The unvarnished truth about climate change

Tampa Bay Times

Editorial: The unvarnished truth about climate change

Tampa Bay Times Editorial      August 9, 2017

Crews battle a wildfire near Mariposa, Calif., on July 18. Officials say the record rain and snowfall that ended California’s five-year drought has turned into a challenge for firefighters battling flames feeding on dense vegetation.Associated Press

Crews battle a wildfire near Mariposa, Calif., on July 18. Officials say the record rain and snowfall that ended California’s five-year drought has turned into a challenge for firefighters battling flames feeding on dense vegetation.

The latest federal report on the Earth’s warming climate doesn’t mince words about the disturbing trends, man’s contributions or the dangers that millions across the globe already face, especially in low-lying coastal areas in Florida and elsewhere. It is yet another call to action for federal, state and local officials — and they all have a role to play in curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases, shoring up infrastructure, improving flood control and finding more efficient ways for societies to grow and manage their populations.

Drafted by scientists at 13 federal agencies, the report cited the warming trend as “global, long term and unambiguous.” Global temperatures have increased by about 1.6 degrees over the past 150 years, the study found, and thousands of studies have created “many lines of evidence” to conclude that human activity is primarily behind the changing climate. The authors found it “extremely likely” that most of the warming since 1951 was caused by humans, and that even if emissions were to cease, existing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would cause temperatures to increase at least a half-degree Fahrenheit over this century.

The report, by 30 lead authors representing agencies such as NASA, federal laboratories, the private sector and universities, is part of the National Climate Assessment. That is a congressionally mandated analysis that seeks to build on the existing science and provide a snapshot of the current state of climate change. It found an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, and warming in the Arctic at twice the rate of the global average — a phenomenon that could impact sea levels, the weather and other patterns in the lower 48 states. One-third of the sea level rise since 1880 has occurred since 1990, and coastal communities from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic are at increasing risk of routine flooding, saltwater intrusion into the drinking water supply and the collapse of roads, utilities and other vital infrastructure. That puts Florida’s east and west coastlines at risk, yet Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has been less aggressive than local governments in South Florida and Tampa Bay in addressing the challenges.

The findings contradict the talking points of the Trump administration, which has openly questioned the science behind climate change and the degree that humans contribute to it, and which has moved to reverse the clean-air initiatives of the Obama White House. The unpublished analysis was made available to the New York Times days before Sunday’s deadline for the 13 federal agencies to approve the report. Making the report public at least forces the Trump administration to explain why it does or does not stand behind the science.

This national assessment lays a foundation for securing federal funding and regulatory direction on climate policy, and it offers state and local governments the technical assistance they need to incorporate the impact of climate change into their planning for infrastructure, land use and other long-term issues. States and cities, though, cannot cede all responsibility to the federal government. Studies show Florida, for example, has invested trillions of dollars in infrastructure with virtually no consideration given to rising sea levels. Rising seas could swell Tampa Bay up to 19 inches over the next quarter-century, putting tens of thousands of residents at risk. The federal study is another wake-up call about a threat that is real, here and more pressing by the day.

Betty Shelby’s New Job Is Why Cops Won’t Stop Killing Black People

The Root

Betty Shelby’s New Job Is Why Cops Won’t Stop Killing Black People

        Michael Harriot    August 10, 2017

@PJonesFOX23 via Twitter

Sometimes, being black is like living inside a terrible movie where the world is so racist that it’s damn near impossible to believe. For example, imagine being a movie producer and I came to you to pitch this idea:

OK, there’s a woman cop named Betty Shelby. One day, while on duty, Shelby kills an unarmed black man named Terence Crutcher while he is walking away from her with his hands in the air. It is caught on two different cameras.

In the second act, our antagonist goes on a news show like … oh, let’s say 60 Minutes. She damn near admits to the crime. She tells the interviewer, “If I wait to find out if he had a gun or not, I could very well be dead. … There’s something that we [police] always say: ‘I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six.’” Then her lawyers float the idea that Crutcher was a criminal, calling him a “certified gang member.”

The trial happens at the beginning of the third act, and even with video evidence, even with her statements, even though her only defense is that she thought Crutcher might have been reaching for a weapon that didn’t exist through a window that was closed—she gets acquitted! The police department tells her she can keep working in a cushy desk job, but she says, “Naaah, I’m good. I want a job where I can be on the street to possibly kill more unarmed black men,” so she resigns. Then, in the last scene, she walks into the sunset … no, even better, she gets a job as a sheriff’s officer, with a gun and everything. She lives happily ever after. Orchestra music plays. Fade to black. Credits roll.

You’d kick me out of your office. You’d tell me it was too “on the nose” and didn’t have enough nuance. “Sure, the world is racist,” you’d say. “But not that racist.” You’d think no one would go see that movie. “It’s too unbelievable,” you’d say.

Betty Shelby, the Tulsa, Okla., Cop Who Killed Terence Crutcher, Allowed to Return to Active Duty

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The Tulsa, Okla., police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black motorist,…

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Betty Shelby, the former Tulsa, Okla., police officer acquitted of killing Terence Crutcher in cold blood—even though there are two videos that show her killing Crutcher in cold blood—has a brand-new job as a reserve deputy with the Rogers County (Okla.) Sheriff’s Office, according to several sources, including the Tulsa World.

Shelby was sworn in by the RCSO during a live press conference Thursday morning surrounded by Sheriff Scott Walton, county officials and well-wishers. The county doesn’t usually hold press conferences for swearing-in ceremonies, but because of the high profile of Shelby’s case and Walton’s vociferous support of her during her trial, Rogers County apparently thought it necessary to flaunt the fact that it was hiring a cold-blooded killer, because … fuck Terence Crutcher.

Betty Shelby Sworn In As Rogers County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy

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Former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby was sworn in Thursday, August 10, 2017, as a reserve…

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During Shelby’s terrible ordeal, in which she had to endure months of freedom, getting paid without actually working and not being dead, Walton posted at least three letters on the RCSO Facebook page offering support and slamming Shelby’s critics, calling her a “sacrificial lamb.”

This is why Crutcher is dead. This is why Mike Brown is dead. This is why Tamir Rice is dead. This is why John Crawford is dead. It is not just because of the juries who acquit the thieves who rob the world of black lives. It is not simply because of the apathy of men and women in blue uniforms toward the black citizens they are sworn to protect and serve. It is because they know they will never suffer any repercussions for cold-blooded murder under the authority of the law.

Not only are they never punished; they also prosper. And they prosper so that they can do it again.

Take Timothy Loehmann, for instance. Loehmann worked as a police officer in Independence, Ohio. His supervisor there recommended his termination for lying, insubordination and being unable to perform his duties. Instead of being fired for being a terrible police officer, he was allowed to resign so that he could get another job as a cop, paving the way for him to shoot 12-year-old Tamir Rice as the youngster played in a Cleveland park in 2014. Even though Loehmann shot Tamir two seconds after he spotted the kid playing in a park, Loehmann never faced charges and kept working for the Cleveland Police Department until May 30, 2017.

New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo had been accused of police violations and had been sued three times for falsely arresting black men before he stopped Eric Garner from breathing.

Leaked Documents Reveal How the NYPD Ignored Abusive History of the Cop Who Killed Eric Garner

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On July 17, 2014, New York City Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo grabbed Eric Garner,…

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The police officers in Jennings, Mo., were so notoriously racist, the department eventually had to fire every officer on the force and bring in new officers. Most of the officers kept working. One of those officers—Darren Wilson—landed a better-paying job in Ferguson, Mo., and patrolled the streets there until he shot Mike Brown six times on Aug. 9, 2014.

“But she was acquitted,” some people will say of Betty Shelby. “In America, you are innocent until proven guilty. You can’t persecute her if she isn’t guilty of a crime.”

“Really?” said the long-dead corpses of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Terence Crutcher.

Editor’s note: Tamir, Garner, Brown and Crutcher didn’t actually say that because … you know.

Read more at the Tulsa World and News 9.

