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The decommissioned coal-fired Battersea Power Station near London. Loco Steve/flickr

The United Kingdom's grid operator just announced an incredible prediction—April 21 is probably going to be the country's first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution.

"Great Britain has never had a continuous 24 hour period without #coal. Today is looking like it could be the first," according to a tweet from the National Grid's Electricity National Control Centre.

The National Grid confirmed with the Mirror that Friday is on track to be "the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world's first centralized coal fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882."

"The first day without coal in Britain since the industrial revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition," Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian. "A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years' time our energy system will have radically transformed again."

The UK intends to phase out the polluting fossil fuel, with plans to switch off its last coal power station in 2025 in order to meet climate commitments.

"The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy. It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritize making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology," Martin added.

Great Britain's use of renewable energy has vastly expanded in recent years and the country is now a world leader in offshore wind. And last month, the nation's large expanse of solar fields and rooftop panels reached a milestone when the amount of electricity demanded by homes and businesses was lower in the afternoon than at night.

Solar power turned the country's grid demand "upside down," Duncan Burt, National Grid's head of real time operations, explained in a tweet at that time.

Arch Coal's Black Thunder Mine, Powder River Basin, Wyoming. Photo credit: EcoFlight

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is readying a new "priority list" for the agency with a heavy focus on fossil fuel development on public lands, new documents leaked to E&E News reveal.

The documents, including a "BLM Priority Work" list accompanying talking points memo, were drafted by BLM administrators and have been reviewed by Trump transition team members, but have not yet been circulated to staff.

While wind and solar development earn small mentions, the documents emphasize main goals of making more federal lands available for energy development and streamlining leases and permits for oil, gas, coal and hardrock mining projects.

The draft priority work list under the "Making America Safe through Energy Independence" includes:

  • Make additional lands available for "all of the above" energy development
  • Address backlog of Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs) and Expressions of Interest (EOIs)
  • Streamline Federal coal leasing and permitting, and address backlog
  • Streamline oil and gas leasing and permitting
  • Streamline rights-of-way processing for pipelines, transmission lines and solar/wind projects
  • Streamline leasing and permitting for hardrock mining

The priority list was "assembled by the team at the BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands," Megan Crandall, an agency spokeswoman, told E&E News in an email.

"No one voted to pollute our public lands, air or drinking water in the last election, yet the Trump administration is doing the bidding of powerful polluters as nearly its first order of business," Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine said after Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke ordered the lifting a moratorium on federal coal leasing. A coalition of groups, including Earthjustice, are suing the Trump administration over the order, which opens tens of thousands of acres of public lands to the coal industry.

For a deeper dive:

E&E, Politico Pro

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The Oklahoma County Court on Thursday found Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominee Scott Pruitt in violation of the state's Open Records Act. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) filed a lawsuit against Pruitt for improperly withholding public records and the court ordered his office to release thousands of emails in a matter of days.

In her ruling, Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons slammed the Attorney General's office for its "abject failure" to abide by the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

The judge gave Pruitt's office until Tuesday, Feb. 21, to turn over more than 2,500 emails it withheld from CMD's January 2015 records request and just 10 days to turn over an undetermined number of documents responsive to CMD's five additional open records requests outstanding between November 2015 and August 2016.

Thursday's expedited hearing was granted after CMD, represented by Robert Nelon of Hall Estill and the ACLU of Oklahoma, filed a lawsuit that has driven unprecedented attention to Pruitt's failure to disclose his deep ties to fossil industry corporations. On Friday, Pruitt is expected to face a full Senate vote on his nomination to run the EPA.

On Feb. 10, Pruitt's office finally responded to the oldest of CMD's nine outstanding Open Records Act requests but provided just 411 of the more than 3,000 emails they had located, withholding thousands of emails relevant to the request and still failing to respond to CMD's eight other outstanding requests. On Feb. 14 CMD filed a status report with the judge detailing the scope of missing documents, including 27 emails that were previously turned over to The New York Times in 2014.

"Scott Pruitt broke the law and went to great lengths to avoid the questions many Americans have about his true motivations," said Nick Surgey, CMD's director of research. "Despite Pruitt's efforts to repeatedly obfuscate and withhold public documents, we're all wiser to his ways and the interests he really serves. The work doesn't stop here to make sure communities across the country have the information they need to hold him accountable to the health and safety of our families."

Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Senators Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley, Booker, Markey and Duckworth—all members of the EPW committee—weighed in on the case, urging the Oklahoma court to require the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General to release documents relevant to CMD's open record requests as a matter of "federal importance." In a letter to the Oklahoma Court, the Senators stated:

"We are providing this information to the Court today because we have concluded [the] pending Open Records Act requests may be the only means by which the Senate and the general public can obtain in a timely manner critical information about Mr. Pruitt's ability to lead the EPA."

"We need to understand whether ... Mr. Pruitt engaged with the industries that he will be responsible for regulating if he is confirmed as administrator in ways that would compromise his ability to carry out his duties with the complete impartiality required."

Pruitt's continued lack of transparency extends from a difficult nomination process in which research from CMD demonstrated Pruitt's repeated pattern of obfuscating ties to deep-pocketed, corporate interests.

