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Listen up, EPA!

Feds move to restrict neonic pesticides — well, one fed at least

Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Byron Chin

So far the EPA has refused to ban use of neonicotinoid insecticides -- despite mounting evidence that they kill bees and other wildlife, despite a ban in the European Union, despite a lawsuit filed by activists and beekeepers.

But if the EPA is somehow still unclear on the dangers posed by neonics, it need only talk to the official who oversees federal wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

Kevin Foerster, a regional boss with the National Wildlife Refuge System, directed his staff this month to investigate where neonics are being used in the refuges they manage -- and to put an end to their use. Foerster’s office is worried that farming contractors that grow grasses and other forage crops for wildlife and corn and other grains for human consumption on refuge lands are using neonic pesticides and neonic-treated seeds. There are also fears that agency staff are inadvertently using plants treated with the poisons in restoration projects.

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hot at the top

Wanna see what climate change looks like? Check out the vicious fires in northwest Canada

canadian-fire.jpg
NWT Fire

Lightning, an intense heat wave, and low rainfall are lighting up northwestern Canada like a bonfire, producing conflagrations that scientists are linking to climate change.

More than 100 forest fires are burning in Canada's lightly populated Northwest Territories, east of Alaska. Some residents are being evacuated from their homes; others are being warned to stay inside to avoid inhaling the choking smoke. Take a look at the latest map produced by the region's fire agency:

canada-fires
NWT Fire

“Some attribute that to climate change, and I’m one of those," Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, told CBC News. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change. Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

Here's more from Climate Central:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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crikey

Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out

Australian outback
Shutterstock

The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories -- only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we're seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

It's like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation's leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott's (conservative) Liberal party still doesn't control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott's climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia's $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

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what's that smell?

Now Google Street View is mapping gas pipeline leaks

Google Street View car
Emmadukew

Some of those Google cars that drive around photographing streetscapes and embarrassing moments have captured something extra -- something that should embarrass major utilities. The cars were kitted out by University of Colorado scientists with sensors that sniff out natural gas leaking from underground pipelines. These methane-heavy leaks contribute to global warming, waste money, and can fuel explosions.

The sensor-equipped cars cruised the streets of Boston, New York's Staten Island, and Indianapolis. They returned to sites where methane spikes were detected to confirm the presence of a leak. The results were released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund, which coordinated the project, revealing just how leaky old and metallic pipelines can be, such as those used in the East Coast cities studied, particularly when compared with noncorrosive pipes like those beneath Indianapolis.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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looks like rain

Here’s how Obama is preparing the country for climate change

Obama in the rain
White House

The good news is that President Barack Obama wants the nation to do a better job of bracing itself for the wild changes afoot in the weather. The better news it that he realizes that bolstering infrastructure and reimagining how we design our cities and electrical grids are among the best ways of doing that.

"Working together, we can take some common-sense steps to make sure that America’s infrastructure is safer, stronger and more resilient for future generations," Obama said on Wednesday. Here are some of the steps his administration is taking:

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Wasting water in California will now cost you $500

water wasting
Shutterstock

Here's a list of things that could now get you fined up to $500 a day in California, where a multi-year drought is sucking reservoirs and snowpacks dry:

  • Spraying so much water on your lawn or garden that excess water flows onto non-planted areas, walkways, parking lots, or neighboring property.
  • Washing your car with a hose that doesn't have an automatic shut-off device.
  • Spraying water on a driveway, a sidewalk, asphalt, or any other hard surface.
  • Using fresh water in a water fountain -- unless the water recirculates.

Those stern emergency regulations were adopted Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the State Water Resources Control Board -- part of an effort to crack down on the profligate use of water during critically lean times.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) asked the state's residents to voluntarily conserve water in January, but they didn't. Rather, as the San Jose Mercury News reports, "a new state survey released Tuesday showed that water use in May rose by 1 percent this year, compared with a 2011-2013 May average."

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Business as usual

Corporate polluters are almost never prosecuted for their crimes

corporate polluter
Shutterstock

If you committed a crime in full view of a police officer, you could expect to be arrested -- particularly if you persisted in your criminality after being told to cut it out, and if your crime were hurting the people around you.

But the same is not true for those other "people" who inhabit the U.S.: corporations. Polluting companies commit their crimes with aplomb. An investigation by the Crime Report, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues, has revealed the sickening levels of environmental criminality that BP, Mobil, Tyson Fresh, and other huge companies can sink to without fear of meaningful prosecution:

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U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar panels break trade rules, WTO says

solar panels
Shutterstock

When it comes to global trade in solar panels and components, the U.S. trade representative wants to have his suncake and eat it too. Even as the trade rep has been hauling India before the World Trade Organization, complaining that the country's requirements for domestically produced solar panels violate global trade rules, the U.S. has been imposing new duties on panels imported from China and Taiwan. By some estimates, the U.S. duties could increase solar module costs in the country by 14 percent.

On Monday, WTO judges who were mulling China's complaint against the U.S. over its duties on solar panels and steel ruled in favor of -- you guessed it -- more world trade. Reuters reports:

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dude, where's my water?

America’s largest reservoir is hitting new record lows every day

A low Lake Mead
rjcox

The drought that's afflicting much of the American West has hoovered out a record-breaking amount of water from the reservoir that's held in place by the Hoover Dam.

Water levels in Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, have fallen to a point not seen since the reservoir was created during the 1930s to store water from the Colorado River. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the surface of the reservoir dipped below 1,082 feet above sea level last week:

Read more: Uncategorized

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Another court victory for EPA — this time on mountaintop-removal rules

mountaintop removal rules
Nicholas A. Tonelli

Blowing up mountains so that their coal-filled bellies can be stripped of their climate-changing innards doesn't just ruin Southern Appalachian forests. It also poisons the region's streams, as fragments of rock and soil previously known as mountaintops get dumped into valleys. A government-led study published two weeks ago concluded that this pollution is poisoning waterways, leading to "fewer species, lower abundances, and less biomass."

Concern about just this kind of water pollution is why the EPA stepped in five years ago using its Clean Water Act mandate to boost environmental oversight of mountaintop-removal mining, creating a joint review process with the Army Corps of Engineers to help that agency assess mining proposals under the Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

The EPA can't really do anything these days without the attorneys of polluters and the states that they pollute crying foul in court about "agency overreach." So it was with the EPA's 2009 "Enhanced Coordination Process." The National Mining Association, West Virginia, and Kentucky filed suit, and a federal court sided with them. But on Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that decision, issuing a 3-0 ruling in favor of the EPA. The Charleston Gazette reports: