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Today's Climate

April 15, 2014

Smog-hit China is set to pass a new law that would give Beijing more powers to shut polluting factories and punish officials, and even place protected regions off-limits to industrial development, scholars with knowledge of the situation said. Long-awaited amendments to China's 1989 Environmental Protection Law are expected to be finalised later this year, giving the Ministry of Environmental Protection greater authority to take on polluters.
(Christian Science Monitor)
Economic development in the Eurozone is gaining ground, though any recovery there will be tepid. With North America relying less on foreign imports, energy investors should be following shifting demand dynamics to Asian economies. U.S. and European policymakers have been focused on energy security in the Eurozone as Russian energy company Gazprom rattles its sabers at a Ukrainian government tilting strongly toward the European Union.

April 14, 2014

The cost of keeping global warming in check is "relatively modest," but only if the world acts quickly to reverse the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the head of the U.N.'s expert panel on climate change said Sunday. Such gases, mainly CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, rose on average by 2.2 percent a year in 2000-2010, driven by the use of coal in the power sector, officials said as they launched the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change's report on measures to fight global warming.
(The Nation)
Two prominent public health organizations are pressing the State Department to study the public health implications of the Keystone XL pipeline before reaching a decision on its approval. "There is an increasing recognition that the environments in which people live, work, learn and play have a tremendous impact on their health," reads a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State John Kerry by the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health.
(Texas Tribune)
In December, a new terminal in the Port of Beaumont welcomed its first customer: a train carrying 43,000 barrels of crude oil from Colorado. Workers at the terminal, the Jefferson Transload Railport, transferred the crude to a barge, which traveled down the Neches River to a nearby refinery. As shale fields scattered across the Midwest and West Texas produce millions of barrels of crude oil, energy companies are finding the national pipeline network insufficient to transport their output.
(Al Jazeera America)
Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation's strictest. A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers told the Associated Press. He called the link "probable."
(Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Enbridge Energy's pipelines have for decades carried crude oil from Canada and North Dakota across northern Minnesota to U.S. oil refineries. Enbridge, whose headquarters is in Calgary, runs its U.S. pipeline development business from Duluth-Superior with about 700 employees. One of them is Mark Curwin, senior director of strategic coordination for U.S. projects.
(The Hill)
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not required to adopt carbon monoxide standards to mitigate global warming, and that its current standards are sufficient to protect public health. Environmental groups had challenged the EPA's 2011 decision that it does not have to adopt carbon monoxide secondary standards—meant to protect the environment—and that its existing primary standards—meant to protect health—are sufficient.
(Southern California Public Radio)
Pitzer College has announced it will divest its $125 million endowment of financial holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of the year. The move makes Pitzer the first college in Southern California to commit to climate divestment, and the largest endowment in higher education to do so to date.  Divestment from fossil fuel companies is the goal of a network of activists who argue that profiting from or supporting industries that contribute heavily to climate change is morally wrong.
(E&E Publishing)
President Obama is poised to disappoint a valuable swath of his base no matter how he rules on Keystone XL. But with Democrats facing a possible loss of Senate control next year, would alienating pro-pipeline unions or anti-pipeline environmentalists sting harder for the party?
(Houston Chronicle)
Eons before the first wildcatters smelled oil in West Texas, massive slabs of eroded sediment had fused and folded into thick bands underground, trapping the primordial sludge in layers of earth too deep to reach until modern-day engineers discovered a way. The technological breakthroughs of the past half-decade have made the plains near Odessa and Midland—long considered past their prime—some of the most coveted land in the nation.
(New York Times)
Residents of this isolated mountain valley of terraced cornfields were just going to sleep last April when they were jolted by an enormous roar, followed by a tower of flames. A shock wave rolled across the valley, rattling windows in farmhouses and village shops, and a mysterious, pungent gas swiftly pervaded homes. "It was so scary—everyone who had a car fled the village and the rest of us without cars just stayed and waited to die," said Zhang Mengsu, a hardware store owner.
A crude oil leak from a pipeline owned by a unit of China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) is to blame for water contamination that has affected more than 2.4 million people in the Chinese city of Lanzhou, media reported on Saturday. The official Xinhua news agency cited Yan Zijiang, Lanzhou's environmental protection chief, as saying that a leak in a pipeline owned by Lanzhou Petrochemical Co., a unit of CNPC, was to blame for the water contamination.
(National Journal)
Mr. DeMille, climate change is ready for its close-up. Environmentalists have long complained that climate issues are largely ignored on television news. And when climate does make the main screen, the discussion is not about how to address global warming, but instead on a question that the movement—and the vast majority of scientists—consider long-settled: whether human activity is changing the climate.

