Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine. He remains a cheerful guy despite covering climate change all the time. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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Coal-Loving Republicans Are Suing Obama Again

President Barack Obama's signature plan to fight climate change was formally published this morning, thus opening the season for a fresh round of legal challenges from two dozen states, most of which are major coal consumers.

The Clean Power Plan, as it's known, aims to reduce the nation's power-sector carbon footprint to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. To reach that goal, each state has a unique target that it can achieve by cleaning or shuttering coal-fired power plants, building renewable energy systems, and investing in energy efficiency. Ever since it was first proposed a couple years ago, it's been a punching bag for Republicans in Congress, in state capitals, and in the 2016 presidential race. Marco Rubio recently promised to "immediately stop" the plan if elected.

The plan has also already spent a lot of time in court, so far surviving a series of attempts by states and coal companies to block it from being implemented. The last such case ended in September, when a federal court ruled that legal challenges couldn't be brought until the final version of the new rules was officially published.

Now that threshold has been crossed, and the lawsuits are flooding in. According to the Hill, 24 states and Murray Energy, a coal company, filed suits Friday morning:

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who is leading the legal fight against the plan, called it "the single most onerous and illegal regulations that we've seen coming out of D.C. in a long time."

The West Virginia and Murray lawsuits came the day the rule was published in the Federal Register, the first day court challenges can legally be filed. The states joining West Virginia are Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Arizona and North Carolina.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that most of these states are major consumers of coal, the most carbon-polluting form of energy, and are thus the most likely to take a beating from the regulations. (Of course, coal has been struggling since before Obama even took office). Here's a look at how much the suing states depend on coal; I've ranked them by the share of their total electricity mix that comes from coal, rather than by their total consumption volume:

Tim McDonnell

It's worth noting as well that all but three of those states (Kentucky, Missouri, and North Carolina) have Republican attorneys general. Now that the dust has basically settled on battles over gay marriage and Obamacare, the Clean Power Plan is the next logical thing for GOP-led states to fight with the Obama administration about. 

But the plan really isn't as crazy as Morrisey, et al., would have you believe. In fact, it has taken some heat from environmentalists for not going far enough, and for doing little more than locking in the incremental greenhouse gas reductions that were already happening. Still, there's a lot riding on these legal challenges, because the Clean Power Plan is the administration's main bargaining chip for the global climate negotiations coming up in a month in Paris. The promises that Obama has made to the rest of the world as to how the United States will help slow climate change basically ride on this plan. So if the plan were to be killed in court, the whole international agreement could collapse.

Fortunately, it seems very unlikely that the court will throw the rule out, said Tomás Carbonell, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Carbonell added that if history is a guide, the litigation is likely to come to a conclusion before Obama leaves office, which would preclude the possibility that a President Donald Trump or another climate change denier could let the plan wither on the vine by refusing to defend it in court.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has a good explainer on the plan's strengths, not least of which is that most states are already well on their way to coming up with a plan for compliance. So far, it doesn't seem like anyone is following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) advice to just ignore the plan altogether.

Three years ago next week, when Superstorm Sandy swept through the New York City area, the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., was right in the line of fire. The experience gave the school's engineers and architects plenty of food for thought on how to design a storm-proof coastal building. So when the Obama administration launched the 14th annual Solar Decathlon—a contest to build the most badass, cutting-edge, solar-powered home—they put pen to paper and hammer to nail. 

The result is the Sure House (a take on "shore house"), which was awarded first place in the competition this weekend. The house, shown off in the video above, is custom-built for the Jersey Shore, hardened against hurricanes, and uses a fraction of the energy of a normal house. It has tons of cool features: It's sealed water-tight against up to six feet of flooding; gets 100 percent of its power from solar panels that are designed to stay operational even when the electric grid goes down; and regulates its temperature without using any power for air conditioning or a heater, by using custom-built insulation and ventilation. (David Roberts at Vox has more details.)

Oh, and it's also really attractive and cozy:

DOE


Maybe there's hope that we'll survive climate change, after all.

Donald Trump loves to tweet about how climate change is a hoax, especially when he personally feels cold. Because, you know, if global warming is really real, then it will never be cold anywhere ever again. (Just kidding. Winter is still a thing.)

He was at it again on Monday, tweeting that since it was "really cold outside," we "could use a big fat dose of global warming!" Sick burn, Donald!

Indeed, it's been kind of cold on the East Coast over the last week. But, Trump's local weather report notwithstanding, 2015 is still on track to be the warmest year on record, globally. And today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data showing that this September was the hottest September on record (the records go back to 1880), following an August that also experienced record-breaking heat.

Here's NOAA's latest map, showing that in September, much of the globe had record or above-average temperatures:

NOAA

The dark red blob off the US West Coast is El Niño, which is continuing to strengthen and is expected to produce above-average rain and snowfall in California this winter (although probably not enough to end the state's epic drought).

Sorry, Donald. I think we have a big enough dose of global warming already.

The White House launched a new Twitter handle devoted to climate change Tuesday afternoon. The stream, called @FactsOnClimate, claims to provide "the facts on how is combating climate change in the U.S. and mobilizing the world to ."

The first three tweets highlight the most important pieces of President Barack Obama's climate legacy: His signature plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and his stated commitment to reaching an international agreement on climate action in Paris this winter.

As Obama has made climate action a priority during his second term, his administration has doubled down on slick digital content to get the word out. There's a nice basic website, an immersive interactive portal to explore the science, Facebook videos, essays on Medium, and now this.

The Paris talks, where the US delegation is expected to support a commitment to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 (compared to 2005 levels), are coming up in just over a month. Heads of state from around the globe are expected to drop in for the first day of the talks; on Monday, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters they "could certainly count [Obama] among the leaders who's considering traveling to Paris."

Pink bollworms are a species of pest (they're baby moths) that love to feast on cotton. They've been largely eliminated from the United States, but flare-ups do occur now and then, causing an expensive headache for farmers. So the US Department of Agriculture is experimenting with an innovative but also kind of weird and gross solution, which you can see in the video above.

The process starts by raising bollworms in a lab that are fed a red, oil-based dye. When the bollworms mature into moths, the coloration stays with them, so they can be distinguished from wild moths. The lab moths are blasted with radiation, which makes them sterile. Then they're released into the wild over fields with bollworm infestations. When the sterile lab moths mate with the wild ones, they're tricked into thinking they're going to reproduce, but don't. So no new moths.

Scientists have experimented with releasing sterile moths for the last few years. But now, they've enlisted a new tool: drones equipped with moth cannons. Anytime a bollworm infestation pops up, just call in a drone to deliver a few thousand irradiated moths.

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