While Trump promotes coal, other countries are turning to cheap sun power

The Washington Post reports: On the solar farms of the Atacama Desert, the workers dress like astronauts. They wear bodysuits and wraparound sunglasses, with thick canvas headscarves to shield them from the radiation.

The sun is so intense and the air so dry that seemingly nothing survives. Across vast, rocky wastes blanched of color, there are no cactuses or other visible signs of life. It’s Mars, with better cellphone reception.

It is also the world’s best place to produce solar energy, with the most potent sun power on the planet.

So powerful, in fact, that something extraordinary happened last year when the Chilean government invited utility companies to bid on public contracts. Solar producers dominated the auction, offering to supply electricity at about half the cost of coal-fired plants.

It wasn’t because of a government subsidy for alternative energy. In Chile and a growing list of nations, the price of solar energy has fallen so much that it is increasingly beating out conventional sources of power. Industry experts and government regulators hail this moment as a turning point in the history of human electricity-making.

“This is the beginning of a trend that will only accelerate,” said Chilean Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo. “We’re talking about an infinite fuel source.” [Continue reading…]

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China poised to take lead on climate after Trump’s move to undo policies

The New York Times reports: For years, the Obama administration prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to slow the global effects of climate change.

President Obama and other American officials saw the pledges from both Beijing and Washington as crucial: China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

In the coming years, the opposite dynamic is poised to play out. President Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday aimed at undoing many of the Obama administration’s climate change policies flips the roles of the two powers.

Now, it is far likelier that the world will see China pushing the United States to meet its commitments and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if Mr. Trump has signaled he has no intention of doing so.

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”

“China wants to take over the role of the U.S. as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signs executive order unwinding Obama climate policies

The New York Times reports: President Trump, flanked by company executives and miners, signed a long-promised executive order on Tuesday to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts and revive the coal industry, effectively ceding American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.

Mr. Trump made clear that the United States had no intention of meeting the commitments that his predecessor had made to curb planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution, turning denials of climate change into national policy.

At a ceremony, Mr. Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Mr. Trump said to the miners. “You’re going back to work.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: While the action may give a reprieve to some coal-fired plants facing extinction, large utilities say they will continue long-term investments to generate more power from gas, wind and solar, which are being driven by economic as well as regulatory forces. The White House official said Monday that the order is part of the president’s promise to restore the coal sector, but the official acknowledged that merely repealing the regulations wouldn’t bring back jobs.

Cheap U.S. natural gas unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has prompted many companies to scrap older coal plants in favor of gas-fired plants, which require fewer workers to operate. Companies are also taking advantage of tax credits for renewable power to build out solar and wind farms, which are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation thanks to economies of scale and advances in technology.

Duke Energy Corp. says it plans to invest $11 billion in natural gas and renewable power generation over the next 10 years, as the company aims by 2026 to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels.

That represents a long-term company strategy and isn’t likely to change, Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a February interview. The utility’s power generating mix is now 34% coal and 28% natural gas, compared with 61% coal and 5% gas in 2005. By 2026, it estimates gas will be the dominant fuel, followed by coal, nuclear and renewable power.

“Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” said Ms. Good. “Administrations will change during the life of our business and our assets, and we’ll continue to move forward in a way that makes sense for our investors and our customers.”

Southern Co. plans to invest at least $1 billion a year over the next five years in new wind farms. It now uses natural gas to generate 47% of its power, with coal providing 31%, nuclear 15%, and hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources 7%.

“Going forward, we anticipate an increase in renewable generation capacity and declining utilization of coal,” said Terrell McCollum, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based utility.

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Trump to sign executive order undoing Obama’s clean power plan

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump will on Tuesday sign an executive order to unravel Barack Obama’s plan to curb global warming, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Sunday, claiming the move would be “pro-growth and pro-environment”.

“The president is keeping his promise to the American people,” said Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who has questioned accepted climate science, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week. During the interview, Pruitt also called the Paris climate accord a “bad deal” and said Obama-era standards on auto emissions were “counter-helpful to the environment”.

Pruitt said the Trump order would undo the Obama administration’s clean power plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.

“With respect to this executive order that’s coming out on Tuesday,” he said, “this is about making sure that we have a pro-growth and pro-environment approach to how we do regulation in this country.”

Earlier this month, Pruitt told CNBC he did not believe the release of carbon dioxide, a gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels, was pushing global temperatures upward – as scientists have known for decades. [Continue reading…]

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California upholds auto emissions standards, setting up face-off with Trump

The New York Times reports: California’s clean-air agency voted on Friday to push ahead with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, setting up a potential legal battle with the Trump administration over the state’s plan to reduce planet-warming gases.

The vote, by the California Air Resources Board, is the boldest indication yet of California’s plan to stand up to President Trump’s agenda. Leading politicians in the state, from the governor down to many mayors, have promised to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump’s policies.

Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. Automakers are aggressively pursuing those changes after years of supporting stricter standards.

But California can write its own standards because of a longstanding waiver granted under the Clean Air Act, giving the state — the country’s biggest auto market — major sway over the auto industry. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., follow California’s standards, a coalition that covers more than 130 million residents and more than a third of the vehicle market in the United States.

“All of the evidence — call it science, call it economics — shows that if anything, these standards should be even more aggressive,” said the board member Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert at the University of California, Davis. [Continue reading…]

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In the battle for the planet’s climate future, Australia’s Adani mine is the line in the sand

Bill McKibben writes: There is nowhere else on the planet right now where the dichotomy between two potential futures – one where we address the climate change crisis, one where we ignore this momentous threat and continue with business as usual – is playing out in such a dramatic and explosive way as Australia.

In the US, Donald Trump is decimating decades of hard-fought environmental and climate standards – it’s all 18th century all the time. But the ageing fossil fuel assets and recent “market failure” of the Australian electricity grid is pushing political leaders to all-out brawling, pitting conservative inaction against the demand for solution-focused action.

A recent wave of blackouts and near misses and the proposal of the biggest coalmine in the world – the Adani Carmichael mine in Queensland – has created tinder-dry conditions that only needed one spark to go up in flames.

The spark finally came recently, via Twitter, from renewable energy entrepreneur Elon Musk who offered to sell the batteries that would remove the last argument against renewable power.

It turned the deadlocked debate over how to fix Australia’s fossil fuel-ladenand often failing energy “market” into an open war between those backing the dying coal industry with those set on using the moment to transition to renewable energy. [Continue reading…]

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U.S., in reversal, issues permit for Keystone oil pipeline

The New York Times reports: During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly hailed the Keystone XL pipeline as a vital jobs program and one that sharply contrasted his vision for the economy with that of Hillary Clinton.

“Today we begin to make things right,” President Trump said Friday morning shortly after the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for Keystone construction, a reversal of Obama administration policy.

The pipeline would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. It has long been an object of contention, with environmentalists saying it would contribute to climate change and the project’s proponents — Republicans, some labor unions and the oil industry — contending that it would help guarantee national energy security for decades to come.

When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels. [Continue reading…]

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Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds

The Guardian reports: The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t roll back the vehicle fuel standards

Jody Freeman writes: One of the signal achievements of the Obama administration was reaching an agreement with the auto industry to dramatically increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, doubling them to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The industry now wants to renege. At its behest, the Trump administration is expected to initiate a rollback.

Weakening these standards would be a mistake for consumers, the environment and the auto industry itself. They are the most important action the United States has taken to address climate change and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

From 2022-25 alone, they are projected to reduce American oil consumption by 1.2 billion barrels, cut half a billion metric tons of carbon pollution and save consumers millions of dollars in fuel costs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The net benefits to society are estimated at $100 billion. And these gains are on top of those achieved through 2016 and expected through 2021. [Continue reading…]

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‘Shell knew’: Oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger

The Guardian reports: The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.

However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.

Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” [Continue reading…]

 

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How I got arrested while reporting on the Dakota Access pipeline

Jenni Monet writes: The morning after I was bonded out of the Morton County jail, I took to Twitter and posted a detail that I only could have known from actually being on the inside.

“#MniWiconi is inscribed everywhere,” I tweeted. And it’s true.

The signature slogan of the movement to try and stop the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been scrawled, carved and etched throughout the jail  — on cinderblock walls, paint-chipped tabletops, cold metal doors. In Lakota, it loosely translates to “Water is Life.”

Since August, hundreds of protesters, known as water protectors, have passed through those cellblocks as a form of punishment for their unwavering commitment to protect the Missouri River from a potential oil spill. According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, it has processed a total of 696 protest-related arrests.

On Wednesday, February 1, I became one of them. [Continue reading…]

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FBI counter-terrorism taskforce investigating political activists; Army veterans return to defend protesters at Standing Rock

The Guardian reports: The FBI is investigating political activists campaigning against the Dakota Access pipeline, diverting agents charged with preventing terrorist attacks to instead focus their attention on indigenous activists and environmentalists.

The Guardian has established that multiple officers within the FBI’s joint terrorism taskforce have attempted to contact at least three people tied to the Standing Rock “water protector” movement in North Dakota.

The purpose of the officers’ inquiries into Standing Rock, and scope of the task force’s work, remains unknown. Agency officials declined to comment. But the fact that the officers have even tried to communicate with activists is alarming to free-speech experts who argue that anti-terrorism agents have no business scrutinizing protesters.

“The idea that the government would attempt to construe this indigenous-led non-violent movement into some kind of domestic terrorism investigation is unfathomable to me,” said Lauren Regan, a civil rights attorney who has provided legal support to demonstrators who were contacted by representatives of the FBI. “It’s outrageous, it’s unwarranted … and it’s unconstitutional.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over.

Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river.

The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pipeline and America’s shame

Bill McKibben writes: The Trump Administration is breaking with tradition on so many fronts — renting out the family hotel to foreign diplomats, say, or imposing travel restrictions on the adherents of disfavored religions — that it seems noteworthy when it exhibits some continuity with American custom. And so let us focus for a moment, before the President’s next disorienting tweet, on yesterday’s news that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be restarted, a development that fits in perfectly with one of this country’s oldest cultural practices, going back to the days of Plymouth Rock: repressing Native Americans.

Just to rehash the story briefly, this pipeline had originally been set to carry its freight of crude oil under the Missouri River, north of Bismarck. But the predominantly white citizens of that town objected, pointing out that a spill could foul their drinking water. So the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, remapped the crossing for just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This piece of blatant environmental racism elicited a remarkable reaction, eventually drawing representatives of more than two hundred Indian nations from around the continent to a great encampment at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, near where the pipeline was set to go. They were joined, last summer and into the fall, by clergy groups, veterans groups, environmental groups — including 350.org, the climate-advocacy organization I co-founded — and private citizens, who felt that this was a chance to begin reversing four centuries of literally and figuratively dumping on Native Americans. And the protesters succeeded. Despite the German shepherds and pepper spray let loose by E.T.P.’s security guards, despite the fire hoses and rubber bullets employed by the various paramilitary police forces that assembled, they kept a nonviolent discipline that eventually persuaded the Obama Administration to agree to further study of the plan. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes and lawyers are vowing to fight Trump’s pipelines

BuzzFeed reports: President Trump resurrected two massive pipeline projects on Tuesday, drawing ire and threats of legal action from the movement that fought to keep them off US land.

“We will see his administration in court,” Trip Van Noppen, president of the non-profit group Earthjustice that represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline, said in a statement. “[Trump] should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting, and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects.”

“We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and risk our water,” the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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China’s winding down coal use continues — the country just canceled 104 new coal plants

Vox reports: Because China is such a behemoth, its energy decisions absolutely dwarf anything any other country is doing right now. Case in point: Over the weekend, the Chinese government ordered 13 provinces to cancel 104 coal-fired projects in development, amounting to a whopping 120 gigawatts of capacity in all.

To put that in perspective, the United States has about 305 gigawatts of coal capacity total. The projects that China just ordered halted are equal in size to one-third of the US coal fleet. If the provinces follow through, it’s a very, very big deal for efforts to fight climate change.

This move also shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In recent years, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has been making major efforts to restrain its coal use and shift to cleaner sources of energy. When Donald Trump and other conservatives in the United States complain that China isn’t doing anything about climate change, they simply haven’t been paying attention. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s mission? To keep the U.S. in the fossil age

George Monbiot writes: Make America Wait Again. That is what Donald Trump’s energy policy amounts to. Stop all the clocks, put the technological revolution on hold, ensure that the transition from fossil fuels to clean power is delayed for as long as possible.

