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John Upton's Posts


Illinois kills online coal propaganda targeting kids

Illinois Coal Mascot
via Midwest Energy News
A smiling lump of coal shaped like Illinois tells kids that coal is ace.

A dark era of pro-coal brainwashing funded by Illinois taxpayers may finally be coming to an end.

We told you last month that the state’s Commerce Department, which oversees a coal-education program mandated by state law, had urged an overhaul of the materials that it provides to teachers. A review by the department concluded that the materials were biased in favor of the dirty fossil fuel.

Now comes news from coal journalist Jeff Biggers, writing on Monday for Yes Magazine, that the department has stripped controversial coal-related educational material from its website:

The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages. ...

As pressure increased on the department to take action, staff members initially claimed that they were too broke to fix the problem. Then the pages disappeared from the site on Monday. Earlier screen shots show sections called "Education" and "Kid's Site," neither of which was visible when YES! checked the DCEO site today. ...


Supreme Court will hear challenge to EPA’s power-plant rules

coal plant

America's power plants are among the world's leading sources of greenhouse gas pollution. And their owners secured a legal victory on Tuesday that could help them stay that way.

We've written at length about the Obama administration's efforts to clamp down on power plant emissions. The EPA's proposed rules would make it difficult to operate dirty coal-fired plants and would help slow down global warming. But the decades-overdue rules don't delight everybody: They have pissed off some powerful and deep-pocketed polluters.

Conservative states, big business and fossil fuel groups have lined up to challenge the rules in court, arguing that they are far-reaching and intrusive. They say the court's 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling only directed the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act -- and that it fell short of granting the EPA the authority to regulate "stationary" power plant emissions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear some of those challenges.

From USA Today:

The court accepted six separate petitions that sought to roll back EPA's clout over carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. That could signal the court's dissatisfaction with a 2012 ruling by the nation's second most powerful court -- the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit -- affirming the agency's authority.


BP negligent in Texas refinery leak but absolved of wrongdoing

Texas City
The Texas City refinery.

Yes, of course BP was negligent when it allowed at least 500,000 pounds of toxic gases to stream out of a refinery in Texas City, Texas, for 40 days in 2010.

So ruled a Texas jury. But that's where the good news out of a lawsuit that could affect 48,000 refinery neighbors ends. Despite the company's negligence, a jury concluded that the fumes it released, which contained such cancer-causing chemicals as benzene and nitrogen oxides, caused no harm to its neighbors.

The Houston Chronicle reported that a 12-person jury deliberated for nearly three days before concluding that BP had been negligent but that it was to be absolved of wrongdoing:

"Today's verdict affirms BP's view that no one suffered any injury as a result of the flaring of the BP Ultracracker flare during April and May 2010," BP spokesman Scott Dean said. "Armed with the knowledge gleaned from this case and this important jury verdict, the company will immediately begin to prepare for any additional proceedings involving other plaintiffs."


Venice has a grand plan to protect itself from rising seas

acqua alta
Paolo Pescio
Flooding in Venice last week.

A multibillion-dollar effort to protect Venice from flooding has passed its first public test.

The Moses project involves flood barriers that will stretch a mile across the mouth of Venice's lagoon, rising from the water when high tides threaten to deliver acqua alta -- periodic floods that inundate the Italian city. The effort is designed to prevent flooding that has become more common and severe during the last two centuries as sea levels rise and as the soggy city sinks.

Construction has been underway for a decade and is expected to continue until 2016, when 78 barriers will be in place. Last week, Venice tested out the first four floodgates, each weighing more than 300 tons. The barriers rose from the lagoon as intended, drawing applause from VIP spectators. From The Telegraph:

The gates are being built at the three inlets which link the lagoon to the Adriatic sea: Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia.

"The benefit of the city is that no more floods will arrive and that all the ground floors of the city, which are usually washed out and destroyed by these tides, will be safe," [said] Hermes Redi, Chief Executive of Consorzio Venezia Nuova which are in charge of the project.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Lagoons filled with toxic water coming to Ohio’s fracklands

Frackwater lagoon
National Energy Technology Laboratory via NRDC
A fracking wastewater impoundment lot.

Where frackers go, lagoons filled with toxic wastewater follow.

Fracking wastewater impoundment lots as big as football fields already dot heavily fracked landscapes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The lagoons are built to help the industry manage and reuse the vast volumes of wastewater that it produces.

Ohio lawmakers looked admiringly to their neighboring Marcellus Shale states and decided to draw up their own rules for wastewater lagoons. From The Columbus Dispatch:

“We are putting in a process to outline their standards of construction and their length of use,” said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.


Wisconsin’s sand-mining boom could fuel fracking abroad

Frac sand
Carol Mitchell
Frac sand piled up behind a Wisconsin farm.

