China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection reported that 22 Chinese cities, including Beijing, had declared a “red alert” because of horrendous air pollution on Friday Dec. 16. Nurseries and primary schools were closed, road work was suspended, high-emission vehicles were banned from the roads, and some factories were required to slow or shut down production. This was the first red alert for Beijing since December 2015. Several days before, citizens protesting air pollution had been arrested in Chengdu after placing masks over statues.
Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced the launch of a $1 billion private fund to invest in new clean energy projects. Called Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the fund will invest in “scientific breakthroughs that have the potential to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world.” Other investors in the fund include former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. A year ago Gates put together the Breakthrough Energy Coalition of 20 billionaires who committed to investing in new forms of energy.
Last week EPA issued the final version of its five-year study of the impact of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater. The draft report EPA had issued for public comment a year ago stated that fracking has not “led to widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States.” The new final report deletes this conclusion and states that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” with effects that “can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances. EPA finds that “significant data gaps and uncertainties” preclude it from “calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts.” The report is being viewed by many observers as supporting better regulation of fracking, rather than an outright ban.
After four months of testing, the first offshore wind project in the U.S. became operational on December 12. The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island consists of five turbines that generate 30MW of electricity. The project, which took two years to complete, was completed on-time and on-budget. It is the first offshore wind farm outside of Europe to become operational.
Last week I reported that president-elect Donald Trump had selected Cathy McMorris Rodgers to be his Secretary of Interior. That report proved to be premature. Reportedly, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric helped convince him instead to select Montana congressman Ryan Zinke. Zinke, who is a former Navy Seal, is serving his first term in Congress. While Rodgers had a 5% voting rating from the League of Conservation Voters, Zinke’s rating from the group is 3%. However, Zinke reportedly is not in favor of widespread transfers of federal land to states or private interests.