Weekend Roundup: Book in a Barrel

The book that led to Abe Lincoln's presidency • What happens to coal in sequester • Ice deaths in Minnesota • John Kerry on climate change -- and maybe Keystone XL

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In his first major address as Secretary of State, John Kerry made what one news agency called an “urgent call for comprehensive action on climate change.”

The CBC, the Canadian news broadcaster, said the speech was “ominous” for the Keystone XL pipeline. Kerry must grant Keystone a permit to cross the U.S. border from Canada. KXL would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Environmentalists see tapping the Canadian tar sands as a major potential contributor to global warming and have urged the Obama Administration to deny the permit.

“We as a nation must have the foresight and courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and grandchildren: an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate,” Kerry said in a wide-ranging speech at the University of Virginia.

Whither Walmart — “Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?” asked Cameron Geiger, a Walmart senior vice president, in e-mails obtained by Bloomberg News that also described February sales to that point as “a total disaster.” 

Indeed, when Walmart released its quarterly results Thursday, sales were flat compared to a year ago, after rising 3.9 percent last year. The question is whether this shows a weakening among consumers — or just a result of delays in getting income tax refunds.

Teacher Satisfaction — Public school teachers report that their level of satisfaction with their work is at its lowest level in 25 years. 

Valerie Strauss reports:

It’s no wonder so many teachers have low morale. They say that modern school reform — with its emphasis on getting rid of bad teachers, assessing teachers by student standardized test scores, and rewriting tenure and collective bargaining laws — essentially demonizes them.

Wipers AND Lights — A bill is moving through the Iowa legislature that would require drivers to turn on their lights whenever they are using their wipers. 

Weed Resistance — Pam Smith writes in DTN about scientists who are finding that “evolution of herbicide resistance in weeds poses a real threat to global food production and security.” 

Smith was at a meeting of several hundred weed scientists from 33 countries, all of whom are finding resistance to herbicides growing.

Favoring Shale Gas — President Obama’s likely nominee to head the Department of Energy “strongly favors natural gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ and directs the MIT Energy Initiative, a research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is funded by some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies,” Lisa Song writes in InsideClimate News. 

“When it comes to carbon, [natural] gas is part of our solution at least for some time,” said Ernest Moniz, who served as undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration. “And we should take advantage of the time to innovate and bring down the cost of renewables. The worst thing w[ould] be is to get time and not use it. And that I’m afraid is where we are.”

Billion Dollar Crop — The 2012 wheat crop in Montana alone amounted to $1.7 billion. 

The USDA predicts that U.S. farmers will have record harvests of corn and soybeans this coming year, as they try to recover from drought. 

Minnesota Ice Deaths — Five people have died and a sixth is missing in ice-related incidents in Minnesota, a number that is the highest since 8 people died in the 2006-7 winter. 

People are simply falling through the ice while riding snowmobiles or other vehicles. “There could be several reasons why so many people have died this year,” said Kara Owens, DNR boat and water safety specialist. “It could be there are more people out on the ice because we have had a cooler winter and more snow.”

Snow and Drought — The big snowfall in the Midwest is not enough to end the drought, DTN reports

“The problem is, we are following up an unbelievably severe drought year,” said Nebraska state climatologist Al Dutcher. “We have seen no difference in soil moisture than at the end of October. Even in no-till stubble, it (soil profile) is bone-dry below about 18 inches. So, the snow will give some help, but the area is so far behind.”

Book in a Barrel — The story of how a book found in an old barrel led Abe Lincoln to the law and then the Presidency, here

Secure Rural Schools — Rural counties that have a lot of federal lands are on a “fiscal roller coaster,” says Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. They don’t know from year to year if they are to receive payments (in lieu of taxes) under the Secure Rural Schools act. 

The act paid 729 rural counties $346 million last year, but the legislation has expired. 

This article is interesting. Josephine County (Oregon) commissioner Simon Hare would rather that Wyden work on increasing timbering on federal lands than renew the Secure Rural Schools act. “The senator is, frankly, out of touch with what is going on here on the ground and with what we need,” said Hare.

Obama and Coal — Ken Ward Jr. has two good posts on his Coal Tattoo blog.

Post #1 reminds everyone that a coal-mine safety rule that will surely save lives — and is favored by industry — is still hung up in the administration’s bureaucracy. 

The rule would require continuous miners (the machines that claw away at the coal seam in underground mines) have sensors that can detect if they are getting close to coal miners. If a miner is close, the machines automatically shut down. 

Some companies have already installed these devices. But a rule requiring the sensors has been stuck in the federal bureaucracy since 2011. Meanwhile, Ward points out, miners continue to be killed by this machinery.

Post #2 reports on what the sequester will mean for coal. First, it appears that coal mine safety inspections will continue. But work on new rules will be slowed. 

Funding will be cut back on projects aimed at reclaiming surface mines that have been abandoned. 

 

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