When most people think about Wisconsin, cheese, breweries, and cornfields spring to mind. But the fracking industry is interested in something else the Badger State has to offer: sand.

A sand-mining boom has gotten rolling in Wisconsin over the last three years. The state's quartz-based sand is strong and spherical, nicely suited for injecting underground with water and chemicals to prop open cracks in fractured shale, allowing natural gas and oil to be fracked.

The spoils of Wisconsin's $1 billion frac sand–mining industry are already being hauled by rail to fracking fields as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania. But the sand miners have their sights set higher. At a conference last week, one industry leader said the silica could eventually be shipped to South America and China, helping other countries plunder their own lands for cheap fossil fuels. “Wisconsin is the global epicenter, and we’re just getting started,” said Richard Shearer, president and CEO of Superior Silica Sands. More from The Capital Times:

“I like to say thanks to God and the glaciers” for leaving behind the right kind of sand in Wisconsin, [Republican Gov. Scott] Walker told the receptive audience that included lobbyists, attorneys and rail officials.

Walker’s 2013-15 budget includes two new positions within the Department of Natural Resources to help process applications for sand mining operations, along with investments in freight rail as part of a $6.4 billion package of transportation improvements. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


While EPA is furloughed, Republicans hold hearing to bash it

Rep. Doug Lamborn
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) is more interested in bashing the EPA than solving the budget impasse.

You would think that the Republicans in Congress would dedicate every waking minute to figuring out how they can end the budget standoff and government shutdown. But, then, you don't think like a Republican in Congress.

Last Thursday, while 94 percent of the EPA was furloughed and the country continued edging ever closer to a debt default, House Republicans dillydallied with an EPA-bashing hearing that repeated worn-out talking points.

The name of the hearing offered clues to its content: EPA vs. American Mining Jobs: The Obama Administration’s Regulatory Assault on the Economy. And the opening statement [PDF] by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, did not deviate from the predictable course:

The Obama Administration's "war on coal" can be felt throughout the country, from Logan County, West Virginia to Farmington, New Mexico. Now it has seemingly expanded to an all out "war on mining jobs" threatening workers from Chicken, Alaska to Superior, Arizona.


For energy efficiency, Americans deserve a big thumbs-up

Many thumbs up
We're getting there.

America's population and economy are both growing, yet its energy appetite is falling. That's because of substantial energy-efficiency gains made in recent decades.

Those gains are helping the country reduce oil imports, save money on power bills, and move toward meeting a goal set by President Obama of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent between 2005 and 2020.

The news is laid out in a Natural Resources Defense Council report cheerily titled America's (Amazingly) Good Energy News [PDF]:

[O]ver the past 40 years Americans have found so many innovative ways to save energy that we have more than doubled the economic productivity of the oil that runs our vehicles and the natural gas and electricity that runs almost everything else. Factories and businesses are producing substantially more products and value with less energy. ...


Americans cited for hiking on federal lands, but drillers can keep on drilling

Grand Canyon
Stuart Seeger
If you are caught sneaking into Grand Canyon National Park, you will be ordered to appear in federal court.

Americans are being cited for entering national parks during the government shutdown and ordered to appear in federal court. But drilling and logging companies are meeting no obstacles when they continue doing business on supposedly shuttered public lands.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, thinks that's pretty unreasonable. Last week he complained about the disparity in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell:

Despite the federal government shutdown making national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and many other important sites unavailable to the public, oil and gas drilling and other extraction activities continue on our federal public lands. The lack of oversight of these potentially hazardous activities greatly concerns me, especially because of the scarcity of manpower to respond to emergencies, pollution issues or other rapid response needs.

I am equally concerned about the many businesses that rely on our public lands. Concessionaires that operate facilities within our public parks and other federal lands have been locked out by the shutdown. So have river and trail guides who rely on public lands and waterways to make a living. Small businesses cannot afford to be cut off from their main -- in some cases sole -- source of income.


Huge North Dakota oil spill went unreported by furloughed feds

Wheat field in North Dakota
This is what a wheat field looks like when it isn't covered with thousands of barrels of leaked oil.

A farmer discovered a huge oil spill -- several times bigger than the recent Mayflower, Ark., spill -- nearly two weeks ago in North Dakota. But because of federal government furloughs, we're only just learning about it.

More than 20,000 barrels of fracked oil seeped from a ruptured pipeline over 7 acres of remote North Dakota wheat fields, oozing 10 feet into the clay soil and killing crops. Farmer Steven Jensen found the mess on his land on Sept. 29.

The National Response Center, which reports oil and chemical spills, posted an alert about the spill on its website this week. Reuters reports that the agency normally posts such reports within a day, but that its work has been stymied by the government shutdown.

But there's really nothing to worry about, says Tesoro Logistics, the company responsible for the spill: