By Jeremy Deaton
There's the Wyoming you see on postcards—the snow-dusted mountains and caramel-colored prairies where movie stars build their second homes. But there's another Wyoming—the one that powers America's homes and businesses. The Cowboy State churns out more coal than all of Appalachia, and it's home to some of the strongest winds on the continent. The Rocky Mountains funnel air across flat, open prairies, producing winds that rival the most powerful ocean gales.
In Carbon County, Wyoming—so named for its abundant reserves of coal—conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz is building the country's largest wind farm. Its 1,000 turbines could generate enough electricity to power every home in Los Angeles and San Francisco—electricity that will be shipped to California by way of a brand new 700-mile transmission line.
This map shows the average wind speed 30 meters above the ground. Wyoming sees exceptionally strong winds at this altitude.NREL
Anschutz, who owns the conservative news outlets The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner, has given millions to Republican politicians. But, despite his political leanings, and the promise of hundreds of construction jobs in Carbon County, his project—and others like it—have faced persistent headwinds in the Republican-dominated state legislature.
Earlier this year, legislators tried to prevent Wyoming utilities from selling wind power. The bill went nowhere, but it points to an undercurrent of hostility toward wind. Wyoming is currently the only state to tax wind power, and legislators have pushed to raise the wind tax from $1 per megawatt hour to $3 or $5. Anschutz's business fought both proposed tax hikes, which died in committee.
Republican legislator Mike Madden, who championed these measures, made his feelings clear. "These wind guys," he said, "they feel that they are just too good to be taxed."
Madden, like his colleagues, is trying to fill a hole in the state budget. Wyoming has no income tax. Oil, gas and coal royalties supply most of the state's revenue. Now, coal is in decline. Consumption is waning, and workers are losing their jobs. This has produced a budget shortfall for which there is no easy fix.
Under the current system, Wyoming effectively imports its tax revenue. Most coal is shipped to power plants out of state, meaning ratepayers in Texas, California and elsewhere pay the tax on coal. If you buy electricity from a power plant anywhere in the U.S. that burns Wyoming coal, you are helping to put Wyoming teachers in Wyoming schools and lay Wyoming asphalt on Wyoming roads.
In recent years, falling demand for coal has starved the state of essential revenue. Legislators need to fill the budget gap, but there is little interest in imposing an income tax. So they are slashing expenditures and looking to other sources of revenue.
Together, Wyoming's powerful winds and budget woes have produced a peculiar cast of characters—in Anschutz, a conservative media magnate pushing for renewable energy, and in Madden, a pugnacious libertarian furiously trying to raise taxes.
Madden says he harbors no ill feelings toward wind. His motives are ideological. Asked if he felt a responsibility to protect coal jobs—which are fleeing the state in droves—he said, "I'm not interested in picking one of our resources and protecting it. That obviously is not my philosophy at all. I want the free market to pick it, not to have government politicians pick it."
The Black Thunder coal mine in Wyoming. Max Phillips
Madden is nothing if not consistent, and his approach to tax policy would strike many as reasonable. But experts warn against raising the wind tax at a time when the state is trying to attract developers and create new jobs.
"Wyoming is perceived by many wind developers to be kind of anti-wind," said University of Wyoming economist Robert Godby. "Suddenly the state is suggesting that we might raise the tax by four or five times? That's not conducive to economic development. Tax uncertainty is almost as bad as having high taxes."
Wind is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for Wyoming. Anschutz's wind farm and transmission line come with an $8 billion price tag. Renewable energy developer Viridis Eolia is building a $3 billion wind project. And Rocky Mountain Power is spending $3 billion in Wyoming on another wind farm and transmission line.
Godby fears the state's perceived hostility toward wind could ward off future projects: "Imagine you're in the board room of a major wind developer, and you're suggesting a billion-dollar investment, and you say I'm going to put it in New Mexico or Nevada or Wyoming. The board might say, 'Well, we're not putting it in Wyoming.'"
Notably, Wyoming's attitudes toward wind are about more than just money. Many in the Cowboy State see turbines as a blight on the landscape. Wyoming is defined by its jagged mountains and open prairies. Wind farms threaten to mar its most treasured vistas.
