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John Upton's Posts


New York, California move to ban beauty products containing microbeads

personal care products

Scrubbing dead skin cells off your face and tartar off your teeth trashes the environment if it's not done right. The right way to do it is with facial scrubs, shampoo, and toothpaste that do not contain microbeads. The microscopic balls of hard plastic flow down drains and pass through wastewater treatment plants, ending up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, where they enter the food chain.

Finding microbead-free products isn't easy right now -- you have to read ingredient lists and steer clear of products that contain "polyethylene" or "polypropylene." Natural alternatives include ground almonds, oatmeal, and pumice.

But if lawmakers in California and New York get their ways, the microbead-loaded varieties will become nearly impossible to purchase in two of the most populous states in the country.

Read more: Living, Politics


Oil spills break fishes’ hearts


This Valentine's Day, BP should dedicate some hearts to fish that were exposed to its Deepwater Horizon spill -- new research suggests that the spill may have broken theirs.

Scientists investigating the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill have discovered that even very low concentrations of crude in seawater interfered with the normal pumping of tuna hearts. After exposing captured yellowfin and bluefin to BP oil-spill samples, the researchers detected irregular heartbeats, which can lead to fatal cardiac arrest.

Because a wide range of animals have similar heart designs, the researchers are warning that species from turtles to dolphins could also be affected. Even exposed humans could be at risk.

Read more: Climate & Energy


America’s natural gas system is super-leaky, and that’s bad news for the climate

natural gas bus in DC
Beechwood Photography

Like a free-riding bus passenger whose expired ticket gets overlooked by the driver, the natural gas industry has been getting a free pass from the EPA for its global warming impacts for well over a decade.

A new mega-analysis of 20 years worth of research suggests that the EPA is underestimating the fossil fuel's climate impacts by 25 to 75 percent.

The problem with the EPA's math doesn't concern the burning of natural gas, which produces less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels (but way more than solar panels or wind turbines). The problem is in the leaky systems that extract and transport the fuel.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Solar is keeping California’s lights on as hydro dries up

solar panels

We told you recently that wind turbines kept the heaters working in Texas during a cold snap that shut down several natural-gas power plants. And now we have similar superhero news from that other great renewable energy source -- the sun.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that solar energy is helping to meet California's power needs amid a drought that has caused hydroelectric supplies to shrivel:


Your tea won’t taste so good after you read this

tea worker
Akarsh Simha

India's reputation for producing delicious teas stems mostly from vast plantations in the northeastern state of Assam.

Tourists admire the beauty of the region, but life is hard as hell on the plantations. Undernourished workers, including children and the elderly, toil from dawn until dusk for pittances, often spraying industrial pesticides with little protection and enduring unsanitary conditions. They retire at night to overcrowded homes.

It is suffering such as this, which was chronicled a year ago in a complaint filed by three Indian nonprofits, that now has the World Bank investigating a company called APPL, which supplies tea to Tetley and other brands. APPL operates 24 tea plantations and is 41 percent owned by Tetley parent Tata Global Beverages, with the World Bank’s main lending body and some other shareholders also holding stakes.

"We want the company to comply with the labor laws and upgrade the working and living conditions," Jayshree Satpute, an official with Nazdeek, a nonprofit that helped draft last year's complaint, told Grist. "This investment of [the World Bank] was done also to benefit the workers -- but there have been no real positive changes."


Another day, another river ruined by a big coal-industry spill

Fields Creek pollution
Appalachian Voices

The coal power industry has dumped a lot of toxic crap into yet another river. This latest incident is not to be confused with the spill of toxic coal-cleaning chemicals that poisoned a West Virginia river last month and left 300,000 people without drinking water. Nor is it to be confused with a huge coal-ash spill from a retired power plant in North Carolina earlier this month.

No, this is a whole new spill.

Patriot Coal accidentally let more than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry loose from a coal processing facility in West Virginia. Six miles of Fields Creek, which flows into the Kanawha River, was blackened by the slurry spill. The slurry contained fine particles of processed coal, which includes heavy metals, and coal-cleaning chemicals.

"When this much coal slurry goes into the stream, it wipes the stream out," said Randy Huffman, head of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). "This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River." But officials say drinking water has not been affected, at least not yet. 


U.S. wants poor and rich countries alike to cut emissions under next climate treaty

world flags

If the U.S. gets its way, developing countries will need to roll up their sleeves and do more to slow down global warming.

The Obama administration is taking the position that poor and rich countries alike should be legally obligated to reduce the amount of climate-changing pollution that they produce after 2020, when a new climate treaty is expected to take effect. The Kytoto Protocol approach, which saw rich countries but not poor ones compelled to rein in greenhouse gas pollution, is "clearly not rational or workable" any more, U.S. officials argue in a new submission to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The next big U.N. climate meeting will be held in Lima, Peru, this December, and then Paris will host a bigger one in December 2015, at which world leaders hope to finalize the new climate treaty.

"[T]he United States supports a Paris agreement that reflects the seriousness and magnitude of what science demands," Obama administration officials wrote in their 11-page U.N. submission, which was published on Wednesday. "As such, it should be designed to promote ambitious efforts by a broad range of Parties."


Dems and GOP have competing visions for making oil trains safer in Washington state

A train derailment
Public Herald
The polluted aftermath of an oil-train derailment in Alabama last year.

A recent string of oil-train disasters across North America has Washington state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feeling nervous. Oil-by-rail traffic in the state is poised to soar as crude from the Bakken formation in North Dakota heads to refineries and ports on the coast.

Republicans who control the state Senate and Democrats who control the House have both drafted legislation to try to reduce the risk of accidents and explosions. The Republican bill calls for a variety of studies and would help local agencies develop emergency plans. The Democratic one would go further, requiring greater public notification about the movement of oil through the state and increasing penalties for oil spills.


BP found another shady way to cheat public, get richer

Shady dealings

It's hard to imagine a company as filthy rich as BP running a scam that would cheat a state out of tens of millions of dollars. Wait, no it's not.

Minnesota is claiming in a lawsuit that BP did exactly that.

The alleged scam took advantage the nationwide problem of old, leaky underground storage tanks (the EPA calls them LUSTs, because occasionally the EPA is hot). The EPA estimates there are 78,000 such tanks buried nationwide, each of them containing funky old oil and the like, even after some 436,000 were removed in recent decades. To help rid Minnesota of the tanks' hidden pollution dangers, the state levies a fee on petroleum products that goes into its Petrofund. BP has received money from this fund to help it meet the costs of cleaning up its LUST sites. According to Minnesota's lawsuit, however, more than $25 million of BP's LUST cleanup costs were already being met by the company's insurers.


Monster wind farm planned in South Dakota

Wind turbines in South Dakota
Travis S.

Well blow us over, Mount Rushmore State! Scores of landowners in South Dakota are banding together in an attempt to build a one-gigawatt wind farm, which would be spread over thousands of acres of farmland.

South Dakota is already a leader when it comes to harnessing wind energy. Nearly 500 large turbines spin over the state's windswept landscapes, with a collective capacity of 784 megawatts of power. The Watertown Public Opinion reports on an attempt to more than double that capacity: