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Predicting Climate 'Tipping Points' Within Reach, Study Suggests

New research finds that early warning of some impending global warming tipping points may already be possible

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Jul 15, 2011
Greenland ice sheet

After several years of identifying possible climatic "tipping points" such as the meltdown of the West Antarctic ice sheet and widespread tree deaths in the Canadian boreal forest, scientists are beginning to take on another formidable challenge: predicting these potential threats before they occur.

While the mathematical concepts for understanding tipping point signals have been around for decades, they are just beginning to be incorporated into global climate data and models, according to new research published in the journal .

The paper's author, Timothy Lenton, said his study suggests that early warning of some impending tipping points may already be possible.

"[This is the] first time a synthesis of both the basic theory and the latest results on the early warning signals has been brought together," Lenton said in an interview with SolveClimate News.  "I think it's the first time anyone's made the link to how you might translate them to an early warning system."

Montana Spill Pipeline May Have Carried Oil Sands Crude

Federal inspectors are trying to determine if transport of tar sands could have triggered internal corrosion that may have played a role in the rupture

By Laura Zuckerman,

Jul 15, 2011
Cleanup of Exxon Mobil's July 2 oil pipeline spill along Thiel Rd in Laurel

An Exxon Mobil pipeline that ruptured, leaking oil into Yellowstone River, may have sometimes carried a heavier and more toxic form of crude than initially thought, federal regulators said on Thursday.

The U.S. Transportation Department's spokeswoman Patricia Klinger said her office had learned that the pipeline may have been used to carry heavier crude.

"I just found out that apparently, and the regional folks just found out, there is an interconnect on the pipeline that possibly does carry some oil out of Canada," she said in response to a question about tar sands crude in the pipeline.

That a pipeline thought to transport only "sweet," low sulfur crude could have carried so-called tar sands crude from Canada raised concerns by health and environmental officials, even as Exxon officials said the heavier oil was not flowing through the Silvertip pipeline when it broke on July 1.

"The actual crude in the line at the point of the incident was a blend of crudes from Wyoming," Exxon spokesman George Pietrogallo told Reuters in an email on Thursday.

Exxon was responding to a question about whether tar sands crude had ever flowed in the pipeline. Almost all the oil produced in Canada's Alberta fields is from tar sands.

Burgess Amendment Keeps Light Bulb Law Repeal Alive

Rep. Burgess has floated an amendment that — like Rep. Barton's initial measure — would bar the DOE from enforcing 2007 lighting efficiency standards

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 14, 2011
Rep. Joe Barton

Update (July 15): The House today approved the amendment from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) to prohibit the use of funds in a 2012 spending bill from being used to implement lighting efficiency standards Congress enacted in its comprehensive 2007 energy law.

WASHINGTON—Opponents of a proposal to switch off energy-saving progress on lighting technology are still lauding House Republicans for soundly snubbing legislation they refer to as "dim BULB" legislation.

Proponents, however, claim Rep. Joe Barton's measure isn't burned out yet.

To give it another chance at passing, Rep. Michael Burgess, another Texas Republican who also serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, floated a similarly worded amendment Wednesday.

Burgess's amendment, which would limit efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs, would be considered as part of the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill that the House is mulling over. It's one of 12 appropriations bills designed to fund the entire federal government for the fiscal year beginning this October.

If approved, the amendment would bar the Department of Energy from enforcing lighting efficiency standards Congress enacted via an overarching 2007 energy law. It has little chance of surviving a Senate vote.

Representatives are expected to consider the amendment sometime this week, Jim DiPeso, policy director with , told SolveClimate News in an interview.

"They are grasping at straws," DiPeso said about the attempted end run. "It's a tactic that is commonly used, using an appropriations bill as leverage to get the policy you want."

Energy Industries, Old And New, Seek Workers as Labor Shortage Looms

Up to 40% of the 400,000 individuals employed by U.S. utilities are expected to retire or leave by 2013, creating demand for a new generation of workers

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 14, 2011
Engineer examines settings inside the yard of an electric substation

More than a third of the country's 400,000 electric utility employees are headed for retirement. That fact — plus the push to spur renewable energy use and upgrade to a smart grid — is producing a jobs bonanza for a fresh crop of electricity workers.

Recognizing the looming skills shortage, a growing number of universities and community colleges are crafting degree programs to train computer-age technicians who can handle both conventional and newer renewable energy systems.

