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John Upton's Posts


Northeast states pissed at Midwest states over coal pollution


The governors of eight Northeastern states are fed up with the air pollution that blows their way from states to their west.

In the latest high-profile move to crush the antiquated practice of burning coal in the U.S., the governors filed a petition with the EPA today that seeks more stringent air quality regulations on coal-burning states such as Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. That's because pollution from those states' coal-fired power plants reaches the Atlantic coastline, sickening residents there. From The New York Times:


Feds will let wind farms kill eagles for 30 years

A bald eagle

The Obama administration recently sent a big message to the wind energy industry, imposing a $1 million fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm that killed birds in violation of wildlife rules.

On Friday, the administration sent a different message when it moved to make such rules more lenient.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would begin handing out permits that give wind companies permission to unintentionally kill protected bald and golden eagles for 30 years, provided they implement “advanced conservation practices” to keep the number of deaths low. Such permits had previously been capped at five years.


Earthquakes shake Texas town on Thanksgiving, and fracking might be to blame

earthquake crack

Residents of a rural northern Texas area were awoken early on Thanksgiving by not one but two earthquakes. Such quakes have become alarmingly normal during the past month, and fracking practices could be to blame.

From CBS Dallas / Fort Worth:

North Texas has been feeling a string of earthquakes — more than a dozen — over the past few weeks. Most have been centered around Azle, with the most recent [previous] one being on Tuesday morning. All of those quakes have registered between 2.0 and 3.6 in magnitude. Those who live in the small town have grown concerned.

Azle leaders have called on state officials to have geologists investigate the cause of these quakes. “The citizens are concerned,” said Azle Assistant City Manager Lawrence Bryant at a city council meeting. “They should be.”

“If it’s a man-made cause, it would be nice to know,” Bryant added.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Obama admin is going to be awfully busy with new environmental regulations

Law books

Looks like federal environmental officials might be headed for some all-nighters in the coming months.

Hundreds of planned new regulations were outlined by the White House just before Thanksgiving, including many proposed environmental rules that could help the country clean up its act and fight climate change.

No fewer than seven reporters for E&E Publishing scoured the latest biannual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, published Wednesday, and here is a sampling of the environmental regulatory efforts that they say are in the works:


World Bank says no to nuclear as it lays out universal energy plan

"say no to nuclear power" spraypainted on wall

The leaders of the United Nations and World Bank have hatched a plan to make sure everybody in the world has access to electricity by 2030. It would involve a huge ramp-up in electricity generation, including continued growth in renewables, and vast improvements in energy efficiency. It would also require hundreds of billions a year in investments.

But not all energy sources are welcome. "We don't do nuclear energy," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in announcing a push for financing for the plan. (The World Bank doesn't do much coal anymore either.)

The Sustainable Energy for All initiative is a joint effort by the U.N. and World Bank. From a World Bank press release:

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim [on Wednesday] announced a concerted effort by governments, international agencies, civil society and private sector to mobilize financing to deliver universal access to modern energy services such as lighting, clean cooking solutions and power for productive purposes in developing countries, as well as scaled-up energy efficiency, especially in the world’s highest-energy consuming countries.


Phillips 66 kills hundreds of birds in Texas, gets fined by feds

Teal ducks in Texas
Larry Meade

Less than a week after announcing $1 million in penalties for Duke Energy for failing to protect birds from its wind turbines in Wyoming, the feds have announced a similar settlement involving bird deaths caused by a much dirtier energy source.

Last year, hundreds of migratory birds made the mistake of stopping at a 22-acre brine water pond in Hutchinson County, Texas. It was not the nourishing stopover they were expecting. The water in the brine pond, maintained by Phillips 66, was poisonous. About 260 birds were killed, mostly teal, a type of duck. The Amarillo Globe-News reports:


Huge pipeline accidents cause spills, kill dozens in China

Aaron Choi
This is what Qingdao normally looks like.

Pipeline accidents in China during the past week have killed more than 50 people, led to the arrests of nine officials, caused two large oil spills, and triggered evacuations. Both of the ruptured pipelines were owned by China's largest oil refiner, China Petroleum, also known as Sinopec. Here are the basics:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fed-up Chicago residents sue over petcoke ashheaps

Chicago petcoke pile
Josh Mogerman

Residents of Chicago's southeast side aren't going to sit idly by as their city, state and federal governments try to protect them from byproducts of tar-sands oil refining -- the black dust that's been blowing over their homes from nearby petcoke piles. The residents have called in a team of lawyers, and they are going after the companies that produce and store the uncovered piles of carbon powder.

The petcoke is left over after the refining of tar-sands oil, most of which is coming into the Midwest from Canada. Petcoke can't be legally burned as fuel in the U.S., but subsidiaries of Koch Industries have been buying up the waste across the country anyway, presumably for sale into countries with less strict air pollution laws. And two of the defendants named in the lawsuit are subsidiaries of Koch Industries, including KCBX Terminals, which is storing some of the piles of petcoke along the Calumet River.


Tossed in space: NASA plans to farm greens on the moon


Someday astronauts visiting the moon could toddle out of their space shuttle, harvest basil from their lunar garden, and sprinkle it over their 3D-printed space pizza.

NASA hopes to begin growing radishes, basil, and other plants on the moon in 2015. A two-pound "greenhouse" is planned to be delivered there using an uncrewed Google Lunar X-Prize mission. From New Scientist:

The aim is to find out if the crews of moon bases will be able to grow some of their own greens, a capability that has proved psychologically comforting to research crews isolated in Antarctica and on the International Space Station, NASA says.

Factors that could confound lunar plant growth include the virtual absence of an atmosphere and high levels of solar and cosmic radiation that bombard the moon's surface. So the space agency is developing a sealed canister with five days' worth of air, in which seeds can germinate on nutrient-infused filter paper. The idea is that water will be released on touchdown and sunshine will do the rest.

And NASA isn't hoping to take just agriculture to new heights -- it is working to bring food production into space as well, using 3D printing. From the agency's website:


Canada approves export of genetically modified salmon eggs

Salmon eggs at a hatchery
An incubation tray full of (not genetically modified) salmon eggs.

Canada will allow genetically modified salmon eggs to be produced and exported -- but no way in hell will the eggs be allowed to hatch on Canadian soil.

The GM salmon was developed by AquaBounty, which blended genetic material from Chinook salmon and from another type of fish called ocean pout into the DNA of Atlantic salmon. That helps accelerate growth rates. The eggs will be produced at a hatchery on Canada's Prince Edward Island and exported to be hatched at a site in Panama. There, the fish will be fattened up before being exported to the U.S. for sale.