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House Republicans Seek to Remove U.S. Funding for UN Climate Efforts

Their primary targets are the IPCC and UNFCCC, key programs designed to educate policymakers about climate science and slow warming worldwide

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Aug 26, 2011
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

WASHINGTON—House Republicans are applying a search and destroy tactic to international funding for global warming this budget season. It goes like this: Ax any line items with the words "climate change."

Their primary targets are a pair of crucial United Nations initiatives designed to slow warming worldwide and educate policymakers about the evolving science of climate change.

On the chopping block for 2012 are millions in funding for the (IPCC), the world's leading scientific advisory body on global warming. The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore in 2007, and governments often use its periodic reviews of climate risks to set targets for reducing carbon emissions.

The GOP-led effort would also cut all U.S. funding for the 19-year-old U.N. (UNFCCC), the main forum for the global effort to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases. UNFCCC climate treaty talks are mired in longstanding rich-poor rifts and mistrust of the United States for its refusal to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and accept binding emissions limits.

Those who support the cutbacks say they are a sign of severe belt-tightening times. But critics say Republicans are using the budget crisis to hide their loathing of any kind of climate initiative.

Two Choices for Western States on Energy-Transmission Overhaul, Say Experts

New report says the $200B that Western states will spend on electricity systems will determine the course of their energy future to 2050 and beyond

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Aug 25, 2011
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm in Riverside County, Calif.

Eleven Western states will spend $200 billion in the next two decades to upgrade their electricity systems. That pot of money could spur major economic growth if invested in deployment of renewable energy and digital smart grid technologies, utility experts and advocates of clean power say.

Or, if it is spent on additional analog infrastructure and fossil fuels, it could prevent job creation and boost global-warming emissions.

A new report from the , an alliance of 25 regulatory experts, environmental groups and renewable energy leaders, presents these two, vastly different choices as the region's electric sector plans its first steps for using the money.

The is the first in a series of WGG reports to get regional grid planners, state legislatures and utility regulatory commissions to consider policies that increase efficiency, add more renewable resources and lure clean energy businesses and manufacturers out West.

"The choices that we make over the next 20 years are going to be key," Carl Linvill, co-author of the report, told reporters during a Wednesday web conference. "They're going to lay the foundation for the Western electricity system out to 2050 and beyond. Now is the time to consider what kind of grid the West wants."

Linvill heads the Aspen Environmental Group and previously served in Nevada on the Public Utilities Commission and as energy adviser to former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Midwest's Largest Solar Farm Dramatically Scaled Back in Illinois

The project's developer scaled down plans due to a lack of funding, underscoring the challenges Midwest states face in bringing solar online

By Brian J. Rogal, Midwest Energy News

Aug 25, 2011

A solar project by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn as helping create "hundreds of sustainable, green-collar jobs and providing an economic boost to the entire state," has had trouble getting financing, and has drastically scaled back its short-term ambitions.

At the time, the proposed Rockford Solar Project in Rockford, Ill., was to have been the Midwest's largest solar farm, but Pin Ni, the chief executive of Wanxiang America, a leading partner in the joint venture building the facility, told Midwest Energy News that in terms of financing, "we're in the middle of nowhere."

The difficulty experienced by even Wanxiang, a company known in the business world for having deep pockets, may illustrate just how tough solar developers will find the Midwest, especially as the economy continues to struggle.

Climate Shifts Drove Wars in 90-Plus Nations Since 1950, Study Shows

El Nino conditions triggered 21% of conflicts in tropical states from 1950-2004, research suggests, with implications for human-made warming

By Katherine Bagley, SolveClimate News

Aug 24, 2011
North Darfur, March 2011

In the past two decades scientists have concluded that climate shifts helped drive many of history's biggest conflicts—from the collapse of the Mayan civilization around 800 AD to the French Revolution beginning in 1789.

But the impact of climate on violence in modern societies, which are considered more technologically and politically adept at dealing with chaotic weather, remains controversial.

Keystone XL Protesters Up Against Faded Interest in U.S. Climate Effort

Still, Bill McKibben and others leading the two-week D.C. sit-in remain intent on connecting the dots between the oil pipeline and climate danger

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Aug 24, 2011

WASHINGTON—Close to noon Tuesday, frustrated tourist Ron Higgins of Los Angeles tries to maneuver a classic, dead-on shot of the north side of the White House with his digital camera.

But he isn't having much luck. U.S. Park Police officers have erected metal barriers entwined with yellow caution tape to cordon off most of the prime real estate—a wide swath of the sidewalk and abutting roadway—to accommodate demonstrators chanting anti-oil sands slogans and displaying banners in front of the iron fence surrounding Pres. Obama's home.

"They say this protest is about a pipeline," says Higgins, visiting the nation's capital with this family before dropping off son Ryan at Virginia's Hampton University. "I don't know what pipeline they're talking about. I just want my son to see the White House."

In a nutshell, that unawareness is what activist Bill McKibben and his loyalists with are up against. The Vermont author, Middlebury College professor and founder of the advocacy organization has instigated a summer sit-in geared at halting the flow of a particularly dirty and corrosive type of heavy crude from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Higgins, however, is likely representative of most Americans. He's never heard of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Climate change is not a top-of-the agenda worry for him. And while he doesn't begrudge activists a chance to speak up at the White House, the connection between harvesting diluted bitumen in the province of Alberta and warming the entire planet just doesn't resonate with him.

Undoubtedly, it's difficult for anybody to energize the masses about global warming in these seemingly post-climate times. Congress has brushed it aside, many Republican presidential candidates dismiss the science and much of the fractured media is asleep at the climate wheel.

