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U.S. Submits Climate Pledge in Next Step to UN's Paris Talks

As promised, the U.S. turned in its emissions goals, but China and other large countries missed the UN's suggested deadline.

Mar 31, 2015

Clap your hands if you believe in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

After all, it's faith in those documents, known as INDCs—detailed country-by-country pledges to reduce climate change—that are supposed to keep alive the glimmering hopes of a universal, binding treaty on climate change that the United Nations wants to conclude in Paris at the end of the year.

Fracking Companies Keep 10% of Chemicals Secret, EPA Says

The agency's assessment of fracking fluid disclosure is part of its broader study on fracking and water—and spotlights the project's limitations.

Mar 31, 2015

Oil and gas companies refuse to disclose 10 percent of the hundreds of chemicals they use during hydraulic fracturing, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency. The revelation comes in a major installment of the EPA's study of the potential risks of fracking on drinking water.

The agency's assessment of more than 39,000 reports from the website FracFocus about the composition of fracking fluid also showed that "at least one chemical was identified as confidential business information in 70 percent of the disclosures analyzed," wrote Tom Burke, EPA's science adviser, in an agency blog.

FracFocus is an industry-backed Web portal where companies voluntarily post information about the fluids they use during hydraulic fracturing, which entails blasting water laced with sand and chemicals into geological formations to release oil and gas. From the FracFocus data, the EPA determined the most common ingredients in fracking fluids and the amount and type of water used, and it provided a state-by-state breakdown of the information.

But the FracFocus analysis also spotlights the limitations of the EPA's broader study of fracking and water. Launched in 2011 and delayed repeatedly, the study was supposed to provide definitive answers to the public's concerns about fracking's possible effect on drinking water. But pushback from the oil and gas companies and the EPA's weakness relative to the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel sector narrowed the project's scope, an InsideClimate News report shows.

Before Fracking Begins, Air and Water Tests Still a Rare Precaution

Two scientists from Columbia University launch a $40,000 pilot testing project in Pennsylvania they hope will lead to full-scale research.

Mar 31, 2015

Frank Varano knows what's coming. His land near Williamsport, Pa., abuts property that has been leased for gas exploration––and he's certain it will be fracked.

What is less certain is how that fracking could affect the air he breathes and the water he drinks.

That's why he welcomed the opportunity to have two Columbia University scientists test the air inside his house and the water in his well before fracking gets started late this year.

"I feel better having someone independent more than just having the industry tell me what's happening," Varano said. "I want to double-check whatever the industry tells me."

Last year an air monitor was set up inside his Lycoming County house, and water samples were taken from his well in advance of the drilling and fracking planned for the 10-acre site that sits 500 feet from his place.

Varano is one of 15 residents in Lycoming and Sullivan counties to allow geochemists Beizhan Yan and Steven Chillrud of Columbia's Earth Institute to test the air and water on their land before fracking proceeds. The two scientists want to establish a baseline of the quality of air and water and then continue monitoring as the operation progresses from drilling and fracking to functioning wells.

It's the best way to understand the risks people face when fracking––hydraulic fracturing––starts to encroach on their homes, the two scientists said.

"The data will provide an objective viewpoint to drive a more rational discussion," Chillrud said.

Two Years After Exxon's Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

If a new rule takes effect, about 95 percent of all pipelines would be subject to stricter safety testing because of their age, location and other factors.

Mar 30, 2015

It's been two years since a broken 1940s ExxonMobil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with Canada's heaviest oil, and the ripple effects of the spill have made it to Washington D.C., where regulators are poised to end decades of complacency by addressing the dangers of older pipelines across the country.

For the first time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is floating what could become a new regulation to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

"The Pegasus spill seemed to be a tipping point," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group. "PHMSA is now telling pipeline companies, 'here's what you should think about if you have older pipelines, and when you should replace them,'—and you never would have heard that coming out of their mouths before Mayflower."

The effort by PHMSA is in the early stages, and there's no guarantee that it will result in new mandatory measures for pipeline owners. But if the rule takes effect, about 95 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines would be subject to stricter safety verification because of their age, location or other factors, according to PHMSA. Separately, new guidelines just for pre-1970 pipelines could affect more than half of the nation's 484,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids such as oil and gasoline.

The ExxonMobil line was made from pipe that was manufactured nearly 70 years ago and widely known to be prone to dangerous cracking along its lengthwise seams. The line had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times during the oil company's own testing a few years before the spill. Despite those factors, ExxonMobil gave little weight to the threat of cracks or seam failure in its testing, spill prevention and maintenance plans for the Pegasus, according to PHMSA.

Mexico Announces Ambitious Climate Target

White House praises commitment that surpasses China's and could motivate other developing nations on the road to Paris climate talks.

Mar 27, 2015

Mexico promised on Friday that its emissions of greenhouse gases will peak by 2026 and then begin to decline, making it the first developing country to present a formal climate pledge under a United Nations process that is meant to rope in all the world’s nations, rich and poor.

