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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Subaru finally introduces a hybrid; crunchy yuppies rejoice

Subaru Crosstrek
These crunchy yuppies sure look happy with their Crosstrek Hybrid.

Just 16 years after Toyota first started selling the Prius, Subaru has unveiled its own hybrid.

AP reports:

Subaru is coming out with a gas-electric hybrid crossover SUV for the crunchy-granola crowd that wants to save fuel but still haul kayaks to the river.

The Japanese brand, which specializes in all-wheel-drive vehicles, unveiled the 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid on Thursday at the New York International Auto Show.


Pesticide makers want you to save the bees

Bee killer
Bee killer.

Not only do manufacturers of bee-killing pesticides still insist that their products should be sold -- now they are saying that everybody else needs to be doing more to help save the bees.

Syngenta and Bayer say that their poisonous products do not kill bees, despite a bevy of evidence suggesting otherwise. (The complex problem of colony collapse disorder, in which the pesticides are heavily implicated, is getting worse, by the way -- not better.) Their neonicotinoid-based pesticides may soon be outlawed soon by the European Commission, and beekeepers and activists are suing the EPA as they push for a similar ban here.

But the chemical companies want us to know that they care deeply about these pollinators. And they have kind-heartedly published a plan they think could help the rest of us boost bee populations.

After all, if neonicotinoids are banned, they say, then we may never truly understand how they affect bees. Imagine living without that kind of knowledge.


Gas fracked in America will help keep the British warm

Fracked gas will leave America's shores to help warm quaint British homes
Shutterstock / Evgeny Murtola
Fracked American gas will soon warm quaint British homes.

America's fracking boom is producing so much natural gas that the energy industry plans to start exporting enough of it to heat nearly 2 million British homes.

A $15 billion deal to export vast volumes of natural gas from the United States by tanker ship to the U.K. was struck between energy companies Cheniere and Centrica. It will help keep the British warm, but it adds a new layer of controversy to disputes over fracking in the U.S.

From The Guardian:


New gasoline rules are good for your lungs and bad for Big Oil

Less sulfur in gasoline means less tailpipe pollution
Shutterstock / Tyler Olson
Less sulfur in gasoline means less tailpipe pollution.

Oh, tough break for the oil industry. The Obama administration today will propose new rules that will help curb smog by cracking down on sulfur in gasoline.

"This is the first big environmental initiative in the Obama administration's second term," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Automakers and everybody who breathes will benefit from the new EPA rules, which will require refineries to produce gasoline containing no more than 10 parts per million of sulfur. The EPA currently allows up to 30 ppm.

Sulfur is a problem in gasoline because it reduces the performance of catalytic convertors. That, in turn, lowers efficiency and boosts tailpipe emissions that contribute to smog and soot.

From The Washington Post:

The proposed standards would add less than a penny a gallon to the cost of gasoline while delivering an environmental benefit akin to taking 33 million cars off the road, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made yet.


Frackers dodge responsibility for earthquakes, science be damned

cracked concrete

We've known for a couple of years that fracking for oil and gas has been linked to some sizable earthquakes. The shaking doesn't actually come from the high-pressure fracking itself, but from the injection of tons of post-frack dirty wastewater into disposal wells. Only Ohio requires a risk assessment for quakes around the state's injection wells.

Mother Jones digs into this story, speaking with numerous scientists who agree: Frack the earth and it will frack you back. "There is no shortage of evidence," writes reporter Michael Behar.

Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. These so-called "earthquake swarms" are occurring in other places where the ground is not supposed to move. There have been abrupt upticks in both the size and frequency of quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas. Scientists investigating these anomalies are coming to the same conclusion: The quakes are linked to injection wells. Into most of them goes wastewater from hydraulic fracking, while some ... are filled with leftover fluid from dewatering operations.

Flatter states are more susceptible to fracking-related quakes -- as MoJo puts it, "a stone makes a bigger splash when it's hurled into a glassy pond than a river of raging whitewater." (But pretty please don't take that as an invitation to drill California to shaky bits.)

The least surprising part of all this? That the industry is reluctant to accept that it might be responsible for tearing peoples' houses down -- or at least that it doesn't want to talk to lefty magazines about it.

Some scientists are concerned that industry and government officials don't want to work with them on the issue.


Colorado lawmakers want to jack up ridiculously low oil-spill fines

Colorado Capitol
Some Colorado lawmakers say $1,000 a day in fines is not enough for an oil spill.

We told you last week about the underground leak of a mysterious “natural-gas liquid” near a gas-processing plant along a creek in western Colorado. The spill was discovered on March 8, and has been spilling ever since, but plant owner Williams Corp. still doesn’t know for sure where it's coming from.

Meanwhile, some Colorado lawmakers are expressing dismay that state fines for such spills have been capped at $10,000 for the past half century unless the spills are deemed to have "significant adverse impact" on public health or the environment.

From the Denver iJournal:

A Lafayette lawmaker says Colorado’s system of levying fines against oil and gas companies for environmental disasters like the spill this month near Parachute Creek is totally out of whack with other states and needs to be brought “into this century.”

Read more: Climate & Energy


Flies that eat organic live longer, make more fly babies

Scientists may be split on whether organic foods are better for human health. But a new study published in PLOS ONE presents evidence that organic foods help you live longer and make more babies -- if you're a fruit fly.

Maybe organic food just puts flies in the mood?
T. Chapman
Maybe organic food just puts flies in the mood?

Researchers at Southern Methodist University fed fruit flies extracts of organic or conventional versions of bananas, potatoes, raisins, or soybeans from a Whole Foods in Texas. (Unlike those organic-loving rats, the flies didn't get to choose their foods.)

Read more: Food


How to power America with renewables on the cheap: Build a shit ton of wind and solar capacity

We don't need much more than this, but we do need an awful lot of it.
Wind and solar will do the trick, but we'll need a whole lot of them.

America could be powered almost entirely with wind turbines and solar systems by 2030 at a cost comparable to what we're spending for dirty power today, a new study finds. The necessary approach would surprise most people, and it would generate enough economic activity to make any capitalist drool: Build, build, build ... and then build some more.

From Midwest Energy News:

The analysis ... challenges the common notion that wind and solar power need to be paired with fossil fuel or nuclear generators, so utilities can meet electricity demand when it’s not windy or sunny.

The paper instead proposes building out a “seemingly excessive” amount of wind and solar generation capacity — two to three times the grid’s actual peak load. By spreading that generation across a wide enough geographic area, Rust Belt utilities could get virtually all of their electricity from renewables in 2030, at a cost comparable to today’s prices, it says.


America’s wildlife to get some moving help as climate changes

Wildlife corridors could help birds find new homes
Wildlife corridors could help birds find new homes.

The climate is changing, and flora and fauna the country over are on the march, on quests for hospitable new homes.

And hey, here comes Uncle Obama in his metaphorical truck, ready to lend a hand.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Obama administration Tuesday announced a nationwide plan to help wildlife adapt to threats from climate change.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz has deep ties to oil, gas, and nuclear industries

Ernest Moniz
He keeps some questionable company.

The Republican minority in the Senate loves to obstruct confirmation of President Obama's Cabinet nominees, but it isn't saying boo about the man who appears set to become the nation's next energy secretary.

That might be because Ernest Moniz has friendly relations with a number of dirty energy companies -- the kind of companies that generously fund so many senators' campaigns.

From Democracy Now:

President Obama’s pick to become the nation’s next secretary of energy is drawing criticism for his deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization.

Moniz also directs the MIT Energy Initiative, which gets significant corporate funding from BP, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Chevron, and a number of utilities that operate nuclear plants.

At the same time, Moniz has stressed the importance of moving away from coal and has promoted and called for more funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency. That's earned him praise from the Natural Resources Defense Council. But other environmental and watchdog groups are campaigning against his nomination because of his industry ties.