Wednesday, May 07, 2014

White House calls for urgent climate change action after report warns of more extreme weather

All the usual lies gathered together in one place.  I can't  find a single true statement in it.  Note:  The climate report was supposed to be released in APRIL... I guess it was too cold!

The White House called on Tuesday for urgent action to combat climate change, as it released a study on the impact of global warming across the United States and key sectors of the US economy.

The four-year survey warned of serious threats to homes and infrastructure and industry in the face of extreme weather events.

President Barack Obama vowed during his victorious 2008 presidential campaign to make the United States a leader in tackling climate change and the "security threat" it poses.

But he has failed to convince Congress to take significant action during his subsequent years in office.

As part of a new push on the issue this week, Obama was to give televised interviews with various meteorologists on Tuesday to discuss the findings of the third US National Climate Assessment.

Hundreds of the nation's best climate scientists and technical experts - from both the private and public sectors - worked on the report, which examines the impact of climate change today and makes forecasts for the next century.

The government’s newest national assessment of climate change, released early on Tuesday, declares what a wide majority of scientists say is clear: Americans are already feeling the effects of global warming.

Heavy Northeast downpours unleashed by super storms such as Sandy, flooding from sea-level rise from Norfolk to Miami along the Atlantic Ocean, record-setting monster wildfires in several Western states, a crop-destroying heat wave in the Midwest, and drought that has parched southern California, have all taken place in recent years.

“The report affirms a number of things we have known,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University professor and lead co-author of the changing-climate chapter of the assessment.

“But there are new aspects,” Hayhoe said. “For a long time we have perceived climate change as an issue that’s distant, affecting just polar bears or something that matters to our kids. This shows it’s not just in the future; it matters today. Many people are feeling the effects.”

The researchers warned of drought in the state of California, prairie fires in Oklahoma and rising ocean levels on the East Coast, particularly in Florida, most of them caused by humans.

Sea level rise is also eating away at low-lying areas in places like Mississippi.

In the Southeast and Caribbean regions, home to more than 80 million people and some of the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan areas, "sea level rise combines with other climate-related impacts and existing pressures such as land subsidence, causing significant economic and ecological implications."

The report cited a locally-sponsored study as saying that coastal areas in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas could face annual losses of $US23 billion ($24.59 billion) by 2030, with about half of those costs related to climate change.

The impact of global warming is unevenly distributed across US territory, with spectacular effects in Alaska, which researchers said warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country.

"Arctic summer sea ice is receding faster than previously projected and is expected to virtually disappear before mid-century," the report said.

"This is altering marine ecosystems and leading to greater ship access, offshore development opportunity and increased community vulnerability to coastal erosion."

It warned that rising permafrost temperatures would cause drier landscapes, more wildfire, changes to wildlife habitat, greater infrastructure maintenance costs and the release of greenhouse gases that increase global warming.

Facilities and roads that are vital to the US economy are also under the threat of rising water levels or an increase in already reported tropical storms hitting coastal areas, the report says.

It cites in particular State Highway 1 in Louisiana, the only road linking New Orleans to Port Fourchon, a strategic oil hub. The road is "sinking, at the same time sea level is rising," resulting in more frequent and more severe flooding during high tides and storms. A 90-day shut down of this highway would cost the nation an estimated $US7.8 billion ($8.34 billion).

Rising temperatures

The decade starting in 2000 was the hottest on record, and 2012, the year Sandy followed an epic summer drought, was the hottest ever recorded in the nation’s history, the report says. US temperature is 0.72 to 1.05 degrees Celsius warmer now than it was in 1895, and most of that increase — 80 per cent, the assessment says — occurred over the last 44 years.

David Wolfe, a professor at Cornell University who was a lead co-author of the report’s chapter on change in the Northeast, said that might sound frightening, but he and other authors of the study are optimistic that climate impacts can be mitigated.

Business leaders are looking more toward investments in renewable energy, he said. This third assessment, unlike the others, offers a website with interactive tools showing how to reduce climate impacts.

