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Leak-prone oil tankers to remain on American train tracks for now

DOT-111
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Flickr account
A pile of DOT-111 oil tankers in Lac-Mégantic following the July 6 derailment and explosion.

Soda can–shaped rail cars like those that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, earlier this month shouldn't be on America's train tracks. They are prone to rupture in accidents.

Yet these so-called DOT-111 railway cars will continue to haul most of the oil that's moved through the U.S. by rail at least into next year and likely beyond.

After an investigation into a deadly 2009 explosion of an ethanol-laden train in Illinois, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a redesign or replacement of DOT-111 cars, noting that their thin steel shells can easily puncture and that valves can break during rollovers.

The Obama administration has been working on rules to reduce the hazards of the dangerous railway cars, but those rules have been delayed by nearly a year, the AP reports. And it's unclear whether new regulations would apply to an estimated 40,000 older DOT-111's now in use or only to newer ones.

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Leaked EPA document raises questions about fracking pollution

Cabot Oil and Gas operation in Dimock
William Avery Hudson
The EPA isn't looking too hard at what Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is up to behind this fence, or anywhere else.

The EPA doesn't seem very interested in finding out whether fracking pollutes groundwater. The latest indication of this emerged over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times.

Residents of the small town of Dimock in northeastern Pennsylvania have long been convinced that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. was poisoning their drinking water by fracking the land around them. In July of last year, the EPA announced that although water from some local wells contained “naturally occurring” arsenic, barium, and manganese, the agency was ending its investigation there without fingering the any culprits.

Now we find out that staff at a regional EPA office were worried about the role of fracking in polluting the town’s water, but their concerns appear to have been ignored by their bosses.

An internal EPA PowerPoint presentation prepared by regional staffers for their superiors and obtained by the L.A. Times paints an alarming picture of potential links between water contamination and fracking. And it reinforces the perception that the EPA is giving a free pass to the fracking industry, perhaps because natural gas plays a key role in President Obama's quest for "energy independence" and an "all of the above" energy portfolio. From the L.A. Times article:

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Anti-Keystone activists keep the heat on

Dozens of activists young, old, and in between walked 100 miles, from Camp David in Maryland to the White House, to call attention to their campaign for climate action and Keystone rejection. The Walk for Our Grandchildren, which wrapped up over the weekend, was one of many climate actions being coordinated all around the U.S. this summer.

Jay Mallin captured the highlights on video:

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Herbicides linked to farmer depression

Sad farmer
Shutterstock
Herbicide use is linked to depression among farmers and farmworkers.

Killing weeds with toxic chemicals might be making farmers clinically sad.

A study of more than 700 French farmers and farmworkers found that those who used herbicides were more likely to be treated for depression than were those who avoided the stuff.

From Reuters:

[W]hen the researchers took into account factors linked with depression, such as age and cigarette smoking, they determined that those farmers exposed to weedkillers were nearly two and a half times as likely to have had depression.

Furthermore, farmers who had greater exposure -- either more hours or longer years using herbicides -- also had a greater chance of having depression than farmers who had used weedkillers less.

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Feds want food importers to ramp up safety measures

A dangerous apple
Shutterstock

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration wants to make sure that food companies can't get around U.S. food safety laws by producing food in other countries and then importing it for sale to Americans.

The FDA proposed rules on Friday that would require food importers to better audit both the production methods of their international partners and the food that they eventually sell here. From an FDA press release:

Under the proposed rules, importers would be accountable for verifying that their foreign suppliers are implementing modern, prevention-oriented food safety practices, and achieving the same level of food safety as domestic growers and processors. The FDA is also proposing rules to strengthen the quality, objectivity, and transparency of foreign food safety audits. ...

U.S. importers would, for the first time, have a clearly defined responsibility to verify that their suppliers produce food to meet U.S. food safety requirements.

About half of the fresh fruit bought in America is grown overseas, and 20 percent of the vegetables. Candy and other processed food also comes across international borders. (Meat too is imported, but that is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not by the FDA.)

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Dems plan to talk about climate action during August, Republican deniers plan to talk nonsense

Drought
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Democrats are betting that Americans are smart enough to understand climate change.

Democrats are planning to talk, talk, and talk some more about climate change while Congress is recessed for the month of August.

The planned chorus of warnings about the dangers of global warming is intended to generate support for President Obama's climate plan, including proposed regulations on coal-burning power plants. The Democrats also plan to mock their Republican counterparts for saying really stupid stuff about the climate. From Politico:

The full-court press shows that liberals have learned from past August congressional recesses, when Republicans, aided by the tea party, out organized Democrats and managed to demonize cap and trade and blame them for high gas prices. ...

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Obama points out economic downsides of Keystone XL

President Obama doesn't seem sold on the economic benefits of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry carbon-intensive tar-sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast for export.

President Barack Obama
The White House

In his most extensive public comments to date on Keystone, made during an interview with The New York Times, he stressed the neutral or negative economic aspects of the proposed project.

First, he pointed out that Keystone would create few permanent jobs:

Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator. There is no evidence that that’s true. And my hope would be that any reporter who is looking at the facts would take the time to confirm that the most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline -- which might take a year or two -- and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in a economy of 150 million working people. ... that is a blip relative to the need.

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Clean energy clash: Solar advocates and conservationists butt heads

Nevada desert
Tela Chhe
A good spot for solar? Depends on who you ask.

It’s out with the old and in with the photovoltaic -- or the CSP.

The Obama administration is pushing forward with plans for renewable energy projects on public land. Last week, it banned new mining claims on more than 300,000 acres in the West to make sure the areas are available for solar power installations.

But as more government land is earmarked for solar, wind, and geothermal projects, some conservationists are not happy. The Center for Public Integrity reports:

The administration generally wins plaudits from environmentalists for its effort to expand energy that doesn't belch smoke, cancer-causing chemicals or heat-trapping carbon dioxide. But there is growing concern among a number of environmentalists, particularly in the West, about the impact on fragile ecosystems, plants and animals. Some have filed lawsuits that could slow the effort to devote more public land to renewable energy. ...

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EV market threatened by spat over charger standards

"EV quick charging post" sign
Shutterstock
What flavor is this charging station?

It's like a rerun of the 1980s clash between VHS and Betamax.

The nascent electric-vehicle market is being served by two incompatible styles of rapid chargers. There's the Japanese-developed CHAdeMO standard, favored by Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. And then there's the Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) International J1772 Combo standard, which is backed by GM, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW.

While the two sides duke it out, cities have to gamble as they choose which kind of system to install at public charging stations. From ClimateWire:

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Company responsible for latest Gulf blowout complains about overregulation

The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out by nature.
Coast Guard via gCaptain
The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out.

You’ll never guess who spent the past several years arguing that the Obama administration should back off from its regulatory oversight of oil and gas drillers.

That would be James Noe, executive vice president of Hercules Offshore, Inc., which was operating a gas-drilling rig when it blew out and caught fire off the coast of Louisiana on Tuesday. It was just luck that the rig stopped burning on Thursday — sand and sediment plugged up the well hole, blocking the flow of leaking natural gas that had fueled the blaze.

From Fuel Fix:

[Noe] also is executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, an advocacy group that just three months ago issued a statement that suggested regulators were being too tough on the industry. The group is comprised of exploration and development companies, drilling contractors and service companies.