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The Chronicle


The new administration is pro-oil and pro-coal, but nevertheless momentum is with sun and wind. Solar ranked as the number one source of new US electric generating capacity additions in 2016. It represented 39 percent of new capacity additions across all fuel types. greentechmedia.com Solar is also the largest employer in the US electric power generation industry, according to the 2017 US Energy and Employment Report. USEER Photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar technologies together employ almost 374,000 workers—43% of the electric power generation workforce. Wind turbine technician is by far the nation’s fastest-growing occupation, with a 108% growth rate and a median salary of $51,050 per year. bureaulabor.gov Wind energy surpassed hydro-electric power in generating capacity for the first time in 2016, after more than tripling in capacity since 2008. nytimes.com

The administration is following through on the commitment to fossil fuels, however. On February 2, 2017, the Republican-led Congress repealed the stream protection rule that restricts coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and waterways. This swift action was possible because with simple majority votes in both chambers Congress can overturn any Obama-era regulation finished after mid-June 2016. vox.com Another immediately effective tactic was seen when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew a request that operators of existing oil and gas wells provide the agency with extensive information about their equipment and its emissions of methane. The announcement was a first step towards reversing a late-Obama-administration effort to gather information. Said Vera Pardee, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, “The Trump administration doesn’t want this data because it doesn’t want to rein in oil companies’ massive emissions of this dangerous greenhouse gas.” washingtonpost.com

Observers say Trump’s fossil-fuel-minded appointees, such as EPA’s Scott Pruitt, will find it more difficult to unravel more established regulations. The long process of hearings, scientific determinations and public review periods that went into creating the policy get reopened, leaving opportunity for attorneys to dig in and slow everything down. “Under President Reagan, under George W. Bush, when Newt Gingrich was House speaker, there were similar efforts,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “All those efforts foundered, and the basic laws were left unscathed. We think that will happen again.” latimes.com

The world does not follow the White House in energy choices. China plans to invest $361 billion into non-carbon electricity projects by 2020, with the result that about half of China’s new electricity generation will come from installed solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power projects. The investment in renewables is expected to create more than 13 million jobs. mashable.com Saudi Arabia is launching a $50 billion renewable-resources push to meeting growing energy demand while reducing domestic oil use. Starting this year, OPEC’s biggest crude producer plans to develop almost 10 gigawatts of renewable energy such as solar and wind power by 2023. indiatimes.com Scotland intends to cut total climate emissions by 66% within 15 years, one of the world’s most ambitious climate strategies. Plans include increasing the use of ultra-low-carbon cars, green electricity and green home heating. theguardian.com Even in the country of Texas, renewables are booming in the form of wind. Texas has 11,592 turbines and an installed wind capacity of 20,321 megawatts, capacity that provides 12.68% of Texas’s electricity production and powers the equivalent of 5.7 million homes. awea.org


You noticed? February 2017 temperatures were often the highest we’ve ever seen. On February 11 Mangum, Oklahoma, saw temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a state record. The average February high in Mangum is 56º F. Across the United States during the week beginning F
ebruary 15, there were 736 daily record highs set or tied, with 940 nights of record warm temperatures set or tied. There were no record cold overnight low temperatures set or tied during the same period. While individual months will still vary from this trend, it’s clear that over the long-term, the ratio of record highs to record lows is now strongly favoring record highs as well as record warm overnight temperatures. mashable.com

As expected, 2016 temperatures did set records for warmth. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data, the global average temperature for 2016 was 1.69° F (0.94°C) above the 20th century average and 0.07°F (0.04°C) above the previous record set last year. In NASA’s records, 2016 was 1.8°F (0.99°C) above the 1951-1980 average. Each agency has slightly different methods of processing the data and different baseline periods they use for comparison, as do other groups around the world that monitor global temperatures, leading to slightly different year-to-year numbers. climatecentral.org

