Briefly

Stuff that matters


Shoulda been Milk Duds

What the heck were thousands of red Skittles doing strewn across a frozen Wisconsin road?

Turns out, they spilled off a truck carrying them to a dairy farm. Which raises the question, what?!

You see, farmers have been feeding candy to cows for decades, if not always Skittles. Discolored chocolate bars, misshapen gummy worms, and broken cookies all go into the feed mixer. Factory owners like it because it’s a good use of defective food that would otherwise wind up in a landfill. Farmers like it because it’s cheap fodder for animals.

But what do the cows think? They seem to like it. Even the occasional candy wrapper doesn’t bother them. One farmer beloved of bovines pays extra to bring in 10 tons of chocolate a week for his cattle.

In some ways, this is nothing new. Cows, pigs, and chickens have been recycling human food waste for millennia: Pigs were the de facto garbage crew in ancient Rome and colonial New York. But it was only recently that we discovered you can make funfetti ice cream by feeding Skittles to cows (no, not really).


windfall

One of the biggest wind farms in the U.S. is coming to Oklahoma.

Located in prime oil and gas country, American Electric Power’s proposed $4.5 billion Wind Catcher project would serve more than 1 million customers in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

The project will continue the utility’s transition away from coal, which was its main electricity source only a decade ago. We can take AEP’s wind investment as a sign that renewables make economic sense even in conservative areas.

Several major utilities have embarked on billion-dollar U.S. wind energy projects in the past year, the Wall Street Journal points out. A few of them:

Let’s face it: No matter what Trump wants, wind power isn’t going away.


big gulp

Chicago drinking fountains have been running nonstop for months.

Officials disabled the push buttons on more than 100 drinking fountains in the city’s parks earlier this year, claiming that continuously flowing water significantly reduces hazardous lead levels.

About 450 Chicago park fountains registered “dangerously high” lead levels when tested in 2016. Some were spouting water with levels 80 times higher than the EPA limit. (It’s worth noting that health officials say no amount of lead exposure is safe.)

This year, most of those 450 fountains met EPA standards, but 107 were still spewing tainted water. Officials plan to keep those fountains on continuous flow until mid-fall. An additional hundred-plus drinking fountains have been running round-the-clock for “spring flushing,” an annual process of conditioning water pipes after turning them on once winter passes.

Nearly 600 gallons of drinking water are wasted each day that a fountain spigot is left on, according to a report from Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ. In 2003, the Windy City spent hundreds of thousands of dollars retrofitting fountains with on-and-off buttons to preserve water.

Park officials plan to keep monitoring the lead problem in their fountains. But for now, Chicagoans should consider bringing a full water bottle along on their lakeside runs.


who ya gonna call?

Tensions rise between the Trump administration and Alaska.

Trump’s ire fell on Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who on Tuesday voted “no” to moving a health care repeal bill to the Senate floor for debate. After the vote, Trump tweeted (of course) that Murkowski had let the country and her party down. Then, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly called Murkowski and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to inform them Murkowski’s move would not be forgotten.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Sullivan said the call sent a “troubling message.” Murkowski didn’t comment, but Sullivan appeared unnerved by the conversation. “I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” Sullivan said.

At a rally on Tuesday night, Trump implied there would be repercussions: “Any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems.”

The Interior Department has input over several issues important to Sullivan and Murkowski, like energy exploration and drilling in parts of Alaska. Murkowski, as chair of two committees related to the Interior, has say in several issues important to the department, like its budget.


cracked

A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart.

That’s the buzz this week in the polar science community after a big new iceberg emerged at Petermann Glacier in far northwest Greenland. Scientists first spotted an extensive network of cracks in Petermann earlier this yearThe worry is that those cracks may widen during the next few weeks, the warmest part of the short Greenland summer.

Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet. That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels. Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.

Major breakups also happened at Petermann in 2010 and 2012, but the location of the current cracks suggests the glacier could soon shrink to its smallest size in recorded history. Research conducted in the last two years has shown that it’s melting from both below and above, speeding up its eventual collapse. Another recent study showed that meltwater from Greenland is now the leading cause of global sea-level rise, increasing more than five-fold since 1993. Not good.


join the charge

The U.K. is banning sales of diesel and gas cars by 2040.

Three weeks after France announced it would ban fossil-fueled vehicles, the United Kingdom is following suit.

The decision was largely motivated by protecting people’s health, though the U.K. government considered the effects of climate change, too. Among European nations, the United Kingdom has the most diesel-run vehicles.

“Poor air quality is the biggest environmental risk to public health in the U.K.,” a government spokesperson told the Guardian. A February report found that 40,000 people die prematurely in the country each year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution from cars, household cleaners, and more.

Britain’s ban forms the backbone of an air quality plan released Wednesday, which budgets $322 million for short-term fixes like retrofitting vehicles. The U.K. has slated an additional $1 billion for driverless and zero-emissions technology research.

Even so, some activists have called the ban of gas and diesel vehicles a publicity stunt. According to analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, nearly 80 percent of cars purchased in the U.K. by 2040 would be electric under existing policies.


on tap

Want to know what’s in your drinking water? Just click here.

With a national database that went live today, the Environmental Working Group offers residents the opportunity to search contaminants in their drinking water by zip code.

Live in Los Angeles? If you’re one of nearly 4 million people that gets water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, EWG’s database shows that your water has elevated levels of arsenic and cancer-causing bromate. Hail from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, like me? (Hi!) Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen from plastic manufacturing, just exceeds the legal limit there.

The database includes both regulated and unregulated contaminants, giving residents a full picture of the chemicals in their water. But what can you do with that information? EWG also recommends water filters that work best for the contaminants in your area.

Data comes from state agencies and the EPA, but EWG’s database is more user-friendly than the EPA’s drinking water data portal.

The database’s release comes after a Natural Resources Defense Council report that a quarter of Americans drink contaminated water or get water from a source that’s not properly monitored.