Equilibrium/Sustainability — Retired coal plants go renewable

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Obsolete coal plants across the country are getting a welcome revival: A second life as solar farms and other renewable energy ventures.

Because these former fossil fuel hubs are wired into the electricity grid, they provide a valuable opportunity for clean energy projects seeking to avoid regulatory hassles, The New York Times reported.

Repurposing these grid connections — which would be both costly and time-consuming to build from scratch — could potentially speed up the country’s transition to renewable energy, according to the Times.

At least nine coal-burning plants in Illinois alone are set to become solar farms and battery storage sites in the next three years, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts and New Jersey, two defunct coal plants along the coast are being rewired to connect offshore wind turbines.

Other such projects are on the horizon in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Maryland, according to the Times.

“It’s really shifting a very negative resource into one that is more positive for the community,” Jeff Bishop, whose company Key Capture Energy is repurposing a Maryland coal plant for battery storage, told the newspaper.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Send tips and feedback: Sharon Udasin. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll examine Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) announcement that he won’t be backing new climate spending. Then we’ll travel to the South Pacific, where island nations have declared a climate emergency, and look at record-breaking June heat.

Manchin won’t back new climate spending

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has announced he will not support climate spending as part of a broader reconciliation package, likely jeopardizing any major climate bill prior to this year’s midterms, our colleague Zack Budryk reported for The Hill.

What happened? Manchin told Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) “unequivocally” on Thursday that he would only back a reconciliation package before Labor Day if it does not include climate spending or taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, our colleague Alexander Bolton reported.

The declaration that he will not support a bill with these provisions comes after he had previously indicated his openness to related proposals throughout negotiations with Schumer, Bolton explained.

Why the change? Manchin told West Virginia radio host Hoppy Kercheval on Friday that he didn’t want to move forward with such a bill after he saw a Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicating prices had risen 9.1 percent over the previous year.

So what happens now? Senate Democrats seem to have two choices:

  • They can advance a slimmed-down reconciliation bill — which would lower the costs of up to 20 prescription drugs and prevent a spike in Affordable Care Act-funded health care premiums before the midterms, Bolton reported. 

  • Or they can continue negotiating with Manchin over proposals to combat climate change.

A tough choice: “Manchin’s new opposition leaves Democrats in a difficult political bind: They must decide between pressing him after months of false starts or accepting what would still be significant changes to the law lowering health care costs,” The Washington Post reported.

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While Democrats had once assumed they had a historic chance “to radically transform the country” by reducing pollution and incentivizing cleaner practices, this opportunity seems to be crumbling, according to the Post.

Instead, Manchin’s decision could lead to a situation that The Guardian described as “imperiling national and international climate goals and further escalating deadly wildfires, droughts, floods and heatwaves around the world.”

  • With rare majorities in Congress, Democrats had hoped to secure investments necessary for fulfilling President Biden’s goal of decreasing carbon emissions to half of their 2005 levels by 2030, the Post reported. 

  • These goals became increasingly urgent when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a spike in gas prices, according to the Post.

Failure even with concessions: Recognizing that Manchin represents coal-heavy West Virginia, Democrats recently indicated that they were prepared to make significant concessions and scaling back their approach, the Post reported.

Shocking Democrats who thought they had neared a resolution, these efforts soon fell apart, according to the Post.

Democratic defeat: “I’m not going to sugarcoat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told the Post.

Leadership called into question: Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said he’s questioning why Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, when the latter refused to support the climate spending measures.

“We have an opportunity to address the climate crisis right now. Senator Manchin’s refusal to act is infuriating,” Heinrich wrote on Twitter.

Pacific island leaders declare climate emergency

Leaders of Pacific island nations declared a climate emergency on Friday, urging members to turn “pledges and commitments into action,” The Associated Press reported.

The leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, who held a summit in Fiji this week, consider climate change their biggest security risk, according to the AP.

Refusing to settle: “We simply cannot settle for anything less than the survival of every Pacific Island country,” Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said at the summit, as reported by The Guardian.

A call to global emitters: “Most urgently, it requires that we end our fossil fuel addiction, including coal,” added Bainimarama, who chaired the summit.

“That is our ask of Australia,” he continued. “That is our ask of New Zealand, the USA, India, the European Union, China and every other high-emitting country.”

Applauding Australia: The leaders “welcomed and fully supported” the new Australian leadership’s commitment to the forum’s climate change priorities, according to the AP.

  • Australia — one of 17 members of the forum — recently committed to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. 

  • The previous government had agreed to reductions of only 26-28 percent.

US not invited to Fiji summit: The forum’s dialogue partners — the U.S., China, Britain and France — were not invited to the Fiji summit this week, the AP reported.

Nonetheless, Fiji’s prime minister invited Vice President Harris to deliver a virtual address, during which she proposed boosting U.S. diplomatic engagement and financial aid, the AP reported.

  • China weighs in: In response to Harris’s address, a Chinese official in Beijing — whose influence is growing in the region — welcomed the additional support.

  • But the official warned that such efforts should not occur to stave off China, according to the AP.

June was among hottest on record: reports

Last month was one of the warmest Junes in history, according to dual reports released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The NOAA report found that this June was the sixth hottest in 143 years, with the year 2022 as a whole likewise ranking sixth warmest, our colleague Chloe Folmar reported for The Hill.

NASA’s findings? Those were slightly different.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Surface Temperature Analysis concluded that June 2022 and June 2020 tied for the hottest Junes since the late 19th century.

Different numbers, same story: “Even though we’re ranking slightly different, we’re still saying the same story here,” NOAA report lead author Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, a scientist at the administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, told The Washington Post.

A series of hot Junes: While June 2022 may have been among the hottest, the NOAA report said the month marked the 46th consecutive June with temperatures above the 20th-century average, Folmar reported.

  • Antarctica had its lowest June ice coverage on record in June 2022, per the NOAA report. 

  • Global sea ice coverage neared its record low, second only to that of June 2019.

Some areas hit worse than others: Parts of Europe and Asia experienced particularly dramatic warming last month, Sánchez-Lugo told the Post.

A 24-hour phenomenon: Although summer heat is typically associated with long, sunny daytime hours, Sánchez-Lugo said that nighttime temperatures are also on the rise, according to the Post.

No time to cool down: “During nighttime, we’re supposed to be able to cool off. Not only us, but animals, crops, everything,” she told the Post.

“When that doesn’t happen, then that’s when we get heat exhaustion, or heat disease, because the nighttimes are not cooling as they used to,” Sánchez-Lugo added.

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit issues we’ve explored this week. 

Yellen calls upon major economies to address food insecurity crisis

Oil companies join UN-backed group to curb emissions

Bioluminescence season begins in eastern Florida

  • On Thirsty Thursday, we covered a variety of water topics — from Kourtney Kardashian’s overuse, to Gatwick’s water outage, to drought in the Northeast. Florida’s East Coast also has water news: Bioluminescence season, in which blue-glowing algae light up inland lagoons, has officially begun, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you next week.

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