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Big Oil sued for destroying wetlands around Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana wetlands
Alicia Lee
Natural flood control in Louisiana.

Coastal Louisiana would like its wetlands back. It needs them to protect itself from rising seas and raging storms.

The agency charged with protecting New Orleans-area residents from floods is suing Big Oil, claiming it should repair damages that it caused to wetlands that once buffered the region from tidal surges.

The oil companies have recklessly torn out the marshes and plants that ringed the Gulf of Mexico as they laid pipelines and other infrastructure to serve their decades-long oil- and gas-drilling bonanza. From The New York Times:

The lawsuit, to be filed in civil district court in New Orleans by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.

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Forget solar panels, here come building-integrated photovoltaics

solar shingles
Ben West
This roof doesn't have solar panels -- it has solar shingles.

Solar panels are becoming passé. Why put solar panels on top of building construction materials when you could just tap the power of the sun directly through the construction materials themselves?

Bloomberg reports on the rapid growth in building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV. These are solar powerharvesting cells that are incorporated into the walls, roofs, and windows of buildings -- integrated seamlessly instead of being bolted onto a finished building as an apparent afterthought:

From stadiums in Brazil to a bank headquarters in Britain, architects led by Norman Foster are integrating solar cells into the skin of buildings, helping the market for the technology triple within two years. ...

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Another drilling blowout in the Gulf, another explosion

Natural gas surrounding a drilling rig Tuesday before it exploded.
On Wings of Care
Natural gas billowing around a drilling rig Tuesday before it exploded.

An offshore natural-gas platform burned through the night off the coast of Louisiana following a blowout and explosion on Tuesday.

A drilling company was completing a sidetrack well 115 miles south of New Orleans on Tuesday morning, which likely means it was boring a new hole into an existing well, when gas began spewing uncontrollably from the seafloor. The rig's crew of 44 workers was evacuated as natural gas formed a sheen in the waters around it and billowed dangerously into the air.

Hours later, while everybody was at a safe distance, the gas ignited, triggering a conflagration that still had not been extinguished as of this writing.

From the AP:

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire, Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told The Associated Press.

She said it wasn't known what caused the gas to ignite. It also wasn't clear early Wednesday how and when crews would attempt to extinguish the blaze. BSEE said earlier Tuesday that a firefighting vessel with water and foam capabilities had been dispatched to the scene.

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Mink will be trapped to right the wrongs of Exxon Valdez

Pigeon guillemots
Jerry Kirkhart
Pigeon guillemots, a kind of puffin.

Nearly a quarter of a century after the Exxon Valdez crashed and spewed 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound, one species of seabird still has not recovered from the disaster. To help it recover, the federal government is proposing to get rid of lots of American minks. Allow us to explain.

Thousands of pigeon guillemots were killed by the Valdez disaster — some coated with oil, others poisoned by it for a decade afterward. The guillemots are the only marine bird still listed as “not recovering” from the accident; the local population is less than half what it was before the spill.

The birds used to flourish on the Naked Island group in the middle of the sound, but fewer than 100 remain there now. To boost that number back up to the pre-spill level of 1,000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to trap most of the islands’ American minks — aquatic ferret-like creatures that feast on the birds’ chicks and eggs. If trapping doesn’t work, shooting the minks is the backup plan.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Alaska’s latest climate worries: Massive wildfires and gushing glaciers

The Mendenhall Glacier's sudden surges of icy water threaten people and property in nearby Juneau.
Random Michelle
The Mendenhall Glacier's sudden surges of icy water threaten people and property in nearby Juneau.

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. Alaska, by the looks of it, is on track for a double apocalypse.

The home of Sarah “global warming my gluteus maximus” Palin faces a daunting confluence of climate-related challenges, from rising seas to gushing glaciers to massive wildfires. Even Mayor Stubbs (who we’d expect to be cool about this kind of thing) won’t answer questions about the state’s fate.

Raging blazes in Arizona and Colorado have dominated wildfire news in recent years, but the biggest fires of the past decade burned in Alaska, which is warming twice as fast as the lower 48 states. There, flames have swallowed more than a half-million acres at a time (that’s 781 square miles) of boreal forest, the landscape of spruce and fir trees dominant below the Arctic Circle. And a new study says that this fiery phase is here to stay. From the L.A. Times:

A warming climate could promote so much wildfire in the boreal zone that the forests may convert to deciduous woodlands of aspen and birch, researchers said.

“In the last few decades we have seen this extreme combination of high severity and high frequency” wildfire in the study area of interior Alaska’s Yukon Flats, said University of Illinois plant biology Prof. Feng Sheng Hu. …

Accelerated wildfire could also unlock vast amounts of forest carbon, contributing to greenhouse gases. “The more important implication there is [that] you’re probably going to release a substantial fraction of the carbon that has been stored in the soil,” Hu said.

