Transportation & Infrastructure

Harvey Triggers ‘Unbearable’ Pollution as Refineries Spew Cancer-Causing Chemicals

by Jake Johnson – “Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm.” As the catastrophic flooding brought about by Hurricane Harvey continues to devastate Texas, reports of “unbearable” smells are beginning to emerge from the state, sparking growing concerns of the long-term health effects that could result from toxic waste and fumes being spewed from temporarily closed oil refineries. “At least 10 refineries on the Texas coast have shut down,” notes the Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grenoble. “And whenever a refinery has to be closed or restarted, especially in emergency situations, its emissions far exceed what’s typically allowed.” Environment Texas, a citizen-based environmental advocacy project of Environment America, said in a statement on Monday that Houston oil industry is likely “releasing more than 1 million pounds of harmful pollution into the air, according to its initial reports to Texas regulators.” “Air pollution is one of the unseen dangers of the storm,” Dr. Elena Craft, senior health scientist at Environmental Defense Fund,...

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Why Trump’s Wall is Not Going to Happen

by Steve Chapman – Plenty of GOP members would rather put Barack Obama on Mount Rushmore than underwrite this addled project. Donald Trump has served one-seventh of his constitutionally allotted term of office, and given his talent for self-destruction, there is no guarantee he will get to serve the remaining six-sevenths. But whether he does or not, one thing is a safe bet: When he leaves the White House, there will not be a wall running the length of our southern border. This may come as a shock to his more devoted followers. They cheered madly, and still cheer madly, at his promises to build a wall that Mexico will pay for. “Believe me, one way or the other, we’re going to get that wall,” he told a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday—even “if we have to close down our government.” Between now and the end of September, Congress needs to...

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Nuclear Power Plants are ‘bleeding cash’

by Joe Romm – Business columnist: “Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did” “It sometimes seems like U.S. and European nuclear companies are in competition to see which can heap greater embarrassment on their industry,” the Financial Times wrote earlier this month. This appears to be the summer that the final nails are put in the coffin of the much-overhyped U.S. nuclear renaissance — despite President Trump’s comment in June that “we will begin to revive and expand our nuclear energy sector, which I’m so happy about.” The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive now that over half of all existing U.S. nuclear power plants are “bleeding cash” according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report released earlier this summer. BNEF found that $2.9 billion is lost every year by just 55 percent of all the nuclear plants in the United States. But, as the chart below shows,...

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Is Anybody Home at HUD?

by Alec MacGillis – A long-harbored conservative dream — the “dismantling of the administrative state” — is taking place under Secretary Ben Carson. In mid-May, Steve Preston, who served as the secretary of housing and urban development in the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, organized a dinner at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., for the new chief of that department, Ben Carson, and five other former secretaries whose joint tenure stretched all the way back to Gerald Ford. It was an event with no recent precedent within the department, and it had the distinct feel of an intervention. HUD has long been something of an overlooked stepchild within the federal government. Founded in 1965 in a burst of Great Society resolve to confront the “urban crisis,” it has seen its manpower slide by more than half since the Reagan Revolution. (The HUD headquarters is now so...

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Massachusetts Rolls Out Aggressive New Emissions-reductions Goals

by Mark Hand – Clean energy purchases projected to reach 80 percent by 2050. Massachusetts regulators rolled out new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources, putting the state one step closer to meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals within the next few years. The regulations, announced on Friday, include clean energy requirements for utilities, reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generating plants, and cuts in methane emissions from natural gas distribution systems in the state. The new climate rules also require declining emission limits for passenger vehicles owned and leased by state government executive offices. The regulations are aimed to allow Massachusetts to meet legislatively mandated greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 and then larger reductions in the future. The new regulations take effect on January 1, 2018. The regulations came in response to a 2014 lawsuit by the Conservation Law Foundation, an...

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Utah Utility Wants to Triple Monthly Charges for Solar Customers

by Mark Hand – Nevada is still recovering from rooftop solar policy similar to Utah utility’s plan. Utah’s largest electric utility company wants to place new charges on rooftop solar customers, a proposal that critics say would unfairly penalize the customers; in addition, they fear it could lead to a scenario similar to the one that recently played out in Nevada, with rooftop solar companies abandoning the state after policymakers weakened the net metering system. Rocky Mountain Power’s plan would nearly triple monthly customer charges and peak-time usage charges for rooftop solar customers, although the company says the new charges are necessary to create an equitable system between solar and non-solar customers. The Utah Public Service Commission is holding a hearing on Wednesday to get public input on the company’s controversial proposal. Next week, the commission plans to hold a multi-day hearing where Rocky Mountain Power, solar companies, and other official intervenors in...

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Clooney Foundation To Open 7 Schools For 3,000 Syrian Refugee Kids

By Amanda Froelich – The Clooney Foundation for Justice agreed to donate $2.25 million to build 7 public schools, which will educate approximately 3,000 refugee children in Lebanon. Thanks to actor George Clooney and his wife Amal, Syrian refugee children who have faced unimaginable hardship will soon receive an education. This is because the Clooney Foundation for Justice agreed to donate $2.25 million to build 7 public schools, which will educate approximately 3,000 refugee children in Lebanon. The donation was made as part of an educational campaign in partnership with Google and Unicef. The ultimate goal is to provide relief to children and their families during one of the most arduous humanitarian crises since WWII. The couple said in a statement to AP: “They have been victims of geography and circumstance, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Our goal with this initiative is to help provide Syrian refugee children with an education and put them on a...

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15 Million Americans May be Drinking Water Contaminated with PFCs

by JULIE FIDLER – Perfluorochemicals are found in virtually all Americans More than 15 million Americans across 27 states may have drinking water contaminated with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) that are used to make non-stick cookware and other products, according to a report published in June 2017. PFCs have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened immune systems. What’s more, prenatal exposure to the chemicals has been linked to low birthweight and future obesity. Even small amounts in drinking water are considered a public health threat. Research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University in Boston reveals that drinking water has been polluted with perfluorochemicals from more than 4 dozen industrial and military sources from Maine to California. In a press release, managing editor of the EWG Bill Walker said: “It’s remarkable that the richest country on earth can’t guarantee its citizens that their drinking water is completely safe and has no long-term health implications.” Although...

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Wind Farm with Tesla Battery Storage Proposed for Offshore Massachusetts

by Samantha Page – The development could power 80,000 homes with clean energy. Massachusetts might be getting a massive new wind farm that uses Tesla batteries to store energy. Deepwater Wind, a wind energy development company, has proposed a 144-megawatt wind farm with 40-megawatt hours of battery storage for a site 30 miles from mainland Massachusetts and 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, the company announced Tuesday. In 2008, Massachusetts passed a law requiring the state to “establish goals and meet targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” Under the law, titled the Climate Protection and Green Economy Act, the state pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Last year, a court ruled that the state had not acted adequately to meet its emissions reductions goals. Following the ruling, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed an executive order directing state agencies to, essentially, do better....

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On Electric Cars, the U.S. Is Stuck in the Slow Lane

by Oscar Reyes – While Europe races toward electric vehicles, U.S. automakers are actually trying to make cars less efficient. The French government recently announced a plan to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2040. Not to be outdone, the UK government is now rolling out a similar plan of its own. These plans sound shockingly radical, but in fact many analysts think those transitions will happen anyway. For instance, the Dutch bank ING recently predicted that all the cars sold in Europe will be electric by 2030. More conservative estimates put it at 2050. Either way, most experts now see this change on the horizon. Electric vehicles — or EVs — are already more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts, and could soon become cheaper too. High-end models already outperform conventional engines for speed and acceleration. Yet potential buyers will continue to be wary as long as the range of batteries remains small, and the network of...

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Leaked Draft of Rick Perry Grid Study Debunks His Attack on Renewable Energy

by Joe Romm – But will the Trump administration erase those findings from the final Energy Dept. study? Back in April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a study to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability. That’s why it was a surprise when Bloomberg reported Friday that a July draft leaked to them concluded essentially the opposite: “The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards.” The leaked draft was completed by Department of Energy (DOE) career staff, however, and thus subject to change by Perry and his team of Trump appointees. So the big question is whether the Trump administration will erase those findings in the final draft, the way they appear to be erasing so many other inconvenient truths. Indeed, a DOE spokeswoman told Bloomberg that “those statements as written are not in the current draft.”...

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Paul LePage Continues His ‘crusade against solar power’ With Latest Veto

by Mark Hand – Solar advocates are hopeful lawmakers will overturn the veto. After Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoed comprehensive solar legislation in 2016, Maine lawmakers crafted a far more modest solar energy bill. And yet this year’s less ambitious bill still proved to be too pro-solar for LePage, who has consistently opposed policies that promote renewable energy in the state throughout his six years in office. On Monday, LePage vetoed L.D. 1504, a bill that directs state regulators to study how to transition away from the state’s current system for reimbursing customers who own or lease solar panels whose excess power gets sent to the grid. Under the legislation, regulators would need to complete the study of the state’s solar industry by 2019. Given his anti-renewables track record, solar energy proponents were not surprised by the governor’s latest veto. “The governor has been on a crusade against solar power and solar legislation for...

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Volvo is Leaving Cars as You Know Them Behind

by Samantha Page – The clean energy future looks unstoppable — at least in some parts of the world. Swedish auto company Volvo announced Wednesday that all of the new cars it produces will be either all-electric or hybrid by 2019. “This is about the customer,” Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo said in a statement. “People increasingly demand electrified cars, and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs.” The transition to electric is going even faster than the car maker anticipated just last year, when it announced that all its new cars would be available in a hybrid version. Its original pledge was to offer its first all-electric car by 2019. Now, the company expects to have five electric vehicles (EVs) on the market by 2021. “We are convinced that the future of Volvo is electric,” Samuelsson said in a video ad marking the announcement. The video says the announcement marks...

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What Happened to America’s Wealth? The Rich Hid It

by Chuck Collins – If you find yourself traveling this summer, take a closer look at America’s deteriorating infrastructure — our crumbling roads, sidewalks, public parks, and train and bus stations. Government officials will tell us “there’s no money” to repair or properly maintain our tired infrastructure. Nor do we want to raise taxes, they say. But what if billions of dollars in tax revenue have gone missing? New research suggests that the super-rich are hiding their money at alarming rates. A study by economists Annette Alstadsaeter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman reports that households with wealth over $40 million evade 25 to 30 percent of personal income and wealth taxes. These stunning numbers have two troubling implications. First, we’re missing billions in taxes each year. That’s partly why our roads and transit systems are falling apart. Second, wealth inequality may be even worse than we thought. Economic surveys estimate...

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Inexperienced Former Event Planner to Run Major Federal Housing Program

by E.A. Crunden – At HUD, she will oversee the distribution of billions of funds for a region with urgent needs. Event planner Lynne Patton, a Trump loyalist without any housing experience, will run the office overseeing New York’s housing programs. Trump named Patton to the position Wednesday, where she’ll oversee the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Region II, home to both New York and New Jersey. Vacant since January 20, the job has been in need of new shoes — but Patton may not be what many had in mind. Up until now, Patton’s biggest claim to fame seems to be planning the wedding of Eric Trump, the president’s son. According to her LinkedIn public profile, Patton says she holds a law degree from Quinnipiac University (with an unexplained “N/A” written next to the degree), in addition to an unnamed degree from Yale University. But Quinnipiac school registrar Jim Benson told the New...

