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Gulf Coast refineries accidentally belch out a lot of chemical pollution

ExxonMobil's accident prone complex in Baton Rouge.
Mike Smail
ExxonMobil's accident-prone complex in Baton Rouge.


Gulf Coast oil refiners and chemical processors say that a lot, but regulators are doing precious little to rein in what the industry euphemistically calls "upset" emissions.

Upset emissions are inadvertent releases of chemicals by industrial operations when something goes awry. And things seem to go awry awfully frequently. An ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge, La., was averaging two accidental releases every week during one grim stretch.

That's according to an analysis by The Center for Public Integrity, which found that upset emissions are more prevalent than industry admits or government knows. Some highlights from the center's investigative report:


L.A. on a green streak: New mayor pledges allegiance to smart growth, bikes

Eric Garcetti.
Eric Garcetti
Eric Garcetti.

Los Angeles got a new mayor this morning: City Councilmember Eric Garcetti beat City Controller Wendy Greuel, a fellow Democrat, more handily than expected in a historically low-turnout race (a pathetic 19 percent of L.A. voters cast ballots). He takes office July 1.

Garcetti, a Rhodes scholar and L.A.’s first Jewish mayor, has big shoes to fill: Will he carry on current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s celebrated efforts to combat L.A.’s image as a smog-choked, car-worshipping, freeway-entangled sprawlsville?

So far, the signs point in that direction. Some have criticized Garcetti for being too friendly to business interests, but he sees working with developers as a necessary component of the smart-growth strategy he’s pursued to revitalize once-blighted areas of Hollywood, Echo Park, and Silver Lake, his home turf.

Villaraigosa did not endorse a candidate in the race. But Garcetti earned the support of the Sierra Club, which called his environmental record "unmatched":

He authored the nation's largest green building ordinance, the nation's largest local clean water initiative, and legislation making L.A. the nation's largest city with a solar feed-in-tariff. He nearly tripled the number of parks in his district by finding innovative ways to create 31 new neighborhood parks. He led the effort to pass the plastic bag ban and Low Impact Development Ordinance.

Read more: Cities, Politics


Mold responsible for Irish potato famine may be gone for good


Scientists used modern genetic sequencing and rotten old museum samples to peer back in time at the cause of the potato blight that led to more than 1 million deaths in Ireland in the 1840s.

The fungus-like water mold that ravaged the country's potato crop sent hungry Irish survivors fleeing for far-flung new countries -- which is why so many people now justify getting wasted every St. Patrick's Day, saying they're sure they have an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree.

What the scientists found was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that is different from similar water molds that are still ravaging the world's crops. From the BBC:

Researchers in the UK, Germany and the US analysed dried leaves kept in collections in museums at Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, UK, and Botanische Staatssammlung Munchen, Germany.

Read more: Food


Inhofe supports tornado aid, says it’s “totally different” from Hurricane Sandy aid

Sen. Inhofe cares about his constituents.
Shutterstock / val lawless
Sen. Inhofe rides in on a white horse, shows his constituents he cares.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) opposed using federal money to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy rebuild their homes, roads, and tattered lives.

That's because he's a fiscal grinch who thinks disaster victims should fend for themselves, Lord of the Flies-style. Right? Well, perhaps not.

Residents of Inhofe's own state are about to receive a bounty of heartfelt help from the federal government in the wake of Monday's epic tornado, which killed at least 24 people and leveled buildings across five counties.

And Inhofe is good with that. He has adopted the very reasonable position that aid money should flow in from federal coffers to help rebuild Oklahoma's shattered neighborhoods.


Canada’s government is spending millions to get you to like the Keystone pipeline

Canada obviously has a huge stake in the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama fails to approve it -- a decision he recently put off yet again -- the Canadian oil industry will have a tough time getting its abundant tar-sands crude to seaside ports. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently came to the U.S. to make the case for the pipeline in person, as did Canada's ministers of foreign affairs and natural resources and the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

ad: "Canada: America's best energy partner"
Let's be friends!

And now our neighbor to the north is focusing its powers of persuasion directly on the American people. The country just launched a taxpayer-funded, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign extolling the virtues of tar-sands oil to U.S. citizens. From The Vancouver Observer:

To support the government position and its travelling ministers, Ottawa has launched a $16 million marketing campaign that includes a new website and newspaper advertisements in the US to promote Keystone KL. The thrust of the campaign is the promotion of Canada as a reliable supplier of oil and a “world environmental leader” in the field of oil and gas development.


Bill aims to tackle climate-caused health problems

Mosquitoes are bringing malaria to polar regions as the climate changes.
Shutterstock / Henrik Larsson
Mosquitoes are bringing malaria to more and more places as the climate changes.

It's not just thinking about climate change that can make you feel sick -- climate change itself is bringing maladies upon us. Allergies, fungal infections, malaria, and other health problems are taking a growing toll as the climate shifts — and they are expected to grow worse.

Some members of Congress want the U.S. government to start preparing for these health hazards. On Friday, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and two other Democrats in the House introduced the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, which would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research climate change's health impacts and would help public health officials better plan for the onslaught.


Manhattan to see more killer heat waves

Manhattan, one of the places where climate change will kill people.
Shutterstock / Joshua Haviv
Manhattan, one of the places where climate change will kill people.

Climate change is expected to boost homicidal heat waves in Manhattan, while cold snaps in the densely packed borough should become slightly less deadly.

Researchers from Columbia University and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention used climate models and two emissions scenarios to project seasonal patterns in temperature-related deaths in Manhattan. In all 32 of the scenarios developed by the researchers, the spike in summertime heat-related deaths was forecast to more than outweigh the decline in deaths caused by cold weather.

Hot and Bothered - small x  200
Susie Cagle

The study was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. "Monthly analyses showed that the largest percentage increases [in deaths] may occur in May and September," the scientists wrote.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


More than 100,000 electric vehicles now on the roads in U.S.

A Nissan Leaf.
Nissan USA
A Nissan Leaf.

America passed a milestone on Monday, according to electric-vehicle advocacy group Plug-In America. That's when the 100,000th EV was sold in the U.S., the group estimates.

From Plug-In America board member Barry Woods' blog:

Based on the average US household size, this means that over a quarter million people are now being exposed regularly to the benefits of electric transportation.  The vehicles themselves are reaching an even greater number of people simply by being on the road -- perhaps as many as 1 million or more people per day. While much work remains to be done, 100,000 vehicles means that we are ever closer to the tipping point for electric transportation.


Could the Monsanto Protection Act get repealed?

logo for "Stop the Monsanto Protection Act" campaign
Food Democracy Now!

Smuggled into the bill President Obama signed to avert a government shutdown in March was a sneaky little rider called the “farmer assurance provision.” It’s since come to be known as the Monsanto Protection Act, being very assuring to the biotech giant, if no one else. It allows farmers to plant genetically modified crops before they’ve been declared safe by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in defiance of court orders suspending planting until environmental reviews can be completed.

Once food-advocacy groups and then the general public found out about the quietly passed provision, outcry against it spread, in the form of petitions and even rare displays of bipartisan solidarity. On Monday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announced that he’s introducing an amendment to the Senate version of the farm bill that would repeal the Monsanto Protection Act in its entirety.


Nation’s biggest uranium mine planned in New Mexico

The uranium mine is proposed on terrain such as this, near Mt. Taylor, seen in the distance.
Mike Fisher
The uranium mine is proposed on terrain such as this, near Mount Taylor, seen in the distance.

Two foreign-owned mining companies, betting that the world will quickly forget the horrors of Fukushima, plan to sink a pair of shafts into the rugged New Mexico landscape near near Mt. Taylor and begin 0perating the nation’s biggest uranium mine.

If approved by the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies, the mine would be the first of its kind to operate in the state in more than a decade, extracting as much as 28 million pounds of the radioactive heavy metal and desecrating as many as 70 acres of land sacred to Native Americans that's designated by the federal government as traditional cultural property.

Previous uranium mining left the state's landscape scarred and workers sickened. But the Roca Honda joint venture of Canadian and Japanese companies says the industry has learned from past mistakes and now has the whole safe-isotope-extraction thing sorted out. From the Albuquerque Journal: