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Texas cities roping in more wind energy

The electricity that powers Dallas is about to get a whole lot windier.
Shutterstock / Brandon Seidel
The electricity that powers Dallas is about to get a whole lot windier.

Something refreshing is about to blow into Dallas, Houston, and other oil-soaked Texan cities: wind energy. Lots of wind energy.

A wind-farm boom has been brewing in the blustery Texas panhandle, where wind turbines now provide 9.2 percent of the state's electricity. That figure is growing quickly, with more than $3 billion expected to be spent on new wind generation during the next two years alone. Meanwhile, Sustainable Business reports that the world's most powerful battery system is helping to store wind energy produced during off-peak times so that it can be sold when demand for electricity is highest.

But the state's biggest cities are in the east, far away from the graceful wind turbines and snazzy batteries of the west, making it difficult to deliver the renewable energy into most of the state's homes and offices.

That bottleneck will ease by the end of the year, when the state completes a scheduled $6.8 billion effort to double the capacity of power lines from western wind farms to its eastern municipalities. That will provide an even bigger market and new incentives for potential wind power developers eying opportunities in the Panhandle.


Even the Tea Party is pissed about the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

Everybody’s gotta pitch in to bring down Hulk, er, Monsanto.
Denis Giles
Everybody’s gotta pitch in to bring down Hulk, er, Monsanto.

Feeling angry about the "Monsanto Protection Act"? You know, the sneakily passed piece of legislation that allows GMO crops to be planted even in defiance of a court order? Well, you’re not alone! The law is so scary that it's inspiring outrage from the far right.

It’s always a delight to see the left and right agree on anything, and when it comes to fighting genetically modified giant Monsanto, it may well take just that kind of a passionate coalition to get anything done.

But it’s not the GMO issue that’s turning Tea Party Patriot Dustin Siggins’ stomach — it’s the precedent this could set for other corporations that might want legal immunity. From Siggins' blog:

Read more: Food, Politics


Last coal-fired car ferry to keep dumping waste in Lake Michigan

The S.S. Badger, still crossing Lake Michigan by burning coal.
The S.S. Badger, still crossing Lake Michigan on coal power.

It's bad enough that the S.S. Badger is still powered by coal -- the only car ferry left in the country that runs on the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But what's really going to blow your mind is how the ferry disposes of its coal ash after burning: It is mixed with water into a slurry and dumped overboard. More than 500 tons of it every year. Straight into Lake Michigan. Just like its operators have been doing since the 1950s.

In 2008, the U.S. EPA told Lake Michigan Carferry, the company that operates the Badger, to cut that crap out. The company must switch to another fuel or start dumping the waste somewhere on land, the EPA said. The ferry company responded by asking for more time to study how it would switch over to natural gas, and the EPA was all, OK, but just four more years, and that's it.

That four-year grace period expired over the winter, and guess what Lake Michigan Carferry plans to do once the ferrying season begins next month? That's right, it plans to continue dumping its coal ash into Lake Michigan. And the federal government is pretty much OK with that.


Americans want more renewable energy and more climate-change prep

Seeing the light.
Shutterstock / Gencho Petkov
Seeing the light.

This is how the typical American thinks in 2013, according to a couple of new polls: “More solar power, please. No more nuclear, thanks though. And let’s get ready for this crazy climate-change thing.”

A Gallup poll of 1,022 people revealed that a whopping 76 percent of Americans think the U.S. should put more emphasis on developing solar power. Even Republicans are into it, with 68 percent of them calling for more solar. Wind is also popular. So too is natural gas, supported by about two-thirds of Americans. Support for oil and coal is split along party lines, with most Republicans favoring efforts to dig up and burn more of the dirty fuels and most Democrats opposing them. Nuclear, meanwhile, is not particularly popular with either party.


All those fracking jobs come with an increased risk of lung cancer


While all the damage hydraulic fracturing could do to the Earth is pretty well-covered, we mostly overlook the risks it poses to fracking workers. Each well requires thousands of tons of fracking sand full of fine silica, which can penetrate lungs and lead to incurable silicosis and even lung cancer.

To find out how much those frackers were at risk, Eric Esswein, a workplace safety and exposure expert with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), strapped on a face mask and dug in. NPR reports:

He and his colleagues visited 11 fracking sites in five states: Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. At every site, the researchers found high levels of silica in the air. It turned out that 79 percent of the collected samples exceeded the recommended exposure limit set by Esswein's agency.

There were some controls in place, says Esswein, who notes that "at every site that we went to, workers wore respirators."

But about one-third of the air samples they collected had such high levels of silica, the type of respirators typically worn wouldn't offer enough protection. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


James Hansen to quit NASA, become full-time climate activist

James Hansen
James Hansen.

It might be hard to imagine how James Hansen could do more to help the climate cause than he's already done. A well-respected climate scientist, he's been more outspoken than virtually all of his peers on the need for climate action. He first warned Congress about the threat of global warming way back in 1988, and he's been sounding the alarm with increasing urgency ever since. During the George W. Bush administration, his outspokenness irritated his superiors, so they tried to muzzle him -- an effort that backfired when Hansen went to The New York Times with the story. In 2009, he started getting arrested at climate protests, including protests against the Keystone XL pipeline.

But Hansen wants to do even more. And to do it, he's quitting his high-profile, influential day job. He will step down tomorrow as the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies after 46 years spent working there.

From The New York Times:

[R]etirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.


Sandy refugees set to be booted from NYC hotels

Coming up on the six-month anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, New York City is ready to move on. But more than 2,000 Sandy refugees still living in the city's hotels are not -- since they're, you know, homeless.

staten island new dorp sandy
John de Guzman
This is no longer a housing option -- and soon a hotel might not be either.

According to the city's Department of Homeless Services, upwards of 900 displaced families are living in more than 45 different hotels throughout the five boroughs. Since last October, more than 3,000 storm-swept families have spent one or more nights in a hotel through a city program, which is slated to end on April 30. A separate FEMA program does not yet have an end date.

"We're trying to get people focused on the future," Homeless Services commissioner Seth Diamond told The Wall Street Journal. That would be a future in which they might not have anywhere to live, apparently. Diamond said the city would be placing some people in public housing units, while others might receive federal Section 8 vouchers. Everyone else would apparently be on their own, with some potentially having to leave the city altogether.

From The New York Times:

Some housing experts and elected officials said the city’s reliance on hotels underscored how federal and local disaster planning had to be revised to include more emergency rental assistance.

“Why are we spending money on hotels instead of helping families pay the rent?” asked Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization in New York that works to end homelessness. She added, “For a fraction of the cost, families could be in a stable situation and getting a running start in putting their lives together.”

The damage from Hurricane Sandy revealed how many residents of coastal areas in New York, especially in Brooklyn and Queens, were renters with low incomes.


Gene discovery could breed veggies for a warmer planet

Image (1) lettuce_425.jpg for post 35082The nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona are likely to get mighty wilted as temperatures in those hot states continue to rise. But science is here to save the day -- with GMOs.

A research team with USDA and National Science Foundation funding has identified a lettuce gene and enzyme that make the plants stop germinating when it's too hot -- so now scientists hope to tweak those lettuces to grow even when they naturally wouldn't. Currently growers have to cool soil and seeds with extra cool water, at great expense. The study, published in the journal The Planet Cell, was a collaboration between scientists at India's Ranga Agricultural University, the University of California at Davis, and scientists from Arcadia Biosciences.


Canadian officials in uproar over pipeline video game, not over actual pipelines

game screenshot
Pipe Trouble
This computer game lets players connect with their inner pipeline-loving capitalists.

You can now tap into your inner evil capitalist and lay virtual oil pipelines through meadows and fields while trying to avoid conflicts with virtual farmers and virtual environmentalists. Sounds like fun, right?

Well, not according to a number of government officials in Canada, where the game has been kicking up controversy since its release last month. Their big complaint is that the game includes pipeline bombings. From CBC News:

[W]hen the game play gets too heated, a level is sometimes ended with the bombing of the imaginary pipeline, which brings to mind several unsolved bombings that took place in B.C. in 2008 and 2009.

Oh, and they're also not happy that the game was developed with taxpayer funds. From CTV News:

The game, called “Pipe Trouble,” was released by TV Ontario, the province’s public broadcaster. ...


Tar Sands Blockade wins sponsorship deal from Kryptonite bike locks

Disturbed by the recent tar-sands spills in Minnesota and Arkansas, Kryptonite lock company has decided to step up its efforts to protect the planet.

Today, the company offered corporate sponsorship to any of the Keystone XL pipeline protesters who raised the bar by chaining themselves to tar-sands equipment over the last year. (Needless to say, they've been burning through a lot of locks.)

Laura Borealis

"The people at Kryptonite have a pure passion for creating the best security in the world. And that includes creating security for the planet," the company said in a statement. “We recognized the blockaders for their creative use of our product, and we wanted to encourage more of their important work. Plus, Kryptonite's reinforced, anodyzed steel design resists removal 50 percent longer than competitors and is guaranteed to frustrate law enforcement.”

They may seem like odd bedfellows, but Kryptonite's products have already helped activists disrupt energy conferences and slow down pipeline construction.

Read more: Politics