As Senate votes were rolling in Wednesday—declaring climate change real, but denying mankind's role in it—President Barack Obama was issuing a different kind of decree. In the first executive order after his State of the Union address, the White House created the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which will attempt to wrangle the numerous agencies in charge of Arctic programs and better coordinate their work in the face of climate change.
"Over the past 60 years, climate change has caused the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States," Obama said in the order, "and will continue to transform the Arctic as its consequences grow more severe."
In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama made some of his most forceful comments to date about global warming, mocking the Republican reluctance to acknowledge man-made climate change and warning Congress against attacking his efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama spoke about climate change late in the 63-minute long speech. But his rhetoric was blunt. "No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," he said. "That's why, over the past six years, we've done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it...And that's why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts."
The president derided as a "dodge" the new, stock response Republicans use to deflect questions about climate change, that they can't assess the issue because they're not scientists. "Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities," he said.
Obama's pointed climate change comments were in keeping with a defiant tone he struck across a range of issues, from immigration reform to childcare to negotiations with Iran.
This article has been updated on Jan. 22 at 4:00 PM to reflect more recent estimates on the maximum amount of oil that could have spilled in the Yellowstone River.
In eastern Montana, an oil spill under the Yellowstone River over the weekend has tainted the water supply of Glendive, a nearby town of about 6,000 people. The river's thick ice cover, which is two feet in places, is complicating the cleanup efforts.
"My gosh, I know what diesel smells like...and we had a definite diesel smell in our drinking water," said Glendive City Councilman Gerry Reichert. "We sort of have a mess."
Around 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17, a stretch of the Bridger Pipeline LLC's Poplar Pipeline that crosses the Yellowstone River cracked, for reasons still unknown. Company workers in Wyoming detected a drop in pressure and shut off the pipeline by 11 a.m. During that time, between 300 to 954 barrels (or 12,000 to 40,000 gallons) of oil were released.
Four days after the spill, the Poplar Pipeline, which transports crude oil across Montana, is still shut down. The section of the 50-year old pipeline measures 12 inches in diameter and is a half-inch thick.
According to Bill Salvin, a public relations specialist hired by the pipeline company, the size and the type of the rupture is unknown and it's in a stretch of pipe directly underneath the riverbed. That means most of the oil likely leaked into the water. A 2011 leak from Exxon's Silvertip Pipeline spilled 63,000 gallons of crude oil in the same river—very little of it was recovered.
As debate intensifies over oil and gas drilling, most states with frackable reserves are already fracking—or making moves to do so in the near future.
That translates to 22 states, from California to Texas, Michigan to West Virginia, currently employing this high-intensity form of energy extraction, and five others may soon follow. Called high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process became commercially viable in the late 1990s. It generally involves injecting millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals, down a well to extract oil-and-gas reserves that were previously hard to access.
InsideClimate News compiled a comprehensive map of the nation's fracking activity. This state-by-state breakdown will be periodically updated.
The Obama administration's new plan for reducing the oil and gas industry's methane emissions will drive down releases of the potent greenhouse gas despite a heavy reliance on voluntary measures, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency said.
Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator since 2013, defended the plan, issued this week, against criticism by environmentalists that it is too cautious because regulations would apply only to new oil and gas sources. The industry argues that the new rules aren't needed because methane emissions have already been declining.
The year 2014 was officially the hottest year since records began, federal scientists announced on Friday, part of a long-term warming trend driven by the burning of fossil fuels.
Ten of the warmest years ever have occurred since 1997. Global ocean and land temperatures, which have been calculated since 1880, measured 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average temperature in 2014, and 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial averages. December also marked the 358th consecutive month—nearly 30 years—of above-average global temperatures.
"This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades," said Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases."
The warming contributed to dozens of extreme weather and climate events last year, including severe hurricanes, drought, flooding and heat waves.
The first air monitor in the heart of the fracking-intensive Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been installed and will be in operation following calibration tests to assess its accuracy.
The 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor that looks like a cargo trailer with antennas was set in place on the grounds of the Karnes County courthouse on the main street of Karnes City last month by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Placing the air monitor in Karnes County follows a recent air-quality study that tracked hydrocarbon emissions on the fringe of the region, pressure from local officials, news reports and residents worried about the air they breathe.
Yet even when the monitor begins producing air quality data, that information may not spark official concern because Texas adheres to air quality guidelines that permit exposure to higher amounts of some chemicals than other states.
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on January 14 rolled out its long-awaited plan to control the oil and gas industry's emissions of methane, saying it would cut leaks of the potent global-warming pollutant nearly in half in the coming decade.
The White House called its approach a crucial step to achieving the ambitious greenhouse-gas emissions targets President Obama announced last November in Beijing, but some environmental advocates said the plan, which relies heavily on voluntary efforts, failed to go far enough.
The methane plan calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to propose methane reductions at new oil and gas sites by summer 2015 and issue a final rule next year. The goal is to cut the industry's emissions 40 to 45 percent below the 2012 level by the year 2025.
The yearly battle over the U.S. budget officially begins on Feb. 2, when the president plans to send his fiscal 2016 funding proposal to Congress, where it will be torn to shreds or ignored entirely.
While the annual drama involves trillions of dollars, it's usually of limited interest to far-flung governments around the world. Not this year, though, thanks to a budget line item whose fate will be closely tracked by an international audience.
The line item of interest is President Barack Obama's expected request for money for the Green Climate Fund, which is a key component in the push for a global agreement this year to limit global warming. The fund is meant to collect and distribute money from developed nations to help poorer and developing countries lower future carbon emissions and prevent further damage from the effects of climate change.
On Dec. 30, 2014, California regulators released new state rules for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
State regulators and members of industry have repeatedly hailed the rigorous rules, which go into effect July 1. Dr. Steven Bohlen, California's state oil-and-gas supervisor, called them "as strict or stricter than any other state's."
But some local scientists and environmentalists counter that the rules fall short, noting gaps in coverage and problems with the rulemaking process.
Fracking is the controversial practice of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals down a well to crack open bedrock and extract previously hard-to-access oil and gas reserves.