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Earlier in the week, Howard Dean told an audience that Democrats should be rooting for a government shutdown rather than agree to budget cuts, because voter anger would punish Republicans.  That may have been true in 1995, but as Rasmussen discovered it its latest polling, the political and fiscal environment in 2011 is far different.  […]

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Radiation from the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan continues to spread around the world:

Washington (CNN) — There is no health risk from consuming milk with extremely low levels of radiation, like those found in Washington state and California, experts said Thursday, echoing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“When we have a disaster like we’ve had with a nuclear power plant in Japan, we’re probably going to find things that are truly not a public health risk, but I think it’s very difficult for the public to assimilate this information and understand the risks,” said Dr. Wally Curran, a radiation oncologist and head of Emory University’s Winship Cancer Center.

The federal agency said Wednesday it was increasing its nationwide monitoring of radiation in milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other outlets. It already tracks radiation in those potential exposure routes through an existing network of stations across the country.

Results from screening samples of milk taken in the past week in Spokane, Washington, and in San Luis Obispo County, California, detected radioactive iodine, or iodine-131, at a level 5,000 times lower than the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, officials said.

At that level, a person would have to drink 1,000 liters of milk to receive the same amount of radiation as a chest X-ray, said Dr. James Cox, radiation oncologist at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.

So, nothing to worry about. Still, I’m sure some people will panic.

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Climate science is the foundation of this blog, the sine qua non for all the other analyses.

The reasons we must be far more ambitious in politics and policy and clean technology deployment are the increasing evidence of accelerated carbon-cycle feedbacks and the dire warnings from the scientific community about the dangers of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).

Yet, most new climate science remains either under-reported or mis-reported by most of the traditional media and blogosphere.  And, like CO2 concentrations, the rate of growth (of important science articles) is growing faster as the reality of human-caused climate changes grows — and it’s growing faster than ClimateProgress can cover thoroughly.  At the same time, climate politics and the disinformers and media miscoverage and clean energy solutions and nuclear power and natural gas and peak oil and on and on … also demand attention.

What to do?  Well, I hope to be hiring someone soon to help cover some of these issues.  Also, I have a plan to expand coverage of climate science.

First, I will still do detailed analysis of the really important studies, like these:

Second, I will keep covering the important ’second-tier’ studies that deserve attention:

Third, I’ll keep setting the record on the studies that the media doesn’t get quite right:

Fourth, I’ll repost pieces from Skeptical Science and Dr. Jeff Masters and others from time to time:

Fifth, I’m going to start doing shorter posts on some studies that just capture the essence of the conclusions.  This is the tough one for me.  Usually, when I see an interesting study I stick the link in a draft post, hoping to come back when I have time to do a full discussion.  I do that in every area, of course, and so I now have more than a thousand draft posts that will never get written.  There is always something more pressing to work on.

There are a good half dozen scientific studies from just this year that I’d been planning to write more on, but the net result is I haven’t written anything on them.  So I’m going to try to fix that with some shorter posts.

I had intended to post an example of this, but, naturally, decided I had more to say on that particular study — and then another more pressing one came up — so it won’t appear until Monday or Tuesday.

Fifth, I’ll choose among the best of the studies that Climate Central is doing mini-summaries on in its new weekly roundup.  In its, “Weekly Climate Science Roundup: March 8-14,” CC highlights:

Paper Title: Carbon emission limits required to satisfy future representative concentration pathways of greenhouse gases
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Authors: V. K. Arora, and seven others.

The Gist: One of the challenges involved with predicting climate change is that some of the CO2 we put in the atmosphere is removed by natural processes — it is absorbed by the ocean and biosphere — but these natural processes themselves will change as the temperature warms. This paper presents the results from a model that combines a climate model with a model of how the biosphere and oceans absorb CO2. The study finds that it may be nearly impossible to avoid 2°Celsius of warming (the stated goal of the Copenhagen Accord) without drastic emissions cuts in the near future.

This is a classic example of a study I would like to write more about.

The authors focus on the 2C target in their abstract, “The results of this study suggest that limiting warming to roughly 2°C by the end of this century is unlikely since it requires an immediate ramp down of emissions followed by ongoing carbon sequestration in the second half of this century.”  That is a “duh” conclusion for CP readers, but still important.  Stabilizing at 2C is tough.

The study also appears to show that the ocean and land sinks saturate in the higher emissions scenarios (higher representative concentration pathways or RCPs), which is to say the ocean and land don’t take out of the air the same fraction of human-emitted CO2 as emissions go way up.

