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State Clean Air Agencies Lose $112 Million in EPA Budget-Cutting

Already-underfunded clean air bureaus are set to lose millions, according to figures from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Can they cope?

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Apr 27, 2011

WASHINGTON—Those conducting triage on the gimpy EPA budget that limped out of the U.S. Capitol in mid-April describe the results this way: House Republicans might not have landed the gigantic bite they initially sought, but they still managed to launch their share of substantial licks.

In sum, the fiscal 2011 spending measure — passed at the eleventh hour to fund the government through September and avoid an ugly shutdown — whacks $1.6 billion from the .

And while it doesn't contain the draconian riders that would have prevented the agency from curbing any heat-trapping gases at all, it does slice away millions of dollars in grants that are the lifeblood for clean air bureaus at the state level.

How will local agencies cope with this pared-down reality?

"This is the $100 million question," Bill Becker, executive director of the Washington-based , told SolveClimate News in an interview.

"The requirements don't go away, nor are we suggesting they do go away. The idea of increasing permit fees in this economic climate is an extraordinarily unpopular action for most states. What we have to continue to do is accomplish more with less."

EPA Examines Gas Well Blowout for Hazardous Substances

EPA has asked Chesapeake Energy to give a "complete accounting" of all the hazardous chemicals released by a gas well that blew out last week

Timothy Gardner,

Apr 27, 2011

WASHINGTONRegulators said on Tuesday they have asked Chesapeake Energy to give information on any hazardous substances released by a Pennsylvania natural gas well that blew out last week.

The regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked for details, including sources of the discharge and the extent of environmental damage.

"We want a complete accounting of operations at the site to determine our next steps in this incident and to help prevent future releases of this kind," said Shawn Garvin, the EPA regional administrator.

The EPA said it requested the information on Friday about fluids used at the well in hydraulic fracturing, which is also known as fracking. Pennsylvania is taking the lead in investigating the blow out (read to Chesapeake).

Chesapeake said it intends to comply with EPA's request and has already communicated with the agency about its response to the incident. Chesapeake is one of the gas producers that voluntarily reveals the fracking fluids it has used at completed wells (see , chemical disclosure registry).

Number-Crunching the Footprint of a Gas Fracking Boom, Forest by Forest

Pennslyvania has a total of 4.5 million acres of public lands. Estimates show that as few as 500,000 of these are permanently protected from gas drilling

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Apr 26, 2011
Tower for horizontal drilling

Editor's Note: Some laud natural gas as cleaner burning, home-grown energy — a "bridge" fuel to a renewable future. But others fear the environmental costs of the industry's newest extraction technique — a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking — are too high. SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how this quest for energy is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the third in a multi-part series. (Read parts one and two.)

MONTROSE, PA.—Pennsylvanians know the promise of natural gas means it's too late to stuff the hydraulic fracturing genie back into the bottle.

But the exponential growth of drilling permits to extract the "fossil fuel of the future" from the dark depths of the Marcellus Shale understandably has them fretting about how this relatively new technology could jeopardize their beloved state parks, forests and game lands.

Why? They've studied the maps, figured the math and read the rules. When they added up state and federal holdings in the 28-million acre Keystone State, they discovered it has a total of 4.5 million acres of public lands. However, the Nature Conservancy estimates that as few as 500,000 of those publicly accessible acres are permanently protected from natural gas drilling.

Rich Nations' Greenhouse Gas Cuts Canceled Out by Imported Goods

New reseach provides the first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto Protocol

By Duncan Clark,

Apr 25, 2011
Air pollution in Hangzhou, China

Cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been canceled out three times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries such as China, according to the most comprehensive global figures ever compiled.

Previous studies have shown the significance of "outsourced" emissions for specific countries, but the latest research, published on Monday, provides the first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the protocol, emissions released during production of goods are assigned to the country where production takes place, rather than where goods are consumed.

Campaigners say this allows rich countries unfairly to claim they are reducing or stabilizing their emissions when they may be simply sending them offshore relying increasingly on goods imported from emerging economies that do not have binding emissions targets under Kyoto.

Fracking's Environmental Footprint to Transform Pennsylvania Landscape

Residents fear that fracking for gas will cause permanant harm to their forests, state parks and agricultural fields — in addition to their water and air

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Apr 25, 2011

Editor's Note: Some laud natural gas as cleaner burning, home-grown energy — a "bridge" fuel to a renewable future. But others fear the environmental costs of the industry's newest extraction technique — a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking — are too high. SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how this quest for energy is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the second in a multi-part series. (Read part one.)

MONTROSE, PA.—Executives in the energy exploration and drilling industry practically salivate when talk turns to possibilities in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps fittingly, their nickname for the Keystone State is "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas."

Being heralded as twin energy founts, however, is about where the similarities between the natural gas-rich Middle Atlantic state and the oil-laden Middle Eastern nation end. Their geographies are studies in extreme contrast and size-wise, two Pennsylvanias could be shoehorned into just one Saudi Arabia.

Right now, the hydraulic fracturing fever sweeping their state has many Pennsylvanians in turmoil. In addition to concerns about impacts on their water and air, state residents are worried about the indelible footprint fracking infrastructure is in the midst of stamping on the forests, open spaces, rural hamlets, agricultural fields and public lands they call home.

After all, William Penn is the Englishman and Quaker credited with founding the state. Back in 1681 he christened the region Sylvania — the Latin word for woods — for obvious reasons.

So, just how will this hunt for buried energy treasure transform the landscape of a state that draws millions of tourists to its state parks and prides itself on its productive forests?

