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Climate Change Threatens Southwest's Iconic Joshua Trees

A pair of new scientific studies suggests that the specialized desert Joshua tree cannot keep pace with the rate of warming

By Bruce Dorminey,

Jul 3, 2011
Joshua Tree National Park

Three hours east of Malibu, the Pacific Coast Highway and everything that is L.A., a small multitude of Joshua trees stand sentinel over a desolate corner of Mojave high desert. They look as if they've been on this incredibly arid, lonely hillslope forever. But, trouble is, will they still be here tomorrow? 

Research ecologists are still trying to answer just how climate change will affect the Joshua tree's numbers, range and habitat.

They do know that over the millenia, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) has evolved to thrive in the dry and hot Southwestern desert conditions and barren soils that a less specialized plant species could not tolerate.

Now, two recent papers detailing future climate scenarios for and the Joshua tree's natural range are projecting tough times for this venerable Southwest icon. 

After Long Battle, EPA to Unveil Rules for Cutting Smog from Coal Plants

Next week's transport rule is aimed at curbing smog and soot at power plants in 30-plus states. Next up: EPA's controversial mercury rule, expected in Nov.

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 1, 2011
Gina McCarthy during the hearing on June 30th

WASHINGTON—While much of the nation fixates on picnics, parades, patriotic music — and perhaps even the Declaration of Independence — on this approaching Fourth of July holiday weekend, Gina McCarthy will be contemplating smog and soot.

She will be dotting the i's and crossing the final t's in preparation for a midweek lifting of the curtain on the Environmental Protection Agency's long-awaited rule designed to protect downwind states from upwind pollution.

"It's time we took action and moved these rules," the assistant administrator at EPA's Office of Air and Radiation told a Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee Thursday. She added that after decades of delay, "we do not believe we are rushing to judgment."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety subpanel, organized to discuss a pair of safeguards the Obama administration crafted after a federal appeals court rejected two previous iterations created under the Bush administration.

As reinvented by Administrator Lisa Jackson's EPA, the two regulations are now known as the Clean Air Transport Rule and the Utility Air Toxics Rule. Final standards for the latter, which the agency will unveil in November, are geared to drastically reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired electricity generators.

REDD Forest Rescue Funding Caught in UN Carbon Feud, Study Warns

To survive, REDD will likely need investment to flow from a functioning international carbon market — which, outside the EU, is in a perilous state

By Fiona Harvey,

Jul 1, 2011
Timber from Indonesia

The world's forests are in greater danger than ever, as a United Nations mechanism intended to generate funding for their protection is unlikely to produce sizeable sums "for the foreseeable future," according to new research.

The research came as a prominent UK businessman called for an annual round of international talks devoted solely to forestry, in order to keep the world's remaining forests standing and with the goal of ending deforestation entirely by 2020.

"It's time for a reality check. There is a danger that we are sleep walking to disaster," said Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher, the retail group.

The REDD mechanism — standing for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — has been the cornerstone of international policy on forests for several years. In the past year, the first projects using the mechanism have started to come forward.

At the core of the mechanism is carbon trading — saving forests will generate carbon credits, which can be counted towards emissions-cutting targets.

But nearly all of the money so far devoted to REDD has come from governments, and is limited as most rich country governments are unwilling to spend more on overseas development. As a result, the mechanism is unlikely to do much to reduce deforestation, according to the study from , called Assessing the Financial Flows for REDD.

DOE Explores a New Frontier In Quest for Cheaper Solar Panels

The DOE is working with utilities and local governments to streamline U.S. solar permitting — a 'new frontier for solar cost decline,' says advocacy group

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 30, 2011
solar panel installation

Installing rooftop solar arrays could become far more affordable for American homeowners if new federal and state initiatives to streamline permitting take hold nationwide.

The cumbersome costs of siting, permitting, installing and connecting small-scale solar make up an increasing percentage of overall system fees — up to 40 percent — while the price of photovoltaic panels continues to drop.

The latest effort to slash these so-called balance-of-system costs comes from the U.S. Department of Energy, which in early June announced a $12.5 million as part of its SunShot Initiative.

The SunShot program is working with utilities, software providers and local governments to eliminate 75 percent of the total installation costs for solar energy systems by 2020.

Australia Closes In on National Carbon Trading Deal

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of New Zealand

By Rob Taylor,

Jun 30, 2011
A coal-fired power plant in Victoria, Australia

CANBERRA—Australia's government, fighting a slump in popularity over plans to price carbon, said on Thursday it was determined to start emissions trading as soon as possible after reports it had agreed on a 2015 deadline to switch from a carbon tax.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, whose support is at record lows due to opposition to a carbon price and voter concern about rising living costs, said she was determined to make as short as possible a shift to a carbon market.

"An emissions trading scheme is the best way of cutting carbon pollution and making sure that we tackle climate change. It is the cheapest way," Gillard told reporters, promising to overcome opposition to one of the most controversial reforms of the A$1.3 trillion economy in decades.

Gillard's minority Labor government wants to impose a tax on carbon emissions from mid-2012 before transitioning to a carbon-trading system, under which the nation's 1,000 biggest polluters will need to buy carbon permits on an open market.

If agreed by parliament later this year, the emissions market would be only the second national scheme outside Europe, following the lead of neighboring New Zealand.

Warming, Overfishing, Plastic Pollution Destroying Ocean Life: Scientists

'If we don't do something quickly, the oceans in 50 years won't look like they do today,' scientist warns in an interview with SolveClimate News

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Jun 29, 2011
coral reef off the Florida coast

The state of the oceans can best be likened to a case of multiple organ failure in urgent need of intervention, suggests the most comprehensive analysis yet of the world's marine ecosystems.

Global warming, overfishing and plastic pollution are wreaking havoc at an unprecedented rate on marine life, at a recent meeting of the International Program on the State of the Ocean (IPSO).

House Fast-Tracks Bill to Limit EPA Power Over Mountaintop Coal Removal

A vote is expected next week on bipartisan legislation that would restrict the power of EPA rules covering mountaintop mining, waterways and wetlands

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 29, 2011
Mountaintop removal mining in Virginia

WASHINGTON—Conservationists knew that new GOP anti-regulatory muscle in the 112th Congress would be intent on debilitating landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

But they're still taken aback by an attempt to incapacitate the latter in one fell swoop.

Next week, the full House is expected to vote on a fast-moving bipartisan bill that would elbow the federal government aside and elevate the power of state-level rules covering mountaintop-removal mining, waterways and wetlands. Even if it passes, however, the bill isn't expected to gain traction in the Senate.

Reps. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from the coal state of West Virginia where mining is king, and John Mica, a Republican from Florida where water pollution standards are less than well-defined, are swiftly shepherding the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 () through their chamber.

Mica, Rahall and 34 other co-sponsors tout their bill as one that will restore a balanced partnership to a law that they say now subjugates state authority.

But none other than the challenges that conclusion. The agency claims the measure would "significantly undermine EPA's ability to ensure that state water quality standards are adequately protective and meet Clean Water Act requirements."

High-Stakes Wind Farm Drama in Minnesota Enters Final Act

Minnesota regulators will likely give their final say this week on the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

Jun 29, 2011
rural Goodhue County

Update (June 30): The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to a subsidiary of T. Boone Pickens' Mesa Power Group to build its controversial $179 million, 78-megawatt wind farm in Goodhue County, after months of testimony. 

Two fronts have collided before Minnesota utility regulators, and now, observers on both sides are waiting to see which way the wind will blow in what's been the state's highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement.

The proposed $179 million, 78-megawatt project would consist of 50 turbines spanning about 32,000 acres of farm land an hour's drive southeast of the Twin Cities. The developer is a subsidiary of Mesa Power Group, which is owned by Texas oil-and-gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens.

Last October, about a year after the developer applied for site permits, Goodhue County adopted a setback ordinance that bans wind turbines within 10 rotor diameters — about half a mile in this case — of any non-participating neighboring home. That's in stark contrast with state law in Minnesota, which generally requires setbacks between 750 and 1,500 feet based on noise and other factors.

The local ordinance grew out of grassroots opposition from a group of county residents who fear the turbines will upset their quality of life. The developer, which has partnered with about 200 other local property owners, says the project can't go through under the local setback rules.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is likely to give its final say on the matter Thursday after months of testimony and discussion. Its decision will be the first major test of a 2007 amendment that gave counties limited authority to adopt more stringent wind setbacks than those spelled out in state law.

San Diego, Calif's No. 1 'Solar City,' Pushes Into Wind Power

San Diego County has been slow to embrace wind farms, largely because of permitting obstacles and local opposition — but that could change soon

Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jun 28, 2011
Wind turbines in San Diego County

Clean energy groups in San Diego County are hoping to spark a wind energy rush in a region far better known for its abundant solar power.

Advocates say that California will have to accelerate the use of utility-scale wind power to meet its aggressive renewable portfolio standard, which requires at least of the state's electrical generation to come from clean energy by 2020. And many are banking on a future wind energy boom in San Diego County to help it succeed.

So far, however, the county's efforts to promote wind production have been sluggish, largely because of limited permitting experience and a reluctance of rural communities to embrace turbines due to aesthetic and noise concerns.

"There is wind-generation capacity out in the eastern portion of San Diego County," said Jason Anderson, vice president of . "But development ... is not what it could be right now, and a lot of that [is due to] political and regulatory issues."

U.S. Climate Protests Shift to Blocking Keystone XL Pipeline Approval

Bill McKibben and allies say the proposed tar sands pipeline — which was barely on their radar a year ago — could galvanize U.S. action on climate

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jun 27, 2011
Bill McKibben

WASHINGTON—Conservationists are still fuming about President Obama's continued lack of follow-through on his promise to affix solar panels to the White House roof.

For now, however, they're willing to give him a pass on what they recognize would be mostly a symbolic gesture.

But a summons for civil disobedience at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this summer indicates they are unwilling to be anywhere near as lenient about a lightning rod of a proposed pipeline. It's known as the Keystone XL and it could pump millions more barrels of heavy crude from Alberta, Canada's oil sands mines to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast if the federal government greenlights it.

"It was an enormous boost when Obama the candidate told us that the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal on his watch," author and activist Bill McKibben told SolveClimate News in an interview from his Vermont home.

"We remember that he asked his supporters to keep pressuring him so he would do the right things. This is the kind of moment he must have meant. So we're going to try."

The founder of the advocacy organization collaborated with 10 other Canadian and American like-minded luminaries — including author and farmer Wendell Berry, actor Danny Glover and NASA climate scientist James Hansen — to issue a three-page plea for support.