Here is the key chart:

Arora et al

“(a) CO2 concentrations used for the control, historical and the three future RCP‐based simulations. (b) Simulated globally‐averaged screen (2m) temperature.”

Note that in the 900 ppm scenario, temperature rises 4.9°C over the 2006 to 2100 time period, which is to say well over 5.5°C from preindustrial levels — and are poised to just keep rising.  This isn’t a big surprise, but it still shows again how catastrophic it would be not to get on a stabilization path quickly (see Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter).

Then again, this study appears to ignore many of the major carbon-cycle feedbacks, most notably the defrosting of the tundra.  In fact, a much lower emissions scenario is likely to achieve roughly the same warming by 2100 than this study models.

Here’s another study:

Paper Title: Impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on power systems with demand response and wind power
Journal: Energy Policy
Authors: Jianhui Wang, Cong Liu, Dan Ton, Yan Zhou, Jinho Kim, and Anantray Vyas.

The Gist: This paper analyzes how “smart charging” can allow wind power to cheaply power plug-in hybrid vehicles. (A plug-in hybrid is a vehicle that runs mostly on battery power, but also has a gas motor for longer trips). One problem with wind power is that, at the height of the wind turbines, the wind is often weakest in the middle of the day and strongest at night. However, people use more electricity during the day than they do in the middle of the night. This mismatch might change with the wider adoption of electric cars — most electric cars would be charged at night, thus using the excess electricity produced by wind power. However, because the wind varies, and because it doesn’t take all night to charge a car, it would be useful for the cars to be flexible in when they are charged. That is, a “smart grid” could help decide when to deliver current to the cars’ batteries, and such an electric grid could charge cars more cheaply. The paper models a possible situation in Illinois in the year 2020, when the authors estimate that about 10 percent of the vehicles will be plug-in hybrids. The authors find the cost of charging all the state’s plug-in hybrids in 2020 could be reduced from about $ 4 million to $ 3.5 million per week if such a smart grid is used.

It’s been understood for a long time that the ideal charging system is one in which utilities basically control when most of the charging is done, presumably at a significantly discounted cost, and then there is an extra cost if you want to override that control system and charge, say, during peak times.  Good to see a numerical analysis on this topic.

And here’s another interesting study from CC’s previous weekly roundup:

Paper Title: Does increasing energy or electricity consumption improve quality of life in industrial nations?
Journal: Energy Policy
Author: Allan Mazu

The Gist: It’s fairly clear that people in developing countries are better off when they use more energy. Electric lighting, mechanization, and transportation improve lives. But what about in developed countries, where energy use is already very high? Are people’s lives improved by using more energy? This study looks at increases in per capita energy use since 1980 in developed countries and measures how this increase has correlated with well-being. Well-being is measured by a basket of 13 indicators, which range from per capita gross domestic product (GDP) to the societal divorce rate. Of course, any measure of quality of life is highly subjective. Nonetheless, the author finds that in developed countries, increases in energy use do not correlate with increases in well-being.

The study’s conclusion includes electricity: “The present analysis with longitudinal data shows that among industrial nations, increases in per capita energy and electricity consumption over the past three decades are not associated with corresponding improvements in quality of life.”

Again, not a big surprise.  After all, California kept per capita electricity consumption flat for the past three decades while it has gone up 60% in the rest of America, and they are in the same country.  Sort of.

Climate Progress

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Terrific news, albeit with plenty of caveats. “This is very important information,” says Hiroshima-based researcher Evan Douple, who has been studying the health of atomic bomb survivors for decades. Douple says the new radiation levels, shown to him by NPR, “should be reassuring. At these levels so far, I don’t think a study would be […]

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Written by Lee Yoo Eun

A South Korea's IT company has set up a special web page [ko] which gives real-time data on nuclear radiation levels. The website enlists major cities’ radiation levels by coalescing data gathered from Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology and the IERNet (Integrated Environmental Radiation Monitoring Network). (read more about it here)[en].

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Now I’m really confused. All day long, from congressional testimony to a televised appearance on CNN to interviews with print reporters, U.S. nuclear chief Gregory Jaczko has insisted that radiation levels at the plant are “extremely high.” Not only that, but he reaffirmed for ABC tonight that his staffers on the ground at Fukushima say […]

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Radiation is measured in sieverts. In an average year, most of us take in about 2.4 millisiverts — a very small amount. You have to get to 50 millisieverts to start seeing any health risks. But the readings around the damaged reactor in Japan are much higher: 600-800 millisieverts. Via Good Magazine, this chart from the Next Big Future will help you keep the numbers you hear over the next few days in context:

Ezra Klein

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Radiation levels rise at Japanese nuclear plant

Top story: Japan faces the growing risk of a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power station. At this point, the level of radiation released has already made this the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

There has been a significant spike of radioactivity around the plant, with levels at one point reaching 400 millisieverts an hour. That level of exposure means that workers at a U.S. plant would reach their maximum allowed annual dose in seven minutes, and exposure for 75 minutes would cause acute radiation sickness.