Michael Harriot is a staff writer at The Root, host of “The Black One” podcast and editor-in-chief of the daily digital magazine NegusWhoRead.

These Electric Tuk Tuks Are Taking on Uber

There's a buzz around Stockholm. Read more:

Posted by EcoWatch on Thursday, August 10, 2017

America’s wind energy industry passed a major milestone


America’s wind energy industry passed a major milestone

Economic challenges facing wind energy are nothing new, industry says.

Mark Hand         August 9, 2017 Dry Lake Wind Power Project in Arizona. CREDIT: Department of Energy

The wind energy industry reached an important milestone in 2016 when it passed the generating capacity of hydroelectric power for the first time to become the nation’s top renewable generating source. Wind energy’s growth — at least in the next few years — is showing few signs of slowing down, with 142,000 megawatts of new and proposed wind capacity lined up to connect to the nation’s electric power grid, according to new data released by the Department of Energy.

The total amount of wind capacity in the queue represents 34 percent of all generating capacity waiting to connect to the grid, higher than all other generating sources, DOE said. The wind energy industry added more than 8,200 megawatts of capacity in 2016, representing 27 percent of all energy capacity additions for that year.

That annual growth lifted the nation’s wind capacity to 81,312 megawatts at the end of December 2016, slightly above hydroelectric’s 79,985 megawatts of capacity, according to DOE. Wind supplied about 6 percent of U.S. electricity, and 14 states now get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind.

DOE released three wind market reports on Tuesday, covering wind technology, offshore wind, and distributed wind. The primary authors of the wind technology report were employees at DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The offshore wind report was prepared by employees at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Employees at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory prepared the distributed wind report.

“The wind industry continues to install significant amounts of new capacity, and supplied about 6 percent of total U.S. electricity in 2016,” Daniel Simmons, DOE acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said in a statement. “As our reports explain, a combination of federal subsidies, state mandates, and technological advancements continue to help drive new wind capacity additions.”

Prior to joining DOE, Simmons worked at the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research as vice president for policy and also held a top position at the Koch-funded American Energy Alliance, which advocated for the office he now oversees at DOE — the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — to be eliminated.

Wind turbine prices remained well below levels seen a decade ago, DOE said. After hitting a low of roughly $800 per kilowatt from 2000 to 2002, average turbine prices increased to roughly $1,600 per kilowatt by the end of 2008. Over the past decade, though, wind turbine prices have dropped substantially.

Technological innovations are helping wind turbines optimize their performance by reaching stronger, steadier winds, according to the American Wind Energy Association, the primary trade association for the wind power industry. Longer blades have helped to boost new wind turbine performance, with wind projects built in 2014 and 2015 reporting a 42.5 percent average capacity factor in 2016, compared to a 32.1 percent capacity factor for projects built between 2004 and 2011, AWEA said in press release Wednesday.

In the offshore report, DOE noted that more than 20 offshore wind projects totaling 24,135 megawatts of potential installed capacity are in the works. The report highlighted that last December, Deepwater Wind completed the commissioning of the Block Island Wind Farm, marking a milestone as the first commercial offshore wind project in the United States.

The first major offshore wind project in the U.S. is now powering an island

Renewable energy continues its march forward. 

From 2003 through 2016, a total of 992 megawatts in capacity from more than 77,000 wind turbines was deployed in distributed applications across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, DOE said.

DOE said its recent and projected near-term growth in wind energy is supported by the federal production tax credit and state-level policies. Wind additions have also been driven by improvements in the cost and performance of wind power technologies, producing low power prices for consumers.

The prospects for wind energy growth beyond the current PTC cycle remain uncertain, given declining federal tax support, expectations for low natural gas prices, and modest electricity demand growth, DOE said. At the end of 2015, Congress agreed to extend the production tax credit. Since then, wind developers have been building projects before the tax credit expires completely in 2020.

The DOE report lists many positive factors, including the potential for continued technological advancements and cost reductions to enhance the prospects for longer-term growth, Hannah Hunt, a research analyst at AWEA, said in a blog post on Tuesday.

