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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Nebraska says new Keystone XL route is slightly less likely to ruin state

Thomas Beck Photo

During the most heated point in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline last year, the state of Nebraska was poised to act as spoiler. The pipeline as initially proposed ran over Nebraska farmland, but also -- critically for the region -- over the Ogallala Aquifer, a pristine water source widely tapped for drinking and irrigation.

Given the significant possible damage to the aquifer from a spill, TransCanada, the Canadian company that hopes to build the pipeline, proposed an alternate route. That new route avoids the Nebraska Sand Hills, a region that acts as a sort of sponge for the aquifer. Mother Nature Network describes it:

[The Sand Hills] may not be as well-known as the Mississippi Delta, the Everglades or the Chesapeake Bay, but they harbor one of the most pristine wetland ecosystems in the entire Lower 48 states. Not only is the area home to swaths of unspoiled prairie and wetlands -- which themselves are home to a diverse menagerie of wildlife -- but it also serves as a capstone for the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground freshwater source that provides nearly one-third of the country's irrigation groundwater. …

As much as half of the region's annual rainfall percolates down to the Ogallala Aquifer, which contains an estimated 1 billion acre-feet of groundwater below the Sand Hills.

An uncontrolled spill of thick, corrosive tar-sands oil would be a massive disaster. Here's the new route proposed by TransCanada, threading the needle on the Sand Hills.


Energy company CEO: Why do we have to talk about climate change today?

"We understand. We get it."

The words of the CEO of Southern Company, Thomas Fanning, when asked about climate change. Oops, wait. Not climate change. He said that about how his company was helping ConEd restore power in New York. Here's what he said about climate change:

I don't think that the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument. We gotta get the power back on. That is our business at this point.

That's great. Let's get the power back on. But climate change as "an ancillary argument" is like a defense attorney suggesting that the real issue was the failure of the tree to step aside for the car, not the ancillary argument of his client's drunkenness.


Sandy spooks East Coast Halloween

More Frankenstorm fallout, this time on the sweetest, creepiest, oddly sexiest night of the year. Will Sandy ruin Halloween? From the Huffington Post:

Some children may be feeling fearful of trick-or-treating, even if mom and dad aren't. Heading into the spookiest of holidays on the heels of a threatening natural disaster may take a toll on a young person's psyche.


Another thing that might take a toll: being denied an annual sugar-laden ritual. Yesterday New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tweeted this act of heroic leadership in the face of holiday disaster.

Read more: Living


Coal company gets in on the election fun, blaming EPA for mine layoffs

Sorry, kid. We're gonna have to let you go.

More bad news from the coal industry, reeling at the hands of Barack "I hate coal so so much" Obama.

From the AP:

Consol Energy told 145 workers in southern West Virginia on Tuesday that it will start laying them off in late December because of a dispute over permits for surface mining related to the King Coal Highway project.

The Pittsburgh-based coal producer said it plans to idle its Miller Creek operations in Mingo County, which include Wiley Surface Mine, Wiley Creek Surface Mine, Minway Surface Mine, Minway Preparation Plant, and Miller Creek Administration Group. …

Consol has sought U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits to redirect the Mingo County operations to mine land that would then become a 5-mile stretch of the King Coal Highway. The agency has raised several concerns about the Buffalo Mountain mining operation, including its planned burial of several area streams.

DeIuliis noted that while the EPA had relented in objecting to one of the two permits sought, "that permit alone is not sufficient to allow miners to begin work.''

Come on, EPA! Consol Energy is just trying to make a buck, create some jobs, bury some streams, that kind of thing. And you're being a bummer, because Obama. Super lame.



Congressmember from heavily subsidized state worried about waste during Sandy relief

Rep. King has his hands out.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has some thoughts about federal relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy.

From The Huffington Post:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday that federal aid for people impacted by Hurricane Sandy should be approved only with a specific spending plan in place so funds are not used for "Gucci bags and massage parlors," like after Hurricane Katrina.

"I want to get them the resources that are necessary to lift them out of this water and the sand and the ashes and the death that's over there in the East Coast and especially in the Northeast," King said during a Tuesday evening debate in Mason City, Iowa.

"But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook, because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary," he said later, referring to Hurricane Katrina.

"They spent it." "They." Read into that what you will.


At long last, New York City considers how to ward off rising waters

An escalator at the South Ferry subway stop leads into an East River annex.

This morning, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers head in to work for the first time since last Friday -- and for the first time many of them are trying to figure out how to get there without the subway. The subways are, in Bill McKibben's eloquent words, "the most crucial element of that magnificent ecosystem," a system unseen but heard and felt like a heartbeat. It's quiet now.

From The New York Times:

For buildings ancient and modern, devastation arrived in the same breath on Monday night: not in howling winds, but in the murmur of the Hudson River. At Spring Street, the river waters carried over the east bank, moved across West Street, spread past Washington and Greenwich Streets and then most of the way to the street named for the river, Hudson.

That is: the river moved 1,200 feet inland, nearly a quarter-mile.

We have reached the moment of the instructive catastrophe, our vulnerability bared by forces that we can no longer pretend are some civil engineer’s bad dream. In the summer of 1991, I watched a kind of horror movie. Federal emergency planners ran a slide show of pictures of familiar New York sites that had been doctored to show the effects of a Category 4 hurricane on the city. The entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, nine feet underwater. Nathan’s in Coney Island, fully submerged. Diapers floating off the shelves at the Toys “R” Us on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. Kennedy International Airport, 24 feet underwater. It seemed far-fetched.

On Monday night, more than two decades later, I stood in Hudson River water at Hudson Street, and have the wet sneakers to prove it.


Madison may require food carts to offer vegetarian options

Meatless meals on wheels? Madison, Wis., is weighing whether to dictate that all food carts in the city offer vegetarian options.


They're also considering adding a "green" section to their rating system for the mobile restaurants, giving points for biodegradable and recyclable to-go containers, eco-friendly truck fuel, and local foods.

Here's The Wisconsin State Journal on the veggie issue:

The suggestion came from a city food cart reviewer who is a vegetarian, street vending coordinator Warren Hansen said.

"I always tell new applicants to include at least one vegetarian item because there's a demand for it," Hansen said. "It's just good business."

Read more: Food, Politics


Sandy wipes out biggest beekeeping operation in New York City

Casualties of Hurricane Sandy included 1 million unfortunate bees at the Brooklyn Grange's Navy Yard urban farming project. Twenty-five hives each containing around 40,000 bees were torn apart Monday night.

Brooklyn Grange

From The Brooklyn Paper:

“All our hives that were out on the pier were destroyed,” said Chase Emmons, a managing partner and the chief beekeeper at Brooklyn Grange.

An additional 10 hives located on Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop farm survived — but the loss is catastrophic for the city’s largest apiary. Emmons knew before the storm that the hives were at risk.

“There was little we could do without a Herculean effort,” he said.

Read more: Food


Expect less seafood in Sandy’s wake

Post-superstorm, it may be a while until Atlantic fish are once again shipped to restaurants and groceries across the country.


From Columbus Business First:

Atlantic fishing operations and shipments by air and highway from the East Coast are on hold, battering the supply of popular catches, including lobster, crab, salmon, cod, haddock and Prince Edward Island mussels ... The shortage has left restaurateurs with a choice when it comes to certain seafood -- frozen or nothing ...

Seafood not from the East Coast, such as farm-raised salmon, isn't in short supply.

With 20-plus years in wholesaling, [Frank] Gonzalez has seen his share of storm-inflicted food shortages, but he expects Hurricane Sandy to be among the most damaging to his business.

Read more: Food


Want the truth on clean coal? Ask a random dude on the phone

The Hill reports on a new poll:

A new poll released Monday shows Americans rank the presidential candidates’ views on energy policy as more important to their 2012 vote than environmental policy.

In the survey from Harris Interactive, 67 percent said a candidate’s environmental policy was either very important or important. Seventy-seven percent surveyed said the same of energy policy.

Not a big surprise, however disappointing. Then there's this.