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The Corporate Commitment To Green Energy Is Helping Rural America

MAR 19, 2017 @ 08:16 AM

Ken Silverstein , CONTRIBUTOR

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.


**FILE** Turbines blow in the wind at an Xcel Energy wind farm located on the border of Colorado and Wyoming south of Cheyenne, Wyo., in this file photograph taken on Oct. 10, 2002. A three-day national convention will open on Monday in Denver as the American Wind Energy Association expects about 4,000 participants to take part as interest hits new highs in using wind to generate power. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

The signage is all around — that renewable energy has all green lights ahead, despite the current White House’s emphasis on the expansion of traditional fossil fuels. Both corporate America and the governors from 20 states are going all-in to support sustainable fuels.

Their reasoning is grounded in economics — that the cost of wind and solar technologies has fallen dramatically and that, in turn, has led to their impressive growth. Indeed, about 60% of the electricity added to the grid in 2016 came from wind and solar energy.

“The growth of the renewable energy industry is an American success story built on federal research and development, state policy leadership, private sector investment, and ingenuity,” write Governors Gina Raimondo, D-RI. and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also the chair and vice-chair of the Governors Wind Energy Coalition, in a letter to President Trump.

And it is rural America that is benefiting from this expansion, they insist, which makes up Trump’s core support. For example, U.S. wind facilities have paid rural landowners $222 million a year while 70% of the nation’s wind farms are located in low-income areas.

The result? Last year, wind energy employed more than 100,000 workers in all 50 states while the solar industry is employing more than 200,000 people. Texas, meanwhile, leads the nation with 20,000 megawatts of its 82,000 megawatt wind energy base.

The trend has no doubt been facilitated by American companies that have vowed to increase their stakes in renewable energy, which could take place by either investing directly in such projects or by entering into power purchase agreements in which they agree to buy the output from those that generate it. General Motors and WalMart are two such companies.

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Don’t let wind energy stall

MARCH 20, 2017 1:00 PM


A rainbow appears next to an array of wind turbines in Palm Springs. Wind energy advocates are calling on older projects to be updated with more efficient turbines. Sandy Huffaker Associated Press file


Special to The Bee

David Hochschild is a member of the California Energy Commission and can be contacted at Nancy Rader is executive director of the California Wind Energy Association and can be contacted at


As wind energy achieves a historic milestone – surpassing the total capacity of hydropower dams to become the nation’s largest renewable energy resource – many of California’s pioneer wind projects are in danger of shutting down.

Instead, California should promote the revival of these projects with state-of-the-art technology.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s first administration in the 1970s spawned the initial wave of utility-scale renewable energy, which launched the wind power industry globally. It is a testament to the early technology that most of the wind turbines installed in the 1980s were still in operation some 25 years later, withstanding conditions so tough that new turbine designs are often tested alongside.

Yet these new turbines convert wind into electricity twice as efficiently as the early turbines. Modern wind turbines are also 30 times larger in size and capacity, meaning that a single new one can replace approximately 30 older ones. At the Vasco project in Altamont Pass, 432 older turbines were replaced with just 34 new ones, tripling energy generation and dramatically reducing visual impact.

In addition, considerable technological enhancements since the early 1980s have made wind energy one of the most cost-competitive sources of electricity generation today. Wind energy now supplies more than 8 percent of the state’s power supply.

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How hydroelectric power has roared back in California

By Dominic Fracassa

March 20, 2017 Updated: March 20, 2017 6:40am


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Ice covers the eastern end of the French Meadows Reservoir, part of the watershed managed by the Placer County Water Agency. Energy from hydroelectric plants is expected to rise sharply.

After slowing to a trickle during the past five years of punishing drought, hydroelectric power in California is poised to make a major comeback this spring and summer, thanks to the wet winter.

Across Northern California, hydroelectricity producers say their reservoirs are brimming at levels not seen in decades. Together, their dams should produce as much as 21 percent of the state’s total electricity output this year, according to projections from the California Energy Commission.

That would be the highest percentage for hydropower since 2011, according to the commission’s Energy Almanac. That was the last wet winter before the drought.

Hydroelectricity is relatively cheap, and a surge in production could help restrain rising utility bills in California, although the effect would probably be small. An increase in hydroelectric production should also curb California’s greenhouse gas emissions, by lessening the need for electricity from power plants that burn natural gas.

According to a closely watched Department of Water Resources index that tracks precipitation around Northern California dams, the region has seen 202 percent of its average annual rainfall. The agency’s measure of snowfall in the northern Sierra is also about 145 percent above average; that will help hydroelectricity producers, which rely on melting snowpack as a key source of water during warmer, drier months.

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Governor Brown, Oil Industry Share Interest In Cap-And-Trade Extension

Monday, March 20, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

Gov. Jerry Brown and the oil industry are both pushing to preserve California’s struggling cap-and-trade program. But that will require support from Democratic lawmakers who have doubts about the program.

The program allows companies to choose between lowering emissions and purchasing a limited number of credits for them. Sales of the credits have faltered over the past year, which analysts partly attribute to uncertainty about the program. It expires in 2020 and faces a legal challenge from businesses.

Brown wants a supermajority of lawmakers to pass an extension that could also nullify the lawsuit.

"I don’t think people understand if you don’t do cap-and-trade you just order, command, reduce greenhouse gasses," Brown told Capital Public Radio. "Take that machine and run it less or don’t run it at all. I don’t think they want to do that."

The passage of new, more stringent climate change goals last year means, without cap-and-trade, air regulators could just tighten emissions limits.

The oil industry has been a frequent foe of carbon limits, including the most recent goals--but it supports using cap-and-trade to meet them.

"It’s the only path," says Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. "There is no other way to even think about meeting these aggressive targets, without some kind of cost-containment like the trading part of cap-and-trade provides."

But a growing faction of lawmakers has signaled they’re dissatisfied with the hands-off nature of the program. Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia led 15 lawmakers in introducing a bill that would extend cap-and-trade, but only along with a demand that the state more directly intervenes in disadvantaged communities that have poor air quality.

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A discussion of cap-and-trade in California



Cap and trade is either a sensible effort to reduce pollution in California without undue damage to the state’s economy, or it is a circumvention of the drastic action that is really needed to safeguard the environment.

That chasm, separating environmentalists from much of California’s business community, was on full display at Capitol Weekly’s recent “Carbon Free California” conference in downtown Sacramento.

“There is so much at stake for us to not get this right,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, told a diverse audience of environmentalists, Capitol policy wonks and business representatives on March 8. She said the challenge facing policy makers is to balance emission controls with economic viability.

Brent Newell, legal director for Oakland’s Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, argued that cap and trade wasn’t working, and that a head-on effort to reduce pollution was needed.

California is the first state in the nation to adopt a comprehensive cap and trade program.  The system in California imposes a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by industry.  Permits allowing a certain level of emissions (the cap) are auctioned off by the state Air Resources Board four times a year. Proceeds from the permit auctions are expected to be a key funding source for Brown’s beloved high-speed rail system. According to the state Air Resources Board, various agencies and programs have received about $2.27 billion in cap-and-trade revenues.

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Joe Andrucyk

Surprise: This Republican governor now wants his state to ban fracking. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shocked many on Friday when he endorsed a bill that would completely outlaw the practice.

“Our administration has concluded that the possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits,” Hogan said.

The state put a two-year moratorium on fracking in 2015, but that’s due to expire in October. Earlier this month, the Maryland House passed a bill that would ban fracking permanently. The state Senate is expected to follow suit, and now we know that Hogan will sign the bill if it lands on his desk.

If it goes forward as expected, Maryland would be the third state to ban fracking, after Vermont and New York.

Funny thing: Hogan used to be a fracking fan. During his 2014 campaign for governor, he said the state was “sitting on an economic gold mine” of natural gas that could be extracted through fracking. It’s unclear why he changed his mind.

Now that there’s a GOP governor who opposes fracking, there could be more heat on Democratic governors who support it, like Tom Wolf in neighboring Pennsylvania. “[I]t says to Democrats: You can’t call yourself a progressive on climate issues if you’re supporting fracking,” said Thomas Meyer of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

Lisa Hymas

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How Donald Trump’s budget would affect science and research in Colorado


Andy Cross, The Denver Post Wind turbines from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory butt up against the northwest edge Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on Sept. 25, 2015.


PUBLISHED: March 16, 2017 at 11:40 pm | UPDATED: March 17, 2017 at 1:00 pm


Proposed cuts to agencies that fund several research organizations have caused outcry in Colorado’s scientific community, one going as far as to call the cuts “indefensible.”

Climate scientists said the cuts would eliminate vital research the public relies on to prepare for and respond to weather emergencies.

“Staffing cuts that would have to happen born of the budget cuts would put incredibly smart people out of work and their projects would stagnate,” said Dan Powers, executive director of CO-LABS, a consortium of Colorado’s federal research labs and institutions. “In some ways, it’s hard to know what would be lost if there are wholesale closures of departments and projects within labs.”

More than 30 research labs and institutions that receive 51 percent or more of their funding from federal sources employ over 7,800 employees in Colorado, Powers said. The work at those labs and institutions spans multiple industries, including agriculture, renewable energy, climate science, disease research and forestry, and has impacts that ripple across the nation, he said.

The potentially impacted also include the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, which has 1,700 regular employees. Its funding for fiscal year 2016 was $386.6 million, 80 percent of which came from the Department of Energy while the remaining 20 percent came from grants from other federal agencies.

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Garcetti calls for state of emergency amid concerns that flooding could damage DWP facilities



A winter scene from January near Bishop, Calif. Los Angeles officials are concerned that melting snow along the eastern Sierra Nevada could harm Department of Water and Power facilities.


March 20, 2017, 7:00 p.m.

Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed a state of emergency Monday, citing concerns that melting snowpack in the eastern Sierra Nevada could flood homes and highways in the Owens Valley and damage the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

The proclamation, which takes effect immediately and lasts seven days, is designed to help the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power protect its pumps, pipes and reservoirs in the Owens Valley and surrounding areas.

Although the head of the DWP downplayed the immediate threat level, Garcetti called the potential for infrastructure damage “very, very high,” adding that he doesn’t “want lives to be upended, families hurt, jobs lost because we waited too long and didn’t take action.”

Recent storms have dumped record levels of snow in the Sierra Nevada, helping ease the drought and swelling reservoirs. But melting snowpack and heavy rains have also sparked alarm about flooding.

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Australia’s Grid Problems Put the International Spotlight on Storage—and Elon Musk


Elon Musk cozies up to Australia’s prime minister over energy plans. And now other world leaders are looking to Musk.

by Jason Deign

March 20, 2017


A promise by Tesla to solve an ongoing Australian energy crisis with battery storage has prompted calls for similar plans worldwide.

Twitter users from nations including Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey clamored for battery mega-projects after Tesla pledged to build a 100 megawatt-hour-plus plant in Australia within 100 days of signing a contract -- or let the Australians have it for free.

One of the more notable Twitter requests came from Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. “Ukraine is eager to become a test site for innovation,” he said. “Let's talk it over in details [sic].”

The outpouring of enthusiasm for energy storage came after Lyndon Rive, the head of Tesla's energy division (and former CEO of SolarCity), promised to solve Australia’s energy problems following blackouts in South Australia.

Rive said Tesla would be able to install between 100 and 300 megawatt-hours of batteries, enough to meet 15 percent of total energy demand in South Australia, within 100 days, thanks to increased production capacity at Tesla’s Gigafactory in the U.S.

Rive made the pledge at the launch of Tesla’s Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 battery systems in Newport, Melbourne.

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In Bid To Improve Air Quality, Beijing Shutters Last Coal Plant

MAR 20, 2017 @ 12:00 PM

Kenneth Rapoza , CONTRIBUTOR

I cover business and investing in emerging markets.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.


A Chinese woman wears a mask as she walks past a mural on a polluted day on December 12, 2016 in Beijing, China. As a result of industry, the use of coal, and automobile emissions, the air quality in China's capital and other major cities is often many times worse than standards set by the World Health Organization. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

There is no clean, beautiful coal in Beijing anymore, to take from Donald Trump's preferred way of describing the black rock used to power most of the world's energy grid. Beijing has shuttered its last coal-fired power plant.

Years of deteriorating air quality have led the city on a mission to go green.

The Huangneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant, the last coal utility in operation in the city, was first brought on line in 1999. Beijing has over five million more people living it since, meaning more energy, more coal, more cars, and more health problems associated with pollution. It has five coal-fired power plants with a total installed capacity of 845,000 kilowatts. Du Chengzhang, the plant’s general manager, told Xinhua news agency on Sunday that the plant was "an efficient and environmental friendly plant with advanced emission treatment equipment."

But after the suspension of the plant on Saturday, roughly 1.76 million tons of coal, 91 tons of sulfur dioxide and 285 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions a year will be cut, Xinhua reported.

The city has been busy building nuclear power plants. It is home to more nuclear power stations than anywhere in the world. And it has four new natural gas utilities in Beijing. The city has been closing down its coal fired electricity units since 2014.

Clean air was thrown into the national spotlight about two years ago with the release of the documentary Under the Dome. The documentary was to China environmental policy makers what Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth was to American views on climate change.

Under the Dome (English subtitle,Complete) by Chai Jing: Air pollution in China

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Climate science slashed in Trump budget. Why does that matter?


America has a history of funding basic science at the federal level, on the notion that it pays off for society. The Trump budget challenges that view – including on climate research.

  1. Henry Gass
    Staff writer | @henrygass

MARCH 16, 2017 —A fear among scientists for months is now budget-proposal fact: Donald Trump wants to see deep cuts to federal science funding – with research on climate change a particular target.

President Trump’s federal budget plan seeks to eliminate many climate change programs outright, and cuts others sharply.

•Four NASA climate-related projects would be terminated entirely.

•The Environmental Protection Agency, which does significant climate science, would see its overall budget slashed 31 percent.

•At the Commerce Department, the proposal “zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education.”

Some caveats apply: NASA’s Earth Sciences division escaped with lighter overall cuts than advance rumors had implied. But the overall pattern is a stark rejection of the idea that the rise of heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere, caused by human activities, calls for better understanding and response.

With Congress preparing to weigh the Trump administration agenda, the plan raises a question: Just how important is federal funding to understanding Earth’s climate?

The answer is inevitably somewhat subjective. No one level of funding is automatically correct in any government program. But although climate science funding has fluctuated over the years, one Congressional Research Service report has tallied numbers suggesting that levels have remained within a fairly steady band throughout the presidencies of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.

Many scientists say climate change is one of those arenas where data-collection needs – including from satellites – are so vast that funding at a national-government scale is crucial.

“Those are massive sets of data, massive collections,” says Barbara Schaal, board chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “I think only a government can really afford to do that.” [Editor's note: This paragraph has been updated to correct the spelling of Dr. Schaal's name.]

Prominent role since World War II

In fact, the government’s large role in climate science – NASA’s Earth Sciences projects alone total some $2 billion a year currently – stem from a broadly embraced view that federal funding of basic science can deliver benefits that are well worth the costs.

After seeing the payoff of science tied to the military effort in World War II, the federal government made a conscious effort to support basic research that, often, private industry and philanthropists are unwilling or unable to do.

“The importance of science and technology innovation in advancing goals has long been well understood on both sides of the aisle, albeit with different ideas for how to advance those goals,” John Holdren, a former scientific adviser to Barack Obama, said at the recent annual meeting of the AAAS in Boston.

Even before Trump, programs like Medicare and Social Security have been taking up a rising share of the federal budget, and overall funding for research and development has been squeezed for more than a decade.

What Trump is proposing, though, marks a radical pivot away from science, affecting everything from medical research to new energy technologies.

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Green energy in a coal state: the struggle to bring solar jobs to West Virginia

Local entrepreneurs want to replace disappearing coal jobs with employment in solar – but that’s a tough move in a state that lacks the solar-friendly regulations of places like California


Proponents of solar in West Virginia believe that the market forces that have made coal a more expensive and less desirable commodity will eventually persuade the state’s politicians to abandon the idea of resurrecting the declining industry. Photograph: The Creative Drone/Getty Images

Sunday 19 March 2017 10.00 EDT

Last modified on Sunday 19 March 2017 11.00 EDT

If solar energy were Dan Conant’s only passion, the West Virginia native could have stayed in Vermont, working for a fast-growing startup in a state friendly to renewables.

Instead, Conant returned home to Shepherdstown, where he started an installation company, Solar Holler, in 2014. Now, with three employees and a crew under contract, Conant’s new passion comes with an audacious goal: bring solar jobs to communities hit hard by the decline of coal.

“I really feel like we’re in a race against time, that it’s important we diversify quickly so young folks don’t have to move away,” says Conant. “It’s been really frustrating over the years to see all of my friends leave – pretty much everyone I went to high school with. The state is experiencing a serious brain drain.”

Solar jobs by state, 2016

Jobs per 100,000 people. The top five most productive coal states are outlined in black.








Source: National Solar Jobs Census, The Solar Foundation | Graphic: Jan Diehm/The Guardian

Conant is part of a small group of entrepreneurs who believe in the possibility of replacing disappearing coal jobs with employment in solar in West Virginia. It’s a monumental challenge. The state lacks the mix of solar-friendly regulations, financial incentives and high electricity prices that have made solar affordable and created a booming market in states such as California and Massachusetts.

Despite the odds, Conant and his allies are finding ways around some of the obstacles. They point to the falling cost of solar energy systems that will help to make renewable energy more attractive to West Virginians. Conant and other proponents of solar also believe that the market forces that have made coal a more expensive and less desirable commodity will eventually persuade the state’s politicians to abandon the idea of resurrecting the declining industry.


Donald Trump supports 'clean coal' – but does it really have a future?

The economic picture of West Virginia is bleak. The Mountain State has the nation’s seventh-highest poverty rate. The number of coal jobs dropped from nearly 25,000 in 2011 to fewer than 11,500 in the third quarter of 2016. And those numbers only represent mining itself. When mines shut down, it affects everything – local businesses that serve the industry’s employees and their families lose revenue and government services are hurt by a shrinking tax base.

Automation and less labor-intensive extraction methods such as strip mining and mountaintop removal caused job losses for decades, but stricter environmental regulations and a boom in natural gas, which made it cheaper than coal, have contributed to steeper job cuts in recent years, says Brian Lego, a research assistant professor who studies the coalmining industry at West Virginia University. Coal production fell from 158m tons in 2008 to 80m tons in 2016, Lego says.

The state’s political leaders recognize the need to promote industries beyond coal, but their plans don’t include the renewable energy sector. The newly elected governor, Jim Justice, says he wants to create more jobs in harvesting timber, building roads and other infrastructure, tourism and agriculture. Justice, a billionaire Democrat who owns a resort, a coal company and a large farm operation, also isn’t giving up on reviving the coal business.

Solar employment by sector, 2010–2016

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Here’s how California ended up with too much solar power


Riverside’s Tequesquite Solar Project is built on the city’s former 125-acre landfill that features enough solar panels to power 2,250 homes.

By David Danelski, The Press-Enterprise

POSTED: 03/18/17, 2:47 PM PDT | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO


Riverside’s Tequesquite Solar Project is built on the city’s former 125-acre landfill that features enough solar panels to power 2,250 homes.

California’s power-grid operators are dealing with a glut of daytime electricity produced by household, government, business and industrial solar installations.

This forces the electricity prices on state’s real-time marketplace to plummet, leading some power-plant operators to shut down until demand catches up with supply later in the day.

And increasing amounts of wind and solar energy are being wasted or “curtailed,” as they call it, because no one can use it, according to data obtained from the California Independent System Operator ( Cal ISO).

Last year 305,241 megawatt hours of solar and wind electricity were curtailed — a loss of enough carbon-free electricity that could have powered about 45,000 California homes. This was almost double the amount of clean power that was lost through curtailment in 2015.

This energy loss coincided with a 28 percent yearly increase in electricity produced from large-scale solar plants on the state’s control grid, according to the data. The grid system, which excludes Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Imperial Valley area utilities, last year got 11.9 percent of its electricity from solar plants, up from 9 percent in 2015 and 6.3 percent in 2014.

The waste could increase unless changes are made. State power officials are pushing to get 50 percent of power from renewable sources by 2030 as required by state law.

Cal ISO officials say the proportion of lost renewable energy is relatively small now.

But they also describe the situation as unsustainable as more big solar plants and rooftop systems come online and create a surge of power late mornings and early afternoons.

The problem is at its worst in springs months, when the sun shines longer reach day, but fewer people are running their air conditioners, the state data shows.

“We need to start finding ways to offset curtailment as we add more renewable sources, or we will be wasting renewable energy,” said Phil Pettingill, Director of State Regulatory Affairs at Cal ISO.

Officials are weighing several ways to harness the midday glut.

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Jerry Brown takes international stage on nuclear danger: ‘We all ought to wake up’

MARCH 20, 2017 12:01 AM


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists member Lynn Eden, right, and editor-in-chief John Mecklin, second from right, unveil the “Doomsday Clock,” which measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm, at Stanford University on Jan. 26, 2016. Pictured are former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, from left, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, Gov. Jerry Brown, and Jerry Seelig. The bulletin announced that the minute hand on the metaphorical clock remained at three minutes-to-midnight. It was moved up 30 seconds this year. Jeff Chiu AP



Gov. Jerry Brown, speaking more than a year ago to the scientists who measure civilization’s proximity to global disaster, lamented that it’s difficult to talk about big problems such as the threat of climate change and the nuclear arms race.

Those who speak clearly about existential threats and scare their audiences “run the danger of being called a kook,” Brown explained at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock Symposium. But the Democratic governor with an ear for the esoteric said he didn’t want his listeners to become complacent, either.

“And that’s the other problem,” Brown said in Chicago. “If you don’t say much, if you don’t speak in the language commensurate with the problem, then people don’t hear and don’t understand and won’t get the knowledge. And, too often, those with all this power are not sharing what they know.”


Gov. Jerry Brown

Brown earlier this year joined the board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit group that works to prevent attacks with weapons of mass destruction. He is holding exhaustive discussions with experts and slowly imparting his knowledge about the abstract yet persistent dangers.

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Despite Pollution, Coal Plant Is Cleared to Reopen in New Delhi




Smog shrouds the Jama Masjid mosque in an old section of New Delhi, which has been called the most polluted city in the world.


Dominique Faget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NEW DELHI — The 43-year-old Badarpur Thermal Power Station, a coal-burning plant on the edge of what has been called the world’s most polluted city, New Delhi, was quietly cleared to resume pumping smoke into the air last week.

In Parliament, around the same time, India’s environment minister dismissed a major study of global air pollution that found that high levels of particles in India cause more than a million people to die prematurely each year. The report, he told Parliament, was based on “models, simulations and extrapolations.”

And Indian officials have indicated in recent weeks that they will not observe a deadline for coal-burning power plants across the country to adhere to stricter emissions standards. Instead, the deadline may be shifted from the end of this year to a later, unknown, date.

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