“Some have focused on the report’s discussion of potential economic challenges for the industry, including competition from natural gas and solar,” Hunt wrote. “However, it should be noted that those challenges are nothing new and have in fact been listed in every version of the report this decade. Thanks to the innovation and productivity of American workers, the wind industry has been able overcome those challenges by greatly exceeding cost reduction expectations, and we expect that successful track record to continue.”

Interactive Map Shows Every Wind Farm in America


Interactive Map Shows Every Wind Farm in America

By American Wind Energy Association      August 10, 2017

Using a new map tool released Thursday, anyone can now easily view the location of every utility-scale wind project and wind-related manufacturing facility in the U.S. With the very first American Wind Week in full swing, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released the map to help people visualize the growth of America’s largest source of renewable energy capacity.

“Wind Power has become a vital part of the U.S. economy, drawing billions of dollars in capital investment to rural communities each year and supporting over 100,000 U.S. jobs across all 50 states,” said John Hensley, deputy director of industry data and analysis for AWEA. “I’m pleased this new map tool helps Americans visualize how world-class U.S. wind resources are being put to work in all parts of the county.”

A time-lapse feature built into the map shows the progress of wind power development across the country. Starting from 1981 in the passes of California where the first modern wind energy projects were completed, users can see the story of American wind power unfold across heartland states like Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas, and eventually to the first U.S. offshore wind project completed off Rhode Island in 2016.

The map also features markers for the more than 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities in the U.S. today. These factories support 25,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs across 41 states.

AWEA’s new map utilizes only a small percentage of the full wind project and manufacturing data available to AWEA members through Market Database Pro, a comprehensive, interactive database of all online, under construction and advanced development wind projects, and all active wind-related manufacturing facilities. More than 50 data points are provided at both the project and turbine level, with advanced interactive mapping services including filtered search capabilities, summary maps and political boundaries.

This week is the inaugural #AmericanWindWeek, dedicated to U.S. leadership in wind power. Wind is the largest source of American renewable energy capacity, supporting more than 100,000 U.S. jobs across all 50 states, with nearly 85,000 MW of installed capacity at the end of the second quarter of 2017.

Polluter fines drop 60 percent under Trump

Washington Post, Energy and Environment

Polluter fines drop 60 percent under Trump

By Steven Mufson        August 10, 2017

The Trump administration has so far collected $12 million in environmental-related penalties from businesses, according to a nonprofit.  Above, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview for Reuters at his office in July. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The Trump administration has collected 60 percent less from civil penalties for environmental wrongdoing than the administrations of presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did on average in their first six months in office.

That’s according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group founded 15 years ago by former enforcement attorneys at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The administration has lodged 26 cases for violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws (not including Superfund sites) and it collected $12 million in penalties from companies, the group said.  Clinton, Bush and Obama respectively lodged 45, 31, and 34 cases and collected $25 million, $30 million and $36 million in penalties.

Related: White House reviewing new report that finds strong link between climate change and human activity

The Environmental Integrity Project said that the figures showed that the Trump administration is “off to a very slow start” when it comes to enforcing environmental law. It said that the cases this year “are smaller, requiring much less spending on cleanup, and resulting in fewer measurable reductions in pollutants that end up in our air or water.”

The Trump administration also lags behind the three previous presidential administrations in the amount of injunctive relief and the amount of air pollution reductions.

At the same time, the group warned that a six-month period does not provide enough data for definitive conclusions, and cases and settlements are often the result of years of efforts. For example, the largest civil penalty imposed by the Obama administration in its first six months was a $12 million fine imposed on BP, whose large Texas City refinery suffered fires and explosions that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others in 2005.

The largest civil penalty imposed so far by the Trump administration came on May 17, when the EPA and the state of Texas imposed a $2.5 million penalty on the owner of Vopak Terminals North America Inc. for air pollution violations at its terminal along the Houston Ship Channel, the EIP said. The Dutch company’s terminal stores biofuels, chemicals, petroleum products, base oils and lubricants, consisting of 243 tanks with a collective capacity of over 7 million barrels, the EPA said on its website.