April 11, 2014

(The Hill)
White House press secretary Jay Carney attempted to sideline any noise that President Obama would establish a hard deadline for his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline Thursday."Our position on that process hasn't changed, which is that it needs to run its appropriate course without interference from the White House or Congress," Carney said to reporters. "It was because of actions taken by Republicans in Congress that one delay was caused in the process already."
Japan's cabinet approved the first national energy strategy since the Fukushima nuclear accident more than three years ago, designating nuclear as an important source of electricity for the resource-poor nation. The 78-page plan maps out policies on the production and supply of atomic power, clean energy and other sources. The document is based on the recommendations of a 15-member task force comprised mostly of academics.
The student-led effort to pull Harvard's $32.7 billion university endowment out of the fossil fuel campaign just gained the support of the school's faculty. In an open letter to the Ivy League school's president and trustees, signed by 93 staff members, they called the university out for supporting greenhouse gas-reducing programs on campus "while maintaining investments that promote their increase locally and worldwide."
(McClatchy Tribune)
Grain producers, manufacturers and coal shippers told federal regulators Thursday that rail service has deteriorated drastically in the nation's midsection in recent months, leaving crops in piles on the ground and fuel stocks low at electric power plants as resources go undelivered. Railroad representatives told the federal Surface Transportation Board that a brutal winter, combined with a record grain harvest, was to blame for the delays, but the industry's critics charge that their shipments are taking a back seat to crude oil.
U.S. Development Group is seeking permits to build an oil terminal on the Washington coast that could handle about 45,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The $80 million proposal at the Port of Grays Harbor is one of several in Washington that together would bring millions of barrels of oil by train from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana.
(StateImpact Texas)
As the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has grown, so has the need to build pipelines to transport it to markets. Chester County has become a natural nexus for pipelines, due to its proximity to the shale as well as heavily-populated areas along the East Coast. Pennsylvania's Joint Legislative Conservation Committee held a hearing today in Chester Springs to discuss ways to expand state oversight of pipelines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to focus on cracking down on just the largest polluters will deliver "lasting returns" to the American public, its top enforcement official said on Thursday. Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA's office of enforcement, wrote in a blog post that the agency remained committed to punishing polluters that violate U.S. rules but needed to prioritize because of budgetary and staffing constraints.
Whether or not fracking causes groundwater pollution, people fear the risk enough that property values have dropped for homes with drinking-water wells near shale-gas pads, according to new research. Researchers from the Unviersity of Calgary and Duke University studied property sales from 1994 to 2012 in 36 Pennsylvania counties and seven counties in New York. They mapped sales against the locations of shale-gas wells, and they compared homes connected to public drinking-water systems to homes with private wells.
(Al Jazeera America)
California is known for the twin threat of natural disasters from drought and earthquakes, with both phenomena certain to give many residents serious concern. But there is one group that is starting to reap serendipitous marketing ammunition from the state's current historic drought and the ever-present worry of ground-shaking tremors: the anti-fracking movement.
(Houston Chronicle)
The first round of offshore safety audits under new federal regulations proved "a mixed bag," with some deep-water operators giving authorities few insights into how they handle vessel deficiencies and other issues, a federal regulator said Thursday. "There are some companies that clearly get it," Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said at an industry conference in Houston on Thursday. "But we also found quite a few of the audits where information was quite limited. We really wondered if we got what we needed out of that in many cases."
(The Times-Picayune)
Researchers with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are set to provide an update on findings from a years-long study looking at the impact the 2010 Gulf oil spill had on the health of those involved in the cleanup effort. The study, launched in the early days of the spill, is tracking the spill's impact on some 33,000 cleanup workers and volunteers.
(Columbus Dispatch)
An increase in severe weather has led to a doubling of major power outages across the country in the past decade, according to a new report from a climate-change research group. American Electric Power, with its 11-state footprint and largely rural service territory, has been affected as much or more than any other utility.
It is already taking shape as the 21st century urban nightmare: a big storm hits a city like Shanghai, Mumbai, Miami or New York, knocking out power supply and waste treatment plants, washing out entire neighbourhoods and marooning the survivors in a toxic and foul-smelling swamp. Now the world's leading scientists are suggesting that those same cities in harm's way could help drive solutions to climate change.

April 10, 2014

(The Hill)
A group of Senate Democrats is urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of next month, saying the process "has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify." The letter, spearheaded by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a tough reelection bid this year, requests that Obama set a hard deadline for Secretary of State John Kerry to make his national interest determination.
(Los Angeles Times)
A bill that would place a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in oil drilling in California was approved by a state Senate panel on Tuesday. The measure was passed by a bare majority of five votes by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee after some Democrats abstained and Chairwoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) provided a courtesy vote to keep the issue alive for more discussions that could end up changing the bill.
China plans to ban imports of coal with high-ash and high-sulfur content as the nation seeks to limit the dirtiest fuels to fight pollution. The world's largest coal consumer will encourage imports of higher-quality supplies, according to Ren Lixin, the head of the coal division at the National Energy Administration. Domestic demand for the fuel may rise "slightly" this year and imports are expected to be similar to 2013 levels, he said at a conference in Shanghai today.