In contrast, Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier, outside Juneau, threatens to wreak chilly destruction, reports The New York Times:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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As citrus disease spreads, government cryopreserves tree roots

USDA cryopreservation
USDA
Cryopreservation in action.

Cryonics may never bring slugger Ted Williams back to life, but federal scientists hope that freezing the tips of tree roots could help save America's $3.4 billion citrus-growing industry.

Unlike the famous baseball player, who was frozen after he died in 2002 (with his head and body stored in separate containers), the plant tissue that U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists are preserving in subzero temperatures is very much alive.

Citrus trees are increasingly under threat from citrus greening, aka Huanglongbing or "Yellow Dragon Disease," a bacterial disease spread by insects. It has killed millions of citrus trees in the U.S. since it was first detected in Florida in 2005.

From a USDA press release:

[S]cientists are creating a backup storage site or "genebank" for citrus germplasm in the form of small buds, called shoot tips, which have been cryopreserved—that is, plunged into liquid nitrogen for long-term cold storage. ...

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Historic lawsuit alleges ag-gag is unconstitutional

Pigs in a truck.
Shutterstock
Should their suffering be broadcast?

A lawsuit filed in Utah on Monday is the first big legal challenge to an ag-gag law.

Animal welfare groups, journalists, and a woman who was briefly charged with violating Utah's year-old Agricultural Operation Interference law sued the state in U.S. District Court, alleging that the ag-gag law violates the U.S. Constitution.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to record images or sound while inside an agricultural operation without the owner's consent. It also makes it a crime to apply for work at a slaughterhouse or farm with the intention of making such recordings, or to obtain access to such an operation "under false pretenses." The legislation was approved by state lawmakers amid a surge in such laws nationwide.

From the Deseret News:

"In essence the law criminalizes undercover investigations and videography at slaughterhouses, factory farms, and other agricultural operations, thus 'gagging' speech that is critical of industrial animal agriculture," according to the 41-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, CounterPunch magazine and five individuals claim the law violates their rights to free speech and equal protection. They want a federal judge to strike down the law.

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ExxonMobil subsidiary, with arm twisted behind back, agrees to treat fracking wastewater

Susquehanna River
eutrophication&hypoxia
XTO's fracking waste made its way into a tributary of the Susquehanna River.

XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary, will reluctantly shell out $20 million to properly treat and dispose of fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It will also pay a $100,000 EPA fine as part of a settlement agreement [PDF] over water-pollution charges [PDF].

From PennLive:

The company is accused of violating the Clean Water Act by releasing over approximately 65 days between 6,300 and 57,373 gallons of fluids that contained barium, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium, bromide, chloride and total dissolved solids.

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Solar and wind surge, but dirty energy still dominates, as this nifty chart shows

Solar energy production in the U.S. jumped by 49 percent last year, and wind energy by more than 16 percent.

But these clean sources of energy are still just thin lines on this cool flowchart that shows how America's energy was produced in 2012, reminding us how much work lies ahead in shifting to a renewable and clean economy:

Click to embiggen
LLNL
Click to embiggen.

From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which produced the chart:

[W]ind power [increased from] from 1.17 quads produced in 2011 up to 1.36 quads in 2012. New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines that have been developed in response to government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.

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Think you can’t afford an EV? Think again

You could be as happy as this guy.
Tom Raftery
You could be as happy as this guy.

It’s easy to see the electric car as a symbol of the kind of offbeat elitism often associated with eco-conscious living -- the rich man’s veggie oil-powered VW bus, if you will. But that could change as the industry starts going Model T on EVs, making them more affordable for the masses. Automakers are now offering an array of discount leases and perks that, when combined with government tax incentives, make EV ownership accessible for a much broader segment of the population.

Owning an electric vehicle automatically slashes drivers’ fuel costs by as much as 80 percent. But it’s the up-front cash that presents a barrier to most prospective buyers, not to mention the lack of widespread charging infrastructure. Of course, growing ranks of EV drivers would spur the construction of more charging stations and attract still more electric converts. But with so few choices on the market, none of them wildly affordable, it’s hard to get that cycle started.

Until now. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Bronson Beisel, 46, says he was looking last fall for an alternative to driving his gas-guzzling Ford Expedition sport utility around suburban Atlanta, when he saw a discounted lease offer for an all-electric Nissan Leaf. With $1,000 down, Mr. Beisel says he got a two-year lease for total out-of-pocket payments of $7,009, a deal that reflects a $7,500 federal tax credit.

As a resident of Georgia, Mr. Beisel is also eligible for a $5,000 subsidy from the state government. Now, he says, his out-of-pocket costs for 24 months in the Leaf are just over $2,000. Factor in the $200 a month he reckons he isn't paying for gasoline to fill up his hulking SUV, and Mr. Beisel says "suddenly the car puts $2,000 in my pocket."