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Michigan Attorney General to review pipeline deal at governor's request

My Northwest | Posted on January 9, 2019

Michigan’s new governor and attorney general moved to review the legality of a contentious state deal to run an oil pipeline beneath a crucial section of the Great Lakes. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her request for a legal opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who welcomed the opportunity and expressed concern with a law that facilitated the agreement between the state and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge. Such opinions, while not the same as legal rulings, are considered to bind state agencies unless reversed by a court. Both Whitmer and Nessel had questioned the deal before taking office.The Republican-led Legislature and GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder rushed to enact the law after Whitmer was elected in November. The new Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority then swiftly approved the proposal to drill a tunnel through bedrock up to 100 feet (30.4 meters) below the more than 4-mile-wide (6.4 kilometer) channel that links Lakes Huron and Michigan. A new segment of pipeline will extend through the tunnel, replacing twin pipes that have lain along the lake bed since 1953. They are part of Enbridge’s Line 5, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids used in propane from Superior, Wisconsin, through northern Michigan to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario.


Staring down tariffs and rollbacks, US renewables rang in a record year

Utility Dive | Posted on January 9, 2019

2018 was a difficult year to find good news when it comes to climate change. The dire predictions announced by climate scientists in report after report played out in real time as we witnessed unprecedented wildfires and storms devastating communities. As scientists issued a clarion warning that avoiding catastrophic climate impacts requires slashing carbon pollution within the next decade, President Trump remained determined to move in the opposite direction. His ongoing efforts include rolling back policies that would reduce carbon emissions, imposing tariffs on solar panels, and threatening to cut subsidies for clean energy. Globally, in a reversal of recent slowing trends, carbon emissions hit an all-time high. Yet behind the scenes, a seismic shift is quietly taking place, a shift that might hold the key to our future. Clean energy is not only weathering these storms, it is thriving. The "We Are Still In" coalition — more than 3,600 cities, states, companies, colleges and universities, faith communities and other institutions across the U.S., collectively representing 154 million people and $9.46 trillion in GDP — have publicly committed to the Paris Agreement, and they’re backing up that commitment with action.U.S. companies signed contracts for more than 6,400 megawatts of renewable energy, an all-time record and more than double the amount companies purchased the year before. Once dominated by silicon valley tech companies, last year's list of corporate renewable energy buyers represented a growing diversity of industries and geographies. 


Termite-gut microbes extract clean energy from coal

Tech Xplore | Posted on January 9, 2019

Termites generally don't elicit a whole lot of love. But surprisingly, this wood-eating insect may hold the key to transforming coal—a big polluting chunk of the global energy supply—into cleaner energy for the world, according to University of Delaware researchers. A community of termite-gut  converts  into methane, the chief ingredient in natural gas. The study, which produced computer models of the step-by-step , was a collaboration with ARCTECH, a company based in Centerville, Virginia, that has been working with these microbes for the past 30 years. ARCTECH provided the UD team with the experimental data that was used to validate the models.


Coal mines closing despite Trump's promises

WTHI-TV | Posted on January 9, 2019

It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River like a monstrous monument to extinction. With no fire in its belly and no smoke in its stacks, the rusting power plant provides only one sign of its former inhabitants, scribbled on a white board in a padlocked guard booth."RIP Mitchell," the handwriting reads. "You gave us a good few years."The Mitchell Power Station, just south of Pittsburgh, actually turned Pennsylvania coal into power for a good 65 years before the discovery of cheaper, cleaner forms of energy.As fracked natural gas and renewables like wind and solar undercut the price of coal, both Mitchell and the nearby Hatfield's Ferry power plants were deactivated on the same day in 2013.Many in this corner of coal country blamed Obama-era regulations on their demise, so when a candidate named Donald Trump promised to end a so-called "war on coal," they were ready to believe.But thanks largely to free-market forces, more coal-fired power plants have been deactivated in Trump's first two years in office then in Obama's entire first term. When asked about the President's claim to be the savior of coal, veteran miner and industry consultant Art Sullivan bristles."He's trying to get their votes," he says, standing by the fenced-off entrance to a mine not far from Mitchell where he once served as Face Boss, a coal industry term for managers. "He's lying to them."


Trump Administration Works Overtime to Make Sure Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Oil Drilling

Bloomberg | Posted on January 9, 2019

The partial U.S. government shutdown has docked fishing boats in Alaska, delayed public meetings on a proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast and blocked pharmaceutical companies from seeking approval for new drugs. But the Trump administration is working overtime to make sure the shutdown doesn’t halt oil drilling too -- in ways critics say may flout federal law.“One of the principles of government is that you serve everybody equally,” but that’s not what’s happening here, said Matt Lee-Ashley, a former deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department. “The oil industry is still getting business as usual and everybody else is getting shut out, so it’s fundamentally not fair and it may be illegal too.” The Interior Department is still issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also moving forward on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska, going so far as to convene public meetings over whether to allow pipelines and drilling rigs near wetlands that sustain caribou and threatened birds.


