January 8, 2019 We begin a series of editions examining critical issues to be addressed in attaining sustainable reliance on renewable energy sources by 2035. First up: nuclear energy. Hold on to your hat! But first the news.

Supreme Court refuses Exxon appeal, Mass. climate probe to proceed

Supreme Court refuses Exxon appeal, Mass. climate probe to proceed

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the Massachusetts’ attorney general to continue her investigation into possible climate change-related deception by Exxon, declining to hear the company’s appeal of a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The oil giant has been fighting Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s probe since she launched it in March 2016, issuing Exxon a subpoena-like request for documents that could help her determine whether the company violated state consumer protection laws by misleading consumers on the impacts of its products on climate change. She is also investigating whether the corporation deceived Massachusetts shareholders by failing to divulge potential climate change-related risks to their investments.

Exxon responded by suing Healey in Massachusetts, claiming she lacked jurisdiction and alleging that her investigation was politically motivated. The suit was dismissed in January 2017 by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi E. Brieger, who ruled that “zealously” pursuing defendants does not make Healey’s actions improper and ordered Exxon to turn over the requested documents.

Brieger’s decision was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in April 2018 and last October, Exxon asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.

“Today’s #SCOTUS victory clears the way for our office to investigate Exxon’s conduct toward consumers and investors,” Healey wrote on Twitter.

“The public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and when.”…—Karen Savage, “Supreme Court refuses Exxon appeal, Mass. climate probe to proceed,” Climate Liability News, 1/7/18

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Dairy farmers doing more with cow dung

Dairy farmers doing more with cow dung

Farmers are eager and challenged over clean-energy way to process manure

Don Jensen powers his family dairy farm in Ontario County with manure. Millions of gallons of cow pie the farm’s 1,700 herd generates annually goes into producing electricity. Not a new technology but a tried and proven one, anaerobic digesters capture the potent greenhouse gas methane and convert it to power.

So far, Jensen’s Lawnhurst Farms is one of 28 farms statewide using such a system. With the recent announcement of $16 million to promote digesters on dairy farms statewide, it’s expected a number of additional farms will be able to install this clean-energy way of electricity generation.

“It’s positive for the environment and that’s good,” said Jensen from the fourth-generation farm in Stanley. “I like being part of that.”

The $16 million through the state Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will be split evenly between existing and new digesters to help farmers “safely dispose of waste while generating energy for their operations,” according to state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua. An additional $3 million will be available through the Advance Agriculture Energy Technologies initiative for other on-farm clean energy projects, she said.

Further reading Surf And Turf: To Reduce Gas Emissions From Cows, Scientists Look To The Ocean
New Cow Feed Causes Fewer Farts, Say Swiss Inventors Who Want to Curb Global Warming
The Many Uses of Cow Dung: A Natural and Renewable Resource

One-third of the state’s anaerobic digesters are on farms in the Finger Lakes region. Helming, whose district covers the region, visited Lawnhurst Farms to learn more about the system promoted by groups such as NY Cow Power Coalition, the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and Cornell PRO-Dairy. Lawnhurst Farms is featured in a Cornell University “Climate Smart Farms” video interviewing Jensen and those with Cornell.…—Julie Sherwood, “Dairy farmers doing more with cow dung,” Penn Yan Chronicle-Express, 1/3/19

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‘Reasonably necessary’? How natural gas drilling is changing WV’s landscape

‘Reasonably necessary’? How natural gas drilling is changing WV’s landscape

Lee Martin loved her 104-acre farm in Wetzel County, West Virginia. The family raised chickens there and rode horses. The kids played in mud puddles. They all took walks in the woods.Flat land is rare in Wetzel County, in the state’s northwestern region, and the place had a good barn, clean water and plenty of privacy.

Then, starting in about 2012, Martin had to begin sharing the farm with Stone Energy.

Stone built a new bridge across the creek and a new road right in front of the Martins’ house. The company told Martin it needed the road to reach the new natural gas wells it drilled on the new well pad for which it flattened an area she used to go to pray, bucolic hills forested with huge oak trees.

Soon, hundreds of trucks rumbled past her house every day, spewing exhaust. Martin had asked the company to build the bridge farther up the creek, away from her house, and the well pad away from the oaks.

But Martin didn’t have a say over any of this. While she owns the house and the surface land it sits on, she doesn’t own the natural gas underneath. And that gave Stone Energy not only the right to access her property, but also the right to tear down trees, build structures and send as much traffic as it deemed appropriate onto it.

“It took the very core out of me to watch this pristine farm get torn up like this,” Martin said. “It just hurt.”

For decades, coal from West Virginia helped power the nation. Now, natural gas has overtaken coal as an electricity source. Gas from West Virginia heats homes and fuels kitchen stoves in faraway cities. The industry’s growth has brought much-needed jobs and tax revenue to West Virginia, an economic bright spot for a state where many communities are still reeling from the downturn of coal, long the state’s most powerful and profitable industry.

Along the way, however, the gas rush has changed the look and feel of communities across West Virginia. It has shattered the quiet of rural life for people like Martin. Modern drilling and gas production bring traffic, noise and dust to communities that haven’t had to wrestle with large-scale industrialization. For some residents, gas operations aren’t down the road or up the hollow, but right on their farm, forest or driveway.…—Ken Ward Jr., Al Shaw, Mayeta Clark, “‘Reasonably necessary’? How natural gas drilling is changing WV’s landscape,” Charleston Gazette-Mail|Pro Publica, 12/20/18

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Six barges carrying coal have sunk into the Ohio River

Six barges carrying coal have sunk into the Ohio River

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Two more barges have sunk into the Ohio River, spilling tons of coal into the water after a towboat hit the Second Street Bridge Tuesday. That makes six of 15 barges loaded with coal that have now sunk into the river. A towboat was pushing 15 coal barges when it struck the Second Street (Clark Memorial) Bridge on Christmas.

The Coast Guard said that the water at the McAlpine Dam fell about one foot on Friday evening, causing two more barges to sink and another to shift.Three barges are still stuck on the dam at the Falls for the Ohio. One of those is stuck in one of the gates of the dam. Six other barges have been recovered.

Further reading Equipment arrives to retrieve sunken barges
Salvage equipment coming to help recover 3 barges still stuck in Ohio River dam
Additional barge sinks, larger problems lurk after Ohio River bridge crash
6 of 15 barges recovered after vessel crashes into Clark Memorial Bridge

“Currently one of the barges is capsized over the dam and it’s preventing one of the gates from closing,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Michael Metz said. “Obviously it’s a very very large concern, but the Coast Guard, along with the responsible party and the Army Corps of Engineers are working tirelessly to safely remove that barge.”

The Coast Guard said water at the dam fell by one foot on Friday, causing recovery efforts to be put on hold.

They are working with the Army Corps of Engineers to retrieve the barges one by one, and plan to stage heavy-duty salvage equipment. Employees are working around the clock to clean up those barges, but they aren’t being paid because of the federal government shutdown.…— Erin O’Neil, “Six barges carrying coal have sunk into the Ohio River,” CBS|Cleveland, 12/31/18

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Critiquing a Sustainable Future: Nuclear Power Thorium As Nuclear Fuel: the good and the bad

Thorium As Nuclear Fuel: the good and the bad

Thorium is a basic element of nature, like Iron and Uranium. Like Uranium, its properties allow it to be used to fuel a nuclear chain reaction that can run a power plant and make electricity (among other things). Thorium itself will not split and release energy. Rather, when it is exposed to neutrons, it will undergo a series of nuclear reactions until it eventually emerges as an isotope of uranium called U-233, which will readily split and release energy next time it absorbs a neutron. Thorium is therefore called fertile, whereas U-233 is called fissile.

Reactors that use thorium are operating on what’s called the Thorium-Uranium (Th-U) fuel cycle. The vast majority of existing or proposed nuclear reactors, however, use enriched uranium (U-235) or reprocessed plutonium (Pu-239) as fuel (in the Uranium-Plutonium cycle), and only a handful have used thorium. Current and exotic designs can theoretically accommodate thorium.

The Th-U fuel cycle has some intriguing capabilities over the traditional U-Pu cycle. Of course, it has downsides as well. On this page you’ll learn some details about these and leave with the ability to productively discuss and debate thorium with knowledge of the basics.

