Thomas Fraser

NYT: NOAA map details U.S. climate change over last century

The map produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that virtually all of the U.S. has higher average temperatures than 100 years ago. The precipitation data shows where rainfall averages have increased (East Tennessee and most of the Appalachian Mountains and their adjacent foothills and valleys) and where they fluctuated beyond average (California and the Southwest). Some of the data predates the regular government weather and climate record-keeping that began 90 years ago.

"Because the normals have been produced since 1930, they also say a lot about the weather over a much longer term. That is, they show how the climate has changed in the United States, as it has across the world, as a result of emissions of heat-trapping gases over more than a century."

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SACE: TVA must also wean itself off natural gas and nuclear reliance

As previously reported by Hellbender Press, Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down its five remaining coal plants by 2050 and pursue a carbon-neutral future.

TVA board members spoke favorably of the decision at its regular meeting on Thursday.

"TVA CEO Jeff Lyash shared a vision of how TVA will continue to support the Valley for years to come with a commitment to sustainability. The board also endorsed a strategic focus on decarbonization and a commitment to providing a reliable, low-cost energy supply as TVA moves into the future," according to a statement released Thursday by TVA.

"TVA leadership issued a Strategic Intent and Guiding Principles document to provide direction for developing business strategies that provide reliable, resilient, low-cost and clean energy to the region. View the Executive Summary of the document.

"TVA’s new Carbon Report outlines TVA’s commitment and path to reduce carbon in the coming years without compromising the reliability and low rates the Valley has come to expect. The report outlines TVA’s leadership today in carbon reduction, our plan to achieve 70 percent reduction by 2030, our path to 80 percent reduction by 2035 and our aspiration to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050."

Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy generally lauded TVA's sustainability mission, but released the following detailed response Thursday afternoon:

"The agency’s intentions fall far short of the Biden Administration’s goal of decarbonizing the nation’s electric grid by 2035, a timeframe recommended by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

"During an interview on WBIR’s “Inside Tennessee,” aired May 2, Lyash stated the agency aspires to be net-zero carbon by 2050, with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035. Lyash’s statements follow his comments during a virtual forum hosted on April 28 by the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center that TVA intends to retire five coal-fired fossil plants still in operation by 2035. While a step in the right direction, being coal-free is not equivalent to being carbon-free. 

"The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s latest report shows TVA plans to build 1,500 MW of fossil gas capacity to be online by 2023. Intentions to retire the five remaining active coal plants with an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 and aspirations for net-zero carbon by 2050 are not only out of step with the Biden Administration, but also potentially improbable if the utility plans to continue to build out fossil gas plants.

"In fact, SACE’s recent analysis shows that according to TVA’s latest resource plans and announced projects, and taking into account TVA’s history and projected rate of decarbonization, TVA is not on track to fully decarbonize by 2050. Without announcing formal resource plans that greatly increase utilization of clean energy like solar, energy efficiency, and battery storage that can be analyzed through an integrated resource planning (IRP) process, there is no guarantee TVA will reach net-zero emissions even by 2050.

"As the nation’s largest public power utility and as an extension of the Biden Administration, TVA has the ability and resources to lead by example and demonstrate the path to zero carbon by the Administration’s goal of 2035, not fifteen years later. Better yet, SACE has called on TVA to play a leading role by formally setting a target to be a carbon-free power system by 2030, ahead of the Administration’s 2035 goal," according to SACE. 

"Utility sector decarbonization is achievable through a federal Clean Electricity Standard with robust clean energy investments and justice-centered policies, according to a report by Evergreen Collaborative, “A Roadmap to 100% Clean Electricity by 2035.”

"TVA needs to immediately initiate and update its integrated resource plan (IRP) and begin the proper procedures to follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to accelerate 100 percent decarbonization of their grid by 2035 at the latest — not partially at 80 percent by 2035 or 100 percent by 2050.

Stephen Smith, the executive director of SACE, said in the release: “As an extension of the Administration, TVA executive staff and board leadership should embrace policies and goals in line with the Biden Administration to achieve a low-cost, highly reliable, carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. SACE believes that TVA could lead by example and reach the carbon-free goal by 2030 if they take the necessary action now."

"The current TVA CEO’s public statements are out of step with the Biden Administration’s goals. With accountable leadership, collaborative planning, and commitment, TVA has the opportunity to once again embrace the mission to be a “utility yardstick” of innovative environmental stewardship and job creation," Smith said.

(Smith also serves on the board of the Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is a self-supporting project of FGS).



Published in Voices

IMG 0996Joy Grissom (left) and Gerry Moll pose for a photograph with their collection of rescued native plants at Knoxville Botanical Gardens.  Photos by Anna Lawrence/Hellbender Press  

Joy Grissom and Gerry Moll: Preserving East Tennessee's natural heritage with shovels and wheelbarrows

If there’s a massive ecological disturbance in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?

The Knoxville Native Plant Rescue Squad, of course. 

Joy Grissom and Gerry Moll spent the past six years identifying, digging, hauling and muscling native East Tennessee plants to salvation from construction, grading and logging sites.

The duo has saved thousands of plants and their communities from certain demise. They have plucked plants to safety from areas ranging from a 170-acre logging operation in Cocke County to relatively small commercial developments in Knox County.

“We both love and appreciate the natural world, a lot,” Moll said. “We would see that where there is development, a lot of these native plants are just bulldozed under,” he said during an interview earlier this spring at the Knoxville Botanical Garden. Thus the genesis of the Native Plant Rescue Squad, which was organized 2015 and received its own official nonprofit status in 2018.

Most of the plants and trees are harvested in a “shovel and wheelbarrow operation” after an initial canvass of the property. Then they get organized by species in neat rows at the botanical garden: White pine saplings. Black-eyed susans. Blackberries. Elderberries. Pawpaw. Persimmon. The plants are fragile but safe. They are for sale on the cheap. They need homes.

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NYT: EPA plans stricter regulation of HFC emissions

Hydrofluorocarbons were used on an industrial scale to replace ozone layer-destroying chlorofluorocarbons used in refrigeration, cooling and other applications, but they turned out to be a powerful driver of climate change. Scientists estimate HFCs are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of their cimate-change role.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists continue research into zero-emission refrigerant technologies

According to Times reporting: "In proposing a new regulation, Michael S. Regan, the E.P.A. administrator, said the agency aimed to reduce the production and importation of hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning, in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years." 

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“Our intelligence and flexibility as a society will be tested as the financial and industrial giants all figure out what they’re going to do.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority intends to phase out its aging fleet of coal plants by 2035, potentially replacing the age-old carbon-rich power source with increased use of natural gas and refreshed, concentrated supplies of nuclear energy as the vast utility moves to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan emerged Wednesday, about a month after the Biden administration called on the U.S. power sector to eliminate pollutants linked to climate change by 2035.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest public provider of electricity in the United States. It provides wholesale power to every major municipal provider in Tennessee, as well as other metropolitan areas and smaller utility districts and cooperatives within its seven-state service area.

Coal represents 14 percent of TVA’s energy portfolio. Its other main fuel sources are nuclear (41 percent) and fossil gas (27 percent). Hydropower accounts for 13 percent of its generation, with solar, wind and efficiency programs making up only 5 percent of its current power portfolio, according to the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The consequential plan was introduced almost off-handedly on Wednesday by TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash, who appeared with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin during a live online international energy discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council, a bipartisan global think tank.

The TVA plan as announced during the webinar was first reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and then relayed locally on Friday by Knoxville Compass. The Lyash and Manchin quotes and descriptions below were derived from the recorded seminar or a TVA transcript of the event passed to Hellbender Press by Compass.

Two TVA spokesmen didn’t respond to requests for comment on Friday. 

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CItizen Times: Roan Mountain donation will protect vast stretches of forest in Roan Highlands

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney donated 7,500 acres to the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, an area described by an Asheville Citizen-Times reporter as "A high-elevation hideaway for birds, bears and salamanders, a massive piece of Western North Carolina’s famous mountains left unmarred, and a refuge for rare species in the face of climate change...

"The property includes the largest American Chestnut restoration project in the country, extensive boulder fields, rich coves, old growth forests, six waterfalls, and a system of rare heath balds," according to Citizen-Times reporter Karen Chavez. 

The land area is at least equivalent to the size of some highland state parks. 

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Mayor wants green for green; some otherwise supportive city residents already aren't pleased with some initiatives.

Mayor Indya Kincannon's proposed Knoxville 2020-2021 budget commits some $30 million to reduce city climate impacts, expand its use of renewable energy, invest in urban forest preservation and outdoor recreation assets and improve bus and bicycle travel in communities across the city. The budget also provides money for revitalization of the Burlington District, a historic pedestrian center of Black commerce in East Knoxville.

The city's net budget is $384 million, which includes a $253 million operating fund.

The budget is just a recommendation to City Council at this point. 

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168691309 4048180571871818 2861942263530178348 nThis photo provided by Ijams Nature Center is an example of the plethora of weird things removed from the Tennessee River and its tributaries during the annual River Rescue held March 27. 

Mattresses, rocking horse and plastic shed among the stranger items retrieved from area waterways

Volunteers removed 31,000 pounds from the Tennessee River and its watersheds on March 27 during the 32nd annual Ijams River Rescue despite a storm system that dropped several inches of heavy rain on the area.

The rain dissuaded some of the 717 volunteers signed up for the river rescue, but nearly 500 people still joined together to collect trash from 32 sites. Their nasty haul included 919 bags of garbage and 82 tires, according to a release from Ijams Nature Center

The heavy rain actually worked out somewhat in organizers' favor, as debris and flotsam were flushed from tributaries into the main stem of the river.

“Heavy rain always means more trash because the rising waters wash everything downstream and into the Tennessee River,” Ijams Volunteer Coordinator Madelyn Collins said in the news release. “We are so appreciative to everyone who braved the storms and did the work while they could. It was amazing how much volunteers accomplished in such a short time.”

One lucky participant found a $50 bill; other unusual items removed from the river included a toilet, a recliner, mattresses, a rocking horse, plastic shed and a baby stroller.

"The takeaway from this year’s event—and every other cleanup this community does—is that we need to be more careful about how we dispose of trash and recyclables. If you don't put it where it belongs, it ends up in our water.”

Tennessee Valley Authority; city of Knoxville Stormwater Engineering; Bio Plumbing, LLC; First Horizon Foundation; Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency; WestRock CP, LLC; Genera, Inc.; Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union; Waste Connections of Tennessee Inc.; CAC AmeriCorps; and the Water Quality Forum sponsored, supported or participated in the annual cleanup.

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$20 million per mile: TDOT opens virtual-only comment on highly controversial roadway

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has opened a virtual-only public comment period for the controversial Pellissippi Parkway extension, which would slice through the remaining rural areas of Blount County and move urban expansion and increased traffic flow ever closer to the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth.

The public comment period began April 15 and will last until April 25. The project has generated controversy and lawsuits for at least two decades, but TDOT decided the comment period should be held virtually for only two weeks because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project encompasses about four miles and will cost nearly $100 million. Opponents of the parkway say the extension is a waste of money and will destroy rural landscapes and wildlife habitat and pollute aquatic resources.

Here's a link to a story about the Pellissippi Parkway extension published in February by Hellbender Press.

According to The Daily Times,  which reported the public hearings on April 19:

“'The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the department to look for alternate ways to engage and interact with the public,' TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said in a video introducing the presentation, framed as a somewhat awkward-to-navigate virtual reality room.

It includes a history of the project, a right of way acquisition process overview, a project design summary and a comments and questions section. A digitally generated flyover video of the planned extension shows intricate details of how the road may look once completed. 

According to the TDOT website:

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will host a Virtual Design public meeting from April 15, 2021, to April 29, 2021, to gather public input on the proposed project in Blount County on SR-162 Ext. (Pellissippi Parkway), from SR-33 to SR-73 (US-321).

The virtual meeting was opened to the public at 8:00 am EST on April 15, 2021 and will close at 10:00 pm EST on April 29, 2021. The website link is:

The proposed highway would require the acquisition of private property and extend through the Wildwood and Sam Houston areas to an abrupt terminus with East Lamar Alexander Parkway to the west of Walland, which is host to an increasing number of high-dollar hospitality attractions such as Blackberry Farm.

Right-of-way acquisitions could start by the end of the year, according to The Daily Times.

To the east of the proposed parkway's end is Townsend, which bills itself as the Peaceful Side of the Smokies.

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From the “this is why we can’t have nice things” file: Vandals violated ancient and sacred Cherokee and Creek art with scratches and paint in the Track Rock Gap area of Chattahoochee and Oconee national forests.

“It’s one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site located on public land in Georgia,” according to a National Forest Service Facebook post, the NYT reported. That post was later removed by the forest service, which cited the ongoing criminal investigation.

The rock carvings date to 800 A.D. The vandalism occurred at some point in 2020 or early this year. 

There are at least 100 Native American petroglyphs in the north Georgia national forests. Some of the more prominent sites are fenced but allow people to view the ancient art.

Also from the Times report:

The Cherokee Tribal Heritage Preservation Office said in a statement that the Eastern Band of Cherokee people were “sad and frustrated” to learn of the vandalism.

“They are special sites for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and for all people as part of the Heritage of this region,” the statement said. “Whether through ignorance or malice — the result is irreparable damage to a unique site that connects us directly to the people of the past.”

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