U.S. Ethanol Boom Fuels Farmland Price Spike, and Some Fear a Bubble

Farmers have found a source of steady demand for corn. But the conditions may be inflating a bubble, which if bursts could drag farm country into recession

By Kevin Dobbs,

Apr 24, 2011
A cornfield

Midwest farmers — and the land on which they rely — have prospered in recent years, even as the U.S. endured a financial crisis and economic recession.

And for better or worse, agriculture has built its good health on the fortunes of energy.

While rising global demand for food — particularly from densely populated and growing countries such as India — gets a chunk of the credit, this newfound prosperity is closely linked to the U.S. government's backing of corn-based ethanol. Farm incomes and farmland values have surged as the ethanol industry emerged and then swelled in the past decade, creating a new form of steady demand for corn and hastening the rise in value of the soil in which it grows.

Additionally, some in farm country are squeezing even more from their land by making swaths of it available for wind turbines, an emerging energy sector.

In Oakland, A Creative Strategy for Financing the City's Solar Roofs

Using a new "crowdfunding" program called Solar Mosaic, the city is selling solar tiles to locals for $100 a pop and installing them on public buildings

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Apr 22, 2011

The city of Oakland, Calif., is getting its residents to help build out a clean energy economy, one solar tile at a time.

By selling 5,000 tiles at $100 each to locals, the city is aiming to piece together entire rooftop solar arrays at seven budget-strapped schools, youth centers and houses of worship. A team of Oaklanders will be trained and hired to install the panels by as early as July.

The city's efforts are part of a pilot program called , a web-based marketplace for community solar initiatives that launched .

Using the "" model, residents can help generate energy savings and scale back greenhouse gas emissions without having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a solar installation at home.

They'll also help create jobs for a budding green-collar workforce in a city with the state's highest crime rates and where live below the poverty line, compared to 13 percent nationally.

"There is this huge gap between the population that wants to go solar and the people that actually have," Billy Parish, president of Solar Mosaic, told SolveClimate News.

"We saw an opportunity to connect those dots."

Activists from 12 Countries Scale Massive Oil Rig to Protest Arctic Drilling

Greenpeace activists occupied the world's second-largest rig on Friday, which is on its way from Turkey to Greenland to explore for oil

John Vidal,
Apr 22, 2011
Greenpeace activists on the oil-drilling platform Leiv Eiriksson

SARKOY, TURKEY—The fight to stop the global oil industry exploring the pristine deep waters of the Arctic has been dubbed the new cold war, and early on Friday it escalated as environmental activists from 12 countries on its way from Turkey to Greenland to drill among the icebergs.

The protesters found the 52,000-ton semi-submersible at around midnight, steaming due west at a stately six knots in the sea of Marmaris, heading for the Dardanelle straits and the open Mediterranean. It took four more hours for to bring in its inflatables and a further 50 minutes in the choppy moonlit sea to intercept it.

Even from three miles away, the Chinese-built mobile rig, which specializes in drilling in extreme environments, looks huge. From 100 feet away in the pale dawn light it is a 15-storey industrial castle, bristling with cranes, derricks, gangways, chains, spars, girders, pipes, helipads and radar. Just 10 years old, it is already rusting and its paintwork is streaked from years of drilling in harsh west African, north Atlantic and Asian waters.

The Greenpeace boats approached the vessel cautiously in the three-foot swell, like fleas to the backside of an elephant. At exactly 5.31 AM, the 11 climbers began to leap on to its hull and headed for a ladder. The plan was to stop the vessel in its tracks not by taking over the bridge, but by radioing the captain and asking politely. Fat chance.

In U.S. Race to Reap Offshore Wind, Ambitions for Maryland Remain High

Gov. O'Malley's offshore wind energy bill is likely to pass next year and unleash a new multibillion-dollar clean energy industry, supporters say

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Apr 21, 2011
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Massachusetts is officially poised to have America's first offshore wind farm, now that Cape Wind has to begin construction. The news knocks Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey out of that heated title competition for now.

Maryland, for its part, took itself out of the Northeast wind war this month when lawmakers shelved a bill expected to unleash the state's offshore wind industry over cost concerns. It is likely a temporary setback.

Supporters insist that Gov. Martin O'Malley's wind bill will pass next year and offshore turbines will be added to the grid in due time.

In interviews with SolveClimate News, industry officials, environmental groups and the O'Malley administration all said they will work closely with lawmakers over the summer interim to address the uncertainties that held up the bill this session. 

O'Malley, who was recently elected to his second term, has lobbied intensely to bring offshore wind to Maryland's eastern coast in an effort to boost the state's renewable energy profile and attract green manufacturing jobs.

GOP Begins New Push to Delay EPA Rules on Toxic Power Plant Emissions

Republicans say installing long-overdue pollution controls would harm economic recovery, while advocates claim the rules would create jobs and save lives

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Apr 20, 2011
A coal-fired power plant in Utah

Under pressure from industry, Congressional Republicans are urging the U.S. EPA to further delay long-overdue rules that would limit more than 80 air toxics emitted by coal-burning power plants, barely a month after the agency announced them.

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Edward Whitfield of Kentucky — a state which gets more than 90 percent of its power from coal — has said he will soon introduce legislation to postpone implementation of the regulations.

The rules in question are EPA's air toxics standards to control mercury and other poisonous substances from power plants, as well as the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards that govern hazardous emissions from boilers and cement plants.

EPA released the nation's first regulations for toxic power plant emissions on March 16. The boiler rules were announced in February 2011 and the cement standards in August 2010. All of the policies are mandated by the 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act and originally set to be finalized in 2000.

According to EPA, the mercury and air toxics standards alone would up to 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks each year.

Utilities and business groups say the anti-pollution rules would be too costly to implement and would force early shutdowns of power plants, threatening jobs and economic recovery.