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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


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:


Herbicides linked to farmer depression

Sad farmer
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.


Feds want food importers to ramp up safety measures

A dangerous apple

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.)


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

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. ...


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.


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. ...


EV market threatened by spat over charger standards

"EV quick charging post" sign
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:


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.


Halliburton admits it destroyed Deepwater Horizon evidence

Deepwater Horizon
U.S. Coast Guard

As emergency workers scrambled to control oil that was spreading from the Deepwater Horizon site in 2010, Halliburton had other damage-control priorities on its mind: The company was busily destroying the results of computer simulations that suggested it shared some blame for the disaster.

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that the oil-industry giant had agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 blowout, explosion, and oil spill. It agreed to pay a $200,000 fine -- the maximum allowed under law. It also agreed to donate $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Congress in 1984 to hand out conservation grants.

The simulations that Halliburton workers destroyed contradicted the company's own claims that blame for the mechanical failures that led to the accident should be directed at BP -- not at itself. From The Washington Post:


Want to win over young voters? Get serious about climate action volunteer at Radiohead showWe millennials may not have our shit together when it comes to our own individual futures (and whose fault is that, exactly?), but we’re pretty sharp when it comes to the future of humankind. Two-thirds of us accept the reality of human-caused climate change, according to a poll [PDF] conducted by a bipartisan pair of political strategy groups for the League of Conservation Voters.

Even some of those who reject the “human-caused” part apparently think we might as well do something about it anyway: A whopping 80 percent of voters ages 18-34 support Obama’s recently announced plan for climate action -- including 56 percent of the young voters who say they aren’t fans of the president in general.

Our preference for reality comes at a political cost to those still living in a parallel universe. The poll found that 73 percent of the youngs say they’re less likely to vote for a legislator who opposes the president’s plan. Fifty-two percent of self-identified young Republicans said the same thing. (They’re a dwindling group, anyway -- only 23 percent of Americans under 35 call themselves Republican).

Climate deniers, to our eyes, basically resemble the village idiots. Seventy-three percent of poll respondents chose the words “ignorant,” “out of touch,” or simply “crazy” to describe deniers. (“Independent,” “commonsense,” and “thoughtful” were the other options.) Two-thirds of independent young voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a denier.