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Postscripts that could renew your faith in public officials: Crude oil trains, Camarillo rock slides and homeless college students



Nipomo residents Paul Stolpman, left, Laurance Shinderman and Linda Reynolds fought a plan by Phillips 66 to bring crude oil trains to its Santa Maria refinery. On Oct. 5, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission rejected the project.


October 12, 2016, 3:00 a.m.

Who says the news is all bad?

Last week, after months of hearings and public protest, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted to deny oil giant Phillips 66 a permit to build a rail terminal at its Santa Maria Refinery. The project would have allowed Phillips to bring three milelong crude oil trains across California each week from as far away as Canada and Texas.

This was a considerable victory, and not just for the many retirees of nearby Nipomo Mesa, who would have been subjected to noise, nighttime lights and air pollution.

It was also a win for millions of Californians who live, work or study near Union Pacific railroad tracks, whose health and safety could be imperiled by oil trains, which have a faultless safety record. Except when they derail and explode. Which happens with increasing frequency.

I was alerted to this controversy a year ago, when a group of  those aforementioned retirees, who had organized themselves as the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, invited me up to talk about the project.

These folks are smart, affluent, passionate, and, as I noted then, had plenty of time on their hands. They put that time to good use. They researched oil trains and engaged in a robust outreach effort, not just to media, but to communities up and down the state. They asked boards of supervisors, city councils, educators and others to oppose the project.

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Cities Could See $45B in Benefits From Electric, Shared and Autonomous Cars


Emerging mobility trends could also cause disruption through reduced fuel demand and tax revenue, a new report finds.

by Julia Pyper

October 12, 2016


Vehicles and the ways they are used are expected to change more over the next two decades than in the last 100 years, propelled by the new mobility trends of vehicle electrification, shared mobility and autonomous driving. Additional factors, such as access to public transit, air quality concerns, urbanization and the decentralization of the energy system are also triggering changes in the mobility sector.

A new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Company examines the effects these trends and new technologies will have on transport in 50 of the world’s cities, representing some 500 million people. The report lays out three possible trajectories for the future of mobility in metropolitan areas:

  • The ‘Clean and Shared’ model, in large emerging economy cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Mexico City where shared vehicles could account for almost half of passenger miles by car by 2030.
  • The ‘Private Autonomy’ model, in high-income suburban sprawl areas, where passenger miles traveled could grow by 25 percent by 2030, due mostly to autonomous vehicles.
  • The ‘Seamless Mobility’ model, in densely populated high-income cities like London and Singapore, where electric vehicles (EVs) could represent as much as 60 percent of all vehicles on the road by 2030, the result of low-emission zones, consumer interest and favorable economics.

"Cities are most prone to accelerated uptake based on a ranking of metrics, including income, population, government effectiveness, level of public-transit development, congestion, and pollution," according to the report. "Each model can deliver significant benefits, such as saving time, reducing congestion, and improving air quality."

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State Testing Ways To Tax Road Usage, Separate From The Gas Tax

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink,-separate-from-the-gas-tax/


rudisillart / Flickr

Some 5,000 drivers are taking part in the pilot program – among them is Kelly Garman.

“I’m a soccer mom and drive all over the place with my kids in soccer tournaments,” says Garman.

Garman works for the American Council of Engineering Companies in California, a group that lobbies for more money for roads. And she’s testing a device plugged into her car to track how much she drives.

Last month she got a pretend bill, showing how much she would’ve paid under a road usage charge, compared to the existing gas tax.

“If we transfer to a vehicle miles traveled program, I would actually be paying less that way,” Garman says.

And other drivers would be paying more than they do right now.
The gas tax is a declining revenue source, because of electric cars and more fuel-efficient gas and diesel vehicles. But David Wolfe, with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, worries a road usage charge could lead to double taxation.

“In the sense that if this is ever implemented across the state, the gas tax may not go away entirely,” Wolfe says.

