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7-Eleven to Power 425 Texas Stores With Wind Energy

7-Eleven, Inc. will energize 425 stories in Texas with wind energy it will buy from TXU Energy. This initiative is expected to reduce 7-Eleven's carbon footprint by 6.7 percent and reduce operating costs.

The energy will come exclusively from wind farms in Texas, which is a state with more than 10,000 turbines. The agreement is 96 months and begins June 1, 2018.

"This agreement is beneficial for 7-Eleven on several fronts," Ben Tison, 7-Eleven senior vice president of development, said in a press release. "Wind energy is a renewable, more cost-effective resource that will lower the carbon footprint of these stores as well as operating costs. Our customers, particularly Millennials and the younger Generation Z, care about sustainability and reducing environmental impacts, and they're paying attention to what companies are doing."

Last year, 7-Eleven outlined three steps to reduce its environmental footprint, touching on people, planet and products. The planet pillar, for example, means reducing its energy footprint in stores by 20 percent by 2025. The retail chain has already taken steps to reach their goal by installing LED lighting, energy management systems, and high-efficiency heating and air conditioning units.

"Our goal was to make sure that we were helping 7-Eleven reach its sustainability goals," Gabe Castro, vice president of business for TXU Energy, said. "We were able to do that by helping them through the process to evaluate all of the options available, and then customizing a complete solution to help them reach those goals. We are proud to collaborate with 7-Eleven."

Texas is a perfect state for 7-Eleven to be making these lofty wind power goals. It is, in fact, the leading state when it comes to wind capacity, both installed and under construction. Texas is also home to six of the top 10 largest wind farms in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. The 781.5 megawatt Roscoe Wind Farm, 220 miles west of Dallas, is the largest in the world with 627 turbines across 100,000 acres.

Wind power in Texas hasn't only provided a source of clean energy, it's also a big economic driver, creating more than 22,000 jobs in operations and maintenance, construction, manufacturing and many support sectors, according American Wind Energy Association.

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House Committee to Challenge Climate Science

The House Science Committee will hear testimony March 29 that will question whether climate change is a human induced phenomenon. The hearing, Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method, is a just another prong in the current effort to undo the environmental progress made during the Obama years.

It coincides with the efforts of the Trump administration, which has proposed to strip the federal budget of any monies that would be targeted to cutting carbon dioxide emissions. To that end, the president has signed executive orders to weaken Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would cut CO2 emissions by 32 percent by 2030, and eliminate rules to cut methane emissions from natural gas drilling.

Witnesses at next week's hearing will represent all points of view, including Judith Curry, who has serious doubts about climate change and has criticized other scientists for not expressing the same cynicism, and Climate scientist Michael Mann, who was invited by the Democrats on the committee. Mann is a professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University, who told the New York Times earlier this year that if human-induced climate change was not part of the equation, the amount of warming in 2016 would have less than one-in-a-million odds of occurring. "One could argue that about 75 percent of the warmth was due to human impact," Mann told the Times.

Neither side is likely to persuade the other during the hearings. Each side is dug in, with the Trump administration's point person being the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. He said earlier this month in an interview on CNBC that "I would not agree that (carbon) is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."

Ninety-seven percent of all climate scientists have said that the matter is settled: "Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities."

Trump's response? He has proposed to cut EPA's budgets budget by roughly 30 percent, from $8.1 billion to about $5.7 billion, while also slashing the agency's workforce from 15,000 to 11,800. Among the programs to be shed: Energy Star, which is a globally recognized symbol for the 5 billion products that have met the highest energy efficiency standards. Its supporters say it is a $54 million a year program that saves $34 billion a year in electricity costs.

"The new administration has concerns about the EPA but they have never been about Energy Star," Lowell Ungar, senior policy director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said in an earlier interview. "This helps consumers across the country: rural, urban, coastal and middle of country. Why threaten a program that saves consumers money?"

It's important to note that not all Republicans are against action on climate. After all, the EPA was created under Republican President Nixon in 1972.

A conservative group called republicEN is trying to sway conservatives to think differently. The organization believes that the denial of climate science is anathema to both American and conservative causes. As such, it said the loudest voices are drowning out those of the most reasonable, which includes much of the national electorate.

There are "small government" solutions, the organization said. Eliminating subsidies to all energy sources would correct market distortions, the group touts.

Meantime, 13 Republican members of the Climate Solution Cause—a bipartisan group in the U.S. House of Representatives which explores policy options that address the impacts, causes and challenges of our changing climate—are pressing forward, having just invited EPA Administrator Pruitt to Florida to see the effects of rising tides.

"We can't deal in alternative facts, or alternative realities," said Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, in a release by republicEN. "We have to deal with whatever there's consensus about as a starting point in legitimate debates that do exist." Sanford criticized Republican reluctance to take on the issue, "Even though the scientific consensus has been clear ... You talk to old-timers, and they say it's changing."

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Iceberg in Antarctica. Photo credit: Max Pixel

Planet Enters 'Uncharted Territory'

Global temperatures are on the rise again as 2016 has been marked as the hottest on record. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which published its annual assessment of the climate today, said the unusually warm weather has continued into 2017.

Global warming, experts say, is largely driven by human activity and the release of carbon dioxide emissions. But an El Niño weather pattern consisting of naturally warm weather in the equatorial Pacific region is also a contributor.

"Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory," World Climate Research Programme Director David Carlson said in a release.

In the WMO's annual State of the Global Climate, it said that in the years since 2001, temperatures have been at least 0.4 degrees Celsius above the long-term average for the 1961-1990 base period. And those temperatures continue to be consistent with a warming trend of 0.1-0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, it added.

Furthermore, the 2015-16 El Niño weather events have only increased the warming, it continued, noting that global sea levels rose during the El Niño event, with 2016 levels hitting new highs. Meantime, global sea ice extent fell by more than 4 million square kilometers below the average November levels.

Warm ocean temperatures have also contributed to "significant" coral bleaching while it has impacted marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

And CO2 levels hit the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per million in 2015. They are not expected to fall below that level for generations given the long-lasting nature of CO2, the report said. The result? Severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern African as well as Central America. Meantime, Hurricane Matthew, which blew through Haiti and up the Eastern seaboard last October, caused significant financial losses in the U.S.

"This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record—a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.

"Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year," he added. "With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident."

This WMO report is getting released just after the Trump administration unveiled its proposed budget for the next fiscal year—one that would cut funding not just for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but also the climate initiatives established during the Obama years. President Trump has further issued an executive order that essentially said that his Department of Justice would cease to defend the Clean Power Plan in court.

"While the data show an ever increasing impact of human activities on the climate system, the Trump administration and senior Republicans in Congress continue to bury their heads in the sand," Professor Robert Watson, a distinguished climate scientist at the UK's University of East Anglia and a former head of the UN's climate science panel, told the Guardian.

The newspaper previously said that the 2016 temperature data shows that temperatures levels have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius above the levels just seen before the industrial revolution. That's when the developed world began to deploy fossil-fuels on a large-scale basis. The rising temperatures, however, come "perilously close" to the 1.5 degree Celsius ceiling that the global community agreed to in December 2015.

"Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere," Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. told the Guardian. "In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilization, which thrives on stability."

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Gorsuch Supreme Court Nomination: High Stakes for the Planet

The U.S. Senate is beginning the confirmation process today to consider Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gorsuch, nominated by President Trump on Jan. 31, is now a jurist on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Senators will be making their opening statements, with Republicans expected to say that he will be fair-minded on all issues, including those pertaining to the environment by pointing to what they consider an even-handed record. Democrats, though, will be asking targeted questions of the would-be Supreme Court jurist, especially about his thinking on the carbon-cutting Clean Power Plan that now awaits a decision at the appeals court level.

What could happen? "I'm willing … to say, that he's going to come at these things neutral and if he doesn't think an agency's interpretation is credible he's going to say so," Pat Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, told the Associate Press. "Sometimes that's going to cut in favor of the environment and sometimes it's going to cut against the environment and I don't know how much of that concern actually weighs into his decision making."

What cases might environmentalists look at to get a keener insight into Judge Gorsuch's legal mindset? One of the most recent and hotly contested consisted of a Colorado state mandate requiring investor-owned utilities get 30 percent of electricity they sell from renewable sources by 2020—a law that Gorsuch voted to uphold.

According to Heavy:

In 2015, on a three-judge panel, Gorsuch affirmed that Colorado's renewable energy law would remain in place and did not violate the Constitution. The plaintiff had advocated for a free market approach to environmentalism and argued that the law violated the Commerce Clause and unfairly hurt out-of-state businesses, such as coal producers.

Conversely, according to the AP, Gorsuch sided with business interest in a 2010 case in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had classified land in New Mexico as Indian territory when a company had wanted to explore there. Gorsuch said that the land in question was not actually on an Indian reservation and thus ruled in favor of the mining company.

By way of background, Neil Gorsuch is the son of Ann Burford Gorsuch, who led the EPA from 1981 to 1983 when President Reagan was in office. Environmentalists had been critical of her back in the day, saying that she had failed to tackle cases important to their cause and that she had tried to loosen existing regulations that had been meant to reduce pollution.

To that end, Democratic senators have expressed concern that Judge Gorsuch naturally favors the interest of big business. Senators worry that this would come at the expense of the environment as well as the most vulnerable Americans.

"The highest court in the land should be reserved only for those who believe that a democracy works for the people—not corporations," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. "Unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, Donald Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch, does not subscribe to this belief as evidenced by his long record of anti-environment, anti-women and anti-worker decisions."

Progress Now in Colorado believes that the nominee would set back environmental policy. Meantime, NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer said that, when Gorsuch was nominated, the U.S. Senate had owed "no deference" to Trump, who lost the popular vote. "The Supreme Court is one of the last lines of defense at this perilous time for our country," Steyer added.

Environmentalists, for example, point to the Chevron Doctrine, which is encompassed in the case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc v. NRDC. Simply, courts will defer to the federal agencies that have thoroughly analyzed a policy. But green groups, pointing to an earlier immigration case, are fearful that the Supreme Court nominee would give short shrift to the doctrine. That's because it is often associated with EPA regulations.

"It gives them broad authority to regulate certain pollution and it leaves it up to the experts to determine exactly what threshold of pollution is acceptable and what threshold is dangerous," Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress said, according to the AP. "Judge Gorsuch would want to get rid of that standard and basically allow judges to substitute their own judgment for the judgment of the agency experts."

While some of the high court's current judges have criticized the doctrine—notably Justice Clarence Thomas—it has, in effect, served as a check on judicial activism, Kenneth Reich, an environmental and energy lawyer in Boston, said in an earlier interview. That's particularly relevant with regard to statutes that require a precise expertise—knowledge that the judges cannot possibly have.

The Clean Power Plan is a case-in-point. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act—something that EPA made official in 2009, saying it was a danger to public health and welfare. And in 2014, the high court upheld that so-called endangerment finding. That ruling is the foundation behind President Obama's Clean Power Plan.

But in February 2016, the Supreme Court issued a "stay" to address some concerns of several states before sending the case back to the DC Court of Appeals, where a decision is expected soon. No matter how it rules, it will head back to the high court, which is now evenly split on the Clean Power Plan. The question many are asking is just how would Gorsuch decide and would he respect the Chevron Doctrine?

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