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John Upton's Posts


Chicago cracks down on piles of tar-sands waste

petcoke pile
Southeast Environmental Task Force

Riverfront shipping terminals in Chicago will soon be forced to be just a little bit neighborly.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) announced on Thursday that the city will require piles of petcoke, coal, and other fossil fuel-related nasties to be stored indoors or under covers. That would mean an end to the open outdoor piles that currently send filthy particles billowing over surrounding homes. From a press release put out by the mayor's office:

The proposed regulations will require large bulk material storage facilities to fully enclose solid materials such as coal, pig iron and petcoke, while facilities with smaller storage capacity and smaller deliveries would be required to install wind barriers as protective measures and adopt other best management practices. The draft regulations will be posted for public comment until January 24, 2014, and the City and Alderman John A. Pope will host a public hearing in the 10th ward in mid-January.

“We continue to make progress to stop petcoke dust from disrupting people’s lives and forcing children and families in our communities indoors,” said Ald. John Pope (10th). “These steps will allow our residents to host backyard barbecues and allow fresh air to come in through open windows.”


New Mexico suing to block horse slaughter

A horse with its tongue out

Just as a New Mexico slaughterhouse prepares to kill 20 horses, the state has filed a lawsuit that aims to prevent the killings.

Roswell-based Valley Meat Company plans to begin slaughtering horses in the new year thanks to changes in federal rules. It eventually aims to be capable of slaughtering 120 horses a day, with the meat sold as animal feed and to human consumers in Europe and Asia.

The debut slaughter had initially been scheduled for early August but was delayed after the company was targeted by lawsuits and suspected arsonists. A federal appeals court in Colorado last week ruled against environmentalists who had sued to prevent the slaughter of horses in America.

Now New Mexico's Democratic attorney general, an aspiring gubernatorial candidate, is joining in the pile-on. He described such a slaughter as "completely at odds with our traditions and our values as New Mexicans." Here's more about the lawsuit from KOB Eyewitness News 4:

Read more: Food


China launches world’s second-biggest carbon-trading market

Chinese currency and a seedling

If you find yourself passing through the Chinese city of Guangzhou with 61 renminbi burning a hole in your pocket, you could drop by the world's newest and bound-to-be-second-largest carbon-trading market and pick up a carbon credit as a souvenir.

The first day of trading at China's fourth carbon-trading market was described as brisk on Thursday. A cement company kicked things off, buying 20,000 carbon permits from an energy company in early trading at the equivalent of about $10 a pop. Reuters reports:


Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline gets crucial government blessing

BC forest
Miguel Vieira
The pipeline would be built through British Columbian forests like these.

A key Canadian ruling Thursday could eventually lead to sticky tar-sands oil being shipped west via a new pipeline laid through spectacular forests and pristine streams.

Enbridge Inc. got a positive recommendation from a national review panel for its proposed $US6.1 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would carry oil 730 miles from the tar sands of Alberta to a new terminal on the west coast of Canada, where it would be loaded onto about 220 ships a year, primarily bound for Asia. About a third of pipeline project would cross as-yet undisturbed land, and the oil-laden ships would travel through prime fishing areas.

Click to embiggen.
Northern Gateway
Click to embiggen.

But it's not a done deal yet. The federal government now has 180 days in which to make a final decision, and opposition in British Columbia and from First Nations (aka Native) groups could still trip up the process.

 The Vancouver Sun reports:


Big food companies want to call GMO foods “natural”

Plant experiments

Is genetically engineered food natural? The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group representing some of the world's biggest food and food-related companies, including ConAgra Foods, Bayer CropScience, and the Coca-Cola Company, thinks so.

And it's pressing the Food and Drug Administration to see things its way. From a Dec. 5 letter to the feds:

GMA's members have a strong interest in "natural" labeling for foods containing ingredients derived from biotechnology. Several of the most common ingredients derived from biotechnology are from crops such as soy, corn, canola, and sugar beets. ...

[T]here are approximately 65 class action lawsuits that have been filed against food manufacturers over whether foods with ingredients allegedly derived from biotechnology can be labeled "natural." ...

GMA intends to file a Citizen Petition solely direct at asking FDA to issue a regulation authorizing foods containing foods derived from biotechnology to be labeled as "natural."

An Environmental Working Group rep told The New York Times that the association’s request is “audacious.” The Center for Food Safety is also appalled. “There is nothing natural about genetic engineering," said Colin O’Neil, the center's government affairs director, in a press release:


Bankrupt fracking firm suing New York governor to end moratorium

Andrew Cuomo
Shutterstock / Lev Radin
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Maybe he's to blame for all of your failures too.

Norse Energy is a failure when it comes to its core business -- drilling for gas and oil. Despite America's huge drilling boom, the company is bankrupt. Unable to turn a profit as a driller, the company has taken to suing governments and officials that limit fracking, blaming them for its undoing.

Attorneys for the company's trustees filed a lawsuit Tuesday against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and two state commissioners, claiming that the state's fracking moratorium had brought about the company's undoing. The Press & Sun-Bulletin reports:

The suit asks the court to force the Cuomo administration to finalize a study that will determine whether large-scale fracking -- a controversial technique to help extract gas from shale formations -- can proceed in New York, arguing that repeated delays in the state’s decision-making process are grounds for a judge to intervene.


BP engineer found guilty of obstructing justice

Deepwater Horizon accident

In May 2010, as BP prepared to try to staunch the flow of oil from beneath the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig by dumping mud over the blowout, some of the company's engineers knew the effort was bound to fail. But the mud-dumping plan, codenamed Top Kill, moved forward anyway as the world's media watched on. Sure enough, Top Kill failed to staunch the leak.

One of the engineers who knew the effort would fail, Kurt Mix, later tried to keep that a secret from investigators. When Mix found out that his iPhone was about to be seized, he deleted more than 100 text messages -- messages such as "Too much flowrate – over 15,000." In that message, Mix was warning a colleague that 15,000 barrels of oil was leaking every day, which was too much oil for the operation to handle, and three times the flow rate that BP had stated publicly.

The presumably panicked decision to delete the texts on Wednesday led to the 52-year-old Texan being found guilty by a jury of one charge of obstruction of justice -- a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. He avoided conviction on a second, similar charge. His attorneys vowed to appeal. From the AP:


Not just bad for bees: Neonic pesticides could damage babies’ brains

A pregnant lady with broccoli

The fruit and vegetables that Americans bring home and cook up for their families are often laced with pest-killing chemicals known as acetamiprid and imidacloprid, members of the neonicotinoid class.

That sounds gross. Even grosser than these nearly unpronounceable chemical names are new findings out of Europe that the compounds may stunt the development of brains in fetuses and young children.

The discovery, by scientists working with rats for the European Food Safety Authority, has led to calls in Europe to further restrict the use of the neonic pesticides. From a press release put out by the authority:

The [Plant Protection Products and their Residues] Panel found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory. It concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced.

We say "further restrict" because the use of imidacloprid is already severely restricted in Europe, barred for two years from being used on flowering crops and plants because it kills bees and other pollinators.


Maine city gives tar-sands oil the finger

No tar sands oil
Rainforest Action Network

Remember how voters in South Portland, Maine, narrowly rejected a ballot measure last month that would have prevented the city's port from piping in tar-sands oil? Here's the thing about that election result: It's looking like it might not matter. The city council is now taking up the anti-tar-sands campaign anyway.

With a 6-1 vote Monday night, the council put in place a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil through its port. From the Portland Press Herald:


NOAA: November was “record warm”

Global warming

It may be difficult to grasp as holiday chills and snowy weather set in across North America, but last month was the globe's hottest November on record. It was the 37th consecutive November of above-average temperatures.

Which is remarkable, not only because records date back to 1880, but because previous record-breaking Novembers came during El Niño years, when the Pacific Ocean heats up. There currently is no El Niño.

Earth's combined average land and ocean temperature in November was 1.4 degrees warmer than the 20th century average of 55.2 degrees.

Read more: Climate & Energy