Conservation Update - May 2015

Reducing Air Pollutants Successfully Reduces Asthma Symptoms and Incidence
“In recent decades, diagnoses of asthma have risen dramatically. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of patients diagnosed with asthma rose by 4.3 million, according to CDC reports. It is a leading cause of school absences across the country.” Asthma symptoms are often triggered by air pollution and allergies, and climate change may be exacerbating the problem by increasing the duration of seasons and contributing to more erratic weather patterns. These changes are causing plants to release more pollen earlier and longer. Measures taken to reduce air pollution may already be having significant impacts on reducing school absences due to respiratory problems. Researchers have found that upgrades to efficiency standards on school buses, introduced in 2005, has reduced levels of pollutants in buses by as much as 50 percent. “Their research, which focused on 275 elementary school children in Washington state, measured air quality in buses before and after EPA standards were implemented. Among children who didn't have asthma, inflammation markers in their lungs dropped by 16 percent while inflammation markers in children with asthma dropped 20 to 31 percent, depending on the severity of their condition.” Read more here:
Transmission Line to Deliver Wind Energy Moves to Next Round of Approval
The Obama Administration is close to granting final approval to a transmission line that will deliver wind power generated in Wyoming to the western states of Nevada and California. While some environmentalists remain concerned about potential impacts to greater sage grouse, it’s likely that the project will be approved. The TransWest Express line will carry as much as 3,000 megawatts of electricity, and have the capacity to transmit enough electricity to power 1.8 million homes. Read more here:
Wind Energy Booming
The wind power industry says new turbines are bringing a near-record amount of power capacity to the United States. The American Wind Energy Association recently released a study reporting that 100 wind power projects with a generating capacity of 13,600 megawatts are under construction in 23 states during the first quarter of the year. The group says all the new projects are eligible for assistance under the wind production tax credit, which Congress let expire last year. Read more here:
Lincoln Electric System’s Use of Landfill Gas for Electricity Reduces Carbon Footprint While Making Money for the City
Lincoln Electric System’s use of landfill gas to power its Terry Bundy Generating Station has brought in over $54,000 to the City of Lincoln in the last two years, and is helping to reduce Lincoln’s carbon footprint. “Landfill gas, a byproduct of decomposing garbage, is 40 to 60 percent methane, with the remainder made up of mostly carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane is more than 20 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.” Burning this gas and turning it into fuel has allowed the City of Lincoln to receive carbon credits for the project, which it has put into the city’s occupation tax fund and used for such things as landfill operations and recycling efforts. Another benefit, according to Donna Garden, assistant director of the city Public Works and Utilities Department and Tom Davlin, manager of projects engineering for the publicly owned Lincoln Electric System, is that burning landfill gas instead of natural gas helps keep fuel costs low. Read more here:
Western Towns Come Together to Target Coal
Ten Western mountain towns are launching a campaign that targets the coal industry, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars a year from companies to help communities adapt to climate change. These communities are already dealing with the impacts of climate change, and know that it will only get worse: rising temperatures, inconsistent river flows, shrinking snowpack, drought and catastrophic wildfires are what they will have to address at an ever increasing expense. The "Mountain Pact" towns in Colorado and neighboring states contend that, because coal is a major source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases linked to climate change, the industry should pay more to help deal with the impact. Read more here:
Warren Buffet is Invested in Wind
Warren Buffet is investing big in wind energy, as two Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries invest in major projects in Nebraska and Iowa. The 400 MW project in Nebraska will increase our state’s renewable energy portfolio by 50%, and the $1 billion investment in Iowa will bring Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in Iowa wind to almost $6 billion. Read more here:
Iowa Wind Energy Brings Economic Development
A new report from the Iowa Wind Energy Association finds that Iowa’s wind industry has been a boon to the state, and continues to grow dramatically. Iowa is the national leader in percentage of its electricity that is generated by wind, at 28.5%, and as new projects come online this year that number is expected to go over 30%. The report shows the wind industry now employs 6,000 Iowans. The state has 14 manufacturers and 75 companies working in the wind industry and the move into wind energy was identified by Google and Facebook as to why they chose Iowa for their new datacenters. With this massive investment in wind energy, Iowa’s electricity rates are below the national average. Read more here:
Fracking Fluid Found in Pennsylvania Drinking Wells
A new study of water wells in Pennyslvania has found “traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids” in the water.  “This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well,” said Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors and a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University. Read more here:
Getting World Leaders on the Same Page To Tackle Climate Change
The European Union and China are working to agree to a common approach on climate change ahead of climate change talks in Paris this year. “A unified EU-China approach will help make the Paris talks a success, something that is a ‘common joint responsibility,’” said Federica Moherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. Read more here:
FEMA Proposes Rules to Require States to Plan for Climate Change
A new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policy will require states to address climate change before they can become eligible for disaster mitigation grant funding. The agency said mitigation planning requires consideration of the probability of future hazards and events due to climate change, in order to reduce risks and potential dangers. While this policy is designed to push states into better preparedness for the impending impacts of climate change, the rules are drawing fire from congressional Republicans, including our own Senator Deb Fischer. Read more here:
LB 423 Killed for 2015
LB 423, a bill that would have helped spur renewable energy development in Nebraska with a production tax credit, was stalled by a filibuster today and removed from the 2015 legislative agenda. Senator Mike Groene of North Platte spearheaded the filibuster, arguing that wind energy is inefficient and costly to electric ratepayers. “LB 423 is ‘unnecessary feel-good legislation (and) a waste of tax dollars,’ he said.” Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said wind energy is "not a sustainable model" in economic terms. Read more here:
Hawaii to Adopt 100% Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard
Hawaii moved a huge step closer to becoming the first state in the nation to adopt a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio standard, with a bill passed by the state Legislature on Tuesday that’s now headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. House Bill 623 sets the goal of the state reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Read more here:
California Not Reaching Conservation Goals
According to an update by California’s State Water Resources Control Board, water use fell less than 4% in March compared to the same month in 2013. The water board is considering new regulations to step it up, but one reason for March’s low level of conservation was failure of local officials in being aggressive enough to crack down on waste. The new rules being considered would bar cities from using drinking-quality water on street median grass and encourage homeowners to let lawns go brown to meet local mandatory water reduction targets.  These reduction targets, which requires communities to cut water use by as much as 36% compared to 2013, are among the most contentious provisions of the proposed rules. Read more here:
Clean Energy Efforts are Falling Short
In its Energy Technology Perspectives 2015 report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the transformation to clean-energy is progressing at levels well short of those needed to limit the global increase in temperature to no more than 2°C. It called for policymakers to step up efforts to support the development and deployment of "new, ground-breaking energy technologies".  The organization recommends tripling government spending on research and development, and said that governments have "a key role to play" in creating the initial market opportunities to drive investment in such technologies. Read more here:
Clean Energy Under Attack Across the Nation
As state legislative sessions kick into high gear, three damning pieces of legislation - including two particularly crippling bills for wind energy - advanced in Texas, Nebraska and North Carolina.
  • Texas - the No. 1 wind state in the U.S. - is facing legislation that, among other things, will repeal its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and dismantle the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission initiative.
  • In Nebraska, state legislators mounted a filibuster to block L.B.423, the renewable energy production tax credit bill. A band of conservative lawmakers blocked the proposed tax credit, arguing that the state should not be required to subsidize wind energy. Senators voted 30-12 to bring the bill to a vote, but supporters needed 33 to overcome the filibuster.
  • Finally, pending legislation in North Carolina also seeks to roll back the state RPS. The legislative effort is particularly damning because it attempts to wipe out wind development before the technology can take hold. The bill would freeze North Carolina's RPS at the current 6% and halt progress toward the 12.5% by 2021 requirement - all of this despite the fact that utility commission reports indicate the policy has almost no impact on consumers and that the standard has helped create thousands of jobs in the state. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), there are wind projects in the planning stages that total over $1 billion worth of investment in North Carolina’s rural counties. This investment will create jobs, build roads and provide funding for schools.
In Anticipation of Water Shortage, Colorado Writes First Statewide Water Plan
Officials in Colorado are drafting a statewide water plan in an attempt to address the water needs of a rapidly growing population and a diminishing water supply due to drought and other conditions. Colorado's population is expected to nearly double by 2050 and there will not be enough water to meet demand, which could pit agriculture needs against Front Range development and urban growth. According to James Eklund, who oversees water policy and planning for the state of Colorado, “The landscape has shifted on us in the last 15 years to where we can't afford not to have this plan.” Read more here:
Change of Tide in Canada
A new Premier has been elected to the Canadian province of Alberta, and she has already declared a change in the province’s energy strategy will ensue under her leadership. In addition to “signaling the province’s environmental image will get a makeover,” she has promised her government will “step back from its role as cheerleader for the industry and will no longer lobby for the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines.” Read more here: 
Iowa is Slated to Help Other States Meet Renewable Energy Goals
A new study finds that wind energy is so cheap in Iowa that the state will likely be tapped to help other states reduce their carbon emissions and be in compliance with the EPA’s clean power plan.  As of the end of 2014, Iowa had developed 5,688 megawatts of wind capacity, enough to provide about 28 percent of the electricity used in Iowa. However, that’s only about 1 percent of the state’s overall potential of 570,000 megawatts. The study found it would be feasible for Iowa to add about 21,000 megawatts of wind between now and 2030, far more than is needed in Iowa. Iowa has led the nation in wind energy through strong policies that offer incentives to wind developers. Nebraska actually ranks ahead of Iowa in wind energy potential, yet falls far behind in actual installed wind capacity. Read more here:
Over 100,000 Clean Energy Jobs in Illinois
Illinois is now home to over 100,000 clean energy jobs. In a recent report, the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust found that 7,574 new clean jobs have been added in Illinois in the last 15 months, a 7.8% increase from the Clean Energy Trust’s first jobs report in 2013. The Clean Energy Trust says that the jobs growth has been driven by small businesses, with 60% of firms reporting ten or fewer employees. Read more here:
Energy Efficiency Saving Big Money
Lancaster County, PA is expected to save $393,000 this year alone through energy savings due to new efficiency measures. New lighting, toilets and other energy and water conservation improvements at the courthouse, prison, and other Lancaster County facilities are also projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,341 tons per year, equivalent to planting 6,158 trees. The $6.8 million in bond-funded improvements made last year will pay for themselves in about 14 years, with some improvements, such as energy-efficient lighting, paying for themselves in half that time. Read more here:
Duke Energy Pleads Guilty
Duke Energy Corp. has pled guilty to environmental crimes in North Carolina, admitting to failures at five of its coal plants over the past several decades that allowed coal ash to enter waterways. In 2014, a stormwater pipe beneath a coal ash pond at Duke's retired power plant in Eden ruptured, releasing up to 27 million gallons of wastewater and as many as 39,000 tons of coal combustion residue into the river that supplies drinking water to two towns in neighboring Virginia. The company pled guilty for failing to take the proper steps that would have prevented the spill. Duke will pay $102 million in fines and environmental projects, and will set aside $3 billion to bring itself into compliance with environmental standards. Read more here:
The USDA Commits Funding for Conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer
The USDA has committed $6.5 billion to assist with conservation of the Ogallala Aquifer in 2015. The funding will help conservationists, farmers, and ranchers plan water conservation and quality projects. This year's work is planned in seven priority areas in five states and will continue for up to four years. USDA estimates it will conserve billions of gallons of water per year. The Ogallala has been targeted for this funding because it is a primary water source for the Great Plains region, it faces threats from ongoing drought conditions, and water is being withdrawn at an unsustainable rate. Read more here:
The Age of the Megadonor
As the federal court system strikes down restrictions put in place to limit the amount of money that could flow into an election, we have entered the age of the “megadonor,” says Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College in Maine and a leading expert on political finance. While money has always had an impact, the level we are seeing now is fairly recent. In 2008, Corrado notes, candidates were still focused on building as large a donor base as possible. But "less than a decade later, the emphasis now is on the ability to recruit wealthy donors who are willing to write large checks. As a result, the focal point is on the ability to solicit contributions from what is a very small number of potential donors," Corrado adds. "The universe you're aiming for is not four million people, but 200 people." To learn more about what has led to this, read more here:
Unprepared for North Dakota’s Oil Boom
Since 2010, North Dakota’s oil production has quadrupled, making it the 2nd largest producer in the United States. With it has also come a natural gas boom, a plethora of waste fluids, and the realization that in many ways, the state was not prepared for this. The negative effects are especially clear on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where regulators and first responders are drastically understaffed and unequipped to deal with spills and holding companies accountable, according to Edmund Baker, Environmental Director of the MHA Nation. Despite the daily spills and dumping incidents his team reacts to, Edmund Baker, MHA Nation's environmental director, says he has issued only two fines. If his division had more staff with a better grasp of environmental regulations, he estimates that his office would issue at least one fine a week. Read more here:
Fossil Fuel Subsidies Equal Global Spending on Public Health
According to a new study by the International Monetary Fund, “governments around the world will subsidize the cost of oil, gas, and coal to the tune of $5.3 trillion this year, fuelling pollution and climate change as they misallocate the equivalent of what is spent globally on public health.” Put another way, this figure is the equivalent of 6.5% of global economic output. Their estimate represents a calculation of how much these subsidies cost us in detrimental environmental and health effects. China and the United States were the largest givers of subsidies, with the U.S. spending $699 billion this year. If the subsidies were eliminated this year, global CO2 emissions would be cut by more than 20% and the number of people who die premature deaths from air pollution would be reduced by more than half. Read more here:
States Sign On In Cooperation to Fight Climate Change
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed an agreement with leaders from 11 other states and countries pledging cooperation to battle climate change. “This global challenge requires bold action on the part of governments everywhere,” Brown said in a statement. The agreement includes the states of Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, as well as the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario in Canada, the states of Baja California and Jalisco in Mexico, and the British country of Wales. States and provinces in Brazil, Germany, and Spain are also involved. Gov. Brown stated their commitment to bringing more states into the agreement. Read more here:
New Strategy to Preserve Bees and Butterflies Announced
The White House released its “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, calling for the restoration or enhancement of 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years through federal actions and public/private partnerships. In announcing the policy, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak noted how important pollinators are to our nation’s economy (adding more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year), food security, and environmental health. The strategy also adds research funding to explore the impact of pesticides on pollinators. Read more here:
Failings of the News Media
Voters face an uphill battle when it comes to finding information that they can use to make educated decisions in the ballot box. According to James Klurfeld, a veteran of the news industry who spent 40 years at Newsday, the problem can be traced back to 1960 when “The Making of a President” was written, a much-acclaimed book detailing the inside game of presidential politics. Since then, coverage has become more and more “dominated by analysis of political tactics at the expense of an examination of the more fundamental issues in a campaign,” like actual merits of policy positions. He also notes that while it may seem counterintuitive, the Internet has also contributed to the challenges faced by voters in making informed decisions. While we have never before had access to so much information, this ease of access has a negative side: people gravitate toward information that backs up their already held beliefs. A lot of this information is speculative and opinion-based, and lacks solid research or data. There are still sources that provide in-depth, knowledge-based reporting, but voters need to be open and willing to reading information that may contradict their already held beliefs.  Read more here:
Clean Energy Benefits Low Income Households the Most
“A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council said low-income households benefit the most from cutting energy costs through energy efficiency and renewable energy. The average American household spends 2.9 percent of income on energy costs. By comparison, low-income families spend 8.3 percent of income on energy. NRDC's report, "Bridging the Clean Energy Divide," shows how a transition to cleaner power and reduced emissions can lead to healthier communities, greater savings and a stronger economy.” Read more here:
Global Employment in the Renewable Energy Industry Surges
“More than 7.7 million people were employed by renewable energy industries worldwide at the end of 2014, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This surging figure is up 18% from 2013, mirroring the global rise in new renewable energy installations.” Read more here:
U.S. Still Ranks Highest in Energy Consumption and Emissions
