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Rising Seas Threaten Georgia's Economically Vital Salt Marshes

Experts say the marshes on Georgia's coast can't grow quickly enough to keep up with the current rate of sea level rise

By Bruce Dorminey, Climate Central

Jul 31, 2011

DARIEN, Georgia—Some 60 miles south of Savannah, Dorset Hurley strides into chest-high cordgrass on the mainland side of the Sapelo Island ferry dock. Standing in elevated muck on a recent steamy summer's afternoon, he gestures toward a tidal creek running along an isolated spit of road.

"At high tide here, we would be ankle deep in water," says Hurley, an estuarine ecologist at Georgia's Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve. He snaps off the end of a dead cordgrass blossom and looks east long enough to notice that the tide has turned. In a few hours time, this tidal bank will again be inundated, but never for more than an hour or so each day. Once the tide rolls in, striped mullet feed on decaying cordgrass on the marsh’s soggy bottom. 

Like the tides on which these estuaries depend, Georgia's 100-mile coastline has waxed and waned for thousands of years, surviving by shifting miles in the process. And it's doing so once more; again driven by warming oceans and melting glaciers.

Mention "global warming" in this part of the world and most people's eyes will glaze over. Sea level rise, however, has tangibility that residents here experience with every high tide.

But that doesn't mean they've thought about how global sea level rise will impact them personally. In a recession-weary economy heavily dependent on tourism, real estate and the fishing industry, sea level rise hasn't exactly hit the top of the charts — yet.

Tim DeChristopher Sentenced to Two Years for Making False Drilling Bids

Environmental advocates and supporters immediately denounced the sentence as excessive

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jul 26, 2011
Tim DeChristopher

Editor's Note: In advance of Tim DeChristopher's trial in March, SolveClimate News conducted exclusive interviews with the environmental activist on his civil disobedience. The video series can be viewed here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

An activist who became a hero to campaigners for disrupting a Bush administration auction for the oil and gas industry with $1.8 million in bogus bids was sentenced to two years in prison on Tuesday.

Tim DeChristopher was immediately ordered into custody, and fined $10,000. He had been facing a potential sentence of up to 10 years and a $750,000 fine.

Environmental campaigners and activists, from actress Daryl Hannah to film maker Michael Moore and writer Naomi Klein, immediately denounced the sentence as excessive.

At a vigil outside the Salt Lake City courtroom where sentencing took place, supporters of DeChristopher's Peaceful Uprising civil disobedience movement shouted: "Justice is not found here."

Growing Number of States Paying Utilities to Meet Energy Efficiency Goals

In Minnesota, new bonuses by the state helped Xcel Energy conserve more energy last year than in any other year, resulting in $40 million in new revenue

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Jul 26, 2011
Xcel Energy's High Bridge power plant in St. Paul, Minn.

Imagine pulling into a gas station and being offered a complimentary tune-up to improve your car's fuel efficiency. You'd probably wonder: what's the catch?

So how about when your electric utility gives you a free compact fluorescent light bulb? Or your gas company offers to help pay for new windows or a more efficient furnace?

Gas and electric utilities have unique relationships with their customers in that they spend money on programs to reduce demand for the products they sell.

Why is this? Most states require utilities to invest in conservation programs as part of the regulation they accept for being able to operate as regional monopolies. In other words, they're doing it because they have to.

A growing list of states, however, are experimenting with a new approach. Instead of mandating a minimum investment in energy-efficiency programs, policymakers are designing incentives that reward utilities with new revenue for meeting or exceeding conservation goals.

The hope is that giving utilities a path to earning a profit from encouraging efficiency will inspire more companies to proactively ramp up their conservation programs beyond what might have been achieved through mandates only.

U.S. State Department to Assess Keystone XL Pipeline Next Month

State Dept. said Friday it will issue its final environmental review in August on TransCanada's controversial oil sands pipeline

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Jul 22, 2011

The U.S. State Department will issue a final environmental report next month on TransCanada Corp's pipeline that would ship Canadian oil sands crude to Texas refineries, keeping the project on track for a final decision by the end of this year.

The $7 billion line has faced opposition from many lawmakers and environmentalists for greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil sands production, and because the line would run across the one of the world's largest freshwater resources, the Ogallala Aquifer.

Bloomberg, Sierra Club Make $50 Million Anti-Coal Move

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

By Reuters

Jul 21, 2011

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined with the Sierra Club on Thursday in a $50 million, four-year plan to campaign for replacing one-third of aging U.S. coal-fired power plants with clean energy.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal," Bloomberg, founder of the news service that bears his name, said in a statement.

"Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption," he said. The partnership with Sierra Club was announced outside a coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia.

The $50 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies will pay for a significant part of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which is budgeted at $150 million for four years.

Climate Change Peacekeeping on Agenda of UN Security Council

A special meeting of the Security Council this week will consider adding a 'green helmets' force to intervene in climate change-related conflicts

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Jul 20, 2011
A UN peacekeeper helps hurricane victims in 2008

A special meeting of the United Nations Security Council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the Security Council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force — green helmets — which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is expected to address the meeting on Wednesday.

But Germany, which called the meeting, has warned it is premature to expect the council to take the plunge into green peacemaking or even adopt climate change as one of its key areas of concern.

"It is too early to seriously think about council action on climate change. This is clearly not on the agenda," Germany's ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, wrote in the Huffington Post.

