "The extent [of the ice cover] is going down, but it is also thinning. So a weather pattern that formerly would melt some ice, now gets rid of much more. There will be ups and downs, but we are on track to see an ice-free summer by 2030. It is an overall downward spiral."

This new study, "IPCC climate models do not capture Arctic sea ice drift acceleration: Consequences in terms of projected sea ice thinning and decline," (subs. req'd)  adds to our understanding of  how the two-dimensional models go astray.  Here's an extended excerpt from the news release:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecasts an ice-free Arctic summer by the year 2100, among other predictions. But Pierre Rampal, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and colleagues say it may happen several decades earlier.

It's all in the mechanics

Established in 1988 by the United Nations, the IPCC issues reports that represent an average of many findings, and is sometimes criticized for forecasting according to the "lowest common denominator" of climate research. Still, many policymakers put large stock in its predictions, so Rampal says it is important to continuously evaluate and improve their accuracy.

After comparing IPCC models with actual data, Rampal and his collaborators concluded that the forecasts were significantly off: Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it's drifting twice as quickly.

The findings are forthcoming in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans. Co-authors are Jérôme Weiss and Clotilde Dubois of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Joseph Fourier and Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques, respectively, and Jean-Michel Campin, a research scientist in EAPS.

Part of the problem, Rampal says, may be inadequate modeling of mechanical forces acting on and within the ice in the Arctic basin. Thus far, the IPCC models have largely focused on temperature fluctuations, which are one way to lose or gain ice. But according to Rampal, mechanics can be just as important: Forces such as wind and ocean currents batter the ice, causing it to break up. Ice that's in small pieces behaves differently than ice in one large mass, which affects its overall volume and surface area.

"If you make a mistake at this level of the model, you can expect that you are missing something very important," Rampal says.

The seasonal tug of war

Rampal says mechanical forces can play a significant role in winter, when little melting occurs but when strong winds and ocean currents can wreak drastic effects on the ice's shape and movement.

Traditionally, in winter, most of the Arctic Ocean was covered with a thick sheet of ice. But today's winter ice cover is thinner, meaning it breaks up more easily under the influence of winds and currents. It eventually looks like an "ensemble of floes," Rampal says, instead of one large mass. In summer, natural melting due to warmer temperatures opens the door to even more breakup. (Scientists refer to these patches of floes as "pancake ice," because the small circular pieces look like — yes — pancakes on a griddle.)

During both seasons, ice in this state is prone to escaping from the Arctic basin, most commonly through the Fram Strait, a wide swath of ocean between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The smaller the floes, the more likely they are to be lost through the Fram Strait, where they melt on contact with warmer waters to the south.

So, several factors are connected in a positive feedback loop: Thinner ice breaks more easily; smaller chunks of ice drift more quickly; and drifting ice is more prone to export and melting at lower latitude. But Rampal also cites examples of negative feedback loops, which may counteract some of the ice loss. For example, large cracks in winter's ice cover help create new ice, since the extremely cold air in contact with the liquid ocean promotes refreezing, which leads to a sheet with greater surface area than before.

'You'd better start now'

…  Although it's impossible to say for sure when we might see an ice-free Arctic, the IPCC itself has acknowledged that its 2007 report may have painted too rosy a picture. "If you look at the scientific knowledge things do seem to be getting progressively worse," said Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chair, in an interview reported by The New York Times shortly after the report's release. "So you'd better start with the interventions even earlier. Now."

Hear!  Hear!

Romney: "Corporations Are People, My Friend" — Albeit Ones That Don't Require Clean Air or a Livable Climate

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 02:53 PM PDT

GOP Presidential front runner Mitt Romney offered his view of why corporations should not pay higher taxes at a damaging campaign stop in Iowa.  His remarks open a window into his corporatist, pollutocrat worldview.  As Think Progress Justice noted:

Audience members responded angrily to his plans, and Romney frequently responded belligerently to their anger. In one of the most contentious exchanges, Romney defended his belief that we "should consider a higher retirement age" for Social Security and Medicare to preserve tax breaks for corporations:

ROMNEY: There's various ways of [preserving Social Security and Medicare's solvency]. One is we could raise taxes on people. That's not the way . . .

AUDIENCE: Corporations! Corporations!

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

AUDIENCE: No they're not.

ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?

