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In the critically-acclaimed movie, All the President’s Men, a shadowy, raspy-voiced character named Deep Throat advises Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to “follow the money” in the wake of the Watergate break-in and cover-up. That was more than 40 years ago. Yet, in the bare knuckles, take-no-prisoners world of Washington politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Over the years, critics of clean energy have learned a few things about dirty politics. In their latest attempt to protect fossil fuel special interests—and stop the progress of renewable energy dead in its tracks—they have turned to a tried-and-true tactic: someone in Congress asks for a half-baked study on energy subsidies, designed to leave skewed results and certain to draw the interest of government watchdog groups. Then, a front group for the Koch brothers steps in and starts trashing clean energy, and Americans find themselves confused.
Welcome to Washington, Mr. Smith. As Mark Twain once mused, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
This latest dustup started with a new report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which offers a snapshot in time of the different incentives for various energy sources, and was requested by several Republican members of Congress. Predictably, Watchdog.org then picked up the report and posted a story with the less-than-flattering headline, “Solar and wind energy pack a wallop—in federal subsidies.” While Watchdog.org did a good job of seeking comment from both the solar and wind industries, the real truth about clean energy incentives was consistently clouded by an organization known as The Institute for Energy Research, which—surprise, surprise—was founded by Charles Koch and former Enron executive Robert Bradley, who wrote speeches for disgraced Enron CEO—and I should add, corporate crook—Ken Lay.
For its part, EIA did what it was asked to do, but the request was narrowly defined to only include subsidies with clear identifiable impacts on the U.S. Treasury and that are provisions specific to energy. This restrictive definition leaves out some of the largest fossil and nuclear subsidies, which results in a skewed, apples-to-oranges comparison. For example, the EIA report omits:
- Price-Anderson nuclear insurance liability limitations (because it has no identifiable impact on the Treasury), even though American taxpayers are on the hook for an unlimited amount of money in insurance costs in the event of a catastrophic accident.
- It does not account for royalties on foreign crude oil being classified as income taxes, which makes these royalties eligible for the foreign income tax credit. Huh? If they were accurately classified as royalties they would be treated as expenses and would only be eligible for a deduction, instead of a tax credit. This distinction is likely worth billions of dollars a year to Big Oil.
- It does not count the externalities of pollution from fossil-fueled power plants as subsidies (which they are).
Additionally, EIA did not include any loan guarantees in the subsidy numbers because guarantees, or outlays, were not made in 2013. This goes for nuclear, renewables and others. But it’s important to point out, nuclear did get a disproportionate share of the loan guarantees in prior years.
To put this in some perspective, DBL Investors looked at the historical incentives given to fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables—and the numbers weren’t even close: $447 billion for fossil fuels; $185.5 billion for nuclear; and less than $6 billion for renewables—less than 1 percent of the total amount given to fossil fuels and nuclear.
In a previous iteration of this report, EIA refused a request to display subsidies per unit of energy, or per unit of capacity, because it is an invalid/misleading metric for judging subsidies. Because most subsidies are frontloaded, traditional generation—such as coal, nuclear and hydro—received their government support years or decades ago, and the plants built with that support continued to exist and generate energy in 2013—even if their support did not include substantial outlays in 2013. This is one of the key points of the widely-respected Baker Center study.
The Baker Center study also shows that solar incentives are in line with those given to other energy industries. What’s more, solar is following a similar curve in development as traditional energy sources (coal, gas, oil), which received substantial subsidies during their growth period and are still getting many of them today.
Even the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has explained, “For more than a half a century, federal energy tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing domestic oil and gas reserves and production. There was no major tax incentive promoting renewable energy or energy efficiency.” In other words, the Koch brothers and fossil fuel interests were given a stranglehold on the marketplace—thanks, in large part, to preferential tax treatment and federal subsidies—and now they want to freeze everyone else out.
For example, by its own figures, the oil and gas industry will receive nearly $100 billion over the next 10 years in special tax breaks, including: expensing of intangible drilling costs; the domestic manufacturers tax deduction; use of the “last-in, first-out,” or LIFO, accounting method; exemption from Superfund waste cleanup taxes; and preferential treatment that reduces taxes for master limited partnerships. And the list goes on.
In truth, the oil and gas industry has been getting substantial tax breaks since 1913, while solar has only been receiving the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) since 2006.
Most troubling, the EIA report only looks at the “costs” to the U.S. Treasury of solar subsidies—without considering a single dime of economic benefits—or return on investment—created by one of the fastest-growing industries in America. Today, solar employs nearly 175,000 Americans—with 140,000 of those jobs created since the ITC was implemented—and we pump nearly $20 billion a year into the U.S. economy. We’re also providing enough clean electricity to power 4 million homes.
Similarly, the report does not take into account the huge amount of income taxes paid by solar developers, distributors, installers, manufacturers and employees, as well as the taxes paid by support industries including engineering, financing and legal. Nor does the report include any indirect, or induced, benefits from widespread solar development.
From an environmental prospective, the EIA report does not take into account the staggering costs from harmful carbon pollution to the health and well-being of Americans. Today, the solar industry is helping to displace an estimated 20 million metric tons of damaging carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of removing 4 million cars off U.S. highways and roads. So, through this omission, the report mistakenly dismisses the real health care costs of “dirty air,” which is associated with asthma, lung disease, heart disease and even cancer.
And finally, the report also fails to include the benefits that solar provides when it comes to national security, emergency preparedness, grid reliability, America’s clean energy future and on and on.
We’re very proud of the progress made by the solar industry in a very short period of time—and we appreciate the faith put in us by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, by both President Obama and President Bush, and by 9 out of 10 Americans who want to see an expanded use of solar nationwide. By any measurement, the solar ITC is paying huge benefits to the U.S. and to American taxpayers, and we believe it should be extended to maintain a level playing field with long-time, entrenched energy sources.
Unfortunately, you would never know any of this by reading the EIA report, or listening to the subsequent scathing attacks on solar and wind by the Koch brothers’ cronies. But before getting all worked up by their nonsense, I’m reminded of something else Mark Twain once said: “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."
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By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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