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Philip Bump's Posts


Guy once in charge of offshore drilling is worried about offshore drilling

Could this happen again? Of course it could fucking happen again.

So, the guy who ran the agency that oversaw offshore drilling in the wake of the spill in the Gulf is worried about a big spill happening again. Stock up on Bounty, Alaska.

A former federal regulator warned today that growing “complacency” since the 2010 Gulf oil spill threatened to undermine changes that have boosted safety and government oversight of offshore drilling.

Michael Bromwich, who headed the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement in the wake of the spill, said he was “surprised and troubled” by how quickly memories of the Deepwater Horizon disaster have faded.

“All of the discussions I hear on Capitol Hill ... are all about the pace of deep-water drilling and speeding up the application approval process,” Bromwich said, adding that, at the same time, there is “very little discussion about safety.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


Think being an environmental activist is hard? Try it in Mexico or Brazil

A cleared section of the Brazilian rainforest.

American activists may lament that their work isn't bringing about enough change (or media coverage), but they rarely have to put their lives on the line or face crippling corruption.

Activists in other parts of the world are not so lucky.

A story from Mexico, in the New York Times:

On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.

Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.

Read more: Uncategorized


Number of farmers markets up almost 10 percent over the last year

From the Associated Press:

As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets sprouting up across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] will announce Friday that the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6 percent in the past year, with California and New York leading the way. ...

After 18 years of steady increases, the number of farmers markets across the country now registered with the USDA is 7,864. In 1994, there were 1,744.

Using data from the USDA, we graphed what the growth in farmers markets has looked like since 1994.

Click to embiggen.

The gray line is the percentage increase, pegged to the right vertical axis. Normally, you'd expect this to drop quickly as the total number of markets increases -- it's easier to grow 50 percent from 10 stores (requiring only five new ones) than it is from 1,000 stores (500 new ones). That the sector is still seeing double-digit percentage increases each year is remarkable.

Read more: Food


Could America see an India-style blackout?

There's a natural question that follows from the massive blackouts in India this week: Could it happen here?

The far-too-short answer is yes. It could happen here. But it is very, very unlikely -- at least on that scale.

A blackout in Chicago. (Photo by infiniteexpanse.)

Maggie Koerth-Baker, author of Before the Lights Go Out, has a wonderful post at Boing Boing answering this specific question. I strongly recommend you go read it in full.

Her piece is predicated on an assessment of the massive 2003 blackout that affected much of the Northeast. How'd that happen? What could have prevented it? Are those precautions now in place? The 2003 blackout, Koerth-Baker notes, was caused by a cascade of small problems, starting, in part, with the failure of a power company to sufficiently trim trees near its lines. (An untrimmed tree, she notes, can yield $1 million in fines.) Because of this maintenance failure, six transmission lines went down in a row.

In 2003, the people trying to stop the blackout didn’t have a clear view of it. Partly, that had to do with the faulty software program that wasn’t turned back on and the alarm system failure that apparently went unnoticed. But it was also just how the grid worked. The systems in place to tell grid controllers what the electrons were doing moved a lot more slowly than the electrons themselves.

In 2003, it took about 30 seconds for data about what was happening on the grid to be gathered, compiled, analyzed, and displayed in a way that grid controllers could use. That sounds pretty fast, until you consider the fact that electrons move at close to the speed of light. …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Plenty of work for pundits: U.S. adds jobs in July, but unemployment goes up

This person is working! As a stock photo model.

Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up. Get up, get up, get up, get up.

It's the first Friday of the month, which means that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its summary of employment for the month preceding.

And, hey! It's not terrible news. The economy added 163,000 jobs in July. The private sector added 172,000; the public sector (that is, government) lost another 9,000. The unemployment rate (which is pegged to slightly different data) went from 8.2 to 8.3 percent -- but that's because the rate inched to 8.254 and was then rounded up. In order to keep up with population growth, we need more than 125,000 new jobs added a month -- so that's some good news.

Since Obama took office, this is what the private and public sectors have done. The blue line is government, which saw a one-time spike from Census hiring.

The key point in this graph: Government has been shrinking for years. Or, to put it more snarkily:

Read more: Uncategorized


Cincinnati bans fracking injection wells

A unanimous vote by its city council last night made Cincinnati the first city in the state of Ohio to ban injection wells associated with hydraulic fracturing. From CityBeat:

“I’m proud to be on the first City Council to ban injection wells,” said Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who submitted the ordinance to council.

“I want to give props to the solicitors … who have come up with a very unusual thing in City Council — a one page ordinance.”

The ordinance, which passed unanimously after being voted out of committee on Tuesday, is aimed at preventing the injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, under Cincinnati. Its injection has been linked to a dozen earthquakes in northern Ohio.

Opponents also worry that the chemicals in the water, which is used to drill underground to free up gas and oil, can seep into drinking water.

Read more: Politics


One brave warrior’s desperate leap to save a civilization

The plane shuddered. Whether from wind, or a sudden drop in speed, or from the flak he could hear popping dangerously around him wasn't clear. But it shook, giving him something to focus on besides his nerves.