(RCC) in Hamlet, N.C., for instance, is teaming up with area utilities to develop a two-year associate's degree in utility substation and relay technology. The college will start training students this fall to operate and maintain the current and coming fleet of power plants and substations, where high-voltage electricity is converted to lower voltages and shipped for use.

RCC president Dale McInnis said the idea for the initiative came last year when Raleigh-based utility approached the school with concerns that entry-level hires need up to five years of training to become relay technicians — too slow a rate to keep up with its retiring workforce and the rapid shift from analog to digital controls.

Already, mechanical gauges and meters have been replaced by digital devices with USB ports at the county's gas-fired power plant — the largest in North Carolina — and its two substations, McInnis told SolveClimate News.

AEP Puts Carbon Capture on Hold, Citing Climate Policy Uncertainty

The company, one of the nation's biggest emitters of CO2, ended its agreement today with the U.S. DOE to commercialize CCS technology

By Scott DiSavino,

Jul 14, 2011
AEP generating station in Conesville

American Electric Power Co Inc. said on Thursday it was putting on hold plans to commercialize carbon dioxide capture and storage technology (CCS), ending an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy.

The company, one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, cited uncertainties over U.S. climate policy and a weak economy as contributors to its decision.

"We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward," Michael Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive, said in a release.

In 2009, the department had picked AEP to receive funding of up to $334 million to help pay for the installation of a commercial-scale carbon capture and storage system at AEP's Mountaineer coal-fueled plant in New Haven, West Virginia.

The system was designed to capture at least 90 percent of the carbon dioxide from 235 megawatts of the 1,300-MW plant.

Clean Economy Jobs Grow in Most Major U.S. Cities, Study Reveals

The New York metro area had the most 'clean jobs' in 2010, with more than 150,000 positions, finds a new Brookings Institution study

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 13, 2011

The clean economy is fueling industry and job creation in almost every major city in America — from solar panel production in Toledo, Ohio, to green buildings in Little Rock, Ark., and wind development in Albany, N.Y. — according to a released today.

Environmentally focused products and services now account for 2.7 million jobs — more than the fossil fuel industry — with three-fourths of the newest jobs based in the nation's largest metropolitan areas, the report said.

"Sizing the Clean Economy" is an initiative of the Metropolitan Policy Program of the in Washington, D.C., which worked with the Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy .

The researchers examined county-level data from 2003 to 2010 provided by Dun and Bradstreet, a global business data firm, and other sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. International Trade Commission. The study found an increase in clean economy jobs in three dozen sectors throughout 100 metro areas in 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

The team compiled their results into a Web-based map of the United States where individuals can scroll through to find data for different areas. A 64-page report offers insight to federal, state and regional leaders and governments on green development strategies.

"One of the great takeaways for us is that virtually all places are participating in the clean economy, but the ways that they do that are extremely varied," Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings program and co-author of the report, told SolveClimate News.

"This is an attempt to provide good, plausible, first-order information for leaders, especially in regional economies across the country, to really make sense of what they have, how large it is, how fast it is growing, and what the opportunities may be," he said.

Climate Change Drives Disease in Crucial Seaweed Species, Study Finds

New research links the spread of disease in a type of seaweed that is critical for marine life to global warming

By Katherine Bagley, SolveClimate News

Jul 12, 2011
Seaweed off the coast of Ireland

Rising ocean temperatures due to global warming have already been linked to coral reef deaths, destructive storms, shifting species distributions and harmful algal blooms. Now, a team of Australian researchers is adding a new and similarly daunting concern to that list: the spread of disease in "habitat-forming" seaweeds that are critical to marine health. 

Scientists fear that the widespread loss of these seaweeds could have disastrous effects on creatures that rely on them for food and protection, such as sea hares, sea urchins and dozens of fish and invertebrate species.

"Seaweeds are the 'trees' of coastal temperate systems," said Peter Steinberg, a marine biologist at the University of New South Wales and director of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, who helped lead the research that was published in the journal last month.

"They provide the food and habitat for many of the other organisms that live there. Without them, these systems are radically different," he said.

Earlier studies documented rapid decline and disease in seaweeds during the past two decades, but this analysis was the first to examine whether climate change is driving illness in habitat-forming stands that provide life to vast numbers of marine organisms.