It added that Vopak’s violations were detected in 2012, 2014 and 2015 involving open tanks, leaking tanks and inefficient flares that contributed to releases of volatile organic compounds.

Related: At EPA museum, history might be in for a change

“The company’s Deer Park facility failed to comply with Clean Air Act requirements to properly manage equipment, which resulted in excess emissions of benzene (a carcinogen) and volatile organic compounds,” the EIP said. “These compounds contribute to smog and causes asthma attacks and eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches, nausea and damage to liver, kidney and the central nervous system.”

The biggest penalty imposed during the first six months of George W. Bush’s administration was a $9.5 million fine on oil refiners Motiva, Equilon and Shell.  The Clinton administration imposed a $11.1 million fine on Louisiana Pacific and Kirby Forest Industries for air pollution violations at wood product plants.

The EIP relied on consent decrees, news releases by the Justice Department and the Federal Register to compile its figures.

Read more:

Will proposed cuts undermine Trump’s vision of ‘energy dominance?’

Is the most powerful lobbyist in Washington losing its grip?

Steven Mufson covers energy and other financial matters. Since joining The Post, he has covered the White House, China, economic policy and diplomacy.

Electric vehicles to eat into global oil demand by 6 million barrels

UPI     Home-Energy News

Electric vehicles to eat into global oil demand by 6 million barrels

A report from Wood Mackenzie finds the purchase price for electric vehicles is on course to reach parity with their internal-combustion counterparts.

By Daniel J. Graeber     August 10, 2017 

The pace at which electric vehicles are gaining market share is eating into the expected long-term demand for oil, a new report finds. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UP   | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) — An increased consumer use of electric vehicles means global oil demand could shrink by at least 6 million barrels, a report from Wood Mackenzie found.

In what was described as a carbon-constrained scenario, the new report, prepared in coordination with GTM Research, which covers the global electricity sector, said electric vehicles could make up about 20 percent of all of the cars on the road in less than 20 years.

“The falling cost of EVs and their batteries will put EV purchase prices on par with internal combustion engine cars, boosting consumer demand,” Paul McConnell, research director of global trends for Wood Mackenzie, said in an emailed statement.

Swedish automaker Volvo said this year it was marking an end to a vehicle line powered solely by the internal combustion engine. Tesla said in its second quarter release that orders for two of its electric vehicle lines were up 15 percent in July when compared with the quarterly average.

Two million electric vehicles were on the road globally last year, with most of those in the U.S., European and Chinese markets. For Europe, the British and French governments set long-term goals to phase out new gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Germany, meanwhile, has worked quickly to expand its network of charging stations across its national roadway system.

Wood Mackenzie described the maturation of the electric vehicle market as “rapid,” adding it expected momentum to start eating away at the global demand for oil.

“We foresee EVs potentially displacing about 6.5 million barrels of oil demand, offsetting growth from other sectors such as petrochemicals,” McConnell said.

Economists at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries revised their forecast for global oil demand for 2018 higher by 1.28 million barrels per day to 97.7 million barrels per day. Total oil demand for 2017 is expected to be 96.49 million barrels per day. Most of the demand growth next year comes from developing countries.

Using the pace of transition from horse-drawn carriages to fuel-powered vehicles in the 20th century as a benchmark to measure growth, the International Monetary Fund said motor vehicles could vanish from markets in advanced economies within the next 20 years. For the shift in vehicles themselves, the IMF said retooling may be necessary for the industry.

“The falling cost of EVs and their batteries will put EV purchase prices on par with internal combustion engine cars, boosting consumer demand,” McConnell said. “This is going to force automakers to develop even better EVs or far more efficient internal combustion engines, as per-mile running costs become a key differentiator between the new technology and legacy engine types.”

Related UPI Stories

Britain to start taking gas, diesel vehicles off roads in 2040

Study: Trump actions trigger health premium hikes for 2018

Associated Press

Study: Trump actions trigger health premium hikes for 2018

Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar, Associated Press        August 10, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s own actions are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many consumers, a nonpartisan study has found.

The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty “far outside the norm,” leading insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.

The report comes with Republicans in Congress unable to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Trump, meanwhile, insists lawmakers try again. The president says “Obamacare” is collapsing, but he’s also threatened to give it a shove by stopping billions of dollars in payments to insurers. Some leading Republicans are considering fallback measures to stabilize markets.

Researchers from the Kaiser foundation looked at proposed premiums for a benchmark silver plan across major metropolitan areas in 20 states and Washington, D.C. Overall, they found that 15 of those cities will see increases of 10 percent or more next year.

The highest: a 49 percent jump in Wilmington, Delaware. The only decline: a 5 percent reduction in Providence, Rhode Island.

About 10 million people who buy policies through and state-run markets are potentially affected, as well as another 5 million to 7 million who purchase individual policies on their own.

Consumers in the government-sponsored markets can dodge the hit with the help of tax credits that most of them qualify for to help pay premiums. But off-marketplace customers pay full freight, and they face a second consecutive year of steep increases. Many are self-employed business owners.

The report also found that insurer participation in the ACA markets will be lower than at any time since “Obamacare” opened for business in 2014. The average: 4.6 insurers in the states studied, down from 5.7 insurers this year. In many cases insurers do not sell plans in every community in a state.

The researchers analyzed publicly available filings through which insurers justify their proposed premiums to state regulators. To be sure, insurers continue to struggle with sicker-than-expected customers and disappointing enrollment. And an ACA tax on the industry is expected to add 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums next year.

But on top of that, the researchers found the mixed signals from the administration account for some of the higher charges. Those could increase before enrollment starts Nov. 1.

“The vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the administration,” the report said. Once premiums are set, they’re generally in place for a whole year.

Insurers who assumed that Trump will make good on his threat to stop billions in payments to subsidize co-pays and deductibles requested additional premium increases ranging from 2 percent to 23 percent, the report found.

Insurers who assumed the IRS under Trump will not enforce unpopular fines on people who remain uninsured requested additional premium increases ranging from 1.2 percent to 20 percent.

“In many cases that means insurers are adding double-digit premium increases on top of what they otherwise would have requested,” said Cynthia Cox, a co-author of the Kaiser report. “In many cases, what we are seeing is an additional increase due to the political uncertainty.”

That doesn’t sound like what Trump promised when he assumed the presidency.

In a Washington Post interview ahead of his inauguration, Trump said, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.”

“There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it,” he added. “That’s not going to happen with us.”

People covered under Obama’s law “can expect to have great health care,” Trump said at the time. “It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

But the White House never produced the health care proposal Trump promised. And the GOP bills in Congress would have left millions more uninsured, a sobering side-effect that contributed to their political undoing.

The Trump administration sidestepped questions about its own role raised by the Kaiser study.

Spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said rising premiums and dwindling choices predate Trump.

“The Trump administration is committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare and will always be focused on putting patients, families, and doctors, not Washington, in charge of health care,” Marre said in a statement.

The ongoing political turmoil for people who buy individual health insurance stands in sharp contrast to relative calm and stability for the majority of Americans insured through workplace plans. The cost of employer-sponsored coverage is expected to rise around 5 or 6 percent next year, benefits consultants say.

Associated Press Health Writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

Kaiser report –

Farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota are now recycling millions of pounds of plastic

Chicago Tribune

Farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota are now recycling millions of pounds of plastic

Recyling plasticWrapping hay and silage in plastic is generating millions of pounds of waste per year. (Dreamstime / TNS)

Tom Meersman, Minneapolis Star-Tribune     August 9, 2017

Minnesota and Wisconsin farms generate 60 million to 80 million pounds of plastic each year but until now had no real options to recycle it. They had to make a choice of paying for it to go to a landfill, burying it on their own land or illegally burning it — none of them, they knew, good for the environment.

An Arkansas company has come up with a solution: In the past two years, it has given more than 4,400 dumpsters to farmers in the two states and then picked up the waste to turn into trash bags that are being used in parks locally.

“Recycling Ag plastics is a problem that’s bedeviled me for 20 years,” said Anne Morse, recycling and sustainability coordinator for Winona County in southeastern Minnesota. “There wasn’t a system that I could set up that made sense and wasn’t extremely costly.”

