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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Sally Jewell will now be your interior secretary

Sally Jewell. Even some Republicans like her!
Burke Museum
Sally Jewell: Even some Republicans like her!

By a vote of 87 to 11, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed Obama's pick to be the next secretary of the interior: Sally Jewell.

Many enviros like her because she's a longtime conservationist who has worked for the last eight years as CEO of big outdoor equipment co-op REI. She takes climate change seriously and has spoken favorably about a carbon tax.

The extractive industries don't loathe her because she started her career as a petroleum engineer and went on to become a commercial banker working with natural resources companies. “It’s been a while since I fracked a well; I think it was 1979,” she said at her confirmation hearing last month.

“How’d you get appointed by this administration?” GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) joked at that hearing. “Sounds like someone a Republican president would appoint. That’s a remarkable background.”


Just, um, do it? Climate action, sponsored by Nike

Your hemp shoes won't save you.
Kicks on Fire
Your hemp shoes won't save you.

The oil industry isn't the only business flexing its muscle in Washington. The Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy coalition, aka BICEP, today released a “Climate Declaration" urging Congress to do some heavy lifting on climate change and "asserting that a bold response to the climate challenge is one of the greatest American economic opportunities of the 21st century.” Signatories include Nike, Starbucks, eBay, and 30 other companies, with a combined annual revenue of about $450 billion.

“The signers of the Climate Declaration have a clear message for Washington: Act on climate change. We are, and it’s good for our businesses,” Anne Kelly, director of BICEP, said in a statement.

From the statement: "The signatories of the Climate Declaration are calling for Congress to address climate change by promoting clean energy, boosting efficiency and limiting carbon emissions -- strategies that these businesses already employ within their own operations."

Though the clean coalition's efforts are aimed at policymakers, its business is really aimed at the rest of us. And that's where this effort starts to feel a bit self-serving.


Coal-mining jobs on the rise under Obama

No, Obama is not slowing down coal mining.
No, Obama is not slowing down coal mining.

Americans are burning less coal every year, but thousands more of them are making a living from mining it.

The average number of coal-mining jobs under the Obama administration has been 15.3 percent higher than the average under George W. Bush, according to a new report [PDF] from the nonprofit Appalachian Voices. The report tries to debunk the claim made by coal-mining companies that Obama is waging war on them. The growth in coal-mining jobs in all of the leading coal-mining states is attributable, the group says, to a surge in exports and to a decline in mining efficiency as workers attempt to scour the last deposits from mines.


Michigan neighbors sue to shut down new wind farm

Lake Winds Energy Park sure looks peaceful, but 17 neighbors claim otherwise.
Lake Winds Energy Park
Lake Winds Energy Park sure looks peaceful, but 17 neighbors claim otherwise.

Neighbors of a 56-turbine wind farm built last year in Mason County, Mich., have filed a lawsuit claiming that the turbines have negatively affected their health and wealth and should be shut down.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed by 17 property owners in a community along the east shore of Lake Michigan, alleges that Lake Winds Energy Park keeps them awake at night and has left them fatigued and stressed, unable to concentrate properly, and stricken with headaches, dizziness, nausea, and ringing and aching in the ears. They also say it has decreased their property values. They are seeking financial payouts and a shuttering of the facility.


Skiers and snowboarders to Obama: Save our snow!

Landing a jump like this with no snow would be painful.
Landing a jump like this with no snow would be painful.

For the athletes who make a living skiing, snowboarding, and pursuing other adventurous sports on the snow and ice, the gnarly changes underway in the climate are especially bad news.

Scores of athletes, including Olympic medalists, said as much in a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, trying to bring attention to the alarming disappearance of white winters.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Toxic algae is wiping out Florida’s manatees

Florida has the world's largest population of manatees, around 5,000 of the adorable, curious, endangered sea cows. In 1996, a red algae bloom killed 151 of them. Until this year, it was the most lethal red tide on record. But Florida has outdone itself this time.

So far this year, 241 manatees have been killed by a red algae bloom off the southwestern coast of the state. All across Florida, at least 463 manatees have died from a variety of causes, "more deaths than had been recorded in any previous comparable period,” reports The New York Times — more than 9 percent of the population in just over three months.

Susie Cagle
Read more: Climate & Energy


North Carolina joins rush to protect animal abusers

A bill in North Carolina would make it harder to stop animal abuses — like those documented at a Butterball turkey farm.
A bill in North Carolina would make it harder to stop animal abuses — like those documented at a Butterball turkey farm.

Ronnie Jacobs last week became the fifth Butterball employee to plead guilty to cruelty-to-animals charges after workers at a North Carolina factory farm were filmed kicking and beating turkeys in 2011. The animal rights activists who filmed the abuse provided evidence that triggered a law enforcement raid and led to six people being charged.

From a 2012 ABC story:

Mercy for Animals, the animal rights group that shot the undercover video, said there had been no insider information about abuse at the facility before the tape was made. "Unfortunately, every time we send an investigator they emerge with shocking evidence of animal abuse," said MFA executive director Nathan Runkle.

Are these activists being showered with accolades and gratitude for doing the work that law-enforcement agencies apparently don't care to do? Hell no! The North Carolina legislature is trying to criminalize their activities.


All U.S. nuclear reactors are too dangerous, says former nuke-safety chief

nuclear plant
Thomas Anderson

Right on the heels of troubling news from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, here comes troubling news about nuke plants in the U.S.

From The New York Times:

All 104 nuclear power reactors now in operation in the United States have a safety problem that cannot be fixed and they should be replaced with newer technology, the former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Monday. Shutting them all down at once is not practical, he said, but he supports phasing them out rather than trying to extend their lives.

The position of the former chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, is not unusual in that various anti-nuclear groups take the same stance. But it is highly unusual for a former head of the nuclear commission to so bluntly criticize an industry whose safety he was previously in charge of ensuring.


Fukushima Daiichi is undead

zombie warning

Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was killed in early 2011 and has not produced power since. But it's turned into a radioactive zombie, wreaking havoc long after its pulse flatlined.

Nuclear rods at the disabled plant must be kept cool to prevent them from triggering another nuclear meltdown. But the building that houses them has been wrecked by explosions and compromised by a rodent. Even pits that hold radioactive water at the site are failing.


Judge blocks oil fracking on federal land in California

"frack you" sign
Shutterstock / Michael G. McKinne

David Roberts recently listed 10 reasons why fracking for oil in California is a stupid idea. A federal judge has now added one more: It would be stupid to allow fracking on federal lands in the state without first adequately studying the potential environmental impacts.

That's exactly what the Bureau of Land Management tried to do. And now the bureau has been admonished in court for its environmentally unfriendly rush to allow energy companies to pump California full of chemicals and sand as they suck out oil from the vast Monterey Shale reserve.