Up and coming nuclear reactor powerhouses China and India both have substantial reserves of Thorium-bearing minerals and not as much Uranium. So, expect this energy source to become a big deal in the not-too-distant future.…

Molten Salt Reactors

One especially cool possibility suitable for the thermal-breeding capability of the Th-U fuel cycle is the molten salt reactor (MSR), or as one particular MSR is commonly known on the internet, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). In these, fuel is not cast into pellets, but is rather dissolved in a vat of liquid salt. The chain reaction heats the salt, which naturally convects through a heat exchanger to bring the heat out to a turbine and make electricity. Online chemical processing removes fission product neutron poisons and allows online refueling (eliminating the need to shut down for fuel management, etc.). None of these reactors operate today, but Oak Ridge had a test reactor of this type in the 1960s called the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment [wikipedia] (MSRE). The MSRE successfully proved that the concept has merit and can be operated for extended amounts of time. It competed with the liquid metal cooled fast breeder reactors (LMFBRs) for federal funding and lost out. Alvin Weinberg discusses the history of this project in much detail in his autobiography, The First Nuclear Era [amazon.com], and there is more info available all over the internet. These reactors could be extremely safe, proliferation resistant, resource efficient, environmentally superior (to traditional nukes, as well as to fossil fuel obviously), and maybe even cheap. Exotic, but successfully tested. Who’s going to start the startup on these? (Just kidding, there are already like 4 startups working on them, and China is developing them as well).

Further reading Molten Salt Reactors
New Molten Salt Thorium Reactor Powers Up for First Time in Decades
CANDU reactors
Thorium power has a protactinium problem|Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Union of Concerned Scientists Statement on Thorium-fueled Reactors (PDF)

Hype alert   If someone on the internet told you something unbelievable about Thorium, you might want to check out our Thorium Myths page just to double check it.…—Nick Touran, “Thorium As Nuclear Fuel: the good and the bad,” What Is Nuclear?

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The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support

The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support – Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Click for full size chart

Some members of Congress are proposing a “Green New Deal” for the U.S. They say that a Green New Deal will produce jobs and strengthen America’s economy by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The Deal would generate 100% of the nation’s electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years; upgrade the nation’s energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure; increase energy efficiency; invest in green technology research and development; and provide training for jobs in the new green economy.

While the Green New Deal has been a fixture of the post-election news cycle, and at least 40 members of Congress (to date) have endorsed the idea, little is known about the American public’s support for or opposition to it. To inform this question, we surveyed a nationally-representative sample of registered voters in the United States.

In the survey, we showed respondents a brief description of the Green New Deal, which was identical to the first paragraph of this report (above). The description was followed by the question “How much do you support or oppose this idea?”

The survey results show overwhelming support for the Green New Deal, with 81% of registered voters saying they either “strongly support” (40%) or “somewhat support” (41%) this plan.…—Abel Gustafson, Seth Rosenthal, Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, John Kotcher, Matthew Ballew, Matthew Goldberg, “The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support,” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 12/14/18

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Women Who Risk Everything to Defend the Environment

Women Who Risk Everything to Defend the Environment

Death threats, cyber-attacks, and sexual assault are just some of the tactics used against female activists in an effort to silence them. And it’s only getting worse.

LeeAnne Walters has had her house broken into, her tires slashed, and the lug nuts loosened on her vehicle. “I had a stalker at one point,” reveals the award-winning activist, who in 2015 helped expose the Flint, Michigan water crisis. “My husband had his livelihood threatened to the point where I had to pause everything to ensure the safety of my family.”

Walters is one of hundreds of women around the globe currently facing oppression, persecution, violence—even murder and assassination—for defending the environment. Cherri Foytlin, an advocate for climate justice who is fighting the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana, recently had her cat poisoned to death. She has also had a brick thrown through the window of her car and endured numerous death threats made against her and her husband. Meanwhile Tara Houska, who was charged with criminal trespassing after protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, remembers being zip-tied and locked in a dog kennel when she was arrested, and strip-searched.

Last year, 207 land and environmental activists were killed across 22 countries—almost four every week, making it the worst year on record, according to a report by Global Witness, an international body that tracks the deaths of land and environmental activists worldwide. Women in particular suffer distinct and sometimes heightened risks. According to Global Witness, death threats, arrests, intimidation, cyber-attacks, sexual assault, and lawsuits are just some of the tactics used against activists in an effort to silence them. And it’s only getting worse.

What’s at Stake

Walters, whose citizens’ movement was one of the first to test tap water and expose Flint homes as having lead levels exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety threshold, says her need to defend the environment doesn’t stem from a philosophical conviction to save the planet. Rather, it stems from a desperate need to save her family.

In 2014, her three-year-old twins were breaking out in rashes and her eldest daughter’s hair was dropping out in clumps. At one point, Walters’ own eyelashes fell out. She tells me her kids still have serious ongoing health issues from lead poisoning. Her twins, now seven, have hand-eye coordination issues and speech impediments—including other behavioral issues, such as lack of impulse control, says Walters. One of her sons was also diagnosed with bone density issues from lead poisoning. “He spent 47 weeks in a cast after breaking his arm repeatedly—the arm just kept breaking in different areas,” explains Walters. The other twin, she says, hasn’t grown properly. “They still haven’t figured out exactly why he’s so much smaller than his twin.” She pauses to regain her composure. “It takes years to see the full effects of lead poisoning. But my children will not be victims. I’m raising my children to be survivors of this. This will not define them.”…—Sarah Hurtes, “Women Who Risk Everything to Defend the Environment — Female Environmental Activists and the Danger They Face,” Harpers Bazaar, 11/30/18

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You Are Stealing Our Future: Greta Thunberg, 15, Condemns the World’s Inaction on Climate Change

You Are Stealing Our Future: Greta Thunberg, 15, Condemns the World’s Inaction on Climate Change

Stuart Scott, founder of United Planet Faith & Science Initiative (UPFSI), remarks, “Greta speaks with clarity and gentle power. She is, as far as we are concerned, the world’s leading voice on the matter of the insanity of our world leaders, who are betraying us all for the sake of their economic constituencies and re-election funding. Look at that determination in her eyes, and the confidence in her voice. She speaks the truth so clearly that it is difficult not to hear it.”—Greta Thunberg, “You Are Stealing Our Future,” ScientistsWarning.tv|YouTube, 12/20/18

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Jair Bolsonaro Launches Assault on Amazon Rainforest Protections

FOCUS: Jair Bolsonaro Launches Assault on Amazon Rainforest Protections

Executive order transfers regulation and creation of indigenous reserves to agriculture ministry controlled by agribusiness lobby

Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.

The move sparked outcry from indigenous leaders, who said it threatened their reserves, which make up about 13% of Brazilian territory, and marked a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.

“There will be an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people,” said Dinaman Tuxá, the executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil (Apib). “Indigenous people are defenders and protectors of the environment.”

Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader who stood as vice-presidential candidate for the Socialism and Freedom party (PSOL) tweeted her opposition. “The dismantling has already begun,” she posted on Tuesday.

Previously, demarcation of indigenous reserves was controlled by the indigenous agency Funai, which has been moved from the justice ministry to a new ministry of women, family and human rights controlled by an evangelical pastor.…—Dom Phillips, “Jair Bolsonaro Launches Assault on Amazon Rainforest Protections,” Reader Supported News, 1/6/19

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More Republicans Than You Think Support Action on Climate Change

Opinion | More Republicans Than You Think Support Action on Climate Change

New polls suggest Republicans’ views on global warming may be at a tipping point.

Democrats and Republicans have clashed fiercely on many issues — the Mueller investigation, immigration, gun control — but can the two parties come together on climate change, the biggest issue of all?

Most analysts say no. After all, since President Trump took office, the terms “global warming” and “climate change” have been expunged from some government websites. Mr. Trump says his “very high level of intelligence” has led him to reject the findings of 13 federal agencies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization.

But how many of his fellow Republicans agree? If we compare the extremes in each party — liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans — as the media often does, the split is clear. But if we compare all Republicans with all Democrats, we see a new and encouraging overlap.

In March, well before the most destructive wildfires in California history, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication polled 1,067 registered voters on climate change. The study found that while they disagree on the cause, majorities in both parties agree that the world is experiencing global warming and call for government action to address it.

The poll asked whether the United States should “set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public heath,” even if “the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.” Eighty-seven percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said yes.

Should the United States require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and use the money to reduce other taxes (such as income tax) by an equal amount? Eighty-four percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said yes.

Asked, “When there’s a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, which do you think is more important?” 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans said that environmental protection should come first.

The survey also found that majorities in both parties think the government should fund research into solar and wind energy, offer tax rebates to those buying energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels, and encourage schools to teach children about the causes and consequences of global warming, and potential solutions. A majority of Democrats and Republicans believe the United States should participate in the Paris climate accord and reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.…—Arlie Hochschild and David Hochschild, “More Republicans Than You Think Support Action on Climate Change,” The New York Times, 12/29/18

Arlie Hochschild is a professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.” Her son, David Hochschild, is a member of the California Energy Commission, the state’s energy policy and planning agency.

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Fracking’s Secret Problem—Oil Wells Aren’t Producing as Much as Forecast

Fracking’s Secret Problem—Oil Wells Aren’t Producing as Much as Forecast

Thousands of shale wells drilled in the last five years are pumping less oil and gas than their owners forecast to investors, raising questions about the strength and profitability of the fracking boom that turned the U.S. into an oil superpower.

The Wall Street Journal compared the well-productivity estimates that top shale-oil companies gave investors to projections from third parties about how much oil and gas the wells are now on track to pump over their lives, based on public data of how they have performed to date.

A Fracking Economics Brief Is Shale Oil Production from Bakken Headed for a Run with “The Red Queen”?|The Oil Drum
The Secret of the Great American Fracking Bubble|DeSmogBlog
Shale Oil Is Not A Ponzi Scheme: Evidence From Decline Curves|Seeking Alpha
Billions of Barrels of Oil Vanish in a Puff of Accounting Smoke| Bloomberg
The Shale Oil Ponzi Scheme Explained|Zero Hedge
Documents: Industry Privately Skeptical of Shale Gas|The New York Times
History of oil and gas production from US shale, and UK hopes of copying it, in pictures and charts|Jeremy Leggett

Financial analyst Deborah Rogers has served on the Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas since 2008. She was appointed in 2011 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to a task force reviewing placement of air monitors in the Barnett Shale region in light of air quality concerns brought about by the natural gas operations in North Texas. She joined a regional steering committee for the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) in 2011 with responsibility for economic questions. Ms. Rogers got involved in natural gas when she learned that an energy company planned 12 high impact wells next to her property, Deborah’s Farmstead, a nationally recognized artisanal cheese-making dairy. Her website, Energy Policy Forum (http://energypolicyforum.com/), discusses the complex problems inherent in shale gas.

Two-thirds of projections made by the fracking companies between 2014 and 2017 in America’s four hottest drilling regions appear to have been overly optimistic, according to the analysis of some 16,000 wells operated by 29 of the biggest producers in oil basins in Texas and North Dakota.

Collectively, the companies that made projections are on track to pump nearly 10% less oil and gas than they forecast for those areas, according to the analysis of data from Rystad Energy AS, an energy consulting firm. That is the equivalent of almost one billion barrels of oil and gas over 30 years, worth more than $30 billion at current prices. Some companies are off track by more than 50% in certain regions.…— Bradley Olson, Rebecca Elliott, Christopher M. Matthews, “Fracking’s Secret Problem—Oil Wells Aren’t Producing as Much as Forecast,” The Wall Street Journal, 1/2/19

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A Clean Energy Revolution Is Rising in the Midwest, with Utilities in the Vanguard

A Clean Energy Revolution Is Rising in the Midwest, with Utilities in the Vanguard

Xcel is leading the pack, with a pledge to go 100% zero carbon by 2050. Other major electricity providers are trading coal for wind and solar sooner than planned.

Even with all the evidence that renewable energy has become less expensive than fossil fuels, it doesn’t seem real until utilities start to stake their futures on it.

For some Midwestern utilities, 2018 is the year that happened.

Xcel Energy of Minnesota in early December said it would go to zero carbon emissions throughout its eight-state territory by 2050, the first major utility to do so.

That followed some big steps by Consumers Energy in Michigan and NIPSCO in Indiana, which issued plans to shut down coal-fired power plants sooner than previously planned while also accelerating development of wind and solar power.

These corporate decisions are part of what has made 2018 a fulcrum year for the clean-energy transition, a time when long-building trends in energy consumption and pricing have led to a clear shift in the market, according to analysts and clean-energy advocates. These dynamics are most noticeable in the Midwest because of extremely low wind energy prices, but they are spreading to other regions.…

2018 Has Been a Turning Point

This is the change that environmental advocates hoped for, following a tantalizing few years that pointed in this direction.