"You can be camping on the plains, maybe a sleeping bag rolled out on the ground, not even a tent over your head, and you can feel like you are on the same plains that Native Americans have experienced for millennia," said Godby. "But then you turn around and look behind you, and the entire horizon might be red blinking lights from the wind turbines, and those really kind of infuriate people."
A Wyoming wind farm. Penny Higgins
A wind developer, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled a trip to the state capital: "One legislator in particular said, 'We don't want more wind. We want you to burn more coal.' They say, 'I hate wind. I hate seeing those turbines. They're killing our landscape, and I just don't like it.'"
Of course, attitudes may change. Wind turbines, now regarded as an eyesore, may come to represent industry, security and prosperity. To that end, Godby said legislators should leverage tax policy to attract more wind jobs.
"We could say, 'Hey, If you build a wind facility, and the manufacturing of some of those components occurs in Wyoming, we will give you a tax break,'" he explained. This would draw new wind projects and manufacturing outfits, delivering a wealth of jobs and tax revenue. Wind energy, said Godby, "is the biggest opportunity presenting itself to the state."
Wyoming finds itself in an unusual place. Nationwide, the shift to clean energy will likely create millions of jobs, but there will be winners and losers. Wind-rich Iowa will cash in on demand for cheap, low-carbon power, while coal-dependent West Virginia stands to lose more jobs than it gains. Wyoming straddles both sides of the energy divide.
Coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin is among the cheapest and purest around. Decades from now, when the final shipment of American coal heads to the last remaining coal-fired power plant, it will depart from a Wyoming mine. Along the way, that train will pass some of the most productive wind farms in the country.
How fast will the future come? It's hard to say. Reflecting on the fate of wind in Wyoming, Rep. Madden conceded, "It's a resource in a like manner to coal and natural gas and so on." He then paused for a moment before returning to his favorite talking point: "I just think that it's fair not to pick a favorite."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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By Emma Charlton
The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.
Value of air conditioning imports in selected OECD countries. ScienceDirect
The ‘Golden Thread’<p>The <a href="https://www.endenergypoverty.org/reports" target="_blank">Global Commission to End Energy Poverty</a> calls access to energy the "golden thread" that weaves together economic growth, human development, and environmental sustainability. And one of the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/archive/sdg-07-affordable-and-clean-energy" target="_blank">United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals</a> is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.</p><p>Sustainability also has a large role to play in the future of energy and failing to embed green policies in COVID-19 stimulus packages and underinvesting in green infrastructure are current risks, according to the <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_COVID_19_Risks_Outlook_Special_Edition_Pages.pdf" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</p><p>In its vision for a 'Great Reset' – building a better world after the pandemic – the Forum and the IMF jointly backed the <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/end-fossil-fuel-subsidies-economy-imf-georgieva-great-reset-climate/" target="_blank">transition to a green economy</a> and called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.</p>
As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.
Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images
The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.
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Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.
Care Home Inundated<p>Altogether 16 residents at an elderly care home in Kuma Village are presumed dead after the facility was flooded by water and mud.</p><p>Fifty-one other residents have been rescued by boats and taken to hospitals for treatment, officials said.</p><p>Eighteen other people elsewhere have been confirmed dead, while more than a dozen others were still missing as of Sunday afternoon.</p><p>The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said many others were still waiting to be rescued from other inundated areas.</p><p>Hitoyoshi City was also badly affected by flooding, as rains in the prefecture exceeded 100 millimeters (4 inches) per hour at their height.</p>
More Rain Forecast<p>The disaster in the Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island is the worst natural catastrophe since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year, which cost the lives of 90 people.</p><p>Although residents in Kumamoto prefecture were advised to evacuate their homes following the downpours on Friday evening into Saturday, many people chose not to leave for fear of contracting the coronavirus.</p><p>Officials say, however, that measures are in place at shelters to prevent the transmission of the disease.</p><p>More rain is predicted in the region, and the Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of the danger of further mudslides.</p>
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