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Wait, why are we dunking so many of our seeds in neonic poison?

mustard seed
Shutterstock

In the same way that America's fast-food industry fooled us into accepting that a burger must come with a pile of fries and a colossal Coke, the agricultural industry has convinced farmers that seeds must come coated with a side of pesticides.

And research suggests that, just like supersized meals, neonicotinoid seed treatments are a form of dangerous overkill -- harming bees and other wildlife but providing limited agricultural benefits. The routine use of seed treatments is especially useless in fields where pest numbers are low, or where insects, such as soybean aphids, chomp down on the crops after the plant has grown and lost much of its insecticidal potency.

“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known," said Peter Jenkins, one of the authors of a new report that summarizes the findings of 19 peer-reviewed studies dealing with neonic treatments and major crop yields. "What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic."

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Chevron creates its own news outlet for a poor city that it pollutes

Richmond protests
Daniel Arauz
Don't expect to hear what these folks think in the pages of the Richmond Standard.

Big Oil's influence on corporate media has American news outlets shamefully shirking climate coverage. But oil companies won't be satisfied by merely controlling the national news. In the poor Californian city of Richmond, where Chevron wants to upgrade a polluting refinery that is wont to explode, the oil giant has started an online newspaper.

The Richmond Standard is a hyperlocal journalism site launched in January with the hallmarks of a typical Patch site (before said service was dumped by AOL): minimally reported stories about local crime, public meetings, and sports, told with the inverted-pyramid style of traditional news writing.

But the Standard is not your typical, well-intentioned but underfunded local reporting initiative; it's a Chevron propaganda rag that's run and written by the company's flacks. The San Francisco Chronicle delves into the ethics of such an initiative:

The idea of the nation’s second-largest oil company funding a local news site harkens back to an era of journalism when business magnates often owned newspapers to promote their personal financial or political agendas. Now that mainstream newspapers are struggling to survive, online news sites are testing ways to fund their operations, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

But the idea of a company sponsoring news in a community where it operates still poses problems, he said.

“The tradition of press independence — even though in many times it’s more aspirational than real — is nevertheless a cornerstone principle,” Wasserman said. The Standard “is a different model. It’s clearly meant as a community outreach effort, so it’s born in an ethically challenged area.”

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Oil, oil everywhere

On Exxon Valdez anniversary, a fresh spill threatens Texas wildlife

Oil spill off Texas
U.S. Coast Guard

The accident-prone oil-transportation sector is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska with a large oil spill on the other side of the country.

An oil barge-versus-ship accident in Texas's Galveston Bay on Saturday triggered the largest Gulf of Mexico oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Galveston Bay isn't really a bay; it's one of America's largest and most ecologically productive estuaries, and it's surrounded by wildlife refuges. Oil quickly started coating wildlife at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. A Texas wildlife official told the L.A. Times that "hundreds or thousands of birds" are threatened:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The clean energy industry is turning Nevada green

Nevada
Shutterstock

Few things could be less sustainable than an entertainment mecca in the middle of a desert. But there's more to Nevada than the Vegas Strip, and investors in the Silver State are finding better ways of wagering their money than in slot machines.

On Thursday, leaders from both major parties joined forces to tout Nevada's clean technology sector. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) held a press conference to laud the $5.5 billion that has been invested in the industry in the state since 2010.

The figure was calculated by the Clean Energy Project, a Las Vegas-based advocacy group for the renewables sector. The group credits state tax breaks for growing clean energy investment. From its new report:

Due to Nevada’s vast solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass resources, the state has excelled at meeting demand in and out of its borders leading to significant clean energy capital investments. As of 2014, Nevada has 480 MW of clean energy developed or being developed to meet its energy demand and 985 MW of clean energy exported to other states.

The cumulative capital investments for both in-state and out-of-state clean energy projects, including transmission lines to move the clean electrons, total $5.5 billion since 2010. Nevada’s Investment of $500 million in tax abatements has attracted $5.5 billion of capital investment in clean energy projects to the state.

Read more: Food, Politics

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These frackers have the nerve to call L.A. leaders “appallingly irresponsible”

L.A.
Shutterstock

Nobody wants to be called "appallingly irresponsible," but it's especially galling when the insult comes from the fracking industry.

Members of Los Angeles City Council, which may soon impose a moratorium on fracking, this week proposed that the city work with the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists to determine whether a 4.4-magnitude quake on Monday was linked to nearby hydraulic fracturing. Fracking practices have been linked to earthquakes in other parts of the country.

"It is crucial to the health and safety of the City's residents to understand the seismic impacts of oil and gas extraction activities in the City," three lawmakers wrote in a motion that they introduced on Tuesday.

Earthquakes happen all the time in California. Monday's temblor was deeper than most fracking industry–induced earthquakes, though it was attention-grabbing because it occurred in an area not normally known for quakes. And it struck mere days after a trio of nonprofits warned in a report that the fracking sector could trigger earthquakes in California.

So it seems reasonable that L.A. lawmakers would want scientists to look into the issue. But frackers are not known to be reasonable people. The Western States Petroleum Association reacted vehemently to the insinuations and to the proposed scientific research. Its president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, denied any industry links to Monday's earthquake, and decried the council members as "appallingly irresponsible."

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White House to crack down on methane pollution

natural gas pipelines
Shutterstock

In his big climate plan released last June, President Obama promised new rules to reduce methane leakage during the production and transport of natural gas. Since then, we've learned that the problem of methane leaks is much larger than the government had estimated. 

Now the administration is poised to finally announce those regulations and help prevent the country’s natural gas industry from turning the world into a Dutch oven.

When burned, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal. But methane, the main component of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas when released directly into the atmosphere, 86 times stronger than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.

Obama adviser John Podesta told reporters this week that the White House is "in the throes of finalizing" a government-wide strategy aimed at reducing accidental leaks of methane. The Washington Post reports that the new rules could be announced as soon as this month. They don't require the approval of Congress.

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Aussie farmers to be paid to store carbon in soil

Australian farmer
Haydyn Bromley

Climate protection is getting down and dirty Down Under.

Soil serves as a great reservoir for carbon, yet it's often overlooked in climate protection efforts. That's changing in Australia, where farmers will soon be able to earn cash for projects that store carbon in the soil -- such as tree plantings, dung beetle releases, and composting. Aussie farmers are already eligible to make money by reducing greenhouse gas pollution from livestock, manure, and rice fields.

Australia's environment minister announced Tuesday that farmers could start applying for payments for soil carbon storage in July.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Pipeline bursts, makes a big mess in Ohio nature preserve

oil spill
Shutterstock

A ruptured oil pipeline has dumped more than 10,000 gallons of crude into a wetland area and nature preserve in southwestern Ohio. How's that for a reminder that pipelines aren't necessarily cleaner than oil trains?

The 1950s-era pipeline, owned by Sunoco Logistics, was sending oil from Texas up to refineries in Michigan. The spill was discovered Monday, but some neighbors reported smelling oil since late February.

Ohio officials are now testing air quality and drinking water, and cleanup workers are using heavy equipment to try to mop up the mess. The oil has pooled in a marsh not far from the Great Miami River. The Oak Glen Nature Preserve -- home to deer, birds, woods, and wildflowers -- has been temporarily closed.

oil spill
EPA via WLWT
Oil spill in Oak Glen Nature Preserve, Ohio.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Billions of pounds of sea life die every year to feed our seafood appetite

Entangled ring seal.
NOAA
A ring seal entangled in fishing equipment -- aka bycatch.

For every pound of sashimi, barbecued shrimp, or grilled sea bass that you stuff into your mouth, you're basically spitting four ounces of marine life onto the floor.

The nonprofit Oceana published a detailed report on Thursday cataloguing the egregious problem of bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Bycatch is a word that refers to the sharks, turtles, whales, non-edible fish, and other critters that are inadvertently hauled into fishing boats or caught up in the gear of fishing fleets that are pursuing more palatable and lucrative species.

Read more: Food

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Global buying spree is saving solar panel manufacturers

solar panel in a shopping cart
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The sun is starting to shine again on the solar-panel manufacturing industry, a year after a string of corporate collapses.

The glut of cheap solar panels that pushed manufacturing giant Suntech and others into bankruptcy is being whittled away by a worldwide surge in solar installations. The manufacturing sector's gradual return to profitability comes eight months after China announced it would go on a solar-buying spree to cash in on the oversupply of panels.