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U.S. carbon emissions drop to 20-year low

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US emissions of carbon dioxide blamed for climate change fell in 2011 and have slipped to a 20-year low this year as the the world’s largest economy uses more natural gas and less coal, data shows.

The surprise drop from the world’s second biggest emitter comes despite the lack of legislation on climate change but it was unclear if the change marked a trend or would be enough to meet goals on fighting global warming.

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Official data showed that energy-related US carbon emissions fell by 2.4 percent in 2011 from the previous year.

The decline did not fully track the broader economy as the United States posted growth in 2011, whereas the last time emissions declined was in 2009 during a contraction in the economy.

In the first three months of 2012, US carbon emissions from energy use were down by almost eight percent from the same period last year, marking the lowest level for the quarter since 1992, the Energy Information Administration said.

The government agency said that the drop in emissions in the first quarter was due in part to the warmer winter, which decreased the need for heating during the season that traditionally sees the most energy demand.

The quarter saw the lowest level since 1983 in carbon emissions generated by coal, which is the dirtiest major source of energy. In 2011, coal accounted for 43 percent of US power generation, down from 51 percent in 2005.

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“The decline in coal-related emissions is due mainly to utilities using less coal for electricity generation as they burned more low-priced natural gas,” said the report issued this month.

The supply of natural gas has soared due to a boom in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to blast through rock and release gas and oil.

Advocates say that fracking has the potential to reduce US emissions and imports, but environmentalists have voiced concern that the process can contaminate water supplies. Governments including France and the US state of Vermont have banned fracking.

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The US data showed that some 18 percent of US energy consumption in 2011 came from sources that do not emit any carbon dioxide including nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar energy.

The Energy Information Administration warned that it was “difficult to draw conclusions” from data due to specific factors in 2011, including a large increase in hydropower generation.

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But it said that other factors — including the abundance of natural gas and improvements in fuel efficiency of vehicles — could make a longer-term impact.

In a projection made in June, the agency estimated that US carbon emissions would be more than nine percent below 2005 levels in 2020 assuming no national regulations other than vehicle emission standards.

President Barack Obama promised ahead of the turbulent UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 that the United States would cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, in a shift from his climate-skeptic predecessor George W. Bush.

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But proposals backed by Obama to restrict carbon emissions have died in Congress. Lawmakers of the rival Republican Party are staunchly opposed, arguing that climate efforts are too costly and voicing doubt about scientists’ views on climate change.

International negotiations have also deadlocked. China, the world’s largest emitter, has vowed to reduce the intensity of its emissions but rejects a binding treaty.

The planet has been experiencing extreme weather, droughts and record temperatures that many scientists link to climate change. The continental United States this year experienced a spring that was the warmest on record at 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2.9 Celsius) above the average from 1901 to 2000.

[Chimney via Shutterstock]

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‘Friday Night Massacre’ at US Postal Service as Postmaster General—a major Trump donor—ousts top officials

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Government watchdogs, Democratic lawmakers, and pro-democracy advocates declared it a "Friday Night Massacre" for the U.S. Postal Service after news broke in a classic end-of-the-week dump that Louis DeJoy—a major GOP donor to President Donald Trump and the recently appointed Postmaster General—had issued a sweeping overhaul of the agency, including the ouster of top executives from key posts and the reshuffling of more than two dozen other officials and operational managers.

According to the Washington Post:

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Virus outbreak in Houston-area nursing home kills 17

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A novel coronavirus outbreak at a Missouri City nursing home, outside of Houston, has killed 17 residents, according to data from state officials.

City officials issued a press release this week raising alarm over 19 deaths that they said occurred at the Paradigm at First Colony Nursing Home but nursing home officials told The Texas Tribune that the number is incorrect and declined to provide the correct number.

The city also reported that the facility has 24 infected staff members and the nursing home reported 11 currently infected residents who are in stable condition.

“This harrowing development speaks to the severity of this pandemic and how everyone needs to take it even more seriously,” said Missouri City Mayor Yolanda Ford of the outbreak in a Wednesday press release.

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‘Gullible’ Trump administration paid up to $500 million too much for these ventilators: investigators

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Citing “evidence of fraud, waste, and abuse,” a congressional subcommittee investigating the federal government’s purchase of $646.7 million worth of Philips ventilators has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General to launch its own investigation of the deal.

The House subcommittee launched its review after ProPublica stories in March and April showed how a U.S. subsidiary of Royal Philips N.V. received millions in federal tax dollars years ago to develop a low-cost ventilator for pandemics but didn’t deliver it. Instead, as the coronavirus began spreading around the globe and U.S. hospitals were desperate for more, Philips was selling commercial versions of the government-funded ventilator overseas from its Pennsylvania factory. Then in April, despite having not fulfilled the initial contract, the Dutch company struck a much more lucrative deal to sell the government 43,000 ventilators for four times the price.

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