Archive for USA
www.latimes.com 25th January 2013
Texas has lodged a complaint against the neighbouring state of New Mexico with the US Supreme Court this month. Texas claims New Mexico “has been diverting water it is obligated to send downstream under the 75-year-old Rio Grande Compact.” The compact was created in 1938 between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and established a “formula” for allocating the Colorado river’s water to the various states. Two giant reservoirs, the Elephant Butte and Caballo, were built in New Mexico as a result yet Texas now claims that as many as 2500 wells have been installed below the Elephant Butte diverting water from the river to the underground aquifer. This, says Pat Gordon, Texas’ representative on the Rio Grande Compact Commission, has reduced water for the irrigation network. New Mexico denies the allegations claiming those drawing water from the river actually have water-rights that predate the compact. A prominent water law specialist Charles DuMars seemed to back New Mexico in the dispute when he stated that the compact “only requires that New Mexico deliver a set amount of water into Elephant Butte Reservoir…as to what happens to the river between there and Texas, New Mexico’s water law probably applies, not the compact.”
www.nytimes.com 21st January 2013
In perhaps a surprising move, President Barack Obama put climate change at the forefront of his inaugural speech. Eight whole sentences were devoted to the subject, more than any other. The focus on climate change comes after a comprehensive failure to introduce any legislation on the issue in his first term. This time around, the president plans to use his executive power to avoid opposition by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Climate change was also brought up in election-night speech where he related it directly to the rise of extreme weather. A number of steps will be taken to help the US tackle the issue of greenhouse gases. The main step will be the power given to the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down on emissions from coal power-stations. Another is to increase energy-efficient standards in buildings and home-appliances. A third is to increase the development of public transport. Despite a failure to secure any legislation in his last term, emissions in the US still dipped 10% between 2008 and 2012, a result of the economic slow-down and moves towards energy efficiency by government and industry.
www.treehugger.com 3rd January 2012
The city of Concord (pop. 18,000) in the north-eastern state of Massachusetts in the US has become the first city to ban plastic water bottles. The ban, organised over the course of three years by 84 year-old resident Jean Hill, has been signed off by the state attorney general and applies to all water sold in a plastic bottle of 1 litre or less. It kicked into place on the 1st January. The first offence comes with a warning, the second a $25 fine and any after that a fine of $50. ”I hope other towns will follow,” Hill said. “I feel bottled water is a waste of money.” According to NBC News, the bottled water industry is considering a legal challenge. ”This ban deprives residents of the option to choose their choice of beverage and visitors, who come to this birthplace of American independence, a basic freedom gifted to them by the actions in this town more than 200 years ago,” the Virginia-based International Bottled Water Association stated, noting Concord’s place in U.S. history. “It will also deprive the town of needed tax revenue and harm local businesses that rely on bottled water sales.”
www.latimes.com 3rd January
A Royal Dutch Shell oil rig called Kulluk ran aground off the Alaskan coast just before the new year after drifting in high seas. The rig was being towed to Seattle for maintenance after its first season in the Beaufort Sea. Attempts to salvage the craft have so far failed. Kulluk is believed to be carrying 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and another 12,000 of other oil products. However, US Coastguard aircraft failed to spot any signs of a leak and the rig is currently deemed stable. Shell has said a significant spill is unlikely as the ‘fuel tanks [are] isolated in the centre of the vessel and encased in heavy steel’. The Kulluk’s 14 man crew had already disembarked because of the weather. It is uncertain, and Shell cannot give a reason, as to why the rig was being moved in such bad weather. According to the LA Times, the oil company appears to have underestimated the conditions in the Arctic region. A long list of errors by Shell have included an inadequate capability to de-ice the Kulluk crew’s transport helicopters (which set back the moving operation by several months), a failure to build an arctic-worthy containment dome and spill-response barge (which kept the company drilling to adequate depths to reach oil this year), and serious deficiencies involving pollution controls and crew safety in the Noble Discoverer, the drilling ship Shell used in the Chukchi Sea.
www.nytimes.com 18th December 2012
Quoted from source:
‘An industry group representing oil and gas companies has sued a city in Colorado that outlawed hydraulic fracturing, saying voters had no right to ban the drilling practice. The lawsuit, filed on Monday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, seeks to overturn the ban on the contentious practice that passed by a wide margin last month in the northern Colorado city of Longmont. The measure, the first of its kind in the state, still allows oil and gas drilling within city limits, but it prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which has lifted energy production across the country but has raised concerns about air and water contamination. The oil and gas association said the ban amounted to a prohibition on all efforts to tap the estimated $500 million in oil and gas resources locked in the rocks deep beneath Longmont. “The ban is illegal, and we expect it to be overturned by the courts,” said Tisha Schuller, the president of the group. City officials had been bracing for a lawsuit challenging Longmont’s right to make rules for an industry regulated largely by the state and federal authorities. Colorado officials opposed the city’s ban but have declined to sue to overturn it. Sam Schabacker, one of the ban’s leading advocates, called the lawsuit an attempt to “undermine a democratic vote in order to put a dangerous industrial activity next to homes, schools and public parks.”
