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John Upton's Posts


California cities want paint makers to remove lead from homes

Old paint

Ten California cities have a message for paint companies that sold lead-tainted products to their residents in decades past: "Get that shit out of our houses."

Local governments filed suit again five paint manufacturers in 2000, and on Monday the trial finally began. Atlantic Richfield, NL Industries, Sherwin-Williams, and two other paint companies are defending themselves against claims that they should have pay to strip poisonous lead plaint out of an estimated 5 million homes, at a cost of about $1 billion. From the San Jose Mercury News:

[T]he industry will fight back hard, arguing that it never deliberately sold a hazardous product and that lead paint is no longer a significant public health threat in California.

But decades after the government banned lead paint because of its health threat to children, the substance remains in many homes built before 1978, particularly in older, low-income neighborhoods where families are considered less likely to be aware of the threat. Lead paint has been linked to a host of maladies in children, from learning disabilities and stunted growth to seizures and even death.

Read more: Cities, Living


China plans a major solar spree

Solar panel
It's time to get these out of Chinese warehouses and put to good use.

A solar-panel manufacturing blitz by Chinese companies has left a glut in the market, driving down prices for photovoltaic systems.

And China thinks that's a pretty good excuse to throw itself a huge solar party.

The government has announced plans to add 10 gigawatts of solar capacity each year for three years. That would take advantage of cheap prices and help the country's manufacturers move product in a difficult market. From Reuters:


Here’s an easy way to protect coastal communities from rising seas and storms

Mangroves in Florida
Natural protection against rising seas, or development site in waiting?

Protecting nature is the best way of protecting ourselves from rising tides and storm surges, according to new research.

Sand dunes, wetlands, coral reefs, mangroves, oyster beds, and other shoreline habitats that ring America help to protect two-thirds of the coastlines of the continental U.S. from hurricanes and other such hazards.

Developers see these coastal areas and think -- *ding* *ding* *ding* *ding* -- opportunity. They want to replace shoreline habitats with waterfront homes, shipping channels, highways, and other delights of urbanism and commerce, along with hulking concrete structures designed to keep the rising seas at bay.

Or, another idea would be to leave nature intact and let it continue to shelter us.

The latter approach would, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change, be the superior option for protecting lives and property in most of the nation's coastal areas.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


FDA moves to keep arsenic out of your apple juice

Apple juice
Finally, more apples in our arsenic juice.

Apple juice may soon be as safe to drink as tap water. (Well, except for all that sugar.)

Nearly two years after consumer groups raised alarms about elevated levels of arsenic in some brands of apple juice, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed new limits on permissible levels of the chemical, which can cause cancer and other maladies.

The FDA's proposed "action level" for inorganic arsenic in apple juice matches the EPA's existing rules for tap water -- 10 parts per billion.


Campaign to roll back state renewable programs is a flop so far

Love the sun
State legislatures are standing behind renewable energy standards.

State laws requiring utilities to sell a certain percentage of clean energy have been attacked across the nation over the past year. But these renewable portfolio standards have been holding their own just fine.

Not only were all of the legislative efforts to roll back such standards defeated, but some states actually strengthened their laws, requiring still more clean energy to flow through the grid. From Bloomberg:

None of the 26 bills to roll back requirements passed before most state legislature sessions ended, according to a July 9 report from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy. Eight states voted to strengthen or modify laws that require utilities to purchase electricity produced from renewable sources.

Challenges to so-called renewable portfolio standards in effect in 30 states have increased since the lobby group American Legislative Exchange Council released model legislation in October that state lawmakers are using as a blueprint to try to water down rules supporting wind and solar energy.

“There was a big push to slow down progress after ALEC got involved but the momentum is in renewable energy’s favor,” Adam Browning, executive director of the San Francisco-based Vote Solar Initiative, said ... in an interview. “Poll after poll shows that Americans want clean, renewable energy and support these policies.”


Good news for penguins: World’s largest marine reserve could be established around Antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica
Antarctica's penguins could benefit from proposals to create huge international marine preserves in their 'hood.

