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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Proposed wind farm gets the OK to kill bald eagles, which will definitely not backfire

"Please do not kill me," asks the symbolic embodiment of American exceptionalism
"Please do not kill me," asks the symbolic embodiment of American exceptionalism.

This is probably not the sort of publicity that the wind industry needs. From the Star-Tribune (and via Midwest Energy News):

A bitterly contested wind farm proposed for Goodhue County [Minnesota] got the go-ahead Wednesday to pursue a permit that would allow it to legally kill or injure eagles, in what could be the first case of federal authorities issuing a license to kill the protected national symbol.

The 48-turbine project would kill at most eight to 15 eagles a year, a number that would not harm the local population, federal officials said in a letter to state regulators. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said its estimate does not include possible strategies to reduce the number of eagles killed and, that if a permit is eventually granted, the goal would be a much lower figure.

At most eight to 15! Could be as few as six chopped-up bits of Americana!

Bird deaths are one of the most common arguments used by opponents of wind energy. Case in point:


Soot is the second-most dangerous global warming pollutant

When the EPA announced stricter limits on soot emissions last year, the health benefits were immediately apparent. Less soot -- that is, tiny particles that result from burning fossil fuels -- means fewer heart attacks, less asthma, longer lifespans. On this basis alone, the new standard is a beneficial move.

Soot and smoke in Pittsburgh during the early 1900s
Soot and smoke in Pittsburgh during the early 1900s.

As it turns out, the move could also play a significant role in countering global warming. Researchers have determined that black carbon (soot) contributes twice as much to global warming as previously understood. From the University of Washington:

Black carbon’s role in climate is complex. Dark particles in the air work to shade the Earth’s surface while warming the atmosphere. Black carbon that settles on the surface of snow and ice darkens the surface to absorb more sunlight and increase melting. Finally, soot particles influence cloud formation in ways that can have either a cooling or warming impact.

Last year, another team of researchers proposed a novel way to curb Arctic ice melt: halting airplane trips over the region. The black carbon emitted by trans-Arctic flights lingers in the atmosphere in the area longer than it does elsewhere.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Idle No More: A primer on the indigenous green movement

A December 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.
A Dec. 30, 2012 round dance in Toronto.

Over the last three months, Idle No More has taken North America by storm, blocking roads and trains, and flash-mobbing in community squares and shopping malls (and being summarily arrested for it in some places).

The movement is a response to hundreds of years of environmental rape and pillage by European settlers, who have generally shown themselves to be shitty stewards of this land (OK, "shitty" is generous). So why now?

Well, why not?

Idle No More has been particularly outspoken against tar-sands pipelines in Canada and the U.S. But the movement actually began this past fall in reaction to Canada's effort to weaken the Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it would protect only 97 bodies of water; it currently safeguards tens of thousands of them. It's expanded beyond Canada, but its roots are still up north.

Gyasi Ross at Indian Country wrote a primer on the movement, its motivations, and its goals:

It’s not a Native thing or a white thing, it’s an Indigenous worldview thing. It’s a “protect the Earth” thing. For those transfixed on race, you’re missing the point. The Idle No More Movement simply wants kids of all colors and ethnicities to have clean drinking water.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Japan plans world’s largest offshore wind farm near Fukushima

An offshore facility near Kent
An offshore farm near Kent, U.K.

The world's largest offshore wind farm is coming to Japan. Eventually.

From New Scientist:

By 2020, the plan is to build a total of 143 wind turbines on platforms 16 kilometres off the coast of Fukushima, home to the stricken Daiichi nuclear reactor that hit the headlines in March 2011 when it was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

The wind farm, which will generate 1 gigawatt of power once completed, is part of a national plan to increase renewable energy resources following the post-tsunami shutdown of the nation's 54 nuclear reactors. Only two have since come back online.

The project is part of Fukushima's plan to become completely energy self-sufficient by 2040, using renewable sources alone. The prefecture is also set to build the country's biggest solar park.


USDA offers up new seed money for small farmers

happy-farmer-carouselMake your hydroponic backyard organic kale dreams come true, now with help from the federal government. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a microloan program to assist veterans, minority growers, and small-time farmers who might otherwise have to rely on credit cards to get their farms up and running.

The microloans, up to $35,000 each, will be majorly helpful in an industry where loans are usually for much bigger sums, and involve much bigger stacks of paperwork. More microloans could mean more microfarms, and more diverse ones on the whole, and super-low interest rates (currently 1.25 percent) could certainly cut down on farmers' debt load. From the Associated Press:

Over the last three years, there has been a 60 percent increase in local growers who sell directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said...

The loan can cover the costs of renting land, buying seed and equipment, and other expenses. One goal is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry, Vilsack said. Another goal is to provide beginners a chance to build credit, so that they can eventually qualify for higher-value loans and expand.

Read more: Food


Sandy aid passes the House, no thanks to a few states

Brian Birke

I was a bit pessimistic yesterday when considering what action the House was likely to take on Sandy aid. While it was obvious that members of the House Republican caucus would throw up roadblocks to the full funding proposal, I didn't expect that those roadblocks would actually be overcome. But, thanks to the new House majority of every-Democrat-and-a-few-rational-Republicans, they were.