Mexico’s pledge is a major milestone on the road to Paris, where by the end of this year the UN wants to complete a comprehensive climate pact.

Negotiators agreed in Lima last year that countries that are ready should declare their goals, known as Individually Determined National Contributions, or INDC’s, by March 31. They urged all nations to announce fair and ambitious goals well before the final December talks in Paris.

Climate Movement Feels the Loss of Reid's Retirement

As the Senate minority leader announces he will not run in 2016, environmental and climate groups say they will miss his leadership on crucial issues.

Mar 27, 2015

Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, one of the most vocal and active climate leaders on Capitol Hill, announced Friday morning he would not seek re-election in 2016.

The Senate minority leader's retirement is a major loss for the climate movement, several political and environmental experts told InsideClimate News.

Reid, 75, has championed dozens of environmental initiatives during his five terms in office, including designating more than 3 million acres of federally protected wilderness, promoting renewable energy, and thwarting three new coal-fired power plant projects in his home state. In recent years, he's become an outspoken advocate for climate action, calling global warming, "one of the greatest challenges of our time."

Colorado City Vows to Be Carbon Neutral, Defying Partisan Politics

Fort Collins, Colo., led by a Republican mayor, approves targets to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050, but hurdles remain.

Mar 27, 2015

Copenhagen and Melbourne have committed to the most aggressive carbon reduction goals on the planet.

Now those two cities––homes to 4.5 million people––have been joined by a perhaps unlikely companion on the fast track to carbon neutrality: the Colorado college town of Fort Collins, home to 150,000. 

Earlier this month, the city approved new targets to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Those goals place Fort Collins among a handful of cities playing a prominent role on the world stage in combating climate change.  

"In terms of their level of ambition, they're among the leading cities trying to tackle climate change," said Paula Kirk, an associate in the energy consulting group at Arup, a firm that routinely advises business and government on sustainability issues.

At least 228 cities have voluntarily set goals to reduce emissions, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization that encourages cities to confront climate change. These cities vary widely in the targets that they've set––from a 10 percent reduction over five years to carbon neutrality over 35 years.

Fort Collins' six city council members, who are chosen in nonpartisan elections, voted unanimously to approve the revised goals. Although the council members don't have an official party affiliation, at least two of them identify as Republicans. The city's mayor, Karen Weitkunat, is also Republican.

Antarctica's Melting Edges Bad News for Sea Level Rise

'Within a lifetime of people who read this story many of these shelves will be gone...This is real rapid environmental change," says reviewer of new study.

Mar 26, 2015

The edges of Antarctica's ice sheets have been thinning at a rapid rate over the past decade—up to 70 percent faster than average in some spots—due to warming oceans and air.

Known technically as ice shelves, these edges float just offshore in bays or fjords and act as barriers that keep larger, land-based ice sheets from slipping into the ocean. Once they are gone, there will be nothing to hold back the continent-sized ice masses from sliding into the warmer oceans and melting, raising sea levels precipitously.

According to a new study published in the journal Science this week, this could happen by the end of the century.

"Within a lifetime of people who read this story, many of these shelves will be gone," said Andrew Shepherd, a polar scientist at the University of Leeds who reviewed the study before publication. "This is real, rapid environmental change. These shelves have been around for 10,000 years. It is a classic example of how drastically you can disturb the planet with small changes."

Automakers Surpass Federal Carbon Standard Again, but How Exactly?

If the industry hits its target every year to 2025, new cars will spew out six billion tons less CO2, as much as the whole country emits annually.

Mar 26, 2015

For the second year in a row, automakers in 2013 surpassed the ambitious fuel-efficiency and emission-reduction demands of federal regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Thursday. The rules, first set in 2010, are meant to double the performance of American cars by the year 2025.

On average, the industry beat the annual goal for greenhouse gas emissions by 12 grams per vehicle-mile traveled, slightly better than the year before, the report said.

Will Maryland Close Its Borders to Fracking?

A bill to ban fracking for three years passes the Maryland House by a veto-proof 94-45, and now it's up to the Senate decide.

Mar 26, 2015

Will Maryland soon close its borders to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking?

The state's House of Delegates voted 94-45 Tuesday in favor of legislation that seeks a three-year ban on fracking, the controversial practice for extracting oil-and-gas reserves.

The largely Democrat-backed measure is now under review by the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. There's no set timeline for a vote in the Senate, where it's unclear if there's enough support to pass the bill.

If this bill becomes law, "we believe it will lead to Maryland not allowing fracking" permanently, following in the footsteps of New York, said Ryanne Waters, a spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, which has campaigned against fracking in Maryland.

In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking after a state study determined there is insufficient data available to conclude it would be safe. Fracking currently takes place in 22 states. Waters said that the New York decision has given the anti-fracking movement nationwide "more steam” and “more credibility."

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