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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.

Possible Indian Point Nuke Shutdown Heightens Economic Fears

For more than half a century Indian Point has been a prime employer and tax-revenue generator in the Westchester County region of New York

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

Jul 11, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines the feasibility of closing the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y. The plant, now up for relicensing, faces demands for a shutdown by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many environmental groups. This is part three. (Read parts one and two.)

Danny Carey, a third-generation steamfitter at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, sits on his porch in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., reminiscing about his family's decades-long contribution to the facility in Buchanan, about 15 minutes north. 

Carey's grandfather, Tom, helped build Indian Point 1, which was shut down 37 years ago. His father, Tom Carey Jr., worked on the current active reactors, units 2 and 3. And for the past three decades, Danny, 51, has welded pipes and repaired valves at the controversial nuclear complex that serves up to a quarter of New York City's electrical needs.

"So many families lived and made careers out of that plant," he said, his muscled arms and sun-etched face bearing witness to a lifetime of labor. "It's provided a lot of work for a lot of years."

For more than half a century Indian Point has been a prime employer in the region, providing work to nearly 1,000 contractors and 1,100 salaried workers each year, said Jerry Nappi, a spokesperson for the plant. 

Nappi estimated that the plant's total annual payroll is $137 million, putting the average yearly income for employees at roughly $125,000.

Has Time Run Out to Replace Indian Point's Nuclear Power?

There are 'very limited options' for new sources of generation before Indian Point 2's operating license expires in 2013, says state offical

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

Jul 8, 2011
Indian Point nuclear plant

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines the feasibility of closing the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y. The plant, now up for relicensing, faces demands for a shutdown by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many environmental groups. This is part two. (Read part one.)

Renewed backlash against New York's Indian Point nuclear plant in the wake of Japan's disaster has forced politicians and energy experts in the state to again confront tough questions about how to permanently replace the facility's electricity.

Now, with the plant up for relicensing, some observers warn that time may have run out for a well-managed and gradual shutdown of the complex, located just 24 miles from America's most populous city.

The 40-year licenses for Indian Point's working reactors, units 2 and 3, are set to expire in 2013 and 2015. The plant's owner, Entergy Corp., is awaiting final word from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on its applications for 20-year renewals.

The complex fills a significant portion of the downstate area's energy needs, generating about 2,160 megawatts of clean-burning electricity — enough to power 3.2 million households or 25 percent of New York City and Westchester County's combined electrical needs. 

Three options to replace Indian Point stand out. One, local fossil fuel sources such as natural gas could generate more electricity. Two, excess hydroelectric power or wind power generated upstate or in Canada could be transported downstate. And three, consumers could drastically cut their electricity use.

All appear relatively simple and, together, offer promise. But closer inspection shows there is a great deal of complexity involved.

Underwater Rare Earths Likely a Pipe Dream, Say Analysts

Recently discovered undersea deposits of rare earth metals — crucial to new clean energy technologies — could take decades and cost billions to develop

By Julie Gordon, Reuters

Jul 7, 2011

An underwater bonanza of rare earth deposits discovered by Japanese scientists poses little threat to miners already developing major rare earth projects on solid ground.

Companies such as Molycorp, Lynas and Avalon Rare Metals may rest assured that developing the offshore bounty could take decades and cost billions, making it little more than a pipe dream, analysts say.

"'Desperado,' that's the first word that comes to mind," said Jacob Securities analyst Luisa Moreno. "It makes for some nice headlines, but I don't think it would really be feasible to do this."

The discovery of the vast deposits, located on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 3,500 to 6,000 meters (11,500 to 20,000 feet) below sea level, marks the latest bid by the Japanese to secure their own supply of rare earths, which are critical ingredients in the production of high-tech products.

Prices for rare earth metals have skyrocketed over the last year as China, producer of some 97 percent of the global supply, has repeatedly clamped down on exports.

Dysprosium, which is used to make magnets for hybrid cars and smartphones, has soared to $3,600 a kilogram, up from $300 a kg a year ago, while neodymium, also used in magnets, is hovering at about $450 a kg, up from $45 late last year.

Without Indian Point, Could New York City Keep the Lights On?

During planned outages, NYC handles its electrical needs without Indian Point. But what would happen if the nuclear plant suddenly went dark?

By Alice Kenny, SolveClimate News

Jul 7, 2011
New York City at night

Editor's Note: In this three-part series, SolveClimate News examines the feasibility of closing the Indian Point nuclear facility in Buchanan, N.Y. The plant, now up for relicensing, faces demands for a shutdown by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many environmental groups. This is part one.

The Indian Point nuclear power complex in Westchester County, New York, supplies up to one-fourth of all the electricity used by New York City, America's biggest city. 

U.S., European Media Still Worlds Apart on Climate Change Coverage

Europeans accuse the U.S. media of giving climate skeptics a disproportionate voice and perpetuating a debate that has been settled among scientists

By Tom Vandyck, Midwest Energy News

Jul 6, 2011
Journalists with Yvo de Boer, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCCC

When it comes to reporting on climate change, European media are from hothouse Venus, and their American counterparts are from considerably more frigid Mars. The divide between them may be having a profound impact on climate and energy policy in either part of the world.

European journalists accuse their American counterparts of maintaining a false balance in their reporting, pretending climate science is still in doubt, and offering politicians cover for inaction.

But while that may have been true just a few years ago, it is changing now, say American editors.

For Peter Vandermeersch, editor-in chief at the traditionally conservative daily NRC Handelsblad in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, there is no debate about climate change.

"Absolutely, that's a given," he said. "The conviction has grown that climate change does exist, and that humans play a major role in how it evolves."

"There's almost no discussion about it," agreed Wouter Verschelden, editor-in-chief at the progressive daily De Morgen in Brussels, Belgium. "The nonbelievers have been marginalized, and they aren't taken seriously anymore. We don't have to convince our readers anymore of the fact that there is climate change, and that it's caused by humans."

Climate Change Threatens Southwest's Iconic Joshua Trees

A pair of new scientific studies suggests that the specialized desert Joshua tree cannot keep pace with the rate of warming

By Bruce Dorminey, Climate Central

Jul 3, 2011
Joshua Tree National Park

Three hours east of Malibu, the Pacific Coast Highway and everything that is L.A., a small multitude of Joshua trees stand sentinel over a desolate corner of Mojave high desert. They look as if they've been on this incredibly arid, lonely hillslope forever. But, trouble is, will they still be here tomorrow? 

Research ecologists are still trying to answer just how climate change will affect the Joshua tree's numbers, range and habitat.

They do know that over the millenia, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) has evolved to thrive in the dry and hot Southwestern desert conditions and barren soils that a less specialized plant species could not tolerate.

Now, two recent papers detailing future climate scenarios for Joshua Tree National Park and the Joshua tree's natural range are projecting tough times for this venerable Southwest icon. 

REDD Forest Rescue Funding Caught in UN Carbon Feud, Study Warns

To survive, REDD will likely need investment to flow from a functioning international carbon market — which, outside the EU, is in a perilous state

By Fiona Harvey, Guardian

Jul 1, 2011
Timber from Indonesia

The world's forests are in greater danger than ever, as a United Nations mechanism intended to generate funding for their protection is unlikely to produce sizeable sums "for the foreseeable future," according to new research.

The research came as a prominent UK businessman called for an annual round of international talks devoted solely to forestry, in order to keep the world's remaining forests standing and with the goal of ending deforestation entirely by 2020.

"It's time for a reality check. There is a danger that we are sleep walking to disaster," said Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, the retail group.

The REDD mechanism — standing for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — has been the cornerstone of international policy on forests for several years. In the past year, the first projects using the mechanism have started to come forward.

At the core of the mechanism is carbon trading — saving forests will generate carbon credits, which can be counted towards emissions-cutting targets.

But nearly all of the money so far devoted to REDD has come from governments, and is limited as most rich country governments are unwilling to spend more on overseas development. As a result, the mechanism is unlikely to do much to reduce deforestation, according to the study from IdeaCarbon, called Assessing the Financial Flows for REDD.

Australia Closes In on National Carbon Trading Deal

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of New Zealand

By Rob Taylor, Reuters

Jun 30, 2011
A coal-fired power plant in Victoria, Australia

CANBERRA—Australia's government, fighting a slump in popularity over plans to price carbon, said on Thursday it was determined to start emissions trading as soon as possible after reports it had agreed on a 2015 deadline to switch from a carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose support is at record lows due to opposition to a carbon price and voter concern about rising living costs, said she was determined to make as short as possible a shift to a carbon market.

"An emissions trading scheme is the best way of cutting carbon pollution and making sure that we tackle climate change. It is the cheapest way," Gillard told reporters, promising to overcome opposition to one of the most controversial reforms of the A$1.3 trillion economy in decades.

Gillard's minority Labor government wants to impose a tax on carbon emissions from mid-2012 before transitioning to a carbon-trading system, under which the nation's 1,000 biggest polluters will need to buy carbon permits on an open market.

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of neighboring New Zealand.

High-Stakes Wind Farm Drama in Minnesota Enters Final Act

Minnesota regulators will likely give their final say this week on the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Jun 29, 2011
rural Goodhue County

Update (June 30): The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has granted a conditional site permit to a subsidiary of T. Boone Pickens' Mesa Power Group to build its controversial $179 million, 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County, after months of testimony. 

Two fronts have collided before Minnesota utility regulators, and now, observers on both sides are waiting to see which way the wind will blow in what's been the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement.

The proposed $179 million, 78-megawatt Goodhue Wind project would consist of 50 turbines spanning about 32,000 acres of farm land an hour's drive southeast of the Twin Cities. The developer is a subsidiary of Mesa Power Group, which is owned by Texas oil-and-gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens.

Last October, about a year after the developer applied for site permits, Goodhue County adopted a setback ordinance that bans wind turbines within 10 rotor diameters — about half a mile in this case — of any non-participating neighboring home. That's in stark contrast with state law in Minnesota, which generally requires setbacks between 750 and 1,500 feet based on noise and other factors.

The local ordinance grew out of grassroots opposition from a group of county residents who fear the turbines will upset their quality of life. The developer, which has partnered with about 200 other local property owners, says the project can't go through under the local setback rules.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is likely to give its final say on the matter Thursday after months of testimony and discussion. Its decision will be the first major test of a 2007 amendment that gave counties limited authority to adopt more stringent wind setbacks than those spelled out in state law.