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BP Fund Has Paid Out $5B to Gulf Spill Victims, but Criticism Persists

Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the $20B fund, faces criticism from state attorneys general and others who believe payouts are being made too slowly

By Moira Herbst, Reuters

Aug 23, 2011
BP America

BP Plc has paid out more than $5 billion to 204,434 victims of last year's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg said on Tuesday.

The payouts amount to roughly 25 percent of the $20 billion fund, known as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which was set up a year ago following the April 2010 spill.

So far, 947,892 claims have been filed from all 50 U.S. states and residents of 36 countries. So far, nearly all of the successful claimants come from four states: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

"The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has largely succeeded in its primary objective: to compensate those individuals and businesses who can demonstrate financial harm due to the oil spill," according to a report by the fund released on Tuesday.

Criticism

While the fund touts its progress, Feinberg and BP face persistent criticism from individuals, several state attorneys general and community groups who believe payouts are being made too slowly and that some spill victims with valid claims are being turned away.

Critics also contend that the fund is pressuring claimants to accept small amounts now, in exchange for their agreement not to sue BP and its partners later for more.

Tuesday's report acknowledged problems. "The compensation program has not been perfect," it said, "but several midcourse corrections have been made."

Canada Moves Ahead with New Coal-Fired Power Rules

Environment Minister Peter Kent said new regulations will force coal developers to reduce emissions to levels that are comparable to gas-fired plants

By Reuters

Aug 19, 2011
Lambton coal-fired generating station in Ontario, Canada

CALGARY, Alberta—Canada moved ahead on Friday with new regulations for cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants as environmental groups decried one project that they said won a speedy approval just in time to avoid the tighter rules.

Detroit Suburbs Become Unlikely Site for Geothermal Drilling Projects

Despite being in one of the country's worst regions for geothermal power, two Michigan cities are finding ways to tap heat stored far below earth's surface

By Jeff Kart, Midwest Energy News

Aug 16, 2011

Despite being in one of the worst regions in the country for geothermal power, two Michigan cities are nevertheless finding ways to save on energy costs by tapping the earth's natural heat.

In the Detroit suburbs of Wyandotte and Dearborn Heights, local officials are using federal grants and city funds to help reduce the upfront cost for residents to convert to geothermal heating and cooling.

Geothermal systems can cost several times more to install than traditional central air conditioning or natural gas furnaces, but the additional costs are paid back through utility savings in five to 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Geothermal energy works by digging wells to a spot in the earth where there’s a relatively constant core temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Water or an antifreeze solution is circulated to the spot through a closed loop of plastic pipes. During the winter, the fluid collects heat from the earth and carries it through the system and into the building. During the summer, the system is reversed, and the building is cooled by pulling heat back into the ground.

The systems work by using ground-source heat pumps, which take the place of a furnace or air-conditioning unit and use less electricity.

 A Shared Resource

In Dearborn Heights, Ron Amen is spearheading a project to convert the city's 33,000-square-foot senior center to geothermal heating and cooling. In a large grassy area next to the center, crews would drill wells to service the building and up to 400 neighborhood homes, said Amen, the city’s director of community and economic development.

In Congress, Corn Ethanol Subsidies Lose More Ground Amid Debt Turmoil

The challenge of finding $1.3 trillion in budget cuts has forced Congress to re-examine 30 years of federal subsidies for corn ethanol

By Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian

Aug 15, 2011
A cornfield in Illinois

There were times when Arlyn Schipper could almost feel heroic on his family farm in the heart of America's corn belt.

His 4,000 acres, planted almost entirely with corn, were helping to feed a nation — or at least help put fuel in its gas tanks, as his crop was processed into corn ethanol.

Schipper still sees it that way. It's just that he feels the country has moved on, or as he put it: "The country has turned on us."

America's debt crisis, and the challenge of finding $1.3 trillion in budget cuts, has forced Congress to re-examine 30 years of government subsidies for corn ethanol.

Meanwhile, drought and famine in the Horn of Africa have exposed a new negative consequence of biofuel production: the global food crisis. By competing with food crops for land, large-scale biofuel production has constricted supply and so boosted food prices globally. This has led to a backlash against biofuels such as corn ethanol from environmentalists and development charities.