Global sea levels could rise by more than eight feet by the end of the century in a worst-case scenario, suggests a report released by NOAA on the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency. The report also suggests that many parts of the United States will experience sea-level rise at a rate well above the global average—with some coastal cities seeing a 25-fold increase in the frequency of damaging floods. Researcher William Sweet commented, “I think it’s important for people to know that sea level’s not rising like it would in a bathtub.” The findings are intended to be used by local governments in efforts to plan for future climate change. noaa.gov The town of Princeville, North Carolina, gives us a warning about that kind of future. Because of flooding resulting from Hurricane Matthew in early October 2016, at least twenty six people were killed; a million homes were without power–some for days; hundreds of roads were closed, including I-95 and I-40; and five months later thousands of residents on the North Carolina coast still have no homes to return to. publicnewsservice and WRAL Five months later the fecal matter of more than a dozen hog waste lagoons flooded by the storm is showing up in the coastal ocean, too. On February 28, 2017, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries closed 2,450 acres of water to shellfish harvest after the areas did not meet bacterial water quality standards. The closures are the result of sanitary surveys and reviews from the last five years of shellfish growing areas. The division said “the past three of five years had higher than usual rainfall, washing pollution and human and animal waste into the water bodies.” coastalreview.com

Researchers call it “clear-sky flooding.” A new report states, “Global climate change is being felt in many coastal communities of the United States, not always in the form of big weather disasters but as a steady drip, drip, drip of nuisance flooding.” Research shows that rising sea levels will cause these smaller events to become increasingly frequent in the future, and the cumulative effect will be comparable to extreme events such as a hurricane. For example, in Washington, DC, the number of hours of nuisance flooding per year has grown from 19 between 1930 and 1970 to 94 over the last two decades. Projections suggest that there could be as many as 700 hours of nuisance flooding per year by 2050. The capital’s monuments, marinas, parks, public transportation infrastructure, roads and businesses could be affected. Because ocean levels are so high, a full moon on a clear night triggering higher tides is now enough to cause flooding. sciencedaily.com

A warming climate poses water risk to inland areas as well as coasts. On February 20, 2017, nearly 200,000 people had to be evacuated after the Oroville Dam in California fractured on February 7. Northern California is in the midst of its wettest rainy season on record—twice as wet as the 20th century average, and America’s tallest dam, estimated to contain more than one million cubic yards of material, began to erode when water managers were forced to use Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway for the first time ever. Environmental groups had warned the state about Oroville Dam in 2005, noting that in an intensely wet year, its emergency spillway could give way, and thus should be coated with concrete. State agencies concluded that the cost of this project couldn’t be justified given the low probability of such a wet season. theguardian.com

Climate change is mentioned more frequently now, but a question mark is still being implied. Trump’s cabinet nominees adopted “denial-light” to slip past Democrats’ questioning on their climate change positions. Though sounding slightly more sensible than expected, their more subtle versions of climate skepticism nevertheless failed to show any commitment to make the drastic greenhouse gas emissions cuts that will be needed. mashable.com Thinkprogress.org has been tracking the occasions mainstream media has covered the administration’s brand of climate skepticism in words that likewise mystify the true climate situation. A CNN headline December 12, 2016, read “Trump: ‘Nobody really knows’ if climate change is real;” on December 14, “Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci: Scientific community gets ‘a lot of things wrong.’” thinkprogress.org In January NPR described Ryan Zinke’s hearing with these words: “Trump Pick To Head Interior Department Says Climate Change Is Not A Hoax.” Climate commentator Joe Romm’s response to NPR’s headline was “Trump nominee for Surgeon General says smoking-cancer link not a hoax” and “Trump nominee for NASA chief says moon-landing not a hoax.” thinkprogress.org Even the New York Times ad during the Academy Awards ceremony repeats Trump’s “the truth is climate change is a hoax” without any rebuttal. thinkprogress.org The seriousness of climate change was given its due by comedian Seth Meyers, however, when he introduced Lawrence Livermore National Lab’s Ben Santer on his show of February 23. “Obviously this is a scary time. It’s an interesting time as you’ve called it, yet you remain optimistic. . . (W)here are you finding optimism right now, considering this sort of deck that’s stacked against you?” The scientist replied, “Climate science has been elevated in public discourse. The President of the United States saying nobody really knows the causes of climate change. And we do.” His basis for optimism? “This seems like a teachable moment.” mediamatters.org

Take a look at this spectacular 2015 graphic “What’s Warming the World?”