The pilot program will deliver its findings to lawmakers next year.

transportationgas taxelectric car

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U.S. Ship Off Yemen Fires Missiles at Houthi Rebel Sites


U.S. Ship Fires on Yemeni Rebels

A Navy warship off the coast of Yemen fired missiles at Houthi rebel targets on Thursday. The rebels, engaged in a civil war with the Yemeni government, had reportedly fired on another American ship days earlier. By U.S. NAVY on

Publish Date

October 13, 2016. Photo by Blake Midnight/U.S. Navy. Watch in Times Video »

WASHINGTON — An American warship stationed off the coast of Yemen fired cruise missiles on Thursday at radar installations that the Pentagon said had been used by Yemeni insurgents to target another American warship in two missile attacks in the last four days.

The strikes against the Houthi rebels marked the first time the United States has become involved militarily in the civil war between the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran, and the Yememi government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations. The strikes were approved by President Obama, said Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, who warned of more to come if American ships were fired upon again.

“These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic.”

Until Thursday, the Obama administration had tried to navigate a treacherous course in Yemen, publicly pushing for a peace deal while quietly providing military support to a Saudi Arabia-led bombing campaign against the rebels since last year. Yet the main goal of the administration has often appeared to be keeping the United States from being dragged too deeply into a conflict that has shown little signs of abating, and instead continues to grow deadlier.

That changed in the past four days with two separate missile attacks on an American destroyer, the Mason, that was sailing off the coast of Yemen in the southern end of the Red Sea. In both the first attack, which took place on Sunday, and the second one on Wednesday evening, missiles were fired from areas under Houthi control.

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Saudi Arabia, Where Even Milk Depends on Oil, Struggles to Remake Its Economy

Low crude prices and the war in Yemen have sent a shock  through the kingdom’s budget and forced it to revise its  social contract even as it seeks to diversify its businesses.


AL KHARJ, Saudi Arabia — This is what it takes to run a mega-dairy in the scorching desert here: 180,000 Holstein cows, precisely cooled cowsheds, water pumped from deep underground, feed from Argentina and a state-of-the-art refrigeration system. To transport chilled milk and other products all over the Arabian Peninsula, add 9,000 vehicles.

None other than the Saudi king’s favored son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has held up the dairy, Almarai, as a model for a country trying to wean itself from oil dependence. But even companies like Almarai, with no apparent connection to petroleum, rely on the cheap energy provided by the kingdom.

That is coming to an end. Low oil prices and an increasingly costly war in Yemen have torn a yawning hole in the Saudi budget and created a crisis that has led to cuts in public spending, reductions in take-home pay and benefits for government workers and a host of new fees and fines. Huge subsidies for fuel, water and electricity that encourage overconsumption are being curtailed. For Almarai, one of the top brands in the Middle East, that will mean $133 million from the bottom line this year, company officials said.


The Almarai dairy in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia.


Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Prince Mohammed’s economic reform plan has sent tremors through a nation whose citizens have long enjoyed a cosseted lifestyle underwritten by the state. “The government is moving very fast at reforming things in Saudi Arabia while the people are finding themselves left behind,” said Lama Alsulaiman, a businesswoman and board member of the Jidda Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Life as usual and business as usual can no longer continue.”

Rewriting the social contract carries high risks for the 31-year-old deputy crown prince, who has staked his reputation on transforming the economy. “People are looking to see if he can do it,” said Ibrahim Alnahas, a political-science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, the capital. “If so, his future would be king. If not, his future would be lost.”

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Libya Starts Expanding Oil Exports — for Now, at Least


Little more than a week after the OPEC cartel moved to reduce oil supplies on the glutted global market, embattled Libya has reopened a major seaport terminal for oil exports and has announced that it intends to expand production through the rest of the year.

The expansion, if successful — some experts have doubts — would effectively cancel out much of the cuts recently agreed to by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The successful loading of a tanker on Thursday was the first time this year that oil has been dispatched from an oil terminal in Zueitina, Libya. The cargo of 800,000 barrels, destined for China, is viewed by energy experts as a tentative sign that Libya may finally be ready to return to the world market.

Although Libya has Africa’s largest oil reserves, the country has been unable to export more than a trickle for most of the last five years because of the revolution that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 and the civil war among competing militias that has continued since.

The renewed Libyan exports and plans to expand production were made possible by the Libyan National Army, the militia that took control of Zueitina and two other major ports last month.

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Emerging Climate Accord Could Push A/C Out of Sweltering India’s Reach



Air-conditioning units in New Delhi.


Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DELHI — A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur every time another working-class family brings home its first air-conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 117 degrees in May.

“You wake up totally fresh,” exulted Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May. “I wouldn’t say we are middle class,” she said. “But we are closer.”

But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi. Millions of Indians might mark the transition from poverty with the purchase of their first air-conditioner, but as those purchases ease suffering in one of the planet’s hottest countries, they are contributing profoundly to the heating of the planet.

HFCs function as a sort of supergreenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide. While they account for just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists say a surge in the use of HFC-fueled air-conditioners would alone contribute to nearly a full degree Fahrenheit of atmospheric warming over the coming century — in an environment where just three degrees of warming could be enough to tip the planet into an irreversible future of rising sea levels, more powerful storms and deluges, extreme drought, food shortages and other devastating impacts.

The emerging HFC ban, nearly seven years in the making, has not drawn the same kind of attention as last year’s Paris agreement on climate change. And the Kigali talks are focused on a narrow slice of the economy — just the HFCs in air-conditioners and refrigerators.

But the deal, which could be completed this weekend, could have as much or more of an effect on climate change. Unlike the Paris accord, the emerging Kigali agreement will have the force of international law, a legal requirement that rich countries give poor countries money to help them comply, and trade and economic sanctions against countries that do not.

President Obama has sent Secretary of State John Kerry and Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency chief, to Kigali to push for a rapid global phaseout. Mr. Obama hopes to lean on the friendship he has carefully cultivated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and to create one final major piece of his climate change legacy.

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Enthusiasm For Solar Micro-Grids In Developing World Gets A Sobering Reality Check In India

OCT 13, 2016 @ 09:45 AM

Anant Sudarshan, Contributor

Last week, India helped the world get one step closer to an international climate pact when it ratified the Paris Climate Accord. Much of India’s strategy to reduce fossil fuels relies on a transition to renewable energy, namely solar. In fact, with solar prices worldwide plummeting, many countries are placing bets on solar.

Most analysis conducted to date suggests that among various competing solar technologies the economics are best for utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects. But grid scale PV can only serve households actually connected to the grid. Millions of people in developing and emerging economies live without electricity, either because the grid has not reached them or because they remain too poor to pay.

Rooftop solar and solar micro-grids seem appealing as a clean solution to a crippling energy access problem that condemns these countries to low growth. Micro-grids—where a handful of homes are centrally wired to a field of solar panels—are becoming especially popular because, unlike rooftop solar, the high upfront installation costs can be spread throughout a village, making them cheaper. Often fully or partially funded by non-profits and social venture capital, solar micro-grids are popping up in villages from Africa to Bangladesh, where households are able to flick on a switch for light for the first time.

So are solar micro-grids a sustainable solution to lighting up the developing and emerging world? Unfortunately, a recent study I conducted with my colleagues in the state of Bihar, one of the poorest regions in India, suggests they may have a tough time. A mix of inefficient policy, conflicting incentives and unreliable operations can ultimately lead to a product that consumers do not want.

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Ranchers Tote Guns as Tribes Dig In for Long Pipeline Fight

By JACK HEALYOCT. 10, 2016


Work on the Dakota Access oil pipeline continued on Saturday near St. Anthony, N.D., despite federal efforts to halt the $3.7 billion project. The authorities arrested 27 protesters in the area on Monday.


Kristina Barker for The New York Times

CANNON BALL, N.D. — Ranchers are arming themselves before they climb onto tractors or see to their livestock. Surveillance helicopters buzz low through the prairie skies. Native Americans fighting to prevent an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are handing out thick blankets and coats and are building maple-pole shelters that can withstand North Dakota’s bitter winter.

As the first deep freeze looms, many here are bracing for a long fight as the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline races to finish the $3.7 billion project by January, and thousands of protesters tucked into tents, tepees and trailers in prairie camps vow to stop it.

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Oslo landslide lawsuit settled: Could climate change affect future cases?

Victims' families and survivors of the 2014 landslide in Oso, Wash. reached settlements worth $60 million. More complicated cases involving links to climate change may be on the horizon, say experts.