One of the memorable bits about filming Plastic Shores was our visit to Big Island, Hawaii where we filmed the plastic pollution on Kamilo Beach. Two members of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Megan Lamson and Stacey Breining, showed LMV director Ed Scott-Clarke around the coastline and explained how the problem was. Although this journey occupies a chunk of the full-length Plastic Shores, we liked it so much we thought we would put together a short film of it too, alongside the fantastic animations of Alice Dunseath. Find the video above.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has organised the world’s first symposium dedicated to how animal welfare is affected by entanglement in marine debris. Arranged between the 4th to the 6th of December this year in Miami, Florida, the symposium differs from other marine debris conferences as it looks specifically at the problem from an animal welfare perspective. Marine debris, particularly plastic pollution, causes numerous problems in the world’s oceans, several of which cause the death of aquatic species. The UN has estimated that around 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds die every year because of entanglement and ingestion of marine debris, although accurate figures are impossible to calculate. A commonly cited example of how this happens is with turtles mistaking floating plastic bags for jellyfish. The bag then either suffocates the turtle, or causes its stomach to produce excessive amounts of digestive gases so that the creature ends up floating to the sea’s surface, unable to dive for food thereby dying of starvation.
Guest editorial by Elizabeth Odegaard, University of Washington 1st June 2012
SEATTLE, Washington – Located in the eastern part of the state of Washington, near the city of Richland, is the Hanford facility. The 586 square miles that comprise Hanford make up the most contaminated and radioactive site in the western hemisphere. Hanford was built out of the Manhattan Project during the nuclear arms race in WWII as the ideal location for producing the plutonium for an atomic bomb. Making it an ideal site was its close proximity to the cooling waters of the Columbia River and its relative isolation from major cities. So, in 1942, families, farmers, and three Native American tribes were evicted from their own land to make room for the construction of the Hanford facility. Because of the extreme secrecy and security of the project, those that were evicted had no idea why, other than that it was in the name of “the war effort”. And the site itself was virtually impenetrable by anyone that didn’t work there. By 1944 plutonium production was underway at Hanford and in 1945 the atomic bomb containing plutonium from Hanford was dropped on Nagasaki. The effects of Hanford are global, not only in terms of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb, but because of the far-reaching implications of what is now one of the most radioactive and contaminated sites in the world. At the time the facility was built, the future implications that a nuclear processing plant would have on the environment were not considered, but current generations are now dealing with the consequences of the short-sighted decision. This area of Washington is currently home to fruit orchards, farm and agriculture land, and recreational sports and camping which means that contamination and radiation have direct effects on the health of the region.
The history of Hanford is rife with tension; political, economic, and surrounding the health and safety of people and the environment. Hanford is currently managed under the Tri-Party Agreement which includes the United States Department of Energy, The United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington Department of Ecology. The tension and in-fighting over the distribution of money, and the power to make decisions, is endless. Coupled with the secrecy, distrust, and denial that has long been characteristic of Hanford, an effective clean-up process has so far been impossible. Each of these stake-holders is working toward different expectations of clean-up, under different budget constraints, and answering to different federal and state administrations. As a provision under the Tri-Party agreement, the Yakima nation represents the loudest Native American voice in the clean-up of Hanford but this has so far done little to truly further clean-up and speak for their specific rights. Many people, within each of these organizations, would agree that because of conflicting ideas of clean-up and pressures from outside forces, true collaboration is more or less impossible to achieve.
Plutonium production at Hanford continued until 1989 when the era of clean-up began. However, the challenge of clean-up is staggering. So far, only 2% of the radioactivity at Hanford has been immobilized. One of the biggest challenges is the 53 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in 177 underground tanks. A third of these tanks have leaked more than one million gallons of radioactive waste into the soil and groundwater that feeds into the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. The method of “disposal” used so far at Hanford includes the dumping of waste into miles of poorly designed trenches on the site. The future of waste management at Hanford looks to the operation of a Vitrification Plant that will immobilize the waste in the form of glass, encapsulating it in a secure cylinder that can then be ‘safely’ stored. However, the design and construction of the plant has been inefficient, slow-going, and expensive, and won’t even begin operations for what is estimated to be at least another ten years. Hanford is now the most expensive clean-up program and the largest public works project in the United States.
