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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Uranium mining is coming soon to the Grand Canyon area

Paul Fundenburg

So much for that ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon that Obama imposed early last year. The U.S. Forest Service just went ahead and gave a Canadian company approval to begin mining for uranium a mere six miles from the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim entrance, which nearly 5 million people visit every year.

Canadian company Energy Fuels Resources says its rights to mine the area, granted in 1986, should be grandfathered in, and the Forest Service concurred. In response, three environmental groups and the local Havusupai Tribe filed suit in March against the feds. They say the 1986 environmental impact review that originally gave the mine clearance needs to be updated. From The Arizona Republic:

Opponents say newer studies indicate pathways for trouble. One study, conducted in preparation for an old development plan at Tusayan, found that groundwater pumping at that Grand Canyon gateway sucked water from the vicinity of the mine. Another, by the U.S. Geological Survey, included models based on known subsurface geology funneling water toward Havasu Springs.

The Forest Service had no way of knowing these things before the 1986 approval, Northern Arizona University hydrogeologist Abe Springer said.

“Nobody ever asked the question” back then, he said.

A spokesperson for the mining company argues, naturally, that the review is still adequate, and calls the old Canyon Mine, now set to reopen in 2015, “tiny.” But Roger Clark, director of Grand Canyon Trust, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, compares the area -- which will be stripped of vegetation -- to the size of a Walmart parking lot, and tells The Guardian about other contamination concerns:

Clark argues that uranium's radioactive properties only become dangerous once it is brought up out of the ground and exposed to air and water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, such properties include radon gas, a substance that was not regulated when the government conducted its initial study of the mine in 1986. The lawsuit contends that radon and other chemicals could pollute the area.

The mine is located on a site sacred to the Havusupai and other tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo.


Climate change hurts women. Wall Street Journal sneers.

Agricultural workers in the developing world, many of them women, are vulnerable to climate change.
Shutterstock / Donya Nedomam
Women in the developing world, many of whom work in agriculture, are vulnerable to climate change.

Apparently the idea of girls being sold off into early marriage and women being pushed into prostitution is fucking hilarious.

Or so thinks the right-wing media machine, confronted this week with warnings about the negative ways climate change could affect women around the world.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and 11 other House Democrats, both men and women, introduced a resolution that aims to raise awareness about the vulnerability of women and girls to global warming.


New Mexico county is first in the nation to ban all drilling and fracking

The ruins of Fort Union in Mora County, N.M.
The ruins of Fort Union in Mora County, N.M.

Mora County, N.M., has a message for the oil and gas industry: "You're not welcome here."

County commissioners voted 2-1 on Monday to ban all oil and gas extraction in their drought-ravaged county near Santa Fe, home to fewer than 5,000 people. A temporary drilling moratorium is already in place in neighboring San Miguel County, but it is believed that Mora County is the first in the nation to impose an outright ban on all oil and gas drilling.


Anti-Keystone ads banned by Facebook

The ad that Facebook banned.
CREDO Facebook page
The ad that Facebook banned.

Activist cell-phone company CREDO tried to run an advertisement on Facebook calling on Facebook's founder to stop running TV ads that support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Guess whether the social media giant liked that idea.

Facebook quickly rejected the ad, saying it violated its advertising policies.


Frackers leaking less methane than previously believed, EPA says

"Frack is Wack" sign
Ed Yourdon
Just how wack is it? The jury's out.

Some seemingly happy news about fracking emerged this week: The EPA has lowered its estimate of how much methane escapes during the production of natural gas, down about 20 percent from previous estimates.

If the EPA is right, that’s good, because methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. If we’re going to frack for natural gas (which is mostly methane), we want to be burning that gas for energy rather than having a bunch of it escape into the atmosphere.

But not everyone buys the EPA's new numbers.


Bills to ban fracking in California move forward

a no-fracking sign

Could California put a halt to fracking? Some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would do just that.

On Monday, the state Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee approved no fewer than three bills calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until its environmental and health effects are thoroughly studied by the state. Meanwhile, another bill pending in the state Senate would allow fracking to continue for now but would impose a moratorium if the state fails to complete a comprehensive review by January 2015.

David Roberts recently offered a list of reasons why a California fracking frenzy is a bad idea, one of which is the lack of oversight from state regulators so far. The new proposed bills aim to address this problem. From The Sacramento Bee:


Electric vehicles could stabilize grid, make money as batteries

Makin' money.
Makin' money.

Electric vehicles aren't just cars that are cleaner to operate than internal combustion dinosaurs. They're also powerful batteries on wheels. Andthat quality could spur EV owners to buy electricity at night, or operate their own solar panels or wind turbines, and store the excess energy in their cars. Then they could sell that electricity onto the grid from their parked vehicles during the day, when energy prices are highest.

The University of Delaware began working with NRG Energy in late 2011 to try to realize and commercialize that concept. Last week, the project hit a landmark: It has begun selling power from parked EVs into an energy market being developed by wholesale electricity dealer PJM.


CO2 in atmosphere poised to blow past 400 ppm mark


Sometime soon, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to hit a scary new milestone: 400 parts per million. That would be higher than at any time in human history -- and it's bad news for anyone who cares about a livable climate.

The latest daily average level recorded by Scripps Institution of Oceanography sensors at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, was 399.5 ppm, on Monday. The CO2 level fluctuates throughout the day, and hourly levels in excess of 400 ppm have already been recorded. The level also fluctuates throughout the year, with May being the month when CO2 reaches its highest concentrations.

The big thing to watch for is whether the average for the month of May will exceed 400 ppm.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Venture capitalists are funding green food innovation

a lettuce light bulb
idea for life / Shutterstock

Big corporations are feeding Americans a diet of crap, but a swarm of start-ups is chewing away at their market dominance.

The New York Times brought us the news this week that venture capitalists -- normally the lifeblood of innovation in the technology and cleantech sectors -- are increasingly providing the financial fodder for food-related start-ups. The injections of cash could be helping to fertilize a green agro-culinary revolution.

From the Times article:

In some cases, the goal is to connect restaurants with food purveyors, or to create on-demand delivery services from local farms, or ready-to-cook dinner kits. In others, the goal is to invent new foods, like creating cheese, meat and egg substitutes from plants. Since this is Silicon Valley money, though, the ultimate goal is often nothing short of grand: transforming the food industry.


Keystone XL oil would be processed in sick East Texas community

Children playing and Valero flaring in Manchester, Texas
Tar Sands Blockade
Children play at a park in front of a Valero refinery in Houston, Texas.

For many, the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline is about national energy strategy and global climate change.

For residents of the Manchester neighborhood in Houston, it's also about what will be processed and spewed into the air in their backyards.

Activist Doug Fahlbusch recently brought some attention to the community when he held up a sign at a Valero-sponsored golf tournament that said, "TAR SANDS SPILL. ANSWER MANCHESTER." That protest got him carried away from the links by security guards and arrested.

What did Fahlbusch mean? Why are he and his colleagues at Tar Sands Blockade so concerned about Manchester?