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Five years after Tennessee coal-slurry disaster, EPA has produced no new rules

coal slurry mess
Appalachian Voices

Five years ago, in the dead of night, a torrent of more than a million gallons of slurry broke free from its holding place at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant in Tennessee. The toxic stew of coal fly ash, which is produced when coal is burned, polluted waterways and 300 acres of land. The disaster triggered anger from residents and promises from the EPA to introduce new rules to prevent such accidents.

The anger is still there. But the government promises appear to have been broken. The Louisville Courier-Journal brings us a depressing update on government inaction in the wake of the catastrophe:


Your cable box is a vampire, but it’s about to get more efficient

cat on cable box
Johnny Vulkan
At least somebody's benefiting from that wasted energy.

When you turn off your cable box, you may think it isn't using any power. In fact, every electronic device uses some electricity as long as it’s plugged in. These energy suckers are known as “vampires” and they account for a tremendous amount of energy waste in the U.S.: over 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, costing Americans more than $11 billion.

Wasted energy means more than just wasted money when you pay your electric bill. All too often, it also means that the coal-burning plant where your electricity comes from is belching more greenhouse gases and particulate pollution into the air.

A cable box uses far more electricity than your average appliance, because it’s never really off. According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “In 2010, set-top boxes in the United States consumed approximately 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is equivalent to the annual output of nine average (500 MW) coal-fired power plants. The electricity required to operate all U.S. boxes is equal to the annual household electricity consumption of the entire state of Maryland, results in 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and costs households more than $3 billion each year.”


How to land a green job in 2014

green jobs marchers
Green for All

You want an environmental job. And who wouldn’t? You get to go to bed at night knowing you’ve done something good for the world. You can be smug about your job with less nobly employed friends. You can move out of your parent’s basement. These are all good things.

Still, you wonder. Are there any educated guesses about what employers are thinking? We’ve got you covered. Our prognosticator has traveled throughout the green employment community and returned with some predictions to get you going.

1. Compliance with rules and regulations is still a strong eco-job driver.

Businesses still invest most in environmental activities when they are required to do so. Government still invests most in insuring that existing laws, regulations, codes, policies, and programs are implemented effectively. For these reasons, the vast majority of environmental professionals work within the existing infrastructure of compliance with regulations for clean air, health and safety, clean water, solid waste, and hazardous waste, as well as with zoning laws and building codes.

Although the job growth in 2014 will be slower in these core environmental area than in a few emerging ones, the starting base of jobs is much larger than in newer niches. The total number of new jobs in compliance-driven sectors will be a significant number even under slow growth.


Meals with wheels: A fresh food movement rolls into Boston

Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.
Fresh Food Generation
Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.

Wander through Portland, Ore.’s Pearl District, SoCo in Austin, or Manhattan’s financial district and you won’t be able to spit without hitting a food truck selling poutine, Korean tacos, or barbecue in some form. The trend has hit Boston as well, unless you happen to live in the neighborhood of Roxbury.

Most Roxbury residents are black or Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey. Thirty percent of the people living there have incomes below the poverty line. A Tufts project found the obesity rate of Roxbury about 8 percent higher than the overall average in the city.

And it isn’t just food trucks missing, says Cassandria Campbell, who calls Roxbury home. Grocery stores and restaurants serving healthier options aren’t in high supply. “I found myself going to other neighborhoods to get good food,” she says. “These food trucks [appearing in other parts of the city] weren’t serving my neighborhood or other neighborhoods in Boston that are similar in demographic to mine."

So she called up her friend Jackson Renshaw with an idea for solving both the dearth of trucks and lack of access to healthy, local food in one swoop.

Read more: Cities, Food


First oil shale mine in U.S. is coming to Utah

Uinta Basin, Utah
Jim Davis / Utah Geological Survey
Utah's Uinta Basin before shale mining begins.

As if we didn't already have enough filthy, inefficient, unconventional oil-extraction techniques in use in North America, here's one more: oil shale mining.

A Utah company has received the go-ahead from the state’s water-quality department to begin operating the first commercial oil shale mine in North America.

Oil shale is not to be confused with shale oil, or shale gas, or oil sands. So what the hell is it? "Contrary to its name," explains Western Resource Advocates, "oil shale contains no petroleum but is instead a dense rock that has a waxy substance called kerogen tightly bound within it. When kerogen is heated to high temperatures, it liquefies, producing compounds that can eventually be refined into synthetic petroleum products."

Companies have mulled oil shale mining in the Mountain States for more than a century, but previous efforts have foundered as energy prices have been too low to justify the large expense associated with the complicated extraction process. Now Red Leaf Resources is ready to give oil shale another crack. Here's more from The Salt Lake Tribune:


Parisian artists gift-wrapped the inside of a subway car

Clea Polar and Gabriel Defrocourt

In Paris, a group of artists covered the interior of subway car in purple gift-wrapped paper, basically just because they thought it would be fun.

But the Paris metro authorities did not share the artists' sense that commuters might want to experience living inside a Christmas present, Atlantic Cities reports:

Alas, it seems Paris transport bosses don’t share their enthusiasm. As soon as staff realized what had happened, the train was taken out of service and stripped back to its normal un-festive state.

Read more: Cities, Living


Stick it to ‘em: Scientists call for labeling tar-sands oil

gas pump handles
Let's slap some labels on these puppies.

For the past four years, European Union officials have been mulling a labeling system that would require fuel companies to tell their customers how much carbon pollution is produced by each of the products they sell.

The idea is deeply unpopular with oil companies, which don't want their customers thinking about such things every time they fill up their tanks. It's also deeply unpopular with Canada. That's because the country's tar-sands oil is particularly dreadful for the climate, something the government would rather not have advertised. The oil companies and Canadian government have called the labeling idea unscientific.

But the idea is popular with an independent group of experts -- experts who are better qualified to determine whether or not something is "scientific." Those would be scientists.

Reuters reports that 53 scientists from such universities as Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia, as well as from European institutions, sent a letter urging the president of the European Commission "to press ahead with a plan to label tar sands as more polluting than other forms of oil, in defiance of intensive lobbying" from the Canadian government:


Watch a blizzard bury a backyard in snow in 15 seconds

We’re officially time-lapse video junkies, and this one of Blizzard Nemo from earlier this year is pretty cool. It’s only 15 seconds long, but an incredible amount of snow completely covers a Connecticut man's back patio, turning a table into a formidable snow mushroom. Grab your cocoa and get cozy for this one:

Read more: Living


Christmas lights have toxic chemicals all over them

Matty Farah

OnEarth’s Susan Cosier was upset to find that the Christmas lights her kid had been playing with were covered in toxic lead:

Sure, I’m aware that our everyday environment is full of toxic chemicals … But on Christmas lights? Really?

Yup, really, it turns out:

Read more: Living


Fracking company finds new way to screw over the environment

a no-fracking sign

Props are in order for Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the country's biggest natural gas producers, for finding yet another way to make a big mess with fracking. This time, it was irresponsible construction practices.

Company subsidiary Chesapeake Appalachia will pay a near-record $3.2 million in federal penalties for clean water violations at fracking facilities in West Virginia. It will also spend $6.5 million more to restore 27 sites that it damaged with construction activities and pollution. From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: