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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


New bill in Congress would require GMO labeling

"Label it" sign and "No GMO" T-shirtSome federal lawmakers want you to be warned before you put food made from genetically engineered plants and animals into your mouth.

It's just common sense, right? Yeah, well, tell that to the Food and Drug Administration.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced legislation with bipartisan support Wednesday that would require genetically engineered foods to be clearly labeled. Such commonsense labeling is unpopular with big agribusiness, which fears that consumers would avoid many of their products if they knew about their freaky ingredients. But the idea is overwhelmingly popular with Americans.


Sierra Club comes out in favor of immigration reform

Sierra Club logoIt was notable when Bill McKibben of and Philip Radford of Greenpeace recently came out in support of immigration-reform legislation.

But it's really notable that the Sierra Club has now joined them. Over the past decade and a half, the club has had vicious leadership battles over immigration and population. But now the board of directors, which is elected by the group's 1.4 million members, is unanimously agreed. From Politico:

The Sierra Club's board voted Wednesday to support comprehensive immigration reform ...

The decision is a major shift for the group, which has a storied past over the issue.

Read more: Politics


Obama’s group Organizing for Action finally takes up climate change … sort of

"Organizing for Action" buttonIt's about time. So far this year, President Obama and his advocacy nonprofit Organizing for Action have been making big pushes for gun control and immigration reform, while largely ignoring climate change. Today that's starting to change.

From The Huffington Post:

Organizing for Action, the advocacy arm pushing the Obama administration's agenda, will begin its next big policy push on Thursday with a focus on climate change.


Fuel barges explode, burn through night in Alabama

REUTERS/Dan Anderson

Two fuel barges exploded in flames and burned through the night in Mobile, Ala., critically injuring three people and causing minor injuries to emergency responders.

A fire chief initially said the two barges were loaded with a type of gasoline, but the owner of the barges told the AP they had been emptied of their loads of fuel and were being cleaned before they exploded.

The first explosion was reported at about 8:30 p.m. local time, with six more explosions shaking the area during the subsequent six hours as the barges burned uncontrollably. The fire was extinguished Thursday morning.

From the AP:

Authorities say three people were brought to University of South Alabama Medical Center for burn-related injuries. The three were in critical condition early Thursday, according to hospital nursing administrator Danny Whatley. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


A big blow for Big Coal in Wisconsin

The Nelson Dewey coal plant will shutter.
Department of Energy
The Nelson Dewey coal plant along the Mississippi River will be shut down.

Wisconsinites will be breathing a lot easier after another coal-fired power plant is shuttered and two more are overhauled to reduce air pollution.

The coming improvements are courtesy of the EPA's latest legal victory over polluting coal-plant operators. The EPA and the Sierra Club reached a settlement with Wisconsin Power and Light Company and other utilities following allegations of Clean Air Act violations.


Fracking waste deemed too radioactive for hazardous-waste dump


A truck carrying fracking waste was quarantined and then sent back to where it came from after its contents triggered a radiation alarm at a Pennsylvania hazardous-waste landfill. The truck's load was nearly 10 times more radioactive than is permitted at the dump in South Huntingdon township.

The radiation came from radium 226, a naturally occurring material in the Marcellus Shale, which being fracked for natural gas in Pennsylvania and nearby states. "Radium is a well known contaminant in fracking operations," writes Jeff McMahon at Forbes.


TransCanada and GOP steamed over EPA’s Keystone comments

Is the EPA finally beginning to agree with this message?
Shutterstock / Rena Schild
The EPA would seem to agree.

TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline, is pissed at the U.S. EPA for not quietly going along with the plan.

The EPA this week slammed the State Department's draft environmental report on the pipeline, saying in formal comments that it has a lot of shortcomings and contains “insufficient information” on the pipeline's potential environmental effects.

From the Montreal Gazette:

TransCanada Pipelines has accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of attempting to interfere in Canadian sovereignty by recommending that the State Department explore ways the U.S. can get involved in reducing emissions from Canada's oilsands. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


Court hands EPA a victory in fight against mountaintop-removal mining

mountaintop-removal coal-mining site
SouthWings / Appalachian Voices
Mountaintop-removal coal mining: It's damn ugly.

Score one for the EPA -- and everyone else who doesn't like the idea of a coal company blasting the tops off mountains and dumping the waste into streams.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Environmental Protection Agency won an important legal victory Tuesday in a long-brewing battle with Arch Coal Inc. over a coal mining project in West Virginia known as Spruce No. 1.

The case tests whether the EPA can revoke a permit for the controversial practice known as mountaintop mining after another federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has already approved it.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA can indeed revoke such a permit, acting under the authority of the Clean Water Act. (Turns out that dumping tons of dirt and rock into streams does not promote clean water.)


Falling prices for renewable energy could lead to a tripling of investment

Solar panels in San Francisco
John Upton
Solar panels in San Francisco.

Catch ya later, failed renewable energy companies. We're sorry to lose you, but so long as your laid-off workers find other jobs in the ballooning clean energy economy, your collapse really doesn't matter.

That's one takeaway message from a new analysis of the renewable energy sector by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The plummeting price of renewable energy has bankrupted more than two dozen wind and solar manufacturers, but the BNEF analysts say it could lead to a tripling of investment in the sector over the next 17 years. Notable victims of the falling costs of solar panels include Solyndra and Suntech. But the collapse of those companies appears to be little more than natural attrition in a fast-evolving industry with an extremely bright future.


EPA bashes State Department’s ‘insufficient’ Keystone report

protest banner: "Keystone XL pipeline not in our national interest"
Fibonacci Blue
The EPA kind of said this, but with a lot more words.

The EPA has a special Earth Day message for the State Department: You still haven't done your homework on the Keystone XL pipeline's potential environmental effects.

That's the gist of the EPA's official comments [PDF] on the State Department's draft environmental impact statement for the proposed pipeline, submitted on the final day of the comment period. (Procrastination: It's not just for college students.) State's report found that Keystone would not have significant environmental impacts, but EPA says the report included “insufficient information” to reach a conclusion on the impacts.

From The Hill:

EPA said [the State Department] failed to fully consider alternative routes for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline. ...

Further, EPA urged the State Department to revisit its suggestion that Keystone would not expedite production of Canada’s carbon-intensive oil sands or significantly ramp up greenhouse gas emissions — two major assertions made by the pipeline's critics.