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Mighty mangroves shield Indian village from cyclone’s wrath

Indian mangrove
Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava / Down to Earth
A Praharajpur fisherman sails past mangroves in the weeks before the cyclone hit.

Sometimes the best way of being protected from nature is by protecting nature itself -- and a small coastal village in India is proof of it.

As Cyclone Phailin rose from the Bay of Bengal over the weekend, bringing gales and floods to India that killed 27, residents of Praharajpur did the sensible thing and got the hell out of dodge. As the villagers returned home, they discovered that a restored mangrove plantation helped shelter their vulnerable village from the storm's wrath.

About 40 of the village's 200 homes were damaged, but residents told Down to Earth that it would have been worse without the mangrove. "In the nearby Sundrikhal and Pentha village, most of the houses have been washed away," villager Ravindra Behera told the Indian environmental magazine. "We are better off because the forest has taken the initial brunt of the storm." From the article:

“Our elders had made an embankment along the coast to prevent soil erosion in 1975. They randomly planted mangrove trees on the embankment. Gradually, this plantation converted into a mangrove forest. However, it was during the 1982 cyclone that we realized that mangrove can also prevent the storm from reaching us,” said Balram Biswal, another resident.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Dramatic charts reveal climate change’s effects on oceans

Dead fish
What's going on out there?

Climate change is scrambling the oceans. It's raising water temperatures, lowering pH levels, reducing oxygen availability, and driving down the size of wildlife populations the oceans can sustain.

A study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology painstakingly chronicles many of the consequences of marine changes that the researchers describe as "unprecedented" during the last 20 million years:

Our results suggest that the entire world's ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. Only a very small fraction of the oceans, mostly in polar regions, will face the opposing effects of increases in oxygen or productivity, and almost nowhere will there be cooling or pH increase. ...

The social ramifications are also likely to be massive and challenging as some 470 to 870 million people – who can least afford dramatic changes to their livelihoods – live in areas where ocean goods and services could be compromised by substantial changes in ocean biogeochemistry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


North Dakota officials might finally spill details about oil spill

A major oil pipeline spill in North Dakota remained undetected by Tesoro for days
A major oil pipeline spill in North Dakota remained undetected by Tesoro for days.

After discovering that the public, legislature, and governor were all kept in the dark for more than a week about a major oil spill on a North Dakota wheat farm, lawmakers wanted answers on Monday. But the state department that kept news of the 20,600-barrel spill to itself had more spin than answers. (The feds also withheld the information because they were being furloughed.)

David Glatt, head of the environmental section of the North Dakota Health Department, defended his department's secrecy during the Energy Development and Transmission Committee hearing. He said the 11-day delay in notifying the public about the spill was a proper response, adding that the spill happened in the "best place it could've occurred."

But by Tuesday, following a closed-door meeting between the governor's staff and different state departments, some officials were sounding more contrite. From the Bismarck Tribune:

North Dakota’s Oil and Gas Division director Lynn Helms said the department’s stance is that the Tesoro Corp. pipeline was a rural pipeline under federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration jurisdiction. ...

The state doesn’t have any laws requiring public notification of spills.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Romanian villagers block Chevron frackers

Chevron in Romania
The yellow means "drill" to Chevron. Romanians disagree. 

On Monday, a bunch of Romanians told Chevron to go to hell and take their fracking operations with them. (It probably sounded more like "du-te dracului.") Chevron workers were sent to drill the company's first test well in the southeastern European country, but they were turned back by protests.

Romania's government sold Chevron the rights to frack the shale beneath more than a million acres of Romania. Residents worried about the environmental consequences are accusing Prime Minister Victor Ponta of breaking an election promise to block drilling for shale gas.

More from Agence France-Presse on the protests near the village of Pungesti:

The convoy was forced to turn around as protesters, some of whom had come in horse-drawn carts, called on Chevron to "go home". ...


Readers to papers: Stop publishing letters that deny climate reality

Newspapers should be truthful. That goes for every single page.

The L.A. Times recently won national attention and praise for spelling out its policy of refusing to publish the claims of climate deniers.

"Letters that have an untrue basis (for example, ones that say there’s no sign humans have caused climate change) do not get printed," the letters page editor wrote.

Now, readers of other major newspapers are calling on their favored media outlets to adopt the same policy.

Forecast the Facts, a project that aims to improve the quality of coverage of climate change in the press, launched a petition calling on the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal to refuse to print letters that deny basic science.

"The Los Angeles Times has adopted a policy of refusing to publish letters that deny climate change, and you should follow suit," the petition states. "End climate change denial in your newspaper."

On Monday, the group told The Hill that it had already gathered 22,000 signatures in less than a day.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Illinois kills online coal propaganda targeting kids

Illinois Coal Mascot
via Midwest Energy News
A smiling lump of coal shaped like Illinois tells kids that coal is ace.

A dark era of pro-coal brainwashing funded by Illinois taxpayers may finally be coming to an end.

We told you last month that the state’s Commerce Department, which oversees a coal-education program mandated by state law, had urged an overhaul of the materials that it provides to teachers. A review by the department concluded that the materials were biased in favor of the dirty fossil fuel.

Now comes news from coal journalist Jeff Biggers, writing on Monday for Yes Magazine, that the department has stripped controversial coal-related educational material from its website:

The website sections were supposed to educate children about energy, but had been widely denounced because they focused on misleading pro-coal messages. ...

As pressure increased on the department to take action, staff members initially claimed that they were too broke to fix the problem. Then the pages disappeared from the site on Monday. Earlier screen shots show sections called "Education" and "Kid's Site," neither of which was visible when YES! checked the DCEO site today. ...


Supreme Court will hear challenge to EPA’s power-plant rules

coal plant

America's power plants are among the world's leading sources of greenhouse gas pollution. And their owners secured a legal victory on Tuesday that could help them stay that way.

We've written at length about the Obama administration's efforts to clamp down on power plant emissions. The EPA's proposed rules would make it difficult to operate dirty coal-fired plants and would help slow down global warming. But the decades-overdue rules don't delight everybody: They have pissed off some powerful and deep-pocketed polluters.

Conservative states, big business and fossil fuel groups have lined up to challenge the rules in court, arguing that they are far-reaching and intrusive. They say the court's 2007 Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency ruling only directed the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act -- and that it fell short of granting the EPA the authority to regulate "stationary" power plant emissions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear some of those challenges.

From USA Today:

The court accepted six separate petitions that sought to roll back EPA's clout over carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. That could signal the court's dissatisfaction with a 2012 ruling by the nation's second most powerful court -- the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit -- affirming the agency's authority.


BP negligent in Texas refinery leak but absolved of wrongdoing

Texas City
The Texas City refinery.

Yes, of course BP was negligent when it allowed at least 500,000 pounds of toxic gases to stream out of a refinery in Texas City, Texas, for 40 days in 2010.

So ruled a Texas jury. But that's where the good news out of a lawsuit that could affect 48,000 refinery neighbors ends. Despite the company's negligence, a jury concluded that the fumes it released, which contained such cancer-causing chemicals as benzene and nitrogen oxides, caused no harm to its neighbors.

The Houston Chronicle reported that a 12-person jury deliberated for nearly three days before concluding that BP had been negligent but that it was to be absolved of wrongdoing:

"Today's verdict affirms BP's view that no one suffered any injury as a result of the flaring of the BP Ultracracker flare during April and May 2010," BP spokesman Scott Dean said. "Armed with the knowledge gleaned from this case and this important jury verdict, the company will immediately begin to prepare for any additional proceedings involving other plaintiffs."


Venice has a grand plan to protect itself from rising seas

acqua alta
Paolo Pescio
Flooding in Venice last week.

A multibillion-dollar effort to protect Venice from flooding has passed its first public test.

The Moses project involves flood barriers that will stretch a mile across the mouth of Venice's lagoon, rising from the water when high tides threaten to deliver acqua alta -- periodic floods that inundate the Italian city. The effort is designed to prevent flooding that has become more common and severe during the last two centuries as sea levels rise and as the soggy city sinks.

Construction has been underway for a decade and is expected to continue until 2016, when 78 barriers will be in place. Last week, Venice tested out the first four floodgates, each weighing more than 300 tons. The barriers rose from the lagoon as intended, drawing applause from VIP spectators. From The Telegraph:

The gates are being built at the three inlets which link the lagoon to the Adriatic sea: Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia.

"The benefit of the city is that no more floods will arrive and that all the ground floors of the city, which are usually washed out and destroyed by these tides, will be safe," [said] Hermes Redi, Chief Executive of Consorzio Venezia Nuova which are in charge of the project.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Lagoons filled with toxic water coming to Ohio’s fracklands

Frackwater lagoon
National Energy Technology Laboratory via NRDC
A fracking wastewater impoundment lot.

Where frackers go, lagoons filled with toxic wastewater follow.

Fracking wastewater impoundment lots as big as football fields already dot heavily fracked landscapes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The lagoons are built to help the industry manage and reuse the vast volumes of wastewater that it produces.

Ohio lawmakers looked admiringly to their neighboring Marcellus Shale states and decided to draw up their own rules for wastewater lagoons. From The Columbus Dispatch:

“We are putting in a process to outline their standards of construction and their length of use,” said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.