Plans to protect more than 1.5 million square miles of ocean around Antarctica are getting serious consideration this week -- and that could be a big benefit for whales, seals, birds, fish, krill, and other wildlife in the region.

The idea is akin to creating a vast national park, except that it would be an international park. And it would be larger than most nations. And it would be entirely soggy.

From USA Today:

Read more: Food, Politics


Seas may rise 10 yards during centuries ahead

Under water.
The future view from your favorite beach.

Sea-level rise is currently measured in millimeters per year, but longer-term effects of global warming are going to force our descendants to measure sea-level rise in meters or yards.

Each Celsius degree of global warming is expected to raise sea levels during the centuries ahead by 2.3 meters, or 2.5 yards, according to a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The world is currently trying (and failing) to reach an agreement that would limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Business-as-usual practices could yet raise temperatures by 4 (or even more) degrees Celsius.

Multiply 2.5 yards by 4 and you are left with the specter of tides that lap 10 yards higher in the future than today. That's 30 feet, the height of a three-story building. For comparison, the seas rose less than a foot last century.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fracking industry cleanup workers exposed to benzene in Colorado, feds allege

Parachute Creek, Colorado
Parachute Creek

We told you about the drawn-out spill of 241 barrels of natural gas liquids earlier this year at a Williams Energy plant that handles fracked gas in Colorado. It turns out that Parachute Creek and its wildlife weren't the only things exposed to cancer-causing benzene because of the accident.

The toxic contents of the mess were kept secret from workers sent to excavate it, and the workers were not kitted out with the proper safety equipment.

That's according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which fined a Williams Energy subsidiary and two other companies a total of $27,000 this week for what it described as "serious violations" related to the cleanup work. From The Denver Post:

As workers began digging for super-concentrated hydrocarbons, the companies "did not inform (them) of the nature, level and degree of exposure likely as a result of participation in such hazardous waste operations," OSHA documents said.

Workers dug trenches along the pipeline, west of Parachute Creek, to find and remove toxic material, documents said. "This condition potentially exposed employees to benzene and other volatile organic compounds."


Solar installations soar in California

solar on a house roofThe Golden State is going into overdrive on solar power.

California utility customers installed a record-breaking 391 megawatts of solar power systems last year. That was a banner year for the nation's largest photovoltaic rebate scheme, with installations up 26 percent compared with 2011.

Those panels were installed with the assistance of the California Solar Initiative [PDF], a $2.2 billion program started in 2007 that aims to help residents meet the costs of installing 1,940 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of 2016. The program is on track to meet that target well ahead of schedule, meaning incentives will begin to dwindle.

From the L.A. Times:

The bulk of that money has been poured into incentives, per-watt rebates that have gradually declined as the solar industry grows. This is on top of the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit -- 30% of the cost of each residential or commercial system is paid back to the owner of the home or business -- and the net metering that accounts for all but 92 megawatts of the state’s existing solar capacity. Net metering doles out energy credits to customers for the solar power they produce but don’t consume, easing the strain of monthly electric bills. ...


Illinois town bans stripping because of fracking

Phoenix strip club
There will be no more of this in Fairfield.

It's bad enough that the fracking boom is making it more difficult for Americans to breathe clean air, feel safe drinking their water, and stand on steady ground. Now the boom is preventing anybody in one Illinois town from dancing with their clothes off.

Fairfield, Ill. (population 5,000 and shrinking) is bracing for an influx of frackers, most of whom will be men from out of town. (Despite promises of jobs associated with fracking, fracked communities normally discover that most of the work goes to experienced hands who fly in from Texas and other industry hotspots.)

A city committee charged with preparing the town for fracking warned that it could create a market for strip clubs. So, acting on the advice of the committee, the Fairfield City Council unanimously passed an ordinance this week that prohibits nude, seminude, and exotic dancing. It doesn’t even matter whether the stripping is done for profit or if it’s, er, gratuitous. From the Evansville Courier & Press: