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John Upton's Posts


Another day, another river ruined by a big coal-industry spill

Fields Creek pollution
Appalachian Voices

The coal power industry has dumped a lot of toxic crap into yet another river. This latest incident is not to be confused with the spill of toxic coal-cleaning chemicals that poisoned a West Virginia river last month and left 300,000 people without drinking water. Nor is it to be confused with a huge coal-ash spill from a retired power plant in North Carolina earlier this month.

No, this is a whole new spill.

Patriot Coal accidentally let more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry loose from a coal processing facility in West Virginia. Six miles of Fields Creek, which flows into the Kanawha River, was blackened by the slurry spill. The slurry contained fine particles of processed coal, which includes heavy metals, and coal-cleaning chemicals.

"When this much coal slurry goes into the stream, it wipes the stream out," said Randy Huffman, head of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). "This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River." But officials say drinking water has not been affected, at least not yet. 


U.S. wants poor and rich countries alike to cut emissions under next climate treaty

world flags

If the U.S. gets its way, developing countries will need to roll up their sleeves and do more to slow down global warming.

The Obama administration is taking the position that poor and rich countries alike should be legally obligated to reduce the amount of climate-changing pollution that they produce after 2020, when a new climate treaty is expected to take effect. The Kytoto Protocol approach, which saw rich countries but not poor ones compelled to rein in greenhouse gas pollution, is "clearly not rational or workable" any more, U.S. officials argue in a new submission to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The next big U.N. climate meeting will be held in Lima, Peru, this December, and then Paris will host a bigger one in December 2015, at which world leaders hope to finalize the new climate treaty.

"[T]he United States supports a Paris agreement that reflects the seriousness and magnitude of what science demands," Obama administration officials wrote in their 11-page U.N. submission, which was published on Wednesday. "As such, it should be designed to promote ambitious efforts by a broad range of Parties."


Dems and GOP have competing visions for making oil trains safer in Washington state

A train derailment
Public Herald
The polluted aftermath of an oil-train derailment in Alabama last year.

A recent string of oil-train disasters across North America has Washington state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feeling nervous. Oil-by-rail traffic in the state is poised to soar as crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota heads to refineries and ports on the coast.

Republicans who control the state Senate and Democrats who control the House have both drafted legislation to try to reduce the risk of accidents and explosions. The Republican bill calls for a variety of studies and would help local agencies develop emergency plans. The Democratic one would go further, requiring greater public notification about the movement of oil through the state and increasing penalties for oil spills.


BP found another shady way to cheat public, get richer

Shady dealings

It's hard to imagine a company as filthy rich as BP running a scam that would cheat a state out of tens of millions of dollars. Wait, no it's not.

Minnesota is claiming in a lawsuit that BP did exactly that.

The alleged scam took advantage the nationwide problem of old, leaky underground storage tanks (the EPA calls them LUSTs, because occasionally the EPA is hot). The EPA estimates there are 78,000 such tanks buried nationwide, each of them containing funky old oil and the like, even after some 436,000 were removed in recent decades. To help rid Minnesota of the tanks' hidden pollution dangers, the state levies a fee on petroleum products that goes into its Petrofund. BP has received money from this fund to help it meet the costs of cleaning up its LUST sites. According to Minnesota's lawsuit, however, more than $25 million of BP's LUST cleanup costs were already being met by the company's insurers.


Monster wind farm planned in South Dakota

Wind turbines in South Dakota
Travis S.

Well blow us over, Mount Rushmore State! Scores of landowners in South Dakota are banding together in an attempt to build a one-gigawatt wind farm, which would be spread over thousands of acres of farmland.

South Dakota is already a leader when it comes to harnessing wind energy. Nearly 500 large turbines spin over the state's windswept landscapes, with a collective capacity of 784 megawatts of power. The Watertown Public Opinion reports on an attempt to more than double that capacity:


EPA is finally taking at least a small step to protect water supplies from fracking

Noel Byrne

Obviously, diesel should not be pumped into the ground. It is a filthy fossil fuel that can cause cancer. But about 2 percent of frack jobs include the ingredient in their cocktail of drilling poisons -- and that will be allowed to continue, albeit with some weak new oversight from the EPA.

The L.A. Times reports on the EPA's overdue foray into regulating the use of diesel in fracking:


U.S. whacks India with WTO complaint over its local solar program

solar power
Kiran Jonnalagadda

India is going gangbusters for solar. Over the past four years, the country has boosted its grid-connected solar capacity from 18 megawatts to 2,200 MW. The prime minister's pet renewables project, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, aims to increase that figure to 20,000 MW by 2022. And, as we told you yesterday, India has plans to build the world's biggest solar array.

Such ambitions are helping the country slow the growth of its carbon emissions and are providing reliable electricity supplies to historically electricity-poor communities. And because the national solar program requires developers to use domestically made panels, it's generating green jobs in a country where poverty is rampant.

Which all sounds great -- unless you're the U.S. government.


No rules governed tank that leaked coal-cleaning poison into W.Va. river

Emergency water supplies
The National Guard
The National Guard delivered emergency water supplies in West Virginia after Freedom Industries ruined the regular water supplies.

The Jan. 9 spill of as much as 10,000 gallons from a steel tank next to the Elk River didn't just poison water supplies relied upon by 300,000 West Virginians. It revealed holes in state and federal safety rules big enough to drive hazmat-loaded trucks through.

The tanks that Freedom Industries uses to store chemicals at its facility in Charleston are more than 50 years old, and company officials knew that chemicals were being stored in them in ways that did not meet industry or EPA standards.

Environmental consultants audited storage drums for the company late last year, but never inspected the drum that leaked and contaminated water supplies. Its contents -- a toxic, little-understood coal-cleaning stew of 4-Methylcyclohexane methanol and something the company calls stripped PPH -- were considered nonhazardous under federal law. Still, if anybody had cared to check, they would have discovered that a leak from the aging drum could flow straight through gravel and cinder blocks and into the river.

That's according to congressional testimony by Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.


Maryland Gov. O’Malley protects poultry industry instead of Chesapeake Bay

Martin O'Malley
Edward Kimmel

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is a rising Democratic star with presidential ambitions. As you might expect of a Democrat from a solidly blue state, O'Malley is a climate hawk and clean energy supporter. He has even kept frackers at bay, unlike many other Democratic governors.

But there's a gaping hole in his green cred: He's beholden to his state's poultry industry, which sends huge amounts of phosphorous-rich chicken crap out into the Chesapeake Bay, triggering dead zones. As Tom Laskawy reported in Grist in 2012, O'Malley is particularly cozy with officials from chicken giant Perdue.

That explains his threat last week to veto a recently introduced bill that would impose a new tax of 5 cents per chicken on the state’s poultry producers to help fund efforts to protect and clean up the bay.

“I will tell you this — read my lips — if that chicken tax bill passes I will veto it,” O’Malley said Thursday night at a dinner hosted by the Maryland Agriculture Council.

Read more: Food, Politics


There’s no “warming pause” — trade winds are burying heat in the Pacific

shark in the ocean

Global average land temperatures have not increased as quickly as many scientists had expected over the past 10 or 15 years, leading some climate skeptics to latch onto the bogus idea of a "global warming pause." Last year researchers reported that much of the "missing heat" was not in fact missing but rather was being sucked up by the oceans.

Now new research helps explain why excess heat is being absorbed into the sea: big-ass winds.

A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that the slowdown in surface warming and the acceleration in ocean warming has been largely driven by a phase in a natural ocean cycle called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). That’s a frightfully cumbersome name, but it’s easy to break down: It's a swing (“oscillation”) in Pacific Ocean weather that takes decades (“interdecadal”) to shift from one phase to another. Instead of switching every few years, like El Niño and La Niña, an IPO can last 20 to 30 years before flipping from one extreme to the other.

“Global warming hasn’t stalled at all,” Matthew England, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia and lead author of the paper, told Grist. “There’s just more heat going into the oceans at the moment.”

Read more: Climate & Energy