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Philip Bump's Posts

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The budget turmoil may mean no meat inspectors — and no meat

In every respect, the sequester is dumb. If you're only vaguely familiar with the term as it's being used this month: God bless you. But a little background is in order. The recently ended 112th Congress wasn't mature enough to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit (even though it had declared that the deficit was a big priority), so it decided to build a time bomb. "If you don't come up with a budget plan in the spring," it said, "this thing's gonna blow, slicing over a trillion dollars from the budget over the next decade." The 112th Congress then laughed maniacally and did nothing for the rest of the year. Now the 113th Congress is standing around holding this big bomb, sweating nervously, mad at the previous Congress (which was almost entirely the same people).

Oh, you don't care? Good, slash government, you say? Cool attitude. But also: Say goodbye to all of the meat you eat. From Reuters:

The Obama administration warned on Friday that across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in March may result in furloughing every U.S. meat and poultry inspector for two weeks, causing the meat industry to shut down.

By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the Agriculture Department's inspection seal.

Remember before when you were like, "Who cares about budget cuts?" Now, you do. Ha ha.

cow-eye-balls-meat
Shutterstock
Can you even imagine going a day without delicacies like this?
Read more: Food, Politics

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Are solar panels the worst thing for the environment ever? Um, no

cemetery_andrew_deci.jpg
Solar panel users.

Some very bad news, American consumers. You know those solar panels that you thought were so "green"? Turns out that they're completely terrible for the environment. Seriously. Completely terrible and awful and you're basically personally responsible for the eventual decline and collapse of modern civilization if you use one. It's sad, but true.

From the Associated Press:

While solar is a far less polluting energy source than coal or natural gas, many panel makers are nevertheless grappling with a hazardous waste problem. Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water.

To dispose of the material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away.

The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar's carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product's impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is.

You there. With the solar panel on your roof. Thanks for killing America.

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Global wind capacity up 20 percent in 2012 — thanks in part to the U.S.’ monster December

wind-turbines
Michael Lemmon

The tally is in: Wind had a hell of a 2012. From the Guardian:

Wind power expanded by almost 20% in 2012 around the world to reach a new peak of 282 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity. Of the 45GW of new wind turbines that arrived in 2012, China and the US led the way with 13GW each, while Germany, India and the UK were next with about 2GW apiece. …

The UK now ranks sixth in the world for installed wind power, with 8.5GW. In Europe, only Germany (31GW) and Spain (23GW) have more. China leads the world with 77GW installed and the US is second with 60GW.

The amount of installed capacity has been growing nearly exponentially over the past two decades.

Interestingly, last year's surge is thanks in part to American politics. More than five of the U.S.' 13 added gigawatts came in December, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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A fracking horror story: Do you know who owns what’s underneath your land?

For your weekend reading, a horror story from North Carolina, via Reuters:

Three years ago, Vince and Jeanne Rhea found the house of their dreams in Shirley, Arkansas. They couldn’t believe the deal: 40 acres complete with a separate workshop that Jeanne could use as an art studio and two nearby lakes. It was also thousands of dollars cheaper than a property of that quality should have been. They booked a plane ticket from Raleigh, North Carolina that day to fly down and buy it.

When they got to Arkansas, they found out why it was so cheap.

The owner of the house had recently sold the mineral rights under the property to a natural gas company for use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique that is opening new areas across the country for energy exploration. The front page of the local newspaper that day had a story about problems in the water supply and was advising residents not to bathe, Jeanne recalled. “There was no way we were making an offer after that,” she said.

Close call. Except that the Rheas then bought property in Lee County, a rural area of North Carolina -- and found that it too was over a shale formation.

[B]ecause of two arcane laws known as split estates and forced pooling, they may not even have the right to say whether gas companies can drill on their property. ...

“Whether we want to sell or not, the gas companies could take our property from us,” said Vince Rhea.

The courthouse in Lee County, North Carolina
oldrebel
The courthouse in Lee County, N.C.

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Have coal companies been ripping Americans off even more than we already knew?

The coal industry, for as much as it whines and frets and fake-cries about how oppressive the government is, gets a pretty sweet deal. We've noted before than companies pay 25 cents a ton for coal from public lands and then can turn around and sell it for $35 a ton. (We've also mentioned that they often sell that coal to China, meaning we're subsidizing the world's largest consumer of coal, but that's a whole other issue.)

This was reported as eight pounds of coal, probably
This was reported as eight pounds of coal, probably.

What makes this so much more galling is that the weepy coal companies might not even be paying for all of the coal they're extracting. From The Hill:

Interior is looking into whether mining firms lowball the value of coal excavated from federal lands to minimize the fees they pay the government. …

Reuters said mining companies are underreporting the price of coal at mine sites — where royalties are assessed — then selling it to marketers that they often times own. Reuters said those intermediaries then ship the coal abroad, where they fetch higher prices.

[Sen. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.)] and Energy Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had asked [Interior Secretary Ken] Salazar to examine those charges in a January letter. They said the government could ill afford to lose out on any revenues, noting coal royalties amounted to $898 million in 2011.

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Unable to stop climate change, EPA prepares for it

jenna_pope_sandy
Jenna Pope

"We live in a world in which the climate is changing."

This statement from the EPA, the first line in its draft "Climate Change Adaptation Plan" [PDF] released today, is basic. But that the EPA is saying it is important.

For two reasons. The first is that the agency is advancing an argument it will need to make more forcefully later this year as it pushes for curbs on greenhouse gas pollution that could stem some of the worst effects of that changing climate. Though the draft report is dated June 2012, it only came out today -- less than a week before a State of the Union address in which Obama is expected to call for climate action. And, second, the EPA needs to get ready for what a warmed world looks like.

Until now, EPA has been able to assume that climate is relatively stable and future climate will mirror past climate. However, with climate changing more rapidly than society has experienced in the past, the past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Climate change is posing new challenges to EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission.

"Until now," huh? If you say so.

Over the course of 55 pages, the agency outlines the ways in which its mission -- protecting America's air and water -- will be threatened by climate change. For those who've been tracking the issue, it's largely what you'd expect. It's important to note: This is not a document meant to suggest how the EPA will prevent climate change. It simply says "here's what will happen as the world warms" and then considers how that will affect its mission.

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As emissions drop, Northeast tightens its cap-and-trade system

Congratulations to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced "Reggie," like Archie Andrews' obnoxious friend) on effectively reducing carbon pollution! Kind of!

RGGI, long-time readers may recall, is a marketplace for carbon emissions in the Northeast. It's cap-and-trade, explained more fully here. A price is determined for a set amount of carbon allowances and fossil-fuel power plants buy those allowances. Because of a big drop in emissions from participating states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont -- the total amount of allowed emissions will be reduced next year.

The Ravenswood plant in Queens
vincent desjardins
The Ravenswood plant in Queens.

From The New York Times:

The regional group proposed a 45 percent reduction next year in the total carbon dioxide emissions allowed. ...

The reduction from 165 million tons is expected to raise the price of compliance, and further reductions of 2.5 percent annually were likely to increase the value of the allowances that utilities must submit for every ton of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent, that they emit.

If the proposal goes into effect, the analysis done by the group, which is a collaboration of nine states to cut carbon emissions, indicates that by 2020, allowances that are now trading at $1.93 could trade as high as $10. That would be roughly at the level where allowances for California’s new economy-wide cap-and-trade system were auctioned last fall.

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Exelon issues dumbest threat in the history of dumb threats

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Here's the stupidest threat ever. From The Hill:

Exelon Corp. CEO Christopher Crane told the Chicago Tribune in comments published Friday that his company might eventually have to close nuclear facilities “if we continue to build an excessive amount of wind and subsidize wind.” ...

Crane explained the subsidy reduces the rate Exelon receives from nuclear generation by encouraging wind turbines to rotate when power demand is low. That means the utility sometimes pays customers to take its nuclear power in wind-heavy regions.

Ha ha. Oh no! You'll have to close nuclear plants if we keep building wind turbines? Oh man what will we do? Everyone, we clearly need to rethink this wind energy thing if it means fewer nuclear facilities like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and Fukushima. [BIG FUCKIN' FROWN EMOTICON]

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New York might allow public input on fracking study; Yoko doesn’t wait

In addition to people who've worked in the fracking industry, the state of New York might also let the general public weigh in on whether or not to allow fracking.

From the AP:

A coalition of 65 state lawmakers is asking New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release the Department of Environmental Conservation's review of potential health impacts of shale gas drilling for public comment before deciding whether to allow drilling to begin.

The group headed by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton sent a letter to Cuomo on Tuesday. They said the Health Department's evaluation of DEC's "health impact analysis" should be transparent, but the public hasn't been given any information about it. It's expected to be complete within a few weeks.

Let the public comment? Bold.

One New Yorker isn't waiting for the governor to solicit input. Her name is Yoko Ono.

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Ohio revokes drilling license of company caught dumping fracking fluid in the sewer

The semi-vacant Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, thought that fracking might be the solution to its epidemic of empty buildings. The revenue from drillers could allow the city to continue its policy of razing abandoned buildings, constricting the city and allowing it to better serve residents. But the explosion of fracking in the Utica shale formation on which the city sits may yield another revenue stream: fines for pollution.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company
chrismurf
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company.

On Jan. 31, Ohio Department of Natural Resources inspectors caught employees of a fracking company in the act of dumping oil and brine into a city sewer. From the Tribune-Chronicle:

"On Jan. 31, 2013, division inspectors, acting on one of the anonymous tips, visited 2761 Salt Springs Road and observed two individuals disposing of substances from a hose connected to a frac tank into a storm sewer,'' Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials spelled out in an order that they delivered Wednesday to D&L Energy. …

The men observed by ODNR inspectors discharging the brine [Ed. - fracking fluid waste] drove away from the site in a truck labeled "Mohawk" before inspectors began taking samples of the liquids they had dumped, reports say.

That sewer flows into the nearby Mahoning River. You can read the official incident report here.