Trump is the president that corporate luddites have dreamed of: the man who will let them squeeze every last cent from their oil and coal reserves before they become worthless. They need him because science, technology and people’s demands for a safe and stable world have left them stranded. There is no fair fight that they can win, so their last hope lies with a government that will rig the competition.

To this end, Trump has appointed to his cabinet some of those responsible for a universal crime: inflicted not on particular nations or groups, but on everyone. [Continue reading…]

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Nothing happened. It happens all the time

It’s a strange line of argument but surprisingly commonplace: to first vigorously deny something has happened, but to then say that if it did happen it’s perfectly normal.

When it comes to the issue of Russian interference in American democracy — an issue that should be of real concern to every American citizen — the deniers are mostly in the same position as people who deny climate change.

Assuming a stance of assiduous skepticism they plead that insufficient evidence has been presented to prove the case. As often applies to climate deniers, this professed skepticism seems intended to obscure the fact that the skeptic has a deep investment in one side of the argument.

At the conclusion of his latest diatribe against the mainstream media, Glenn Greenwald writes:

Since it is so often distorted, permit me once again to underscore my own view on the broader Russia issue: Of course it is possible that Russia is responsible for these hacks, as this is perfectly consistent with (and far more mild than) what both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades.

But given the stakes involved, along with the incentives for error and/or deceit, no rational person should be willing to embrace these accusations as Truth unless and until convincing evidence has been publicly presented for review, which most certainly has not yet happened.

“[W]hat both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades” has a vagueness worthy of Donald Trump, but Greenwald’s drift is clear: if the DNC hackings were carried out by Russia, it’s par for the course — nothing unusual, so let’s just move on.

Yet he concedes there are “stakes involved.” Indeed there are, not only because interference by a foreign power played a role in Donald Trump becoming the next U.S. president, but because this puts Greenwald and his close associate and Moscow resident, Edward Snowden, in a very awkward position. Increasingly they look less like independent dissidents speaking truth to power, and more like de facto sympathizers with a hostile power.

During the Bush era, critics of the war in Iraq and of the neoconservative agenda broadly accepted the view that America’s destructive involvement in the Middle East could ultimately be reduced to a single issue: control of the global oil supply.

Strangely, many of those same critics while now witnessing the power of oil flexing its muscles more strongly than ever seen before, would rather focus their attention on the perennial bugaboos of Washington, the mainstream media, the intelligence agencies, and American power.

The DNC was hacked, Wikileaks fed the media with a steady stream of unstartling emails, Trump wildly distorted their contents, and now the most Russia-friendly president ever is about to take office, leading an administration loaded with individuals tied to the oil industry.

Russia, the world’s number-one oil producer, eagerly awaits improved relations with the U.S. not only in the form of sanctions relief but also as Washington predictably tries to slam the brakes on the transition to renewable energy.

Vladimir Putin, who nowadays sees himself as the most powerful man in the world, has reason to be smiling with glee, while the hacking skeptics apparently think he’s merely the beneficiary of a string of good luck and that broadly speaking this is all just business as usual.

You’ve got to be kidding!

The oil industry, Washington, and Moscow will soon be marching in lockstep, while Greenwald directs his audience to the occasional piece of sloppy journalism.

Those who once warned about their dangers are now themselves wielding the weapons of mass distraction.

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U.S.-Venezuela relations will probably deteriorate under Trump. Ask ExxonMobil why

Timothy M. Gill writes: President-elect Donald Trump recently nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. That company and Venezuela have been hostile toward each other over the past decade — which means Tillerson’s nomination suggests that the United States and Venezuela have a tense relationship ahead.

Venezuela is in a stunning economic crisis, with triple-digit inflation, scarce food and medicine, and a weakening currency. The Venezuelan government blames all this on “economic war” waged by the United States and the Venezuelan opposition.

Over the past two decades, the United States and Venezuela have had a difficult relationship. Since the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez as president, Venezuela has criticized U.S. foreign policy, including the “war on terror”; promoted socialist and left-wing governments throughout Latin America; and sought to create a multipolar world by embracing anti-U.S. leaders in Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Russia. [Continue reading…]

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