“It will be a living document, a resource for people,” he said. “It’s a place to start.”

Critics of global warming

Wolfe’s optimism wasn’t universally shared, even among some co-authors who described the assessment as too conservative — a consensus document meant to reflect the diverse views of the more than 300 scientists who crafted it.

Other contrarians include libertarians at the Cato Institute, founded by Charles and David Koch, brothers whose multibillion-dollar fortune is partly derived from fossil fuels, and are well-known to deny the impacts of climate change.

Cato researchers Paul C. Knappenberger and Patrick J. Michaels said the assessment was “biased toward pessimism,” the opposite of how Wolfe described it. As a resource, it is meant to justify “federal regulation aimed towards mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”

The report’s early reception reflects the deep partisan divide over climate that fractures along party lines and even has finer breaks within each party, between liberals and progressives and mainline conservatives and tea party factions.

The higher the temperature, the more dire the impact

Burning coal for electricity, using oil and gasoline in vehicles, clear-cutting forests and engaging in certain agricultural practices — all for the convenience of humans — contribute to the problem, the assessment said.

By the end of the century, temperatures could be up to 2.77 degrees Celsius higher if the nation acts aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry, or up to 5.55 degrees Celcius if emissions are high.

Extreme weather in the United States has “increased in recent decades,” the report said.

The assessment carves the nation into sections and examines the impacts: More sea-level rise, flooding, storm surge, precipitation and heat waves in the Northeast; frequent water shortages and hurricanes in the Southeast and Caribbean; more drought and wildfires in the Southwest.

Rapidly receding ice and shrinking glaciers are occurring in Alaska, which warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country in the past 60 years. And warmer oceans, along with increased acidification, particularly in the Pacific, have put marine life in peril.

Sea-level rise is a major concern to the District, Maryland and Virginia. A report last year by the Maryland Commission on Climate Change found that coastal sea-level rise on the state shoreline will range from slightly less than a 30 centimetres to more than 60 centimetres by mid-century, and from 120 centimetres to 360 centimetres by the end of the century, depending on whether carbon emissions increase or decrease.

Climate change is also leading to heat stress events, forcing people with respiratory illnesses to turn to devices such as inhalers or to hospitals, the federal assessment said. It is leading to more severe allergies and waterborne illnesses as pathogens increase. Minority communities are especially vulnerable.

Extreme heat causes more deaths than other weather events, and that is expected to continue. Such deaths have decreased in recent years, but the assessment attributed that to better weather forecasting.

In more general terms, climate change will increase costs for the country's transport system and its users, said the authors, who warn that major adaptation measures will be necessary to overcome this.

Republican opponents

The report, which can be viewed at and aims to mobilise American citizens as well as local communities, is part of Obama's sputtering efforts to address global warming, which have gone nowhere in Congress. There, Republicans control the House of Representatives.

The fight against climate change, once a high priority issue when Obama took office, was relegated to the back burner after a bill failed in Congress early in his first term, when Democrats still held both houses.

The president's Republican foes, who now hold a majority in the House of Representatives, reject new federal laws on emissions, which they say harm growth and employment.

And Democrats from states that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, such as oil-rich Louisiana and coal-rich West Virginia, have also come out against a transition to green energy.

During his January 28 State of the Union address, Obama reiterated that climate change is real and promised unilateral action, without Congress, to promote his energy agenda.

The administration has already taken regulatory measures, in particular by introducing tougher federal emission standards for vehicles.

Impact of heat on oceans

The risk of dying from extreme heat has declined for decades and by now “this should be rather unsurprising as it has been demonstrated over and over again.”

But increased heat doesn’t just affect humans. In warmer and more acidic oceans, particularly the Pacific, the effects of climate change are deadly, said Drew Harvell, a Cornell University professor of ecology and a co-author of the marine resources chapter of the assessment.

Marine scientists in the Pacific have traced the mass die-off of the sunflower star, a type of sea star, to warmer temperatures. In a laboratory, 10 sunflower stars were placed in water with normal temperature and another 10 in water only 0.72 degrees Celsius warmer.

Within two days, half the sunflower stars in the warmer water were dead. “It’s going to get worse with warming,” Harvell said.

Thirty per cent of carbon released into the atmosphere is sucked up by the ocean, leading to acidification that’s killing coral and shell life. Coral protects young fish from predators, and tiny shellfish, at the bottom of the food chain, help feed entire ecosystems.

“A third of all coral is at the risk of extinction,” Harvell said. After two decades of studying marine life, she holds a more negative view of the future than both Wolfe and the Cato researchers.

“It’s important to understand that this is a very, very, very conservative document, a consensus document,” Harvell said of the assessment. The truth is more dire, she said.

“The Pacific Ocean is the place with the most extreme problem with acidification and salmon, mussels, things heavily affected,” she said. “I’m not sure there are many mitigations to these impacts. There’s hope, but there’s got to be some pretty radical changes to practices and policies.”


Antarctic Sea Ice Blows Away Records In April

Antarctic sea ice continues to set new records, with extent in April at the highest since measurements began in 1979.

Ice extent has also been above last year’s already high levels for most of this year.

Meanwhile, both GISS surface and UAH satellite datasets show the Antarctic has been much colder than usual recently.

Finally, global sea ice area remains well above average.

More HERE  (See the original for links, more graphics etc.)

Lennart Bengtsson: “The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong”

The GWPF yesterday announced that Swedish scientist Lennart Bengtsson joins their Academic Advisory Council. Among the members of this council are many well-known “climate sceptics” like Richard Lindzen, Ross McKitrick, Henrik Svensmark, Bob Carter, Nir Shaviv etc.

Bengtsson (born 1935) was the director of of ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting) for 18 years and after that he was the director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. So his background is very “mainstream”. His entry to the GWPF Council will certainly have raised a few eyebrows in the climate community that sees the GWPF as a sceptical think tank.

Bengtsson has written some very nuanced/critical opinion articles in recent years (see here and here). I decided today to ask Bengtsson about his motivation to join the GWPF Council and sent him a list of questions to which he kindly responded.

Q. Why did you join the GWPF Academic Council?

I know some of the scientists in GWPF and they have made fine contributions to science. I also respect individuals that speak their mind as they consider scientific truth (to that extent we can determine it) more important than to be politically correct. I believe it is important to express different views in an area that is potentially so important and complex and still insufficiently known as climate change.

My interest in climate science is strictly scientific and I very much regret the politicisation that has taken place in climate research. I believe most serious scientists are sceptics and are frustrated that we are not able to properly validate climate change simulations. I have always tried to follow the philosophy of Karl Popper. I also believe that most scientists are potentially worried because of the long residence time of many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, our worries must be put into a context as there are endless matters to worry about, practically all of them impossible to predict. Just move yourself backward in time exactly 100 years and try to foresee the evolution in the world for the following 100 years.

Q. Is this your way of telling the world that you have become a “climate sceptic”? (many people might interpret it that way) If not, how would you position yourself in the global warming debate?
I have always been sort of a climate sceptic. I do not consider this in any way as negative but in fact as a natural attitude for a scientist. I have never been overly worried to express my opinion and have not really changed my opinion or attitude to science. I have always been driven by curiosity but will of course always try to see that science is useful for society. This is the reason that I have devoted so much of my carrier to improve weather prediction.

Q. Is there according to you a “climate consensus” in the community of climate scientists and if so what is it?
I believe the whole climate consensus debate is silly. There is not a single well educated scientist that question that greenhouse gases do affect climate. However, this is not the issue but rather how much and how fast. Here there is no consensus as you can see from the IPCC report where climate sensitivity varies with a factor of three! Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models. Here I intend to stick to Karl Popper in highlighting the need for proper validation.

Q. Mojib Latif once said at a conference of the WMO (in 2009) “we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves”. Do you think the climate community is doing that (enough)? or are others like the GWPF needed to ask these “nasty” questions? If so, what does this say about the state of Academia?