“2018 has been a turning point, as some utilities are beginning to make decisions based on the market of the future rather than that of the past,” said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Utilities’ long-term plans were being released at the same time that the Midwestern landscape, especially in rural areas, continued a visual transformation that shows the rise of clean energy.…—Dan Gearino, “A Clean Energy Revolution Is Rising in the Midwest, with Utilities in the Vanguard,” InsideClimate News, 1/3/19

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Trump’s EPA Is Undermining New Law to Regulate Chemicals

Trump’s EPA Is Undermining New Law to Regulate Chemicals

Modern life is awash with chemicals. They’re in our work places, our homes, our bedrooms, the clothes we wear, the water we drink, the paint on our walls, the products we clean with. They’re all around us. Indeed, roughly 30,000 pounds of chemicals are produced per person, per year in the US. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is a federal safety net that ensures these chemicals don’t cause harm to humans or the environment.

At least it’s supposed to.

This act is the centerpiece of the nation’s table-display of chemical regulations, which include different laws governing food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides. For decades, however, TSCA was widely criticized by many environmental and consumer advocacy groups for being toothless—that it achieved very little in regulating the nation’s chemicals. This led to a major overhaul two years ago, and a revised TSCA signed into law near the end of the Obama administration, shepherding in a number of “important improvements.”

But as the new law, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, continues to be rolled out under the Trump administration, critics point to recent modifications made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the way it evaluates and regulates chemicals, prioritizing industry concerns over human health and the environment. Sen. Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing EPA’s budget, has called implementation of the law a “remarkable disaster.”…—Daniel Ross, “Trump’s EPA Is Undermining New Law to Regulate Chemicals,” Truthout, 1/5/19

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Corona Beer to Ditch Plastic Packaging by Using Biodegradable 6-Pack Rings

Corona Beer to Ditch Plastic Packaging by Using Biodegradable 6-Pack Rings

The Corona brewing company has just announced that they will be launching a pilot program in which they will be replacing their plastic 6-pack ring packaging with something that is 100% plastic-free and biodegradable.

The new plastic-free rings are being made from plant-based biodegradable fibers, with a mix of by-product waste and compostable materials.

If left in the environment, they break down into organic material that is not harmful to wildlife, whereas the industry standard plastic six pack rings are made from a photo-degradable form of polyethylene that results in increasingly smaller pieces of plastic if not recycled—at a terrible cost to the environment.

Corona will begin testing the plastic-free rings in their homeland of Mexico at the start of the new year. If the initiative proves successful, they plan on expanding the rings to the UK as well.

Further reading: In Bid to Cut Food Waste, Kellogg’s is Using Their Rejected Cornflakes to Make Beer

The plastic-free packaging is part of Corona’s partnership with Parley for the Oceans. Since the partnership launched last year, Corona and Parley have conducted over 300 clean-ups in more than 15 countries, including the Maldives, Palau, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Indonesia, Italy, South Africa and Australia, resulting in more than three million pounds of plastic waste collected.…—”Corona Beer to Ditch Plastic Packaging by Using Biodegradable 6-Pack Rings,” Good News Network, 12/22/18

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Your Children’s Yellowstone Will Be Radically Different

Your Children’s Yellowstone Will Be Radically Different

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — On a recent fall afternoon in the Lamar Valley, visitors watched a wolf pack lope along a thinly forested riverbank, 10 or so black and gray figures shadowy against the snow. A little farther along the road, a herd of bison swung their great heads as they rooted for food in the sagebrush steppe, their deep rumbles clear in the quiet, cold air.

In the United States, Yellowstone National Park is the only place bison and wolves can be seen in great numbers. Because of the park, these animals survive. Yellowstone was crucial to bringing back bison, reintroducing gray wolves, and restoring trumpeter swans, elk, and grizzly bears — all five species driven toward extinction found refuge here.

But the Yellowstone of charismatic megafauna and of stunning geysers that four million visitors a year travel to see is changing before the eyes of those who know it best. Researchers who have spent years studying, managing, and exploring its roughly 3,400 square miles say that soon the landscape may look dramatically different.

Over the next few decades of climate change, the country’s first national park will quite likely see increased fire, less forest, expanding grasslands, more invasive plants, and shallower, warmer waterways — all of which may alter how, and how many, animals move through the landscape. Ecosystems are always in flux, but climate change is transforming habitats so quickly that many plants and animals may not be able to adapt well or at all.…—Marguerite Holloway, “Your Children’s Yellowstone Will Be Radically Different,” The New York Times, 11/15/18

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We Need To Talk About Palm Oil

We Need To Talk About Palm Oil

We wash our hair with it, brush our teeth with it, smother our skin in it and use it to powder our cheeks, plump our lashes and color our lips. We clean our houses with it, fuel our cars with it and eat it in chocolate, bread, ice cream, pizza, breakfast cereal and candy bars.

Palm oil: you may never have walked into a supermarket with it written on your shopping list but you’ve certainly walked out with bags full of it.

An extremely versatile ingredient that’s cheaper and more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils, palm oil is found today in half of all consumer goods including soaps and toothpaste, cosmetics and laundry detergent and a whole array of processed food. Palm oil is also found in bio-diesel used to power cars (more than 50 percent of the European Union’s palm oil consumption in 2017 reportedly went to this purpose).  

Our modern lives are inextricably intertwined with the commodity, which can appear on ingredient labels under a myriad of alternative names including sodium lauryl sulphate, stearic acid and palmitate. But activists warn that our insatiable demand for palm oil has fueled one of the most pressing environmental and humanitarian crises of our time.

The equivalent of 300 football fields of rainforest is destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations, according to the Orangutan Project. This rampant deforestation — which has occurred in some of the world’s most bio-diverse hot spots, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia — has decimated the habitat of endangered species like orangutans and Sumatran tigers, displaced indigenous communities, contributed to a regional smog problem linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths and is a significant driver of climate change.

Last month, palm oil and its impacts became the story of the hour when the U.K. banned a stirring ad about the commodity from TV broadcast. The ad, which featured an animated orphaned orangutan and was released by British grocery store Iceland, was deemed too political for television. The ban triggered a flurry of interest and outrage worldwide.

“There’s been a huge spike in awareness about palm oil because of the Iceland ad,” said conservationist and Mongabay.com founder Rhett Butler, who’s been monitoring trends in the palm oil industry for years. “It was quite astonishing actually. It seems like global interest in this issue is at an all-time high.”…—Dominique Mosbergen, “We Need To Talk About Palm Oil,” HuffPost, 12/24/18

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Cheap Renewables Keep Pushing Fossil Fuels Further Away From Profitability – Despite Trump’s Efforts

Cheap Renewables Keep Pushing Fossil Fuels Further Away From Profitability – Despite Trump’s Efforts

Rapid cost declines made renewable energy the United States’ cheapest available source of new electricity, without subsidies, in 2017. In many parts of the U.S., building new wind is cheaper than running existing coal, while nuclear and natural gas aren’t far behind. As renewable energy costs continue their relentless decline, they keep pushing fossil fuels further from profitability – and neither trend is slowing down.

This dynamic is apparent in the decade spanning 2008-2017, where nearly all retired U.S. power plants were fossil fuel generation, and was capped by utilities announcing 27 coal plant closures totaling 22 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2017. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts coal closures will continue through 2020, potentially setting an all-time annual record in 2018.

Further reading: An offer utilities can’t refuse: The low cost of utility-scale solar

Despite Trump Administration actions to improve fossil fuel economics and reduce renewable energy competitiveness, updated levelized cost of energy (LCOE) data and new renewable energy projects show clean energy continues beating fossil fuels on economics, at a faster pace and in more locations than ever before. So just how low can renewable prices go?

Levelized Cost of Electricity Plummets for Wind and Solar

The 2017 edition of Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) study, released in December, shows renewable energy continues to decline (dramatically, in the case of utility-scale solar photovoltaics) in cost. LCOE accurately compares the economics of different generation technologies by measuring the total cost of first building a power plant, then operating it over its assumed lifetime. Think of it as evenly comparing apples to oranges.…—Silvio Marcacci, “Cheap Renewables Keep Pushing Fossil Fuels Further Away From Profitability – Despite Trump’s Efforts,” Forbes, 1/23/18

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And That’s A Wrap! Thanks to everyone who sent in news, action announcements and comments this week. Send kudos, rotten tomatoes and your story ideas, your group’s action events, and news of interest to intrepid climate change and environmental justice warriors! Send to editor@thebanner.news.