June 8 news: Military Rebuffs GOP Push for Liquid Coal; China May Sign Deal to Import Russian Gas

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Costs of ‘liquid coal’ too big for Pentagon despite GOP push

Using “liquid coal” in U.S. military aircraft and vessels as an alternative to gasoline tied to world oil prices would come at an enormous cost and impact on carbon emissions, said a Navy official Friday.

Tom Hicks, deputy assistant Navy secretary for energy, said in testimony to Congress that the rising price of oil “dramatically impacts the military.” For every $1 a barrel increase in oil, the Navy and Marine Corps pay more than $30 million. “We don’t have that money to spare.”

Yet investment in technology to convert coal into liquid transportation fuel isn’t a clear alternative. Huge amounts of water and new coal resources would be needed, Hicks said, and capital costs could reach $10 billion per plant. That would result in a coal-to-liquids product that has more than double the carbon emissions of conventional petroleum.

The United States has the largest coal reserves in the world. Boosters of expanding coal’s role in meeting U.S. energy demand have long pushed the idea of converting coal to liquid fuels. As growth in domestic demand slows, coal-state members of Congress are considering policy options to bolster the domestic market.

Meanwhile, coal companies operating in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming are looking for ways to ship more coal to Asia. Producers in West Virginia and Kentucky are profiting from rising exports of their steel-making coal.

Bonn talks off to slow start as Kyoto stand-off continues

The latest round of international climate talks is continuing in Bonn, despite few signs of a breakthrough during the first two days of the fortnight-long talks.

The head of the UN’s climate change secretariat, Christiana Figueres, began the talks by imploring diplomats to accelerate the pace of the talks and demonstrate that they were delivering on the commitments made at last year’s climate summit in Cancun.

“Governments lit a beacon in Cancun towards a low-emission world that is resilient to climate change,” she said. “They committed themselves to a maximum global average temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius, with further consideration of a 1.5-degree maximum. Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilised towards living up to this commitment.”

But reports quickly emerged that the first round of negotiations was once again dominated by wrangling over the agenda, while there was no indication that diplomats were moving towards a compromise on the vexed topic of whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

A number of industrialised nations, led by Japan and Canada, have signaled they are not willing to sign up to a second commitment for the Kyoto Protocol under any circumstances, insisting the treaty has not delivered and should be replaced by a new agreement that imposes binding emissions goals on both developed and developing countries.

EPA Urges More Scrutiny of Pipeline Expansion

The Environmental Protection Agency called on the State Department to increase its scrutiny of TransCanada Corp.’s plan to extend its Keystone pipeline system, saying leaks along the line present an environmental challenge.

The 1,300-mile line has sprung 11 leaks overall during its one-year lifespan, raising concerns about the company’s plans to nearly double the system’s capacity as part of its so-called Keystone XL project, the EPA said in a letter to the State Department. TransCanada restarted the 591,000 barrel-a-day line Sunday after a May 29 leak of 10 barrels of oil in Kansas. The line also spilled 400 barrels of oil on May 7 in North Dakota.

“These events…underscore the comments about the need to carefully consider both the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline and the appropriate measure to prevent and detect a spill,” Cynthia Giles, EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said in the letter, dated June 6 and released publicly Tuesday. “EPA believes additional analysis is necessary to fully respond…to ensure a full evaluation of the potential impacts of the proposed project.”

China May Sign Deal to Import Russian Gas Before Hu’s Visit

China, the world’s biggest energy consumer, may sign a deal to import Russian natural gas ahead of President Hu Jintao’s visit to Russia later this month, Assistant Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said.

“Before Hu’s state visit, there will be a major agreement on natural gas,” Cheng told reporters in Beijing today, adding that Hu’s visit would take place June 15-18.

China, seeking to boost consumption of cleaner-burning gas to cut carbon emissions and rely less on coal, has held talks with Russia on gas shipments by pipeline for at least 14 years. Russia, which became China’s largest trading partner in 2010, aims to sign a 30-year gas supply contract on June 10, RIA Novosti reported on May 31.

The talks “have been going smoothly,” Cheng said. “China and Russia are talking about an unprecedented gas cooperation contract in terms of duration and the quantity. The two sides need each other.”

Seabirds such as albatrosses killed by longline fishing

Up to 300,000 seabirds are killed every year by longline fisheries, according to a study.

This new global estimate of seabird bycatch was carried out by scientists from the RSPB and Birdlife International.

Commercial longlines can be hundreds of kilometres long, with more than 1,000 bait hooks along the line.

Seabirds, including endangered albatrosses, often dive for the bait and become ensnared by the hooks.

Dr Orea Anderson from the RSPB, who led the study, told BBC Nature that the study took four years to complete.

She and her colleagues compiled all the available data on seabird bycatch from fisheries throughout the world.

Air Quality Worsened by Paved Surfaces: Widespread Urban Development Alters Weather Patterns

New research focusing on the Houston area suggests that widespread urban development alters weather patterns in a way that can make it easier for pollutants to accumulate during warm summer weather instead of being blown out to sea.

The international study, led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), could have implications for the air quality of fast-growing coastal cities in the United States and other midlatitude regions overseas. The reason: the proliferation of strip malls, subdivisions, and other paved areas may interfere with breezes needed to clear away smog and other pollution.

The research team combined extensive atmospheric measurements with computer simulations to examine the impact of pavement on breezes in Houston. They found that, because pavement soaks up heat and keeps land areas relatively warm overnight, the contrast between land and sea temperatures is reduced during the summer. This in turn causes a reduction in nighttime winds.

In addition, built structures interfere with local winds and contribute to relatively stagnant afternoon weather conditions.

600 new species discovered in Madagascar over the past decade

Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is home to a huge variety of species due to its long isolation from the continents. Species evolved on Madagascar that are found nowhere else. In addition, there is a high diversity of habitats found on the island, from coral reefs to spiny forests. These diverse habitats support an incredible array of life.

WWF compiled a list of the new Madagascan species in their report Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar. Excitingly, 41 mammals were found – it is rare to find such numbers of undiscovered mammals in one country. These mammals including Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, believed to be the smallest lemur in the world and weighing a tiny 30 grams. Scientists also discovered a colour-changing gecko to rival Madagascar’s famous chameleons. Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana, WWF Madagascar’s Conservation Director said “This report shows once again how unique and irreplaceable the different ecosystems in Madagascar hosting all these different species are.”


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