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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


BP oil spill cleanup continues, three years after blowout

Tar balls on a Louisiana beach in 2010. Unfortunately, the tar balls still aren't gone.
Louisiana GOHSEP
Tar balls on a Louisiana beach in 2010. Unfortunately, tar balls still keep washing ashore.

As the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout approaches, laborious efforts to remove mats of oil and tar balls are still underway along Gulf of Mexico shorelines.

The U.S. Coast Guard just wrapped up a 10-day operation along a two-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach in Florida that recovered more than 450 pounds of oil from the spill, which was triggered by the explosion of a BP oil rig on April 20, 2010.


Indiana lawmakers, who are also coal company execs, help coal industry

corruption spelled out
Oleg Golovnev
Nothing to see here, folks.

Corporations have not figured out how to get themselves elected to public office, but Peabody Energy and Indiana Rail Road Co. have the next best thing going in Indiana: Both companies have senior employees in the state legislature, and both of those lawmakers have been amending legislation in ways that would enrich their employers at the expense of state residents, public health, and the environment.

From The Indianapolis Star:

A proposed coal-gas plant in Rockport could have a big impact on the pocketbooks of Indiana residents, but legislation that would introduce new ratepayer protections has twice been watered down at the hands of lawmakers whose employers could benefit from the project.


European leaders let cap-and-trade flounder

Europe's parliament building in Germany
Europe: Not so into that carbon-trading thing anymore.

The world's foremost carbon cap-and-trade system is floundering, and members of the European Parliament on Tuesday voted to keep it that way.

About 12,000 power plants and factories operating across the 27 countries that make up the European Union must purchase allowances to release greenhouse gases. The eight-year-old cap-and-trade program, designed to rein in carbon emissions and slow down climate change, is the world's biggest and oldest international carbon-trading scheme.

But there's a problem. Greenhouse gas–producing industrial activity has been slowed down by sour economies across Europe, which has left the market awash with a glut of carbon allowances. The price to buy the right to release a tonne of carbon on the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme has dropped below $6.50 -- well down from highs of more than $39 in 2006.


Activists to Interior: Stop letting coal companies pillage our land, atmosphere, and treasury

stop sign on a hand

On her first full workday at her new job, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell got a loud message from green groups: Stop selling publicly owned coal for a pittance and destroying our atmosphere.

AP reports:

Environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on coal leasing in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming until the federal government reviews the program.

Representatives of 21 groups including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club requested the moratorium Monday in a letter to newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. ...

As companies seek to ramp up coal exports, the environmentalists say the government needs to make sure companies are paying proper royalties. They also want more attention given to the climate change impacts of greenhouse gasses emitted when coal is burned.

On the royalty issue, the enviros put it a little more sharply in their letter:


You’re forking out $9,000 a year to own your car

car spewing moneyForget, for a moment, the environmental costs of driving a car. The financial costs alone should be enough to shock you into walking, biking, busing, and sharing.

From USA Today:

The average owner of a sedan has to shell out nearly $10,000 a year to own and operate that car, according to auto club AAA.

A new AAA report shows, on average, the cost of driving 15,000 miles a year rose 1.17 cents to 60.8 cents per mile, or $9,122 per year. Overall, that's a roughly 2% increase on the cost of operating a car last year.


This apartment building comes with its own algae-fueled power supply

Green paint and panels filled with green algae provide an environmental aesthetic for an environmentally friendly building.
This building doesn't just have green paint, it has green algae. 

When it comes to powering a home with energy from the sun, solar panels seem passé compared with the technology embedded in the façade of a new apartment building in Hamburg, Germany.

Green slime, not dissimilar to that which taints the Great Lakes and other nutrient-rich water bodies in the warmer months, grows in panels mounted along exterior walls of the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House. The algae will be harvested to produce biofuel and help heat the 50 apartments inside.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Chevron ignored a decade of warnings before Richmond refinery explosion

Refinery fire from a distance
Stephen Schiller
The Chevron refinery explosion was visible from far away.

An August fire and explosion at a refinery in Richmond, Calif. -- which sickened 15,000 residents of the San Francisco Bay area -- was the result of Chevron not giving a shit about safety.

That's the paraphrased conclusion of an investigation into the accident by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. While releasing an interim report Monday, the board said a regulatory overhaul was needed to protect the public from such accidents.


Wind produces almost twice as much power as nuclear in California

Blowing away the competition in California
Shutterstock / Tim Messick
Blowing away the competition in California

When winds were at their strongest in California this month, wind turbines were providing the state with nearly twice as much electricity as nuclear reactors.

The Golden State saw a surge in new wind farms last year, taking its wind power capacity to 5,544 megawatts. That put it second in the nation behind Texas, which has more than 12,000 MW of installed wind capacity.


One of the awful things about a nuclear meltdown could be the traffic

Get me out of here!
Get me out of here!

It's hard to imagine a worse traffic jam than the traffic jam that slows your escape from a nuclear meltdown.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is warning other federal agencies that they need to be thinking about that scenario as they plan emergency responses to nuclear accidents.

Current planning focuses on evacuating or sheltering people living and working within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant. Such planning assumes that everybody living, say, 11 miles from an exploding nuclear reactor would sit on their asses watching the disaster unfold on CNN. And the GAO thinks that's unlikely. Those people might instead rush into their cars and onto the streets in an understandably panicked bid to escape the area, worsening traffic congestion and making escape more difficult for those closer to the accident.


Did climate change cause the epic Great Plains drought?

Prairie dog populations were among the wildlife hit hard by last year's Great Plains drought.
Shutterstock / Christopher Elwell
Prairie dogs were among the animals hit hard by last year's Great Plains drought.

The Great Plains are finally beginning to enjoy cloudbursts of relief from two years of epic drought -- the worst in the region's history, and part of the most widespread drought to afflict the U.S. since 2000. As farms and ecosystems rehydrate, it's worth asking: Did we do this? Did climate change cause the Great Plains drought, and the tens of billions of dollars of damage it inflicted?

The answer to these questions appears to be "no." Or, wait, make that "yes." Or ...

Read more: Climate & Energy