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New rules aim to stop rash of oil train spills and explosions

oil-train.jpg
John Wathen / Public Herald

Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new rules for improving safety standards around transporting large quantities of flammable materials by rail. The chief concern here is the movement of crude oil and ethanol, which the federal government has been ramping up through recent decisions to expand the exploration and extraction of domestic oil and gas.

The new rules, summarized here, focus on upgrades for train tank cars, new speed limits for trains carrying flammable fuels, improved braking operations, and more rigorous testing for the movement of volatile liquids. A recent rash of train crashes and oil spills, notably in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Lynchburg, Va., prompted the new safety standards.

In a recent review of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Politico found that train wrecks have done more than $10 million in damage as of mid-May this year, which is nearly triple the damage for all of 2013.

In a press statement, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the proposal “our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Hatin' it

Good news: Mother jailed for sending daughter to playground is freed. Bad news: McDonald’s fires her

McDonalds_streetart
Felix J. Fuchs

If there weren’t enough reasons to protest McDonald’s, here’s another: Remember Debra Harrell, the mother who went to jail for sending her daughter to the playground? Well, McDonald’s, her employer at the time, fired her.

Bryce Covert reports for Think Progress:

While Robert Phillips, the attorney representing her pro bono at McGowan, Hood & Felder, said that she was released from jail the day after she was arrested on bond, he confirmed that she had been let go from her job. He didn’t have any information as to why. A spokesperson for McDonald’s declined to comment, saying it is inappropriate to discuss a human resources issue. She also said the company is cooperating with local police in their investigation of the situation.

It is believed that Harrell let her daughter go to the playground alone because she couldn't afford childcare. But daycare will be even farther out of reach without a job.

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D.C. scraps climate art installation, says it sends the wrong message

ANTEDELUVIAN 2
Mia Feuer

Artist Mia Feuer’s planned "ANTEDILUVIAN" art installation -- a gas station mostly submerged underwater in Washington, D.C., as a statement on climate change and rising sea levels -- is officially cancelled completely. Months of anticipation for Feuer’s proposed project were dashed last Friday when the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities announced that ANTEDILUVIAN couldn’t be installed in Kingman Lake, by the Anacostia River, where Feuer had initially hoped to place it.

"After further consultation with the District's Department of the Environment regarding the city’s on-going efforts to clean up the Anacostia River, DCCAH is working to relocate the temporary project outside of the Anacostia River and vicinity," a spokesperson for the Arts Commission said.

But Feuer wrote on her Indiegogo blog this morning that her installation won’t be relocated anywhere, and that it was permanently banned from happening. It was supposed to be part of DC’s 5x5 Festival, a program the city’s arts commission is kicking off this fall with five noted curators picking 25 artists to feature public arts projects around the District -- similar to Art Basel in Miami or Prospect in New Orleans.

But Feuer told me today that the arts commission had dropped ANTEDILUVIAN completely, even though hers was one of the highest profiled projects in the festival.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Planes talk

Disney’s “Planes” sequel is an excuse to talk to your kids about climate change

planes-sn.jpg
Disney

I saw the Disney film Planes: Fire and Rescue over the weekend with my 11-year-old son Justice. It’s not my favorite animated movie series, but I thought it would be a calmer, more ambient version of the kind of anthropomorphized stories Justice and I have sat earmuffed through at the movies lately, like Transformers and Planet of the Apes.

I’m not mad we went. It did a better job of explaining the inconsolable wrath of wildfires for us two East Coasters than I could have ever done for my son. And it managed to pack in a subplot about water scarcity.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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It’s going to take more than swim lessons to undo the effects of racism

free-swim
Free Swim

If you haven’t caught the documentary Free Swim, about the paradox of an island in the Bahamas where the natives don’t know how to swim (you can catch it free on online), it’s worth a look -- especially if you’ve followed our own Grist-ian summer coverage of the often painful stories behind American swimming and beaches (found here, here, here, aaand here). That pain comes, in part, from a history of racism that has excluded black people from public swimming areas and taken their land to build beach resorts.

Free Swim strokes through similar themes. Here’s the trailer:

The film focuses on the Deep Creek village on the southern end of Eleuthera, a thin sliver of an island in the Bahamas -- 110 miles long, but only about a mile wide. We know poverty besets the region because of the shanty shelters, abandoned farms, and the rusts and ghosts of industrial buildings throughout the landscape.

The children don’t seem “poor” -- they dance in the streets, twist braids on the porch, and make music from discarded empty bottles -- but they dream of going to big cities like New York and Los Angeles. They think they won’t make it because they are scared of the water they’d need to cross to get there.

Read more: Living

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Another bad creation

Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free — at the playground

debra-harrell

Remember Another Bad Creation’s song, “At the Playground”?

A more recent story that happened at the playground: A mother lets her child go to the playground by herself and goes to jail for it.

The young girl, just 9 years old, is used to spending hours and days on the internet in McDonald’s, not only because it has free wi-fi, but because it’s where her mother works. It’s summer, and Debra Harrell can’t afford to put her daughter in daycare, because it’s McDonald’s.

The restaurant is daycare, but on this particular day the girl wants to go to a playground, a little over a mile away. Harrell allows her, and is later charged with “unlawful conduct towards a child” for letting her go unsupervised. Her daughter goes to state custody.

I’m really glad Jonathan Chait stepped outside of his normal political coverage at New York Magazine to draw attention to this story, which happened earlier this month, in North Augusta, S.C., where apparently it’s a crime for parents to trust their kids and their surrounding environment.

