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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Melting ice is a boon for archaeology

As glaciers melt, they are revealing old tunics and bodies and stuff.
As glaciers melt, they are revealing old tunics and bodies and stuff.

As glaciers melt and recede, they are revealing archaeological treasures from the civilizations that came before ours.

A humble tunic found at a site normally covered over with ice in south Norway is among the discoveries that wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of global warming.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Wyoming and energy companies can keep fracking chemicals secret, court rules

Wyoming, where the government is winning a legal battle to help keep Haliburton's secrets.
Shutterstock / Julie Lubick
Wyoming, where the government knows what's in fracking fluid but won't tell you.

Halliburton and other companies are pumping chemicals into the ground beneath Wyoming to lubricate cracks created during fracking, which allows sand to slide in and hold the cracks open so natural gas can be extracted. Many residents, property owners, and environmentalists would like to know what mixture of chemicals is being used. The state of Wyoming knows, thanks to a 2010 rule requiring companies to disclose the information to the state government, but officials refuse to release that information to the public.

And now a county judge has weighed in, ruling against the public and in favor of energy company secrecy. From the AP:

Read more: Climate & Energy


What does the collapse of solar-panel giant Suntech mean? Pricier panels, probably

solar panels on roofThe bankruptcy of Chinese solar-panel heavyweight Suntech may be an omen that the sun is about to set on super-cheap solar energy.

The world’s biggest solar module manufacturer is on the verge of collapse under a pile of more than $1 billion in debt. The problem is not that the market for solar panels is weak. The problem is that there is too much competition among manufacturers of panels, which has driven prices down to unsustainably low levels.

As Suntech’s hometown tries to bail out the company, its woes are pointing to what could be ahead for other firms operating in the solar sector -- and for those who were looking forward to buying cheap solar panels for their homes and businesses.


Protests against tar-sands pipelines heat up in U.S. and Canada

Anti-tar-sands protests escalated last week, aiming to block both the Keystone XL and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines. In the U.S. and Canada, activists staged more than 50 actions -- raucous marches, another sit-in outside the White House, and a full-on blockade of a refinery, altogether resulting in more than 50 arrests and at least one restraining order. There was even a light brigade in Tampa, Fla.!

And, marking a new front in the war, activists broadened their scope beyond oil and pipeline companies to include firms investing in tar-sands projects, like TD Bank, a major financier of Keystone. “We will demonstrate to companies bankrolling KXL that their investments are as toxic as the tar sands they want to pump through the pipeline,” the Tar Sands Blockade group said in a statement.


Native American and First Nations leaders also made headlines last week by coming out strongly against tar-sands pipelines. From the Global Post:


There are even more dead pigs in a Chinese river

dead pigs in a river

In the week and a half since we first brought you the all-important details on those dead pigs filling the Huangpu River in China, officials have raised the body count to more than 16,000.

On Sunday, the government said the pulling-dead-pigs-out-of-the-water operation was "basically finished." Chinese official media reports that some of the dead animals were traced by their ear tags to pig farms in Shaoxing, and their owners have been prosecuted. Farmers in Shaoxing have recently been charged with selling meat from diseased animals.

The New York Times points out the silver lining of the porcine flotilla: At least the diseased pigs aren't ending up on dinner plates. As the government cracks down on contaminated meat, the only place to put them is in the river. Three cheers for food safety!

Read more: Food


Idiot shoots horse on camera to promote horsemeat

Tim Sappington sent some kind of a message by killing this horse on camera.

Tim Sappington wants to promote the eating of horsemeat, but he really isn't helping his cause.

In a video now stirring up outrage on YouTube, Sappington is shown with a colt on his property. "All you animal activists, fuck you,” he says. Then he pulls a handgun from its holster and aims it between the animal’s eyes. He pulls the trigger. As the horse lies convulsing on the ground with its legs kicking in the air, Sappington walks away and mutters, “Good.”

The killing appears to have been perfectly legal. The U.S. banned the slaughter of horses in 2006, but the ban quietly expired in 2011.

Read more: Food, Living, Politics


Obama creates five new national monuments

Shutterstock / Mariia Sats

President Barack Obama doesn’t just think the San Juan Islands are awesome. He thinks they are monumentally awesome.

Obama today will announce the designation of five new national monuments, including nearly 1,000 acres on the San Juan archipelago off the coast of Washington state.

That will more than double his monument-designating tally under the 1906 Antiquities Act to a total of nine.

Read more: Politics


Senate gives a big, fat thumbs-up to Keystone XL

Keystone protestors in front of Capitol
The Senate was not listening to these guys.

The vote was non-binding but all too telling. On Friday, the U.S. Senate voted 62 to 37 in favor of building the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, with 17 Democrats joining all of the Republicans. It was just an amendment to a budget plan that won't even be going to the president's desk, but it shows that the political class in D.C. views the pipeline very favorably -- and believes voters view it very favorably too.

From The Washington Post:

The 17 Democrats who voted yes included every single possibly vulnerable incumbent facing reelection next year, from 34-year veteran [Max] Baucus [Mont.] to first-term Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska).

Perhaps more importantly, Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, voted for the resolution. Bennet is not up for re-election until 2016, but his post requires him to raise money from the wealthy liberal community that is highly opposed to the pipeline.

Additionally, a crop of Democrats who survived difficult reelections in 2012 — Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) — all supported the GOP Keystone amendment.

Did fossil-fuel money have anything to do with the vote? You be the judge:


EPA sued over failure to protect bees from pesticides

A federal courtroom will bee-come a hive of activity, with lawyers attempting to sting the government into action over buzz-killing insecticides.
A federal courtroom will bee-come a hive of activity, with lawyers attempting to sting the government into action over buzz-killing insecticides.

The battle for the bees is headed to court.

Beekeepers and activist groups, fed up with the wanton use of insecticides that kill bees and other pollinators, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday. They are suing to try to force the EPA to ban or better regulate neonicotinoids and other pesticides that kill bees and butterflies and lead to colony collapse disorder.

From a press release put out by the Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs in the case:


Ohio fracking boom has not brought jobs

Jason Shenk

Did you hear the joke about how fracking creates jobs?

We heard it, too. We heard it from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We heard it from the fracking industry. We heard it from the press.

Well here comes a punchline that's darker than a fracker's heart: In northeastern Ohio, where a fracking boom kicked off 2011, there was no more jobs growth last year than there was in the state's unfracked western and southern regions.

That's the conclusion of a new report [PDF] published by Cleveland State University's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. The report was not peer-reviewed.