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John Upton's Posts

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Nitrogen pollution from farming lingers for decades

Spraying fertilizer.
Shutterstock
There goes the groundwater.

When a farmworker sprays fertilizer over a field, there's a good chance he or she will be outlived by nitrogen pollution from that fertilizer.

A 30-year study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that nitrogen could linger in soil for nearly a century after fertilizer is applied.

Nitrogen from fertilizer helps crops grow, but it can be poisonous for humans and animals. When nitrates leach from farmed soil into groundwater, they can make it undrinkable.

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The Northeast is producing more natural gas than Saudi Arabia

More natural gas is being fracked out of the Marcellus Shale formation in the Northeastern U.S. than is being produced by most foreign countries.

A report published Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration revealed that Marcellus gas production is growing much faster than had been predicted. (So, too, are the damages that fracking is inflicting on the region's environment -- and the world's climate.)

Click to embiggen.
EIA
Click to embiggen.

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Clock is ticking for Cape Wind project

Offshore wind power
Shutterstock

The Cape Wind project, which would install 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts, is in a race against time.

It's intended to be the first offshore wind farm in U.S. waters, and once it's up and running, it could provide three-quarters of the electricity used at Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. But if construction doesn't start by the end of this year, its backers stand to miss out on a federal tax credit and $200 million worth of investment promised by PensionDanmark, throwing its future into doubt.

What's the holdup? The project has been besieged by lawsuits, most of them filed by folks who worry that the turbines would interfere with their views and boat outings.

But now Cape Wind executives say they expect to resolve the remaining suits shortly, potentially clearing the way for the project to beat the Dec. 31 deadline. From Bloomberg:

Two legal appeals remain after the company won 13 previous challenges, Vice President Dennis Duffy said [Tuesday] at the American Wind Energy Association’s Offshore Windpower 2013 conference in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Utility trying to bury solar in Arizona

Rooftop solar panels
Shutterstock

A battle between the solar-panel industry and a major utility in Arizona is heating up.

The fight is over net-metering rules, which require utilities to purchase excess electricity produced by solar panel–owning customers. Hearings to consider proposed rule changes are scheduled for next month.

A lot of money is at stake -- for Arizona Public Service Co., the utility pushing the proposed rule changes, and also for solar installers and solar-panel owners.

APS wants to slash its payments to each solar-panel owner by between $50 and $100 a month. It says the payments are a burden on customers who don’t own solar panels. The solar industry, meanwhile, is saying the proposed changes would cripple its growth.

The Arizona Republic paints a picture of a utility desperate to sully solar's reputation as it seeks to build support for its proposal:

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Fracking won’t fix the climate

fracking site
WCN 24/7
The claim that natural gas is saving the climate is revealed as hot air.

Perhaps you've heard the claim that the natural-gas boom made possible by fracking is reducing America's greenhouse gas emissions.

The logic underpinning this claim is that natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, and hydraulic fracturing has produced a surfeit of cheap natural gas. Ergo, fracking is helping power plants switch from coal to natural gas, helping the climate along the way.

But that's only half the story.

A Stanford-led study, which was produced with input from 50 academic, government, and private-sector experts, concludes that natural gas is having only "modest impacts" on carbon dioxide emissions.

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Turbine tourism: Bus tours of a wind-energy park are a big hit

Michigan wind turbine
Tina :0)
A wind turbine on a Michigan farm.

Michigan now has nearly 900 wind turbines, and that lit a lightbulb in the entrepreneurial mind of retired teacher Gene Jorissen. Last summer, he started leading hour-long bus tours of the turbine-dotted Lakes Winds Energy Park in the western part of the state. From Livingston Daily:

The bus stops 1,000 feet from a turbine, and passengers get out. “People want to know, how noisy are they? So, we sit and listen. We talk about various concerns people have about them,” he said.

Then, the bus stops at his cousin’s house. The cousin has one of the turbines on his property. The cousin lets Jorissen bring his tourists right up to the turbine and stand under its massive 476-foot height to get a feel of just how big it is.

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Party like it’s 1994! America’s CO2 emissions hit 18-year low

Disco ball
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The last time America's carbon dioxide emissions were this low, Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated as South Africa's president, O.J. Simpson was being chased by police in a white Bronco, and Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were agreeing to ease up on the whole let's-point-countless-nukes-at-each-other thing.

U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions steadily rose from the mid-90s until they hit a peak in 2007. Since then, emissions have fallen in five out of seven years. In 2012, emissions were 12 percent below the 2007 level, dipping back to 1994 levels. That's according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

Click to embiggen.
EIA
Click to embiggen.

Let's celebrate with a trip down memory lane. Here are the reasons the EIA gives for America's falling emissions, set to a soundtrack of some of the biggest hits of 1994.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Here’s why privatizing food inspection might not be the greatest idea

cantaloupe
Shutterstock
An unlikely killer.

The U.S. government has been getting out of the food-inspection game in recent decades, replaced by a for-profit inspection industry that's rife with conflicts of interest. The risks of that arrangement became evident with America's deadliest food-borne disease outbreak in almost a century.

In 2010, Primus Group food auditors visited a Colorado melon farm run by brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen. The company told the farming brothers how to install a new cooling system. In 2011, the inspectors returned and gave the flawed new system, which violated federal guidelines, a "superior" safety report.

Within a year, 33 cantaloupe consumers had died painful deaths after being infected with Listeria monocytogenes, a type of bacteria that was harbored by the brothers' fruit. Federal investigators concluded that the installation of the new cooling system was a fatal flaw.

After four generations, the brothers' farm has been sunk by lawsuits filed by victims and their families. Now the Jensens are striking back against the flawed inspection system with a lawsuit of their own. The Denver Post reports:

The lawsuit filed against Primus Group, a food auditing company based in California, is rare — even in an industry in which favorable audits have preceded the most notorious national food outbreaks.

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Colorado frackers paying tiny fines for keeping chemicals secret

poisoned landscape
Shutterstock
What exactly are Colorado frackers pumping into the soil? They're supposed to be telling us.

One of the few things that frackers need to do when they operate in fracker-friendly Colorado is post information about some of the chemicals they pump into the ground. But even that seems too hard for the industry.

Following press reports that Colorado frackers were failing to report their chemicals as required on the FracFocus website, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission warned companies it would begin actively enforcing its rules in the summer.

Since then, 11 companies have been cited for failing to disclose their chemicals on the website. From EnergyWire:

Seven of the companies have agreed to settle the cases with $1,000 fines, and commission staff is still negotiating with one of the companies. Two cases have been continued to December, and one case, against Marathon Oil Corp., has been set for a contested hearing at the commission's Oct. 28 meeting in the eastern Colorado city of Limon. ...

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Gulf fisherman: “There is no life out there”

Fried oyster sandwich
jshyun
There are many ways of preparing oysters. BP has the recipe for destroying them.

If it's true that oysters are aphrodisiacs, then BP has killed the mood.

Louisiana's oyster season opened last week, but thanks to the mess that still lingers after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, there aren't many oysters around.

"We can't find any production out there yet," Brad Robin, a commercial fisherman and Louisiana Oyster Task Force member, told Al Jazeera. "There is no life out there." Many of Louisiana's oyster harvest areas are "dead or mostly dead," he says.