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 on: Jun 30, 2015, 07:15 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Christian Science Monitor

Young crater on Mars hints at Earth-like climate

For the first time, scientists calculate water volumes in a young crater on Mars, revealing Earth-like conditions in the recent past.

By Shontee Pant, Staff writer June 23, 2015   

An image by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows Gullies at the Edge of Hale Crater on Mars recorded during the month of April through early August 2009. (Reuters/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/Handout)   

Mars is a planet of paradoxes, red in color but icy cold. Did its climate ever resemble that of our warm, blue planet? Maybe so, suggests a new study of Istok crater – and not billions of years ago, but in the recent geologic past.

A study led by Tjalling de Haas of Utrecht University has found that the gullies in Istok crater are similar to those on Earth, and could have formed during recent periods of high orbital obliquity.

Istok crater, located in the Aonia Terra region of Mars, has remarkably well-preserved debris-flow tracks, or gullies. These are the first tracks imaged clearly enough to allow scientists to calculate the amount and frequency of water that flowed through them. As he told the Monitor, this is "really something new!"

Debris flows, such as mudslides and avalanches, differ from pure-water flows in that they contain about only 20-60 percent water, located in the tiny gaps between the rocks and dirt.

Once the scientists had calculated the amount of water necessary to create the gullies they observed, they could estimate the amount of snowfall necessary to generate that much water.

Previous research concluded that these tracks could have been carved with just millimeters of water, but Dr. de Haas disagrees. His team calculated that inches or even feet of snow had to pile up at the heads of these valleys in order to explain the debris flow patterns visible in the images taken from orbit.

The Martian climate is currently quite dissimilar from Earth's climate, with very cold temperatures and an almost nonexistent atmosphere. Most of the known water on the planet is frozen at the poles or hidden in deep underground springs. But finding debris flow tracks in a crater that is less than a million years old – their best estimate dates the crater impact to about 190,000 years ago – demonstrates that temperatures were warm enough in the recent past to allow ice to melt, at least in that region.

How could that happen? De Haas theorizes that these Earth-like debris flows occurred at times of high orbital obliquity, because when Mars's axis is tilted more dramatically, it can have much hotter summers (and colder winters) than the present.

While Earth’s axis has remained relatively constant over its history, only shifting between 22.1 to 24.5 degrees (thanks to stabilization from our large moon), Mars has bobbled like a top over tens of millions of years, moving between an almost vertical axis down to an axial tilt of more than 60 degrees. Its axis is currently tilted 25 degrees, but during high obliquity intervals, Mars is lying down almost sideways with respect to its orbit, like Uranus does.

It's still uncertain exactly how much these dramatic changes in axial tilt affect Martian climate, but for comparison, a one degree change in Earth's axis may have ended the ice age, melting glaciers from New York City to Greenland. It's not unreasonable to conclude that massive axial swings on Mars could lead to greater climate variation, creating conditions where snow and ice can first accumulate and then melt, causing debris flows.   

This study, published in the current issue of Nature Communications, contributes to the emerging understanding of the dynamic climatic history of the red planet; if these results are replicated in other areas around the planet, it may turn out that Mars was once much more habitable than it currently is.

However, de Haas cautions that his team identified only “a local occurrence, and only during very short periods at high orbital obliquity.” More research is necessary, he adds, to determine whether these conditions were present elsewhere or whether they only speak to an isolated, transient incidence of climate conditions like those on Earth.


The Christian Science Monitor

Mars was not only habitable, it was downright Earth-like, Curiosity finds

Mars' Gale Crater had a long, thin lake that could have supported microbial life in a setting 'really similar to an Earth environment,' according to data collected by NASA's Curiosity rover.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer December 9, 2013   

This file image shows a self-portrait of the Mars rover, Curiosity. Curiosity has uncovered signs of an ancient freshwater lake on Mars that may have teemed with microbes for tens of millions of years, far longer than scientists had imagined, new research suggests. (JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NASA/Reuters/FIle)   

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has uncovered mineral and chemical leftovers in the rocks of Gale Crater that paint a remarkable picture of a modest lake whose mucky bed could have supported microbial life as early as 3.6 billion years ago.

In the process, the rover has laid bare the challenges and opportunities the rover's science team faces as it moves into the second phase of the mission: hunting for organic compounds that would enhance the crater's cosmic credibility as a once-habitable spot beyond Earth.

The lessons learned exploring a formation known as Yellowknife Bay suggest that well-preserved organics – easily destroyed by prolonged long exposure to radiation – may exist within reach of Curiosity's drill if the rover's handlers can find the right spot.

