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John Upton's Posts


West Virginia caught unprepared for contamination of water supply, despite warnings

don't drink the water in West Virginia

West Virginia officials knew that a supplier to the coal industry was storing a toxic chemical near the Elk River that had the potential, if it leaked, to poison the water supplies of hundreds of thousands of people.

Last week, it did just that. The chemical leaked from one of Freedom Industries' tanks into the river, triggering an emergency and urgent warnings that residents and businesses should avoid using tap water.

So why are state officials now scratching their heads and sounding surprised about the disaster? Here's some excellent reporting from the Charleston Saturday Gazette-Mail, asking why there was no plan in place for dealing with such an emergency:

Last February, Freedom Industries sent state officials a form telling them the company stored thousands of pounds of a coal-cleaning chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol in the storage tanks at its Etowah River Terminal. ...

Freedom Industries filed its "Tier 2" form under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. State emergency response officials got a copy. So did emergency planners and responders from Kanawha County.

Under the law, government officials are supposed to use chemical inventory information on Tier 2 forms, like Freedom Industries', to prepare for potential accidents. ...


Enviros and climate scientists continue their fight over nuclear power

Dukovany Nuclear Power Station

More than 300 environmental, peace, and anti-nuclear groups and leaders published an open letter this week urging four prominent climate scientists to stop "embracing nuclear power" as a tool for curbing climate-changing pollution.

In response, one the four scientists reaffirmed his reluctant support for nuclear power, denying that he embraces the technology, but saying there's "no justification" for claims it could never become safe or affordable.

The debate among environmentalists over nuclear power flared up in November, when the four scientists published a letter calling for increased development and deployment of "safer nuclear energy systems." The letter was written by some of the climate community's best and brightest: NASA scientist-turned-activist James HansenKen Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Kerry Emanuel of MIT, and climatologist Tom Wigley.

That letter triggered a cavalcade of opinion articles, many of them arguing that nuclear power is too dangerous and much more expensive than wind and solar power. And now many critics of the scientists' arguments -- from tiny groups to big ones like Greenpeace USA and the Environmental Working Group -- have united to voice their opposition in this new letter. Here are some highlights:


Maine’s governor signs GMO-labeling law

Paul LePage

Maine on Thursday became the second state in the nation to require food manufacturers to put labels on products containing genetically modified ingredients -- sort of.

Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed "An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers' Right To Know about Genetically Engineered Food," which mandates the following:

any food or seed stock offered for retail sale that is genetically engineered must be accompanied by a conspicuous disclosure that states "Produced with Genetic Engineering."

The law would also prevent any products containing GMOs from being labeled as "natural." That should seem obvious, but big food manufacturers are currently pressuring the federal government to allow them to use such labels on genetically modified foods.


EPA will let frackers keep on dumping chemicals into the sea

Santa Barbara Beach
Chuck Rogers
Fracking chemicals are out there.

Companies that frack the seafloor off the coast of Southern California have some new federal rules to worry about. Unfortunately, the new rules will still allow their fracking fluids to be unleashed into the sea -- including chemicals that are known to stunt human development and hurt wildlife. The companies will just have to tell the government what they're unleashing.

Under new rules that will take effect March 1, the companies must report the "chemical formulation, concentrations and discharge volumes" to the EPA of any "chemicals used to formulate well treatment, completion and workover fluids" that end up in the ocean.

So, hey, at least we'll know more about fracking pollution. (Assuming, that is, that the frackers are honest.)


Coal chemical spills in West Virginia, leaving 300,000 without tap water


What has Freedom Industries, a major supplier of chemicals to coal companies, done for the cause of freedom lately? It liberated thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical in Charleston, W.Va., poisoning drinking water for some 300,000 people and triggering state and federal emergencies. The Charleston Daily Mail has the appalling details:

Read more: Climate & Energy


At least EPA is doing a little something to help bees

a bee on a honeycomb

The U.S. EPA still won't follow Europe's lead and suspend or ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides believed to be killing honeybees and other pollinators -- to the horror of beekeepers and environmentalists, who are suing the federal government over its inaction.

But at least the agency is doing something. On Wednesday, EPA announced it was awarding $460,000 in funding for research into integrated pest management, to help reduce the use of pesticides and lower risks to bees -- "all while controlling pests and saving money."

Louisiana State University, one of the grant recipients, will use its share of the funds to investigate how bees can be protected from pesticides used to control mosquitoes. Penn State University researchers will investigate the benefits of growing crops without treating seeds with neonic pesticides.

Read more: Food


Pesticide in frozen food sickens hundreds in Japan

frozen pizza
Rebecca Siegel

Some of the food that's been sold out of freezers in Japan recently has had a strange smell to it -- a fishy odor that has nothing to do with seafood.

It's the smell of malathion, an insecticide.

More than 1,000 people have been sickened so far by eating frozen foods laced with the pesticide, according to some media reports. From the BBC:


Wind power kept the heaters working in Texas


Wind power helped Texas avoid blackouts as residents and businesses turned on their heaters this week amid plummeting temperatures and dwindling electricity supplies.

On Monday morning, wind turbines provided 1,800 megawatts of the 56,000 megawatts of power available in most of Texas -- which was just enough to avoid outages after several fossil-fuel power plants shut down due to weather-related problems.

But in an odd twist, that wind-based salvation has led some to complain that the Lone Star State is too dependent on the clean energy source.


White House smacks down climate deniers in new video

John Holdren video

If you pay just a little attention to what scientists say, it shouldn't be too hard to understand how freezing conditions across North America can be linked to climate change. As polar temperatures rise faster than equatorial temperatures, jet streams that hold weather conditions in their rightful places are weakening. And that can help the frigid Arctic cyclone known as the polar vortex slip deeper into North America. Weakening jet streams linked to global warming were also connected last year to floods in Colorado and Alberta, unseasonable heat in Alaska, and unseasonable cold in Florida.

Of course, some conservatives have been putting on their dunces' hats and desperately wielding the recent cold snap as evidence that the globe is not warming, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. (Climate denialism is rampant among those who disregard science and prefer to guess at what makes the world work -- which explains why the climate-denying prime ministers of Australia and Canada are dismantling their nations' scientific institutions.)

Jon Stewart ridiculed the silliness earlier this week with his trademark sense of humor, and now the White House has entered the fray. Instead of using humor, President Barack Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, used his exceptional grasp of science to coolly smack down climate deniers in a video posted on Wednesday.


Wind power boom could see British factories operating at night

Inside a factory

Factory workers in the U.K. might be put onto graveyard shifts in a bid to make the most of the country's wind energy supplies.

The National Grid, the power transmission network in the U.K., is considering paying factories and other big customers to operate through the night and during other quiet times. That would shift some commercial electricity demand from peak times to periods when demand is normally lowest but wind continues to blow. Here's The Telegraph with an explanation: