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John Upton's Posts


Republicans say Obama’s climate plan is a war on America

war in front of American flag

By announcing that his administration will tackle climate change by curbing power plant emissions, Barack Obama isn't just waging a war on coal. He's waging a war on the United States of freakin' America.

We know that because Republicans told us so.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Leading Republicans were using phrases like “anti-American” and “war on American energy” to describe President Obama’s new plan to combat climate change, escalating the rhetoric even before the President’s Georgetown University speech outlining his program.

“President Obama’s anti-American energy plan will increase the price of energy and hurt job creation,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., tweeted. Bachmann is a longtime climate change denier who has defended the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

And it isn't just Republicans. Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- he of the notorious shoot-the-cap-and-trade-bill ad -- is also escalating the martial rhetoric. (As it happens, Manchin has earned millions from a coal brokerage he used to help run, and coal-dependent energy companies are among his biggest campaign contributors.) From Climate Progress:


Giant, oil-belching sinkhole dooms more than 100 homes in Louisiana

It's looking like a neighborhood in Assumption Parish, La., has been permanently wiped out by a sloppy salt-mining company.

A sinkhole in the area has grown to 15 acres since an old salt mine that was emptied to supply the local petrochemical industry with brine began collapsing in August. Hundreds of neighbors were long ago evacuated, and many of them are now accepting that they will never return to their homes.

The sinkhole isn’t just endangering homes, it is also burping out oil, natural gas, and debris, shaking the area so powerfully that seismic equipment is being used to monitor the site. And brine from the sinkhole is in danger of contaminating local waterways. This thing is so big it even has its own Facebook page.

This is not a lake. It's part of the 15-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish.
On Wings of Care
This is not a lake. It's part of the 15-acre sinkhole in Assumption Parish.


After mass bumblebee die-off, activists call for new pesticide rules

pesticide caution sign
If only bees could read.

Even as Oregonians are mourning and memorializing the tens of thousands of bees killed in a recent pesticide spraying, they're also trying to prevent other bees from meeting a similarly tragic end. That means keeping the pollinators away from the poisoned trees that caused the deaths. And for some activists, it also means pushing for new rules and policies to curb use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

The tragedy started a week and a half ago when a landscaping company sprayed Safari neonic insecticide over 55 blooming trees around a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore. Soon thereafter bees started dropping dead. The number of bees killed in the incident has risen to more than 50,000, making it the biggest known bumblebee die-off in American history. The insecticide was reportedly sprayed in an attempt to kill aphids.

bumblebee net
Mace Vaughan / Xerces Society
Insect-proof netting being draped over insecticide-drenched trees in Wilsonville, Ore.

To stop the slaughter, nets have been draped over the insecticide-drenched linden trees to prevent pollinators from reaching their flowers. The time and equipment needed for the draping were donated by five cities, three landscaping companies, and volunteers, according to the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that works to conserve insects and has been helping to coordinate the effort.

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


Supreme Court will hear big clean-air case

Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant in North Carolina.
Rainforest Action Network
Beware, neighbors.

It's been a week of refreshing news for fans of unpolluted air. As Barack Obama on Tuesday was calling for greenhouse gas limits on power plants, clean air advocates were also celebrating a decision by the Supreme Court to hear an important case on power-plant pollution.

The EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was designed to cut down on life-threatening power-plant pollution that blows across state borders. It called for reductions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at power plants in 28 states in the eastern U.S. The rule would mostly affect coal power plants, the dirtiest of America's electricity plants. The EPA and supporters of the rule have said it would save tens of thousands of lives every year.

But owners of dirty power plants and some of the states in which they operate argued in court that the rule goes farther than the EPA is allowed to go under the Clean Air Act's "good neighbor" provision.

Last August, the notoriously conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the power plant companies, striking down the EPA's rule.

But now the Supreme Court will hear the case and could reverse the circuit court's ruling. From Reuters:


Calgary floods trigger an oil spill and a mass evacuation

Epic floods forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes last week in Calgary, Alberta, the tar-sands mining capital of Canada. More than seven inches of rain fell on the city over the course of 60 hours.

Now the floodwaters are subsiding throughout the province, leaving in their wake an oil spill, power outages, and questions about how climate change might affect flooding.

Calgary floods
Keltek Trust
Soggy Calgary

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said the crisis was “like nothing that we’ve ever seen before,” the Calgary Herald reported Monday. “We will live with this forever.”

The heavy rains also appear to have shifted the earth beneath a pipeline near the city of Fort McMurray, triggering a leak of synthetic crude oil. On Monday, energy company Enbridge said a cleanup operation was underway in a wetlands area; initial estimates placed the size of the spill at 500 to 750 barrels. From Reuters:

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Could Massachusetts become the first state to impose a carbon tax?

filling a gas tank
How 'bout paying a little bit more for that gas?

