U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to EPA Power Plant Regulations


The US supreme court is taking up a challenge by industry groups and Republican-led states that want to roll back Obama administration environmental rules aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and developmental problems in children.

The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday in a case about the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to take action against coal- and oil-fired power plants that are responsible for half the nation's output of mercury. The EPA's rules on emissions of chromium, arsenic, acid gases, nickel, cadmium as well as mercury and other toxic substances is supposed to begin taking effect in April, and be in full force next year.

The court is to decide whether the Clean Air Act requires that costs be a factor in the initial decision on whether to regulate hazardous air pollutants from power plants, or whether health risks are the only consideration. The EPA did factor in costs, but only at a later stage when it wrote the standards that are expected to reduce the toxic emissions by 90%.

The costs of installing and operating equipment to remove the pollutants before they are dispersed into the air are hefty – $9.6bn a year, the EPA found.

But the benefits are much greater, $37bn to $90bn annually, the agency said. The savings stem from the prevention of up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 nonfatal heart attacks and 540,000 lost days of work, the EPA said. Mercury accumulates in fish and is especially dangerous to pregnant or breastfeeding women, and young children, because of concern that too much could harm a developing brain.

A disproportionate share of the 600 affected plants, most of which burn coal, are in the south and upper midwest. Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette, representing 21 states at the supreme court, said the law requires the EPA to take account of costs before deciding whether to step in. The states and industry groups also said the agency overstated the benefits of reducing mercury emissions.

Oil Giant BP Drops Membership With ALEC

National Journal

Major oil-and-gas corporation BP announced Monday it is parting ways with the American Legislative Exchange Council, marking just the latest—and likely most significant—departure of a blue-chip company from the conservative group in recent months, National Journal has learned.

A BP spokesman confirmed that the company had chosen to not renew its membership in ALEC, a controversial coalition of corporations and state legislators that actively opposes environmental regulations, at the end of the year.

"We continually assess our engagements with policy and advocacy organizations, and based on our most recent assessment, we have determined that we can effectively pursue policy matters of current interest to BP without renewing our membership in ALEC," the spokesman said.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent Hits Record Low for Winter Maximum


Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for its maximum extent in winter, which scientists said was a result of climate change and abnormal weather patterns.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Thursday that at its peak the ice covered just over 14.5m sq km of the northern seas. This was 130,000 sq km smaller than the previous lowest maximum in 2011.

The peak occurred on 25 February, which the NSIDC's senior research scientist Ted Scambos said was "very early but not unprecedented."

Climate change is driving declining ice coverage in the Arctic, with a recent study found it has also become significantly thinner, down 65% since 1975.

Scambos said northern oceans have progressively warmed because of climate change. This winter, the warmer seas combined with mild weather to create exceptionally poor conditions for the annual freeze.

"[The record low extent] is significant, in that it shows that the Arctic is being seriously impacted by our warming climate," said Scambos. "In general, sea ice retreat has proceeded faster than modelling expects in the Arctic, although models are catching up."

Obama to Order Cuts in Federal Greenhouse Gas Emissions

New York Times

President Obama will sign an executive order on Thursday to cut the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions, a White House official said, his latest use of presidential power to address the root causes of climate change.

It is part of Mr. Obama's effort during his last two years in office to use an expansive interpretation of his presidential authority to counter strong opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress to enacting climate legislation.

Having failed during his first term to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress, Mr. Obama has begun a systematic effort to regulate pollution through the existing Clean Air Act, advancing new rules on emissions from cars and trucks, power plants and oil and gas wells.

U.S. Catholics Lead in Concern About Climate Change, Says Yale Study


Pope Francis might be preaching to the choir on climate change when he releases his environmental- and sustainability-focused encyclical later this year.

A study released by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has found that more Catholics in the United States are worried about global warming than other Christian groups and they are more supportive of policy action to reduce the effects of climate change.

The findings come as Pope Francis has taken a strong stance backing action on climate change, saying it is largely a man-made problem and that it risks the lives of the world's most vulnerable.

Canada Regulator Probing TransCanada Over Safety Allegations


Canada's energy regulator is investigating up to a dozen new allegations of natural gas pipeline safety-code violations at TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO), according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB), and the company confirmed an investigation is under way but offered few details of the allegations.

It marks the second time in recent years the regulator has probed safety practices at Canada's second-largest pipeline company following complaints by a whistleblower.

Documents reviewed by Reuters showed the allegations include faulty or delayed repairs, sloppy welding work and a failure to report key issues to the regulator.

House Passes Bill to Ban EPA 'Secret Science'

The Hill

The House passed a bill Wednesday that aims to increase public scrutiny of the scientific research behind Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

Passed 241-175, the GOP bill would prohibit the EPA from using so-called "secret science" to justify its rules.

Instead, the EPA would have to make public the details of all the research upon which its rules rely. If a rule's science isn't made public, the EPA would not be allowed to write the rule.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman. It answers a common GOP claim that the EPA uses "secret science" that prevents the public and the agency's opponents from criticizing research.

Oil Shipments to Restart in Pipeline That Broke Under Yellowstone River


A Wyoming company is preparing to resume oil shipments through a pipeline that broke and spewed 30,000 gallons of crude into Montana's Yellowstone River, even as most of the spilled oil remains unrecovered.

Cleanup is on hold near the small city of Glendive, where the water supply for 6,000 residents was temporarily contaminated.

Efforts to remove oil from the Yellowstone will resume after it's clear of ice and safe to work on, said a spokesman for Bridger Pipeline LLC, the company responsible for the spill. But prospects were considered slim for much more crude to be recovered so long after the spill.

The Casper, Wyo., company began restarting a 50-mile section of the pipeline that runs south of the spill site to Baker, Montana on Wednesday, spokesman Bill Salvin said.
Workers also have been setting up equipment to drill a new passage for the line deeper beneath the river, under an order from federal regulators.

Koch Industries Won't Comply With Dems' Probe into Fossil Fuel Money in Climate Research


The industrial conglomerate run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is refusing to provide Democratic lawmakers with information on whether it has paid for climate change research.

Last month, three Democratic senators sent 100 letters to an assortment of fossil-fuel companies and organizations seeking information on whether they have backed research into global warming and other environmental topics.

Koch Industries Inc., which includes refining, chemical and pipeline companies, was among the recipients.

But in a March 5 letter obtained by The Associated Press, Mark V. Holden, Koch's senior vice president and general counsel, wrote that such information treads on First Amendment rights.

Read the full letter.

Climate Skeptics Attempt to Block Merchants of Doubt Film


On screen, the man widely regarded as the grandfather of climate denial appears a genial participant in a newly-released expose about industry's efforts to block action on global warming.

But behind the scenes, Fred Singer has lobbied fellow climate deniers to try to block the film, Merchants of Doubt, and raised the prospect of legal action against the filmmaker.

"It's exactly what we talk about in the film. It's a product of a playbook which is to go after the messengers and attack and try and change the conversation, and try to intimidate, and it is very effective," said Robert Kenner, the filmmaker.

Since the film's release, Kenner, and Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor and co-author of the book on which the documentary is based, have come under attack in climate denier blogs, and in email chains.

The backlash appears to have been initiated by Singer, 90, a Princeton-trained physicist who has a cameo in the film.

Singer dismisses the dangers of secondhand smoking. He also denies human activity is a main cause of climate change. "It's all bunk. It's all bunk," a seemingly jovial Singer says in the film.

By last autumn however Singer appeared to be having second thoughts about his participation in the project.

In a series of email exchanges with a global network of climate deniers from Christopher Monckton to the Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon, Singer raises the prospect of blocking the film's release.

"Gents, Do you think I have a legal case against Oreskes? Can I sue for damages? Can we get a legal injunction against the documentary?" Singer wrote last October. "I need your advice."

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