By David Iaconangelo, Staff OCTOBER 11, 2016 Save for later


  1. Ted S. Warren/AP

A Washington timber company agreed to pay $10 million on Monday to survivors and families of victims of a 2014 landslide in Oso, northeast of Seattle, adding to a separate $50 million settlement with the state one day earlier.

Forty-three people died in the landslide, the deadliest in US history. The families blame logging on the slope above where the slide happened, saying that the timber company, Grandy Lake Forest Associates LLC, cut down more trees than permitted in 2004, making the slope more prone to collapse, according to the Wall Street Journal. The plaintiffs also cited the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ decision to build a retaining wall at the base of an unstable hill, while failing to inform nearby residents of the risk posed by landslides. Both the company and the state deny wrongdoing.

Environmental legal experts say that as the effects of climate change make such disasters more likely, governments may be increasingly susceptible to lawsuits if they don’t take changing conditions into account in their planning.

In an April report on government liability and climate change, executive director of the Association of State Wetland Managers Jon Kusler noted that no US government agency had yet been found liable for damages by failing to incorporate the effects of climate change into its programs or policies.

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Global Warming Versus Salmon: Dam If You Do, Dam If You Don’t

OCT 12, 2016 @ 06:00 AM


I write about nuclear, energy and the environment

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.


Pressure is mounting to decommission and dismantle four dams on the lower Snake River near the Tri-Cities in Washington State in order to save salmon runs. These include Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite. But it’s not so easy. Shown here is Lower Monumental Dam. Source: Army Corps of Engineers

Early this month, a federal judge forced discussion of a radical step to save endangered salmon: taking out four somewhat large hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington State.

These four dams include Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite Dams. They are fairly old dams and were not optimized for salmon survival. They were built primarily for navigation of barge and various river traffic, for low-carbon power, and to lesser degrees for flood control and irrigation.

And despite millions of dollars spent on fish passage improvements, adult salmon still die in the reservoirs behind the dams, especially as the water can get quite warm sitting there during the summer. In addition, the Snake River is the gateway to thousands of square miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, essential for salmon survival in a warming climate.

Significantly, the necessity of these dams for navigation has fallen since the region’s rail system has dramatically improved and truck transport can handle the rest.

But it’s the power generation of these dams that gives us an environmental conundrum. Which is more important, salmon or carbon emissions?

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E-source: Customer Side Management

We’ve heard it before: Customers compare their utility service with the service provided by other companies—from Amazon to Zappos to Citibank. Utilities we work with often describe large gaps between their customers’ expectations and their ability to deliver on those expectations. Do any of these statements apply to your utility?

  • Our demand-side management (DSM) program offerings are not fully integrated with other departments.
  • Our customer-facing processes, such as DSM rebates or start/stop service, aren’t easy for customers.
  • We’ve made some missteps in communicating with customers about solar.
  • Our bills aren’t easy to interpret.
  • Customers find our rate plans confusing.
  • The experiences customers have on our contact channels are disconnected.
  • We offer limited contact channel and payment options.

Your customers want to be comfortable, productive, self-reliant, and secure—conditions that the reliable provision of electricity and gas can provide. Yet many still see their utility as only a small piece of this life puzzle. To change this perception, utilities can help their customers become proactive business partners who are capable of supporting a wide range of utility goals.

E Source calls this shift Customer-Side Management or CSM™, and it highlights the strategic importance of DSM and other customer-side programs as critical gateways to a more relevant and trusted customer relationship. Utilities that truly place customers at the center of their business strategies, planning initiatives, and implementation efforts will become trusted energy providers for future energy consumers and garner better business outcomes.

Read our White Paper How to Take Your Organization from DSM to CSM to learn how you can start to become a more customer-connected utility.

Get the White Paper

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A Mega-Drought Is Coming to America’s Southwest

Unless carbon emissions plummet soon, the risk of a region-altering disaster in Arizona and New Mexico will exceed 99 percent.


The Colorado River—which supplies Lake Powell, above, with water—has been in drought since the turn of the millennium.