"Ten years ago this was the greatest thing since apple pie – ethanol. A lot of farmers invested in this, and a lot of farmers invested in ethanol plants. Everybody wanted it. Our country wanted it. It was a renewable resource," said Schipper. "And now that we have got all of this money tied up in this, it's kind of turned on us."

Many will feel that corn farmers have had it pretty good. And the ethanol industry still has a mighty hold on America's corn belt. The country is projected to produce 14 billion U.S. gallons of corn ethanol this year at 200 refineries spread across the Midwest.

Germany's Nuke Shutdown Forces Utility Giant E.ON to Cut 11,000 Jobs

The announcement by Germany's biggest utility is adding to concerns about the cost of closing all 17 of the country's nuclear reactors by 2022

By Tom Bawden, Guardian

Aug 10, 2011

The financial effects of the Fukushima nuclear power crisis continued on Wednesday as Germany's E.ON announced that plans by its government to shut the country's reactors in response to the Japanese disaster would result in up to 11,000 job losses.

As fears mounted that the nuclear shutdown would significantly increase Germany's industrial operating costs — weakening its competitiveness in an already fragile global economy — E.ON announced a swing into the red, a dividend cut, the redundancies and profits warnings for the next three years.

Germany's biggest utility, which on Friday announced an average 15 percent price rise for its five million domestic UK gas and electricity customers, took a €1.9 billion ($2.7 billion) charge relating to plant closures and a new tax on spent nuclear fuel rods, pushing the group to its first quarterly loss in 10 years — a second-quarter deficit of €1.49 billion ($2.1 billion)

E.ON was reporting a day after German rival RWE reported its own swing into deficit, reporting that €900 million ($1.28 billion) of decommissioning and tax costs dragged it to a €229 million loss ($323.3 million).

This week's utility results are adding to concerns about the cost of closing all 17 of Germany's nuclear reactors by 2022 and making up the shortfall by doubling renewable energy output.

Clinton Gives No Hint on Keystone XL Pipeline Decision

Clinton assured Canada's foreign minister the U.S. was on track to decide on the pipeline by year-end but gave no hint which way the decision would go

By Andrew Quinn, Reuters

Aug 5, 2011
Secretary Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird speak with the media

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Canada's foreign minister on Thursday the United States was on track to decide on TransCanada Corp's bid for a $7 billion cross-border pipeline by the end of the year but gave no hint which way the decision would go.

Clinton met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who said he told her the Keystone project was "tremendously important to the future prosperity of the Canadian economy."

"We are leaving no stone unturned in this process and we expect to make a decision on the permit before the end of this year," Clinton told reporters in a joint appearance with Baird after their meeting.

Keystone XL, which would take petroleum from Canada's oil sands to refineries in Texas, faces opposition from environmental groups and some U.S. politicians who say it would bolster more oil sands development, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and raise the risk of oil spills in the central U.S. states, site of a massive aquifer.

The State Department has said last week it will issue a final environmental assessment on the project in August and then government agencies will have 90 days to comment on it before a final decision is made.

Study Says Himalaya Glaciers Shrinking on Global Warming, Some May Disappear

Japanese scientists say that the shrinking of two glaciers has accelerated in the past 10 years and could disappear due to 'significant warming'

By Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters

Aug 2, 2011
retreating glaciers in Himalayas

Three Himalaya glaciers have been shrinking over the last 40 years due to global warming and two of them, located in humid regions and on lower altitudes in central and east Nepal, may disappear in time to come, researchers in Japan said on Tuesday.

Using global positioning system and simulation models, they found that the shrinkage of two of the glaciers — Yala in central and AX010 in eastern Nepal — had accelerated in the past 10 years compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

Yala's mass shrank by 0.8 (2.6 feet) and AX010 by 0.81 meters respectively per year in the 2000s, up from 0.68 and 0.72 meters per year between 1970 and 1990, said Koji Fujita at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies in Nagoya University in Japan.

"For Yala and AX, these regions showed significant warming ... that's why the rate of shrinking was accelerated," Fujita told Reuters by telephone.

"Yala and AX will disappear but we are not sure when. To know when, we have to calculate using another simulation [model] and take into account the glacial flow," Fujita said, but added that his team did not have the data to do so at the moment.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

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.