"A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security," he wrote.

World Body Approves First-Ever Measures to Cut CO2 from Ships

But environmental groups warn that the rules only apply to new ships replacing older ones — and that developing countries have a six-year waiver

By John Vidal, Guardian

Jul 18, 2011
Cargo ship

Countries have taken a first step towards reducing climate emissions from shipping with a global agreement to reduce energy use in new vessels from 2013 onwards.

The belated action on Friday by 55 of the world's biggest sea-faring nations meeting at the UN's international maritime organization in London will force all ships over 400 tons built after 2013 to improve their efficiency by 10 percent, rising to 20 percent between 2020 and 2024, and 30 percent for ships delivered after 2024.

The first ever regulation of emissions in shipping is expected to lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 45-50 million tons a year by 2020.

But China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have secured a six-and-a-half-year delay for new ships registered in developing countries, which could mean the first guaranteed effective date of the reform will be in 2019.

Shipping accounts for 3-4 percent of man-made CO2 emissions worldwide, and this figure is expected to rise to 6 percent by 2020, with emissions doubling by 2050 if no action is taken. Shipowners, who traditionally do not pay for the fuel that their ships use, have long resisted any regulation despite increasing pressure from environmental groups and reformers within the industry.

Environmental NGOs welcomed the tightening of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) standard but cautioned that because it only applies to new ships replacing older ones at the end of their long lives, the full effects of today's decision will take a long time to have any major impact. There is a significant danger, said some, that many shipowners will elect to have their new ships flagged in developing countries that provide a waiver.

Montana Spill Pipeline May Have Carried Oil Sands Crude

Federal inspectors are trying to determine if transport of tar sands could have triggered internal corrosion that may have played a role in the rupture

By Laura Zuckerman, Reuters

Jul 15, 2011
Cleanup of Exxon Mobil's July 2 oil pipeline spill along Thiel Rd in Laurel

An Exxon Mobil pipeline that ruptured, leaking oil into Yellowstone River, may have sometimes carried a heavier and more toxic form of crude than initially thought, federal regulators said on Thursday.

The U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokeswoman Patricia Klinger said her office had learned that the pipeline may have been used to carry heavier crude.

"I just found out that apparently, and the regional folks just found out, there is an interconnect on the pipeline that possibly does carry some oil out of Canada," she said in response to a question about tar sands crude in the pipeline.

That a pipeline thought to transport only "sweet," low sulfur crude could have carried so-called tar sands crude from Canada raised concerns by health and environmental officials, even as Exxon officials said the heavier oil was not flowing through the Silvertip pipeline when it broke on July 1.

"The actual crude in the line at the point of the incident was a blend of crudes from Wyoming," Exxon spokesman George Pietrogallo told Reuters in an email on Thursday.

Exxon was responding to a question about whether tar sands crude had ever flowed in the pipeline. Almost all the oil produced in Canada's Alberta fields is from tar sands.

AEP Puts Carbon Capture on Hold, Citing Climate Policy Uncertainty

The company, one of the nation's biggest emitters of CO2, ended its agreement today with the U.S. DOE to commercialize CCS technology

By Scott DiSavino, Reuters

Jul 14, 2011
AEP generating station in Conesville

American Electric Power Co Inc. said on Thursday it was putting on hold plans to commercialize carbon dioxide capture and storage technology (CCS), ending an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The company, one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, cited uncertainties over U.S. climate policy and a weak economy as contributors to its decision.

"We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward," Michael Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive, said in a release.

In 2009, the department had picked AEP to receive funding of up to $334 million to help pay for the installation of a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage system at AEP's Mountaineer coal-fueled plant in New Haven, West Virginia.

The system was designed to capture at least 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from 235 megawatts of the 1,300-MW plant.

In Battle to Ban Energy-Saving Light Bulbs, GOP Defends 'Personal Liberty'

A new breed of Tea party conservatives has cast the promotion of efficient lights as an example of government interference

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian 

Jul 11, 2011
Michele Bachmann

Republicans in Congress are pressing for a vote on Monday on one of the stranger elements of their environmental agenda — a ban on the adoption of energy-efficient light bulbs. A bill championed by presidential contender Michele Bachmann and others would repeal a law phasing out incandescent bulbs from 2012.

According to some reports, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives was pressing to introduce the bill under rules that would limit debate, but also require a two-thirds vote to pass. Energy-saving bulbs were seen as an entirely harmless innovation — even by the same Republicans who now oppose them — when the lighting efficiency measure was signed into law by the then president, George W Bush, as part of a broader energy package.

The 2007 law would have started phasing out old-fashioned 100-watt bulbs starting in January 2012, with an aim of making light bulbs more than 25 percent efficient. Incandescent bulbs emit most of the energy they consume as heat.

Fred Upton, now the chair of the energy and commerce committee, supported the law — a vote which has come back to haunt him in a more conservative Congress. The initiative also had the support of lighting manufacturers.

But the new breed of Tea party conservatives, encouraged by chat show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, have cast the promotion of the more efficient LED and CFL lights as a shining example of needless government interference.

They also argue that the bulbs cost more than the old-fashioned variety and are health hazards, because they contain mercury. But their most passionately voiced argument is freedom. Hanging on to the old-style bulbs is really about personal liberty, they say.