He looked around the interior of the plane, empty but for him and his aide, heavy steel arcs silent in the overhead gloom. Thin lines of light outlined the rear of plane, flashing brighter and dimmer as explosions went off somewhere in the night and then dissipated.

His aide couldn't lift his eyes, stared at the floor in silence. They both knew that once Jim left the plane with his package, that was it. They'd almost certainly never see each other again.

"You doing OK?"

His aide looked up and then quickly away. "Yeah."

The plane groaned, dipped to the left, straightened out.

"Alright, this is the spot," the pilot said over the radio. "Gotta do it now." The aide took a breath and walked to the door, pulling it open quickly, urgently. A dark gray patch of sky came into view, the tops of clouds glowing in sync with the lines at the back of the plane. The thuds of exploding flak and the whine of the plane's propellers were only slightly louder.

Read more: Politics


Mitt Romney stops by Colorado to laugh about how he hates their jobs

Something something hot air. (Photo by Patrick Finnegan.)

Mitt Romney is in Colorado today, doing that thing presidential candidates do where they talk at people for a while and the people clap and the candidate shakes some hands and makes some jokes and then gets in a car and goes somewhere else to do the same thing. It really sounds like a lot of fun.

But some of the people in Colorado don't want to clap for Romney. They don't want to shake his hand. Why are they being so rude? Because Mitt Romney doesn't care if they lose their jobs. From the Denver Post:

The visit comes just days after his campaign took a firm stand against extending the wind-energy production tax credit -- a position that puts him at odds with three of the state's four Republican congressmen and could cause trouble with some of the independent voters who decide elections in Colorado.

Conservative U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have joined Democrats in Colorado's congressional delegation in urging Congress to extend the credit, saying in a joint letter earlier this year that allowing it to expire this year could cause Colorado to lose "thousands" of jobs.

The wind industry employs about 5,000 people in Colorado; among the other states with the large number of wind-industry jobs are swing states such as Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I can only assume that the voters unhappy about Romney's bold stand have not heard his explanation for attempting to destroy a rapidly growing sector of the economy. We will repeat: he wants to "end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits," per his spokesman. You thought you were working a good middle-class job, providing for your family. Nope. You are a boondoggle, which is French for something about freedom.

Read more: Politics


Opposition to the Navy’s biofuel program just got a little more hypocritical

Is this boat ruining America? Read on to find out!

Earlier this week, a Senate subcommittee voted to continue funding for the Navy's experimental biofuel program, cleverly dubbed the "Great Green Fleet." As a primer, see David Roberts' look at why the military is prioritizing a transition from fossil fuels.

As we've mentioned before, Republicans hate the effort, because 1) it's got anything at all to do with the environment and 2) the Navy might spend slightly less on oil some day and that makes their friends cry. Today, the full Senate Appropriations Committee tackles the defense appropriations bill that includes the biofuels funding. The topic of biofuels will certainly come up.

Here's what the opposition looked like earlier this year:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in May added an amendment to the defense authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee that prevents the Navy from buying biofuels if they cost more than conventional fuel. He was incensed by the Navy decision to buy 450,000 gallons of $26-per-gallon biofuel, which it blended with petroleum for its “Great Green Fleet” aircraft carrier strike demonstration in July.

Incensed! You see, ladies and gentlemen, Sen. Inhofe is deeply committed to ensuring that the United States government not spend a single dollar that it need not spend -- particularly on some weirdo, namby-pamby "alternative fuel."

With one exception.

Read more: Politics


Why India went dark: Too little power, too little water, too much heat

Photo by Steve St. Jude.

This week's power blackouts in India were a reminder of the fragility of our complex infrastructure systems. As we noted on Tuesday, the chief problem was not enough power (in part because of coal-related production problems) paired with too much demand (in part because of high temperatures).

Here's a roundup of some of the smarter analyses of how these problems came together to plunge India into darkness.

"Behind India’s Grid Breakdown, Deeper Energy Issues -- and Opportunities" (Dot Earth):

The massive grid breakdown in India should not come as a surprise at all. The surprise part is why it did not happen before. It has been a ticking time bomb. Coal and nuclear will not solve the issue. Energy inefficiency, creaking infrastructure (increasing transmission and distribution losses), lowering of water tables and electricity theft all have to be taken care of at once. Increased urbanization is caused mostly by rural migrants. Proper planning of new urban houses is essential and also a great opportunity. For example, such housing could be designed for better day lighting (and easily could be designed in combination with renewables like solar from day one).

In Delhi, having modern buildings with glass facades that trap heat (increasing the need for heavy air conditioners) just does not make sense. Modern buildings have been designed with scant respect for the local environment and have been built for outward show.

In the name of satisfying voters, huge subsidies for electricity for agricultural water pumping have led to to rapid depletion of groundwater, thus leading to the need for more powerful water pumps, and thus the need for more electricity -- a vicious cycle.

Read more: Uncategorized