I think the climate community shall be more critical and spend more time to understand what they are doing instead of presenting endless and often superficial results and to do this with a critical mind. I do not believe that the IPCC machinery is what is best for science in the long term. We are still in a situation where our knowledge is insufficient and climate models are not good enough. What we need is more basic research freely organized and driven by leading scientists without time pressure to deliver and only deliver when they believe the result is good and solid enough. It is not for scientists to determine what society should do. In order for society to make sensible decisions in complex issues it is essential to have input from different areas and from different individuals. The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong.

Q. I noticed that some climate scientists grow more sceptical about global warming after their retirement. Can you confirm this? Does it apply to yourself? Is there a lot of social pressure to follow the climate consensus among working climate scientists which can explain this?

Wisdom perhaps comes with age. I also believe you are becoming more independent and less sensitive to political or group pressure. Such pressure is too high today and many good scientists I believe are suffering. I am presently a lot on my own. As I have replied to such questions before, if I cannot stand my own opinions, life will become completely unbearable.

Q. Are you satisfied with the role that the GWPF has played so far? What could or should they do differently in order to play a more successful and/or constructive role in the discussions about climate and energy?

My impression is that this is a very respectable and honest organisation but I will be happy to reply to your question more in depth when I have got experience of it.

From the GWPF:

Professor Lennart Bengtsson has a long and distinguished international career in meteorology and climate research. He participated actively in the development of ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting) where he was Head of Research 1975-1981 and Director 1982-1990. In 1991-2000 he was Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg. Since 2000 he has been professor at the University of Reading and from 2008 the Director of the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland.

Professor Bengtsson has received many awards including the German Environmental Reward, The Descartes Price by the EU and the IMI price from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). He is member of many academies and societies and is honorary member of the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Meteorological Society and European Geophysical Union. His research work covers some 225 publications in the field of meteorology and climatology. In recent years he has been involved with climate and energy policy issues at the Swedish Academy of Sciences.


It Is "Very Likely" That Scientists Are Confusing Us About Global Warming

Veteran psychologizer, Chris Mooney, is mourning below the fact that the IPCC mostly uses moderate scientific language.  Even a whiff of science is bad for Warmism

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a big, big production. Its reports, released roughly every five years, are considered the gold standard of climate science, and are always a major media event. Thousands of scientists contribute to the reports, all of them volunteering their expertise to make the world just a little bit better.

There's just one problem: According to a new paper out in Nature: Climate Change, the IPCC may be dramatically undermining its own work through one of its trademark tools: A system of language that the group uses to describe how certain (or uncertain) researchers are about its scientific findings. According to the new study, this system (which involves describing conclusions as "likely," "very likely," and so on) has the unfortunate effect of making people less sure than they ought to be of the IPCC's most important conclusions.

Unintentionally, then, the IPCC seems to be doing just what climate skeptics and deniers are so often accused of: Sowing doubt.

The new study, by psychologist David Budescu of Fordham University and his colleagues, is actually the latest in a string of papers by these researchers showing that people systematically misunderstand what the IPCC means when it uses phrases such as "likely" and "very likely" to describe the strength of its conclusions. Take, for instance, the IPCC's famous finding, in 2007, that "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-produced] greenhouse gas concentrations." According to Budescu's research, while the IPCC intends for "very likely" to mean a greater than 90 percent likelihood, that's not necessarily the message the average person hears. Instead, when Budesco and his colleagues asked members of the public to assign a probability to the term "very likely," the mean estimate people gave was just 62 percent.

Unintentionally, the IPCC seems to be doing just what climate skeptics are so often accused of: Sowing doubt.
In general, Budescu finds that when the IPCC assigns a high level of certainty to a conclusion, using terms like "very likely" or "extremely likely," people adjust their interpretation downward, taking the conclusion to be considerably less certain than it actually is. When the IPCC assigns a low probability, meanwhile, people adjust their assessment upwards, taking the conclusion to be considerably more certain than it actually is. Thus for instance, when the IPCC calls a conclusion "very unlikely," it means there is less than a 10 percent chance that it's true. But the mean estimate given by members of the public for what this term means is 41 percent. To see how much confusion this can cause, just consider another 2007 IPCC statement: "It is very unlikely that climate changes of at least the seven centuries prior to 1950 were due to variability generated within the climate system alone."

