Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Business & Technology

Comments

Ohio lawmakers: All right, folks, we guess it’s OK for you to buy Teslas

Tesla sales center
Tesla

If you live in Ohio, your lawmakers are poised to allow you to purchase a Tesla from a sales center -- without forcing you to drive outside the borders of the Buckeye State to do your eco-friendly spending.

But legislative efforts to placate the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association will nonetheless cap the number of sales offices Tesla is allowed to operate inside the state at three -- and other auto manufacturers will be barred outright from hawking their wheel-spinning wares direct to buyers. Here's the news, courtesy of NJTV:

Comments

Farmers and eaters: Why can’t we be friends?

cowboy-checkers.jpg
Shutterstock

A farmer from Iowa recently told me a story about visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. He chatted up foodsellers at the Ferry Building farmers market, visited the wine country, and met a lot of nice people. But he also noticed that whenever he told anyone that he was a corn and soybean farmer, the temperature in the room seemed to drop. Oh, that kind of farmer. In the Bay Area, saying "I grow corn and soy" is the real world version of saying Voldemort.

This antipathy runs both ways, of course. Visiting Iowa, I felt a similar chill at times when I revealed that I was a California food writer. Another farmer asked me how I thought we should deal with the problem of people demanding organic foods.

But I truly believe that we’re natural allies. The farmer and the eater should be friends! We all want the same thing: A sustainable system, one that provides fair compensation for food producers and makes the world a more healthy, delicious, and beautiful place with every bite. We should be breaking the path toward this goal together. And yet, instead of mutual respect, there’s acrimony, suspicion, and anger.

Comments

Track star

Is this train the “little engine that could” for clean energy storage?

railcar_renewables_storage
ARES

In Greek mythology, the story of Sisyphus endlessly rolling a boulder uphill is meant to be a cautionary tale. Gravity, in this case, worked against the poor chump. But the smart folks at Advanced Rail Energy Storage North America (ARES) asked: Why not make gravity your friend? ARES has pioneered a train full of rocks that climbs up a hill, only to roll back down again and repeat the process, Sisyphus style. But instead of a metaphor of futility, this new train technology offers a breakthrough opportunity in clean energy storage. It isn't easy to find feasible solutions for storing grid-scale renewable energy loads for when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't …

Comments

BP’s newly upgraded refinery just spilled oil into Chicago’s water source

BP Whiting oil spill
Parker Wood / Coast Guard
Cleaning up after BP. Again.

Deepwater Horizawhatnow?

Less than a year after BP upgraded its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana to allow it to handle heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, causing petroleum coke to begin piling up in nearby Chicago, an industrial accident at the refinery has spewed some of that oil into Lake Michigan. The Chicago Tribune reports that it's not known how long the refinery was leaking or how much oil was spilled. The leak was reported at 4:30 p.m. and plugged by 9 p.m., when an EPA official arrived at the scene. More from the Tribune:

Mike Beslow, the EPA’s emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Initial reports suggest that strong winds pushed most of the oil toward a sandy cove on BP’s property between the refinery and an Arcelor Mittal steel mill. A flyover Tuesday afternoon revealed no visible oil beyond booms laid on the water to prevent the oil from spreading, Beslow said.

The spill came at an ominous time, catching the attention of both of Illinois's U.S. senators. "[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery," Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (R) said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Comments

Can I get a Dasani, bro? Not in this national park, you can’t!

bear_dasanibottle
Bear photo: Eric Gorski

“Man,” said one bear to the other, prying open his Dasani water bottle with one claw. “It’s gonna be such a bummer once they ban these babies.”

“I feel you, dude,” his ursine friend responded, gnawing at a bottlecap. “I cannot get ENOUGH of these things!”

This exchange is clearly fictional. Contrary to popular commercial imagery, bears don’t drink out of bottles. Even if they did -- which they don’t, seriously -- those taking up residence in national parks across the United States are going to start finding it a lot more difficult to get their paws on some Aquafina. More than 20 national parks across the country  have now banned the sale of plastic water bottles, with more parks expected to enact bans of their own this year.

Comments

Wait, why are we dunking so many of our seeds in neonic poison?

mustard seed
Shutterstock

In the same way that America's fast-food industry fooled us into accepting that a burger must come with a pile of fries and a colossal Coke, the agricultural industry has convinced farmers that seeds must come coated with a side of pesticides.

And research suggests that, just like supersized meals, neonicotinoid seed treatments are a form of dangerous overkill -- harming bees and other wildlife but providing limited agricultural benefits. The routine use of seed treatments is especially useless in fields where pest numbers are low, or where insects, such as soybean aphids, chomp down on the crops after the plant has grown and lost much of its insecticidal potency.

“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known," said Peter Jenkins, one of the authors of a new report that summarizes the findings of 19 peer-reviewed studies dealing with neonic treatments and major crop yields. "What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic."

Comments

This new contract means the U.S. is finally really getting high-speed rail

siemens-high-speed-train-flickr
Darkroom Daze

Siemens and Cummins, a German engineering conglomerate and American engine manufacturer, want to help you shoot across America on high-speed rail. Beating out U.S. bids from Caterpillar and GE, Siemens won a $226 million contract to deliver 32 diesel-electric trains as soon as autumn 2016.

The trains will be used on routes Amtrak is planning in California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington. (Illinois in particular is working on its Chicago­–St. Louis line, with max speeds of 110 mph, according to the AP.) If all goes well, Siemens could build another 225 trains for the U.S.

Siemens bragged about its green cred in a press release:

Comments

Chevron creates its own news outlet for a poor city that it pollutes

Richmond protests
Daniel Arauz
Don't expect to hear what these folks think in the pages of the Richmond Standard.

Big Oil's influence on corporate media has American news outlets shamefully shirking climate coverage. But oil companies won't be satisfied by merely controlling the national news. In the poor Californian city of Richmond, where Chevron wants to upgrade a polluting refinery that is wont to explode, the oil giant has started an online newspaper.

The Richmond Standard is a hyperlocal journalism site launched in January with the hallmarks of a typical Patch site (before said service was dumped by AOL): minimally reported stories about local crime, public meetings, and sports, told with the inverted-pyramid style of traditional news writing.

But the Standard is not your typical, well-intentioned but underfunded local reporting initiative; it's a Chevron propaganda rag that's run and written by the company's flacks. The San Francisco Chronicle delves into the ethics of such an initiative:

The idea of the nation’s second-largest oil company funding a local news site harkens back to an era of journalism when business magnates often owned newspapers to promote their personal financial or political agendas. Now that mainstream newspapers are struggling to survive, online news sites are testing ways to fund their operations, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

But the idea of a company sponsoring news in a community where it operates still poses problems, he said.

“The tradition of press independence — even though in many times it’s more aspirational than real — is nevertheless a cornerstone principle,” Wasserman said. The Standard “is a different model. It’s clearly meant as a community outreach effort, so it’s born in an ethically challenged area.”

Comments

ExxonMobil agrees to report on its climate vulnerabilities. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

Exxon website
Shutterstock

Here’s a bit of confusing news: Environmentalists have successfully pressured ExxonMobil to publicly report on how much climate regulations might hurt its business. The New York Times reports:

Energy companies have been under increasing pressure from shareholder activists in recent years to warn investors of the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would place on their business.

On Thursday, a shareholder group said that it had won its biggest prize yet, when Exxon Mobil became the first oil and gas producer to agree to publish that information by the end of the month.

In return, the shareholders, led by the wealth management firm Arjuna Capital, which focuses on sustainability, and the advocacy group As You Sow, said they had agreed to withdraw a resolution on the issue at Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting.

It is easy to understand why shareholders would want to know how ExxonMobil is planning for a future in which demand for oil is stunted by global climate treaties and a hodgepodge of national and regional carbon caps and carbon taxes. But Arjuna and As You Sow are committed to sustainability, not just the financial interests of shareholders. So why is this good for the environment? You might imagine that if Exxon reports that it will suffer greatly from carbon pricing, that would hurt, not help, the campaign to pass climate legislation. After all, politicians cower in fear of harming their generous allies in the fossil fuel industry, especially politicians from dirty-energy-producing states.

Comments

These frackers have the nerve to call L.A. leaders “appallingly irresponsible”

L.A.
Shutterstock

Nobody wants to be called "appallingly irresponsible," but it's especially galling when the insult comes from the fracking industry.

Members of Los Angeles City Council, which may soon impose a moratorium on fracking, this week proposed that the city work with the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists to determine whether a 4.4-magnitude quake on Monday was linked to nearby hydraulic fracturing. Fracking practices have been linked to earthquakes in other parts of the country.

"It is crucial to the health and safety of the City's residents to understand the seismic impacts of oil and gas extraction activities in the City," three lawmakers wrote in a motion that they introduced on Tuesday.

Earthquakes happen all the time in California. Monday's temblor was deeper than most fracking industry–induced earthquakes, though it was attention-grabbing because it occurred in an area not normally known for quakes. And it struck mere days after a trio of nonprofits warned in a report that the fracking sector could trigger earthquakes in California.

So it seems reasonable that L.A. lawmakers would want scientists to look into the issue. But frackers are not known to be reasonable people. The Western States Petroleum Association reacted vehemently to the insinuations and to the proposed scientific research. Its president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, denied any industry links to Monday's earthquake, and decried the council members as "appallingly irresponsible."