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Israel Plans Most Settlement Homes Since 1992 (VIDEO)

Defence minister says first half of 2017 has seen most illegal expansion since before “Oslo peace process” began. Israel has so far this year advanced its highest number of settlement projects since 1992, the defence minister said, despite warnings such plans make a two-state solution impossible. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the comments on Sunday as Israel’s government faced mounting pressure from leaders of the settlement movement, who wield heavy influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. Netanyahu has found himself seeking to balance the competing demands of the settlers and US President Donald Trump, who has asked him to hold back on such projects for now as he seeks a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Lieberman told journalists and ministers at the start of a cabinet meeting that, so far this year, plans had been advanced for 8,345 homes in the occupied West Bank,...

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Involuntary Manslaughter Charges for Top State Health Official for Role in Flint Water Crisis

by Andrea Germanos – Advocacy group says new charges boost call for governor to resign. Michigan’s attorney general announced Wednesday that the head of the state’s health department and four others have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the years-long Flint water crisis. Nick Lyon, director of Michigan Health and Human Services, “failed in his responsibilities to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” state AG Bill Schuette said at a press conference Wednesday. A press statement from Schuette’s office alleges that Lyon waited a year before alerting the public about the outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease as a result of the crisis, an act that led to the death of 85-year-old Robert Skidmore. He also thwarted an independent researcher from investigating the cause of the outbreak, the statement says. Lyon was also charged with misconduct in office. The others now slapped with involuntary manslaughter charges are former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell...

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Good Luck Trying to Pass an Infrastructure Bill Without Democratic Votes

by Casey Quinlan – An official hinted that the Senate might try budget reconciliation. But that would create a whole host of new problems. A White House official signaled Monday night that the Trump administration might try to push its infrastructure plan through the Senate without Democratic support using a parliamentary maneuver called budget reconciliation. But such a plan would face potentially insurmountable hurdles — meaning there may be no way for Senate Republicans to overcome a filibuster threat without reaching across the aisle. The official later told a reporter that he had not “intended to say” infrastructure would be passed through reconciliation, and that the White House is still aiming for the bill to get 60 votes to end cloture. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged the president to work with Democrats. Reconciliation, which allows certain types of legislation to pass the Senate without any danger of a filibuster, can only be used...

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Offshore Wind is Now Competitive With Nuclear Power, and Gas is ‘in sight’

by Joe Romm – As prices plummet, offshore wind wins German power auction — with no subsidy. The price of offshore wind power has been dropping so quickly that it threatens to upend the electricity industry around the world. Last month, Denmark’s Dong Energy, the world’s largest provider of offshore wind farms, won a German power auction without needing any subsidies. Dong is a rebranding from Danish Oil and Natural Gas, as the company sells off its fossil fuel businesses to become a clean energy leader. Average global prices of off-shore wind dropped a game-changing 28 percent last year. Ray Thompson, chief of business development at Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy said last month that “it’s staggering to think that in not much more than five years, we could have turned a technology seen as prohibitively expensive into the lowest cost, utility-scale technology available.” By 2016, offshore wind prices had nearly dropped to the level...

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How the “People’s Budget” Can Help Redress Inequality

by Robert Borosage – The Congressional Progressive Caucus released “The People’s Budget” this week, which it dubs a “roadmap for the resistance.” Maybe the mere mention of a federal budget plan makes your eyes glaze over, but the “People’s Budget” is a dramatic document. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin at a press conference for the “People’s Budget” on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (Photo via Congressional Progressive Caucus) It presents a compelling alternative to Donald Trump’s “skinny budget.” Unlike Trump’s fanciful promises, it offers a sensible path out of the hole that we are in. Its values and priorities reflect those of the majority of Americans. The Progressive Caucus frames its budget around the central challenge of our time: how to make this economy work for working people, and redress the savage inequality that is undermining our democracy. It offers a strategy to get there, and a budget framed to...

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