Table Of Contents

    Utilities in the American Midwest are increasingly turning to renewable resources over coal-fired electricity to meet future energy needs. Image courtesy of Voice of America via

    EPA Declares Mercury Pollution Emissions Unnecessary

    On December 28, the EPA designated limits on mercury from coal- and oil-fired power plants as no longer "appropriate and necessary." The agency claimed the regulations were not cost-effective, but that it would retain existing 2012 standards for now given the billions of dollars utility companies have already spent on compliance. Environmental watchdogs are concerned EPA's statement could lay the groundwork for a full repeal of the pollution limits and make it more difficult to impose such regulations in the future. The burning of coal releases mercury into the air, which can pose hazardous to individuals with neurological, cardiovascular, and immune system issues, as well as developing babies and young children. The Trump and Obama administrations differ greatly in their cost-benefit calculations of the mercury rules. In 2015, a court ordered EPA to account for industry costs, as well as benefits. Trump's EPA estimated $7.4-9.6 billion in annual costs and just $4-6 million in benefits. Obama's EPA had estimated an additional $80 billion in health benefits due to reductions in particulate matter and other pollutants that result from reduced mercury emissions.

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    White House Holding Up Billions in Disaster Mitigation Assistance for Vulnerable States

    Congress authorized $16 billion in funding for disaster mitigation following a series of severe natural disasters in 2017, but eleven months later, the Trump administration has not yet provided criteria to states to apply for those funds. The money would have been used for constructing defenses against hurricanes, floods, and other hazards. On January 2, the government of Texas delivered a letter to the administration’s budget office requesting the funds be made available. The commissioner of the state’s General Land Office, which oversees storm recovery, wrote, “We cannot afford to wait any longer. Please approve these rules for publication as soon as possible so we can get started on construction of vital infrastructure projects to protect Texans from the type of damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.” Texas is in line to receive $4 billion in assistance from the fund. The funding was provided to state and local governments resources to prepare ahead of the next disaster, rather than receiving federal assistance after the damage is done.

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    Democratic Leadership Announces Formation of New Select Committee on Climate

    On December 28, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) officially announced the formation of a new special committee on climate change for the 116th Congress. The body, named the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, will be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). Pelosi cited Castor's record promoting "public health and green infrastructure" and her term on the Energy and Commerce Committee in touting the congresswoman's credentials. A detailed description of what the committee will actually do has not yet been revealed, but past select committees have had the power to hold hearings, author reports, and generally raise public awareness around an issue. The select committee will not have the authority to draft legislation and is unlikely to have subpoena power. Several activist groups and legislators had requested the new committee take on the development of a proposed "Green New Deal" and draft a unified party policy on climate change, but it's unclear whether these items will be taken up by the committee.

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    The Atlantic


    North Carolina Government Sets New Course for Climate Action

    North Carolina's leadership is beginning to view climate change as a real threat following a string of major hurricanes. Governor Roy Cooper (D) has set the state on a path to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and has ordered state agencies to incorporate climate science into their decisions. This is a dramatic shift from six years ago when the state legislature banned officials from using sea level rise projections in their planning. North Carolina was still recovering from 2016's Hurricane Matthew when 2018's Hurricane Florence struck, flooding roads and tens of thousands of homes. Hurricane Michael added to the region's misery a few weeks later with widespread power outages and damages. Geoff Gisler of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said, "It's something we're seeing not only from the governor's office but also on the ground. Some folks, maybe five years ago, that were saying that climate change doesn't exist are now realizing when you have several 500- or 1,000-year storms in a couple of years, that's not normal."

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    InsideClimate News


    Facing Pressure from Global Warming, Andean Communities Revive Ancient Irrigation Systems

    Communities in the Peruvian Andes are trying to cope with threats to their water resources brought about by climate change. Residents rely on a high-elevation ecosystem, known as the puna, for livestock grazing and their water supply. Shrinking glaciers and more erratic precipitation patterns are now threatening local livelihoods. Andean communities have historically been afflicted by poverty and a lack of resources. According to researchers, Peru has lost more than 40 percent of its ice surfaces since the 1970s, which serves as a crucial water source for the country's semi-arid coast and maintained Andean wetlands. The Mountain Institute, a nonprofit, has partnered with residents and authorities to restore historic irrigation waterways across the region to help mitigate climate uncertainties. From 2013 to 2015, a coalition worked to restore and update the 1,200-year old waterways while introducing better land management practices. The Peruvian government subsequently launched a fund to continue the revival of ancient water management systems and technologies.

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    Republican Legislators Tout "Innovation," but Critics See a Diversion from Climate Conversation

    Some Republican lawmakers have attempted to position "innovation" as an alternative to the Democratic Party's policies for addressing climate change. The emphasis on innovation presents fewer political pitfalls for GOP members and contrasts with certain Democratic proposals that are a tougher sell politically or economically. Critics have called the Republican narrative "disingenuous" and that such proposals are being used as a diversion from the party's opposition to more direct climate policies. Experts also note that technology innovations will not be enough to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions recommended by the scientific community to avert the worst impacts of global warming. Benji Backer of the American Conservation Coalition characterized innovation as "a good way for conservatives to engage on the issue, because so many in leadership are skeptical that it’s happening." Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said he looked forward to discussing actual solutions about climate change, but added, "If this is just a new talking point to mask [the GOP's] adherence to the idea that the free market will solve this, then that’s not going to cut it."

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    The Hill


    Major Weather and Climate Conference Disrupted by Government Shutdown

    The federal government shutdown has had far-reaching effects, including on a major scientific conference. The American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting hosts thousands of weather forecasters, researchers, and climate scientists to discuss ways to improve the assessment and understanding of weather and climate. However, hundreds of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and other agencies were barred from attending due to the shutdown. NOAA employees were instructed to cancel all official travel arrangements due to “a lapse in appropriations.” AMS executive director Keith Seitter said, “The interactions that occur at these meetings foster new science and new services across the enterprise that greatly benefit all of society. Having one of those sectors not represented at the meeting greatly impedes progress.” Many federal employees had been heading up different sessions of the conference, leaving organizers in a bind. Scientists in the academic and private sectors expressed disappointment over the absence of federal partners, citing the important role those mixed collaborations play in advancing their work.

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    Washington Post


    Midwestern Electric Utilities Continue Transition Toward Clean Energy

    Midwestern utilities took major steps to transition away from fossil fuel-fired electricity in 2018. Minnesota's Xcel Energy announced a plan to reach zero carbon emissions across its eight-state service territory by 2050, the first major utility to pursue such a goal. Consumers Energy in Michigan and NIPSCO in Indiana have sought faster development of wind and solar power, while proposing plans to shutter coal-fired power plants ahead of schedule. Analysts noted 2018 as a culmination of long-term industry trends and a key year for the clean-energy transition. Low wind energy prices in the Midwest combined with the increasingly risky financial profile of fossil fuel plants has encouraged these trends. Western Iowa and southwestern Minnesota now have well-established wind energy industries, while solar projects are planned in places like Illinois and Ohio. Travis Miller, director of utilities research at Morningstar, said, "Utilities have to look at every investment as a multi-decade investment. We've seen enough commodity market volatility and enough environmental policy making in the last two decades that utilities are very hesitant to invest in very large legacy fossil fuel plants."

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    InsideClimate News


    Global Warming Suspected Culprit Behind Ancient Tree Die-Offs

    Africa's baobab trees are the oldest seed producing trees in the world and can live to be 3,000 years old. A 2018 study appearing in the journal Nature Plants documented that some of the oldest and largest baobabs are dying off, possibly due to global warming. Researchers found that nine of the oldest 13 trees and five out of six of the largest specimens have either partially or completely died in the past 12 years. All of the afflicted baobabs were located in the southern portion of their range. However, the trees have previously faced many instances of severe environmental conditions over their long lifetimes. The study authors said, "We suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular. However, further research is necessary." Researcher Stephan Woodborne suspects "we're dealing with one of the fastest warming areas on the earth and the combination of drier conditions with hotter conditions is something that the baobabs are not coping with."

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    Digging into Washington, DC’s Ambitious Clean Energy Requirement

    Kigali Amendment to Phase-Out Global HFC Use Takes Effect

    Poll: Seventy Percent of Americans Believe Global Warming Is Happening

    NASA Satellites Provide Insight into Glacier Changes in Antarctica and Asia

    Lifestyle of Nomadic Mongolian Dairy Farmers Tied to Fluctuations in Climate


    Editor: Brian La Shier