Despite that malaise, McKibben is intent on connecting the dots between Keystone XL—a $7 billion, 1,702-mile pipeline that a Canadian company wants to bury beneath six states in the nation's heartland—and its designation as a gargantuan carbon bomb. Due to the international nature of the project, the State Department is tasked with granting the final "yes" or "no." Department authorities are scheduled to release a final environmental evaluation of the project any day now.

BP Fund Has Paid Out $5B to Gulf Spill Victims, but Criticism Persists

Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the $20B fund, faces criticism from state attorneys general and others who believe payouts are being made too slowly

By Moira Herbst,

Aug 23, 2011
BP America

BP Plc has paid out more than $5 billion to 204,434 victims of last year's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg said on Tuesday.

The payouts amount to roughly 25 percent of the $20 billion fund, known as the , which was set up a year ago following the April 2010 spill.

So far, 947,892 claims have been filed from all 50 U.S. states and residents of 36 countries. So far, nearly all of the successful claimants come from four states: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

"The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has largely succeeded in its primary objective: to compensate those individuals and businesses who can demonstrate financial harm due to the oil spill," according to a report by the fund released on Tuesday.

Criticism

While the fund touts its progress, Feinberg and BP face persistent criticism from individuals, several state attorneys general and community groups who believe payouts are being made too slowly and that some spill victims with valid claims are being turned away.

Critics also contend that the fund is pressuring claimants to accept small amounts now, in exchange for their agreement not to sue BP and its partners later for more.

Tuesday's report acknowledged problems. "The compensation program has not been perfect," it said, "but several midcourse corrections have been made."

Big Three Automaker Gives Cellulosic Ethanol Industry a Needed Lift

Chrysler's new partnership with cellulosic producer ZeaChem is part of the automaker's larger push to get E85 ethanol in its vehicles

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Aug 22, 2011
ZeaChem Cellulosic Ethanol Refinery, Oregon

The failure to commercialize cellulosic ethanol has led many industry players to write off the much-touted advanced biofuel — but not everyone is giving up.

Last week, a Detroit Three automaker joined the handful of mostly oil companies that have been willing to take a chance on homegrown ethanol made from woody biomass, not corn, as the industry strives to move beyond the pilot stage.

Utilities and Climate Scientists Team Up to Prepare for Bleak Water Future

Alliance is helping U.S. water utilities integrate climate models into long-term planning to better adapt their operations to global warming

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

Aug 19, 2011
San Francisco's Oceanside wastewater treatment plant

Ten of the nation's largest water utilities have teamed up to connect climate scientists and water providers so utilities will have the information they need to prepare for the harmful effects of global warming.

Climate change will create a host of challenges that affect water supply, water quality, stormwater drainage and flood control. Utilities on the coast may need to prepare for rising sea levels. Utilities in the Southwest could face more intense droughts.

But there's a gap between most climate research and the kind of information that utilities need. Current climate models tend to work best with long-term trends and over large geographic areas. Water utilities, on the other hand, need specific information about how their water supplies and local rainfall patterns will be disrupted before they risk investing their customers' money in new infrastructure.

"It's inherently difficult for water utilities to make heads or tails of how they're going to be affected by climate change," said , a scientist at the . "When you zoom in on a particular locality, the scale of global models isn't able to tell you exactly what's going to happen."

To fill this gap, David Behar, who directs the climate program at the , helped found the (WUCA) in 2007.

"It really is a Wild West out there," Behar said, referring to the lack of guidance on how to make high-level science useful on a regional scale. The local data that are currently available are often scattered or hard to understand, he told SolveClimate News, leaving water utilities without a clear approach for evaluating local climate vulnerabilities.

Canada Moves Ahead with New Coal-Fired Power Rules

Environment Minister Peter Kent said new regulations will force coal developers to reduce emissions to levels that are comparable to gas-fired plants

By Reuters

Aug 19, 2011
Lambton coal-fired generating station in Ontario, Canada

CALGARY, Alberta—Canada moved ahead on Friday with new regulations for cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants as environmental groups decried one project that they said won a speedy approval just in time to avoid the tighter rules.

Climate Scientist Sees No Choice but to Risk Arrest at Keystone XL Protests

Jason Box, known for his study of glaciers, says oil sands mining is a moral issue that he feels compelled to address. The two-week sit-in begins Saturday

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Aug 18, 2011

WASHINGTON—His climatology career at Ohio State University is advancing swimmingly. He's never had a brush with the law. And his wife is eight months pregnant with their first child.

So staying home for the next several weeks in Columbus, Ohio, rather than risking arrest in the nation's capital certainly seems the ideal choice for .

But the 38-year-old has never reveled in the idea of an intellectual or physical comfort zone.

His natural inquisitiveness — plus a dose of idealism and commitment — is why Box is intent on participating in his first-ever act of civil disobedience. The cause? Trying to convince President Obama that approving the extension of a controversial oil sands pipeline — the proposed $7 billion, 1,702-mile Keystone XL — would be the equivalent of lighting a fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.

It's not a single-handed effort on Box's part. But as of mid-week he's evidently the only climate scientist who has registered to join about 2,000 other like-minded thinkers to line the fences surrounding the White House — where peaceful arrests are not uncommon for protesters of all stripes.

They'll begin gathering Saturday and rotate through in waves of 75 to 100 daily through Sept. 3. Box is booked for a three-day stint at the tail end. 

"I couldn't maintain my self-respect if I didn't go," Box said Tuesday in a telephone interview about his decision to wade into the murky territory of activism where most scientists fear to tread. "This isn't about me, this is about the future. Just voting doesn't seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also, because this is a democracy after all, isn't it?"