Friday, March 29, 2013

News of the Week March 29

  • The EPA is moving forward with new regulations on gasoline. "The proposed standards would add less than a penny a gallon to the cost of gasoline while delivering an environmental benefit akin to taking 33 million cars off the road, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made yet."
  • The best analysis this week comes from an IMF report (and this Washington Post summary), which estimates global fossil fuel subsidies at $1.9 trillion. "Not recognizing those costs, the IMF argues, has had profound consequences for energy markets and the world economy: encouraging overconsumption; leaving some nations short of funds to address health, education and other needs; and distorting investment decisions worldwide."
  • US farmers are facing another year of drought:
  • The State Department has called for public comments on the environmental impact assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline. But it won't make these public comments public
  • Coal consumption is down in the US, but we're exporting more coal than ever before. "U.S. coal exports reached a record of more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure."
  • A new study links fracking and earthquakes. Mother Jones summary of that study: "Now, having completed a yearlong study, Keranen's research indicates the Oklahoma earthquakes were likely attributable to underground injection of wastewater derived from 'dewatering' separating crude oil from the soupy brine reaped through a drilling technique that allows previously inaccessible oil to be pumped up. 'Pretty much everybody who looks at our data accepts that these events were likely caused by injection,' Keranen concludes."
  • For those following the recent good behavior of Indonesian forest companies, some possible bad news. APP, a pulp and paper company that just announced a no-deforestation commitment, may be deforesting. "The group monitored three APP supplier companies in West Kalimantan earlier this month and found evidence that two companies were continuing to clear forests and open new canals in peatlands, activities that should have been phased out by Jan. 31. Monitors also found heavy equipment operating in the companies’ concession areas and took video and photographs of land clearing and canal digging activities in the concessions." In its defense, APP claims that the deforestation is the responsibility of a mining company that also has claims to the land. 
  • Climate change means bad news for biodiversity. "If global warming continues as expected, it is estimated that almost a third of all flora and fauna species worldwide could become extinct."
  • I have been planning to write a post on discount rates (and I still might!), but, of course, David Roberts has beaten me to it. And he even has cute pictures of otters to make it less boring; it's a long post, but important and worth reading the whole thing. "That, to me, is the key take-home message about discount rates: They are social and ethical disputes being waged under cover of math, as though they are nothing but technical matters to be determined by “experts.” But social and ethical judgments should be made in an open, transparent way, not buried in models as inscrutable parameters. I mean, we’re talking about how much we value our children and grandchildren. Surely that’s a matter for democratic discussion and debate!"
  • Surprised by the cold Spring? It's been linked to declining polar ice cover. "According to Francis and a growing body of other researchers, the Arctic ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere which shifts the position of the jet stream – the high-altitude river of air that steers storm systems and governs most weather in northern hemisphere. 'This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes,' she said. 'It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It's now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around,' she said."
  • Finally, the "Monsanto Protection Act" was passed this week. I'm still trying to figure out just exactly what it means for GMOs, but it doesn't sound like a just law. "Under the Monsanto Protection Act, health concerns that arise in the immediate future involving the planting of GMO crops won’t be able to be heard by a judge."

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