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Court orders feds to review oil dispersant risks

Humpback whales are a protected species that migrates along the California coastline.
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Humpback whales don't like oil dispersants.

A legal victory for environmentalists this week means that sea turtles, whales, and other endangered species may be sheltered from the use of oil dispersants off the California coastline.

Dispersants, which are used to dissolve oil spills, can cause crippling injuries to cleanup workers and wildlife, but regulations governing their use are extremely lax. The EPA successfully fended off a lawsuit recently that tried to force it to regulate where dispersants can be used and in what quantities.

But on Thursday, conservation groups clinched a settlement that will force the federal government to measure and find ways to minimize impacts from dispersants when they are used to battle oil spills under the California Dispersants Plan.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Colorado to get its own climate czar

Colorado's capitol building in Denver.
Wally Gobetz
The state capitol building in Denver.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed legislation [PDF] this week that directs him to hire a staff member for his energy office whose job will be to track climate-change issues, help the state brace for global warming's impacts, and offer advice on lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

As the climate changes, the state faces growing hazards from wildfires, bark beetle infestations, declining snowpacks, and drought.

But not all of the debate over the bill in the legislature focused on such germane issues. From the Associated Press:

In pitching his bill to his colleagues, [Rep. Paul] Rosenthal [D] cited a story from the Bible.

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Keystone backers hire lobbyists with ties to John Kerry

John Kerry
State Department
Will John Kerry be swayed by former colleagues who are now pushing the Keystone pipeline?

The fight over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is getting personal -- or should that be personnel?

Pipeline company TransCanada and the Canadian province of Alberta have been hiring lobbyists and consultants who previously worked with Secretary of State John Kerry, hoping they'll help convince him that Keystone XL deserves a thumbs-up.

After the State Department finishes environmental and other reviews of the pipeline plan, Kerry will make a recommendation to President Obama about whether it should be approved. Obama will then make the final call.

From The Boston Globe:

In mid-March, about six weeks after Kerry was confirmed as secretary of state, the province of Alberta hired new consultants — some with ties to Kerry — to help them ensure the project wins approval.

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Japan and other nations say no to U.S. wheat, worried about GMOs

Japan wants to make sure that its noodles remain free of GMO wheat.
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Japan wants to make sure its noodles remain untainted by GMOs.

Japan cancelled a bid on 27,500 tons of Pacific Northwest wheat on Thursday -- the first bite taken out of America's wheat export market after a rogue genetically engineered strain was discovered growing like a weed on an Oregon farm.

Other international buyers also reacted negatively to the news, with South Korea suspending its tenders to import U.S. wheat and European Union countries being urged to step up genetic testing of American imports. Taiwan said it may seek assurances that all imported wheat from the U.S. is GMO-free, the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch reports.

From Agence France-Presse:

"As long as the situation remains unchanged, we have no choice but to avoid bidding for the product," [a Japanese government] official said ...

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Frankensalmon could breed with trout, produce frankentrout

Brown trout.
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Brown trout sans frankengenes.

Interspecies hanky-panky is a thing, in case you didn't know. Sometimes love, or perhaps a blindly primeval desire to reproduce, can lead one species of animal to breed with another. Think of a liger, for example -- a hybrid of a lion and a tiger. Or a mule, which has a donkey for a father and a horse for a mother. And, every once in a while, an Atlantic salmon will mate with a brown trout.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration appears poised to approve the sale of genetically engineered AquAdvantage® salmon this year, despite significant aversion to the very idea of the frankenfish. If the transgenic Atlantic salmon escapes into the wild, environmentalists worry that the fast-growing fish could breed with wild Atlantic salmon and throw natural populations into unpredictable turmoil. Which got scientists to wondering: What if transgenic Atlantic salmon got loose and bred with wild brown trout? Could AquAdvantage fish sow their freaky oats over a species barrier?

The answer, according to scientists who ran experiments with the fish, is yes. Yes they can. Not only that, but the hybrid offspring can inherit the turbo growth genes and grow at a remarkable pace, outcompeting both natural salmon and transgenic salmon for food.

From a paper published Wednesday by Canadian researchers in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (the "B" stands for biology, by the way):

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of environmental impacts of hybridization between a GM animal and a closely related species.

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Smithfield, world’s largest pork producer, could be sold to a Chinese company

gold-piggy-bank-chinese-money
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In Smithfield, Va., on Wednesday, locals were shocked to discover that their town’s namesake, Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936 as a single meatpacking plant and now the largest pork producer in the world, is poised to be sold to Chinese meat company Shuanghui International. If approved by federal regulators, the $4.7 billion deal would be the biggest takeover in history of an American company by a Chinese one.

The announcement of the deal immediately provoked skepticism far beyond the town of Smithfield, with a wide range of camps voicing concern about everything from food safety to foreign financial control to increasing corporate consolidation of the food industry. Shuanghui is the biggest meat company in China, and Smithfield already owns more hogs than the next eight largest hog producers combined, according to Food & Water Watch. It’s not necessarily a complete foreign takeover if you consider that Shuanghui is partially owned by Goldman Sachs, but if you’re worried about corporate control of the food system, that’s not exactly cause for comfort.

Why is China interested in owning an American pork behemoth? The New York Times reports:

Smithfield and Shuanghui said that the deal was meant to … increase exports of American products to China, already the nation’s third-largest export market for pork. Meat consumption in China has exploded over the past decade because of a growing middle class and a shift in diet from rice and vegetables to more protein.

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Most Americans don’t give a frack about fracking

A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania
A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania.

You might think fracking is a highly divisive, heatedly contested issue, but most Americans don't give a damn about it either way.

The latest Climate Change in the American Mind survey found that 39 percent of respondents had never heard of fracking, while another 13 percent didn't know whether they had heard of it.

So it's not too much of a surprise, then, to learn that 58 percent of survey respondents held no opinion on whether fracking is a good thing or a bad thing.

Those who did have an opinion were roughly split between supporters and opponents, the survey found. Older conservative men tended to think it's ace. Younger liberal women did not.

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Local elections in Washington state are big deal for coal industry and global climate

Bellingham, Wash., coastline
Matt Ray
Bellingham in Whatcom County, Wash., could soon be seeing a whole lot of coal.

The adage "think global, act local" rings remarkably true in Whatcom County, Wash., a rural area in the northwestern corner of the country.

The seven county council members there will play a big role in deciding how much coal gets dug up in Great Plains states, shipped out of America, and burned by developing countries.

Over the next two years, the council will decide whether to issue two permits needed for the planned $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export massive amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. In doing so, these council members will help determine the very future of the world's climate.

So it's a big deal that Whatcom County voters will be electing four council members this November.

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Illegal Monsanto GMO wheat found in Oregon

wheat
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A farmer in Oregon found a patch of wheat growing like a weed where it wasn't expected, so the farmer sprayed it with the herbicide Roundup. Surprisingly, some of the wheat survived.

The startled farmer sent samples of the renegade wheat to a laboratory, which confirmed something that should have been impossible: The wheat was a genetically engineered variety that had never been approved to be grown in the U.S., nor anywhere else in the world.

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Bike culture: Not as white as you think

family-biking
Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Even as it grows in popularity, cycling just can’t shake its reputation as a pastime for spandex- or skinny jean-clad white people. But a new report from the Sierra Club and the League of American Bicyclists challenges that common stereotype, spotlighting a decade of rapid growth in biking among communities of color.

From 2001 to 2009, the percentage of trips taken by bike increased by 50 percent among Latinos, and by 100 percent among African Americans -- compared to only a 22-percent increase among whites. This, the report notes, is in spite of the fact that communities of color often lack the kind of infrastructure that makes biking safer, easier, and more appealing. Twenty-six percent of non-whites said they want to ride more but worry about safety (compared to only 19 percent of whites); 47 percent of non-whites said they’d ride more if they had better access to secure places to park and store their bikes (versus 32 percent of white folks).

These safety concerns aren’t unfounded: The report cites data from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition indicating that neighborhoods with the largest share of people of color have lower distributions of bike facilities, and that the lowest-income neighborhoods have the most bike and pedestrian crashes. Those neighborhoods have the most to gain from an increase in cycling: The nation’s poorest families spend the biggest chunk of their income on transportation -- 30 percent. The average yearly cost of owning and operating a bike is only $308, compared to $8,220 for an average car.

Simple infrastructure upgrades can have major impacts on riding habits, says the report:

Read more: Cities, Living