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Who Owns West Virginia’s Water? A Cautionary Tale

It took a few days after a state of emergency was declared across nine West Virginia counties and one-sixth of the state's population was told not to drink or bathe using their tap water for the national news media to discover there is a story of national importance occurring in the political backwaters of Appalachia. But most haven't yet picked up on what may be the most interesting and important part of the story: why so many people in this water-rich state depend on a single, privately owned treatment system and distribution network that sprawls across nine counties for their …

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Zombie carbon trading’s latest resurrection

[Because the following is long, it is also available in pdf format at http://www.nohairshirts.com/zomb.pdf ] Even as London carbon trading desks shut down[1] in response to the crumbling European Trading System (ETS) , the zombie concept of carbon trading spreads to China. Because Robin Hahnel's carbon trading defenses[2] offer the best pro-carbon market arguments to date, this article tackles carbon trading largely by answering Hahnel. For those wondering "who the hell is Robin Hahnel?", he is an underappreciated left economist. His 1999 book Panic Rules was one of the  best critical primers on globalization.  He is a long time critic …

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Light rail on a diet equals better mass transit

I often write about the key role the federal government plays in infrastructure. Ultralight rail is one small example of the role national governments can play in advancing or bottlenecking infrastructure change. The state of today's light rail: when extensively used it saves energy compared to cars. Another advantage: light rail has lower capital costs. Trains are simpler to build than automobiles. Extensively used trains also put more of their capital capacity to work, because trains operate for much of the day, where autos typically sit 22 to 23 hours out of 24 hours. Railbeds, though initially more expensive than …

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President Obama’s Chemical Safety Panel Must Heed Senator Obama’s Warnings

In the wake of the April 2103 West, Texas, chemical plant explosion, which killed 15 people and injured 160 more, President Obama issued an executive order directing federal agencies to improve the safety of our industrial chemical plants.  Right now, a working group of federal officials is conducting "listening sessions" around the country to hear from the public on these issues. I spoke at one of these meetings in Washington DC today, before a panel chaired by David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). Here's what I said: Members of the Working Group, thank you …

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Peak Water and Food Scarcity

At the international level, water conflicts among countries dominate the headlines. But within countries it is the competition for water between cities and farms that preoccupies political leaders. Neither economics nor politics favors farmers. They almost always lose out to cities. Indeed, in many countries farmers now face not only a shrinking water supply but also a shrinking share of that shrinking supply. In large areas of the United States, such as the southern Great Plains and the Southwest, virtually all water is now spoken for. The growing water needs of major cities and thousands of small towns often can …

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Enabling more Democratic Energy

From outdated technical rules to local permitting to incentive policies, there are opportunities to increase the potential for local solar power. This is the fourth of five parts of ILSR's Rooftop Revolution report being published in serial.  Read Part 1 or Part 2 or Part 3. Download the entire report and see our other resources here. Removing Technical Barriers A prominent “technical” barrier is the so-called “15% rule.” It’s a rule adopted in many states that says that distributed renewable energy systems can only make up 15% of the peak energy demand on the portion of the electricity system that …

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“Clean coal” is still poisoning people’s water and air

A state of emergency has been declared in West Virginia following a spill into the Elk River of a chemical used to treat coal before it’s burned, called “4-methylcyclohexane methanol” -- some details from ThinkProgress: Residents of nine counties in West Virginia have been told not to use or drink their water after a chemical used by the coal industry spilled into the Elk River on Thursday. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency as more than 100,000 customers, or 300,000 people, are without safe drinking water. “Don’t make baby formula,” said West Virginia American Water Company president …

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Marquee Investor Backs Away from Coal Exports in the Northwest

One of the largest investment banks in the world has backed away from the Cherry Point coal export proposal in Washington. Earlier this week, financial giant Goldman Sachs sold off its stake in the parent company of SSA Marine, the developer of the dirty and dangerous coal export terminal at Cherry Point. This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the proposal, which aims to export 50 million tons of Western coal to Asia every year. If built, it would be the largest coal export terminal in North America. Cherry Point is one of six coal export terminals …

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Many Countries Reaching Diminishing Returns in Fertilizer Use

When German chemist Justus von Liebig demonstrated in 1847 that the major nutrients that plants removed from the soil could be applied in mineral form, he set the stage for the development of the fertilizer industry and a huge jump in world food production a century later. Growth in food production during the nineteenth century came primarily from expanding cultivated area. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, when land limitations emerged and raising yields became essential, that fertilizer use began to rise. The growth in the world fertilizer industry after World War II was spectacular. Between 1950 and 1988, …

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Top 5 Democratic Energy Resources of 2013

top-5

From the Democratic Energy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Rooftop Revolution A combination resource of our two reports on residential and commercial solar grid parity, including a slideshow, infographic, and an amazing interactive map (#5 on this list by itself). Germany Has More Solar Power Because Everyone Wins It got press because someone at Fox News thought Germany was sunnier than America (the reverse is true), but the real revelation is that the renewable energy revolution in Germany is largely people powered. Half of Germany’s 53,000 Megawatts of Renewable Energy is Locally Owned Actually, it’s up to 63,000 …

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