PG&E could sell gas division, or seek bankruptcy, as Camp Fire woes mount

The Sacramento Bee | Posted on January 8, 2019

PG&E, facing billions in potential losses from the Camp Fire and other wildfires, is reportedly exploring the sale of its natural gas division or a bankruptcy filing as it tries to deal with its staggering financial liabilities. NPR, quoting anonymous sources, said Friday that PG&E might sell the gas division as well as some of its real estate, including its headquarters in San Francisco, to raise cash for wildfire claims. The entire effort is part of a strategy code-named “Project Falcon,” NPR reported.


Farmers fear another hit as shutdown threatens Trump ethanol vow

Chicago Tribune | Posted on January 7, 2019

Farmer Bruce Buchanan was so elated with Donald Trump's October vow to allow higher sales of corn-based ethanol that he carved a huge thank-you note in his Indiana cornfield. Now, though, the president's actions have him worried. The government shutdown that Trump says could last "a long time" without funding for a border wall may hurt farmers by delaying the administration's ability to steer through the approval for year-round sales of a 15 percent ethanol blend for gasoline before the summer begins. That's up from 10 percent allowed now.The increased sales would certainly be helpful. Farm income has dropped in five out of the last six years. And this season, growers have been been hamstrung in selling their crops by an ongoing trade war with China. While Buchanan supports Trump on border security, the shutdown is troubling for a farming community that's clearly struggling, he said."It's not all fun and games out here," said Buchanan, a third-generation farmer from Fowler, Ind., in a telephone interview. "It's a daily challenge."The schedule for getting approval of the higher ethanol blend was already ambitious prior to the shutdown. The Environmental Protection Agency had promised to present a final rule in May, just four weeks before existing restrictions on 15 percent ethanol become binding. Now, though, the agency is largely inoperative.


Greener days ahead for carbon fuels?

Science Daily | Posted on January 3, 2019

A discovery by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) shows that recycling carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals and fuels can be economical and efficient -- all through a single copper catalyst. When you take a piece of copper metal, it may feel smooth to the touch, but at the microscopic level, the surface is actually bumpy -- and these bumps are what scientists call "active sites," said Joel Ager, a researcher at JCAP who led the study. Ager is a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and an adjunct professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UC Berkeley.Ever since the 1980s, when copper's talent for converting carbon into various useful products was discovered, it was always assumed that its active sites weren't product-specific -- in other words, you could use copper as a catalyst for making ethanol, ethylene, propanol, or some other carbon-based chemical, but you would have to go through a lot of steps to separate unwanted, residual chemicals formed during the intermediate stages of a chemical reaction before arriving at your final destination -- the chemical end-product.


Oregon:Commissioners to vote on 94-acre farm-land solar project

Herald and News | Posted on January 2, 2019

A proposed solar project could be developed on 94 acres of high-value farm land east of Klamath Community College and south of Olene.Klamath County commissioners plan to vote in early January on whether or not to grant Santa Monica, Calif. company Cypress Creek Renewables a permit to build the solar farm, which is called the Merrill Solar project. The project would generate about 10 megawatts of energy, said county planning director Mark Gallagher, powering roughly 2,000 homes annually.The proposed site is on high-value land exclusively zoned for agricultural use. Oregon statewide planning goals stipulate that counties must “preserve and maintain” these lands for farming use. Any non-agriculture project on zoned farmland — like a 94-acre solar farm — must be granted a special county exemption by the county.


Dakota Access pipeline developer slow to replace some trees

Washington Post | Posted on January 2, 2019

The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline missed a year-end deadline to plant thousands of trees along the pipeline corridor in North Dakota, but the company said it was still complying with a settlement of allegations it violated state rules during construction. Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which built the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now moving North Dakota oil to Illinois, is falling back on a provision of the September 2017 agreement that provides more time should the company run into problems. The company must provide 20,000 trees to county soil conservation districts along the pipeline’s 359-mile (578-kilometer) route across North Dakota.The deal with North Dakota’s Public Service Commission settled allegations that ETP removed too many trees in some areas and that it improperly handled a pipeline route change after discovering Native American artifacts. The artifacts were not disturbed.The agreement required the company to replant trees and shrubs at a higher ratio in the disputed areas, along with an additional 20,000 trees along the entire route. ETP filed documents in October detailing efforts by a contractor to plant 141,000 trees and shrubs, but the PSC asked the company a month later to provide more documentation that it had complied with all settlement terms.


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