From the Times:

The $50.7 billion -- along with a nearly $10 billion aid package that Congress approved earlier this month -- seeks to provide for the huge needs that have arisen in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states since the hurricane struck in late October.

The emergency aid measure would help homeowners whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, provide assistance to business owners who experienced losses as well as reinforce shorelines, repair subway and commuter rail systems, fix bridges and tunnels, and reimburse local governments for emergency expenditures.

Though the package does not cover the entire $82 billion in damage identified by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, leaders from the storm-ravaged region expressed relief over the action in the Republican-controlled House, where storm aid had become ensnared in the larger debate over spending and deficits.

The most heartening thing about the vote, however, was that it showed how the nation was willing to come together to demonstrate support for states torn apart by disaster. To wit:

Or, in map format, as presented by the New York Times:


Crop insurance claims likely to hit $16 billion in wake of 2012 drought

Drought eradicates the green
Drought eradicates the green.

The 2012 megadrought was the worst since the Dust Bowl. Initial measurements suggest that it was responsible for a significant drop in the country's economic growth in the middle of the year as corn prices spiked and farmers struggled to make ends meet.

Which will be easier to accomplish given the government's likely $16 billion crop insurance payout. From The New York Times:

The Agriculture Department, which runs the program, said that the total losses from crops harvested last year would not be known for weeks, but that costs from the program were estimated to be $15.8 billion, up from $9.4 billion in 2011.

Separately, a record $11.4 billion in indemnities for crop losses has been paid out to farmers, and officials say that number could balloon to as much as $20 billion. In 2011, a then-record $10.8 billion was paid out in indemnities.

We've written about this insurance program before, of course, particularly during last year's aborted attempt to pass a new farm bill. In brief, "while 'crop insurance' certainly sounds innocent enough, the term is being stretched beyond its traditional meaning. Like the name implies, some crop insurance does cover disaster relief, but the latest form also 'insures' (mostly large) farms against revenue loss."


Interior Secretary Salazar to step down

ken-salazar_f-Mike-Disharoon_h328.jpgInterior Secretary Ken Salazar, he of the bolo ties and threats to reporters, is resigning his position. From the Denver Post:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will step down from his cabinet position in the Obama administration and return to Colorado to spend time with his family, his office has confirmed to The Denver Post. …

"As I think about my role as secretary of the Interior, it is perhaps the most wonderful job of any cabinet position in the United States," Salazar said in December. "I would not trade it for attorney general or Housing and Urban Development or Transportation because I would find those jobs a little boring."

But the pull of family obligations -- he and his wife are primary caretakers of their 5-year-old granddaughter who has autism and is enrolled in a special school -- was too great to commit to four more years, Salazar's office said.

The move was expected. Last November, we outlined who might replace him; among those mentioned so far today is Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has been tapped as a likely replacement for basically everyone in the Cabinet and two of the four Beatles.


Virginia AG Cuccinelli leads charge to yank renewable energy credits

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wants to be president. He wants it so bad that he can't drink coffee anymore because all he can taste is the White House. (I just made that joke up; feel free to use it for a small fee.) Last time Cuccinelli appeared in these pages, it was for his tax-dollar-funded campaign to discredit climate scientist Michael Mann. He's since written a book called The Last Line of Defense which is about the "fight for liberty." The cover of it looks like marble, which seems like a weird metaphor.

Ken Cuccinelli, looking pleased.

Anyway, part of freedom-fighter Ken Cuccinelli's plan to fight for freedom and America all the way from Richmond to Washington is revoking renewable energy incentives. Freedom! Eagles! From the Associated Press:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the state’s largest electric utilities are proposing to repeal financial incentives for using renewable energy after a report last year found that the millions of dollars in bonuses haven’t yielded the intended environmental gains and have contributed to increases in customer bills.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday by the attorney general’s office, Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power would no longer be eligible to receive the bonuses called “adders” for using sources of renewable energy or building new power plants that use fossil fuels. Incentives will still remain for nuclear and offshore wind, but the bonuses would be reduced.

The agreement does not, however, repeal the state’s voluntary goals that utilities have 15 percent of their generation coming from renewable sources by 2025. And utilities can still seek to recover the costs related to reaching those goals, officials said.

Read more: Uncategorized


North Frackota’s population boom means more young men — and more problems

Huffington Post
Click to embiggen.

Last year, the North Dakota division of tourism unveiled an ad as part of a series that it hoped would lure people to the state. "Drinks, dinner, decisions," the ad copy read. "Arrive a guest. Leave a legend." Reaction to the ad (which you can see at right) was fast and strongly negative. The image of two men leering out a window at a group of women in short skirts struck many as sexist, tone-deaf, and worse.

It turns out that the ad's subtext may have been more accurate than we knew. From the Times:

At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.

“It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”

This has complicated life for women in the region as well.

Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.

Oil industry worker Bobby Freestone enjoys a day off at a so-called man camp outside Watford, N.D.
Reuters / Jim Urquhart
Oil industry worker Bobby Freestone enjoys a day off at a so-called man camp outside Watford, N.D.

North Dakota is the fastest-growing state in the country. Fracking the Bakken Shale formation for oil has brought thousands and thousands of young men to the state, given them good salaries, crammed them into whatever housing they can find. It has also created a massive imbalance in the number of men to women in some parts of the state -- and the men that have arrived are young and bored.