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Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Sometimes the transparency of fossil fuel industry apologists and their hired helpers who masquerade as government regulators is just so outrageous as to be Saturday Night Live skit-worthy. Such is the case with the latest claims by a McCrory administration official in the eviscerated Department of Environmental Quality that he’s deeply concerned about the potential environmental impact of decommissioned solar panels.

As WRAL.com reported this morning, DEQ Deputy Secretary Tom Reeder — who spends most of his time fighting efforts to control carbon pollution and promoting offshore oil and gas drilling — is now in a tizzy about solar:

‘There are 250 million pounds of these photovoltaic cells in North Carolina,’ Reeder told the [Environmental Review] commission, urging lawmakers to consider adding a bond requirement to solar farms for eventual decommissioning, as he says California and the federal Bureau of Land Management do.

‘They do contain toxic materials,’ he warned. ‘There’s no market for recycling these things.'”

Uh, excuse us Tom, but while the issue of properly decommissioning 250 million pounds of solar panels two decades from now certainly is an issue worth discussing and planning for, the matter of what to do with 264 billion pounds of coal ash right now (not to mention the horrific impacts of climate change that continue to mount as the result our unfettered use of fossil fuels) would seem just a trifle more important. How about you get to work on those matters?

The bottom line: Reeder’s supposed concerns about the fate of solar panels register about as high on the common sense and sincerity meters as a 1980’s tobacco boss railing about the dangers of too much bubble gum chewing by ex-smokers. Fortunately, as a bevy of Facebook commenters recently made plain in response to DEQ’s latest propagandizing against the Clean Power Plan, a growing number of North Carolinians are seeing through the department’s disingenuous smokescreens.

Commentary

The shorts and tee shirt weather that’s been gripping the eastern U.S. during recent weeks is not, of course, “proof” of global warming any more than the “polar vortex” of a couple years back disproved it. Weather is weather and climate is climate.

That said, there’s little doubt that global climate change is closely linked to the intensity of the current outbreak and the El Nino that’s helped spawn it (and, sadly, the frequency with which we will experience such events in the future).

This is from a recent story on Bloomberg Business that explored the recent tropical outbreak in New York City:

“A strong El Nino is under way across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and that upsets things in a way ‘that is much less favorable for outbreaks of cold Canadian or Arctic air,’ said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, a pattern called the Arctic Oscillation is favoring warmth in the northern U.S….

That said, climate change also plays a role in setting the larger stage, Trenberth said.

There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared with what existed in preindustrial times has elevated the chances of a mild December in Central Park, said Henson. And that demonstrates why carbon and emissions play such a big role in discussions like the one that just ended in Paris.

‘So, in a nutshell, this month’s eastern warmth strikes me as the kind of dramatic event that one might expect in a strong El Nino, with record-warm temperatures at least a small bit higher as a result of the overall warming of our climate,’ Henson said.”

The story goes on to reiterate what we all already knew — namely, that all of this is devilishly complex and very hard to predict in the short term. But it also highlights the fact that the average high temperature in Central Park in mid-December has gone up a degree in just 10 years. Here in North Carolina in recent days, heat records have been shattered by several degrees. In other words, just as with so many other areas in life, few things are certain, but it’s absurd to ignore data and probabilities — especially when the very health of the planet and viability of the human species are at stake.

Right now, the data and statistics culled and compiled by thousands of our best scientists indicate strongly that events like the current record-breaking warm weather (and all the problems that tend to come with it) will become more and more likely in the years ahead. That any person who gives a hoot about his or her children and grandchildren could be aware of this truth and not believe that urgent societal action is essential to tackle the problem ASAP (are you listening, Governor McCrory?) is something that remains remarkably difficult to fathom.

Commentary

FrackingDon’t ya’ just love it when even the market forces so cherished by the ideologues on the right tell them that their head-in-the-sand environmental denials are all wet? As we reported last week, ExxonMobil is now calling for strong government action to address the climate change crisis even as members of the Flat Earth Society in places like the Art Pope Empire deny that global warming is occurring or, if they concede it is, that it has anything to do with carbon emissions.

