“Climate change isn’t for the birds” – Politico, 8 September 2014

In addition to affecting food supplies and increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, climate change is drastically impacting wildlife, especially our birds.

Earlier this month, the National Audubon Society published a study, which concluded that half of North America’s bird species will be endangered, and could go extinct, at the century’s end, due to the effects of climate change.

The bald eagle and Baltimore oriole are at a huge risk for endangerment, and Louisiana, Utah, Vermont, Nevada, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Washington DC’s state birds are as well. The Audubon’s report comes after a draft of the UN’s climate change report was disclosed, which cautioned about the effects of climate change on people and ecosystems.

President Obama and the EPA are doing everything they can to stop climate change in its tracks, including introducing the Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan Proposal, which are aimed at curbing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions. Of course, there is pushback from Republicans, conservatives, and coal states, like Colorado, Kentucky, and Michigan where politicians contend that new climate regulations will deplete jobs and increase consumer’s expenses on energy.

For the report, the Audubon studied species prevalent to the US and Canada. Of the 588 species the Audubon chose, the Audubon found that by 2080, 314 of them will be in danger of extremely diminished populations because they will be without over half of their livable geographic range. The lives of these birds are indelibly linked to their physical environment.

Moreover, renewable energy — wind and solar power — also has a lasting impact on birds. Many conservatives and conservationists are calling this, “Obama’s war on birds.”

According to a report published last year by the journal Biological Conservation, around 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed yearly through contact with wind turbines. In 2013, the Interior Department granted 30-year permits to wind farms that allowed for accidentally killing or injuring bald and golden eagles. There have also been reports of a California-based solar power plant that causes birds to catch on fire while flying.

Conservatives are using the repercussions of renewable energy on birds as more political fodder against Obama and his climate policy. Perhaps this is rightfully so, as Obama hasn’t specifically incorporated flora, fauna, and their ecosystems into his climate policy. At the same time, however, if conservative policymakers — any policymakers, at that — are concerned about the birds, then they should make efforts to integrate climate change into conservation planning. It works both ways.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

September 10, 2014

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“Coal’s Decline Hits Hardest in the Mines of Kentucky” – Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2013

Wall Street Journal

While the US’s stores of natural gas have been boosting the economy and lowering gas prices in unprecedented ways, the influx has also been hurting many Americans, especially those working in the Central Appalachian coalfields, primarily located in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Over the past two years, dozens of Central Appalachian mines have closed, causing massive layoffs, which are likely to be permanent for the area. The coal industry is now concentrating on two other major coal basins in Wyoming and Illinois that are cheaper to mine.

Data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows that 26 Kentucky counties are the hardest hit by mine closings — counties that have been mining for over a century. Before 2011, the number of mining jobs in the region never dropped below 11,400; however, after 2011, the number of mining jobs has declined to 8,000, the fewest number of jobs since the 1920s. Almost 100 mines Kentucky’s eastern coalfields have shutdown since 2011, from 256 active mines to 161.

Many of the unemployed miners blame the layoffs on Obama and the EPA for introducing new regulations that will limit emissions for coal-burning power plants, what many Republicans have deemed the “war on coal.” However, the coal industry sees the layoffs as the sum of many things: new fracking technologies have further depressed the coal market, and Obama’s regulations have only worsened the situation.

Furthermore, many of the affected Appalachian coal mines’ production costs are higher (with a cheaper selling price), more abundant and more polluting than steam coal (used for power generation). Metallurgical coal, on the other hand, requires less production and a lower selling price needed for exportable global iron and steel production.

In 2003, coal produced 51% of US electricity and natural gas produced 17%; in August 2013, coal produced 39% of US electricity and natural gas produced 27%. The EIA has calculated that, while coal will still be power plants’ biggest fuel supply, use of coal by electricity utilities will decline over the coming decades. Around 9% of coal-fired power plants will be closing between 2013-2018.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 12, 2013

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“Impact Fees Fracture Pennsylvania” – Wall Street Journal, 28 April 2013

Pennsylvania is benefiting from a state law passed last year, the “impact fee” law, which evaluates fees on natural gas wells drilled into the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale formation. Pennsylvania taxed the state for 2011 gas-drilling activity, collecting a total of $204 million, then gave half of that money back to the municipal governments.

Cumberland Township, which houses 130 wells, endures most of the state’s drilling; because of this, the state received the most money from the state. The “impact fee” also determines certain rules for fracking, and has helped the state both economically and environmentally. For 2012, the state accumulated almost $200 million, a number that indicates lower natural gas prices. The state will begin allocating the money in July.

Most states obligate drillers to pay severance taxes, which depends on the amount of gas generated. However, Pennsylvania’s impact fee depends on natural gas prices and each well’s annual production. The impact fee’s main purpose is to give back to those communities where drilling is concentrated — the money is to go to areas like infrastructure, housing, social services, equipment and career training.

Townships that underwent more drilling were given more money, while townships that experienced no drilling were compensated based on their population. Around 170 of the most heavily drilled municipalities received over $100,000 — 180 municipalities received less than $100.

This is a great example of how economy-based implementation should, and does, work.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 3, 2013

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