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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Vermont can’t shut down nuke plant, court says

Vermont Yankee
The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, on the Connecticut River.

An unwanted nuclear power plant is going to be sticking around in Vermont like a drunk uncle after the party has ended.

State lawmakers have been trying to force the closure of the 41-year-old Vermont Yankee plant by denying it permits following radioactive leaks and other safety concerns. But a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that doing so was beyond the legislature's power, upholding a lower court's ruling that states are “pre-empted” by federal law from regulating nuclear safety.

“The nuclear power industry has just been delivered a tremendous victory against the attempt by any state to shut down federally regulated nuclear power plants,” Kathleen Sullivan, a lawyer for power plant owner Entergy, told The New York Times. From the Times article:


Fracking company wants to build new pipeline — for water

Ohio River
Rob Ireton
Should frackers be allowed to suck millions of gallons a day from the Ohio River?

Antero Resources, a major Marcellus Shale driller, needs so much water for its fracking operations that it hauls truckloads from the Ohio River to its wells in West Virginia and Ohio. To cut down on transportation costs, the company now wants to build an 80-mile water pipeline.

The Wall Street Journal describes the project as a "costly wager that the hydraulic-fracturing industry's thirst for reliable sources of water will grow" -- and reports that enviros are worried about the swelling stresses that the industry is placing on the Ohio River, which is the Mississippi River's largest tributary:

Tapping the Ohio would give the pipeline access to the region's most dependable source of water. Many of the rivers and streams that Antero now uses run low in the summer, prompting state officials to stop gas-industry withdrawals. A drought in Ohio last year curtailed water to fracking operations.

In a permit filed with the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates water withdrawals from the Ohio River, Antero said it plans to build an intake pipe capable of sucking up 3,360 gallons of river water a minute—or about 4.8 million gallons a day. ...


A win-Winco situation: Grocery chain treats employees well and has low prices

Alisha Vargas

There are eight WinCo grocery stores within 100 miles of where I live. So how had I not heard about the Boise, Idaho-based chain until now? Next time I find myself in need of groceries in Kent, Wash., I’ll be sure to swing by the chain that’s making headlines as “Walmart’s worst nightmare.”

Why should Walmart be wary of this company that’s virtually unknown to shoppers outside the seven states in which it operates (and apparently to some inside those states as well)? Because WinCo, employee-owned since 1985, has figured out how to keep prices low -- like lower-than-Walmart low -- while still managing to not screw over its employees. Anyone who works at least 24 hours a week gets full health benefits, and WinCo puts an amount equivalent to 20 percent of employees’ salaries into a pension plan. The store claims that more than 400 “front-line” workers -- cashiers, clerks, and others working on the floor instead of behind closed office doors -- have pensions worth at least $1 million. Maybe that’s why, according to the company, the average hourly worker stays for more than eight years.

How does WinCo do it? What is the magic formula that Walmart and McDonald’s can’t seem to grasp? Well, for one thing, WinCo is privately held, and thus free from the obligation to put shareholder profits before all else. “It keeps a low profile and rarely engages in self-promotion,” according to the Idaho Statesman. How quaint and modest!


Cutting soot and methane emissions would not help the climate as much as hoped

Tilemahos Efthimiadis
We need to keep cutting soot pollution from wood fires, but that's not nearly enough.

We're not making great progress cutting carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale, so the U.S. has been working with other nations on the less controversial strategy of reducing methane and soot. These pollutants have more severe immediate impacts on the climate than does CO2, and they break down much more quickly in the atmosphere.

But research published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that this strategy would be less effective than previously believed.

Scientists modeled the climatic effects of a dreamy scenario: Methane emissions are reduced to the greatest extent thought possible; the use of wood- and coal-burning stoves and heating systems is phased out worldwide by 2035; and strict controls are placed on vehicle exhaust. They found that this would reduce global average temperature just 0.04 to 0.35 degrees Celsius by the year 2050, much less than the 0.5-degree reduction suggested in previous research.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Kochs must move their massive piles of tar-sands waste, Detroit mayor says

What do you do when monstrous piles of dusty black carbon move into your city?

If you're Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, you issue an order demanding that they be removed. And after that's ignored, you issue another.

Detroit coke piles
Petroleum Coke Awareness Detroit
What could be lovelier than a sunset over petcoke piles?

The city's riverfront has been blighted by huge, uncovered piles of petroleum coke since a local refinery began processing Canadian tar-sands oil in November. Just take a look at this video of a black wall of dust being kicked up from the piles:

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


A royal(ty) scam: How oil and gas companies shortchange landowners

Steven Jenkins

Discovering you live over an oil or gas deposit, in theory, presents you with a nice retirement plan. Lease the drilling rights to an energy company and you could be looking at thousands of dollars a month in royalties for as long as the fuel lasts. In fact, one of the arguments for expanded domestic drilling holds that those royalties will boost rural economies by putting extra cash in the pockets of local landowners, and funnel extra revenue to the federal government, as around 30 percent of drilling in the U.S. takes place on federal land.

It sounds like a sweet deal, so of course there must be a catch. Those royalties, it turns out, rarely end up being as high as expected, thanks to oil companies’ manipulation of the opaque formulas dictating how much drilling income the landowner ultimately sees. That's according to an investigation by ProPublica:

In many cases, lawyers and auditors who specialize in production accounting tell ProPublica energy companies are using complex accounting and business arrangements to skim profits off the sale of resources and increase the expenses charged to landowners.


“Bee-friendly” plants could be bee killers

A honeybee on a flower
Be a friend to a bee and be wary of "bee-friendly" products.

Beware of buying "bee-friendly" plants -- they might end up killing your friendly backyard bees.

As gardeners have been waking up to the pollinator crisis, many have been planting bee-friendly veggies and flowers and keeping neonicotinoid insecticides away from their plots. But some plants being marketed to these bee-loving gardeners could actually be harmful to pollinators, according to a new report.

Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Research Institute bought 13 "bee-friendly" nursery plants from Home Depot, Lowe's, and Orchard Supply Hardware in three American regions and found that seven of them were contaminated with neonic insecticides, which have been implicated in worldwide bee declines. Some plants contained two types of neonics. A sunflower plant purchased in Minnesota tested positive for three of them.

Read more: Food, Living


More of America’s wind turbines are actually being built in America

Wind turbines -- made in America

The equipment that’s powering America’s wind energy boom is increasingly being made right at home.

In 2007, just 25 percent of turbine components used in new wind farms in the U.S. were produced domestically. By last year, that figure had risen to 72 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy. And exports of such equipment rose to $388 million last year, up from $16 million in 2007.

This happened even as the U.S. was installing a whole lot of turbines. More than 13.1 gigawatts of new wind power capacity was added to the U.S. grid in 2012, representing $25 billion of investment. That made wind the nation’s fastest-growing electricity source last year, faster even than natural gas–fueled power.


Undercover agents infiltrate anti-Keystone protests

Is this spy a cop or a private investigator? Either way, watch out.

What do you get when you mix America's national security apparatus with TransCanada's determination to build a tar-sands pipeline between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico?

A whole lot of arrests.

Earth Island Journal profiles the infiltration of peaceful Keystone protest groups by police and investigators -- and in so doing paints a troubling picture of a government security force working in league with TransCanada:

On the morning of March 22 activists had planned to block the gates at the company’s strategic oil reserves in Cushing, Oklahoma as part of the larger protest movement against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline. But when they showed up in the early morning hours and began unloading equipment from their vehicles they were confronted by police officers. Stefan Warner, an organizer with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, says some of the vehicles en route to the protest site were pulled over even before they had reached Cushing. He estimates that roughly 50 people would have participated— either risking arrest or providing support. The act of nonviolent civil disobedience, weeks in the planning, was called off.


BP whines some more about how rough life is

Not that big a deal, really.
Not that big a deal, really.

BP killed 11 workers when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up, and then it obstructed government investigators. That's not editorializing -- the company pled guilty to manslaughter and obstruction charges. Since you can't imprison a corporation, it was punished in other ways. One of those punishments was a temporary ban on getting new federal contracts.

Never one to miss an opportunity to publicly whine about how unfair the world is for an explosion-prone petrochemical giant, BP sued the U.S. government on Monday over the suspension, arguing in court that it is arbitrary, capricious, and “an abuse of discretion.” From Fuel Fix:

BP ... wants a judge to order the EPA to lift the suspension and allow BP to bid for and secure new government contracts.