Table Of Contents

    New research found that an increase of four degrees Celsius in average global temperature could lead to a nearly 50 percent drop in U.S. corn production. Photo courtesy of NASA via

    Lack of Evidence for National Emergency Stalls Trump Administration’s Coal Bailout Proposal

    On June 12, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing to discuss the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) upcoming priorities, including the Trump administration’s coal and nuclear energy industry bailout plan. All five FERC commissioners were in agreement that there is no national grid emergency to justify the proposal. FERC’s position is part of a growing consensus that the Department of Energy's plan largely lacks support outside of a few coal state senators. Critics are calling the proposal a “political payback” for coal industry players like FirstEnergy, which recently declared bankruptcy for its coal and nuclear fleet. Experts argue that the plan does nothing to improve the grid’s ability to withstand and respond to storms, cyberattacks, and other major disruptions. They predict a bailout would add billions of dollars to consumer energy bills and disrupt other competitive energy technologies. The administration is attempting to assert its authority for the bailout under two laws designed to protect the national grid during emergency periods, such as wartime.

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    Greentech Media


    With Increasing Natural Disasters, FEMA Starts Reinsurance Program

    On June 12, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it would begin to explore the expansion of its reinsurance program, a type of insurance coverage that FEMA began buying in 2017 for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). With the growing frequency of extreme natural disasters, the federal government has turned to the reinsurance industry to help cover that risk. In 2018, FEMA has bought $1.46 billion of reinsurance for NFIP, with intentions of buying into a catastrophe bond in the near future. The catastrophe bond would give investors a return unless disaster costs to the government exceed a certain threshold. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) hopes to expand the plan with a bill that would direct FEMA to buy reinsurance for part of its overall disaster costs, beyond simply flood coverage. The bill would increase federal incentives to reduce disaster risks by restricting development in high-risk areas, or by imposing stricter building standards.

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    IPCC: Global Temperatures to Surpass 1.5 Degree Celsius Threshold by 2040

    A draft report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects global warming will pass the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold around the year 2040. The report adds that governments may still be able to hold off the 1.5 degree C increase if they implement "rapid and far-reaching" transitions spanning the world economy. The final report is scheduled for publication in October 2018 following additional revisions and approval. The IPCC's reports serve as the primary scientific resource guiding international climate policy. The latest edition builds on an earlier draft from January 2018, drawing upon 25,000 comments from experts and a broad scientific literature review. The Paris Climate Agreement's declared goal was to limit global warming "well below" two degrees C, although temperatures have already risen by a full degree and are increasing by 0.2 degrees C per decade. The IPCC said, "Economic growth is projected to be lower at two degrees C warming than at 1.5 degrees for many developed and developing countries," due to extreme weather impacts on agriculture and an increase in public health threats, such as heatwaves.

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    China Looks to Install Solar Panels on Highways to Overcome Land Scarcity

    A professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University is behind an ongoing test of solar roads - roads with surfaces made of plastic and solar panels. For China, which has become a massive player in the world market for renewables, solar roads could help meet rising energy production demands while capitalizing on the open space roads already provide. Falling solar panel prices enable this type of deployment, and although the cost of installation remains higher than that of regular roads, the panels would recoup that cost within 15 years. The energy production of solar roads is less than that of regular solar panels, which can turn with the sun and are not obscured by vehicles passing over them. There are also concerns about how well the panels would hold up under the stress of frequent vehicular traffic, but experts see a high potential upside for this application. In addition to generating electricity, solar roads could potentially charge electric cars that ride over them and feature lights to provide signals to drivers.

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    New York Times


    Vulnerable, Impoverished Border Communities Lack Protection from Extreme Weather

    Along the United States-Mexican border, residents of “colonias,” or shantytowns, are disproportionally affected by climate change, due to the increasing frequency and severity of storms. Colonias are generally located in low-lying areas within the Rio-Grande floodplain, and have little (if any) capacity for storm drainage. The housing in colonias is usually composed of trailers or self-made houses “consisting of little more than tin, cinderblock and cardboard” and is ill-prepared to handle extreme environmental conditions. There is little to no infrastructure, as tens of thousands of residents must cope with a lack of paved roads, street lights, and even clean water. There are approximately 2,300 colonias in Texas alone. While regional advocacy groups have worked with governments to address stormwater drainage, a Texas program designed to deliver services to colonias was eliminated in 2017. Martha Sanchez, an organizer with the advocacy group LUPE, said, "In the last four, five years we have seen an increase in the storms, and that increases the vulnerability of these people that don't have proper infrastructure. It has to do with climate change ... It's going to get worse.

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    As Extreme Rainfall Becomes Commonplace, American Infrastructure Struggles to Keep Up

    Recent storms, like the one in Ellicott City, Maryland, are profoundly damaging to communities. The increased danger of these storms stems from the increased rainfall that has been made more frequent and severe by climate change and a lack of environmental systems to help deal with the excess water. In Ellicott City, torrential rains triggered flash flooding, but the proliferation of impermeable surfaces, like roads and roofs, compounded by insufficient stormwater infrastructure made these events devastating. This potent pairing of increased rainfall and deficient infrastructure was also responsible for the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey. Development without appropriate environmental mitigation puts communities and municipalities at risk, and the repercussions of falling behind with flood control have become evident in recent storms. Ellicott City Resident Ron Peters said, "Merchants and property owners are the ones who pay the price [of inaction]." With extreme rains becoming more frequent and intense, many towns will have to confront their increased vulnerability to extreme weather events.

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    Climate Change Driving Young Engineers to Pursue Careers in Nuclear Energy

    Nuclear power has had trouble competing with lower cost natural gas and renewable energy, but climate change concerns are renewing interest in industry careers. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimated that more than half of the United States' 99 nuclear reactors are in danger of closing within the next decade. Despite these struggles, the field has seen an influx of young engineers eager to contribute. Dennis Whyte, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, noted, "The reason that almost all of our students come into this field is climate change." Utility companies have sought to instill climate change into the nuclear debate. Exelon has stated that it would close its Three Mile Island Unit 1 in 2019 unless policies arrive to ensure the plant will be profitable. Companies like Exelon have successfully persuaded state governments in Illinois, New York, and New Jersey to recognize nuclear as a source of clean energy, which can bring subsidies reserved for zero-emission technologies. Those opposed to nuclear cite the issue of radioactive waste and lack of a permanent storage site for the waste.

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    Climate Change Could Lead to Major Crop Failures, Including American Corn Production

    On June 11, two studies were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyze the effects of climate change on the global production of food. The first study analyzed the effects of climate change on corn production, finding “significant differences in corn yield depending on how high global temperatures rise.” Notably, the authors found that an increase of two degrees Celsius would reduce U.S. corn production by 18 percent, while a four degree increase would reduce production by nearly 50 percent. The second study analyzed how climate change may affect the global production of vegetables and legumes. The authors found that the impacts of climate change – specifically, an increase in ozone and salinity, and reduced water availability – would reduce vegetable production. These effects “would cut yields of vegetables by about 35 percent in the second half of this century.” Both studies found that climate change will decrease crop yields, creating potential food shortages and affecting the nutritional intake of individuals around the globe.

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    InsideClimate News


    Report: Antarctic Ice Sheet Loss Has Tripled Over Past Decade

    A group of 80 scientists has published discouraging findings on the state of Antarctica's ice cover in the journal Nature. The findings revealed recent measurements of Antarctic ice loss from 24 studies, producing alarming statistics on glacier and ice sheet depletion. The most startling news: Antarctica lost 219 billion tons of ice annually from 2012 through 2017 — approximately triple the rate from a decade ago. While this equates to just 8 millimeters of sea-level rise, experts note that as Antarctica’s ice sheet shrinks, gravitational pull on the ocean relaxes, letting water travel further from the poles and accumulate along city coastlines like New York and Boston instead. The sea level rise is largely attributed to two glaciers, Pine Island and Thwaites, along West Antarctica. Scientists say the degradation of Thwaites poses a potential emergency scenario because it is considered a gateway for warm ocean water to reach the center of West Antarctica. University of Waterloo glaciologist Christine Dow said, “If you start removing mass from [West Antarctica], you can have a very large-scale evacuation of ice into the ocean and significant sea-level rise."

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    Washington Post



    GAO to Review How Federal, State, and Foreign Governments Value Social Cost of Carbon

    Trump Nominates Current CEQ Chief of Staff to Lead Agency

    Thirteen Republican Senators Ask Trump to Support Kigali Amendment to Phase-Out HFCs

    Democratic National Committee to Ban Donations from Fossil Fuel PACs

    Study: Loss of World's Coral Reefs Would Double Damage from Coastal Flooding


    Writers: Sam Morton, Maria Pfister, and Tim Manning
    Editor: Brian La Shier