That is encouraging news for a mission that, seven months after it landed, answered "yes" to the question of whether its landing site could once have been habitable. The results released on Monday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco add richness to the story.

The lakes, streams, and groundwater systems the team says were once in Gale Crater “are really similar to an Earth environment,” said John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the project scientist for the mission, at the briefing.

The lake, nestled against the base of Mt. Sharp, the crater's central peak, would have been similar in size to those in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York – perhaps 30 miles long by 3 miles wide. The climate likely would have been cold and arid, with water supplied by snow in the mountains that form Gale crater's rim.

The rocks the team explored span “millions to even tens of millions of years of time, which is quite a long window of habitability,” Dr. Grotzinger said. He and four colleagues summarized the results in six research papers appearing Friday in the journal Science.

Last March, after drilling into a rock named John Klein, the team announced that the site had been habitable. The site yielded evidence of flowing water. Chemical analysis of the rock sample revealed several of the basic chemical elements important for organic life.

Indeed, the team's interpretation of the data led the scientists to conclude that they had a system of environments that involved not just a lake, but the rivers that fed it and the groundwater deposits that would have developed there.

But there was still some uncertainty about whether the minerals analyzed formed locally, and so pointed to past habitats in the crater, or formed elsewhere and were transported and deposited, suggesting that perhaps the crater might not have had a complete package of traits for habitability.

Team members cleared that up in the new reports, which include analysis of a sample from a mudstone rock dubbed Cumberland. Unlike samples of Martian soil analyzed elsewhere, the clay Cumberland contained was heavy on magnetite and light on olivine, suggesting the clay formed from a local mineral mix, says Douglas Ming, a soil chemist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the lead author of one of the six papers in Science.

Moreover, Cumberland's particular blend forms “in pretty benign conditions,” he says – fairly cold temperatures in waters that weren't too acidic or too basic.

Those are conditions “that are pretty unique, that microbes might have survived in,” he says.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 07:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Dramas great and small

Claxton, Norfolk These deer of such sweet mien momentarily suggested nothing less than something sabre-toothed and predatory

Mark Cocker
Tuesday 30 June 2015 05.29 BST

Through the hedge on the path to the marsh I could hear their commotion. Sharp-tipped hooves stabbing the ground and then a telltale blur of orange flanks that revealed them as Chinese water deer. Males squared up in combat.

As my binoculars dialled into crisp detail, they answered a long-standing mystery. For years I’ve found handfuls of loose deer hair strewn on the ground, but was always puzzled why it was shed in that fashion. Here was the answer.

The males possess long canines in the upper jaw that slot either side of the closed mouth like fangs. Each buck, facing his opponent, feinted and jinked for the opening to land its charge, until one would finally dash at the other.

The rushes were ferocious. The assailant often performed full somersaults over its rival, rolling back upon back, legs flailing down in an instant search for new purchase. And once it landed, the deer would curve around the head of its enemy, gouging its teeth into the other’s flank. Fur flew.

One finally yielded, but not before they had rested in unison, slack mouths wide open, hard-breathed, red-gummed, and those fangs of these deer of such sweet mien momentarily suggested nothing less than something sabre-toothed and predatory.

It had all unfolded to the iambic heart-pounded rhythm of sex, but the next day at Blackwater I encountered a drama whose denouement was but 2cm across, yet it contained a poetry that was darker, harder and more fertile.

We were looking for spiders when one of us came upon a dead dung fly with its legs hugged entirely round a blade of grass. Bizarrely, the abdomen curved back and up, but the head was forward and down as if a fly were bowing in abject submission.

Its whole body glistened with something like sugar frosting, the spores of mould called Entomophthora. Over seven days, it consumes the fly within, and then by some biochemical trick, fashioned through the millennia, it persuades the fly brain to die in an attitude best suited to the dispersal of its spores.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

The Christian Science Monitor

Star of Bethlehem? Jupiter and Venus converge in night sky

On June 30, Jupiter and Venus will converge and create a dramatic 'star' in the Western sky after sunset.
By Beatrice Gitau June 27, 2015   

Jupiter and Venus are set to converge in an epic sky event. (NASA)   

Jupiter and Venus will merge into a dazzling "super-star" in the Western horizon by the end of June, NASA says.

The conjunction of the two planets has been building during the month of June and will culminate in a spectacular display on June 30. “Every night in June, the separation between Venus and Jupiter will visibly shrink,” says NASA.