Efforts to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are underway. On February 28, 2017, Trump signed an executive order to reverse the rule known as Waters of the United States. Also known as the Clean Water Rule, it was issued under the Clean Water Act in 1972 and completed by the Obama administration in spring 2015. It gives the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major bodies of water, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and Puget Sound, as well as in streams and wetlands that drain into those larger waters. “The executive order has no legal significance at all,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University. “It’s like the president calling Scott Pruitt and telling him to start the legal proceedings. It does the same thing as a phone call or a tweet. It just signals that the president wants it to happen.” nytimes.com Since the Rule is currently on hold, blocked by the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit due to litigation against it, Trump’s order can’t change much immediately. It does not repeal the rule, but rather directs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider rolling it back. the hill.com For the history of the Clean Water Rule and explanation of how it became controversial, see vox.com

How important is the EPA? An example of the agency’s work is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a summary of mountains of data collected each year by EPA employees. The Executive Summary for 2015, the latest issue, states, “Air releases of toxic chemicals (in the US) decreased by 56% since 2005, including a 63 million pound decrease from 2014 to 2015. Coal-and-oil-fired electric utilities accounted for more than 90% of the reduced releases of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and mercury to air from 2005 to 2015. In 2015, 87% of toxic chemical waste managed was not released into the environment due to the use of preferred waste management practices such as recycling, energy recovery, and treatment”—all measures encouraged and sometimes required by EPA regulations. epa.gov Without this collection of information, analysis, and regulation, it is unlikely clean air progress would have occurred at the same rate, and possibly not at all—although removing factories to overseas locations has also improved US air quality.

India needs an agency like the EPA. India’s rapidly worsening air pollution is causing about 1.1 million people to die prematurely each year and is now surpassing China’s as the deadliest in the world, a new study of global air pollution shows. India has registered an alarming increase of nearly 50 percent in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015, the report says. The major contributor is the ramp-up in industrialization, but population growth and an aging populace more susceptible to air pollution are also contributors. Bhargav Krishna, manager for environmental health at the Public Health Foundation of India, a health policy research center in New Delhi, expressed the missing EPA-type factor, saying, “The idea that policy making should be led by government is lacking.” nytimes.com


The right to life should include America’s infants. Each year in the United States, more than 23,000 infants die before reaching their first birthday. White, educated American women lose their infants at rates similar to mothers in America’s economically-peer countries, while infants born to poorer, less-educated women, particularly unmarried or black women, have higher rates of mortality. Across the United States black infants die at a rate more than twice as high as that of white infants. In the 1980s health officials began focusing on access to prenatal care as a way to reduce the high rate of mortality with black infants. After two decades researchers found the black women who received prenatal care starting in the first trimester were still losing children at higher rates than white women who never saw a doctor during their pregnancies. Even black women with advanced degrees—doctors, lawyers, MBAs—were more likely to lose infants than white women who hadn’t graduated from high school. A recent analysis offers insight into why these disparities may persist: stress that can disrupt body systems; racial discrimination that puts higher stress on black women throughout their lives; and poverty. A study released last year found that a $1 increase in the minimum wage in various states between 1980 and 2011 corresponded with a 1 to 2 percent decrease in low birth weight and a 4 percent decline in deaths of infants between one month and one year. thenation.com Asian and white women earn $18 and $17, respectively; average wages for black and Hispanic women are $13 and $12, respectively–and also higher than those of black and Hispanic men. pewresearch.org

Equality in health care coverage takes a step backward in the new plan put forward by Republicans. The replacement plan benefits people who are healthy and high-income, and hurts those who are sick and low-income. Insurers are prohibited today from charging the older person more than three times as much as the youngest, but the Republican plan would allow them to charge five times as much. A 64-year-old could see annual premiums increase by almost 30 percent to $13,100 on average, according to the S&P analysis. ncpolicywatch.org Anyone interested in material for articulating opposition to the change will find it in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis.