Other stories below: Tsunami Reveals Durability of Nissan’s Leaf; U.S. Solar Companies Urge SolarWorld to Drop China Case
Resisting strenuous last-minute lobbying by some of the nation’s biggest utilities, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday a final rule requiring power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants by roughly 90 percent within the next five years.
This is a big victory for environmentalists and scientists who have worked for 20 years to regulate these pollutants — and an even bigger one for the public. When fully effective, the rule could save as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year and avoid countless unnecessary illnesses.
The decision compensates, at least in part, for the White House’s lamentable decision two months ago to reject stricter health standards for smog. That and the administration’s failure to give full-throated support to climate change legislation last year had disheartened many of the president’s environmental supporters.
The Obama administration has adopted tough new limits on mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants, winning praise from environmentalists and public health advocates but sparking warnings from industry groups that contend the new regulations are too expensive and will place dangerous pressure on the nation’s electrical grid.
The update to the Clean Air Act comes after a relentless 20-year battle in Washington. It marks the first time the Environmental Protection Agency has curbed power plant emissions of mercury, a known neurotoxin that can be profoundly harmful to children and pregnant women. The administration said cutting mercury in the air could prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths a year.
The announcement marks a strategic shift for the Obama administration, which had labored to mute industry and Republican complaints that environmental rules kill jobs, culminating in a decision this summer to halt standards to cut smog. Since then, the administration has moved to reassure its voter base of its commitment to the environment, most notably by delaying a decision on a controversial oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Nissan inadvertently gained some valuable insight into the durability of its electric car, the Leaf, when about two dozen of them were destroyed in the tsunami that ravaged Japan in March.
None of the cars caught fire, and their batteries remained fully intact, shielded by an airtight steel exoskeleton and two other layers of protection that surround the 660-pound packs.
“Considering how they were tossed around and crushed, we think that is a very good indication of the safety performance of that vehicle,” said Bob Yakushi, the director of product safety for Nissan North America.
Nissan’s decision to encase the Leaf’s battery in steel may help explain why federal safety regulators investigating postcrash fire risks in the Chevrolet Volt do not have the same concerns about the Leaf. General Motors packages the Volt’s battery cells on a T-shaped steel tray with a plastic cover.
Planned government changes to subsidies on solar power may deal the industry a “fatal blow”, two parliamentary committees are warning.
The Environmental Audit Committee and Energy and Climate Change Committee say ministers are right to make changes, but are doing so “clumsily”.
Government plans include restricting access to solar subsidies to houses meeting energy efficiency standards.
Thousands of solar industry jobs could be at risk, the committees warn.
On Wednesday, a group of companies and environmental groups won a legal judgement against one of the changes.
Central to their campaign was the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (Decc) plan to halve abruptly the level of feed-in tariff (FiT) that small-scale solar installations attract, from 43p per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 21p.
Coping with the impacts of climate change and trying to stop them getting much worse is already one of the world’s biggest concerns. But scientists at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) are looking further ahead, in an attempt to get farmers to plan for the effects predicted 20 years or more from now.
Under a CGIAR programme called Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), researchers have developed a software-based tool that offer farmers a glimpse into their future by identifying places where growing conditions today match those expected in their fields in two to five decades’ time.
The tool can be used to link climate and crop models with agricultural technologies, including improved varieties and agronomic practices, by matching sites that could offer ideas for adaptation to shifting climate patterns.
A coalition that says it represents 97 percent of the U.S. solar industry urged solar panel maker SolarWorld on Thursday to withdraw a petition asking President Barack Obama’s administration to slap punitive duties on China for unfair trading practices.
“The severe tariffs SolarWorld seeks would have a very damaging effect on the solar industry in the United States and would fundamentally undermine many years of effort by all of us who care about the future of solar power,” the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) said in a letter to SolarWorld President Gordon Brinser.
“In simple dollar terms, your petition threatens the planned installation of solar electric power systems in the amount of $11 billion in 2012 and the potential installation of $60 billion currently in the total pipeline,” the group said in the letter signed by CASE President Jigar Shah.