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John Upton's Posts


BP targets celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse over oil-spill claims

Emeril Lagasse
Innisfree Hotels

BP is angry that it's being forced to compensate Gulf Coast businesses for income they lost after its Deepwater Horizon blowout. It's so angry that it has taken the curious step of airing its vendettas in national advertisements.

The oil company took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times last week lambasting celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, complaining that his restaurant management company is undeserving of more than $8 million in spill-related claims awarded to it by a federal court. Lagasse is a star of food-themed TV shows, author of popular cookbooks, and owner of a national chain of restaurants. BP's advertisement didn't name Lagasse, but he was clearly the target. The New Orleans Times-Picayune explains:


GMO labeling becomes law in Connecticut

GMO tomato, anybody?
Put a sticker on it.

Connecticut made food history last week when Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed the first state law in the nation mandating the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

But there's a catch that's bigger than the fry of an escaped GMO salmon: The new law might never actually lead to the labeling of GMO foods.


Every “serious environmentalist” must support fracking? Seriously?

Fracking protestors.

If you oppose fracking, then you are not a “serious environmentalist.”

So say U.C. Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth Muller in a new opinion paper with a none-too-subtle title: "Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking."

Until recently, Muller wasn't much of an environmentalist himself. He was a prominent climate denier. But last year he wrote in The New York Times that he came to realize the error of his ways after an intensive review of the science.

Now this self-described "converted skeptic" has appointed himself the arbiter of serious environmentalism.


Are Brits going to get screwed by pricey nuclear power?

Rendering of Hinkley Point C nuclear plant
EDF Energy
This nuclear plant would be really, really expensive.

New nuclear power has become so expensive that Britain intends to allow a nuke plant operator to charge double the market rate for electricity. The European Union is investigating whether that amounts to illegal government aid to a company.

French nuclear energy giant EDF wants to build a $26 billion facility in southwest England, the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. The U.K. government's philosophy is that nuclear power is desirable; the new plant could meet 7 percent of Britain's electricity needs without hurting the climate. So, the power plant would be heavily subsidized by utility customers paying roughly double the rate set by the free market for electricity.


America’s new cars are more fuel-efficient than ever before

a green-colored car

The 1990s-style thirst for power that gave rise to America's fleet of gas-guzzling SUVs is being replaced by a hunger for fuel-efficient cars, helping auto manufacturers in 2012 beat their previous record for overall gas mileage.

The average model-year 2012 vehicle got 23.6 miles per gallon, according to a new report from the EPA. OK, that's still pretty lame -- but it's 1.2 mpg better than the previous year, the second-largest annual increase in history.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

And Dan Becker of the Clean Climate Campaign points out that this improvement marks real progress made under Obama's new fuel-economy standards: "That’s roughly 5% in the program’s first year. We are on track to hitting the 54.5 mpg standard for 2025. This is a big deal."


Oil and gas drilling waste is being spread over New York roads as de-icer

A snowy road in New York
Dreaming of an oil-waste-free Christmas?

As snow and ice encrust wintertime roads in New York state, local and state transportation officials are turning to a questionable new source of salt to help them melt away the hazards of slippery roads: waste produced by the oil and gas industry.

That's a dirty habit that environmentalists and some lawmakers hope to break.

New York-based environmental group Riverkeeper discovered that officials were receiving state approval to use salty waste from drilling wells and gas storage facilities as a de-icer.

The discovery came after the nonprofit made a public-records request to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. Riverkeeper's Kate Hudson said the documents handed over after that request revealed that the agency had approved 30 requests to use tainted brine from the oil and gas industry as a de-icer -- and that was prior to the recent return of Old Man Winter. Two of those permitting requests came from state transportation offices that manage roads in multiple counties.


Dallas — yes, Dallas — bans fracking in most of the city


The growing wave of local fracking bans is sweeping into Texas, where the state's third largest city has put a near-total kibosh on the practice.

The Dallas City Council adopted new rules on Wednesday that bar hydraulic fracturing within 1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well. Dallas is now the largest of five Texan cities and towns that have imposed local restrictions on fracking. The city, which sits at the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale area, had previously imposed a safety buffer of 300 feet and banned fracking in parks and flood plains.

Because Dallas contains more than a half million homes, the new rule effectively outlaws fracking through most of the city. “[W]e might as well save a lot of paper and write a one-line ordinance that says there will be no gas drilling in the city of Dallas,” quipped a council member who voted against the new rules. “That would be a much easier ordinance to have.”


Check the climate forecast in your county


The average maximum temperature in L.A. is forecast to increase to between 77 and 83 degrees by the end of this century, up from 73 degrees in the 1980s. Summertime average maximums in Boulder, Colo., have already increased to 75 degrees, up from the low 70s in the 1960s. Residents of Vermont can look forward to temperature rises of as much as 10 degrees this century.

That's according to a new U.S. Geological Survey tool that lets you focus in on climate trends and forecasts for counties throughout the U.S.

The online tool draws on data being produced through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's efforts to produce its fifth assessment report. "The maps and summaries at the county level condense a huge volume of data," said Matthew Larsen of the USGS Climate and Land Use Program.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Is global warming stoking an Arctic cold war?

A reenactment of a battle involving the USSR
Shutterstock / Sergey Kamshylin

Militarization and geopolitical maneuvering is heating up in the Arctic as once-frozen tundras melt into the sea, unearthing a bonanza of oil fields and shipping routes.

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin this week ordered his military brass to pay "particular attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic." He said Russia would open two new Arctic airbases and noted that a long-deserted Russian airbase on the Novosibirsk Islands was recently reopened.

That followed the November announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Pentagon’s first-ever Arctic military strategy.


How offshore wind farms could protect us from hurricanes

offshore wind turbines
Eugene Suslo

It's time to turn the tables on hurricanes. Instead of allowing their ferocious winds to tear apart our cities and infrastructure, why not use those winds to produce clean electricity?

Stanford University researchers used computer simulations to calculate that a protective wall of 70,000 offshore wind turbines built 60 miles offshore from New Orleans would have reduced Hurricane Katrina's wind speeds by 50 percent by the time it reached land. The storm surges that toppled levees would have been reduced by nearly three-quarters. And a lot of electricity would have been produced, to boot, with the spinning of the wind turbines absorbing much of the storm's power.

A similar array off the coast of New York or New Jersey could have reduced Hurricane Sandy's wind speeds by 65 miles per hours, the scientists found.

Read more: Climate & Energy