Read more: Cities

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Houston’s one-bin-to-rule-them-all recycling plan smells a little like racism

houston-sorting-trash
Zero Waste Houston Coalition

Integration is a good thing, except when it comes to trash, says Melanie Scruggs, the Houston-based program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Scruggs’ organization is part of the Zero Waste Houston Coalition, which is campaigning against the city government’s new “One Bin for All” proposal, which would have residents place their garbage and recyclables in the same trash can for collection, to be separated by workers later.

This idea, funded with a milli from Bloomberg Philanthropies, is different than your run-of-the-mill recycling separation factories. Those “materials recovery facilities,” as they’re called, separate recyclables from one another -- your glass from your plastic, for example -- as our columnist, Umbra Fisk, has explained. No, this plan would allow you to toss out the leftover scraps from the hotbar in the same container it came in, along with the snotty tissues, the jammed-up glass, and the nasty plastic altogether, to be unyoked later at facilities that the Zero Waste Coalition call “dirty materials recovery facilities” -- or “Dirty MRFs” for short.

The “One Bin” plan sprang from the city’s Office of Sustainability. Despite declaring itself a green city, Houston’s recycling rates were running around 14 percent; compare that to San Francisco, which has managed to recycle 80 percent of its waste. The One Bin plan aims to bump Houston’s recycling rate up to 75 percent.

But the plan arises at the same time that Houston Mayor Annise Parker committed last October to expanding recycling bins distribution throughout the city. Before that, fewer than half of the city’s neighborhoods had the bins. That move was applauded by environmentalists around the city. But they’re now scratching their heads about how city-wide recycling bins will co-exist with a one bin fits all strategy, and are doubtful about the landfill diversion goals.

“No other facility like this has ever achieved anything close to what our recycling goals are in Houston -- and most have been outright disasters,” Scruggs said in a press statement earlier this month. “City officials have set a 75 percent recycling goal for this proposal, but when we researched similar facilities, none have ever exceeded 30 percent. It’s been shown over and over that real, successful recycling will never be possible if the city tells residents to mix their garbage with recyclable materials in the same bin.”

You can read about the coalition’s research in the report “It’s Smarter to Separate” (not to be confused with a Stormfront post). The report not only takes aim at the “one bin” approach, but also another part of the plan, which would incinerate some of the garbage and convert it into fuel. It’s the same “waste-to-energy” experiment that’s been attempted and halted in Baltimore, and cancelled in New Orleans. The coalition also points to an Energy Information Administration report that figures this kind of energy production is more expensive than producing energy from nuclear sources, leading the coalition to the conclusion that “waste to energy is a waste of energy.”

The coalition also senses a whiff of environmental racism in this deal. The areas slated for Dirty MRFers fall mostly in black or Latino communities -- which is a shame, as Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities -- and now the city has an environmental justice issue on its hands.

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LeBron James heads back to Ohio, and perhaps his greatest challenge yet

lebron james
Domenic Gareri

LeBron James broke the news today that he is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA team of his home state that he bolted from in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. His homecoming announcement in Sports Illustrated sends a message that his return is less about bringing the state an NBA championship, and more about creating a better future for the children of Ohio, particularly those of his home city, Akron. Says James:

But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

It sounds like James is growing less concerned with trophies, and more concerned with quality of life -- and that’s applaudable. It not only shows leadership, but also signals a mature understanding about economy that broadens the definition of “winning” from one focused purely on franchise.

There is plenty of disenfranchisement to go around in Ohio right now, especially in the voting world. But communities get disenfranchised in many ways, and the cities of Cleveland and Akron are unfortunate examples of this. Contrary to James’ statement, there are better places to grow up.

Read more: Cities

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the Earth-based God

Cryptic rapper Lil B drops environmental wisdom. Here are his greatest hits

lil-b
Facebook

You may or may not know who Lil B the Based God is. Or, according to his legend, you can know who Lil B is, but you may never know who the Based God is, or you may not want to know, for your own sanity. Some have tried to explain his mystique, but to little resolution.

My buddy Eric Tullis, hip hop expert and music contributor for the alt-weekly Indy Week, calls Lil B “an accidental eclectic who’s made a career out of being an idiot savant rapper.” He’s revealed so much on his Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube pages, and yet we know so little. The little we know:

  • He was or is part of the Bay Area rap group “The Pack,” popularly known for their hip hop ode to Vans footwear.
  • It seems that he has a mouth full of gold teeth.
  • He appears to have a large, faithful following as a solo rapper based purely on social networks.
  • His Youtube music video hits reach into the millions, including this one named after Ellen DeGeneres (4.8 million+ views to date).
  • He’s been in a number of high-profile Twitter feuds with badass rappers like Joe Budden and Joey Bada$$.
  • He’s also involved in a long-standing feud with NBA MVP Kevin Durant (a guide to which you can read about in Grantland.)
  • He’s a motivational speaker who once gave a lecture at NYU.
  • He’s a misogynist.

And his latest reveal: He’s an environmentalist.

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Mysterious blast at Chevron plant shakes pollution-weary Texas town

port arthur explosion
Hilton Kelley

A yet-to-be-explained explosion at a Chevron Phillips chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, last night has the community in a bit of an uproar, judging by Facebook updates I’ve been collecting throughout the day. Chevron referred to it as a “localized fire,” in its statement to the media. Whatever the label, it injured two of the plant’s workers, and badly enough that highway traffic was stopped so a medical helicopter could come take one to the hospital.

Hilton Kelley, the Port Arthur environmental justice activist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2011, got as close to the scene as possible to take pictures of the fires. “These events are very common in this community (where) thousands of pounds of dangerous toxins are released when these emission events [sic] happen,” he wrote on his Facebook page, where he posted the pics.

Read more: Climate & Energy