What the GOP Congress might mean for climate change

www.pri.org  Science Friday  by Ira Flatow  25 November 2014 1:15EST

Credit: Phil Ostroff/Flickr Green energy is popular in blue states and in red states, like Texas, where this wind farm was built.
Credit: Phil Ostroff/Flickr
Green energy is popular in blue states and in red states, like Texas, where this wind farm was built.

In the aftermath of the Republican takeover of Congress, several events bear watching, especially as eyes turn toward 2016 and the presidential and senatorial races.

To start off, there is the elevation of the Senate’s chief climate change denier, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who’s preparing to chair (for the second time) the committee that deals with global warming — the Environment and Public Works committee. Author of the book “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” this in-your-face politician has not wavered in his views. And no amount of facts can make any difference, as CNN’s Jake Tapper found out recently.

How much undoing of recent environmental progress (see the EPA’s proposed rule for slashing carbon emissions from coal plants and President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with China’s president, Xi Jinping) will the senator accomplish?

Clashing with Inhofe’s view of global warming are the facts about the increasing acceptance of green energy by the American public. A recent Deutsche Bank study found that by 2016, in most states solar energy will be “as cheap or cheaper than average electricity bill prices,” reports Tom Randall for Bloomberg. Add to that the dramatic increase in centralized wind power in IowaTexas and other states, mix in the jobs that go along with building the infrastructure, and you find success even in red states that don’t buy into the “global warming conspiracy” theory. These states have learned that green power is also about the color of money. (And oh, by the way, how is any politician going to campaign against energy tax credits in these states that love them so much? Stay tuned for a lot of backtracking.)

Meanwhile, the Senate earlier this month rejected the Keystone XL pipeline extension, “leaving the $8 billion pipeline still on the table for the ascendant Republican Party to push the project to President Barack Obama’s desk in January,” writes Elana Schor for Politico. But as the oil market continues its months-long collapse, with the price per barrel of crude dropping into the $70 range, squeezing crude from Canada’s tar sands becomes even less profitable.

America is awash in oil. (“In the U.S., hydraulic fracturing has unleashed a torrent of new crude that is flooding the market, reports Russell Gold for The Wall Street Journal.) Why do we need more from Canada? Keep in mind that, as Jeff Brady and Scott Horsley report for NPR, “producing crude from oil sands emits an estimated 17 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional oil drilling in the U.S.”

A final thought: When will certain media begin treating climate change as the threat it represents instead of insisting on “fair and balanced” reporting in this regard? We all know where a road paved with good intentions takes us. Peter Dystra’s excellent election eve piece points out the false equivalences still rampant in climate journalism from people who should know better.

If a real discussion of the future of the planet is to take place between now and the 2016 election, reporters are going to have become journalists. One can hope. Perhaps we might even get a question or two about climate change into the debates, and maybe even a follow-up. (Wolf: are you listening?)

Of course, if that happens, someone is bound to write a book calling it all another green conspiracy. Wink, wink.

Obama to Introduce Sweeping New Controls on Ozone Emissions

www.nytimes.com  NOV. 25, 2014

Emissions from a power plant in Kentucky. The sweeping regulation will aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country. Credit Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Emissions from a power plant in Kentucky. The sweeping regulation will aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country. Credit Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is expected to release on Wednesday a contentious and long-delayed environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.

The sweeping regulation, which would aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, would be the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama’s administration.

Environmentalists and public health advocates have praised the E.P.A. rules as a powerful environmental legacy. Republicans, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry have sharply criticized them as an example of costly government overreach.

The proposed regulation would lower the current threshold for ozone pollution from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion, according to people familiar with the plan. That range is less stringent than the standard of 60 parts per billion sought by environmental groups, but the E.P.A. proposal would also seek public comment on a 60 parts-per-billion plan, keeping open the possibility that the final rule could be stricter.

Public health groups have lobbied the government for years to rein in ozone emissions and said the regulation was one of the most important health decisions Mr. Obama could make in his second term.

“Ozone is the most pervasive and widespread pollutant in the country,” said Paul Billings, a senior vice president of the American Lung Association. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said, “Ozone is not only killing people, but causing tens of millions of people to get sick every day.”

But industry groups say that the regulation would impose unwieldy burdens on the economy, with little public health benefit.

“Air quality has improved dramatically over the past decades, and air quality will continue to improve under the existing standards,” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for the oil industry. “The current review of health studies has not identified compelling evidence for more stringent standards, and current standards are protective of public health.”

The proposed ozone rule comes as the longstanding battle over Mr. Obama’s use of the Clean Air Act to push his environmental agenda is erupting in Congress and the courts. The ozone rules are expected to force the owners of power plants and factories to install expensive technology to clean the pollutants from their smokestacks.

Next year, the E.P.A. is expected to make final two more historic Clean Air Act rules aimed at cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those rules, which are intended to curb pollutants that contribute to climate change, could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants and freeze construction of future coal plants.

The Republican-majority Congress, to be led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, has vowed to block or overturn the entire group of rules. In a separate development, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to take up a challenge led by industry groups against another E.P.A. rule intended to curb emissions of mercury from coal plants.

“We’re facing a series of regulations, and the cumulative cost of compliance and the burden of permitting is significant,” said Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, a group which has lobbied aggressively against the rules. “An industry such as ours is poised to make significant investments in growth, but these regulations make that harder.”

The standard for ozone was last set in 2008 by the Bush administration at a level of 75 parts per billion, above the range of 60 to 70 parts per billion recommended by the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel at the time, although never enacted. Environmental and public health groups challenged the Bush standard in court, saying it would endanger human health and had been tainted by political interference. Smog levels have declined sharply over the last 40 years, but each incremental improvement comes at a significant cost to business and government.

The E.P.A. had planned to release the new ozone rule in August of 2011, but as Republicans and powerful industry groups prepared to go on attack against the plan, Mr. Obama decided to delay its release, fearing that opposition to the regulation would hurt his re-election chances in 2012.

At the time, Mr. Obama said the regulation would impose too severe a burden on industry and local governments at a time of economic distress.

Environmental advocates, who took the delay as a setback, then sued the Obama administration, and earlier this year a federal judge ordered the E.P.A. to release the rule by Dec. 1.

Correction: November 25, 2014
An earlier version of this article reported incorrectly the ozone pollution thresholds. They are measured in parts per billion, not parts per million.

Drone pilot wanted: Starting salary $100,000

www.money.cnn.com November 26, 2014: 9:13 AM ET

Courtesy: University of North Dakota
Courtesy: University of North Dakota

Drone jobs are in high demand.

Big companies, such as Amazon and Facebook, are looking for pilots who fly drones and engineers with experience in building the unmanned aircraft. And they are willing to pay top dollar for the right stuff.

Federal regulations currently prohibit the use of drones for commercial purposes. But all that will change soon, with the Federal Aviation Administration expected to soften rules next year to allow certain light-weight drones to make commercial flights up to 400 feet.

Enter drone industry jobs.

As many as 100,000 new jobs will be created in the first 10 years after unmanned aircraft are cleared for takeoff in U.S. airspace, according to a 2013 report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Large employers are already paying up for drone pilots — about $50 an hour, or over $100,000 a year — according to Al Palmer, director of the center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the University of North Dakota.

Related: Amazon is hiring drone pilots

The university is gearing up to meet the hot demand and Palmer expects the drone industry to grow exponentially as companies discover new uses for drones.

And the tech companies are excited at the prospect.

Facebook is bulking up its drone team. Amazon has said it wants to use drones to deliver small packages over short distances. And Google acquired Titan Aerospace, which makes high-altitude, solar-powered drones.

Why Google bought a drone company

At the University of North Dakota, most of the first 61 drone pilots who graduated have gone to work at major drone manufactures, such as Northrup Grumman (NOC), Lockheed Martin (LMT), General Atomics and Boeing (BA).

Palmer expects drones to be used in agriculture, public safety, oil and gas exploration, and even in the film industry, among others.

Related: Facebook is kicking its drone business into high gear

University donors are getting excited too. The University of North Dakota, which started its bachelor’s degree course in unmanned aircraft systems in 2008, recently received a $25 million endowment (it’s largest ever) to build a new drone research and training facility.

A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2: A Striking Visualization

www.openculture.com  in Environment, Science | November 25th, 2014

During the same week when House Republicans passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on its own research, NASA climate scientists (coincidentally but maybe inconveniently) released a video documenting A Year in the Life of Earth’s CO2. According to NASA, “The visualization is a product of a simulation called ‘Nature Run,’” which “ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates. The model is then left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere.”  The video above visualizes how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traveled around the globe from January 2006 through December 2006. Hopefully the take-away isn’t look at all the pretty colors. The video is in the public domain and can be downloaded here.

To learn more about climate change, see the University of Chicago’s course, Global Warming. It’s a free 23-lecture course presented by David Archer, a professor in the Department of The Geophysical Sciences.