U.S. Cleantech Startups to Transform China 'Threat' Into Opportunity

Eager to tap China's booming market and fearing the loss of private U.S. investment, American startups have begun eyeing Chinese partnerships

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Jul 12, 2011

Concern is building among American investors that China is edging ahead in the lucrative clean technology sector. And many have come to realize that one clear way for some young U.S. startups to survive against their Chinese counterparts is to partner with them.

Philip Corbin, CEO of , said that his Sumner, Wash.-based firm is scouting a China-based partner that could help the company get its product sold and used in that vast market, while also protecting its intellectual property from Chinese competitors.

"Some of our investors are very keen into moving into China. So they're pushing us into that direction," Corbin told SolveClimate News. "[Companies] that have done business in China realize how fast the market is growing."

FluxDrive started in 2003 to develop adjustable speed drive and couplings that increase the life and energy efficiency of rotating equipment in industrial machinery. The drive can make slight decreases in motor speed to cut energy use by as much as half, and can possibly be used in wind turbine motors.

The midsize company began to manufacture and sell its technology last year. FluxDrive now makes the speed drives in small batches for specialized value-added resellers in Seattle, Houston, Orlando and Columbus, Ohio — plus Canada and Brazil — but is ready to scale up its global production.

The firm made $150,000 in sales in 2010, but is aiming for a ten-fold increase this year.

"Were not looking to build there [in China], but we're looking for partners that can take the product and help protect the IP in that market," Corbin said.

EPA Haze Pollution Deal, First of Its Kind, Awaits Final OK by Federal Judge

The deal puts 18 aging coal plants on a path to being cleaned up or retired; a second haze pact — now in the works — could affect 300 coal facilities

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Jul 11, 2011
Grand Canyone haze

WASHINGTON—Back in the winter of 1991, President George H.W. Bush traveled to Arizona to tell operators of a utility to clean up their coal-fired act so visitors could actually distinguish the state's most famous and priceless landmark — the Grand Canyon.

Fast-forward 20 years. Views of the iconic chasm might be a bit less hazy but visibility at 150-plus of the nation's other natural wonders is still limited because of power-plant pollution.

That scenario, however, is expected to begin clearing up soon. It's happening because a handful of conservation organizations have spent decades doggedly prodding, tugging and cajoling the into meeting its Clean Air Act mandate to collaborate with states to reduce the regional haze that clouds views in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

A filed in the U.S. District Court in Colorado requires EPA to oversee plans to curb thousands of tons of air pollution in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming beginning next year. Once the 30-day comment period ends July 15, a federal judge in Colorado is tasked with issuing final approval.

All told, the settlement puts at least 18 aging coal-fired plants — with more than 16,000 megawatts of generating power — on a path to being cleaned up or retired altogether.

In Battle to Ban Energy-Saving Light Bulbs, GOP Defends 'Personal Liberty'

A new breed of Tea party conservatives has cast the promotion of efficient lights as an example of government interference

By Suzanne Goldenberg,  

Jul 11, 2011
Michele Bachmann

Republicans in Congress are pressing for a vote on Monday on one of the stranger elements of their environmental agenda — a ban on the adoption of energy-efficient light bulbs. A bill championed by presidential contender Michele Bachmann and others would repeal a law phasing out incandescent bulbs from 2012.

According to some reports, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives was pressing to introduce the bill under rules that would limit debate, but also require a two-thirds vote to pass. Energy-saving bulbs were seen as an entirely harmless innovation — even by the same Republicans who now oppose them — when the lighting efficiency measure was signed into law by the then president, George W Bush, as part of a broader energy package.

The 2007 law would have started phasing out old-fashioned 100-watt bulbs starting in January 2012, with an aim of making light bulbs more than 25 percent efficient. Incandescent bulbs emit most of the energy they consume as heat.

Fred Upton, now the chair of the energy and commerce committee, supported the law — a vote which has come back to haunt him in a more conservative Congress. The initiative also had the support of lighting manufacturers.

But the new breed of Tea party conservatives, encouraged by chat show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, have cast the promotion of the more efficient LED and CFL lights as a shining example of needless government interference.

They also argue that the bulbs cost more than the old-fashioned variety and are health hazards, because they contain mercury. But their most passionately voiced argument is freedom. Hanging on to the old-style bulbs is really about personal liberty, they say.