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Developer Pulls Plug on Wisconsin Wind Farm Over Policy Uncertainty

Other wind energy firms are expected to follow in Invenergy's footsteps and move planned projects to states with more favorable wind policies

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 24, 2011
Wind turbines in Wisconsin

Wind energy developer pulled the plug on a planned wind farm in Wisconsin last week, in the first of what may be a slew of such money-losing exits for the state.

The Chicago-based firm cited the state's "regulatory uncertainty" in its decision to cancel plans for the 150-megawatt Ledge Wind Energy Center in southern Brown County.

Invenergy said that the abrupt suspension of state wind siting rules and an "unstable climate" — namely Gov. Scott Walker's to establish the nation's most stringent wind standards — had forced the firm to think twice about building its 100-turbine project in Wisconsin.

Turbines at the firm's 129-megawatt Forward Wind Energy Center near Lake Michigan, which came online in 2008, will keep spinning.

"We could not justify continuing to make significant financial commitments in maintaining the Ledge project while uncertainty persists regarding relevant project regulations," Invenergy said in .

Droughts to Worsen in East Africa, With Implications for U.S. Food Aid

USAID says findings will influence food program for Horn of Africa; IPCC author says panel will consider the results in next climate assessment

By Katherine Bagley

Mar 23, 2011
drought in Africa

Rising global temperatures could trigger more extreme drought conditions in the coming decades in East Africa, U.S. researchers have concluded. Their findings contradict earlier research from a United Nations science panel and could have far-reaching consequences for American food aid.

The researchers, who reported , used data spanning six decades to show that rising sea surface temperatures from emissions of human origin have created an intensification of air circulation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, also known as the "Walker cell."

This strengthening has caused the circulation to swell westward toward the African coast, boosting heat transfer in the atmosphere and triggering greater rainfall and cloud cover over the Indian Ocean over the past 30 years.

For East Africa, this has spelled trouble — perhaps counterintuitively.

The study finds that warm and dry winds have moved west toward Africa's coast, inhibiting rainfall, particularly in parts of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia from March to June, one of the main growing seasons.

Louisiana Issues Nation's First GHG Permits, but Questions Linger

The EPA found major deficiencies with the state-issued permits, leaving open questions over who is ultimately in charge

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 22, 2011
Industry near New Orleans, Louisiana

A pair of iron plants in Louisiana have become the first facilities in the nation to get permits for their greenhouse gas emissions, and it's leaving local environmentalists holding their breath as state and federal jurisdictional issues get worked out.

The local groups say they are not convinced the state-issued permits are in compliance with the Obama administration's new climate rules, and want clarity soon in a process they say has been hampered by confusion.

Officials at the (LDEQ), however, chalk up any ambiguity to the fact that they're learning as they go along.

"With other pollutants, LDEQ generally has a lot of data it can look to and see what emission rates are achievable and what types of devices work," said Bryan Johnston, administrator of the LDEQ air permits division. "Greenhouse gas add-on control technology is essentially non-existent."

On January 31, the LDEQ issued greenhouse gas permits to steel giant for two plants in the town of St. James Parish, 40 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. The permits were the first to include U.S. EPA "tailoring" rules to reign in heat-trapping gases, which kicked in on Jan. 2.

But the regional EPA office found major deficiencies with the permits, and still has yet to formally approve or reject them, leaving questions over who is ultimately in charge.

Michigan County Embraces Giant Wind Farms, Bucking a Trend

Gratiot County is hoping to have three large-scale wind farms within the next few years, at a time when many communities are imposing moratoria

By M. Lisa Weatherford,

Mar 22, 2011
Windmills in Michigan

While many communities are imposing moratoria on commercial wind farms, one mid-Michigan county is putting out the welcome mat to not one but potentially three major wind developments.

The first wind farm, a $440 million project with more than 125 turbines, will be up and spinning in Gratiot County by the end of 2011. Close on its heels are two more projects that are in different stages of development and could bring several hundred additional turbines within the next few years.

Gratiot County is a bucolic rural setting where farming is the primary occupation and barns and silos dot the flat landscape for miles. For the most part, these farmers are welcoming the wind development as a means of income, a way to sustain family farms and as a boon to both the local economic and natural environments.

GOP Duo Want a Law to Count Costs of EPA's Clean Air Rules

A peer-reviewed study showed Clean Air rules would yield $2 trillion in benefits; Sens. Jim Inhofe and Mike Johanns move legislation for a new tally

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 21, 2011
Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska

WASHINGTON— Senators Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Mike Johanns of Nebraska have no quibble with the enormous environmental and health benefits of the federal Clean Air Act.

It's what they consider to be exorbitant costs associated with executing the affiliated regulations that so alarm the Republican duo.

Those financial fears have prompted them to introduce legislation that calls for establishing a high-powered Department of Commerce-led committee to execute exacting arithmetic to calculate the total price tag of far-reaching rules the is now preparing.

Both senators are members of the .

The EPA's mission, of course, is to protect the environment and the public's health. However, Johanns and Inhofe are concerned that EPA's analysis of each rule it issues does not examine the overall economic impact on jobs or specifics, such as effects on retail electricity rates, gasoline prices, power plant closings, state and local governments, small businesses, the domestic refining and petrochemical sector, energy-intensive manufacturers and reliability of electricity delivery.

Chevron Case Highlights Difficulty of Making Oil Companies Pay for Spills

The biggest oil spill cases show that lengthy and expensive litigation works in favor of oil companies

By Michael Keller and Stacy Feldman

Mar 20, 2011
Oil contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest.

When an Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron to pay plaintiffs $8.6 billion last month for damages from oil contamination in the Amazon jungle after 18 years in the courts, environmental and indigenous people's advocates were euphoric.

Some hoped the time had finally come for larger environmental judgments against oil majors, widely derided for not paying the full costs connected to their oil spills.

But their hopes are fading. International arbiters at the Hague, Netherlands and a U.S. District Court in New York have separately blocked enforcement of the verdict. On March 11, the Ecuador ruling. The appeals process could drag on for years, during which time no payment can flow.

The case is especially complex — it marks the first time a U.S. oil giant was held accountable in a foreign court for pollution overseas. But it raises a fundamental question about all court orders forcing energy companies to pay for spill cleanup and damages: Are they working?

The short answer is not as much, or as fast, as many would like.

A look at some of the biggest oil spills over the last three decades that led to litigation shows that most energy firms pay partial rewards but very few, if any, environmental damages; outcomes vary with no apparent rhyme or reason; and cases, which follow appeal after appeal, can take decades to litigate.

Welcome Mat Still Out for New U.S. Nuclear Plants

Even environmental activists, who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions, do not anticipate opposition to new reactors in the Southeast

By Matthew Bigg,

Mar 20, 2011
Vogtle Plant Construction

ATLANTA—For much of the world, Japan's nuclear crisis has heightened concerns about nuclear power. But in the U.S. Southeast, where the next set of reactors are planned, the concerns are not so great.

Even environmental activists — those with deep-seated reservations about nuclear safety who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions — do not anticipate a radical shift.

No reactors have been commissioned in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in which a reactor suffered a partial meltdown.

The next four are due to come online in Georgia and South Carolina between 2016 and 2019, pending regulatory approval, in a region that is one of the country's most conservative.

As a result, powerful utility companies play an outsized role in shaping public debate and defusing potential opposition from lawmakers, activists said.

Google Takes on Climate Change Skeptics with New Technology Effort

The search giant has brought together a team of 21 climate researchers to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated using new media

By Maria Gallucci

Mar 18, 2011
Google Earth image

Climate change skeptics who have created a political megaphone in Washington may finally meet their match in the world's largest search engine., the technology giant's philanthropic arm, has hand-picked a team of working in climate research to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated to the public and lawmakers through new media.

"We are seeing very clearly with climate change that our policy choices are currently not grounded in knowledge and understanding," said Paul Higgins, a Google fellow and an associate policy director for the .

The Google Science Communication Fellows program named its first round of participants on Tuesday. The announcement could not have come at a more timely juncture.

In Its Crusade Against EPA Climate Rules, Has the GOP Gone Too Far?

To the puzzlement of many, House Republicans keep using congressional hearings to spread falsehoods that depict EPA as intent on killing U.S. agriculture

By Elizabeth McGowan

Mar 17, 2011
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson speaks during a hearing

WASHINGTON—Lately, the amount of time House Republicans have dedicated to crying over spilled milk would make even the casual observer suspicious.

Fortunately, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is savvy enough to detect that particular brand of crocodile tears unique to Capitol Hill.

However, she still might have to consider changing her title to chief EPA mythbuster if representatives keep using congressional hearings as a forum to boo-hoo to her about cooked-up regulations they know are fallacies yet continue to insist her agency is preparing to promulgate.

Though she sometimes cracks a knowing smile from the witness chair, Jackson is always her gracious, measured and down-to-earth self when she patiently explains to one committee or another that the Environmental Protection Agency does not now — and will not in the future — regulate cow flatulence, farm dust or milk spilled on dairy farms.

Special Report - Mistakes, Misfortune, Meltdown: Japan's Crisis

An examination of Japan's effort to contain its escalating nuclear disaster reveals a series of missteps, bad luck and desperate improvisation

By Kevin Krolicki,

Mar 17, 2011
Earthquake damage in Wakuya, Japan.

By Thursday morning the last line of defense came down to this: a police water cannon, a helicopter maneuver designed for wildfires and a race against time to get the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant rewired to the grid.

As a crew of about 100 Japanese workers and soldiers battled to keep a string of six nuclear reactors from meltdown just short of a week into Japan's nuclear crisis, the arsenal of weapons at their disposal remained improvised, low-tech and underpowered.

A police riot control truck was hauled in over uneven roads to keep a spray of water on the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. In the air above, Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopters made runs with baskets of water in a desperate attempt to cool exposed fuel rods believed to have already partly melted down.

Meanwhile, technicians were dashing to complete what amounts to the world's largest extension cord: an electric cable to connect the stricken plant from the north and allow Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which runs the plant, to restart critical water pumps taken out by the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on the afternoon of Friday, March 11.

An examination by Reuters of Japan's effort to contain its escalating nuclear disaster reveals a series of missteps, bad luck and desperate improvisation.