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Tillerson gets a grilling, knives sharpened for Pruitt

Dems gunning for Pruitt in uphill fight

Democrats girded for battle against Donald Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney-General Scott Pruitt, in hearings scheduled to begin on Wednesday. Objections center on Pruitt’s cozy ties to the fossil fuel industry—so cozy that when the Obama EPA proposed draft methane rules for the oil and gas industry, he submitted comments that had been ghost-written for him by Devon Energy, a fossil fuel firm. He has also resolutely ignored evidence that his state’s increasingly frequent and damaging earthquakes are linked to fracking. Public pressure led Pruitt to shut down his two PACs that were set to continue collecting campaign cash even while he ran the agency, but defeating him will be an uphill battle: he has already won the backing of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Davos turns spotlight on climate amid uncertainty

As the World Economic Forum opened in Davos, where two dozen sessions will be devoted to climate or clean energy, Chinese President Xi urged incoming US President Trump to stick with the Paris climate accord. As if to underscore Xi’s commitment to climate action, China announced last week it is cancelling another 120 GW of coal-fired power plants that had been in the pipeline. In one of the Obama administration’s final climate actions, the US sent a second $500 million contribution to the international Green Climate Fund, presumably hoping that the wire clears before Friday. Global investment in clean energy was down 18 percent last year, according to figures released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with some of the decline due to falling prices. New solar capacity rose 25 percent to 70 GW, more than outweighing wind power’s decline from a record 63 GW in 2015 to 56.5 GW last year.

Tillerson responses strain credulity at Senate hearing

The Senate committee grilling Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson prompted a raft of unbelievable statements from the former Exxon Mobil CEO last week, as he disclaimed any knowledge of fossil fuel subsidies, professed ignorance of how his firm had lobbied on anti-Russian sanctions, and refused to say whether he knew Exxon had dissembled in pushing a public line of climate denial (video here). Independent verification of his knowledge (or lack thereof) may come from documents that a Massachusetts court last week ordered Exxon to turn over, as part of a suit over allegations that Exxon misled the public and its shareholders about what it knew about climate change. Tillerson did say he wants to keep the US “at the table” in the global conversation about climate, but didn’t say how the US should handle its Paris commitments.

Clean power rising, but watch out in Wyoming

Hawaiian island Kauai’s utility has signed a deal for a 28-MW solar-plus-battery generating station, which will supply 11 percent of the island’s power. The price —11¢ per kwh—is 25 percent lower than a similar deal it reached in 2015, and is cheaper than the operating costs alone of the oil-fired generators that supply much of the island’s electricity. The project will be built by AES, which is also developing the world’s largest grid-connected storage project in southern California. Twenty miles to the southeast, the city of San Diego is calling for proposals to add a 500-MW pumped-storage facility to a newly expanded reservoir. Bucking the trend toward clean energy, nine Wyoming legislators have proposed barring the state’s utilities from buying large-scale wind or solar power. What’s next, a Fossil Portfolio Standard?

Scientists batten hatches to protect research

As the Obama Administration prepares to hand Donald Trump the keys to the Republic, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced a new policy guaranteeing agency staff and contractors the right to discuss their findings openly, and prohibiting demands that scientists alter or suppress the conclusions of their research. Concern for data was not unique to DOE: last month, 150 hackers, activists, and scientists gathered in Toronto to establish an independent repository of federal environmental data, to safeguard it from being altered or walled off. Meanwhile, Trump met with a Princeton physicist to discuss climate change; unfortunately, it was outlier William Happer, known for low-balling the impact of climate pollution on global temperature and for cheerleading the agricultural benefits of higher CO2 levels. Speculation swirled about whether the new administration would lower—or even zero out—the social cost of carbon it uses in writing regulations. 

WA oil terminals hit snag, BC pipeline approved

Fossil fuel projects in Cascadia had a mixed week, as the Washington Supreme Court ruled that two proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor will require full environmental review, while British Columbia gave the provincial green light to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Fox News took notice of the obstacles to coal exports erected by the West Coast’s “thin green line,” which it re-branded as a “blue wall.” As the year’s legislative sessions got underway, Oregon’s lawmakers are preparing to debate a statewide carbon cap, which would invest proceeds from the sale of carbon allowances into climate mitigation and adaption projects.

In brief: zero-carbon boats and binge-watching

A zero-carbon, 100-foot racing boat will set off this spring from Paris on a six-year circumnavigation, powered only by the sun and wind. The boat will store surplus energy as hydrogen, made on-board through electrolysis. For amusement in a week of transition, check out this culturally astute Greenpeace video, which urges Netflix to commit to powering itself with entirely renewable energy. More than one-third of internet traffic in North America is attributable to Netflix, Greenpeace said.

Image: Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories investigate the impact of cloud cover on the output of large-scale solar arrays. Photo by Randy Montoya, via Flickr.

Author Bio

Seth Zuckerman

former Editor, ClimateCast, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).

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