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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Miners bussed to Romney rally obviously hate Obama, Fox points out

Cranky ol' Robert Murray, head of Murray Energy and enthusiastic Obama basher ("Barack Obama and his Democrat followers are destroying entire segments of America"), had a party for Mitt Romney last week. At a rally in Beallsville, Ohio, the candidate appeared in front of a phalanx of coal miners.

The mine workers didn't show up entirely out of enthusiasm for Romney. WTRF explained some of the rally preparations, including this detail:

Murray will be bussing in employees and their families for the rally in support of Romney.

Here's how Fox Nation -- the unabashedly biased "community" arm of Fox News -- described the scene.

"Ohio Miners Turn on Obama." Fox Nation labels the post "inspiring."


The Midwest gets some rain, as the Mississippi keeps emptying

At long last, a bit of good news about the drought: It rained.

National precipitation between Aug. 13 and 20. Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of Intellicast.)

Between 1.0 and 1.5 inches of rain fell across ... the upper Midwest [on Thursday], stretching from Iowa through Ohio. Cooler temperatures between 70- to 80-degrees Fahrenheit followed and are forecast to continue through the Labor Day weekend.

The rainfall meant a reduction of land scorched by drought -- 61.8 percent of the Midwest this week, down from 62.5 percent last week, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

If the drought continues to recede at that rate, the United States will be drought-free in only 88 weeks.

Even a massive, ongoing deluge couldn't save this year's crop yield. There's not enough time to replant corn and soybeans before autumn, so it's not expected that total output -- or futures prices -- will get much better.

Nor will this brief rain greatly help the parched Mississippi River. A number of vessels are working to keep the river's shallower sections passable.

Read more: Uncategorized


Why are you running away, offshore drilling? All Obama wants is a hug

A model offshore rig. (Photo by eschipul.)

The best recent summary of the state of the oil and natural gas industry comes a few paragraphs into this Wall Street Journal article about Shell's halting, nearly inept attempts to drill in the Arctic before winter.

The project is just one of many multibillion-dollar efforts Shell has under way, so setbacks don't threaten its overall health. But the problems highlight how oil and gas fields are becoming more difficult to reach.

The Obama administration, the Journal suggests, wanted its approval of Shell's Arctic drilling permits to demonstrate the president's commitment to his "all of the above" approach to energy development. Despite oil production hitting a 14-year high during Obama's tenure, the president is still repeatedly attacked for insufficient commitment to oil exploration. Shell was meant to be a boutonniere the president could wear on the campaign trail to demonstrate his offshore bona fides. If the company fails to drill before the Arctic refreezes for the winter, it's safe to assume that Obama, not Shell, will bear the blame -- though he's not to blame for the company's many errors.

The Obama presidency is coinciding with an awkward time of transition for oil and gas (just as with coal). The oil industry is horribly (and appropriately) unpopular while, as the Journal notes, exploration is becoming more risky and difficult.

Read more: Climate & Energy


An idea for something to do this weekend

Take a frickin' walk.

The percentage of people who report walking at least once for 10 minutes or more in the previous week rose from 56% (2005) to 62% (2010).

That's from the CDC. America! Seriously? Thirty-eight percent of us don't walk for 10 minutes or more in a given week? Are you serious? A 10-minute walk is like a trip around a regular-sized block. Hey, also? It's summer. Pretty decent walk-taking weather! Too hot in the afternoon? Take a walk in the morning! Too cold in the morning? Too rainy? Too tiring? I do not care. Take a walk.

Don't know what this symbol represents? This article is for you! (Photo by Marijus Auruskevicius / Shutterstock.)

Also: if you're sitting there right now, laughing at the schlubs who don't take walks: How many do you take, tough guy? One? Two? Take more. You should be walking right now, in fact. If you're not rocking one of these treadmill desks, you're being lazy.

Read more: Uncategorized


The backwards, inside-out politics of Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and coal

This is the strongest statement either presidential candidate has made on coal.

"That plant kills people," Mitt Romney said in 2003, pointing at the Salem Harbor power plant. He was right -- one estimate suggests that 20 people die each year due to pollution from the plant, now managed by Dominion Energy. "They have thumbed their nose at the people of Massachusetts and Salem Harbor by not cleaning it up on time. So we’re saying, clean it up on time, do the job in the community, invest in cleaning technology."

Romney's language is far stronger than any President Obama has ever used on coal. In fact, the president's campaign is using that line to attack Romney in radio ads in coal-producing states.

How the hell did this happen? How is it that the Democratic presidential candidate is embracing the most noxious form of energy production in America, while his opponent is on record saying that it should be cleaned up?

In 2003, Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a state that demands moderation from its Republicans. It's a flashing glimpse of the Romney that could have been -- a rich moderate of the noblesse oblige tradition, fighting for those needing a defender within view of those most likely to cast votes. And then 2008 happened and 2012 happened and the Romney that presented himself to the GOP electorate morphed. During the heat of last fall's GOP primary, Romney changed his position on climate change. There is no way today's Romney would even consider making a speech similar to that exhortation of 2003.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Deadly Salmonella outbreak in Kentucky linked to cantaloupe

A specimen from the melon at issue. (Photo by Richard North.)

An outbreak of food poisoning across the state of Kentucky has been linked to cantaloupes from a farm in Indiana.

The salmonellosis outbreak, which has sickened at least 50 Kentuckians and been associated with two deaths, began in early July. Through an epidemiological investigation and confirmatory lab testing, Kentucky public health officials determined that cantaloupes, which evidence indicates were grown in southwestern Indiana but purchased in Kentucky, carried the same strain of Salmonella determined to be the cause of an ongoing outbreak of infection. Salmonellosis cases caused by the outbreak strain have also been reported in other states. In addition, investigation is also continuing into other clusters of salmonella cases in Kentucky, which may be linked to cantaloupe or watermelon consumption.

Kentucky saw 137 reports of Salmonella in July -- twice the norm for the state.

Read more: Food


Lower river levels threaten New Orleans water supply

Another time New Orleans had water problems.

The Mississippi River is near historic low levels from Illinois down to Louisiana, causing something of a problem for the city of New Orleans. From

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Plaquemines Parish as it deals with encroaching salt water that's threatening drinking water in the New Orleans area.

The declaration clears the way for state agencies to offer help to the parish as it deals with its water supply issues. Due to the Mississippi River's low water levels, salt water has been moving far upriver and was at the outskirts of New Orleans by Wednesday, nearly 90 miles north of the mouth of the Mississippi. Also Wednesday, Plaquemines Parish issued an advisory to parish residents that high levels of sodium and chloride were being measured in drinking water.

The river was closed temporarily to shipping traffic as contractors began building an underwater barrier that the Army Corps of Engineers says will stop the advance of salt water. Many communities along the river draw freshwater from the Mississippi with freshwater intakes and water treatment facilities that are incompatible with saltwater caused by the current intrusion.

Read more: Uncategorized


U.S. CO2 emissions from power production hit 20-year low

Change in carbon dioxide emissions, by year. Click to embiggen. (Image by EIA.)

The story from the Associated Press:

While conservation efforts, the lagging economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline, the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said.

A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced. As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.

Both government and industry experts said the biggest surprise is how quickly the electric industry turned away from coal. In 2005, coal was used to produce about half of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The Energy Information [Administration] said that fell to 34 percent in March, the lowest level since it began keeping records nearly 40 years ago.

Important to note: This is only emissions from electricity production, not counting things like transportation. (Here's a somewhat-old graph of contributors to overall emissions.)

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate change is messing with tropical fish, people in Australia

Coral. (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

The tagline is simple, if oddly capitalized:

Climate Change is changing Australia's ocean environment.

It's the seven-word summary of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) new assessment of how shifts in the climate are affecting the waters around the island nation. The key: that "is," above. This is happening.

Climate change is already happening: Widespread physical changes include rapid warming of the southeast and increasing flow of the East Australia Current. Increasing biological impacts include reduced calcification in Southern Ocean plankton and Great Barrier Reef corals from both warming and acidification.

Since a prior report released in 2009:

There is now striking evidence of extensive southward movements of tropical fish and plankton species in southeast Australia, declines in abundance of temperate species, and the first signs of the effect of ocean acidification on marine species with shells.

Read more: Climate & Energy


New York’s bike-sharing program gets bumped to 2013

Bad news, New Yorkers: You won't be able to spend the winter biking around Manhattan. At least, unless you have your own ride.

A guy rides his bike kind of near my house. (Photo by Ed Yourdon.)

When we last checked in on efforts to bring 10,000 rentable bikes to the city, the plan had been delayed a month due to software glitches. That was two months ago. This morning, Mayor Bloomberg made it official: no bikes until spring.

[The mayor] said on his radio show today: “Unfortunately there are software issues. The software doesn’t work. Duh. Until it works, we’re not going to put it out.

“We did think there would be a possibility we would have bikes on the streets this summer. We think … this spring. Hopefully the software will work by then.”

Duh, guys. Duh. You can't ride bikes without properly working software. Duh. Everyone knows that.

Read more: Cities, Living