A conjunction is when two or more objects appear very close together on the sky.

On the evening of June 30, Venus and Jupiter will appear in the sky just a third of a degree apart. “That's less than the diameter of a full Moon. You'll be able to hide the pair not just behind the palm of your outstretched hand, but behind your little pinky finger,” NASA enthuses.

Sky & Telescope suggests that a similar rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter may have been what's been called the "Star of Bethlehem" in 3-2 BC.

While the conjunction is certainly visible with the naked eye, Sky and Telescope says viewing it with a telescope or binoculars will offer a different perspective: “Both planets will crowd into same telescopic field of view, Venus appearing as a fat crescent and round Jupiter accompanied by its four large moons. The two planets will appear nearly as the same size, but Jupiter, though much larger in reality, is much farther away.... Their globes will contrast dramatically in brightness, with Venus’s crescent appearing dazzling white compared to Jupiter’s duller, striped cloud deck.”

Pat Hartigan, an astronomer at Rice University, says the conjunction on June 30 is the best one we will have for over a decade, rivaled only by one on March 1, 2023, which will not be not quite as close.

So where and when should we look for it? Look to the west-northwest as soon as it gets dark, says Dr. Hartigan. "After about two hours for most latitudes the objects will become difficult to observe as they begin to set. They are bright. You might mistake them for airplanes."

Is this a significant astronomical event? Not really. "These planetary groupings in the sky have no effect on Earth or human affairs – except for one," says Alan MacRobert at Sky & Telescope. "They can lift our attention away from our own little world into the enormous things beyond. That's what amateur astronomers do all the time."

[Editor's note: The original story incorrectly indicated when the last, close convergence of Jupiter and Venus occurred.]

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 06:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Mars pyramid: Alien structure or everyday pareidolia?

NASA says it has spotted a pyramid on Mars. Did an advanced civilization once exist on Mars, or is the brain seeing patterns where there are none?

By Beatrice Gitau, Staff writer June 25, 2015   
Christian Science Monitor

Are there pyramids on Mars? Or is it just one pyramid-shaped rock?

On May 7, NASA's Mars Curiosity rover took a snapshot of an atypical stone on the Red Planet.

A raw image from the mission shows a rock that appears to be pyramid-shaped, leading some to speculate that it may be the result of intelligent sculptors. NASA, for its part, says it's just an ordinary rock.

Jim Bell, a member of NASA's Mars Rover Explanation Team told Indianapolis's WISH TV that the object was unlikely to be man- or alien-made, adding that rock formations which look like recognizable objects are very common.

But that hasn't stopped people from speculating about its origin or design. "I would theorize that the [artifact] is either the capstone of a much larger pyramid, possibly buried deep beneath the surface, or perhaps a marker stone," says a robotic narrator in a YouTube video uploaded by a user called Paranormal Crucible.

Writing for the website, Dr. Michael Salla speculates that NASA deliberately took pains to prevent showing other views of the object to the public in subsequent photos.

Or is it just a rock, as NASA says?

Perhaps interpretations of the object as a man-made structure are driven by our own expectations. A well-known psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia can cause people to interpret random images as significant or meaningful.

A series of reports published by Japanese palaeontologist Chonosuke Okamura in the 1970s and '80s demonstrate the dangers of interpretations resulting from pareidolia. Mr. Okamura described finding ancient fossils of dogs, fish, birds and men, all at tiny sizes, leading him to conclude that modern body shapes existed in ancient times, but at 1/350th scale. Okamura was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize for his research.

American astronomer and author Carl Sagan argues that pareidolia evolved as a survival tool that allowed humans to recognize faces from a distance or in the dark. The instinct was vital to identifying friend or foe, but Dr. Sagan noted that it could cause people to misinterpret patterns.

And don't underestimate the power of expectations, says Sophie Scott, professor of neuroscience at the University College London. "Being able to see Jesus's face in toast is telling you more about what's happening with your expectations, and how you're interpreting the world based on your expectations, rather than anything that's necessarily in the toast," Dr. Scott told the BBC.

In other words, seeing a pyramid on Mars, instead of just a funny-shaped rock, could tell us more about our expectations of life in Mars than anything about actual Martian history.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 06:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
First smaller-than-Earth exoplanet discovered

June 29, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

A planet located approximately 200 light-years from our solar system has been identified as the first alien world to be smaller than Earth in terms of both measured mass and size, according to a study published in a recent edition of the journal Nature.

