42 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for July 26th, 2010: Urban air pollutants can damage IQs before birth; Toxic fish could help Obama hit 2020 climate goal
In a sweltering summer in New York City back in 1999, Yolanda Baldwin was eight months pregnant with her first child. She lived near a gas station and across the street from an intersection choked with exhaust-spewing cars and buses. Sometimes the air was so thick with pollution that she could see it, breathe it, smell it, even taste it. And she often wondered what it might be doing to her unborn child.
Now Baldwin and several hundred other mothers whose sons and daughters have been monitored for a decade have an answer: Before children even take their first breath, common air pollutants breathed by their mothers during pregnancy may reduce their intelligence.
A pair of studies involving more than 400 women in two cities has found that 5-year-olds exposed in the womb to above-average levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, score lower on IQ tests. The compounds, created by the burning of fossil fuels, are ubiquitous in urban environments.
In African American and Dominican communities of New York City, 249 children are being monitored for the effects of environmental contaminants until the age of 11. And across the Atlantic, in Krakow, Poland, another 214 children are participating in a parallel study.
The findings in Poland, reported this spring, are strikingly similar to New York City’s: The children whose mothers had above-average exposure to PAHs scored about four points lower on IQ tests than children whose mothers had below-average exposure.
The difference in IQs is modest, but experts say it is enough to hamper school performance and perhaps lifelong learning. It is about the same deficit linked to low-level exposure to lead, a well-documented cause of reduced IQs in children.
For more, see Study: If you want smarter kids, shut coal plants, which found “elimination of prenatal exposure to coalburning emissions resulted in measurable benefits to children’s development.”
Bottom line: If you don’t want to your children to be dummies, join the fight to shut down dirty coal plants.
A proposed rule on mercury, a pollutant bad for fish and the people who eat too many of them, could help the Obama administration get near its short-term climate goal — even if Congress fails this year or next to pass a bill tackling greenhouse gases directly.
Senate Democrats crafting an energy bill have abandoned until September, and probably through the rest of the year, debate on climate measures like carbon caps on power plants and mandates for utilities to produce more power from renewable sources like wind and solar.
But while many people concerned about climate control have been focusing on the Senate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under its Administrator Lisa Jackson, has been quietly preparing to crack down on coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel, like never before….
Frank O’Donnell, the president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, said that if a large chunk of the coal-fired power fleet went into retirement it could help the country exceed Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
“We’ve thought for a long time that proper enforcement of the Clean Air Act, laws already on the books, can have the unintended benefit of really doing something on climate,” he said.
The environmental think tank the World Resources Institute said on Friday that aggressive action on existing federal government rules and state plans could reduce emissions almost as much as Obama wants by 2020. But it said implementation of the looming mercury and other rules could get even closer.
Utilities would likely build plants to burn natural gas, which emits half the carbon that coal does, as the main alternative. Alternative energy like wind and solar power, which provided the most new U.S. electricity capacity last year, could also become more attractive to utilities.
This is how a climate bill dies. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the bad news: “We don’t have the votes.” Without a single Republican backing the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the Senate’s version of a comprehensive energy bill, there was no point taking it to the floor, he explained. For now, there was no way to move forward.
FP asked five experts who have closely followed the debate for their verdict
It’s no secret that Republicans and Democrats are not working together productively in Washington right now. It is a growing phenomenon; as former Senate majority leaders “” and minority leaders”” we’ve seen plenty of partisan bickering, politics trumping policy and stalled national agendas.
But today we jointly see an opportunity for both parties to work together and do the right thing for the American people. That opportunity is a national energy policy. As the Senate wrangles behind closed doors to craft a plan, we urge them to follow a bipartisan course.
If Don Blankenship had any sense of shame, he’d crawl into a mine and hide.
As CEO of Massey Energy, he has presided over a coal company that had thousands of violations in recent years, leading up to the April explosion that killed 29 of his miners. The company now faces a federal criminal investigation into what the government has called negligent and reckless practices.
But Blankenship must have no sense of shame, because he visited the National Press Club last week to complain about “knee-jerk political reactions” to mine deaths and to demand that the Obama administration lighten regulations on his dirty and dangerous company. “We need to let businesses function as businesses,” an indignant Blankenship proclaimed. “Corporate business is what built America, in my opinion, and we need to let it thrive by, in a sense, leaving it alone.”
If there is no smoking gun in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is because there is smoke coming from so many places.
After months of oil-spill misery and endless recriminations about what happened and why, it is increasingly clear that the complex operation of drilling an exploratory well in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico failed in a complex way. No single decision or misstep in isolation could have caused the blowout, but any number of decisions might have prevented it had they gone the other way.
The calamity, the evidence now suggests, was not an accident in the sense of a single unlucky or freak event, but rather an engineered catastrophe — one that followed naturally from decisions of BP managers and other oil company workers on the now-sunken rig.
Carbon cap-and-trade is dead””at least for this political lifetime. And while the circular firing squad among Democrats and greens has already begun, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering that there are other tools that can be used to deal with climate change. As TIME’s Joe Klein points out, the Supreme Court ruled more than three years ago that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has already begun to effectively regulate carbon emissions from automobiles with its tougher fuel efficiency standards, but it’s not yet clear how the agency might work to regulate emissions from electric utilities or other sectors.
As a new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows, regulations could have a widely varying effect on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the coming two decades, depending on how aggressive the government wants to be””but even the tightest rules would be unlikely to reduce emissions enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
In a laboratory where almost all the test tubes look green, the tools of modern biotechnology are being applied to lowly pond scum. Foreign genes are being spliced into algae and native genes are being tweaked.
Different strains of algae are pitted against one another in survival-of-the-fittest contests in an effort to accelerate the evolution of fast-growing, hardy strains.
The goal is nothing less than to create superalgae, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids and oils that can be sent to a refinery and made into diesel or jet fuel.