Budescu and his colleagues have found these results consistently, across samples. In 2009, they found as much with a sample of college students and members of a single university community. In 2012, they did so again with a nationally representative sample of Americans. And in the new Nature: Climate Change study, they present the same finding with citizens of 25 countries, having now conducted the research in multiple languages. Again and again, it would seem that the IPCC's language about uncertainty backfires, and undermines itself. It sows doubt in the minds of the public.

Moreover, given that Budescu's first paper on this subject was published in 2009, the IPCC should presumably know by now that its practices appear to have caused the public to be far more doubtful than it should be about the science of climate change. In fairness, the current approach exists for a reason: It avoids requiring scientists to be too precise about their level of certainty, and it allows for the possibility that different scientists would come up with somewhat different numbers for their extent of certainty.

"I think that they are finding their way slowly, and they are trying things," remarks Budescu of the IPCC's uncertainty practices. "A lot of the things that they are trying make sense, and are reasonable. I think they are slow in adjusting."

Solving this problem would be quite simple: Budescu's research shows that people's misunderstanding of the IPCC's language about uncertainty decreases if you simply include a numeric value next to the standard uncertainty language. Thus, instead of merely saying "very likely," the IPCC could just prominently add "(> 90% likelihood)," or something similar. As it is, these numerical values are included as a footnote in the IPCC's widely read "Summary for Policymakers" reports, and a box in the much less widely read technical report; Budescu's research suggests they should appear throughout the text.

It is critical to underscore just how problematic the IPCC's ill-calibrated uncertainty language is. The IPCC produces many thousands of words in its reports, and spends five or more years doing so; and yet generally, there is one sentence from each report that is almost universally quoted in the press, on blogs, and beyond. It is always the sentence that describes how certain the IPCC is about the conclusion that humans are causing global warming; and that sentence always contains the IPCC's confusing uncertainty-speak. In 2001, the IPCC found the conclusion "likely"; in 2007, "very likely"; and in 2013, "extremely likely." To the IPCC, that meant "greater than 66 percent likelihood," "greater than 90 percent," and "greater than 95 percent," respectively. Based on the latest research, the public took away a very different message indeed.

Journalists may partly mitigate this problem, to be sure. Outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, in their coverage of last year's IPCC report, took it upon themselves to include a numerical probability value as they explained the IPCC's conclusion that it is now "extremely likely" that humans are driving global warming. Yet not all media outlets did: Take this report from ABC News, for instance; it included a clip of an IPCC official saying it's "extremely likely" that humans are causing climate change but did not include any numerical explanation of what that means.

The IPCC has been extensively faulted in the past for a wide range of communications failures. Not all of them have easy fixes, but this one surely does.


Putin’s Anti-Fracking Campaign

He knows that European greens can help further his dreams of conquest

Vladimir Putin, the ruler of Russia, wants to ban fracking in other countries. He is very concerned about their environments. If you frack, Putin told a global economic conference last year, “black stuff comes out of the tap.”

Alexey Miller — a longtime Putin crony going back to the early 1990s, when they stole the money that was supposed to buy food for the starving city of Leningrad, who now oversees the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom — strongly supports his friend on this issue. He would like to see an EU-wide ban on fracking, and the Gazprom board is with him 100 percent. “The production of shale gas is associated with significant environmental risks, in particular the hazard of surface and underground water contamination with chemicals applied in the production process,” they warned the world in 2011. “This fact has already caused the prohibition of the shale gas development and production in France.”

Alexandr Medvedev, the general director of Gazprom Export, is also very supportive of efforts to ban fracking in Europe. “I would like to quote the president of France, who said that as long as he’s president, he will not allow the production of shale gas in France,” Medvedev said in a television interview last August. “The cost of production of shale gas in Europe is incomparably higher than in the U.S. and also the situation with the environment is different, because in the U.S. its main production is in unpopulated areas, which are quite available in the U.S., but in Europe we can’t find such big unpopulated areas with reach to the water.”

The fact that Kremlin opposition to European fracking has nothing to do with environmental concerns should be clear even to the dullest among us, because Russia has massive fracking projects of its own underway in Siberia. The real goal is to keep Europe dependent upon Russia for its fuel supply. Natural-gas prices in Europe are quadruple those prevailing in the United States, and by maintaining a near-monopoly on overpriced European natural-gas imports, the Putin regime assures itself of a vast source of revenue. This allows it to rule and rearm Russia without permitting the freedom necessary to develop the country’s human potential. Furthermore, so long as Europe is kept critically dependent upon Russia for fuel, Moscow can paralyze and render ineffective any Western response to its plans for conquest, whose initial steps are currently being demonstrated in Ukraine. More, and much worse, is certain to follow so long as Europe remains helpless.

In a recent four-hour television appearance in Moscow, Putin explicitly embraced Kremlin fascist ideologue Alexander Dugin’s grand design of creating a united totalitarian Eurasia, “from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” If he can maintain control of Europe’s critical fuel supplies, he just might be able to pull it off.

So it should come as no surprise that the Putin regime is pulling out all the stops in fomenting the global anti-fracking movement, with Europe as its central target. Leading the propaganda campaign has been RT News, Russia’s state-owned television network, which broadcasts around the world in English and other languages.

Here is a small sample of RT’s incessant anti-fracking drumbeat:

Wrecking the Earth: Fracking has grave radiation risks few talk about, August 28, 2013

Fracking fluid linked to fish die-off, August 29, 2013

US fracking wells annually produce 280bn gallons of toxic waste water destroying environment – report, October 4, 2013

Chevron halts search for shale gas in Romania following public outrage, October 17, 2013

“We say no to shale gas”: World unites against fracking, October 20, 2013

Money & influence: Oil & gas co’s hush threats of fracking, November 21, 2013

Fracking dilemma: Fresh water or cheap gas? The latter “is not likely to happen,” November 25, 2013

Fracking nightmare: “Like living in a very heavy industrial zone,” November 29, 2013

Massachusetts seeks 10-yr ban on gas fracking after series of Texas quakes, November 30, 2011

City of Dallas effectively bans fracking, December 13, 2013

Hazardous fracking waste: Activists alarm at proposal to move it by river, December 16, 2013

Fracking chemicals disrupt human hormone functions, study claims, December 17, 2013
UK government found ‘cheerleading’ for fracking industry, January 18, 2014

UK Fracking could be allowed under people’s homes without their consent, January 27, 2014

Living near fracking sites increases infant birth defects – study, January 31, 2014

“Most of us eventually get gagged by the industry”: Restrained activist exposes fracking business, February 3, 2014

Hundreds gather for anti-fracking march in Manchester, March 9, 2014

Anti-fracking activist asks court to lift ban keeping her from local hospital, grocery store, March 24, 2014

Oklahoma breaks record with hundreds of earthquakes after fracking intensifies, April 7, 2014

Methane emissions from fracking vastly underestimated by EPA – study, April 16, 2014

The Voice of Russia has been equally ardent in propagandizing for a halt to Western fracking, with one recent article going so far as to advance the claim that riots in Venezuela are being caused by American fracking. Here are some selections from another, which argues that the U.S. is “demonizing Putin” in order to stampede the EU into accepting fracking:

“It all falls into place,” says Peter Koenig, a former World Bank economist and the author of Implosion — An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed, in an interview with the Voice of Russia. “If Washington and its media outlets are successful in portraying Vladimir Putin as a demon of war, then American energy companies will have the green light to frack in Europe in order to reduce the dependency on Russia. They will be seen as a lesser evil or even as benefactors saving Europe from the ‘evil Putin.’ ”

The VoR then breathlessly asks: “Does Europe really want to risk its citizens’ health in order to obtain some shale gas?” Koenig continues:

The spineless European politicians will bend over backwards to satisfy the American energy companies. The Obama Administration is proposing a trade agreement between the US and the EU, involving the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy resources. . . . The US is leading the EU into a trap, making European countries give up on their environmental standards for the sake of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. . . . Following America and serving the interests of its corporate and banking elites is not a good idea. But all is not lost. So far, sanctions are nothing more than bluff and fracking has not begun yet. For Europe there is still time to come to its senses.

The Kremlin’s all-out effort to stop fracking in Western nations is not limited to openly broadcasting lies, hysteria, and propaganda through its official media organizations. It also engages in covert operations, behind-the-scenes lobbying and payoffs, and political manipulations using its agents of influence. Many of these are documented by former U.S. ambassador to Lithuania Keith C. Smith in a recent paper published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In this paper, titled “Unconventional Gas and European Security: Politics and Foreign Policy of Fracking in Europe,” Smith details Kremlin/Gazprom behind-the-scenes operations that were instrumental in obtaining fracking bans in Germany and Bulgaria. Similar dirty work appears to have been involved in ramming through fracking bans in France, Italy, and other European countries.


Green No More, Europe Is Desperate For Cheap Coal

At the biggest power plant in the U.K., operated by Drax Group  PLC, a small black mountain of a million tons of coal sits at the base of a dozen 374-foot cooling towers.

Much of it is high-sulfur coal from under the plains of Illinois and Indiana—exactly the kind of high-emission, power-plant fuel receiving closer scrutiny from U.S. regulators and courts. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of enforcing regulations that require power plants in 28 states to cut coal emissions that blow across state lines.

Many U.S. power plants were already reducing emissions in anticipation of tougher Environmental Protection Agency rules that take effect in 2015. Now, the Supreme Court ruling could affect 1,000 power plants in the eastern U.S. that might need to install additional pollution controls or cut back on coal consumption.

These are tough times for the global coal industry, which has been battered in recent years by regulations, the U.S. boom in extracting gas from shale-rock formations, and lower prices caused by softening demand from China. Coal now generates about 39% of electric power in the U.S., off from 55% in 1990.

Low domestic demand has renewed the focus on U.S. exports, which are on track for a record-setting third straight year of more than 100 million tons. The 28-nation EU imported 47.2 million tons of U.S. coal last year, up from 13.6 million tons in 2003. Exports to the U.K. alone are up tenfold in the same period. The U.S. ranked second only to Russia in supplying Europe with coal last year, and the U.S. could further increase its market share if recent political tensions with Moscow disrupt Russian shipments.

Germany's decision to phase out of nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan has also made it a significant buyer of U.S. coal, mostly because the commodity is so inexpensive.

"Before the financial crisis, Europe was happy to favor the environment, but when the economy started not doing well, they weren't quite ready to accept the high power price," so energy consumers returned to coal, says Daniel Rohr, an analyst for Morningstar Inc.

Since 2003, German imports of U.S. coal have risen to more than 15 million tons from under a million tons. A spokesman for E.ON EOAN.XE -0.50%  SE, Germany's largest power and natural-gas utility, says it now purchases more than four million tons of coal a year, or 17% of its total, from the U.S., up from 800,000 tons in 2010. E.ON operates power plants in several European countries.

Although sales have tapered off in recent weeks because of higher inventory levels, the U.S. coal industry expects the EU to be a good long-term bet. Several U.S. mining companies, including Foresight Energy LLC and Arch Coal Inc., ACI -4.30%  recently opened new sales offices on the Continent.

The big gainer—accounting for roughly one-third of U.S. exports, up from almost nothing 10 years ago—has been high-sulfur coal taken from thick coal seams in Illinois and Indiana. It is loaded onto barges and shipped 800 miles down the Mississippi River to a terminal on the Gulf of Mexico. From there, it heads across the Atlantic to people like Dave Docker, head of fuel procurement at Drax, who buys nine million tons of coal a year on global markets.

Mr. Docker says the Illinois and Indiana coal, shunned in some places in the U.S. because of its high sulfur content, offers a less-expensive alternative than coal from nearby European mines—even including transportation costs.

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, says geography helps keep prices low. "Our coal is easy to extract and we're right next door to two rivers that can take the coal to anywhere in the world," he says, referring to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Mr. Gonet argues that Illinois Basin coal is a viable, cost-effective fuel alternative given new scrubbing technology that removes sulfur from power-plant emissions.

The Illinois Basin—located in Illinois, Indiana and parts of Kentucky—possesses some of the world's richest coal seams, but high sulfur and ash content caused the coal to be shunned after the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. By 2002, mining in Illinois reached its lowest levels since the Great Depression.

That is when a handful of companies, led largely by two private operators, Chris Cline and Robert Murray, snapped up mines on the cheap. The acquirers, bet—correctly, it turned out—on scrubbing technology that can remove almost all the sulfur. They also counted on the coal appetite of export markets such as the U.K.

Mr. Cline's Foresight Energy—Drax's top U.S. supplier—last year offered its coal for as little as $65 a ton in Europe, including freight, compared with $80 a ton from U.K. mines near the Drax power plant.

For Mr. Docker, the coal's low cost is a saving grace. He has made enough other improvements to plant operations—in particular, new technology to remove sulfur better—to allow Drax to burn cheap dirty coal and still comply with strict EU laws.

The Drax power plant was built in northern England in the 1970s, following the conventional model of building power plants next to coal mines. Coal was basically shoveled straight from the mine. Next to hangars housing the six boilers and 30 turbines that generate electricity are a five-week supply of coal, as well as little green hills. The hills, say Drax officials, are actually piles of ash waste that are ideal for growing grass and hedges.

In 2005, EU regulators set up rules that fixed Drax's sulfur-emissions quota at 33,000 tons a year. Drax, which bought almost all of its coal from local mines, began importing cleaner coal from Russia and Colombia that contains less than 1% sulfur, compared with the 2.5%-3% sulfur content of Illinois Basin coal.

At the same time, Drax also started burning dried vegetation that emits almost no sulfur and reduced the amount of coal needed. One of Drax's six boilers now burns biomass, or compressed plant and wood material, much of it imported from the U.S. The plan is to convert two more of the boilers to biomass fuel by 2020.

Drax was emitting less than the allotted 33,000 tons of sulfur by using the cleaner Russian and Colombian coal and the biomass, giving Mr. Docker an opportunity to burn dirtier coal. "I have headroom now to emit more sulfur, and that can be filled with Illinois Basin [coal]," he says. His engineers would prefer Appalachian coal, which is cleaner, burns more efficiently and doesn't impose as much wear and tear on the boilers. "But it's too expensive," Mr. Docker says. Appalachian coal typically sells for 20% more than Illinois Basin coal.

The use of high-sulfur Illinois Basin coal in Europe is disrupting the plans of policy makers hoping to wean the EU off dirty fuel sources, and has angered environmentalists who contend its high sulfur content damages the environment, despite power plants now using scrubbers to remove more than 90% of the sulfur. Imports have also brought high-cost coal mines in Germany, Poland and the U.K. to the brink of closure. U.K. coal output fell 24% last year to 13 million tons.

Tara Connolly, a Greenpeace activist in Brussels, says dirty coal shouldn't be burned no matter how cheap it is and that quotas simply give companies permission to continue polluting, just not as much.

Quotas have allowed the U.S. "to export its emissions to Europe," Ms. Connolly says. She says that a better approach would be an outright ban of dirty coal in favor of alternative clean-energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.  "We want to end the Age of Coal," she says.

EU officials are aware of the rise in high-sulfur Illinois Basin coal imports and are concerned, says Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. "We've seen the increase in shale gas in the U.S. and more U.S. coal coming to Europe," he says.

Many EU countries are in violation of the bloc's emissions rules, and 19 have been subject to formal complaints from the European Commission. Drax and the U.K. haven't faced any complaints, Mr. Hennon says.

The EU is studying possible new rules governing emissions from coal-fired power plants.



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