AUDIENCE: It goes into your pocket!

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings, my friend.

Given the rapidly growing disparity between the wages of CEOs and those of  workers, and the rapidly growing wealth of  the richest 1% versus the rest of us, the fact is that an increasing share of what corporations earn goes to a small number of very rich people.

It  is also true that corporations spend money lobbying and spreading disinformation on climate science and the EPA, to preserve their ability to  poison the planet and destroy a livable climate.

And  that goes to the heart of the fatal flaw in Romney's worldview.  Yes, conservative  politicians,  conservative pundits, and conservative Supreme Court justices believe corporations deserve to have the same rights as people, including virtually no limits on campaign donations.

The problem is that corporations don't require clean air, clean water, and a livable climate.  Indeed,  in the short run, they can profit by destroying those things –  if the real people let them.

Treating corporations as the same as people is the road to ruin for any modern society, as America is witnessing.

Small Hydro Has Strong Bipartisan Support. So Why Can't We Get Our Act Together?

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 12:06 PM PDT

Most people don't realize that we have a lot of hydropower potential left in this country — particularly small hydro.

Amidst all the talk about increasing offshore drilling in the arctic, permitting massive renewable energy projects in remote areas, and building out expensive transmission lines around the country, we often forget about the simple things.

A few years back, I wrote an article asking if the U.S. was on the verge of a small hydropower boom. I'm sad to say that despite the myriad compelling reasons for developing small hydro projects around this country, we're still in the same place we were when I wrote that story.

Why? Because we have a terrible regulatory framework in place.

A 2006 study put together by the Idaho National Laboratory found that we could feasibly develop up to 30,000 MW of small and "low-power" hydro projects (between 10 kilowatts and 30 megawatts) around the country. All of those projects could be run-of-river — meaning they don't require any damming — or could be built on existing dams.

There are over 81,000 dams around the U.S. and only 2,400 of them have any electrical generating capacity. Many of the power-less 78,600 dams are close to existing infrastructure, making it easier to build and maintain a project compared with a centralized wind or solar farm located far away from where the electricity is used.

So while the government has focused heavily on streamlined permitting for centralized, large-scale renewable energy projects, almost nothing has been done for small hydro.

Due to regulatory morass, the U.S. is not a good place for small hydro companies to do business. In order to build even the smallest facilities, a developer must go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, State Environmental Departments, State Historic Preservation Departments, and many more. Each of these agencies is just doing their job — but the cumulative impact weighs down small hydro and makes projects prohibitively expensive.

"The regulatory environment is not friendly at all. It's incredibly difficult and expensive to build these facilities," explains Lori Barg, CEO of Community Hydro, a developer based in Vermont. "It's absurd, really."

Barg says that federal and state permitting can add up to $2,000 per kilowatt for projects under 1 MW. To put that in perspective: solar PV projects around 1 MW are being built today for about $3,000 a kW, including permitting, labor and equipment.

That needs to change. It's an embarrassment that we still haven't fixed this problem.

A bill introduced by Republican Congressman Adrian Smith is a great start. The Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act, which passed quietly out of the House Natural Resources Committee at the beginning of this month, will exempt all projects smaller than 1.5 MW on non-federally owned conduits from FERC licensing requirements.

"This is a great targeted solution for a particular set of hydropower projects that could spark a tremendous increase in facilities under 1 MW," explains Jeff Leahey, director of government affairs for the National Hydropower Association. "If you can take those out of the FERC process and put those at the states, it will significantly reduce costs."

Consistent with the slow-moving process for small hydro, the bill now needs pass through two more committees — the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

On the Senate side, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski recently re-introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act that would streamline permitting of hydro projects on existing dams and create a competitive grant program for developers. It also expands R&D for new hydro technologies.

NHA hopes to find a way to combine both bills and pass something with bi-partisan support this year.

"We keep telling lawmakers that there's tremendous growth potential in the industry. We are far from tapped out. We can access existing infrastructure today and build tens of thousands of megawatts in communities around the country. We consider that low-hanging fruit," explains Leahey.

Harnessing the full potential of small-scale, local hydropower could actually be pretty easy – all possible without having to deploy massive clean-up efforts, making environmental major trade-offs, or facing stiff local opposition. But we have to get our act together on permitting.

Considering all the other major problems Congress is dealing with, this should be a very easy fix.