The discovery was made by researchers from the Pennsylvania State University Department of Astronomy, the NASA Ames Research Center, the SETI Institute, and the University of Chicago Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. They measured the size and mass of the Mars-sized planet Kepler-138b, an extrasolar planet in orbit around a red dwarf star.

According to, since Kepler 138b is about the same size as Mars, and Mars is just 53 percent as big as Earth, the new planet must be smaller than our home world. Furthermore, they found it to have a mass of about 6.7 percent that of Earth and two-thirds that of Mars, and is also the smallest exoplanet ever to have its density measured.

More about Kepler-138b and its sister planets

The new study, led by Penn State University astronomer Daniel Jontof-Hutter, looked at a total of three planets in orbit around a cold red dwarf, Kepler-138. It’s a cold, dim star located in the constellation Lyra, and is located roughly 10 million times further away from Earth than our sun, Jontof-Hutter said.

Two of the planets orbiting Kepler-138, Kepler-138c and Kepler-138d, are about 1.2 times the width of Earth, while Kepler-138b is slightly more than half the width of Earth. All three exoplanets orbit their star closely. Kepler-138b takes a little more than 10 days to complete one orbit, while Kepler-138c needs nearly 14 days and Kepler-138d requires approximately 23 days.

Using the NASA Kepler spacecraft, they were able to examine the relationship between gravity and the length of their orbits, and since they knew the strength of a planet’s gravitational pull is directly related to its mass, they were able to determine each planet’s size, the website explained. In addition, after Kepler-138b’s mass and width, they were able to determine its density, which is approximately two-thirds that of Mars and indicates that it is a rocky planet.

Because of its proximity to its host star, Kepler-138b is believed to be too hot to retain liquid water, as are its sister planets. In fact, Jontof-Hutter said the outermost of the three worlds could experience surface temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius), while the innermost planet likely sees temperatures of up to 610 degrees F (320 degrees C).

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 06:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Should we colonize Venus instead of Mars?

June 29, 2015
Emily Bills for – @emilygbills

A recent YouTube video put out by PBS has caused a stir in the space community, as it points out all of the benefits of colonizing Venus over Mars. We’ve all been fixated on going to Mars, but have we set our sights on the wrong planet?

So what’s the big deal with Venus?

Venus is actually an easier and less costly target. It’s way closer to Earth, and we sent probes there long before we sent anything to Mars. Because of the distance, the roundtrip could be up to 50% shorter than a trip to Mars. (And a shorter trip is a big advantage. Think less supplies and fuel.)

The planet itself also has some significant advantages. Because it’s closer to the sun, you could get about 4 times more solar power than that on Mars, and with it’s extremely thick atmosphere, we’d be better protected from space radiation and debris. According to the video, the real kicker is the planet’s gravity: Venus has .9 Earth g’s, while Mars pales in comparison, coming in with less than .4 g’s. Prolonged exposure to low gravity could cause a super-speedy loss of bone mass, something that’s not great.

The video explains that the problem with Venus is that we can’t actually land on it. There’s so much CO2 on Venus that the surface is hotter than the Evangelical portrayal of hell. Along with the heat, the surface pressure is an even bigger problem at more than 90 Earth atmospheres and would crush us immediately.

So NASA proposed an alternative: cloud cities. The upper atmosphere of Venus is pretty close to an Earthlike environment (sans the sulfuric acid floating around), and NASA digs this. They mapped out a conceptual blueprint for this and call it the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (or HAVOC).

The video spits out many reasons why Venus would be a better choice, and by the end, has everyone questioning why the heck anyone hasn’t thought of this before. We thought this was too good to be true, so we reached out to Dr. David Weintraub, a professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University, and asked him what he thought about all this Venus business.

RedOrbit: Do you think Venus would be a better choice than Mars for colonization?

Dr. David Weintraub: No. I think this HAVOC idea is imaginative for exploration, but a little crazy for the idea of colonization. The folks at NASA are very imaginative. The idea of cloud colonies on Venus seems pretty far-fetched. (Star Wars, anyone?) Even if we can imagine these cloud vehicles in Venus’ atmosphere, there’s no water there. There’s sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide and interesting, nasty stuff there, but there is no water of any sort on Venus. Venus is bone dry, and it’s lost all of its water. We would either have to take water there or somehow manufacture water, so unless they figure out how to take the hydrogen out of the sulfuric acid and the oxygen out of the carbon dioxide to make water, it’s farfetched.

Whereas, one of the appealing things about Mars is that it has water. Yes it’s gravity is weaker and it’s further away; it’s colder; it’s atmosphere is thinner: All of that stuff is true. But Mars has water. We don’t know how much water it has, but Mars has some water, and we obviously can’t survive without water. That gives Mars such an enormous advantage, that it’s hard to even get beyond that for me.

RO: Couldn’t we take water there?

DW: We could take a little bit of water for something like seven astronauts living in an experimental chamber, so I could easily see in some imaginative future NASA scenario in which we launch some floating balloon with a half-dozen astronauts to float in the atmosphere of Venus for a year and do all sorts of experiments, and that could be REALLY neat. We could learn a lot, but that’s not colonizing Venus.

Now water’s simple: It’s hydrogen and oxygen, so someone needs to develop some widget that can take carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid and mix it together with ultraviolet light and presto! Out comes water. If somebody can make that widget, well, we’re in great shape.

But Mars has water, and that’s the magic of Mars.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 05:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Rich countries' $100bn promise to fight climate change 'not delivered'

Brazil, China, India and South Africa say they are disappointed in failure to make good on promise six years ago to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020

Suzanne Goldenberg
Monday 29 June 2015 13.51 BST

Rich countries are very, very far from raising the billions they promised to help poor countries fight climate change, jeopardising the prospects of reaching a global warming deal at Paris, the world’s rising economies warned.

As a key United Nations meeting got underway, Brazil, China, India and South Africa said they were disappointed in rich countries’ failure to make good on a promise six years ago to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 for climate finance.

The funds, intended to help developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for sea-level rises, extreme weather and other consequences of climate change, are seen as a crucial element to reaching a global warming agreement at the end of the year.

Monday’s high-level meeting of the UN general assembly – including an appearance from Robert Redford – was intended to help build momentum for a Paris deal that would keep warming to 2C, the internationally agreed limit to avoid dangerous climate change.

But some of the key players among the 193 countries taking part in the negotiations – and two of the world’s biggest carbon polluters in India and China – say they are frustrated with rich countries’ failure to come up with a clear plan for raising the cash to fight climate change.

By some estimates, there is less than $20bn a year in public finance making its way to developing countries for climate action – or less than a fifth of the $100bn target.

“We will say that that is very, very far from what has to be mobilised by the year 2020,” Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister, said. “It is important therefore that this scaling up happens … there is still a lot of money that is required.”

Rich countries have been promising since 2009 to help rising economies develop technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and protect their people from consequences of climate change.

But a joint statement from the four countries expressed “disappointment over the continued lack of any clear road map to provide $100bn per year by 2020, as well as on substantially scaling up financial support after 2020”.

Climate finance has been a major sticking point in negotiations for a global warming deal at Paris. The last round of negotiations, in Bonn earlier this month, ground along without really managing to zero in on the key components of a deal.

There is widespread recognition that rich countries will need to help developing countries, which did the least to cause climate change, but will suffer the most severe consequences.

“If rich countries can show they are making good on their $100bn promise, there will be a much stronger foundation of trust for the Paris talks,” said Tim Gore, Oxfam’s international climate adviser. “We need to see real funding increases.”

Religious organizations, governmental and civil society in Mexico launched a campaign to collect funds and food to combat chronic hunger that afflicts the indigenous Rar muris, and that was compounded by the historic drought in 2011 affected the region in which they live.

But it’s unclear how much rich countries will pay, and to whom. Developing countries are also pushing rich countries to make more funds available for future protections against climate change – not just cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

But by Oxfam’s estimates, just $2.5bn to $4.5bn of current climate finance is going towards climate protection measures.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are already spending about $5bn from their own budgets to prepare for climate change – much more than they were receiving in climate finance from rich countries, according to Oxfam.

The four countries said they were working hard to try to put a climate deal in place, but that finance was a crucial element to reaching an agreement.

“There is still a clear expectation and so I hope the developing countries can fulfill their commitment before the Paris meeting,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate change envoy, said.

“We need to avoid what happened in Copenhagen”, which failed to reach a comprehensive climate deal, Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s environment minister said.

But the four countries made it clear developing countries could not be expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions without help. “Without the flow of technical support … it will be impossible to move onto any such trajectory in the near future,” said Ravi Prasad, India’s climate change negotiator.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 05:56 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
US supreme court strikes down Obama's EPA limits on mercury pollution

Justices invalidate new rules in move that could make Environmental Protection Agency more vulnerable to challenges to new regulations on carbon emissions

Suzanne Goldenberg and Raya Jalabi in New York
Monday 29 June 2015 19.09 BST

The US supreme court struck down new rules for America’s biggest air polluters on Monday, dealing a blow to the Obama administration’s efforts to set limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic and other toxins coal-fired power plants can spew into the air, lakes and rivers.

