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Climate Change Is Putting World at Risk of Irreversible Changes, Scientists Warn in Rare Policy Intervention

Mar 18, 2014
(Guardian)

The world is at growing risk of "abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes" because of a warming climate, America's premier scientific society warned on Tuesday.

In a rare intervention into a policy debate, the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations.

"As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do," the AAAS said in a new report, What we know.

"But we consider it our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risks and costs of taking action."

The United Nations' climate science panel, the IPCC, will gather in Yokohama, Japan next week to release the second in a series of blockbuster reports, this time outlining how a changing climate is affecting rainfall and heat waves, sea level and the oceans, fisheries and food security.

But the AAAS scientists said they were releasing their own assessment ahead of time because they were concerned that Americans still failed to appreciate the gravity of climate change.

Despite "overwhelming evidence," the AAAS said Americans had failed to appreciate the seriousness of the risks posed by climate change, and had yet to mobilise at a pace and scale needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The scientists said they were hoping to persuade Americans to look at climate change as an issue of risk management. The society said it plans to send out scientists on speaking tours to try to begin a debate on managing those risks.

The report noted the climate is warming at almost unprecedented pace.

"The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades."

An 8F rise – among the most likely scenarios could make once rare extreme weather events – 100-year floods, droughts and heat waves – almost annual occurrences, the scientists said.

Other sudden systemic changes could lie ahead – such as large scale collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

"There is a risk of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes in the earth’s climate system with massively disruptive impacts," the report said.

The risks of such catastrophes would only grow over time – unless there was action to cut emissions, the scientists said.

Wyoming First State to Block Science Standards That Teach Climate Change

Mar 17, 2014
(Casper Star-Tribune)

Wyoming is the first state to block a new set of national science standards, but a week after Gov. Matt Mead signed off on the change, education advocates are still digesting what the action means for the state.

Some say the provision, which came through a last-minute budget footnote, blocks the state from considering any part of the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of K-12 standards developed by national science education groups and representatives from 26 states. Others, including the provision's author, say it prevents the wholesale adoption of the standards as they are written.

U.S. Agrees to Allow BP Back Into Gulf Waters to Seek Oil

Mar 14, 2014
(New York Times)

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP is being welcomed back to seek new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

An agreement on Thursday with the Environmental Protection Agency lifts a 2012 ban that was imposed after the agency concluded that BP had not fully corrected problems that led to the well blowout in 2010 that killed 11 rig workers, spilled millions of gallons of oil and contaminated hundreds of miles of beaches.

BP had sued to have the suspension lifted, and now the agreement will mean hundreds of millions of dollars of new business for the company. But even more important, oil analysts said, it signifies an important step in the company’s recovery from the accident, which has been costly to its finances and reputation.

New York County Issues Moratorium on Expansion of Crude Oil Processing

Mar 13, 2014
(Reuters)

New York's Albany County on Wednesday issued a moratorium on the expansion of crude oil processing in the Port of Albany, pending a public health investigation.

Processing and storing crude oil at the port could pose health risks, said County Executive Daniel McCoy, who estimated that the health review could take "many months."

The moratorium targets a proposed expansion at an oil-processing facility operated by Global Partners LP. The company is seeking to build several boilers that would heat crude oil before it is off-loaded and shipped for refining.

Wyoming High Court Reverses Ruling on Fracking Fluids Disclosures

Mar 12, 2014
(Casper Star-Tribune)

The Wyoming Supreme Court today reversed the ruling of a Casper judge who found ingredients used in fracking fluids are trade secrets and exempt from freedom of information requests.

The high court stopped short of issuing a decision on whether or not fracking ingredients are considered a trade secret, a designation which would exempt them from disclosure under the Wyoming Public Records Act. Instead, the justices ruled the state district court must decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not an ingredient qualifies as a trade secret.

In 2010, Wyoming became the first state in the country to require companies disclose the chemicals used for fracking to state regulators. But the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission denied requests from environmentalists and landowners' groups to publicly disclose the components used in fracking fluids, saying intense industry competition and financial investment in their development protected them against public release.

Two Dozen Arrested in Philly Oil Pipeline Protest

Mar 10, 2014
(AP)
Dozens of environmentalists blocked entrances to a federal office building yesterday in Center City to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and police began arresting them.

About 40 activists stood in front of three sets of doors to the William J. Green Building, on Arch Street near 6th, as an additional 100 people sang, chanted and waved signs in support of the civil disobedience. A fourth entrance remained open.

The actions were "a preview of the resistance to come" if President Obama's administration approves the $5.3 billion project, said Alexa Ross, spokeswoman for Earth Quaker Action Team, which organized the demonstration.

Two dozen people were arrested by federal officers on charges of blocking a federal building and failure to obey an officer, Ross said.

New Ozone-Destroying Chemicals, Which Are Also Potent GHGs, Found in Atmosphere

Mar 10, 2014
(Guardian)

Dozens of mysterious ozone-destroying chemicals may be undermining the recovery of the giant ozone hole over Antarctica, researchers have revealed.

The chemicals, which are also extremely potent greenhouse gases, may be leaking from industrial plants or being used illegally, contravening the Montreal protocol which began banning the ozone destroyers in 1987. Scientists said the finding of the chemicals circulating in the atmosphere showed "ozone depletion is not yesterday's story."

Until now, a total of 13 CFCs and HCFCs were known to destroy ozone and are controlled by the Montreal protocol, widely regarded as the world's most successful environmental law. But scientists have now identified and measured four previously unknown compounds and warned of the existence of many more.

"There are definitely more out there," said Dr Johannes Laube, at the University of East Anglia. "We have already picked up dozens more. They might well add up to dangerous levels, especially if we keep finding more." Laube and his colleagues are in the process of fully analysing the dozens of new compounds, but the work completed on the four new chemicals shows them to be very powerful destroyers of ozone.

Laube is particularly concerned that the atmospheric concentrations of two of the new compounds, while low now, are actually accelerating. "They are completely unimpressed by the Montreal protocol," Laube told the Guardian. "There are quite a few loopholes in the protocol and we hope some of these are tightened. But the good news is that we have picked up these [four] early." The chemicals take decades to break down in the atmosphere, meaning their impact on ozone and climate change is long-lived.

"This research highlights that ozone depletion is not yesterday's story," said Prof Piers Forster, at the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study. "The Montreal protocol – the most successful international environmental legislation in history – phased out ozone-depleting substances from 1987 and the ozone layer should recover by 2050. Nevertheless this paper reminds us we need to be vigilant and continually monitor the atmosphere for even small amounts of these gases creeping up."

The new research, published the journal Nature Geoscience, analysed air samples captured since the mid-1970s in several ways. Air bubbles trapped in snowpack in Greenland, samples taken by scientists in Tasmania and others collected by aircraft flying 13 miles above Europe were all analysed. The team found three new CFCs and one HCFC, none of which had been identified before. "I was surprised no-one had picked these up before," said Laube. At least 74,000 tonnes of the four newly discovered chemicals have been emitted, the scientists estimate, although in the 1980s one million tonnes of other CFCs were pumped into the atmosphere every year.

U.S. Govt Creates Incentives to Rebuild Flood-Hit Coastal Homes, Over and Over

Mar 9, 2014
(Beth Daley, New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

SCITUATE - Over and over again, the Atlantic has taken aim at 48 Oceanside Drive. Almost four decades ago, it slammed the house clear off its foundation. Thirteen years later, seawater poured through the roof during a nor’easter. So often has the sea catapulted grapefruit-sized rocks through the vacation home's windows that a former owner installed bulletproof-glass.

