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Energy And The Environment

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A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal project has officially been declared an endangered species. U.S. wildlife officials had temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis last spring. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a formal rule published Friday that the Dixie Valley toad is at risk of extinction "primarily due to the approval and commencement of geothermal development” about 100 miles east of Reno. Other threats to the quarter-sized amphibian include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease and predation from bullfrogs. The temporary listing in April marked only the second time in 20 years the agency had taken such emergency action.

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The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Friday to ban the drilling of new oil and gas wells and to phase out existing ones over the next 20 years. The vote comes after more than a decade of complaints from city residents that pollution drifting from wells was affecting their health. Los Angeles was once a booming oil town, but many of its oilfields are now played out.

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The nation’s largest public utility is recommending replacing an aging coal burning power plant with natural gas, ignoring calls for the Tennessee Valley Authority to speed its transition to renewable energy. TVA on Friday announced the completion of its environmental impact statement for replacing the Cumberland Fossil Plant near Cumberland City, Tennessee. TVA says in a news release that solar and battery storage would be more costly and time-consuming than gas. The recommendation still needs the approval of TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash. He has previously spoken in favor of gas. The announcement drew immediate backlash from groups that include the Center for Biological Diversity, which calls the plan “reckless.”

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A former coal-fired power plant in New Jersey was imploded Friday, and its owners announced plans for a new $1 billion venture on the site, where batteries will be deployed to store power from clean energy sources including wind and solar. The move came as New Jersey and other states move aggressively to adopt clean energy to combat climate change. Starwood Energy demolished the former Logan Generating Plant in Logan Township. That site, and a second power plant site in Carneys Point, will host large facilities where batteries will be arrayed to store clean energy and release it to the power grid as needed.

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Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron have vowed to maintain a united front against Russia amid growing worries about waning support for Ukraine in the U.S. and Europe. Biden on Thursday also signaled that he may be willing to tweak aspects of his signature climate legislation that have raised concerns with France and other European allies. While Biden honored Macron with a fancy state dinner Thursday evening, the glamour and pomp of the visit has been shadowed by Macron’s criticism of Biden’s climate legislation and the challenges both leaders face amid the mounting costs of keeping military and economic aid flowing to Kyiv.

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President Joe Biden is trying to allay concerns raised by French President Emmanuel Macron about a clean energy law that benefits electric vehicles and other products made in North America. But a dispute with Europe over the landmark law persists. Biden acknowledged on Thursday that the law contains “glitches” but said “there are tweaks we can make” to satisfy France and other European allies. Macron,  who spoke with Biden at the White House, has made clear that he and other European leaders are concerned about incentives in the law, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, that favor clean energy technology made in North America, including electric vehicles.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed increasing ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supplies over the next three years. Thursday's announcement was welcomed by renewable fuel and farm groups but condemned by environmentalists and oil industry groups. The proposal also includes incentives for the use of biogas from farms and landfills, and biomass such as wood, to generate electricity to charge electric vehicles. It’s the first time the EPA has set biofuel targets on its own instead deferring to Congress. The agency opened a public comment period and will hold a hearing in January.

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Construction has begun on an underground electrical transmission line that will bring Canadian hydropower to New York City as part of an effort to make the Big Apple less reliant on fossil fuels. State officials announced the start of construction Wednesday on the Champlain Hudson Power Express. Once complete, the line will stretch 339 miles (546 kilometers) through New York state to deliver power produced by the company Hydro-Québec. Authorities project the line will deliver enough clean energy to power more than one million homes while also cutting carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons.

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The eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano has temporarily knocked off power to the world’s premier station that measures heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But officials say Wednesday it won’t be a problem. There are hundreds of other carbon dioxide monitoring sites across the globe. The federal government is looking for a temporary alternate site on the Hawaiian island. And officials are contemplating flying a generator to the Mauna Loa observatory to get its power back so it can take measurements again. The Hawaiian station goes back to 1958 making the famous Keeling Curve that shows rising carbon dioxide levels from burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

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The German government says it is considering taking a stake in Dutch grid operator TenneT, which has a large footprint in Germany. Germany already has a minority stake in rival grid operator 50 Hertz and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Wednesday there were talks with TenneT too. Habeck declined to provide details on the talks but said he considers it “politically wise and necessary” for the state to support the creation of vital public infrastructure such as transmission networks. TenneT operates electricity grids across a large swath of Germany. Those transmission lines are crucial for Germany’s plans to completely shift its power production from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2045 at the latest.

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France has restarted a shuttered coal plant as part of emergency efforts to keep heat and electricity on this winter. Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered an energy crisis in Europe that has paved the way for coal’s comeback in a few countries. On top of Russia largely cutting off natural gas to Europe, France’s nuclear reactors faced a series of maintenance and other technical problems this year. So the governrment issued a decree in September to allow two French coal plants to restart. One is at Saint-Avold in eastern France. The government insists the move will be temporary. Environmental groups warn this endangers climate goals and threatens health from increased pollution.

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Germany’s energy minister says the government has formally decided to abandon an international energy accord that fossil fuel companies had used to oppose measures against climate change. The move follows similar decisions by Italy, France, Spain and other European countries to leave the 1998 Energy Charter Treaty, which includes provisions designed to protect foreign investments in a country’s energy sector. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Wednsday treaty runs counter to the Paris climate accord. He cited cases brought by German utility companies against the Dutch government’s decision to end the burning of coal. Habeck, a member of the environmentalist Green party, backed calls by climate campaigners for the European Union as a whole to withdraw from the pact.

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Pennsylvania’s most active gas driller has pleaded no contest to criminal environmental charges in a landmark pollution case. Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc. entered its plea Tuesday in Susquehanna County Court. Residents of the tiny crossroads of Dimock nearby in northeastern Pennsylvania said Coterra Energy ruined their aquifer and failed to make it right. That led to one of the most prominent pollution cases to emerge from the U.S. drilling and fracking boom. Coterra agreed in a plea agreement to pay $16.29 million to connect the residents’ homes to a clean source of water and pay their water bills for the next 75 years.

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The Biden administration is designating the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species. Officials say that the bat's situation has worsened since it was classified as threatened in 2015. The species is among a dozen U.S. bats suffering from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that causes bats to emerge early during hibernation, sometimes burn up winter fat reserves and starve. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will work with timber companies and landowners to protect trees where bats nest. The agency will also seek cooperation from the wind energy industry to reduce the likelihood that bats will strike turbines. The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states, plus Washington, D.C., and much of Canada.

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The Interior Department has proposed rules to limit methane leaks from oil and gas drilling on public lands. It's the latest action by the Biden administration to crack down on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. The proposal Monday by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management would tighten limits on gas flaring on federal land and require energy companies to better detect methane leaks. The actions follow a methane-reduction plan announced by President Joe Biden earlier this month. The plan targets the oil and gas industry for its role in global warming even as the president has pressed energy producers for more oil drilling.

New York is tapping the brakes on the spread of cryptocurrency mining. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a first-in-the-nation law Tuesday. The measure sets a two-year pause moratorium on new and renewed air permits for fossil fuel power plants used for energy-intensive “proof-of-work” cryptocurrency mining. That's a term for the computational process that records and secures transactions in bitcoin and similar forms of digital money. Environmentalists said the state was undermining its climate goals by letting cryptomining operations run their own natural gas-burning power plants. Cryptocurrency advocates argued that the measure would crimp New York’s economic development and singled out crypto while not addressing other fossil fuel use.

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A new water line will deliver something that residents of a rural Pennsylvania community have gone without for the last 14 years — a clean, reliable supply of drinking water. That's according to Pennsylvania American Water. The public utility released details of a plan to mitigate the damage that a gas driller is charged with causing in Dimock. The tiny village in northeastern Pennsylvania became notorious in the early days of the state’s drilling and fracking boom after residents were filmed lighting their tap water on fire. Dimock residents were briefed on the water line plan Monday night.

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The Biden administration has announced preliminary approval to spend up to $1.1 billion to help keep California’s last operating nuclear power plant running. The Energy Department said Monday it was creating a path forward for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant to remain open, with the final terms to be negotiated and finalized. The plant, which is scheduled to close by 2025, was chosen in the first round of funding for a new civil nuclear credit program, intended to bail out financially distressed owners or operators of nuclear power reactors. The Palisades plant in Michigan also applied for funding to restart operations and was turned down.

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The head of Japan’s nuclear watchdog says regulators are considering revising a safety evaluation system to allow aging reactors to operate beyond the current 60-year limit, but that the move is aimed at preventing safety lapses and is not motivated by government efforts to increase use of nuclear power. The move has promoted mixed reactions from the public because of concerns over nuclear safety that rose sharply after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. Nuclear Regulation Authority Commissioner Shinya Yamanaka says its judgment in safety inspections is not affected by government policy. The government says Japan needs to consider all options in its energy mix, including nuclear, to curb emissions of greenhouse gases and secure a stable energy supply.

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The operator of a natural gas storage well in Western Pennsylvania says workers have successfully plugged a leak that had been spewing massive amounts of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere for two weeks. Equitrans Midstream says the well at its Rager Mountain storage facility, located in a rural area about 1.5 hours east of Pittsburgh, was sealed shut with concrete on Sunday. Initial estimates indicate the well had been venting about 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day since Nov. 6. Pennsylvania environmental regulators have issued the company notice of five potential violations of state law.

The European Union’s climate chief criticized the outcomes of the meeting Sharm el-Sheikh, saying it was “not enough of a step forward for people and planet” and did “not address the yawning gap between climate science and our climate policies.” Frans Timmermans said the 27-nation bloc had supported the deal in order to ensure the creation of a loss and damage fund, but expressed disappointment that stronger language on cutting emissions hadn’t been agreed. “I urge you to acknowledge, when you walk out of this room, that we have all fallen short in actions to avoid and minimize loss and damage,” he said. “We should have done much more.”

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The U.S. government has taken a step toward approving the expansion of a natural gas pipeline in the Pacific Northwest. It's a move opposed by environmentalists and the states of Oregon, California and Washington. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission completed an environmental impact statement that projected a positive view of the proposal. But a coalition of groups said the commission's environmental impact statement didn’t properly address harmful impacts on climate change, particularly that caused by fracking. The pipeline runs from the Canadian border, through a corner of Idaho, and into Washington state and Oregon, and connects with a pipeline going into California.

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