Next 10’s Green Innovation Index, International Edition for the first time analyzes and ranks the economic and energy performance of the world’s 50 largest greenhouse gas emitting nations. While the US ranks high in investment in clean energy and electric vehicle ownership, it also leads in having the highest energy consumption and emissions.” Read more here:
Leading Insurance Provider Divests From Coal
AXA, one of the world’s largest insurance providers, has divested from its coal-related assets while tripling its investments in the green economy. Citing the risks of climate change and the insurance sector’s role in dealing with its impacts, AXA’s CEO said it is their responsibility “to consider carbon as a risk and to accompany the global energy transition.” Read more here:
Shell CEO Acknowledges Importance of Staying Under 2°C Warming, Maintains Commitment to Fossil Fuels
Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden, has “endorsed warnings that the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned unless some way is found to capture their carbon emissions.” He continued his statement by maintaining that oil, gas, and coal will continue to be major sources of energy now and into the future. Emphasizing that it is important for the world to stay under the 2-degree Celcius temperature increase, he stated the necessity of a policy that will “enable and realize carbon capture and storage on a large scale.” Read more here:   
Shareholders of Exxon and Chevron Reject Environmental Resolutions
“Shareholders of Exxon Mobil and Chevron, two of the world’s dominating oil companies, overwhelmingly rejected several environmental resolutions including proposals to put climate-change experts on their boards and set goals for greenhouse-gas emissions. The proposal to put a climate change expert on the board was brought by an organization of Catholic priests in Milwaukee. The Exxon board opposed the resolution, saying several board members have engineering and scientific backgrounds and can handle climate issues, and it gained only 21 percent support. The outcome was the same at the Chevron meeting.” Read more here:
New Clean Water Regulation Announced
“President Obama has announced a sweeping new clean water regulation meant to restore the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.” This rule would apply to about 60% of the nation’s bodies of water, and is meant to clear up uncertainty that has arisen regarding the Clean Water Act of 1972. Since two court rulings in the early 2001 and 2006, this uncertainty has hindered the government’s ability to regulate smaller streams, headwaters, wetlands and other water sources. In announcing the rule, President Obama noted that “one in three Americans now gets drinking water from streams lacking clear protection.” Read more here:
Stunning Images Capturing Climate Change and Social Inequality
“Twelve images from this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition have been released. The competition enables photographers to share images of environmental and social issues with international audiences, and to enhance our understanding of the causes, consequences and solutions to climate change and social inequality. Over 10,000 entries were submitted by photographers and filmmakers from more than 60 countries around the world.” See the images here:
Guide to California’s Drought
A comprehensive guide to the California drought and water crisis has been created by Vox. You can look at the history of the drought, see how water is used and where it comes from, and get a look at how people and farms are changing their ways to save water. Check it out here:
Iowa Water Dispute
A lawsuit filed earlier this year by Water Works, a Des Moines water provider, against three rural counties in Iowa says they should be “required to obtain federal water pollution discharge permits because they release nitrate pollutants into rivers much like regulated factories. The nitrate comes from fertilizer and manure from 1.2 million hogs and a million turkeys that is spread on the fields in the three counties.” Water Works is also seeking almost $1.5 million from the counties for what it spent in 2013 and this year to operate an expensive treatment system to remove nitrates from water. The three counties have responded to the lawsuit by saying that water quality has always been an issue, and deny that they are responsible for any such pollution. Read more here:
Key Facts in Santa Barbara Oil Spill
On May 19, oil spilled along the Santa Barbara County coast. It has re-ignited environmental concerns in the area, as it is in the same stretch of coast where a devastating oil platform blowout in 1969 galvanized the environmental movement. Here’s a helpful rundown of what we know about the spill so far:
  • A 24-inch pipeline that delivers crude oil from offshore drilling rigs to refineries inland ruptured and leaked for several hours before firefighters stopped the flow.
  • Up to 101,000 gallons of oil escaped, including an estimate 21,000 gallons that washed into a storm drain and flowed out to sea.
  • The clean-up efforts have come under fire from environmentalists and lawmakers who question whether enough was done early on to contain the damage.
  • This area is known as the “Northern Galapagos” for its biological diversity, making this spill especially concerning. Wildlife officers have recovered 168 birds and marine mammals coated in oil since the spill.
  • Plains pipeline, the company responsible for the spill, has a long track record of safety problems. Since 2006, it has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions and its rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average.