Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from around the Golden State and the country. In Palm Springs, Calif., I’m Mark Olalde.
Let’s begin in the nation’s capital, where the political script we read for the past four years is being flipped on its head. USA Today reports that a coalition of 12 Republican attorneys general launched a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s efforts to address climate change. The executive order at the center of the litigation directed the federal government to calculate the cost of greenhouse gas pollution in order to guide regulations, but the Republican states argued this move would be bad for business.
Here’s some other important reporting….
(Photo: Getty Images)
Offshore going mainstream. The Biden administration on Monday approved “the country’s first full-scale offshore wind farm,” greenlighting the Vineyard Wind project that will sit 12 nautical miles off the coast of Massachusetts. E&E reports that the development still requires a few final permits, but this approval is a big step toward kickstarting a U.S. offshore wind industry. Not to mention, the wind farm is expected to generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.
Water woes. The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University partnered with WWNO in New Orleans and WRKF in Baton Rouge for a series diving into water issues in Louisiana. In the first installment, the team reports that unregulated pumping of groundwater has led to the state’s aquifers draining more rapidly than nearly anywhere else in the country. Also on the water front, some Western states aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the dwindling Colorado River. As negotiations continue over the future of allotments that are bigger than what the river can provide, AP reports that Utah is positioning itself to fight for its full share, even if other states are giving ground.
When green isn’t green. Going international for a moment, Bloomberg reports that a Mexican program meant to incentivize tree-planting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The goal is to create timber and fruit industries and combat climate change, but it’s offering the wrong incentive. Instead of working as planned, the program has led to farmers clearing jungle in order to get credit for planting new trees. Take a look.
A lone man wades through the floodwaters in New Orleans north of downtown six days after Hurricane Katrina passed through the area. (Photo: Michael Madrid, USA TODAY)
Political positioning. Rep. Deb Haaland’s contested path toward the top of the Department of the Interior finally appears to be cleared, as the Senate plans to vote on her nomination Monday. She should have the votes. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press writes that former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been approved to lead the Department of Energy. And, USA Today reports, Michael Regan was confirmed as the first Black man to take the post of Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
California oil rush. While liberals won the day in Washington, D.C., it was conservative county supervisors in the Central Valley who grabbed headlines in California. The Desert Sun’s Janet Wilson reports that Kern County this week “gave upfront, blanket environmental approval for 40,500 new oil and gas wells.” About three-quarters of the Golden State’s oil industry is in Kern, making it a battleground between environmental justice advocates and fossil fuel companies. The former argued that public health impacts and climate change were being ignored, while the latter pointed toward the economic impact of winding down oil production. Farmers threatened to sue to stop drilling on or near their land, but green groups beat them to the punch, filing litigation on Thursday.
Oil field of dreams. And speaking of oil, Colorado state legislators are tasked with retooling the system meant to guarantee there’s money left to clean up old oil and gas wells. Nick Bowlin of High Country News reports on new data from think tank Carbon Tracker that found the true price to plug and remediate these wells could be many millions of dollars costlier than the current system has set aside. “With the industry’s murky financial future, experts predict more and more sales of risky wells to less-wealthy operators, until the state could end stuck with the final cost,” he writes.
States hold only a small fraction of the money needed to properly clean up old oil and gas wells. (Photo: High Country News)
OUR WILD WORLD
“Bloodless cockfighting.” That’s how this new feature from the magazine Guernica describes the often illegal, underground world of finch singing competitions in New York City. The birds are typically smuggled from Guyana and can be worth thousands of dollars apiece, but there’s a push to legalize the trade. Take a few minutes to get a window into this fascinating slice of the world.
Monster fish. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that “a fearsome new invasive predator has emerged in the state.” Called the arapaima, it’s a fish that can grow up to 10 feet long and is a native of the Amazon River. While there’s still no evidence that the fish has reproduced in the Sunshine State, concerns abound that its presence spells trouble for native species due to its “voracious appetite.”
Digging for history in Phoenix. Turning now to more urban environments, The Arizona Republic is out with an interesting new look at the history and development of Phoenix and the surrounding valley where millions of people now live. A massive canal system constructed by Native American groups once spread more than 700 miles across the region, evidence of “one of the ancient world’s great engineering feats.” Recent work in Tempe is digging further into this rich history.
Hohokam created hundreds of miles of canals that supplied irrigation for their crops in the desert of Arizona. About half of the canal system we use today has ancient heritage says SRP archaeologist Daniel Garcia. The South canal flows in Mesa on Feb. 24, 2021. (Photo: Thomas Hawthorne and Michael Chow/The Republic)
AND ANOTHER THING
News flash. All eyes were on Texas when a huge winter storm exposed inadequacies in the state’s deregulated energy grid. In response, the crisis brought attention to the country’s power system and the need to make some big changes. Across the USA Today Network, journalists checked in on how their region is doing.
For The Oklahoman, Jack Money wrote that it could’ve been a lot worse for the Sooner State, as its participation in the multi-state Southwest Power Pool likely protected the grid’s reliability. Still, shifting weather patterns will strain the system. For the Indianapolis Star, London Gibson and Sarah Bowman reported on the 34 counties across the state — out of 92 — that have “ordinances that restrict wind and solar projects, or prohibit their construction altogether.” That anti-renewable effort will go a long way in hurting the state’s ability to provide affordable power, experts say. And for The Arizona Republic, Ryan Randazzo answered his readers’ burning question: Can this happen there too? In this piece, he explained what went wrong in Texas — and what’s different about the Southwest.
Scientists agree that to maintain a livable planet, we need to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration back to 350 ppm. We’re above that and rising dangerously. Here are the latest numbers:
Atmospheric concentrations of climate-warming gases continue increasing. (Photo: George Petras)
That’s all for now. Don’t forget to follow along on Twitter at @MarkOlalde. You can also reach me at [email protected] You can sign up to get Climate Point in your inbox for free here. And, if you’d like to receive a daily round-up of California news (also for free!), you can sign up for USA Today’s In California newsletter here. Finally, The Desert Sun has a wild sale going on right now, and you won’t regret grabbing yourself a subscription here! Alright, mask up; we’re doing it. Cheers.
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