Now, comes word of a similar story with respect to the hyper-controversial oil and gas retrieval technique known as fracking. This is from a recent story in the Triangle Business Journal:

“Fracking can significantly decrease home values, especially in areas that use well water, according to a new study from Duke University.

The study, which was done in Pennsylvania, found that home values decreased by an average of more than $30,000 for homes on well water within about a mile of shale drilling.’

…Our results show clearly that housing markets are responding to homeowners’ concerns about groundwater contamination from shale gas development,’ said Christopher Timmins, a Duke economics professor who specializes in environmental economics, and lead author in the study. ‘We may not know for many years whether these concerns are valid or not. However, they are creating a real cost to property owners today.’”

Ya’ got that fracking fans? Not only are the experts who devote their lives to preserving the planet anti-fracking, so is the genius of the free market. Who would have guessed that people don’t want live where their drinking water will be poisoned with toxic chemicals?

The bottom (and hopeful) line: As with so many disastrous environmental practices, polluter-funded denials can only work so long. It’s too bad that it comes to this, but at some point, the facts on (and, in this case, under) the ground become so obvious that even capital starts to say “no way.” Americans are starting to vote with their feet when it comes to fracking. Let’s hope this powerful trend helps keep this destructive phenomenon out of North Carolina permanently.

[This post has been updated.]

Commentary

Many in the hopeless, head-in-the-sand crowd on the far right will still be denying the reality of climate change when the ocean water is knee deep in Greenville, but fortunately, their position is becoming increasingly isolated. As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, even the bosses at the world’s second largest oil and gas company are now calling for strong government action to address the crisis:

“To understand how dangerously extreme the Republican Party has become on climate change, compare its stance to that of ExxonMobil.

No one would confuse the oil and gas giant with the Sierra Club. But if you visit Exxon’s website , you will find that the company believes climate change is real, that governments should take action to combat it and that the most sensible action would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon — in other words, a tax on oil, gas and coal, with the proceeds returned to taxpayers for them to spend as they choose.

With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.”

But, of course, as we know all too well, such obvious science and common sense talk mean nothing to the denizens of right-wing “think tanks” and cynical politicians who place, respectively, their fetishistic worship of obscure Austrian economists and lust for personal power above the survival of the biosphere.

In such a situation, it is more important than ever that caring and thinking people who want the planet to survive in some semblance of its current self to redouble their efforts to defeat the deniers. And as for ExxonMobil finally coming around to the obvious truth, all one can say is “welcome to the fight — better late than never.”

Commentary

You don’t have to have read the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer to know that North Carolina’s conservative political leaders have charted a disastrous course on climate change and fossil fuel emission in recent years. Heck, one need only watch TV commercials being run by various oil companies in which even they — the chief polluters themselves — admit the need to take action.

That said, the editorial makes several excellent points that should be taken to heart. Here, with the recent and promising climate talks in Paris as the backdrop, is the central thrust:

“In that regard, it matters how seriously North Carolina’s state and local governments take the issue and what actions that concern produces. Generally, North Carolina is more part of the solution than the problem of global warming. The state has been a leader in encouraging renewable energy, especially solar energy, and some of its cities and towns have promoted the use of renewable energy in homes and required it in public buildings.

But that positive record is being clouded by the rise of climate-change skeptics in the General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. Not only has state government lost a sense of urgency or even obligation about addressing global warming, it also has begun rolling back earlier efforts and thwarting current ones.

Last session, the General Assembly allowed a renewable energy tax cut to expire, undermining the state’s booming solar power industry. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are continuing to seek an end to mandates requiring utilities to produce a rising percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The legislature has backed fracking in North Carolina despite its tendency to leak methane from drill sites. The McCrory administration opposes the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from power plants. And the governor is leading a regional push to allow off-shore drilling….

Fortunately, an oil and natural gas glut has slowed North Carolina’s movement into fracking and may make off-shore drilling not worth the effort. And the gains of earlier years are still having an effect in growing solar and wind power. But in a race against global warming in which time is essential and governments at all levels must contribute, North Carolina’s state government has chosen to run backward.”

Let’s hope fervently, that in 2016, our state gets back in the business of saving the planet, rather than laying waste to it. Click here to read the entire editorial.