Undermining science to undermine renewable energy


We’ve talked a little about energy transmission, especially in conjunction with renewable energy production, and the need to improve the electrical grid.  One thought seems to be that conservation interests are a barrier to that.  It turns out that the coal industry may be an even bigger barrier.  At least, here’s an example from the Trump Administration.

The Seams study demonstrated that stronger connections between the U.S. power system’s massive eastern and western power grids would accelerate the growth of wind and solar energy—hugely reducing American reliance on coal, the fuel contributing the most to climate change, and saving consumers billions.

But a study like Seams was politically dangerous territory for a federally funded lab while coal-industry advocates—and climate-change deniers—reign in the White House.

According to interviews with five current and former DOE and NREL sources, supported by more than 900 pages of documents and emails obtained by InvestigateWest through Freedom of Information Act requests and by additional documentation from industry sources, Trump officials would ultimately block Seams from seeing the light of day. And in doing so, they would set back America’s efforts to slow climate change.

The fallout was swift: The lab grounded Bloom and Novacheck (the lead researchers), prohibiting them from presenting the Seams results or even discussing the study outside NREL.  And the $1.6 million study itself disappeared. NREL yanked the completed findings from its website and deleted power-flow visualizations from its YouTube channel.

If NREL researchers are able to work unencumbered by political concerns and release Seams in its entirety, it could help point the U.S. toward a greener future, in which a robust economy runs on renewable energy. But for now, Seams is demonstrating an unintended finding—that when administrations stick their hands into scientific research, politically inconvenient truths are in peril.

The author indicated later that Congress had demanded that the study be released (and here it is).

This story is another example of political interference in science production and distribution.  I remain a strong skeptic that the pro-environment side can match this kind of interference by the coal lobby and “climate-change deniers” (as some have suggested here, including self-proclaimed climate-change “skeptics”).  It also seems obvious that this direct intervention is a lot more influential than any bias that exists in research funding.

Possible Salvage Strategy for Dixie and Caldor Fires

Since a battle for salvage projects is brewing, I think the Forest Service and the timber industry should consider my idea to get the work done, as soon as possible, under the rules, laws and policies, currently in force. It would be a good thing to ‘preempt’ the expected litigation before it goes to Appeals Court.


The Forest Service should quickly get their plans together, making sure that the project will survive the lower court battles. It is likely that such plans that were upheld by lower courts, in the past, would survive the inevitable lower court battles. Once the lower court allows the project(s), the timber industry should get all the fallers they can find, and get every snag designated for harvest on the ground. Don’t worry too much about skidding until the felling gets done. That way, when the case is appealed, most of Chad Hanson’s issues would now be rendered ‘moot’. It sure seems like the Hanson folks’ entire case is dependent on having standing snags. If this idea is successful, I’m sure that Hanson will try to block the skidding and transport of logs to the mill. The Appeals Court would have to decide if skidding operations and log hauling are harmful to spotted owls and black-backed woodpeckers.


It seems worth a try, to thin out snags over HUGE areas, while minimizing the legal wranglings.

Public land developers getting financial pushback

An interesting observation from the Washington Post.  As investors become more enlightened about the financial risks caused by climate change they are starting to hold corporations accountable.  That includes their operations on public lands – and litigation is part of the risk.

A dozen-and-a-half senators wrote letters to 11 of the largest U.S. banks asking them to back down from financing any oil and gas activity in an unspoiled expanse of Arctic wilderness.

“The scale of your banks’ assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks,” the group of a senators, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), told Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and six other banks in a letter sent last Thursday.

Democrats hope these banks follow the lead of one key peer: In December, Goldman Sachs said it is ruling out financing new drilling or oil exploration in the entire Arctic.

The world’s largest asset management firm, BlackRock, said last month it would divest from coal burned in power plants and make climate change a “defining factor” of its investing strategy.

And just last week, a group of investors representing nearly $113 billion in assets under management issued a similar letter to energy, mining and timber companies. Their warning: Don’t invest in certain federally controlled areas once protected but now open to development by the Trump administration.

These areas include not only the oil-rich Arctic refuge but also Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest where the U.S. Forest Service wants to allow new logging, (discussed here) and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (the Twin Metals mine litigation is discussed here), a popular lake-pocked forest near where the administration wants to allow a copper and nickel mining operation.

The institutional investors, which include several religious funds as well as a fund established by the late oil heir David Rockefeller, warned companies that many of the administration’s rollbacks of public land protections are legally precarious, and may be struck down by the courts or the next presidential administration. The letter went out to ExxonMobil, the timber company Weyerhaeuser and 56 other firms, according to Reuters.

“Many of these projects are mired in litigation,” the letter stated, “challenging the legality of any current or future industrial activity initiated in these regions and providing evidence of the risks associated with conducting commercial development on lands that the American public has deemed valuable for protection.”

The institutional investor letter also mentioned other areas, including protected sage grouse habitat (litigation discussed here) and the national monuments that have been reduced in size by the Trump Administration that are also under litigation (discussed here).  Here’s the latest on that.

The latest multiple-use

Pop-up shops!  What is a pop-up shop?  They are defined by someone who provides them as “temporary retail spaces that sell merchandise of any kind … Pop-up shops are taking over the retail world and rethinking traditional brick-and-mortar and big-box stores…”    The National Forest Foundation apparently had to jump on this bandwagon with Busch beer.  So here you go …. ,  a pop-top pop-up shop, coming to a national forest near you.

Conservation lands in many places have been overrun by crowds attracted by social media.  This seems like it has the same potential.  It would be interesting to look at the NEPA analysis for these permits.  (Do you suppose it’s in grizzly bear habitat?)

Does Legalization Lead to More Illegal Grows on National Forests?

Colorado is an interesting place to examine the phenomenon of “good industry/bad industry.” We watchers from the sidelines can ask questions like “who gets to pick which are good industries and bad industries?” “to what extent have political parties aligned with certain industries and not others?” and, of course, “why is regulation and scrutiny good for some and not for others?”. If we were all reasonable, would there be a reasonable level of regulation for each?

In Colorado, we have a unique opportunity to observe this, more or less in our face, as in the last session our elected officials determined that some industries need to be more highly regulated, and others less so.

Nationally, some thought it was OK to get a CEO of one (good) industry (recreation) to be Secretary of the Interior. But it was not OK to get lobbyists who have worked for other (bad) industries for the same post (e.g. Pruitt, Bernhardt).  My interest here is fairness in that industries are held to the same kinds of protections to public health and safety and to the environment, or that we should have transparent, public reasons why we think that they should be treated differently.

What is interesting to me is the idea that some industries (oil and gas) and not others (e.g., marijuana, ski areas) are to be held to the standard of “requires the commission to protect and minimize adverse impacts to public health, safety, and welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources and protect against adverse environmental impacts on any air, water, soil, or biological resource resulting from …. operations. This was part of state legislation on oil and gas, but seems to me that it could be applicable to any industry.

According to this recent Colorado Springs Gazette editorial, some industries can have overseers that are proponents.  They state

“Ean Seeb, the state’s new Special Adviser on Cannabis, comes straight from the pot industry. A Polis advocate during the campaign, Seeb is a longtime advocate of delivering pot like pizza, deregulating investments into Big Marijuana and allowing on-site cannabis tasking rooms.

Seeb is two-time chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which advocates for more pot sales. Seeb will serve as a walking conflict of interest. It’s like the Marlboro Man monitoring cigarette sales.”

Although it is not widely covered in the media, there are environmental impacts to growing marijuana (energy, pesticides),  safety impacts, and economic impacts.

For our purposes at The Smokey Wire, though, what is of interest is:

Dave Condit, deputy forest and grassland supervisor for the Pike-San Isabel Forest and Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands, told The Gazette last year his jurisdiction’s entire budget could not cover the costs of removing foreign drug cartels invading the public lands he oversees.

We talked about this here last year when it first came out, but I’m curious as to whether this has been observed in any other state besides Colorado? I tried to get the numbers, but was told I would have to FOIA them. While I’m FOIAing, I could certainly do it nation-wide. Is anyone else interested in this topic?