Plutonium is a man-made element with a half-life of over 24,000 years. This means that once it enters the body, through inhalation, consumption of contaminated food/water, or exposure to the skin, it doesn’t leave. The radioactive waste produced during the processing of plutonium is extremely dangerous, as plutonium is not only a carcinogen but also a mutagenic, it poses a serious health risk with long-term consequences for generations to come. In addition to the plutonium waste, other toxic chemicals, like chromium, tritium, uranium, strontium-90, and tetrachloride, have already contaminated the groundwater at Hanford, and threaten the Columbia River. Workers at Hanford, during both production and clean-up, as well as those living ‘down-wind’ from the facility, and people who use the Columbia River for recreational purposes, all face the continued dangers of potential exposure or contamination by an endless list of toxic chemicals. There are countless cases of people with cancers, thyroid diseases, and other illnesses because of radiation exposure or chemical contamination at Hanford.
Safe levels of radiation and chemical exposure are based on a “reference man” a statistical starting point that realistically only represents a small portion of the population; and the portion least at risk because it is based on a healthy, young, white male. Children have at least a three times greater risk of cancer than adults, and women are more vulnerable than men. The federal standard of ‘safe exposure’ from the Department of Energy is the least stringent and allows for 3 deaths out of every 10,000 people due to radiation exposure. The Washington State standard is 1 death per 100,000 people. These competing standards further reflect the challenge of collaboration and the problem of disjointed leadership perspectives at Hanford.
Hanford, though in many ways seemingly isolated from the rest of the world, has the potential to continue to have relatively unseen, but far-reaching effects. An earthquake or a chemical reaction at the facility has the potential to cause a massive radiation release, contaminating the air and waters of the Columbia River. As the biggest river in the Pacific Northwest, contamination of the Columbia would easily impact the Pacific Ocean and the marine and human life that relies on it for survival. Through the bio-accumulation of contamination, would likely perpetuate the exposure to humans and animals over great distances. Already, the river water along the shore of the facility has been tested and shown to have contaminants at levels greater than 1,500 times the drinking water standard. This poses a major threat to the health of the people and animals in contact with the river. This means that effective and thorough clean-up is necessary in order to prevent even more contamination in the future.
Though there is much contention surrounding Hanford, everyone can agree that it needs to be cleaned up; the disagreement is as to how that should be done. Hanford was built behind curtains of secrecy and justified with a vehement sense of patriotism. These qualities have made it extremely difficult to enact changes in clean-up policy and standards of health and safety as Whistleblowers are harassed and treated vilely; and the “good ol’ boy’s” club makes it virtually impossible to speak out against the ‘way things are’ at Hanford. The political willpower of the 1940’s that built Hanford, and constructed nuclear weapons, stands in great contrast to the current apathy and lack of collaboration on the part of the federal and state government and the stake holders there. Many organizations are working hard toward a collaborative clean-up effort with federal and state programs, and give voices to those that are affected by Hanford.
If you would like to learn more about Hanford and the clean-up effort please explore some of the resources below.
Hanford Challenge: A non-profit organization working on a collaborative clean-up of Hanford
The United States Department of Ecology: One of the Tri-Party stake holders
Physicians for Social Responsibility: A non-profit organization working on environmental and social concerns related to Hanford
Heart of America Northwest: A citizen’s group that works in pursuit of Hanford clean-up
www.latimes.com 24th May 2012
Los Angeles, California, became the largest city in the USA to ban single-use plastic bags at supermarket checkouts. In a city that has previously used 12 billion plastic bags a year (with only 5% of these being recycled), the decision the City Council is a huge victory for environmental campaigners trying to combat plastic pollution in the region’s landfills, waterways and ocean. The Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out bags over the next 16 months in the city’s 7,500 stores. California leads the way in the country with plastic bag bans. San Francisco was the first in 2007 and since then San Jose, Santa Monica, and Long Beach have all jumped on the wagon. The bans vary in wording with some silent on the contentious issue of paper bags (a long-held argument of plastic-bag manufacturers is that plastic bags reduce the amount of trees needed for paper bags) although the LA City Council has stipulated there should be a charge of 10c per paper bag. This, according to Jennie R. Romer of plasticbaglaws.org, has resulted in a 94% reduction of their use (a similar figure to the drop experienced in Rep. of Ireland when the country introduced a fee on plastic bags). Oakland, next to San Francisco, had less success with their ban after they were successfully sued because of it. It will however be included in Alameda County’s ban starting next year.
The problem of marine debris first entered the public consciousness in the USA, when Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation sailed across the North Pacific Garbage Patch in the 1990s. Since then, most research on the phenomena of garbage patches have taken place in the North Pacific (although organisations such as 5 Gyres, to be written about next, are researching other gyres in the world). Right in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is known, sits Hawaii, the southernmost and westernmost state of the US. It was here that the 5th International Marine Debris Conference took place, where LMV filmed in March 2011.
After the conference, LMV flew to the largest Hawaiian island, Big Island, to film what is commonly thought of as one of the world’s worst shorelines for plastic pollution, Kamilo Beach. We had met the Hawaii Wildlife Fund‘s Megan Lamson at the 5IMDC and she kindly organised for us to go to Kamilo with herself and another HWF member Stacey Breining. Kamilo is a stretch of coastline on the southeast corner of Big Island and its beaches receive a lot of plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Prior to our trip down there, we interviewed Noni Sanford (pictured above), a beach cleanup volunteer who was among the first to start picking up the debris from the beach in the mid 80s. She said she was shocked about the amount of trash there was compared to the pristine coasts of when she first went down there in the 1950s. ‘It was 8-10ft deep in spots. We’d bring home some stuff but there was such a small amount of stuff we could pick up, it was really kind of defeating.’
When LMV went down to Kamilo with Megan and Stacey, thankfully, it wasn’t as bad, but that is solely down to the hard work of people like Noni and the HWF. What was shocking was the amount of micro-plastics in the sand. Megan explained that the average size of the plastic on the beach was decreasing over time, mostly due to frequent beach cleanups. But the smaller the pieces the harder they are to pick up. The HWF had devised a sieve-like flotation device that filtered the micro-plastics out of the sand. It was a long process though and it showed the dedication of the HWF team in protecting their shores. The problem was what to do with the plastic they took away with them. ‘We take the derelict fishing nets to the Waimea Transfer Station…until we have enough to fill up a 40ft maxi-container. They then ship it to Oahu, to H-Power plant where they burn it for electricity.’ Explained Stacey. ‘And then all the other trash goes to landfill. Unfortunately there isn’t any other option for us.’
The scale of the plastic pollution at Kamilo was vast and thanks to Megan and Stacey from the HWF we managed to collect some fascinating footage of just how extensive the problem of marine debris is in Hawaii. It is a pivotal sequence in Plastic Shores and the film would be lacking without it. We wish them every success in the future.
The current standoff in the South China Sea reported in the BBC has the potential to be the beginning of something far larger in scale. The standoff is between China and the Philippines, and the area of contention is Scarborough Shoal, a small atoll of islands and reefs that lies well within the Philippines 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) dictated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (above). However, along with most of the rest of the South China Sea, China claims the atoll belongs to them. On Sunday (8th April), the Philippine’s largest warship, on a routine patrol of the area, found eight Chinese fishing vessels around Scarborough Shoal. Upon boarding one, the Philippine navy found a large amount of illegally caught fish and coral. Two days after this, two Chinese navy surveillance vessels arrived on the scene and positioned themselves between the fishing vessels and the Philippine warship, foiling any attempts the latter had to arrest the fishermen. Tensions grew yet further with news, reported in the BBC today (Thursday 12th April), that a Philippine coastguard vessel was to join the warship to face down the Chinese.
China claims territory within the 200 mile EEZs of five other countries around the South China Sea: Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Regional flare-ups have happened in the past but they have, as yet, not ended in violence. One factor that must be taken into account when studying the geopolitics of the region is the possibility that a large amount of oil and gas resides beneath the Sea. This maybe one reason why China has been bolstering its navy in recent years, a move that makes it now the second largest naval force in the world after the USA with over 500 combat vessels. The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy also trialled its first aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
However, another factor that is sure to play a part in regional tensions in this part of the world is fish. It is interesting to note that although the confrontational nature of the Chinese surveillance vessels off Scarborough Shoal maybe to safeguard the area for future fossil fuel exploitation, it kicked off because of illegal fishing around the islands. With 70% of the world’s fish stocks being fished close to, already at, or beyond capacity has led experts to predict a catastrophic collapse in worldwide fish-stocks by the year 2048. Coastal communities in south-eastern Asian countries such as China and the Philippines have traditionally relied upon fish as a main source of protein and as fish populations decline, fishermen are having to travel further afield to satisfy demand. Not only does this have a devastating effect on the marine environment (from unsustainable fishing practices alone), but it also causes territorial disputes such as the one brewing around the Scarborough Shoal.
The fact that the Philippine navy is about to commence naval exercises alongside the US Navy in the same area makes for an interesting, and possibly fatal, few months. Although it is by no means certain that hostilities will commence (actually it is extremely unlikely as the last thing either the USA or China want is a clash), the fact that a standoff is even happening is because, presumably, the Chinese fishing vessels cannot find enough fish in areas of water that are less contested. This of course does not take into account the possibility that the boats were deliberately sent to the Shoal to reinforce China’s claim on the area.
Nobody wants a naval war to start in the South China Sea. Exploiting oil and gas reserves would become very difficult if it did. However, China does need to decide what is a more important resource: oil or fish. The former may matter more for the economy but the latter may be worth more to the population. Riots have started for far less than an increase in the price of fish. If it turns out that fish is a more important resource, then we here at LMV would not be surprised if clashes do happen in the South China Sea.
www.bbc.co.uk 6th April 2012
A Japanese shrimping vessel that was washed to sea during the disastrous tsunami of March 2011 has been sunk in 9,000 ft of water by the United States Coastguard off the coast of Alaska. The Ryou-Un Maru, which was without power or lights, was deemed a hazard to other vessels and sunk using a cannon that punctured holes in the ship’s sides. The question many people have asked is why the Ryou-Un was not salvaged. In fact, the coastguard had already contacted the Japanese government to ask them whether they were interested in salvage. The reply was negative. Then, the coastguard had agreed to hold off taking action as a Canadian fishing vessel claimed salvage rights. When the larger Japanese ship proved difficult to tow though, the US authorities stepped in. Another question worrying conservationists is the 7,500 litres of diesel fuel that were not removed prior to the sinking. According to Petty Officer David Mosley the fuel ‘should very quickly dissipate in the ocean.’ The Ryou-Un is believed to be the vanguard of a large debris field from Japan that is making its way to the west coast of North America on North Pacific currents.
As the world’s leaders and scientists meet in Durban this weekend to discuss the end of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change, several nations seem intent on disrupting negotiations. Key among them is the USA who, along with China, Japan, Canada and Russia, has refused point-blank to agree to any new targets on CO2 reductions at the summit. The USA under George Bush rejected the current Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012 and aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 5% compared to 1990 levels, back in 2001 citing the unfairness that the Protocol did not include developing countries such as India and China. Now, with the presidential elections looming, the Obama administration is refusing to agree to a new set of limitations. The stance has led to angry criticisms from many attending the Durban summit including small island nations who are likely to be the worst affected by changing weather patterns and rising sea levels. The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott, who played a key role in the original Kyoto negotiations, spoke out against the approach. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Let’s have a reassessment of it by 2015. But if you don’t finish in time for the ending of Kyoto Two, which is next year, 2012, then, you know, it will actually wither on the vine and that’s what Canada and America wants – and one or two other rich countries. It’s a conspiracy against the poor. It’s appalling. I’m ashamed of such countries not recognising their responsibilities.”
Although the USA and co have been labelled as the villains at the UN sponsored conference, there is evidence that a shift in the UK government’s strategy towards climate change is afoot. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, hinted at this change when he said: ”We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers.” His words run against the government’s previous assertions that it intends to be the ‘greenest government ever’. In response, the President of the coalition’s partners, the Liberal Democrat party, Tim Farron, claimed Mr Osborne was taking on climate-sceptic attitude ”to placate 50 or 60 climate deniers on the [Tory] back benches, people who read the Daily Mail and people called Jeremy Clarkson”. It all seems that with the global economy in a downturn, environmental issues are being sidelined.
www.washingtonpost.com 21st November 2011
There has been much public protest in the USA recently over an agricultural bill that passed Congress last week. Within the bill was one passage essentially making it easier for the tomato sauce base of pizza to be declared a serving of vegetables. Although the move has been highlighted as ‘pizza is a vegetable’, the paper does not mention the word ‘pizza’ at any point. The argument therefore focusses on the sauce. The Obama administration wanted to change the current guidelines of tomato paste from 1/8 of a cup being nutritionally equal to 1/2 cup of vegetables to a more level pegging. Congress blocked this change essentially making it easier, and cheaper, for frozen pizza manufacturers to declare their product contains a serving of vegetables. Particularly in relation to school lunches, health food advocates have risen in arms against the decision. However, all schools meals are bound by federal regulations for calories (no more than of the daily recommended value) and fat content (less than 30 percent of the meal) but these are guidelines. According to a US Department of Agriculture, which writes the regulations, audit only 20% of schools in the US met federal limits on fat content. To conclude then: pizza isn’t a vegetable but the sauce that goes on the pizza is and, according to Congress, is equal nutritionally to four times the same volume of vegetables.
President Barack Obama made his priorities clear recently when he rejected proposals from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten the national standard from smog. The decision angered environmental and public health groups who called it: ‘bald surrender to business pressure, an act of political pandering and, most galling, a cold-blooded betrayal of a loyal constituency.’ The move is being seen as the first important environmental decision made in President Obama’s campaign season. Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the EPA, was told that she could revisit the Clean Air Act standards in 2013, if the Democrats were re-elected. Republicans and industry lobbyists praised the move but there have been other decisions that have not gone their way. Previously, the Obama administration stated that it was going to delay a key decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline until after the 2012 elections. Fears are afoot that the Democrats are abandoning their environmental promises after the Democrats also announced a significant expansion of oil drilling in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. Commentators have stated that these moves highlight the White House’s growing awareness of the cost of ‘environmental regulation in a battered economy’.
e360.yale.edu 2nd November 2011
Quoted from source:
‘One of the Obama administration’s signature environmental proposals — requiring tough new fuel efficiency standards for cars — is under attack from a powerful lobby of car dealers. President Obama had forged an agreement with major U.S. automakers requiring that automobiles would get an average of 54 miles-per-gallon by 2025, nearly double the current efficiency standards. After taking billions in government bailout money, carmakers like General Motors and Chrysler were under intense pressure to agree to the new standards, which are currently being formulated. Now, however, thousands of U.S. automobile dealers are supporting Republican legislation that would upend that agreement and soften the fuel efficiency standards. The bill, introduced into the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from being involved in fuel efficiency decisions, leaving the matter up to the Department of Transportation, which has traditionally supported a more gradual jump in efficiency standards. The car dealers say the agreement between Obama and the automakers bullies consumers and dealers into accepting overly strict mileage standards that will significantly increase the costs of cars.’
Two scientists involved in the so-called ‘Polarbeargate’ scandal have been asked to take lie-detector tests by the US Department of the Interior (DOI). In 2004 Jeffrey Gleason and Charles Monnett wrote a paper on dead polar bears floating in the Arctic, apparently drowned, and in doing so helped highlight the plight of the species in relation to melting Arctic ice. However, this year allegations within the DOI emerged claiming that acts of ‘scientific misconduct’ may have been committed in relation to the report prompting the DOI’s Office of Inspector General to launch an investigation. After several interviews, the DOI suspended Mr Monnett, who works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, causing accusations of politics interfering with science and a witch-hunt. Although Mr Monnett has since returned to work, the focus has now shifted to his fellow author Mr Gleason, who was asked if he would take a polygraph. He replied that he would only if the agent interviewing him would take one also. ”There appears to be kind of a desperate, almost fierce nature to pursue this until they find something,” said Mr Gleason’s lawyer, Jeff Ruch, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Mr Ruch has filed a complaint with the DOI saying his client should be investigated by a review board of scientists, and not the Office of Inspector General.
www.bbc.co.uk 12th August 2011
Quoted from source:
‘A migrant farm worker from Mexico who died in 2010 was the first human ever to die in the US of rabies transmitted by vampire bat, health officials say. The 19-year-old died last August about three weeks after he was bitten on the heel by a vampire bat while sleeping in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Doctors in the US state of Louisiana, where he went to work on a sugar cane farm after the bite, diagnosed rabies. He had no known vaccination against the disease, US health officials reported. According to a report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, a publication of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the unnamed worker was bitten on the left heel by the bat on 15 July 2010. He departed for the US 10 days later, arriving at a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana on 29 July. The next day he went to hospital, complaining of fatigue, pain in his left shoulder and numbness in his left hand, which he attributed to overwork. He was transferred to hospital in New Orleans, where his condition deteriorated rapidly until he died on 21 August. A post-mortem examination showed that he had been infected with a variant of rabies that comes from vampire bats. The man fell ill only 15 days after being bitten, whereas the median incubation period for rabies in the US is 85 days, the CDC reported. The man’s mother later told health investigators he did not seek medical attention for the initial bite. ”This is the first reported death from a vampire bat rabies virus variant in the United States,” the CDC reported.’
e360.yale.edu 9th August 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a new battery technology that they say would significantly reduce the size of electric car battery systems and potentially double the range of electric vehicles. The technology uses a type of semi-solid flow cell system, in which the battery electrodes take the form of tiny particles suspended in liquid electrolyte, a mixture nicknamed “Cambridge crude.” Two streams of that slurry-like compound — one positively charged, the other negatively charged — are then pumped through the system, causing the exchange of lithium ions across a permeable membrane that triggers an external current. Critically, while most standard battery systems consist largely of materials that provide structural support but no power, researchers say this system puts more of the materials to work. Lead researcher Yet-Ming Chiang says the power-per-unit potential will be 10 times greater than conventional designs. Also, drivers looking to recharge their batteries would have the option of replacing spent slurry or re-charging the slurry with an electric current.’
e360.yale.edu 5th August
Quoted from source:
‘U.S. government regulators have conditionally approved Shell Exploration’s plans to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska. Drilling could begin as early as next July. The decision is a setback for various environmental groups and indigenous people, who are concerned that drilling activity and the potential for oil spills in the icy region could threaten a highly sensitive ecosystem that is home to whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and migratory seabirds. Shell and Alaska’s U.S. senators praised the decision, which brings Shell a big step closer to drilling after years of legal battles. Shell must still clear some regulatory hurdles, including developing an oil spill response plan. Holly Harris, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the decision could open a warming Arctic to an unprecedented level of oil drilling, adding, “This is a disaster waiting to happen.” Meanwhile, the United Nations issued a report that criticized Shell and the Nigerian government for contributing to 50 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta. The UN said that reversing damage there would be the world’s largest oil clean-up, costing at least $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.’
www.nytimes.com 3rd August 2011
The oil and gas industry has maintained that fracking, the process of hydraulic fracturing whereby water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the bedrock to release natural gas reserves, has absolutely no effect on drinking water supplies. The reason behind this certification, industry officials say, is that fracking occurs thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers therefore it is impossible for the chemicals used in the process to enter the water. However, a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1987 describes hydraulic drilling carried out by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well belonging to a Mr James Parsons of West Virginia not 600 feet away. Furthermore, the EPA have claimed that there may be more cases out there that will never see the light of day due to sealed settlements made between fracking companies and those affected by the contaminated water. This made it impossible for EPA researchers to investigate cases due to the lawsuits. “I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.” The American Petroleum Institute has denied such claims, instead referring to ‘countless academic, federal and state investigators’ who have ‘conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.’
www.nationalgeographic.com 25th July 2011
Washington DC lawmakers will consider over the next few weeks a controversial plan to take down four dams in the state of California in order to save endangered salmon. Dams have been blamed by various environmental groups for the drastic decline in salmon runs over the past century, from millions of fish to just 100,000 or so. The plan is, surprisingly, supported by local farmers as well as PacifiCorp, the operating company for the four dams (the Iron Gate, Copco 2, Copco 1, and John C. Boyle dams) all situated on the Klamath River. PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffett, has got behind the idea as it may cost more money to modify the dams with fish passages than it would to destroy them. Other major proponents of the plan are native American tribes that rely on salmon in their diet, and have done, according to archaeologists, for the past 9,000 years. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has warned that dam removal is not a ‘silver bullet’ though. Other factors such as water quality (increasingly affected by agricultural runoff) and water warming (due to climate change) also play a role and need to be kept in check if the local Chinook Salmon population is to recover. The four dams in line to be demolished were all created for hydropower and generate enough energy to power around 70,000 homes. Other dams on the river were constructed for irrigation but they are not at risk. The unlikely partnership of PacifiCorp, the Klamath Water Users Association (representing the region’s farmers) and the tribes (the Yurok, Karuk, Klamath, and Hoopa Valley), under the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, benefits all: less cost for the energy company, more water for the farmers, and more salmon for the tribes.
www.bbc.co.uk 22nd July 2011
Parts of the central and eastern United States have been hit by a strong heat-wave, which has caused 22 deaths already. Temperatures have peaked at 39 degrees C (99F) and as much as 50% of the entire country is under heat advisory, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The heat-wave has been caused by an unusually durable ridge of high pressure that is causing the air to sink, compress, and heat up. Due to the aridity of the phenomenon, cloud formation is low reducing the amount of solar radiation reflected back up into the atmosphere. The humidity at ground level however makes it very hard for human sweat to evaporate easily, disrupting our natural cooling system. As well as human fatalities, livestock have been hard hit with 1,500 head of cattle reported dead in South Dakota alone. Other effects of the heat-wave include power cuts in New York and unhealthy levels of smog in Chicago. Heat is the number one weather related killer in the US, according to the NWS, with an average of 162 people dying every year because of it.
www.latimes.com 19th July 2011
A group of environmental and public health organisations have lodged a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the latter’s perceived failure to curtail pollution levels, and therefore smog, in the city. The EPA had recently missed a deadline in May to calculate whether ozone levels in the area were hazardous to human health, a decision that could trigger tougher limits on vehicle and industry pollution. Los Angeles already has the highest rates of ozone in the country according to the American Lung Association. It is also has the highest rates if asthma with 1 million adults and 300,000 children diagnosed with the condition. The suit was filed by several organisations including Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In nearby San Joaquin Valley, a similar lawsuit was filed by the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. If the EPA does end up determining that ozone levels in LA are too high then the regions regulatory agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, would have one year to submit a clean-up plan. The EPA have refused to comment on the lawsuit.
An 8 metre (25 foot), 200 pound (90kg) giant squid has been discovered by a group of fisherman floating off Port Salerno, Florida. The three men claim the squid was still moving when they hauled it into their boat and that the suckers stuck to them even when it was onboard. They then called wildlife authorities and the by-then dead squid was transported to the Florida Museum of Natural History. The Florida coast (Southeast USA) is an unusual place for a giant squid specimen to be found, even though the world’s largest invertebrates are found globally. They are thought to grow up to 18 metres (60 foot) and are known to fall prey to sperm whales. The Florida specimen was described as ‘exceptional’ by Roger Portell, the invertebrate specialist who is helping preserve the squid at the museum. Like other giant squid specimens, it is coloured white with patches pigment-containing cells that change colour rapidly, either for communication or camouflage. Due to the lack of injuries on the squid, Mr Portell believes it may have just given birth as many invertebrates, both males and females, die after reproducing.
www.latimes.com 3rd July 2011
An ExxonMobil oil pipeline crossing the Yellowstone River in Montana has been damaged spilling around a 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of crude into the marine environment. It took ExxonMobil engineers 6 minutes to shut the pipeline down after pressure readings dropped on Sunday. The last inspection of the pipeline (December) showed the pipe 5-8 feet below the riverbed but heavy rains and melted snow are believed to have removed the sediment on top. This exposed the metalwork to floating debris which damaged the structural integrity of the pipeline, resulting in the spill. The pipeline is only 20 years old but was already shut in May this year due to worries about seasonal flooding. It was reopened however after it was deemed safe based on the pipeline’s record. It is too early to tell the impact on the surrounding environment although local residents are concerned that when the high river waters recede, they will leave oil on farmers’ land.
www.nytimes.com 1st July 2011
In an attempt to reduce their reliance on Amazonian hardwoods, officials in charge of maintaining the Coney Island boardwalk have begun to replace sections of the walk with concrete instead of wooden boards. Pressure from conservation organisations such as Rainforest Relief has apparently succeeded with the boardwalk, constructed in 1923, now having two sections of concrete walkway. Amazonian hardwoods, such as ipe, are used in many of Brooklyn’s piers, benches, and walkways and can withstand the weight of a garbage truck. In recent times, supplies of hardwoods have been depleted to dangerously low levels. Concrete seems to be the cheapest and most durable alternative costing at $95 a square foot compared to $127 for hardwood. Native American hardwoods are not suitable as sturdy as their Amazonian counterparts. The next instalment of concrete will be, if plans drawn up by advisory body Community Block 13 are followed through, 5 blocks on the walk’s eastern edge costing $7.5 million. An other plan to replace just a central strip of the boardwalk with concrete, on which the garbage trucks could drive, and then use recycled plastic boards for the rest (costing $110 per square foot) was turned down by Community Board 13 at a vote of 21 to 7.
www.latimes.com 15th June 2011
After nearly a century of progress, life expectancy in the United States has encountered a slight setback. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has released data showing that out of around 3,000 counties in the country, 737 have seen female life expectancy decline between the years 1997 to 2007. The last time such setbacks have been seen in the US was during the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in 1918. Nationwide, life expectancy is still on the rise but the gap between those areas with the highest average age of death and those with lowest is widening. The worst counties, found in Appalachia, the Deep South and the lower Midwest, had an average life expectancy that was lower than such countries as Syria, Panama, and Vietnam. The researchers who conducted the study blame a combination of obesity and smoking for the poor results. In regard to the former, the latest research found 34% of the US population were obese, compared to half that in 1980. Furthermore, the rate of counties with falling life expectancy is increasing. Between 1987 and 1997, only 227 counties saw dropping female life expectancy. Communities with large immigrant populations, such as southern California, fared a lot better than average despite low income levels. On a national level, life expectancy for women is 81.3 (as of 2007) placing the US 35th in the world rankings compiled by the UN (down from 20th in 1987). Average male life expectancy is 76.7, 24th in the world (up from 32nd).