Engineers worked frantically to cool the most heavily damaged unit at the plant, reactor No. 2, by pumping in seawater. However, a malfunctioning valve at the reactor temporarily prevented workers from injecting new seawater into the unit. While this malfunction was eventually repaired, it caused the nuclear fuel to be exposed for a number of hours and damaged the reactor’s containment vessel.

Most of the 800 workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been withdrawn, leaving approximately 50 workers to combat the growing crisis. The breach of the No. 2 reactor could endanger the entire operation, because the leak of radiation may endanger the health of the remaining workers. If they are forced to evacuate, all three reactors at the plant will likely melt down.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan addressed the growing crisis this morning. "[A]lthough this incident is of great concern, I ask you to react very calmly," he said in a brief national address.

Qaddafi dismisses dialogue: As the military forces of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi continued to advance, the Libyan leader told the rebels that there only options were to surrender or flee.

Middle East

  • Foreign ministers from the G8 countries are meeting in Paris to discuss the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone in Libya.
  • Bahrain’s king declared a state of emergency for three months.
  • Libyan rebels and government forces battled for control over the town of Brega.


  • France and Britain stepped up their calls for a no-fly zone in Libya.
  • Germany temporarily shut down all of its nuclear reactors that went into operation before 1980 to reassess its nuclear strategy in light of the Japan disaster.
  • Italy blocked a ferry carrying 1,800 refugees fleeing the violence in Libya from docking in Sicily.


  • North Korea expressed its willingness to resume discussions of its nuclear program in six-party talks.
  • China will prosecute 24 people for a deadly fire in a Shanghai apartment building last year.
  • North Korea agreed to accept the repatriation of 27 out of 31 of its citizens who drifted into South Korea on a fishing boat.


  • The United States urged former Haitian President Jean-Paul Aristide to delay his return to the island.
  • Guatemalans who were deliberately infected with syphilis or gonorrhea in the 1940s are suing the U.S. government.
  • Cuba devalued its currency by 8 percent in an effort to boost the economy.


  • Niger opposition candidate Mahamadou was elected president after emerging with 58 percent of the vote in a run-off election.
  • Forces belonging to the Ivory Coast’s vying political leaders clashed in the country’s main city.
  • Five Somali men convicted of piracy were sentenced to life in prison.


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Written by Tomomi Sasaki

To “put the radiation levels at Fukushima into perspective”, @gakuranman translated an infographic of radiation levels and their effects to the human body. He has also been updating his website with ongoing announcements.

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Query:  Any reason not to have a shorter headline and drop “Energy and Global Warming”?

A Solar and Wind Revolution From a Land of Oil

Higher oil prices are usually good news for clean energy because they make costly technologies like solar and wind less daunting to investors. But for one of the world’s most ambitious clean-energy projects, Desertec, the instability in North Africa behind the price increases signals a less certain outlook.

Desertec aims to tap the vast solar and wind resources across the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa and, over coming decades, deliver as much as 15 percent of the electricity needed by the European Union through high-voltage transmission lines to be laid under the Mediterranean Sea.

With little assurance about how long instability in the region could last, concerns are growing that investments in Desertec may never materialize or that interest in the project will fade because it risks creating new dependencies on an unstable and potentially hostile region for energy.

At the same time, the sudden surge of interest in promoting democracy and prosperity in North Africa as old regimes are toppled could be a boon for Desertec if the region becomes a more attractive investment destination.

Dii, a company that leads a powerful group of energy and financial companies backing Desertec, has emphasized that it has a long-term rollout plan reaching to 2050, when the current turmoil could be a distant memory.

But Dii also has acknowledged that some projects probably will be delayed.

Even though there were no new obstacles to the first pilot project in Morocco, “of course in other countries in North Africa it’s not so easy to start pilot projects for the time being,” said Paul van Son, the chief executive of Dii.

Why India Might Save the Planet

If you had to name a most valuable player of December’s climate summit in Cancún, hands down the award would go to Jairam Ramesh. His Mexican hosts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and ministers from small island-nations such as the Maldives and Kiribati all hailed India’s 56-year-old environmental minister for salvaging the entire endeavor. Ramesh brought the West and developing countries together by pointing at ways to ease access to green technology and suggesting an agreeable way to monitor progress in tamping down emissions. In Cancún Ramesh proved himself an international power broker, a star among the world’s climate warriors.

But then Ramesh returned home. Awaiting him was the pending approval of a $ 12 billion steel plant. The deal—the largest single foreign direct investment in India, and clearly a boon to the country’s economy—would also vanquish a track of pristine forest along India’s eastern coast. The project, proposed by the South Korean steel conglomerate Posco, had actually already been approved by his ministry. But local tribal groups were protesting, complaining that the deal endangered their livelihoods, which depend on the forest, and that they were not being fairly compensated for their land. Ramesh heeded their call and temporarily halted the project while two expert panels looked at the issue. Both found Posco in the wrong. But for months, Ramesh let Posco sweat. When he stepped off his flight from Mexico, however, rumors had begun to circulate that Posco was threatening to pull out entirely. Suddenly, Ramesh faced perhaps the biggest decision of his 18-month tenure.

“I am not an environmentalist,” Ramesh told NEWSWEEK last month, sitting in his wood-paneled office in New Delhi. Newspapers were neatly arranged on his desk, and he punched away at a small laptop. The mood was affable, strikingly lacking the usual retinue of assistants and handlers who typically hover around a government minister. “Environmentalism is the environment at all costs,” he said, but India must maintain its breakneck economic growth and do so without devastating the environment.

Good news: New EPA boiler regs include output-based standards

Finally the day you’ve all been waiting for has arrived: EPA has released its new boiler emissions rules for hazardous pollutants! (The cool kids call it “the boiler MACT.”) Most review and discussion of these rules so far has been silent on the most significant aspect: they introduce output-based emissions standards. As Grist readers know, I’ve been preaching the virtues of output-based standards for years now — this is a wonky subject, but one greens would do well to understand.

Output-based standards have been adopted by several states, but somewhat haphazardly, in part because of a lack of consistent EPA guidance. Given the formidable disincentives to efficiency imposed by the structure of current EPA rules, a shift to output-based standards may well be the single most meaningful thing EPA can do to lower CO2 emissions.

So EPA deserves a lot of praise for starting a transition to output-based standards in the boiler MACT. Success will depend ultimately on the degree to which that rule is integrated into other EPA rule-making, but the first step is a pretty good one.

Chris Huhne gets European support to toughen EU climate targets

Chris Huhne has won the support of six other European governments to push for a toughening of the EU’s climate targets, to be discussed in Brussels on Monday . The energy and climate secretary is spearheading a growing movement in favour of a target of 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, instead of the current 20%.

He will join his counterparts from Germany, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal and Greece to argue for the higher target at a four-hour meeting of all 27 member states.

In a letter to the Guardian, Huhne and his fellow ministers say: “At a time when the price of oil is soaring, putting in place an ambitious p lan forEurope’s low-carbon future has wider benefits than tackling climate change. It will increase the continent’s resilience against oil price spikes and reduce its dependence on importe;

The push for a higher emissions target was boosted last week with publication of the EU’s 2050 low-carbon roadmap, by the climate change commissioner Connie Hedegaard. The roadmap showed the EU was on track to reduce emissions by 25% by 2020, if current policies were fulfilled.

The roadmap said a cut of 25% would offer the most cost-effective way for Europe to meet its 2050 target of cutting emissions by at least 80%. As the EU has already cut emissions by 17% compared with 1990 levels, setting a 30% target would “stimulate the right investment in low-carbon infrastructure and technology”, according to the environment and energy ministers.

McConnell defends nuclear power amid Japan fears

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that he doesn’t believe the U.S. should back away from nuclear energy in the wake of potential reactor meltdowns in Japan.

“This discussion reminds me, somewhat, of the conversations that were going on after the BP oil spill last year,” Mr. McConnell said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think right after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to be making American domestic policy.”

As congressional Republicans engage the White House on the issue of rising energy prices, the potential meltdown at a nuclear facility in Japan threatens to undermine a central element in the Republican push for expanded domestic energy production: new permits and financial incentives to spur the construction of new nuclear facilities in the U.S.

The potential for a nuclear disaster, triggered by last Friday’s record-setting earthquake, could undermine that argument in much the same way that last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico stymied calls to open more offshore sites to underwater oil and gas drilling. With average gas prices nearing $ 4-a-gallon, Republicans took shots at President Barack Obama this week for issuing too few drilling permits in the Gulf.

As Congress looks for ways to lower energy costs for businesses and individuals, even New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a top Democrat, said Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I’m still willing to look at nuclear. As I’ve said, it has to be done safely and carefully.”

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Japanese authorities on Saturday were racing to find ways to deliver new backup generators or batteries to a nuclear power reactor whose cooling facilities were crippled by a loss of power caused by the deadly earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday afternoon.

The reactor, owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co., is drawing on battery power that may last only a few hours. Without electricity, the reactor will not be able to pump water to cool its hot reactor core, possibly leading to a meltdown or some other release of radioactive material.

That’s the WashPost at 5:06 PM today.   It doesn’t appear the siting and fail-safe design of this plant was sufficiently thought out, given that Japan is situated along the Ring of Fire, “where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.”

Here’s ABC News, which notes in its sub-hed “Nuclear Scientists Warn of ‘Very Serious’ Radioactive Event if Japanese Reactor Not Cooled”:

Radiation levels inside a Japanese nuclear power plant have surged to 1,000 times their normal levels after today’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake knocked out power to a cooling system, and tsunami floods have hampered efforts to get it restored.

Meanwhile, heat-induced pressure built up inside the crippled reactor, prompting widespread evacuations and stoking fears of a potentially catastrophic radioactive event….

Scientists said that even though the reactor had stopped producing energy, its fuel continues to generate heat and needs steady levels of coolant to prevent it from overheating and triggering a dangerous cascade of events.

“You have to continue to supply water. If you don’t, the fuel will start to overheat and could melt,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist in the Global Security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington,A meltdown could lead to a breach of the reactor’s steel containment vessel and allow radiation to escape into an outer, concrete containment building, or even into the environment.

“Up to 100 percent of the volatile radioactive Cesium-137 content of the pools could go up in flames and smoke, to blow downwind over large distances,” said Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, which is an advocacy group that opposes nuclear weapons and power.

“Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.”

Japanese officials said radiation has not yet leaked from the plant, but ordered 2,800 people living around the facility to evacuate their homes as a precaution.

Let’s all hope the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen.

It must be said that when the worst-case scenario is unmitigated catastrophe, the greatest possible steps must be taken in advance to ensure it does not happen — and that starts with siting and design.

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It’s not a Three Mile Island situation yet, let alone a Chernobyl, and given the fact that the reactors are covered with containment vessels (which Chernobyl wasn’t), it’s unlikely to get quite that bad. But Dow Jones is now reporting that the local electric company says it’s “lost control over pressure in the reactors,” and […]

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I’ve been in a kind of day-long twitter spat with the right-wing over the fact that the House Republican spending plan would involve cuts in tsunami warning programs.

So to pull out of the weeds for a moment on the blog, the point I want to make is this. If you insist on large cuts in “spending” what happens is that you need large cuts in what the government spends money on. That’s primarily the military, Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. If you insist instead, as the House Republicans, on large cuts in non-security discretionary spending what happens is you get large cuts in all non-security discretionary spending programs. Cuts in schools. Cuts in tsunami monitoring. Cuts in hurricane tracking. Cuts in national parks. Cuts in financial regulatory enforcement. Cuts, cuts, cuts. That’s what it means to “cut.” If you want the government to spend much less money, it needs to do less stuff. If you want the government to spend much less money while avoiding cuts in the government’s most expensive programs, it needs to really scale back on all the other stuff. That’s what cutting spending is. The belief that spending should be substantially reduced requires the belief that the government should do substantially less stuff.


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Here’s a look at your year-to-year changes in aggregate employment:

What happened in New Jersey? Well, Chris Christie happened: “New Jersey’s job losses were almost entirely due to cuts in government employment.”

There’s a case to be made, clearly, that laying off government workers and using the savings to cut taxes on rich people will boost economic growth over the long run. But insofar as what you’re interested in is this recession right now it makes things worse. And for the past year this has been the main story of the labor market—private sector growth partially offset by public sector layoffs. You can like that pattern or you can dislike it, but what you can’t do is what conservatives have been doing—implementing the layoffs and then complaining that Barack Obama’s not doing enough to boost short-term job growth.


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House, Senate push back against EPA, Obama energy policy.

Republicans in Congress advanced against the EPA and the Obama administration’s energy policy on two fronts today. In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill to stop the EPA from implementing regulations to enforce its finding on carbon dioxide emissions as a pollutant. The bill will certainly pass the House, and might […]

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