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June 6th, 2017 Archives


‘Climate change progress at Trump’s EPA is grinding to a halt, workers reveal

Current and former staff say projects that mention climate change have been ‘de-emphasized and halted’ as EPA tears up key planks of emissions-lowering agenda


Donald Trump with EPA chief Scott Pruitt last week. A former employee said: ‘Staff were paranoid that their programs were going to get cut if they mentioned climate change,’ Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Oliver Milman in New York

Tuesday 6 June 2017 08.39 EDT

Current and former Environmental Protection Agency employees have described how work on climate change is grinding to a halt at the agency, with programs being scrapped and fears that staff may be reassigned away from climate-related tasks.

The Trump administration is tearing up key planks of Barack Obama’s emissions-lowering agenda, with the president withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement last week and tasking the EPA with rewriting the Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Climate work at the EPA is being systematically targeted for elimination, according to Alyssa Hall, who was the climate change adaption coordinator for EPA’s region one, which encompasses New England, until last month.

“I felt like we were being attacked on a daily basis from headquarters. A lot of my projects were being cancelled or postponed indefinitely, so I was left with nothing to do,” Hall told Guardian US.

Hall worked on integrating climate change considerations into the EPA’s programs, better preparing the agency for a world with higher temperatures, rising seas and more intense storms. But the change in direction under the incoming Trump administration was like “whiplash”, she said, with staff afraid of even using the term “climate change” in emails.

“If it was a project associated with climate change people at headquarters would pick up the phone rather than email,” she said. “Staff were paranoid that their programs were going to get cut if they mentioned climate change. One day it was fine and then it was like you were being slapped in the face every day.”

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‘Cancer Alley’ residents say industry is hurting town: ‘We’re collateral damage’

In Louisiana’s industrial heart, the shadow of Trump’s deregulation push looms as St James residents fight chemical plants, pipelines and laissez-faire policies

by Lauren Zanolli in St James, Louisiana

“We’re sick of being sick, we’re tired of being tired,” said Pastor Harry Joseph of Mount Triumph Baptist Church, which serves this sleepy riverside town of about 1,000 residents, mostly poor and African American. Once a bucolic village of pasturelands and sugarcane fields on the banks of the Mississippi, St James, Louisiana, is now a densely packed industrial zone in the heart of Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, commonly referred to as “Cancer Alley”.

It’s only anecdotal evidence of what life is like here, but Joseph says he has buried five residents in the last six months, all victims of cancer.

After a $1.9bn methanol plant recently broke ground and with another $1.3bn methanol plant and a controversial new oil pipeline planned for the area, Joseph’s one-room church has become a staging ground for an environmental justice fight – albeit one with tempered hopes under Donald Trump, even before he served notice on the Paris accord on climate change last week

Joseph has emerged as the de facto leader of a group of local residents demanding residential buyouts – for those who say they have had enough and struggle to sell their homes – and pressuring state and federal agencies to halt further development. With regulation that critics say is loose and incentives-rich, even by Louisiana standards, St James offers a glimpse into the type of unchecked development that Trump has hailed as a precondition for American jobs and economic growth.

The town’s location on the Mississippi river and accessibility to cheap oil and gas feedstock make St James what Louisiana Economic Development, a state agency, described to the Guardian as an “ideal” site for large industrial projects. About ten years ago, the town was rezoned from residential to industrial, paving the way for the highly concentrated development seen today. Fifteen large industrial sites – mainly oil storage facilities, pipelines and petrochemical plants – now fill the 13-mile stretch of road that defines the town of St James, also known as the fifth ward of St James parish.

Yet residents here say they’ve seen little economic benefit – either in jobs or tax revenues – from the industry that has taken over the town. Instead, they say, they’ve been saddled with a myriad of health issues, medical bills and environmental degradation.

“They put [the plants] here and the other parishes are the ones that get the jobs,” claimed Joseph. “We’re like the lamb that was sacrificed.”

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AEP CEO: We’re Moving to a Clean Energy Economy, Regardless of Trump’s Paris Accord Withdrawal


“The economics themselves have changed dramatically.”

by Julian Spector

June 05, 2017


President Trump said he's pulling America out of the Paris climate accords because the deal was bad for business. Business leaders have other ideas.

Over the weekend, American Electric Power -- a utility that produces more coal electricity than any other U.S. power company -- strongly affirmed the clean energy transition.

Coal's market share is changing for several reasons, AEP President and CEO Nicholas Akins told NPR this weekend.

"Our investors certainly expect us to really focus on sustainability and de-risk our business," he said. "So we continue to focus on that. Secondly, from a customer standpoint, there's an expectation that we move to that cleaner energy economy."

After years of market dominance, coal is facing a bevy of new competitors. Any new coal generation must be weighed against cheaper natural-gas generation and the declining costs of renewables, Akins noted.

Faced with that competition, 89 gigawatts of coal capacity -- a quarter of the U.S. coal fleet -- has either shut down or been slated for retirement since 2010.

AEP's resource plan for the next few years calls for new wind and solar generation backed up by flexible natural gas.