Rick Wilking / Reuters


Between 1545 and 1548, an epidemic swept through the indigenous people of Mexico that is unlike anything else described in the medical literature. People bled from their face while suffering high fevers, black tongue, vertigo, and severe abdominal pain. Large nodules sometimes appeared behind their ears, which then spread to cover the rest of their face. After several days of hemorrhage, most who had been infected died.

The disease was named cocoliztli, after the Nahautl word for “pest.” By contemporary population estimates, cocoliztli killed 15 million people in the 1540s alone—about 80 percent of the local population. On a demographic basis, it was worse than either the Black Death or the Plague of Justinian. For several centuries, its origin remained a mystery.

Then, about two decades ago, researchers began to compare the known cocoliztli outbreaks with clues etched in the tree rings of modern-day Mexico. They found that cocoliztli struck during an apparent “mega-drought,” a decades-long period with little rain. Central Mexico suffered two mega-droughts in the 16th century, but, paradoxically, 1545 was a comparatively wet year in the drought. Cocoliztli itself also presented a problem: Unlike smallpox, which devastated the indigenous Mexican population starting in 1520, cocoliztli’s symptoms don’t resemble a known Old World disease.

So researchers advanced a hypothesis: Cocoliztli was some kind of animal-spread hantavirus or arenavirus normally contained in Mexico’s highlands. When a brief wet period allowed the population of rodents (or otherwise) to boom, cocoliztli was able to take hold. The disease may still lurk in the highlands, waiting for an opportunity to arise.

That, at least, is the hypothesis. Researchers are hampered in part because the 16th century is the last time that the deserts of southern North America experienced a mega-drought. Alas, they may get another opportunity soon.

A new study, published last week in Science Advances, says that climate change will make a similar mega-drought far more likely in the American Southwest. In fact, this kind of phenomenon could become a near certainty: If carbon emissions continue unabated, the risk of a mega-drought could exceed 99 percent.

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Wholesale gasoline prices surge after power outage shuts down Torrance refinery



A power outage Tuesday in the South Bay area caused a shutdown of the Torrance refinery.


October 11, 2016, 1:25 p.m.

Wholesale gasoline prices jumped Tuesday and consumers could see higher prices at the pump after a South Bay power outage forced a Torrance fuel refinery to shut down.

Southern California Edison reported a power outage that left more than 100,000 South Bay residents without electricity Tuesday morning. The former Exxon Mobil refinery also lost power, the second such shutdown in as many months. Nearby residents were told to temporarily shelter in place as smoke and flames rose from the facility’s stacks.

Spot market gasoline prices rose as much as 14 cents a gallon Tuesday, but it remains unclear whether motorists will see those increases at retailers. The average price for regular unleaded gas in Los Angeles on Tuesday was $2.84 a gallon, down nearly a penny from the day before.

“We haven’t seen anything move on the retail end,” said Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “At this point we need to take more of a wait-and-see attitude. Hang on to your chair.”

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Climate Change Blamed for Half of Increased Forest Fire Danger




The Loma Fire rages on the Santa Cruz Mountains summit beyond the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster in Santa Cruz.


Shmuel Thaler/The Santa Cruz Sentinel, via Associated Press

Forest fires are burning longer and stronger across the western United States, lighting up the landscape with alarming frequency. Residents are forced to flee, homes are incinerated, wildlife habitats are destroyed, lives are lost. Last year, the Forest Service spent more than half its annual budget fighting fires.

Scientists have long theorized that climate change has contributed to the longer fire seasons, the growing number and destructiveness of fires and the increasing area of land consumed, though some experts suggest that the current fire phenomenon is not just a result of a changing climate, but also fire-suppressing policies practiced by the government for the last century or more.

In a new study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the University of Idaho and Columbia University have calculated how much of the increased scope and intensity of Western wildfires can be attributed to human-caused climate change and its effects. They state that, since 1979, climate change is responsible for more than half of the dryness of Western forests and the increased length of the fire season. Since 1984, those factors have enlarged the cumulative forest fire area by 16,000 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, they found.

The study uses “fuel aridity,” or dryness of the climate and the forests, as a way to measure the influence of climate change on forest fires. The combination of a long period of drought in the West and hot temperatures have caused trees and undergrowth to become particularly tinderlike. Warmer air can draw more moisture, in general, from trees and plants, turning them into kindling.

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