Interviewing the Republican Mayor of Miami. Climate, Flooding, “… an existential threat…”.

For some, still a matter of semantics.

New York Times:

America’s coal-burning power plants are shutting down at a rapid pace, forcing electric utilities to face the next big climate question: Embrace natural gas, or shift aggressively to renewable energy?

Some large utilities, including Xcel Energy in the Upper Midwest, are now planning to sharply cut their coal and gas use in favor of cleaner sources like wind and solar, which have steadily fallen in cost. But in many regions, natural gas continues to dominate, because of its reliability and low prices driven by the fracking boom. Nationwide, energy companies plan to add at least 150 new gas plants and thousands of miles of pipelines in the years ahead.

A rush to build gas-fired plants, even though they emit only half as much carbon pollution as coal, has the potential to lock in decades of new fossil-fuel use right as scientists say emissions need to fall drastically by midcentury to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

“Gas infrastructure that’s built today is going to be with us for 30 years,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

“But if you look at scenarios that take climate change seriously, that say we need to get to net zero emissions by 2050,” he said, “that’s not going to be compatible with gas plants that don’t capture their carbon.”

At the same time, some utilities are discovering on their own that it can make financial sense to take a more ambitious leap toward renewable energy. 

Last year in Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, or Nipsco, opened bidding to outside energy developers and found that adding a mix of wind, solar and batteries would be cheaper than building a new gas plant to replace its retiring coal units. (The company will keep its older gas plants online to fill in gaps when wind and solar aren’t available.) Doing so, the utility estimated, would reduce its emissions 90 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We were surprised by that,” said Joe Hamrock, the chief executive of the company that owns the Nipsco. “Renewables in our particular situation were far more competitive than we realized.”

Mr. Hamrock noted that his utility had advantages that others might not have: Its territory sits near land that’s ripe for wind development, making it easier to build new turbines close by without the need for lots of costly new transmission lines. “The answer we got might look very different for someone just 100 miles away,” he said.

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I spoke a few years ago to a front line expert on aquatic biology and algae blooms – Dr Alan Steinman, who has been doing critical sampling of Great Lakes micro-organisms for many years. His take is worth reviewing, in light of this year’s record breaking rains across the Midwest.

We keep learning it over and over again, pull on one thread, and the whole web quivers.

Inside Climate News:

The historic rains that flooded millions of acres of Midwestern cropland this spring landed a blow to an already struggling farm economy.

They also delivered bad news for the climate.

Scientists project that all that water has flushed vast amounts of fertilizer and manure into waterways, triggering a potentially unprecedented season of algae blooms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico—a massive overgrowth of algae—could become the size of Massachusetts this summer, coming close to a record set in 2017, and that an algae bloom in Lake Erie could also reach a record size.  

“Every place in the Midwest is wet,” said John Downing, an aquatic ecologist and director of the Minnesota Sea Grant. “There will be a terrific amount of algae blooms.”

As rain washes nutrients—mostly fertilizers and manure—into streams, rivers and lakes, those nutrients stoke the growth of algae, a process known as eutrophication that depletes oxygen in the water. That algae can choke the waterways, killing aquatic life and making water unsafe to swim in or drink. 

These algae-filled waterways also emit methane, a powerful climate pollutant. Atmospheric methane has shot up over the past 12 years, threatening global emissions-reduction goals. Downing and his colleagues have determined that algae blooms could accelerate methane emissions even more.

“We not only lose good water,” he said, “we also exacerbate climate change.”

In a paper published earlier this year, Downing and his colleagues projected that, as the global population grows and more nutrients enter waterways over the next century,  eutrophication could increase methane emissions from inland waters by 30 to 90 percent. 

“We’ve projected out, based on population growth and food production, how much we can expect eutrophication to impact the climate,” Downing said. “The rates are huge.”

Predictions for increasingly heavy rains in the Midwest in coming decades, along with increased heat, could further drive algae blooms.

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The House Oversight and Reform Environmental Subcommittee in a Hearing on Recovery, Resilience and Readiness – Contending with Natural Disasters in the Wake of Climate Change.

Alexandria Occasio Cortez questions Mr. Omar Marrero Executive Director, Central Office of Recovery and Reconstruction of Puerto Rico.

June 25, 2019.

Prof Michael Mann before the House Oversight and Reform Environmental Subcommittee in a Hearing on Recovery, Resilience and Readiness – Contending with Natural Disasters in the Wake of Climate Change, June 25, 2019.

Update on Oregon legislative Cluster-eff from CNN – followed by interview with presidential candidate Jay Inslee.

Oregon Public Broadcasting:

UPDATE (2:20 p.m. PT) — Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, says Oregon’s sweeping plan for addressing climate change this legislative session does not have the votes to pass.

But it’s not clear whether that will be enough to bring Senate Republicans back to work. 

As a walkout by Republican Senators entered its sixth day and fifth Oregon Senate meeting Tuesday, Courtney announced that House Bill 2020 — the reason Republicans began skipping work last week — will not pass the Senate chamber. 

“What I’m about to say, I say of my own free will. No one has told me to say this,” Courtney said. “House Bill 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate floor. That will not change.”

He went on to describe a wide array of policy and budget bills that have yet to be passed this session, including funding for the largest agencies in the state. 

“This is a remarkable opportunity to finish our work,” Courtney said. “Please senators, come to this floor.”  

The announcement, made before Democrats had even met for a caucus meeting Tuesday, appears to mark an end to the state’s plan to institute a cap-and-trade bill. And it comes after rumors have swirled around the statehouse that HB 2020 was likely to die — sacrificed to get Republicans back, because it didn’t have enough support, or both.

Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said Tuesday morning he’d only just heard of Courtney’s announcement, and that he had questions about its meaning.

“The question becomes: What are they trying to do?” said Bentz, who is believed to be staying in Idaho while the boycott plays out. “Are they trying to make some sort of arrangement? If they are suggesting they don’t have the votes, what’s the procedure they’re going to use to kill the bill? Are they going to call it up for a vote?”

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, echoed that confusion. 

“We need clarification. What does that mean?” Knopp said. “Does it mean it’s dead until the 2020 session? Is the governor going to take it up in a special session?”

But Knopp said Courtney’s announcement was a welcome one. 

“We are out of time to fix this bill for the 2019 legislative session,” he said. “So, if there was a commitment that it won’t come up again until at least the 2020 session it’s a step in the right direction to end this political protest.” 

Knopp estimated most members could be back at the Capitol within 36 hours, but he said, the Republican caucus is still waiting to hear key details. 

“Are they still going to try to post a fine? Are they going to get retribution? Are they still going to try and kill capital construction projects? All that is important to our members … And what bills are they going to run on the rest of the calendar?” 

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Apparently, the shocking true story.

Chicago Tribune:

As President Donald Trump attempts to prop up the nation’s dwindling coal industry, Illinois is taking another step away from its dirtiest source of electricity.

Under a deal brokered by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration, the Texas-based owner of eight coal-fired power plants in central and southern Illinois agreed last week to shutter 40% of its fleet by the end of the year.

Vistra Energy will be allowed to choose which units it retires and might scrap some of its cleaner power plants instead of the dirtiest. But the company’s agreement with the state’s new Democratic governor is far more stringent than industry-friendly rules proposed two years ago by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner’s plan would have allowed Vistra to dramatically increase its emissions of lung-damaging and climate-changing pollution. Instead, the state-imposed limits brokered by the Pritzker administration are slightly higher than the fleet’s emissions during the past five years and will become more restrictive every time a coal plant closes for good.

The agreement is another sign that Illinois, like many other states, isn’t turning back from a steady shift to cleaner sources of electricity, despite Trump’s move last week to gut national climate pollution standards adopted by former President Barack Obama.

It appears the only question is whether Trump’s latest rollback of environmental regulations will enable some coal-fired power plants to keep running longer than expected, slowing the transition to wind, solar and other forms of clean energy that are quickly becoming less expensive than coal.

“The market is changing and coal increasingly can’t compete,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, who likened Trump’s efforts to bail out the industry to “subsidizing landline telephones while the cellular market grows bigger and bigger.”

Under the Trump rewrite of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, states can exempt certain coal plants from doing anything to reduce pollution that is steadily changing the planet’s climate. It is one of several attempts by the Trump administration to protect the coal and oil industries by scrapping clean air and water regulations enacted during Obama’s eight years in office.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the Trump climate plan isn’t a rollback because the Obama-era regulations never fully took effect. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for Murray Energy Corp., an Ohio-based coal company that has spearheaded many of the attacks on environmental regulations.

But an EPA analysis acknowledges that when compared with the Obama rules, more Americans will end up dying early from exposure to pollution emitted by coal plants under the Trump version.

The dodgy finances of the oil and gas fracking industry are a big story, much too big to summarize here, but there’s a lot being written on this, which I’ll be delving into in coming months.


Steve Schlotterbeck, who led drilling company EQT as it expanded to become the nation’s largest producer of natural gas in 2017, arrived at a petrochemical industry conference in Pittsburgh Friday morning with a blunt message about shale gas drilling and fracking.

“The shale gas revolution has frankly been an unmitigated disaster for any buy-and-hold investor in the shale gas industry with very few limited exceptions,” Schlotterbeck, who left the helm of EQT last year, continued. “In fact, I’m not aware of another case of a disruptive technological change that has done so much harm to the industry that created the change.”

“While hundreds of billions of dollars of benefits have accrued to hundreds of millions of people, the amount of shareholder value destruction registers in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said. “The industry is self-destructive.”

Schlotterbeck is not the first industry insider to ring alarm bells about the shale industry’s record of producing vast amounts of gas while burning through far more cash than it can earn by selling that gas. And drillers’ own numbers speak for themselves. Reported spending outweighed income for a group of 29 large public shale gas companies by $6.7 billion in 2018, bringing the group’s 2010 to 2018 cash flow to a total of negative $181 billion, according to a March 2019 report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

But Schlotterbeck’s remarks, delivered to petrochemical and gas industry executives at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, come from an individual uniquely positioned to understand how major Marcellus drillers make financial decisions — because he so recently ran a major shale gas drilling firm. Schlotterbeck now serves as a member of the board of directors at the Energy Innovation Center Institute, a nonprofit that offers energy industry training programs.

His warnings on Friday were also offered in unusually stark terms.

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