That ended last December, when Winona became the first county in the state to welcome Revolution Plastics, the Arkansas-based company that has been in the plastics recycling business in Southern states since 1996.

Revolution, wanting to expand its reach, set up pilot programs in the Midwest in 2014 and 2015 and initiated a full launch in Minnesota and Wisconsin last year, said Price Murphy, the company’s director of operations.

Farmers who use at least 2,000 pounds of plastic a year can sign up for the program, Murphy said. More than 100 dumpsters will be distributed in Fergus Falls, Minn., and Buffalo, Minn.

Once farmers drive the dumpsters home, Revolution picks up the plastic from them on a regular schedule, determined by the size of the farms, mostly dairies, and the amount of plastic used.

“I have some farms where I collect as much as every other week, and I have some farms where it’s maybe two or three times per year,” Murphy said. “We try to help as many farmers as possible, large and small farms alike, and we just put them on different route schedules.”

Jeff Beckman, owner of Golden Meadows Dairy, about 35 miles south of Minneapolis, was one of 110 farmers to pick up a dumpster in late May in Goodhue County.

“As I’m feeding the cows each day, I cut off the plastic that I’m feeding off and I put it in the dumpster,” he said. “It’s as simple as five minutes and we’re done.”

With 100 cows, Beckman said he was spending $1,700 a year to have 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of plastic trucked to a landfill, and he now gets it picked up once every eight weeks for free.

“In farming today you have to be very cautious about what you spend, so any time you can recycle or reuse something, it’s just to our advantage,” he said. “It’s also a gain for the environment, so it’s fun when things are a double win.”

Brita Sailer, executive director of the nonprofit Recycling Association of Minnesota, said many farmers in the past 20 years have increasingly turned to plastic covers or bags to store hay and silage — chopped up cornstalks — that are fed to cows. The bags are safer and less expensive than the traditional method of storing the fodder in silos, she said, and they also keep the silage fresher and help it retain more nutrients.

But Sailer said the bags, which can range from 100 to 300 feet long and 6 to 12 feet tall, created a waste problem that the state didn’t have before and there was no way of coping with it other than landfills. For farmers who use the bags or covers, she said, the amount of plastic used per cow amounts to 15 to 20 pounds per year.

Revolution Plastics is not the first business to be interested in the waste plastic, Sailer said, but it’s the first to offer free pickup and have its own processing plants. Other firms also are working on projects to recycle plastic waste from the marina industry, she said, which uses massive amounts of blue plastic to cover boats and protect them during winter.

Charles Krause, a dairy farmer near Buffalo, west of Minneapolis, said that he uses plastic mainly to cover bunkers of silage for his 200-cow operation. Krause said he tried to obtain a dumpster twice earlier this year but was unsuccessful because they were all spoken for. Late last month he was finally able to pick up a dumpster and said it’s “awesome” that he won’t need to pay for the plastic to be picked up.

“The nice thing about Revolution is they’re not funded by a grant, because a lot of programs get started and then they’re done when the grant runs out,” Krause said. “Hopefully this will be a long-term solution.”

Achieving success in recycling programs depends both on the markets and being able to connect the dots, said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“It still gets back to the basics of where’s the material, do you have enough of it, are there things that you can make it into and who’s going to do that,” he said.

After on-farm pickups, Revolution bales the plastic and ships it by truck or rail to its processing plant in Arkansas. There the plastic is washed, shredded, heated and extruded into plastic resin pellets, which can be used to make other products such as bags or construction films.

The company accepts agricultural plastic bags and wraps but not other plastics or nylon such as netting used to secure bales. Its collection system does not cover the entire state but uses hubs near concentrations of dairies that are economical to service.

“We understand what we’re getting into,” said Murphy. “It’s not a huge moneymaker as much as it’s a product we can use that not only keeps it out of the landfill but uses less energy than virgin resin to produce other products.”

Morse said that 146 of the 172 dairy farms in Winona County with more than 100 cows are now participating in the program. Murphy said that 1,132 dumpsters have been distributed in Minnesota and about 3,300 in Wisconsin, with 3,000 more farmers in the two states signed up and waiting for future deliveries.

Morse said the best part of the program is that Revolution’s sister company in Arkansas uses the recycled plastic to produce plastic trash liners and other products.

Winona County spent two months testing the liners for garbage cans in its parks and public buildings, she said, and has now decided to buy them after finding that the recycled bags were just as strong and less expensive than liners the county was using previously. Three Rivers Park District is also buying the recycled bag liners, and its suburban system uses about 33,000 of them annually.

“We’ve literally closed the loop — buying back a product that was made from materials we recycled — which is pretty much the holy grail for recycling,” Morse said. “That’s a big achievement for us.”

Switching from coal to natural gas will not save our planet

The Seattle Times Opinion

Switching from coal to natural gas will not save our planet

Workers move a well casing at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa.  (Ralph Wilson / The Associated Press)Workers move a well casing at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa. (Ralph Wilson / The Associated Press)

Bill McKibben, Special to The Times          August 8, 2017

If as little as 3 percent of natural gas leaks in the course of fracking and delivering it to the power plant through a pipe, then it’s worse than coal.

MOST magic tricks and confidence games mostly work the same way — a little bit of misdirection to get the audience looking in the wrong direction. And some of the finest magicians at large in America today are its natural-gas salesmen, who have worked hard to reassure us that they’re part of the solution to the global warming crisis. To understand why that’s a ploy — to understand why they’re in fact helping drive the heating of the planet — you have to pay close attention.

The basic move is to insist that natural gas helps cut carbon emissions. Indeed, as Dan Kirschner, the head of the Northwest Gas Association, put it in his recent Op-Ed [“The power of natural gas in the war on carbon emissions,” Aug. 3, Opinion], “the U.S. leads the world in absolute reductions in carbon emissions, due in large part to the increased availability and affordability of natural gas.”

This is true on the surface. As America’s power plants have replaced coal with fracked gas, carbon emissions have fallen because natural gas produces half as much CO2 as coal when you burn it. The problem is, carbon emissions are not the only thing that drive global warming. There’s another gas that does the job even more powerfully: CH4, or methane, which is the scientific name for natural gas. If it leaks unburned into the atmosphere, then methane traps heat about 80 times more effectively, molecule for molecule, than CO2. The point of this chemistry lesson is: If as little as 3 percent of natural gas leaks in the course of fracking and delivering it to the power plant through a pipe, then it’s worse than coal.

And, sadly, it’s now clear that leakage rates are higher than that. In January 2013, aerial surveys of a Utah fracking basin, for instance, found leak rates as high as 9 percent. Data from a Harvard satellite survey showed that between 2002 and 2014, U.S. methane emissions increased more than 30 percent.

In fact, some experts who have reviewed the data say that because of the boom in fracking and the conversion to gas, America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions may actually have gone up during the Obama years. And at least the Obama administration required drillers to keep track of how much methane they were leaking — one of the first acts of the Trump EPA was to scrap that requirement, apparently on the grounds that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.

So, to summarize, because this is a subtle point that citizens, politicians and editors need to understand, given the importance of the debate: Natural gas is not reducing the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions. It is doing nothing to slow climate change.

And worse, it’s making it much harder to take the steps that really would matter. As we get off coal because of the way it drives climate change, what we should be doing is moving to renewable energy. Solar power emits no carbon at all, which makes it the natural choice. But as long as we have cheap natural gas flooding the market, we’ll move more slowly in the direction of real renewables. Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies, explained the principal investigator of a Stanford forum that studied the explosive growth in natural gas: “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

Which is truly sad, because the solar panel is the great have-your-cake-and-eat-it technology of all time — the real deal. It takes the power the sun sends us every day and turns it into electricity. There’s no catch, no con. It’s our Houdini escape route from climate change — but only if we catch on in time to the tawdry little three-card-monte game the fossil-fuel industry is running.

Bill McKibben is the Schumann distinguished scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and founder of the global climate campaign