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John Upton's Posts


L.A. and California lawmakers move to impose fracking moratoriums

Hollywood sign
Matt' Johnson

Leaders in Los Angeles seem to have been paying attention to Hollywood. A little more than a year after the release of Promised Land, a movie about the dangers of fracking starring Matt Damon, members of L.A. City Council are trying to ban hydraulic fracturing.

"Fracking and other unconventional drilling is happening here in Los Angeles, and without the oversight and review to keep our neighborhoods safe," Councilman Mike Bonin said during a committee hearing on Tuesday. Here's more from the L.A. Times:


Carbon dioxide pollution just killed 10 million scallops

scallops with chili

Scallops go well with loads of chili and an after-dinner dose of antacid. It's just too bad we can't share our post-gluttony medicine with the oceans that produce our mollusk feasts.

A scallops producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia just lost three years' worth of product to high acidity levels. The disaster, which cost the company $10 million and could lead to its closure, is the latest vicious reminder of the submarine impacts of our fossil fuel–heavy energy appetites. As carbon dioxide is soaked up by the oceans, it reacts with water to produce bicarbonate and carbonic acid, increasing ocean acidity. 

The Parksville Qualicum Beach News has the latest shellfish-shriveling scoop:


Frack-happy Colorado clamps down on methane pollution

Smoggy Denver
Rick Kimpel
Cutting back on methane leaks could help reduce Denver's infamous smog.

Frackers and other companies that handle natural gas will have to start being at least a little bit neighborly in Colorado, where new rules will force them to clamp down on methane leaks from wells, tanks, and pipelines.

When methane (natural gas is pretty much just methane) escapes during drilling and transportation, it fuels ozone pollution and global warming. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are rising, and methane leaks are a major problem in the U.S. By one recent estimate, the U.S. EPA has understated the problem by a half.

To start trying to tackle the problem, Colorado's air quality commission voted 8-1 on Sunday to adopt the nation's first state regulations dealing with methane leaks -- regulations that the Natural Resources Defense Council had previously described as "common-sense measures to reduce harmful pollution." Volatile organic compounds will also be regulated under the new rules. Reuters explains:


Big polluters tell Supreme Court they’re worried for Chinese restaurateurs

Thomas Hawk

The country's worst climate polluters don't want to have their carbon dioxide emissions reined in by the federal government. They've already tried and failed to convince the Supreme Court that the Clean Air Act doesn't apply to CO2. So in court on Monday, they claimed to be worried that the EPA could, theoretically, crack down on CO2 produced by everything from Dunkin' Donuts stores and Chinese restaurants to high school football games. And that would be crazy, so the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 should be curbed.

The attorney representing conservative states, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and major polluters argued before the Supreme Court that the Obama administration erred when it set up a regulatory framework under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources of carbon dioxide, deciding to regulate emissions from major polluters like power plants and factories but not from tens of millions of small operations. The conservative coalition contends that a correct interpretation of the law should see smalltime polluters subjected to the same rules as big polluters -- which everyone agrees would be absurd. So the polluters' attorney told the Supreme Court that Congress should be called on to set new CO2-pollution rules -- that it shouldn't be up to the EPA to decide who is and who isn't subject to such rules.


Oil is spilling from trains, pipelines … and now barges

New Orleans
The Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The oil industry is a champion of innovation. When it comes to finding new ways of sullying the environment, its resourcefulness knows no bounds.

An oil-hauling barge collided with a vessel pushing grain in the Mississippi River on Saturday, causing an estimated 31,500 gallons of crude to leak through a tear in its hull. The accident closed 65 miles of the already disgustingly polluted waterway upstream from the Port of New Orleans for two days while workers tried to contain and suck up the spilled oil.

The accident highlighted a little-noted side effect of the continent's oil boom. Not only is crude being ferried from drilling operations to refineries in leaky pipelines and explosion-prone trains -- it's also being moved over water bodies with growing frequency. Bloomberg reports:


World’s biggest offshore wind farm won’t expand because of birds

Red-throated loon

The red-throated diver is a "species of least concern" as far as the International Union for Conservation of Nature is concerned -- there might be a half million of the migratory waterfowl across the globe. But in an estuary east of London, environmental protections for the species have become a major concern for wind energy developers.

So much so that a consortium of utilities has ditched plans to expand what is already the world's biggest offshore wind farm, worried that it wouldn't be able to satisfy government requirements that the local red-throated diver population be protected from further harm.

Phase 1 of the London Array is already complete -- and generating as much as 630 megawatts of electricity. Phase 2, which would have boosted electricity production at the sprawling site by more than a half, will not move forward as originally planned.


Can farmed fish go vegetarian?


The worldwide aquaculture industry is growing faster than a genetically engineered salmon. By 2030, the World Bank forecasts that 62 percent of the fish eaten the world over will have come from a fish farm -- up from about half today.

Aquaculture is an alternative to commercial fishing. But all those farmed fish need to eat, and most of them eat smaller fish harvested from oceans. Which kind of defeats the whole point of aquaculture.

Forage fish like anchovies and sardines are being hauled out of the seas, mixed with soy and other ingredients, turned into pellets, and used as fish feed.

To get away from this practice, which harms oceanic food webs, scientists are trying to figure out how to rear fish on vegetarian diets. QUEST/KQED reports:


These are dark days for the Arctic — literally

Walruses in the Arctic
Sarah Sonsthagen / U.S. Geological Survey

Things are getting gloomy up north, where the Arctic region is losing its albedo.

No, not libido -- this isn't a problem that can be fixed with ice-blue pills and adventurous nature videos. Albedo. It's a scientific term that refers to the amount of light that the surface of the planet reflects back into space. Reflecting light away from the Earth helps keep things cool, so the loss of Arctic albedo is a major problem.

And new research has concluded that the problem is an even greater one than scientists had anticipated.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Tea industry claims it will undertake heroic efforts to become more sustainable

Mr. T
Mr. T knows a thing or two about being a hero, and he pities the fool who slurps from the sweat of exploited workers.

The tea business can be pretty ugly. Abuse of workers and abuse of the environment are both rampant.

So a number of tea giants now say they have a plan to get more sustainable and turn tea into a “hero crop” by 2030. What’s a hero crop? According to a report released Friday by Forum for the Future, a nonprofit that’s coordinating the Tea 2030 initiative, a “hero crop is more than just a commodity; it also delivers social, environmental, and economic benefits for all participants within its value chain.”

Aiming for the far-off year of 2030 doesn't seem all that heroic. Still, here’s more on the initiative from a press release:


U.S. tries to have it both ways with solar trade policy

solar panels

Remember how the U.S. trade representative announced last week that he would haul India before the World Trade Organization to try to force the country to accept more solar-panel imports? It's a reaction to India's efforts to protect its own solar industry as it massively boosts its renewable energy capacity.

Darnedest thing: The U.S. government on Friday moved closer to imposing trade restrictions that would limit imports of Taiwanese-made solar components into the U.S. Reuters reports:

The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled on Friday that Chinese solar panels made with cells manufactured in Taiwan may harm the American solar industry, bringing it closer to adding to the duties it slapped on products from China in 2012.

The U.S. arm of German solar manufacturer SolarWorld AG had complained that Chinese manufacturers are sidestepping the duties by shifting production of the cells used to make their panels to Taiwan and continuing to flood the U.S. market with cheap products. ...

The value of Chinese solar product imports in the United States fell by almost a third from 2012 to 2013, while imports from Taiwan rose more than 40 percent, although from a much smaller base, according to ITC data.

American solar-installation companies have denounced the move to slap new duties on Taiwanese-manufactured components. That's because they rely on cheap Asian manufacturers to help keep the price of solar arrays low.