At his hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Pruitt faced a series of questions about his private meetings with major fossil fuel companies while chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and fundraising for the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse concluded his questioning telling Pruitt his testimony "just doesn't add up." Despite failing to respond to any records requests for the past two years, Pruitt told U.S. Senators last week to file more open records requests with his office to answer 19 outstanding questions from his confirmation hearing.

After Democratic Senators twice boycotted the EPW Committee vote due to concerns over Pruitt's conflicts of interests and failure to fulfill open records requests, Republicans resorted to suspending Committee rules to advance his nomination.

In a world's first, the Irish Parliament voted 90 to 53 on Thursday in favor of a groundbreaking bill that would fully divest public money from coal, oil and gas.

Fossil Free Europe has hailed it as a "first-of-its-kind fossil fuel divestment legislation."

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, which was supported by almost all of Ireland's political parties except the Fine Gael, will now go to the committee stage. According to The Independent, the bill is likely to pass into law in the next few months after it is reviewed.

Once enacted, the initiative would force the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund—a sovereign wealth fund worth more than €8 billion—to sell its investments in fossil fuel industries over the next five years and would also prohibit future investments in the sector.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle, who introduced the bill, said the legislation makes a powerful statement to the world.

"This principle of ethical financing is a symbol to these global corporations that their continual manipulation of climate science, denial of the existence of climate change and their controversial lobbying practices of politicians around the world is no longer tolerated," Pringle said.

"We cannot accept their actions while millions of poor people in underdeveloped nations bear the brunt of climate change forces as they experience famine, mass emigration and civil unrest as a result."

The Republic of Ireland has recently voted on a slew of green measures in order to fight climate change. In October, the Dáil Éireann (the country's House of Representatives, so to speak) voted to ban fracking.

Trócaire, an Catholic charity that fights worldwide poverty, backed the divestment campaign.

"With a climate-sceptic recently inaugurated into the White House, this move by elected representatives in Ireland will send out a powerful message," said Trócaire executive director Éamonn Meehan.

"The Irish political system is now finally acknowledging what the overwhelming majority of people already know: That to have a fighting chance to combat catastrophic climate change we must phase out fossil fuels and stop the growth of the industry that is driving this crisis," he added.

In the powerful video below, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan celebrates the bill as a clear message to the White House, which has embraced fossil fuels.

"Donald Trump—what an answer to him. What an answer to his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson," Ryan said. "We are going to be selling your ExxonMobil shares, sir, because we don't believe in the future that you stand for."

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Arches National Park in Utah. Photo credit: Flickr

America's national parks are already under threat, but will our beloved public lands survive Donald Trump's incoming presidency?

The president-elect plans to open up federal lands for more energy development and, according to Reuters, energy companies and industry lobbyists are already expecting a flurry of new federal drilling and mining leases with the incoming administration.

"This opportunity is unique, maybe once in a lifetime," Jack Gerard, president of the Washington DC-based American Petroleum Institute lobby group, told the news service in regards to increased access to federal leases.

Vast quantities of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium are tucked away in government-owned national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and tribal territories from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.

As Reuters noted, under the Obama administration, oil output on federal land made up about a fifth of the national total in 2015, down from more than a third in 2010. Onshore drilling leases also fell about 15 percent.

However, Trump campaigned on a promise to "unleash America's $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves." He has accused Obama of "denying millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet" by restricting leasing and banning new coal extraction.

The U.S. government owns roughly 640 million acres of land, and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) manages most of it. In December, Trump nominated U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, a climate change skeptic and coal mining advocate as head of the department.

As it happens, The Wilderness Society calculated that 90 percent of the lands held by the Bureau of Land Management, a bureau of the DOI, is already open to oil and gas development. Most of these lands are in the West and Alaska.

The Wilderness Society

At the same time, with crude oil prices above $50 a barrel, a drilling boom is in sight. As Bloomberg reported, U.S. shale producers are starting to hire back workers after sharp cutbacks in recent years and have added rigs to the shale patch in North America.

Even though Trump has previously said that he wants to keep public lands "great" and is "not looking to sell off land," that doesn't mean the leasing of public lands and waters for energy production is off the table.

Trump's own Energy Independence website states, "Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America's fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters." He also plans to end the "war on coal" and intends to scrap emissions regulations issued by the Obama Administration, such as the Clean Power Plan.

Trump's advisors are also seeking to privatize Native American reservations, which sit on an estimated 20 percent of the nation's oil and gas, along with large amounts of coal reserves. These resources are worth nearly $1.5 trillion.

In an effort to safeguard the environment, President Obama recently designated about 1.6 million acres in Utah and Nevada as national monuments. He also banned new drilling in federal waters in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Republican lawmakers, however, have vowed to undo the measures. For now, it looks like the Right's "Drill, Baby, Drill" ethos is back on.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Before Inauguration Day, the Trump era has opened with an extremist agenda that poses an alarming threat to our people, our environment and the core values we share about justice, fair play and our commitment to leave future generations a livable world. Already, we've seen a set of cabinet nominees dominated by fossil fuel advocates, billionaires and bankers; a president-elect who says "nobody really knows" what's happening to our climate; and a full-on witch hunt for the experts who know the truth.

This is not normal. It's the most radical approach to American governance we've seen in our lifetime. Whatever we voted on in November, nobody voted for dirty water and air. Nobody voted to walk away from climate leadership and millions of clean energy jobs. And nobody voted to hand over our country to a pollute-ocracy that puts polluter profits first—and puts the rest of us at risk.

The following list addresses some, but not all, programs, policies and initiatives the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers have targeted. This could become the worst legislative and executive assault in history against the common sense safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health. At risk is the water we drink, the air we breathe, our public oceans, coasts and lands and the very approach we've taken for generations in this country to protect our common inheritance.

At the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we will stand up and hold this government to account, by making sure the public understands what's at stake—for our country, our people and the common future we share.

Climate and Energy

The Clean Power Plan: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the first national standards reducing dangerous carbon pollution from our largest source, fossil fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan provides reasonable state-specific goals for carbon cuts, flexibility for states to meet them and a federal plan that will cut a key driver of climate change 32 percent by 2030 and stimulate growth in clean energy. More here and here.

International Climate Agreement: The Paris climate agreement signed by nearly 200 nations and effective as of Nov. 4, 2016 is a global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to hold global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. More here and here.

HFC International Commitments: In October 2016, more than 140 countries signed onto the Kigali Agreement, which calls for phasing down powerful climate-warming pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. Industry supports the agreement. More here.

Reducing Methane Pollution and Natural Gas Waste in the Oil and Natural Gas Industry (BLM & EPA): These standards will reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air emissions from fracking and other oil and gas operations. Leaks and purposeful venting waste gas that could be sold and used while threatening health and worsening climate change. More here and here.

Restrictions on public financing for overseas coal projects: The Obama administration restricted U.S. funding for overseas coal power plants to limit climate change. This affects the Export Import Bank and other entities. More here.

Assessing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (CEQ): The White House Council on Environmental Quality issued guidance to federal agencies on analyzing the climate impacts of their proposed actions before deciding on how to proceed. More here.

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Scott PruittDonald Trump's controversial pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—is under fire for his supposed ties to a nonprofit controlled by billionaire oil tycoons, Charles and David Koch.

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump's nominee to head the EPA, has been known to parrot oil and gas industry talking points.Flickr

POLITICO has received a copy of a letter sent to Pruitt that was signed by six Democratic senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The letter raises questions about the Oklahoma attorney general's director status at a nonprofit called the Rule of Law Defense Fund that accepted $175,000 from Freedom Partners, the political arm of the Koch brothers' network.

Freedom Partners has been described as a "dark money umbrella group," likened to a secret bank that disburses contributions from wealthy conservatives.

The senators are requesting names of donors, meeting information, internal emails and other details related to Pruitt's leading role at the Defense Fund, according to POLITICO.

The letter was signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.

As POLITICO noted, the Defense Fund is allowed to keep donors secret since it is organized under a special section of the tax code. However, in 2014, it received $175,000 from Freedom Partners.

The letter calls that contribution into question and said that Pruitt's work with the Defense Fund is "troubling," since he may be too close to the very fossil fuel companies he is supposed to regulate as Trump's EPA chief.

The Defense Fund is an offshoot of the Republican Attorneys General Association, itself a group that has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. A December 2014 New York Times exposé revealed an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" and coordination between Big Oil and the association.

Trump's appointment of Pruitt was met with unprecedented criticism by environmental and health organizations nationwide, being described as a "puppet" of the fossil fuel industry. In 2014, Pruitt was caught sending letters on state government letterheads to President Obama and federal agency heads asserting that the EPA was overestimating the air pollution from drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma. Turns out, the letter was written by lawyers for one of the state's largest oil and gas companies, Devon Energy.

According to POLITICO, the six senators are highlighting Pruitt's links to fossil fuel interests as part of a larger effort to turn moderate senators against his confirmation.

"The confirmation process, starting with your responses to committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry," the letter states.

As Oklahoma's top legal officer, Pruitt has waged numerous legal wars against the EPA and President Obama's environmental regulations, including the president's signature Clean Power Plan. Trump said Pruitt is "highly respected" and will counter the EPA's "anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs."

Renewable Energy
Solar farm at the Topaz Solar Farm in California. Photo credit: Sarah Swenty / USFWS

Renewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. ("Grid parity" is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that's equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

"It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage," the report added. "In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy."

The WEF highlighted how the unsubsidized LCOE for utility-scale solar photovoltaic—which was not competitive even five years ago—has declined at a 20 percent compounded annual rate, "making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries."

Countries that have already reached grid parity include Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Australia with many more countries also on the same track. The WEF projects that two thirds of the world will reach grid parity in the next couple of years, and by 2020, solar photovoltaic energy is projected to have a lower LCOE than coal or natural gas-fired generation throughout the world.

"Renewable energy has reached a tipping point," Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, told Quartz. "It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns."

The report follows a recent analysis from the IEA which revealed that total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time. To illustrate, about 500,000 solar panels installed were installed around the world every day.

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