the environment
December 4, 2020

The Bureau of Land Management said on Thursday that it will hold an auction in early January for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As part of tax legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold two lease sales for drilling rights in the refuge's coastal plain within seven years, with the first one having to take place by December 2021. The auction is set for Jan. 6, just a few weeks before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Biden has said he will take steps to ensure the 19.64-million-acre refuge, the pristine home to migrating caribou and polar bears, is permanently protected.

NPR reports that the Trump administration has accelerated the sale, with the Bureau of Land Management not waiting the required 30 days for oil companies to tell the government the land they want included in the lease sale. The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres, and is believed to hold billions of barrels of oil.

Conservation groups say drilling in the area could cause irreparable damage to the refuge and wildlife, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune telling CBS News auctioning off the leases is "a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate." Six banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi, have told the Sierra Club they will not finance drilling in the refuge. Catherine Garcia

November 4, 2015

Newly released data shows that China has burned up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government has said, meaning the country has released almost a billion more tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than previously estimated.

China is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, The New York Times reports, and the increase is more than the entire German economy emits every year from fossil fuels. The data appeared in an energy statistics yearbook published by China's statistical agency, and shows that the consumption of coal has been underestimated since 2000, and especially during the last few years. The data was adjusted after a census of the economy in 2013 found gaps in data collection, specifically from smaller companies and factories, and the revision is so great that the new figures add close to 600 million tons to China's coal consumption in 2012.

Yang Fuqiang, a former energy official in China, told the Times the new information sheds light on why China has such poor air quality and "that will make it easier to get national leaders to take this seriously." The Chinese government has said it will stop the growth of emissions of carbon dioxide by 2030, and this month, leaders from around the world will meet in Paris to come up with international guidelines for stopping greenhouse gas pollution. Catherine Garcia

October 22, 2015

One of the world's leading experts on permafrost is sounding the alarm: Permafrost in parts of Alaska will likely start to thaw by 2070, releasing methane and accelerating climate change.

Permafrost is soil that is frozen throughout the year and has spent at least two years below the freezing point of water. It is found primarily in the Arctic, as well as in some Antarctic and Alpine regions, and researchers believe the amount of methane found in permafrost is equal to more than double the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. Prof. Vladimir Romanovsky at the University of Alaska and the monitoring organization Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost said that in the northern part of Alaska, permafrost has been warming by about one-tenth of a degree Celsius every year since the mid-2000s. "When we started measurements it was -8C, but now it's coming to almost -2.5 on the Arctic coast," he told BBC News. "It is unbelievable — that's the temperature we should have here in central Alaska around Fairbanks but not there."

Warming permafrost has been connected to roads buckling, sinkholes forming, and trees falling over, and Romanovsky said evidence found in some areas of Alaska, including around Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, points toward permafrost not only warming up, but thawing in roughly 50 years. "Permafrost won't start to thaw there in 20 years, because the latest rate of warming is too high and will bounce back, but if you look at the whole record it seems it will definitely start to thaw by 2070-80, and nobody was talking about that before," he told BBC News. "It was assumed it would be stable for this century but it seems that's not true any more."

Prof. Ted Schuur of Northern Arizona University told BBC News that the record wildfires in Alaska over the summer also helped speed up the thaw, as the permafrost was exposed to warmer air. "Even if we stopped all emissions today, the Arctic has momentum where there is going to be more warming, more permafrost degradation, and some carbon coming out already — we have started the ball rolling in some senses," he said. "It is probably not triggering a runaway climate effect but it adds to our problem. It accelerates the problem of climate change. To me that is worrisome because it makes the problem harder." Catherine Garcia

August 24, 2015

In Las Vegas on Monday, President Obama spoke about clean energy initiatives at the eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit.

"The real revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize that they can take more control over their own energy," Obama said. He announced that his administration will try to expand access to a loan program that lets homeowners get up-front financing for clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades, then pay the loan off over several years as part of their property taxes, The Washington Post reports. The Energy Department will also make $1 billion in federal loan guarantees available for energy projects like rooftop solar panels or batteries.

Later this month, Obama will go to New Orleans to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and then will become the first U.S. president to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where he will discuss climate change. Catherine Garcia

May 4, 2015

A ship carrying almost 200 tons of ammonium nitrate sank off the coast of Puntarenas, Costa Rica, on Saturday, causing the government to set up a 60-mile-long safety zone.

After the incident, people were told not to go swimming or fishing, but eventually a government spokesman said only small amounts of the chemical, used in the manufacturing of fertilizers and explosives, had been found in the water. Costa Rica's Emergency Commission said it was safe to bathe because the ammonium nitrate dissolved and was taken to sea on the tide, the BBC reports, but no one should fish for the next three days. Officials said they would launch an investigation into the sinking and chemical spill. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads