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Jobs and Savings Help Regional Carbon Market Survive GOP Attacks

New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine have decided to stay in RGGI for now, but New Jersey's exit is still possible

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 23, 2011
Merrimack Coal-Fired Power Plant

Efforts to unravel a regional carbon trading program have hit a wall in recent weeks after lawmakers in New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine moved to reaffirm their states' participation in the market.

"The tide has definitely turned against these ideas of pulling out of RGGI," Seth Kaplan, vice president of policy and climate advocacy for the (CLF), told SolveClimate News.

"It is a classic political pattern. You have a small group of committed folks trying to make something happen, and they do not realize the depth of the people who oppose them," he said from CLF's Massachusetts office.

But in New Jersey, where a group of lawmakers is still trying to repeal RGGI, the decision could go either way with potentially serious consequences for the future of the scheme, experts say. The state emits nearly as many greenhouse gases as New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine combined.

Among those considering pulling out, "the most important state of all is New Jersey," said Emilie Mazzacurati, head of carbon research for North America at , a Thomson Reuters research firm.

Climate Change Warnings Add Heat to Australia CO2 Price Debate

In a government-commissioned report, Australian scientists urge the country to abandon coal-fired energy by 2050 to avoid dangerous warming

By Michael Perry,

May 23, 2011
Australia's Murray River in drought

 A team of Australia's top scientists warned on Monday of dire climate change in calling for the nation's carbon-dominated energy sector to turn green, as the government struggles to win support for a carbon price to cut pollution.

 In a report by a government-appointed Climate Commission, the scientists said many of Australia's major cities faced a serious threat from rising sea-levels, particularly Sydney.

 The Great Barrier Reef won't be spared either, its coral a victim of rising ocean acidity from higher carbon dioxide levels from burning fossil fuels and felling forests.

 The report, titled "The Critical Decade," aims to shift Australia's current political debate over the government's climate policy, which has polarized voters and been used by opposition parties to attack its parliamentary rivals.

"This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change," said the scientists, whose report was handed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"To minimize this risk, we must decarbonize our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. Carbon emissions must peak within the next few years and then strongly decline."

Achieving that won't be easy.

Michigan's Rep. Upton Emerges as a Champion of Oil Sands Pipeline

Upton's bill would force a State Dept. decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1; opponents sue for answers on Clinton's ties to the pipeline's D.C. lobbyist

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 20, 2011
Rep. Fred Upton

WASHINGTON— Environmentalists understand why so many House Republicans are gung-ho about upping imports of oil mined from the tar sands of Western Canada.

What puzzles them is why Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has emerged as one of the cause's lead GOP cheerleaders.

His full-throated support for the $7 billion Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline is evident in the form of a bill being circulated in draft form as the . The bill will undergo a public airing when the House Energy and Power Subcommittee convenes for a Monday afternoon .

No doubt the former centrist's embrace of fossil fuels has tightened ever since he took charge of the influential in January. Even though the Democrat-led Senate is less likely to back such a measure, Upton's grip is alarming to conservationists who know how much power his panel wields on Capitol Hill.

"What this bill is doing is perpetuating myths about the tar sands that the Alberta government, the Canadian government and the oil industry want us to believe," Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, an oil sands specialist with the told SolveClimate News in an interview. "It's a way for them to promote their own products at the expense and well-being of the American people."

Gas Drilling's 'Haves' and 'Have-Nots' Emerge in Pennsylvania

For some, fracking has meant royalty payments and employment. Still others have no land to lease and no jobs available, as they face higher living costs

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 20, 2011
a natural gas drilling rig surrounded by trucks

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the seventh in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three, four, five and six)

MONTROSE, Pa.—Ask Chris Tucker if extracting natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is environmentally and economically prudent — and he offers an answer before the question is fully formed.

His response is a resounding and less-than-shocking "yes."

"We ought to be looking for energy solutions that won't cripple the economy and are close to home," says Tucker, a spokesman for the gas industry advocacy organization . "If that's the premise we're establishing, then natural gas is the choice.

"The wrong response is, 'We shouldn't produce natural gas in this country,'" he emphasizes. "Ultimately, we're going to win the day because the facts and science are on our side."

He admits that the industry has its hands fuller than ever with a communications challenge now that energy is being extracted near people's homes in states such as Pennsylvania.

Indonesia Finally Signs Forest Clearing Moratorium

The long-awaited moratorium orders government institutions to freeze issuing new permits to log or convert primary forests and peatlands for two years

By Olivia Rondonuwu,

May 19, 2011
Logging Road East Kalimantan

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inked into law a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests, as part of a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, a presidential adviser on climate change said on Thursday.

The moratorium ordered government institutions to freeze issuing new permits to log or convert primary forests and peatlands — a move that could slow the expansion of palm oil, timber and mining firms in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"We mean business when we say we would like to reform our forest and peatland management. There will be no new permits on 64 million hectares (158 million acres)," Agus Purnomo, presidential adviser on climate change, told Reuters Television.

"We mean business in the sense that we are continuing to grow our economy, because we allocate 35 million hectares of degraded forest for agriculture, mining and other development uses," he said in an interview.

The moratorium was due to start on January 1 but has been delayed because of wrangling between government ministries over how much forest to include, a symbol of the long-running tension between a nationalistic business old guard and more internationally minded reformers in the government.

The dispute shows how difficult it will be for Indonesia to reach a target of slashing emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020 while still spurring economic growth, as the country earns billions each year from cutting down forests.

Gas Drilling Turning Quiet Tourist Destination into Industrial Town

'While we're drilling wells there are going to be a whole lot of trucks going past your house. And you're not going to like that,' says an industry insider

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 19, 2011
A natural gas drilling rig

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the sixth in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three, four and five).

MONTROSE, Pa.—Lynn Senick's cozy clapboard house is just steps away from state Highway 29, which basically serves as Montrose's Main Street.

Founded as a center for abolitionists in 1824 — its lore claims it harbored escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad — the county seat has a New England-quaint feel with a prominent town green bookended by a handsome county courthouse and a welcoming library.

Even though Montrose is nowhere near the beaten track, diligent and dedicated organizers put the town on the local map by drawing flocks of visitors to popular annual events such as the Fourth of July parade and festivals celebrating the apple and blueberry harvests, as well as the production of wine and chocolate.

Senick, who educates the public about hydraulic fracturing via an online forum she launched three years ago, is also affiliated with a local group called the .

Committee volunteers have played off the success of Montrose's signature happenings by focusing on attracting and retaining an organic restaurant, book shop, health food store and farmers market. Several years prior, members of the organization had noticed their county's natural resources, hard by the New York State border, were attracting a different type of resident.

Vibrant young people intent on making their living off the land had started to migrate to this area with the nickname "Endless Mountains" that reflects its continuous up and down geography.

North-South Interstate 81, which roughly bisects the county, is the sole major highway, and the recent arrivals recognized their land and freshwater needs could be easily met in a county with a mere 43,000 people rattling around in 800 square miles. The largest population centers are Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, to the south, and Binghamton, N.Y., to the north.

Recognizing this influx, Susan Griffis McNamara started stocking organic seeds and other affiliated paraphernalia for these small-scale growers at the hardware store side of her business that has been in the family for four generations. Other merchants followed suit.

Now, however, Senick, McNamara and other committee members fear narrow rural roadways clogged with the never-ending grind of drilling-related trucks, and landscapes marred with gas wells, will be a turnoff to tourists and artisan farmers.

Climate Study Congress Requested Falls on Deaf Ears in the Capitol

The latest climate report from U.S. scientists urges action but avoids policy recipes. Some fear this method of communicating science is no longer adequate

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 18, 2011
Earth from space


The average air temperature in the United States has leapt two degrees in the last five decades. Yawn. Coastal regions in the country are disappearing because of rising sea levels. Hit the snooze button. The already-arid Southwest is becoming drier. Snore.

