There’s just a deadly synergy between beetles, blister rust and climate change,” said Jesse Logan, a whitebark expert in Montana.
Other key stories below: Secret ‘Watch List’ Reveals Failure to Curb Toxic Air; Wind Power Surges in the Third Quarter
The bug lady scoots through stick-straight lodgepole and ponderosa, and marches uphill toward the gnarled trunk of a troubled species: the whitebark pine.
The ghostly conifers found on chilly, wind-swept peaks like this may well be among the earliest victims of a warming climate. Even in the Northwest, rising temperatures at higher elevations have brought hundreds of thousands of whitebark pines in contact with a deadly predator — the mountain pine beetle — that is helping drive this odd tree toward extinction.
Connie Mehmel, with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, is one of a handful of entomologists struggling to track the beetles’ destructive path.
Mountain pine beetles are probably best-known here as the trunk-girdling devils that have reddened and deadened millions of acres of lodgepole, exposing the Northwest to a greater potential for cataclysmic wildfires. But the evolutionary history of lodgepole pine and beetles is so intertwined that those forests in many places are expected to grow back.
Whitebark pines may not.
“What concerns me and a lot of people in my line of work is we are seeing beetles being more active in areas where we didn’t use to see them — particularly in higher-elevation areas,” Mehmel says. “We have thousands of acres of whitebark pine that are being attacked by mountain pine beetles, more than we’ve seen in quite a long time.”
… A study in the mid-2000s showed whitebark trees had declined by 41 percent in the Western Cascades. Tree declines throughout Washington and Oregon hovered around 35 percent. In the coastal range and the Olympics, blister rust infection ranged from 4 to 49 percent. Nearly 80 percent of the whitebark in Mount Rainier National Park are infected. Whitebark deaths in North Cascades National Park doubled in the last five years.
“We know the incidence of blister rust infection and mountain pine beetle outbreaks is increasing exponentially,” says biologist Amy Nicholas. She authored a report for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this summer that concluded whitebark pine across the West belongs on the Endangered Species List. The agency declined to list the tree, saying it didn’t have the money….
But in whitebark pine, beetle epidemics historically have been rare because the trees appear in places too cold for bugs to do much damage — until lately. In 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported, beetles killed whitebark pine trees across half a million acres in the West — the most, at the time, since record-keeping began.
Two years later, beetles killed trees on 800,000 acres. And unlike lodgepole, whitebark pines produce few seed cones and do so late in life. They aren’t set up to survive massive slaughter.
Montana entomologist on bark beetles: “A couple of degrees warmer could create multiple generations a year. If that happens, I expect it would be a disaster for all of our pine populations.”
The system Congress set up 21 years ago to clean up toxic air pollution still leaves many communities exposed to risky concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and many other hazardous chemicals.
Pollution violations at more than 1,600 plants across the country were serious enough that the government believes they require urgent action, according to an analysis of EPA data by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity. Yet nearly 300 of those facilities have been considered “high priority violators” of the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency for at least a decade.
About a quarter of those 1,600 violators are on an internal EPA “watch list,” which the agency has kept secret until now.
EPA estimates facilities across the country emit 40 percent less toxic emissions in 2005 than they did in 1990, but toxic air pollution has persisted in communities like Ponca City, Okla., Hayden, Ariz., Tonawanda, N.Y., and Muscatine, Iowa.
“I don’t think it’s a great deal of comfort to tell somebody whose kids may develop brain damage or the adults in the neighborhood who may get cancer that overall we’re reducing toxic air pollutants. It doesn’t help them,” says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., an author of the 1990 update to the Clean Air Act. “What will help them is that the industries that are in their area actually control the pollution and stop poisoning the people.”
China’s largest solar power plant developer has put a planned $500 million U.S. project on hold over an anti-dumping trade dispute, the company’s general manager said on Monday.
CECEP Solar Energy Technology Co Ltd, a unit of the state-owned giant China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group, said a planned installation of China-made panels to generate solar power in California, New Jersey and Texas would be made uneconomic by U.S. anti-dumping moves.
“If the solar panel prices increase by, say 30 percent, in the United States, following the move, then we would certainly drop the plan because there’s no profit to be made,” Cao Huabin, the general manager of CECEP Solar Energy, told a news conference in Beijing.
Prices of solar panels in the project, which account for about 70 percent of the costs, are set to jump if Washington imposes duties on imported Chinese products that U.S. rivals say breach agreed global trade rules.
“I don’t see any alternatives to Chinese solar panels,” Cao said, who described Chinese products as having “low prices but good quality.”
If you thought you were seeing a lot of stories about new wind power plants in Colorado, there’s a reason for that: In the third quarter of 2011, Colorado installed more new wind capacity than any other state – way more. According to the latest quarterly report [PDF] from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Colorado installed 501 megawatts from July through September, outdistancing Minnesota (163 MW), Oklahoma (130 MW), West Virginia (98 MW) and Texas (88 MW). Nationwide, 1,204 MW of capacity went in, bringing 2011 installs to 3,360 MW.
The U.S. wind industry’s cumulative capacity now totals 43,461 MW. Texas leads with 10,223 MW, nearly 7,000 MW more than second-place Iowa (see map below). As of the end of July, wind power provided about 3 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the AWEA.
It’s game on for solar power among tech giants like IBM, Facebook, and Apple, and the advanced clean energy investments of these global moneymakers could have some interesting implications for the 2012 presidential contest. Among the recent news, IBM’s new rooftop solar array for its India Software Lab in Bangalore wins out for innovation, with Facebook’s unique hybrid solar plant at its Menlo Park campus giving it a run for the money, and Apple’s unannounced plans for a giant solar farm in North Carolina coming up close behind.
IBM’s Energy Efficient Solar Array
The sun may be free, but energy efficiency is still a crucial factor when companies invest their energy dollars in commercial solar arrays. IBM’s first-of-its kind solar system tackles one part of the problem, which is the loss of power that occurs when the DC (direct current) generated by photovoltaic panels is converted to AC (alternating current). To cut down on that loss, the company’s new solar array works in tandem with high voltage DC servers and water cooling systems instead of conventional
From alternative fuels to clean air, President Barack Obama’s record is a disappointment to environmentalists, who helped get him elected and now are threatening to sit out his re-election bid in 2012.
“He’s been held hostage by Congress, but at some point I feel that the important thing is to stand up for what you believe in, and he’s not doing that,” said Rhoden Streeter, 67, who attended a White House demonstration yesterday against a proposed crude oil pipeline that would cut through six states.
Obama’s re-election campaign’s response: Where can they go?
“When Americans compare the president’s record promoting clean energy and America’s energy security to those of the leading Republican candidates,” Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail statement, “there will be no question about who will continue our progress.”
The campaign’s confidence lies not just in the positioning of the Republican candidates, most of whom deride the idea that humans have contributed to climate change. “Man-made global warming is poppycock,” said Herman Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive officer and a leading Republican primary candidate, in a Sept. 27 radio interview.