The 5-4 decision was a major setback to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and could leave the agency more vulnerable to legal challenges to its other new carbon pollution rules, from industries and Republican-led states.

The justices embraced the arguments from the industry and 21 Republican-led states that the EPA rules were prohibitively expensive and amounted to government overreach.

But the EPA pointed out that most plants had already either complied or made plans to comply with the ruling.

“EPA is disappointed that the court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” the agency said in a statement obtained by Reuters.

According to data compiled by SNL Energy, many generators in the US complied with the mercury and toxics compliance, despite the possibility that the court would strike down the rule.

The data showed that 200 plants, or roughly 20% of the US generating capacity, were given up to an extra year to comply with the standards, mostly in order to finish installing mercury controls.

Plants moved ahead with compliance plans due to the long lead time for environmental control projects, SNL said. The compliance deadline fell in April of this year.

The EPA “remains committed to ensuring that appropriate standards are in place to protect the public from the significant amount of toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities and continue reducing the toxic pollution from these facilities,” the agency added.

Monday’s decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that the EPA did not reasonably consider the cost factor when drafting the toxic air-pollution regulations.

The Clean Air Act had directed the EPA to create rules to regulate power plants for mercury and other toxic pollutants that were “appropriate and necessary”.

The agency had previously said it did not need to consider costs during that stage of the regulatory process. The agency estimated that the cost of its regulation to power plants would be $9.6bn a year, but it said that its analysis “played no role” in whether regulations were deemed “necessary and appropriate”.

The EPA also estimated that the rule would produce up to $37bn-$90bn in benefits and would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma cases each year.

The EPA rule took effect for some plants in April and was due to go into full effect by next year. In the meantime, the rule remains in effect, lawyers working on the case told Reuters. The ruling only concerns the cost consideration, so the EPA may try to write the rule again with cost in mind.

Scalia was joined in overturning the rule by the more conservative members of the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy . The dissent, written by Elena Kagan, was supported by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

In his majority opinion, Scalia called the EPA’s counterarguments “unpersuasive”.

In her dissent, Kagan said that the majority decision was “micromanaging” EPA’s rule-making, “based on little more than the word “appropriate”.

Kagan also said that the court’s invalidation of the EPA’s rule because the agency had not considered cost at the initial stage of the regulatory process was a “blinkered” assessment, considering the “subsequent times and ways EPA considered costs in deciding what any regulation would look like like”.

The landmark decision is the latest chapter in a two-decade-long effort to force stricter emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.

The regulation, adopted in 2012, would have affected about 600 coal-fired power plants across the country – many of which are concentrated in the midwest and the south.

It was already going into effect across the country. But Republican governors and power companies challenged the EPA’s authority, saying the agency had mishandled estimates of the cost of the new rules.

Monday’s decision was also a blow to years of local efforts to clean up dangerous air pollution.

The supreme court has now sent the case back to the Washington DC circuit court of appeals, which will ask the EPA to reconsider its rule-making. Activists are now urging the EPA to act definitively and quickly to issue revised regulation.

“The supreme court’s decision does not change the importance of EPA’s role in protecting our families and communities from toxic air pollution,” said Lisa Garcia of non-profit litigation group Earthjustice in a statement. “The court gave EPA the ability to finalize these critical public health protections once and for all. Now, EPA must act quickly. Thousands of lives are at stake.”

Political reaction was divided along party lines, in a week that has seen supreme court victories for liberals - on gay marriage - and conservatives - on the death penalty.

“Today’s supreme court decision represents a cutting rebuke to the administration’s callous attitude,” said Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. “The ruling serves as a critical reminder to every governor contemplating the administration’s demands to impose more regressive – and likely illegal – regulations that promise even more middle-class pain.”

Republican presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry said Monday’s ruling “ends the false narrative that environmental protection can only be achieved through one-size-fits-all federal mandates and at the expense of economic growth.”

By contrast, Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, a ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee, said that there was nothing more “necessary and appropriate” than “curbing poisonous pollutants that the EPA estimates are responsible for thousands of early deaths, and tens of thousands more illnesses each year” and condemned the court for “letting corporate profits trump the public’s health”.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley called the failure to limit poisonous toxins produced by power plants “a moral failure”. He said the court’s decision should reinforce “the need to transition to clean energy.”