At least nine times the property has sustained significant flood damage from coastal storms. And each time, the federal government helped owners rebuild with National Flood Insurance Program payouts. It has subsidized insurance premiums at the property and in 2005, granted one owner $40,000 to elevate the home.

Now, the current owner of the $1.2 million vacation house is applying for what construction experts say could be $80,000 or more from the federal government to raise the house again.

Forty-eight Oceanside Drive's tortured history with the sea – and the questionable incentives the government has given over decades there – has created a mammoth problem as Congress debates flood insurance reform: What should the U.S. do with properties the sea relentlessly tries to reclaim?

"We always knew it was unsustainable there," said Dr. David Cooney, 75, a Maryland oncologist who sold the house after the 1991 Perfect Storm severely damaged it.

The saga of 48 Oceanside Drive and the sea is repeated across the U.S. There are 534 properties in New England alone that are considered Severe Repetitive Loss properties, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the insurance program. Often, these NFIP-insured properties have had four significant flood claims – two within one decade. Nationwide there are about 12,000.

Scituate has 112 of them. Over the years, such properties have accounted for 689 losses. The total in claims: $21.3 million, according to FEMA.

All of this occurs without any inquiry into whether the homeowners are wealthy, poor, or in between: FEMA's flood insurance was designed to help all flood-prone properties regardless of economic status.

The insurance program, which began in 1968 after private insurers largely abandoned flood insurance because of the recurrent risks, was initially designed to pay for itself. But a series of punishing storms starting with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has meant premiums have not kept pace with payouts. Today, the program is about $24 billion in debt and taxpayers are now left holding the bill.

That shortfall is expected to widen in coming years as sea levels rise and storms are projected to become more intense from man-made climate change. Atlantic waters from north of Boston to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina are rising three to four times faster than globally, according to federal scientists. Billions of dollars worth of homes are on the front line.

Homeowners, like those at 48 Oceanside Drive, have every right to take advantage of legal government programs to protect property. The question is whether, in a time of rising tides and soaring deficits, the flood insurance program creates incentives that contravene both public policy and common sense.

Such concerns led Congress in 2012 to phase out subsidies and boost premiums to reflect the true risks of living in flood-prone homes.

But even as the law took hold, new federal flood plain maps raised insurance rates for hundreds of thousands of U.S. homeowners. The double-hit created a political backlash with many politicians, including those in New England who initially voted for the new law, supporting its delay or rollback.

The Senate is expected to pass a House-approved bill this week that would still raise premiums, but not as steeply as the 2012 law. While second homes and properties that are repeatedly hit would experience greater increases, their owners would still be eligible for sizable grants to elevate and fortify homes and there remains no limit on the number of times a property can collect.

"It's like a boat with a hole in the side of it, the (National Flood Insurance Program) needs bailing out,’’ said Seth Kaplan, vice president for policy and climate advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based legal non-profit. "It only stays afloat as long as the government is willing to put taxpayer money into it."

Enbridge Line 9 Pipeline Reversal Approved by Canadian Energy Board

Mar 7, 2014
(The Canadian Press)

The National Energy Board has approved energy giant Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of a pipeline that has been running between southern Ontario and Montreal for years.

The green light for the Calgary-based company is subject to certain conditions and requirements. 

A statement from the National Energy Board says "the board’s conditions require Enbridge to undertake activities regarding pipeline integrity, emergency response, and continued consultation."

Enbridge will also have to submit a plan to manage cracking features in the pipeline, and manage water crossings.

Iowa Got Nearly 30% of Energy From Wind Last Year

Mar 6, 2014
(Des Moines Register)

Iowa received about 27 percent of its energy from wind generation last year, placing it first in the nation, ahead of South Dakota at 26 percent, a report released Wednesday shows.

The American Wind Energy Association said Iowa generated enough wind energy last year to power 1.4 million homes, second only to Texas, which generated enough wind energy to power 3.3 million homes.

Iowa has 5,117 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity, with 1,055 megawatts under construction.