President-elect Biden’s hopes for Democratic agenda hang on Georgia runoffs

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden’s hopes of enacting major Democratic priorities like expanding healthcare access, fighting climate change and providing more coronavirus aid are going to hang on a pair of U.S. Senate races in Georgia in January.

Democrats fell short of their goal of taking a Senate majority and actually lost seats in the House of Representatives, making Republicans well positioned to block major Biden legislative initiatives.

That leaves Biden’s party with the daunting task of trying to unseat two incumbent Republican senators in the traditionally Republican-leaning state, where Biden himself holds just a narrow lead over President Donald Trump as vote-counting continues.

“We take Georgia, then we change the world,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer declared in New York on Saturday. Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp also heralded the high-stakes January voting, calling on Republicans to unite and saying “the fight is far from over.”

Republicans appear poised to hold at least 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats next year, presuming that leads in North Carolina and Alaska hold. That makes winning the two Georgia runoffs pivotal in getting control of the Senate for Democrats. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be able to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue, who is seeking a second term, received 49.8 % of the vote, compared to Democrat Jon Ossoff, who got 47.9%.

In the other contest, Black Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock got 32.9% to Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler’s 25.9%. A third Republican, Representative Doug Collins, failed to make the runoff after coming in third with 20%.

DEMOCRATS HAVE A CHANCE

Georgia has not elected a Democratic senator for two decades, but changing demographics and the gradually improving Democratic performances in recent contests suggest the party has a chance at winning the Jan. 5 runoffs, political scientists say.

But those odds will largely depend on keeping voters engaged, said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University.

“Whichever party has the better turnout operation is the one that wins,” Gillespie said.

Voter mobilization efforts have boosted Democrats’ fortunes, she said. Registration campaigns, like the one led by Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2018, helped register thousands. But it remains to be seen if Georgia voters will come out in January as they did for November’s election, which featured the presidential ticket.

Both Perdue and Loeffler are Trump allies. But Loeffler ran strongly to the right this year to defeat fellow Republican Collins.

She accepted an endorsement from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congresswoman-elect who has promoted the baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon. Loeffler has posted photos with herself on Twitter with members of a private militia group, and has called the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests police violence and racial injustice, a “Marxist” group.

Amy Steigerwalt, a political science professor at Georgia State University, asked whether Loeffler’s actions might now work against her in the runoff with Warnock — and in turn pull Perdue down since both Republicans will be on the ballot at the same time.

“Will she get a boost on some level from Perdue also running? … Or is it possible that now that there is more attention given to her and given to some of the positions that she took, that (could) honestly harm both of the Republican candidates?” Steigerwalt said.

“Democratic voters in particular in the exit polls mentioned that one of the main things that caused them to turn out was racial justice,” Steigerwalt said.

BIDEN GOALS AT STAKE

Biden’s cabinet picks and policy proposals would face choppy water if Republicans maintain a Senate majority. He pledged to strengthen and build on the Obamacare healthcare program. He also campaigned on a multi-trillion-dollar plan to curb carbon emissions and create jobs, and said he favored raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Those goals would face stiff opposition with Republicans in charge of the Senate. There would likely be hard bargaining over any additional coronavirus aid, which a number of Republicans oppose.

On the other hand Biden, a former senator who campaigned as a centrist, has known the leader of the Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for years. They have struck deals together before, including an agreement to allow tax rates to rise on the wealthy late in 2012, when Biden was vice president. Last week, McConnell referred to Biden as an “old friend.”

“Look for him to drive long-standing priorities of his like infrastructure, where he could perhaps find support from a moderate Republican or two,” said Scott Mulhauser, a Democratic strategist who worked for Biden in the 2012 presidential election.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)

Trump replaces Republican head of energy regulatory panel who supports carbon markets

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump demoted Neil Chatterjee, the Republican head of an energy regulation panel, after he promoted the use of carbon markets by U.S. states to curb climate change.

Trump replaced Chatterjee, who had been chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, with fellow Republican James Danly, who had been a commissioner, Chatterjee said on Twitter late Thursday.

If Joe Biden becomes president it is likely he would quickly name a Democratic FERC chair.

Last month Chatterjee had promoted putting a price on carbon emissions, an idea backed by many former Republican politicians and leading companies as a way to lower emissions of pollutants scientists say are warming the planet.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carbon pricing has struggled to gain support in the U.S. Congress and in the administration of Trump, who doubts climate science and wants to cut costs on coal, oil and natural gas.

In a proposed policy statement on Oct. 15 Chatterjee said that carbon pricing by U.S. states is an “important market-based tool that has wide support from across sectors.” He also held a conference exploring how a carbon tax would world in power markets.

Josh Price, an analyst at Height Capital Markets, said in a note to clients that the proposed blessing for state-led carbon pricing schemes was a “direct threat to coal.”

Chatterjee’s term was due to end on June 30, and he said he would serve out the rest of that as a commissioner. He once worked on pro-fossil-fuel policies as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of coal-producing Kentucky.

FERC, an independent panel of the Energy Department, regulates the transmission of electricity and natural gas across states and reviews large energy projects.

Chatterjee told the Washington Examiner that his demotion was “perhaps” because he has supported carbon markets and that if the demotion was retribution, he was proud of his independence.

Danly said in a statement that Chatterjee had left his mark on FERC by brokering an agreement on terminals for natural gas exports and taking other actions to help “secure our American energy independence.”

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. formally exits global climate pact amid election uncertainty

By Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States formally exited the Paris Agreement on Wednesday, fulfilling an old promise by President Donald Trump to withdraw the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter from the global pact to fight climate change.

But the outcome of the tight U.S. election contest will determine for how long. Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has promised to rejoin the agreement if elected.

“The U.S. withdrawal will leave a gap in our regime, and the global efforts to achieve the goals and ambitions of the Paris Agreement,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told Reuters.

The United States still remains a party to the UNFCCC. Espinosa said the body will be “ready to assist the U.S. in any effort in order to rejoin the Paris Agreement”.

Trump first announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the pact in June 2017, arguing it would undermine the U.S. economy. The administration formally served notice to the United Nations one year ago on Nov. 4, 2019.

The departure makes the United States the only country of 197 signatories to have withdrawn from the agreement struck in 2015.

“If climate deniers keep control of the White House and Congress, delivering a climate-safe planet will be more challenging,” said Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat instrumental in brokering the Paris accord, who now heads the non-profit European Climate Foundation.

Calling the withdrawal a “lost opportunity”, Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, chair of the African Group of Negotiators in global climate talks, said it would also create a shortfall in global climate finances. He pointed to an Obama-era pledge to contribute $3 billion to a fund to help vulnerable countries tackle climate change, of which only $1 billion was delivered.

UNIVERSAL SUPPORT

Other major emitters have pressed on with climate action, even without guarantees the U.S. will follow suit.

A spokeswoman for the European Union’s executive Commission said the Paris accord has the “universal support” of the rest of the international community.

China, Japan and South Korea have all followed the EU in pledging to become carbon neutral. The challenge now is to translate these long-term targets for 2050 – or, in China’s case, for 2060 – into policies to slash emissions this decade.

A strong emissions-cutting pledge from the world’s largest economy “would give a big shot of momentum” to those efforts, said Pete Betts, a former climate negotiator for the EU and Britain, who is now an associate fellow at London-based think-tank Chatham House.

“The U.S. would put its diplomatic heft in efforts to persuade other major economies to raise their efforts,” he said.

Countries representing 51% of the world’s emissions have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero – with some going further and committing to zero out all greenhouse gases, research coalition Climate Action Tracker said.

A net zero pledge from the United States – which Biden says he would make, if elected – would see 63% of global emissions covered by such commitments.

Despite the lack of encouragement from the current White House, many U.S. states and businesses have nonetheless moved to cut emissions, while climate change has risen up the global investor agenda, including on Wall Street.

Groups representing New York-based BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager, and other asset managers in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, who manage trillions of dollars in assets between them, issued a joint statement urging the United States to quickly rejoin the accord.

If Biden were to win, he could rejoin the Paris accord through a process that would take 30 days.