The EPA and campaigners have argued that the public health costs posed by the toxic air pollutants outweighed those to utility companies forced to fit new control equipment.

Anna Aurilio, the Washington director of Environment America, said in a statement that the court’s decision “to let polluters off the hook is a huge setback for our kids’ health”.

Earthjustice said that the rules now invalidated by the court’s decision would have saved “between 4,000 and 11,000 lives each year by substantially reducing pollution from the dirtiest plants”.

In a statement, the group highlighted the fact that the court did not reject the key conclusions from the EPA, namely that power plants are “far and away the worst industrial polluters,” and controlling toxic emissions is “both technologically and economically feasible”.

Joseph O Minnott, chief counsel of the Clean Air Council, said his organization was “disappointed” by the court’s decision not to uphold the EPA rules, “which would bring many of the country’s oldest and dirtiest power plants in line with modern standards, and allow citizens to breath cleaner safer air”.

He added: “It is clear that the benefits to public health and the environment this rule would provide dwarf the costs of implementing it, no matter when in the determination those costs are considered.”

Michigan v EPA was the third recent test for the Obama administration’s environmental policies at the supreme court. In April 2014, the court endorsed the EPA’s efforts to deal with air pollution blowing across state lines in an important victory for Obama. In June 2014, the court largely upheld Obama’s plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 05:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
UN climate talks moving at snail's pace, says Ban Ki-moon

Pace of negotiations for a climate deal in Paris later this year is too slow, says UN secretary general, as China says it will shortly submit its carbon pledge

Suzanne Goldenberg
Monday 29 June 2015 18.19 BST

Negotiations for a deal to fight climate change were moving at a “snail’s pace”, the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-Moon, told a high-level meeting on Monday.

A promise from China – the world’s biggest carbon polluter – for ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions “very soon” could inject some much-needed optimism into the talks.

But the UN and other leaders warned that time was running out to reach a strong climate change deal in Paris at the end of the year.

The gloomy assessment from Ban contrasts with sense of building momentum following the G7 commitment to phase out fossil fuels, the Pope’s call for radical climate action, and a flurry of recent climate announcements from Barack Obama.

Five months before the critical gathering, Ban said talks were bogged down, and that negotiators faced many challenges and controversies. “The negotiation pace is too slow, far too slow,” Ban told reporters. “It is moving at a snail’s pace.”

Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks

He noted there were only 10 formal days of negotiation left before Paris.

The countries of the European Union and 10 other countries have already made public their pledges for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

The EU has committed to a 40% drop in bloc emissions by 2030 and, speaking after a bilateral summit in Brussels, the bloc’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker called on China to match its resolve.

“I would strongly welcome China taking on its shoulders, commitments that have the same ambition, if not in numbers then at least in targets,” he told a Brussels press conference.

Beijing though is increasingly measuring its climate pledges against those made by the US - and not Europe, according to analysts at the ChinaDialogue think tank. Trade spats, incoherent policy priorities, and mutual suspicions over climate agendas have all strained ties.

Responding to Juncker, the Chinese premier Li Keqiang said that China and the EU could jointly combat climate change, within existing frameworks that oblige deeper emissions cuts by more developed countries first.

“We are willing to work together with the EU to jointly tackle the challenges caused by climate change, observe common but differentiated responsibilities, equity and our respective capabilities to implement climate change solutions,” he said.

An agreement signed by both sides called for an ambitious and legally-binding agreement to be sealed in Paris, and for links between their respective carbon markets to be expanded.

After the last round of talks, in Bonn earlier this month, the 193 countries at the table were left far apart on the contours of the deal.

Meanwhile, there was growing frustration with rich countries for failing to deliver on a promise to mobilise $100bn a year from 2020 to help poor and developing countries deal with climate change.

In a much-needed positive note, China, which is responsible for 24% of global carbon emissions, said it would make an official commitment to make ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions “very soon”.

“We are making great efforts to bring about a revolution in energy production and consumption,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s climate change envoy, told the meeting.

He said China would step up those efforts in its post-2020 climate change plan, and would set lay out a detailed plan for cutting carbon pollution and protecting its people from sea-level rise, extreme weather and other consequences of climate change.

“These targets are quite ambitious and will require arduous effort for implementation,” Xie said. “We have a determination and a confidence to reach these goals so they replace fossil fuel energy.”

The countries of the European Union and 10 other countries have already made public their pledges for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

China and the US – the world’s two biggest carbon polluters – took an historic first step to reining in emissions in the coming decades last November.