If a group of climate activists gets its way, Bay Staters will vote next year on whether to establish a statewide carbon tax.

From The Boston Globe:

A group of environmentalists plans to ask voters to make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to adopt a so-called carbon tax by imposing new levies on gasoline, heating oil, and other fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon dioxide they produce.

The group, which has registered with the state as a political committee, is launching a campaign to place the issue on the ballot for the 2014 state elections. If approved, such a tax would add several cents to the price per gallon of gas and could generate as much as $2.5 billion in revenue a year, according to an economic analysis that was done for the group, the Committee for a Green Economy. ...


Study links fracking to drinking water pollution

faucet and glassWhile the EPA has been dumping and delaying studies of fracking's effects on drinking water, new academic research reveals that people who live near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania are drinking the same gases that the frackers are pumping out from the shale beneath their feet.

Researchers from Duke University, the University of Rochester, and California State Polytechnic University found dissolved methane, which is the main ingredient in natural gas, in water pumped from 82 percent of drinking water wells sampled in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Methane can occur naturally in the area (that's what draws frackers there). But the researchers' study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that levels of the gas were far higher in drinking water wells located close to fracking operations than in other areas.

Here's a bullet-pointed summary of major findings, for any higher-ups at the EPA who might still care about what fracking is doing to the nation's water supplies:

  • Methane concentrations in drinking water were six times higher in wells less than 1,100 yards from a natural gas well than were average concentrations in wells located farther away.
  • Ethane concentrations were 23 times higher in water pumped less than 1,100 yards from a natural gas well than from other water wells.
  • Propane was found in 10 water wells located less than 1,100 yards from a natural gas well, but not in any of the wells located farther away.


Nuclear waste leaking at Hanford site in Washington, again

A tank storing radioactive waste at America's most contaminated nuclear site appears to have sprung a leak, leaching yet more cancer-causing isotopes into soil some five miles from the Columbia River in Washington state.

The Hanford site
Crash Zone Photography
The Hanford site and the Columbia River

The Hanford site produced plutonium that was used to manufacture the bomb that blew up Hiroshima. Now it's home to a different kind of horror: It's used to store nuclear waste while a plant is built on site to treat that waste. But the Department of Energy treatment plant project has been plagued by delays, and tanks that were designed to hold the waste temporarily keep falling apart.

From the AP:

An underground tank holding some of the worst radioactive waste at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site might be leaking into the soil.

The U.S. Energy Department said workers at Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Reservation detected higher radioactivity levels under tank AY-102 during a routine inspection Thursday.

Spokeswoman Lori Gamache said the department has notified Washington officials and is investigating the leak further. An engineering analysis team will conduct additional sampling and video inspection to determine the source of the contamination, she said.

State and federal officials have long said leaking tanks at Hanford do not pose an immediate threat to the environment or public health. The largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest — the Columbia River — is still at least 5 miles away and the closest communities are several miles downstream.

However, if this dangerous waste escapes the tank into the soil, it raises concerns about it traveling to the groundwater and someday potentially reaching the river.

The AP reports that water samples taken beneath the leaking tank "had an 800,000-count of radioactivity and a high dose rate, which means that workers must reduce their time in the area."

Read more: Politics


FBI chases anti-GMO activists while ignoring Monsanto’s transgressions

FBI agent with gun
Hot on the trail of the bad guys -- depending on your definition of "bad."

Some experimental GMO crops were torn out of a field in Oregon this month. That means it's time for the federal government to freak the fuck out and do its best to clamp down again on eco-activism.

The sugar beet plants, which were genetically engineered by Syngenta to survive applications of the herbicide Roundup, were uprooted in the middle of the night from a couple of fields, presumably by anti-GMO activists. The destruction of the experimental crops occurred in the same state where a strain of Monsanto's illegal herbicide-resistant wheat recently showed up in a farmer's field, threatening America's multibillion-dollar wheat export market.

Guess which crime the FBI is desperate to crack?

That's right: The sugar beet one. The agency announced that it "considers this crime to be economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises." According to the FBI, a $10,000 reward is being offered for clues by Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a corporate forestry and agriculture group that lobbies for pro-GMO and pro-pesticide legislation.


EPA delays fracking safety study until 2016

"please be patient" sign

We told you last week that the EPA is abandoning an investigation that linked fracking chemicals with groundwater contamination in Wyoming. Amid controversy over that move, news about EPA delaying another fracking study got overlooked by most media.

In 2010, Congress ordered the EPA to look into the dangers posed to drinking water sources by hydraulic fracturing. That research was expected to be completed in 2014. But last Tuesday, an EPA official told attendees of a shale-gas conference in Cleveland, Ohio, that it wouldn't be done until 2016.