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Fracking boom is fueling a plastics boom

plastic blocks
nrt

Plastic crap that Americans are accustomed to importing from Asia is increasingly being manufactured right here in the U.S. — all thanks to the country’s crappy fracking boom.

Chemical and plastics companies use natural gas as a raw material, and now they can get it cheaply in the U.S. As Living on Earth reports, "The fracking boom has led to renaissance for the chemical industry, particularly for plastics makers in Louisiana, where the plants are major employers."

Other states are seeing growth in the plastics business too. Asia’s largest chemical producer, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, has announced that it's planning to spend $2 billion expanding its manufacturing operations in Texas. Bloomberg reports:

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U.K. joins the club, vows to curb coal financing

British flag
Shutterstock

No longer will British taxpayers have to foot the bill for the climate-unfriendly practice of building coal power plants in developing countries.

Britain pledged Wednesday to end most financing support for coal power projects. The pledge came during U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. The U.S., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the World Bank, and the European Investment Bank have already made similar promises, which are aimed at curbing carbon emissions. From Bloomberg:

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BP sends more drilling rigs to the Gulf of Mexico than ever before

An oil rig in the Gulf
Kris Krug

BP isn't about to let a little worker-killing, ecosystem-wrecking, fisheries-destroying explosion and oil spill slow it down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company deployed two more oil rigs to the Gulf in recent weeks, boosting its fleet to nine -- its largest ever in the area. It brought in the West Auriga rig, known as an ultra-deepwater drillship, and the Mad Dog platform, which was damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Fuel Fix reports:

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The three anti-environmental bills that are wasting Congress’ time

Capitol Building
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Republicans and a handful of Democrats in Congress really want to demonstrate their loyalty to their fossil-fuel masters. The House has passed three bills to benefit the oil and gas industry, but they have no chance of being becoming law so long as Barack Obama is president.

H.R. 1965 -- Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act

Sponsor: Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.)

What it would do: "This would direct that federal lands be managed for the primary purpose of energy development, rather than for stewardship balancing multiple uses including recreation," according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Astonishingly, it also would curb and then penalize the public for raising concerns about oil and gas projects on public lands that may affect them."

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How one small community is going big on solar

A solar farm
Shutterstock

A rural cooperative is about to cook up Iowa's biggest solar array -- in the aptly named community of Frytown.

The local board of supervisors recently rezoned nine acres of land owned by the Farmers Electric Co-op, which is planning to build a 500-kilowatt array at the site. Co-op officials say construction could be finished by March, meeting 15 percent of the power needs of its 600 members in eastern Iowa.

“It keeps our money local,” said Warren McKenna, the co-op's general manager, according to The Daily Iowan. “We’re not sending our money up to the larger companies. [It] saves everybody money.” Johnson County planning and zoning official RJ Moore said the solar farm would be the only one of its kind in the state.

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Nuclear industry scores a big win, but still no solution for nuclear waste

Yucca Mountain
NRC
Construction efforts at Yucca Mountain were abandoned in 2010, leaving an empty tunnel in a mountainside.

So long as the U.S. government is going to stand around shrugging its shoulders over the nation's growing nuclear waste stockpile, it must stop charging nuclear power plant owners $750 million a year in waste-storage fees.

That was the ruling of a federal appeals court on Tuesday. It's the latest twist in a decades-long saga over the fate of the plutonium and other radioactive waste that's piling up at nuclear plants across the country -- more than 70,000 tons so far.

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Super Euros: Top 10 climate-change-fighting countries are all in Europe

Europe map
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Europe, as viewed from a greenhouse gas.

There isn't a country in the world that's on track to reduce emissions to the extent needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 Fahrenheit). But for a glimpse of something resembling climate leadership, peer across the pond.

The Climate Change Performance Index [PDF], produced by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, ranks countries based on their greenhouse gas emissions, emissions-reduction efforts, energy efficiency, renewable energy portfolios, and policies aimed at slowing climate change. Here's the top-10 list from this year. Every country is in Europe:

  1. Denmark
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Portugal
  4. Sweden
  5. Switzerland
  6. Malta
  7. France
  8. Hungary
  9. Ireland
  10. Iceland
Read more: Climate & Energy

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This Pacific island has so much plastic pollution it might become a Superfund site

Tern Island
Forest and Kim Starr

There's so much plastic crap floating in the Pacific Ocean and washing up on shorelines that one atoll in the midst of the mess could be declared a Superfund site.

Tern Island is the largest island in the French Frigate Shoals, a coral archipelago 550 miles northwest of Honolulu, part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Replete with lagoons, wildlife, and alluring white sands, the island could be a paradise on Earth. But it’s not. Plastic pollution there is so bad that a year ago the Center for Biological Diversity asked the feds to consider adding Tern Island and the rest of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, plus a part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that's in federal waters, to its Superfund list — a list of the nation’s most polluted places. From the petition [PDF]:

The reefs and shores of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands are littered with hundreds of thousands of pounds of plastic garbage. Derelict fishing gear and debris entangles innumerable fish, sea birds, and marine mammals, often resulting in injury and death. Plastic pollution harms wildlife via entanglement, ingestion, and toxic contamination, causes substantial economic impacts, and is a principal threat to the quality of the environment.

Read more: Living

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Piles of tar-sands waste in Chicago are pissing people off

One of the petcoke piles in Chicago
Southeast Environmental Task Force

Clouds of coal dust and petroleum coke, a waste product from the refining of tar-sands oil, have been enveloping neighborhoods on Chicago's southeast side. Federal, state, and city officials are finally moving to temper the dangerous air pollution.

The villains: KCBX Terminals (a division of Koch Industries) and Beemsterboer Slag Co.

The villainous acts: The companies own three terminals along the Calamut River that are storing huge piles of coal and petroleum coke, aka petcoke, which is coming from a nearby BP refinery. But they aren't bothering to cover all that gunk to make sure it stays on site, so it's being picked up by winds and blown over neighboring homes, forcing residents to stay indoors.

Petcoke and dust cloud storm
Anthony Martinez via Southeast Environmental Task Force
A pollution cloud in southeast Chicago.

The plot: The piles of petcoke are expected to grow in Chicago and elsewhere around the country as refineries switch to processing tar-sands oil from Canada. Detroit suffered a similar problem (also courtesy of the Kochs) until city, state, and federal officials banded together to chase it away with lawsuits and legislation.

The victims: Residents of Chicago's East Side and South Deering neighborhoods.

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China officially abandons its pursuit of “growth at all costs”

Yuan
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How did China grow its GPD by 10 percent every year for more than three decades, from a virtual standing start, rising to become the world's second-largest economy?

Through a simple, horrendous policy: growth at all costs.

In other words, forget about public health, screw happiness, trample justice, and fuck the environment. Just go out there and make as much damned money as you can.

But as the country begins grasping the environmental and social carnage that unchecked growth has inflicted, its leaders are realizing that "growth at all costs" is no way to live.

"A subtle shift in China is under way," Scotiabank commodity market analyst Patricia Mohr said during a recent mining conference. "They are no longer determined to have economic growth at any cost; they want economic growth which meets their objectives."