A Trump win, however, would “seal the fate of the United States – at least at the federal level – as a country that was isolated from the rest of the world: powerless to shape the international dialogue or direction on climate,” said Nat Keohane, senior vice president for climate at the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Matthew Green in London; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, David Gregorio, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Kirsten Donovan)

‘We don’t give up really easy’: Navajo ranchers battle climate change

By Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay

CEDAR RIDGE, Ariz. (Reuters) – Two decades into a severe drought on the Navajo reservation, the open range around Maybelle Sloan’s sheep farm stretches out in a brown expanse of earth and sagebrush.

A dry wind blows dust across the high-desert plateau, smoke from wildfires in Arizona and California shrouding the nearby rim of the Grand Canyon.

The summer monsoon rains have failed again, and stock ponds meant to collect rainwater for the hot summer months are dry.

With no ground water for her animals, Sloan, 59, fills an animal trough with water from a 1,200-gallon white plastic tank. She and her husband, Leonard, have to pay up to $300 to have the tank filled as her pickup truck has broken down. When it’s working, she hauls water herself every two days, spending $80 a week on fuel.

The cost of hauling water has made their ranch unprofitable.

The Navajo Nation – covering a 27,000 square mile area straddling the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — competes with growing cities including Phoenix and Los Angeles for its water supply.

And as climate change dries out the U.S. West, that supply is becoming increasingly precarious.

In decades past, “we got rain every year around June, July, August,” said Leonard Sloan. The 64-year-old rancher pointed toward the dry ponds in the ground near a local butte named Missing Tooth Rock. “When we had that storm, there would be water and they would be full. And now due to global warming, we don’t get no rain, just a little.”

To keep their ranch alive the Sloans have to get water, which is free, from the sole livestock well in the area some 15 miles to the east.

They spend between $3,000 and $4,000 a year on hay to supplement their animals’ feed as the open range no longer produces enough grass to sustain them.

Maybelle has cut her sheep herd down to 24 head, and Leonard tells her to get rid of them and her 18 goats to focus on their 42 cattle, which bring more money at market.

But Maybelle bristles at the thought of giving up sheep herding learned from her mother, and grandmother before her. Maybelle’s mother, father and sister all died in April from coronavirus.

“I’m doing it for my parents,” Maybelle said, wiping tears away as she sat on the metal railing of a corral while her cattle licked salt blocks and drank water.

GRADUAL DISASTER

The Sloans remember grass growing as high as the belly of a horse as recently as the 1980’s.

But drought conditions on the reservation have become largely relentless since the mid-1990’s.

Annual average temperatures rose by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the reservation’s Navajo County area over the 100 years to 2019, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data.

The months of June to August this year were the driest on record in the area for the three-month period, according to drought monitoring data studied by climate scientist David Simeral of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. Three of the five driest July-August rainy seasons in the area have occurred since the late 1990’s.

The warming trend has prompted desertification, with sand dunes now covering about a third of the reservation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

All but one of the reservation’s rivers have stopped running year-round, said Margaret Redsteer, a scientist at the University of Washington in Bothell.

“That’s the really tricky thing about droughts, and climate change is like that too,” Redsteer said. “It’s a gradual disaster.”

DETERMINED PEOPLE

On paper, the Navajo Nation has extensive water rights based on the federal “reserved rights” doctrine which holds that Native American nations have rights to land and resources in treaties they signed with the United States.

In practice, the Navajos and other tribes were left out of many 20th century negotiations divvying up the West’s water.

There are signs some of the next generation are keeping up ranching traditions.

Some youths simply help their grandparents haul water each day from the sole well for livestock in the Bodaway-Gap area. Still others, including Maybelle’s children, send money from their work off the reservation to help fund their families’ ranches.

“Us Indians, we don’t give up really easy,” Maybelle said. “We’re really determined people.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Supreme Court takes up energy companies’ appeal over Baltimore climate suit

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal by energy companies including BP PLC, Chevron Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC contesting a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking damages for the impact of global climate change.

The justices will weigh whether the lawsuit must be heard in state court as the city would prefer or in federal court, which corporate defendants generally view as a more favorable venue. The suit targets 21 U.S. and foreign energy companies that extract, produce, distribute or sell fossil fuels.

The outcome could affect around a dozen similar lawsuits by U.S. states, cities and counties including Rhode Island and New York City seeking to hold such companies liable for the impact of climate change.

Baltimore and the other jurisdictions are seeking damages under state law for the harms they said they have sustained due to climate change, which they attribute in part to the companies’ role in producing fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The plaintiffs have said they have had to spend more on infrastructure such as flood control measures to combat sea-level rise caused by a warming climate. Climate change has been melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers.

The Supreme Court in 2019 declined the companies’ emergency request to put the Baltimore litigation on hold after a federal judge ruled that the case should be heard in state court. In March, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s decision.

In the absence of federal legislation in the bitterly divided U.S. Congress targeting climate change, the lawsuits are the latest effort to force action via litigation.

The Supreme Court in a landmark 2007 ruling said that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that could be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the agency issued the first-ever regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. But efforts in Congress to enact sweeping climate change legislation have failed.

The court took action in the case three days before it begins its new nine-month term short one justice after the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Donald Trump has nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

California wine country fire quadruples in size, more evacuations ordered

By Adrees Latif and Jonathan Allen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A wildfire in northern California’s Napa Valley wine country more than quadrupled in size overnight to some 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares), burning homes and vineyards and forcing officials to order thousands of residents to evacuate on Monday.

As the small city of Santa Rosa emptied out around him, Jas Sihota stationed himself on his front porch with his garden hose close at hand, darting out every 15 minutes or so to douse spot fires around neighboring houses seeded by wind-blown embers under a hazy red sun.

Sihota, a radiology technician at a nearby hospital, had not slept in some 24 hours since the blaze, since named the Glass Fire, ignited on Sunday morning near Calistoga about 60 miles (96.5 km) north of San Francisco.

“I wouldn’t have a house if I didn’t stay,” said Sihota, adding that neither would some of his neighbors. At least 10 homes elsewhere on the street beyond the reach of his hose were destroyed.

He weighed when he might finally grab some sleep, wondering if he could stay up perhaps another six hours on adrenaline. “I’m not going to do it till I feel comfortable,” he said.

It was the latest inferno in a historically destructive year throughout the U.S. West. In California alone, wildfires so far have scorched more than 3.7 million acres, far exceeding any single year in state history.

Since Aug. 15, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed more than 7,000 structures. Climate change has contributed to wildfires’ growing intensity, scientists say.

Early on Monday, new evacuation orders were issued in Sonoma and Napa counties, including parts of the cities of Santa Rosa and St. Helena.

Residents at Oakmont Gardens, a retirement community in Santa Rosa, leaned on walkers as they waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and the novel coronavirus.

More than a thousand firefighters are battling the Glass Fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), some in planes that trailed red plumes of fire retardant over the region’s famed vineyards. None of it had been contained as of Monday morning, said Cal Fire, which was also monitoring 26 other major wildfires in the state.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through to the end of Monday, forecasting low humidity and gusts of wind up to 55 miles per hour (89 km per hour) through certain canyons. The fire also prompted evacuation of the 151-bed Adventist Health St. Helena hospital on Sunday for a second time in recent weeks after lightning-sparked blazes swept through the area in August.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Santa Rosa and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)

California vows to ban sale of new gasoline-powered passenger vehicles in 2035

By David Shepardson and Nichola Groom

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a dramatic move to shift to electric vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday.

Newsom told a press conference the state was committing to a “firm goal” to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 and was encouraging other states to take similar action.

Newsom’s order labeled the elimination of gasoline-powered vehicles a “goal” and a “target” after his office said earlier his order would require the sale of nothing but zero emission passenger vehicle starting in 2035.

The move would be the most significant to date by a U.S. state aimed at ending the use of internal combustion engines for passenger travel.

California is the largest U.S. auto market, accounting for about 11% of all U.S. vehicle sales, and many states choose to adopt its green vehicle mandates.

Newsom also wants the state legislature to stop issuing new permits by 2024 allowing use of hydraulic fracturing technology for oil and gas drilling.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to bar California from requiring the sale of electric vehicles, while his rival Joe Biden has pledged to spend billions to speed the adoption of electric vehicles.

California said it was joining 15 countries that have made similar pledges, including Britain.

California’s clean vehicle goals have not always come to pass and in some cases have been pushed back.

Newsom said the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will develop regulations to mandate that 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. The board also plans to mandate by 2045 that all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles be zero emission where feasible.

Newsom’s executive order does not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market.

In response to a record wildfire season in the state, Newsom earlier this month said California needed to “fast track” its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. “Across the entire spectrum, our goals are inadequate to the reality we are experiencing,” he said on Sept. 11 while touring a burned area in the state.

A group representing major automakers including General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG said “neither mandates nor bans build successful markets.”

The group noted electrified vehicles account for less than 10% of new vehicle sales in California, which is still best in the United States.

California and nearly two dozen other U.S. states have sued the Trump administration, which has rolled back Obama era vehicle emissions standards and sought to undo California’s authority to set strict car pollution rules.

The administration has been waging a multi-pronged battle to counter California’s efforts to fight climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses from vehicles.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

California firefighters make stand to save famed observatory, homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews fought on Tuesday to defend homes and the famed Mount Wilson Observatory from California’s biggest and most dangerous wildfire, standing their ground at a major highway between the flames and populated areas.

The Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, has already blackened an area larger than the city of Atlanta and its rapid spread prompted worried law enforcement officials to call for new evacuations on Monday evening.

Once home to the largest operational telescope in the world, the Mount Wilson Observatory, which sits on a peak of the San Gabriel mountains near vital communications towers, said in an update that almost all the forest around it had burned.

Firefighters overnight kept the Bobcat from breaching containment lines near the observatory and were preventively burning vegetation ahead of the fire along state Highway 2, which runs northeast from Los Angeles.

This summer California already has seen more land charred by wildfires than in any previous full year, with some 3.4 million acres burned since mid-August.

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that some scientists call evidence of climate change, have destroyed some 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters.

Another 2 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington during an outbreak of wildfires, destroying more than 4,400 structures and claiming 10 lives. But rain showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest gain control of those conflagrations.

Although California has seen little rain in September, bouts of high temperatures and gale-force winds have given way in recent days to cooler weather, enabling firefighters to gain ground.

But forecasters predict rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half, lending urgency to the firefight.

The Bobcat Fire has now scorched more than 109,000 acres to become one of the largest wildfires in recorded Los Angeles County history and was only 17% contained on Tuesday afternoon.

The flames came perilously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory last week before they were driven back by crews using air support.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under evacuation warnings.

California’s fire season historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

California firefighters race to subdue flames before heat and winds return

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed on Monday to consolidate their gains as forecasts called for a return of blistering, gusty weather.

California already has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations – many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms – scorching some 3.4 million acres since mid-August.

The previous record was just under 2 million acres burned in 2018.

As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported.

Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives.

But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states.

Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires.

“They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters.

The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around mid-week in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half.

BOBCAT FIRE PROVES STUBBORN

Some fires have proven more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres on Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said.

The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley.

Across the Bobcat fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames.

They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes.

Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Mercury released by permafrost thaw puts Yukon River fish at risk: study

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – If carbon emissions continue at current rates, so much mercury will leach from thawing permafrost that fish in the Yukon River could become dangerous to eat within a few decades, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications.

Current emissions rates threaten to trigger enough thaw release to drive mercury levels in Yukon River fish above federal safety guidelines by 2050, according to the study.

Mercury concentration in the Yukon is expected to double by the end of the century if carbon emissions continue at present rates, according to the study.

But if emissions are reduced in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, mercury concentrations will increase by only 14% by the end of the century, keeping levels in fish at or below safety guidelines, according to the study.

“A lot will depend on what we do in terms of response to climate change,” said Kevin Schaefer of the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, the study’s lead author.

The study has implications beyond the indigenous communities in Alaska and Canada that depend on Yukon River fish for their income, diets and culture, Schaefer said.

The nearly 2,000-mile river is “a bellwether or a canary-in-the-coal mine kind of thing, an indicator of what might happen over the whole Arctic,” he said. Thaw-released mercury will work its way from the land to the river and ultimately, into the oceans, and thaw-released mercury in gaseous form will encircle the world, he said.

“What happens in the Yukon is going to affect the entire globe, not just the people who live on or around the Yukon River,” he said.

A 2018 study co-authored by Schaefer, in collaboration with partners from the U.S. Geological Survey and other institutions, estimated that Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost soils hold nearly twice as much stored mercury as is in all the rest of the world’s soils, the oceans and the atmosphere combined.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Christopher Cushing)