"We still believe that coal should remain a part of the portfolio, but certainly, a smaller part of the portfolio, so that we can manage risk and have multiple sets of solutions available to us," Akins explained.

Risk management is crucial to understanding Akins' approach to fuel mix. He's not opposed to using coal as a fuel. It just carries certain risks that competing fuels don't.

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Nevada Legislature Boosts Renewables Target to 40% by 2030, Overcoming Casino Opposition


Pushback from casinos came as a surprise to clean energy advocates. The bill now heads to Governor Sandoval.

by Julia Pyper

June 05, 2017


With just hours remaining in the 2017 legislative session, the Nevada State Legislature has approved a bill to boost the state's renewable energy target to 40 percent by 2030. The bill (AB 206) passed in the Senate on Monday afternoon, and was concurred by the Assembly shortly after. It now goes to the governor.

Notable amendments include setting an interim target of 32 percent by 2030, identifying energy storage as a qualified technology to meet 10 percent of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2030, applying a multiplier of 1.5 to geothermal resources, applying a multiplier of 2.0 to energy storage resources, and revising the annual requirement for electricity sold in the state, according to business groups tracking the legislation.

Clean energy advocates believe that increasing the RPS and expanding investments in renewable energy can help bring billions of dollars into Nevada's economy and create tens of thousands of additional jobs. Natural gas currently makes up roughly 70 percent of Nevada's electricity mix, sending about $700 million out of state each year to purchase fossil fuels, according to a recent report by ICF International, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council. A higher renewable energy standard keeps more of those dollars in Nevada.

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Big trucks may pollute way more than previously thought

Emily Guerin June 05, 04:41 PM

Heavy duty diesel trucks are the largest contributor to smog in Greater Los Angeles. A new study found their emissions may be underestimated. DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES


June is off to a smoggy start in Southern California – four of the first five days have exceeded federal Clean Air standards. Emissions from heavy duty diesel trucks are the largest contributor to smog here, and a new study has found that those emissions could be much higher than previously thought.

The problem has to do with the trucks' emissions control technology and how well it performs during real-world driving conditions.

According to EPA standards, all heavy-duty trucks made after 2010 have to have a piece of equipment that converts smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) into less harmful emissions. Truck manufacturers commonly use a process called Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to do the chemical conversion.


But there’s a catch. At low engine temperatures, SCR doesn’t work. Trucks engines need to be at least 200, preferably 250 degrees Celsius for the chemical reaction to occur. According to a new study by UC Riverside, between 15 and 70 percent of the time, big trucks aren’t driving fast enough for their engines to get hot enough enough for SCR to do its job and convert nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen and water.

That means heavy-duty diesel trucks could be emitting far more smog-forming nitrogen oxide than previously thought, said lead researcher Kanok Boriboonsomsin.

That range – 15 to 70 percent – depends on the type of truck. Boriboonsomsin affixed data loggers to 90 trucks around California and recorded their every movement for the length of his study. He recorded how much time drivers spent crawling down city streets. How much time they cruised on freeways. How much time they spent idling. And they spent a lot of time idling – for Southern California port trucks, it was half of the time the trucks were operating.


Amount of time 90 California heavy-duty trucks spent braking, idling, coasting or cruising. UC RIVERSIDE

These data matter because when trucks are idling or driving at slow speeds or with light loads, their engines don’t heat up. And when their engines don’t heat up, nitrogen oxide isn’t broken down and emissions levels can be higher than the legal limits.

Garbage trucks were the worst performers, running with cold engines almost 70 percent of the time. Trucks used in agriculture did the best, at only 15 percent of the time. Everything else – the big rigs that haul cargo containers from the ports to warehouses, moving trucks, cement mixers – were somewhere in the middle.

The findings are a big deal for Southern California, said Kimberly Heroy-Rogalski, who oversees emissions from cars and trucks for the California Air Resources Board, which helped fund the research.

“The South Coast is one of the areas [in the state] with the most air quality challenges. They have the need for the greatest additional nitrogen oxide reductions,” she said. “And with the ports present in the South Coast and their contributions to emissions there, you know you have a lot of trucks operating in these low-speed, low-load operations.”

Previous studies focusing specifically on trucks at the Ports of LA and Long Beach have also found that smog-forming emissions are much higher than they should be. A 2015 study in Environmental Science & Technology found that nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel trucks were more than 26 times higher than the EPA standard. The led researchers to conclude that the characteristics of operating trucks at the ports are not conductive to reducing nitrogen oxide emissions with SCR technology.

Heroy-Rogalski says CARB is working on a new way of certifying heavy-duty trucks in California that will ensure they are still clean even when driving slowly or idling. The new test will be part of a new, California-specific heavy-duty truck emission standard that the agency hopes to roll out in 2019. The South Coast Air Quality Management District has asked EPA to make the new benchmark a national standard.

Without the new, national emissions standard for heavy-duty trucks, the SCAQMD believes Southern California has little hope of meeting the latest federal smog standards.

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China Looks to Capitalize on Clean Energy as U.S. Retreats




A Sungrow worker wiring floating solar panels on a lake created by the collapse of abandoned coal mines in Liulong, China.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

LIULONG, China — China’s devastating pollution problems began here, in coal country, where legions of workers toiled and often died to exhume the rich deposits that fueled the country’s sooty rise to economic power.

Today, these muddy plains are home to a potent symbol of China’s new ambition: to bypass the United States and cement its dominant role in clean energy.

On a lake created by the collapse of abandoned coal mines, China has built the world’s largest floating solar project, enough to provide light and air conditioning to much of a nearby city. The provincial government wants to expand the effort to more than a dozen sites, which collectively would produce the same amount of power as a full-size commercial nuclear reactor.



Workers connecting waterproof solar panels to buoys on the shore of the lake.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

The project reflects China’s effort to reshape the world order in renewable energy as the United States retreats. Such technological expertise will form the infrastructure backbone needed for countries to meet their climate goals, making China the energy partner of choice for many nations.

The wave-proof solar panels are an affordable and viable option for power-hungry countries. Delegations from Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and elsewhere have come to study the project while the maker, Sungrow, prepares to license the technology for overseas sale.

China is capitalizing on the leadership vacuum left after President Trump said last week that he would pull the United States out of the Paris accord to limit climate change.


China has already started an expensive campaign at home and abroad to solidify its considerable hold on solar, wind and other energy-saving businesses. If successful, China would win the economic and diplomatic spoils that the United States and some European countries have long enjoyed from dominating businesses like software, computer chips and airplanes.

China’s sway will be on display in Beijing this week at the Clean Energy Ministerial, a gathering of top energy officials from two dozen countries and the European Union that represent producers of three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the United States will be there, its representatives reflect the country’s deep split. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, an enthusiastic supporter of fossil fuel industries, will attend, along with Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a vocal supporter of renewable energy.

China is an unlikely champion in fighting climate change. The country is the world’s largest polluter, and its problems could grow as people buy more cars and use more power. It remains deeply dependent on coal, an especially dirty source of power.

And the race in renewables hasn’t been won. The United States and European Union accuse Beijing of unfairly subsidizing its green industries and have raised trade barriers against Chinese-made goods. American companies and local governments are set to continue their clean-energy push despite Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord.

As with much in China, the clean-energy drive is much more about economic advantage, national security and political stability than an idealistic commitment to saving the earth.

The country’s “Made in China 2025” program, the heart of Beijing’s domestic industrial policy, calls for heavy spending on clean-energy research and development, as a way to bolster the economy. State-owned banks are pouring tens of billions of dollars each year into technologies like solar and wind along with energy conservation strategies like high-speed rail and subway lines.

Continue reading the main story



Workers at JA Solar in Hefei, China, making panels for Sungrow.


Adam Dean for The New York Times



Machines that are used to produce the JA Solar panels.


Adam Dean for The New York Times

China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan — a $1 trillion global offensive by President Xi Jinping to nurture economic and diplomatic ties through infrastructure building — is poised to bankroll clean-energy projects across Asia, including the Mideast; East Africa; and Eastern Europe. The projects give China an edge, pushing countries to buy from Chinese companies.

China is already dominant in many low-carbon energy technologies. It produces two-thirds of the world’s solar panels and nearly half of the wind turbines. China is also rapidly expanding its fleet of nuclear reactors and leads the world by far in hydroelectric power.

“It’s different from traditional energy, which is dominated by Western countries,” said Li Tao, the technical director at JA Solar, the Chinese supplier of Sungrow’s panels. “China has an opportunity to surpass Western countries in new energy.”

Choking pollution problems and worries that rising ocean levels could devastate coastal cities forced Beijing a decade ago to begin a campaign to find green solutions. Local governments provided land for nearly free, and state-owned banks handed out enormous loans at very low interest rates. Sometimes government agencies helped companies repay their loans.

Coal is getting far less attention. While China is still building some coal-fired power plants, it has canceled plans for others. Many existing ones are running well below capacity.

“Coal is over,” said Li Junfeng, a longtime renewable-energy official at the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency. “Every year, it will be gradually reduced, city by city.”

China’s green campaign is still in the early stages.

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BRIEFLY Stuff that matters SOOT YOURSELF



South Korea turns its back on coal and nuclear power. To compensate, they want to build more natural gas-powered plants and dams. (Well, the first part sounded like a solid plan.)

According to Reuters, by 2030, the country’s current leadership wants coal and nuclear to contribute about 22 percent each to South Korea’s energy mix. Currently, coal and nuclear are responsible for 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the nation’s electricity.

The plan also calls for burning more natural gas — increasing its share from 18 percent to 27 percent of the electricity pie. But South Korea will also rely more on renewables, mainly hydro — upping it from 5 percent of the country’s power to 20 percent.

If they follow through, they’d be walking in America’s footprints. Here, fracking sank the fortunes of nuclear and coal — though President Trump’s entire environmental platform seems to be geared to out-of-work coal miners.

Ironically, South Korea is right now the fourth biggest coal importer and one of the top 3 importers of U.S. coal. So even if Trump breathes new life into that industry, there could be one fewer buyer for its wares.

Nathanael Johnson

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