Whether it's paralysis, fatigue or an indication of the arrival of "post-climate times," a major National Research Council warning about the severe dangers of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions seems to have barely registered as a blip on the Richter scale of environmental urgency.

Perhaps that shouldn't be so shocking. After all, Congress, the very entity that requested the report, is pretty much punting on the carbon issue. And the Obama administration is focusing on other energy solutions, having seemingly flushed once-optimal options such as cap and trade or a carbon tax.

Several years ago, the , a branch of the renowned National Academy of Sciences, was tasked with laying out steps and strategies that policymakers could adopt to mitigate the effects of climate change. The just-released "America's Climate Choices" is the fifth and final volume examining all aspects of tackling global warming.

Sudden Wealth from Gas Rush Fractures Pennsylvania Communities

The gas industry’s promise of prosperity has cleaved some communities and frayed the fabric that traditionally binds small towns together

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 18, 2011

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the fifth in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three and four)

MONTROSE, Pa.—If a cash register freshly laden with greenbacks is any measure of happiness, then Susan Griffis McNamara should be one of the most content residents of this tiny borough in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Instead, her stomach is in knots.

The 45-year-old is aware she owes part of the bump in business at her lumberyard and hardware store to an energy boom she's witnessing in her native Susquehanna County. Exploration and drilling companies have swooped into this somewhat hardscrabble locale to capitalize on what geologists have christened the "sweet spot" of natural gas entombed thousands of feet below this mountainous terrain.

McNamara fears the invasive underground extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing — fracking, for short — is causing irreparable fissures among friends, relatives and neighbors living atop the prized black band of Marcellus Shale.

"It's terribly painful," the fourth-generation entrepreneur says from her desk behind the counter of the company her great grandfather started from scratch in 1943. "This topic of gas drilling comes up at every event and every conversation, and everybody has an opinion. It's really dividing our community."

Increase in Carcinogens Downstream of Oil Sands Linked to Mining

Scientific study shows that levels of PAHs increased 41 percent in the decade from 1999 to 2010, as oil sands mining began booming

By Lisa Song, SolveClimate News

May 17, 2011
The Suncor Millennium Mine near the Athabasca River

New scientific research has found increased levels of some carcinogenic chemicals linked to oil sands mining in the Athabasca River, refuting long-held industry and government claims that natural sources are responsible for the pollutants.

The chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals as well as other health problems.

PAH concentrations in Athabasca River sediments located downstream of oil sands projects increased 41 percent between 1999-2009, according to , published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Kevin Timoney, principal investigator at the consulting firm Treeline Ecological Research and lead author of the study, said the rise parallels the growth in oil sands production in the lower Athabasca region, which more than doubled between 1998 and 2009.

State Clean Energy Mandates Have Little Effect on Electricity Rates So Far

While there's room for more study, the estimated impact on electricity rates is a fraction of a percent in most cases and just over 1 percent in two states

By Dan Haugen, Midwest Energy News

May 17, 2011
Wind farm

When Minnesota passed one of the nation's most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in 2007, wasted no time in ramping up its wind capacity. Believing the cost of wind power would go up, the Grand Forks, N.D., generation and transmission co-op locked in long-term contracts to cover its needs for the next 25 years.

Then the economy went south, dragging electricity demand and wholesale prices down with it.

Minnkota, along with the 11 rural electric distributors it serves in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, suddenly found itself stuck with more wind power than it needed. It's been selling the excess at a loss ever since, making up the difference with a half-cent per kilowatt-hour surcharge on its customers.

The fees have helped fuel the perception — particularly among rural electric co-ops — that Minnesota's renewable energy policy is driving up the price of electricity. Others, though, including state energy officials, point to the utility's unusually large and early hedge on wind prices as a primary cause of its recent losses.

The Minnkota case illustrates just how complicated it can be to calculate the impact of state renewable mandates on electricity rates. Variables such as fuel prices, wholesale rates and energy demand are in constant flux, and decisions about what and when to buy can affect the return on capital  investments.