The US unveiled a plan to cut its emissions by 26% to 28% on 2005 levels by 2025, and China for the first time agreed to peak its emissions and get 20% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

China said in the past it would deliver its pledge by the end of June, and there was growing anticipation that it may raise its ambitions.

India, the third biggest carbon polluter, has said it will deliver its pledge by the end of September.

But there was growing acknowledgement on Monday of the challenges to reaching a deal to avoid dangerous climate change. Ban told the meeting that the commitments made ahead of the Paris meeting would fail to limit warming to 2C, the internationally-agreed limit.

One of the big sticking points is cash – with rich countries so far failing to live up to promise to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 for climate finance.

Rich countries' $100bn promise to fight climate change 'not delivered'

The funds were first promised at the Copenhagen climate conference six years ago to help poor countries cut carbon pollution and protect their peoples from climate change.

Ban called on presidents and prime ministers to provide clear guidance, saying “creditable climate finance is essential”. He went on: “It is imperative that developed countries provide greater clarity on the public finance component of the $100bn before Paris.”

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank climate envoy, said there was a disconnect between UN and negotiators’ view of climate funding, and those of finance ministers and financial institutions.

“You can definitely feel that there is something moving,” Kyte said. But she added: “There is a disconnection between financial world and negotiation world, and just as urgently as we have to mobilise finance so we urgently need to fix that disconnect.

She added. “Maybe it’s not a complete disconnect but it’s a weak connection.”

For the small islands of the Pacific, it may already be too late. Anote Tong, the president of the tiny island of Kiribati, told the meeting king tides were already forcing villages to relocate.

“We may be in the world’s last hour in which our planet can be saved,” Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, told the meeting.

 on: Jun 30, 2015, 05:51 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Government must explain removal of support for onshore wind, advisers say

Lords Deben and Krebs say end of subsidies is political step by government, which must explain cost and what will be done instead to meet targets

Fiona Harvey
Tuesday 30 June 2015 06.00 BST

The government must explain how its withdrawal of support from onshore windfarms will affect the cost of meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets, and urgently set out plans for alternative electricity generation, its statutory advisors on climate change have said.

One of the first policy announcements from the incoming Conservative government was that support for onshore windfarms would be withdrawn from 2016, and planning procedures put in place that will make it much harder for any new windfarms to be brought forward.

This is likely to severely restrict the development of any new onshore wind farms in England, despite the fact that they are the cheapest form of renewable electricity generation. This in turn will push up the cost of reducing emissions, and meeting renewable energy targets set for 2020.

UK and France 'may miss EU renewable energy target'

Lord Deben, the chairman of the committee on climate change, said that the job of the committee stopped short of advocating particular measures, but that it could advise ministers on the likely overall effect of their climate policies. He said: “This [end of subsidies to onshore wind] is a political step by the government, and it is perfectly reasonable for them to do – as long as they are prepared to allow people to know what the cost is going to be, and what they are going to do instead [to meet climate targets].”

Under the Climate Change Act, ministers must respond to the committeeby mid-October. This means the government will be forced for the first time to put a price on its controversial quasi-ban on new onshore wind farms, and set out how the resulting shortfall in renewable energy generation will be made up.

The committee on climate change, set up under the Climate Change Act to advise ministers on how to meet long-term greenhouse gas targets, produced its first mandatory report on Tuesday, setting out its assessment of previous policy and its projections of whether the UK would meet its future carbon targets.

The report found that although there had been progress in meeting targets up to now, there is doubt over policies beyond 2020. Unless there is clarity on longer term policies, investment in vital infrastructure – such as renewable energy, greater efficiency and lower-carbon transport – is likely to be deterred.

Deben added that so-called subsidies to renewable energy were not true subsidies. “Fossil fuels are subsidised, as fossil fuel [companies] do not bear the cost to the community. Support for renewable energy is a way of levelling the playing field so they can compete.”

He said that onshore wind was now on a par, in cost terms, with fossil fuels, if the real cost of carbon emissions was factored in, and that taxpayer support for renewable technologies was rapidly bringing down their cost.

Matthew Bell, chief executive of the committee, said: “Investors have no idea what the framework will be [beyond 2020] to allow them to analyse and make their investments.” He said policies needed to be brought forward as a matter of urgency in the new parliament.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are committed to meeting our climate change target of an 80% emissions reduction by 2050. We have already made great strides to that goal, with emissions down 30% since 1990. There’s still much work to do and we will continue to power our move to a low-carbon economy at best value to consumers.”

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