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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


U.S. and China continue to play nice on climate

China and America

China and the U.S. continued their climate-protecting love affair Wednesday, agreeing to cooperate on five initiatives to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiatives range "from bread-and-butter steps, such as boosting building efficiency, to what officials said would be a leading-edge effort to improve the technology for capturing carbon as it is released from power plants," reports The Washington Post.

Wednesday's announcement follows an agreement struck last month during meetings between Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to work together to reduce climate-changing HFC emissions.


Arkansas tar-sands spill was an accident 60 years in the making

Mayflower cleanup
National Wildlife Federation
Cleanup crews at a marsh covered with oil from the Mayflower spill in April.

The pipeline spill that flooded Mayflower, Ark., with up to 290,000 gallons of tar-sands oil in March was an accident that had been waiting to happen — for more than 60 years.

The pipeline that ruptured beneath the town was defective, with manufacturing flaws going undetected since it was laid in the 1940s, according to independent laboratory tests. ExxonMobil released a short summary of test results Wednesday.

The findings bring into question the integrity of the entire Pegasus pipeline system — and other oil pipelines that crisscross the nation. The Pegasus system, which runs from Illinois to Texas, was laid in 1947 and 1948. The pipeline manufacturer, Ohio-based Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., is no longer in business but was reportedly one of the leading suppliers of pipelines in the 1940s.


Look what the gas and oil industry did to the Gulf of Mexico — again

Sheens of oil atop the Gulf of Mexico have become a depressingly familiar sight -- the result of reckless drilling by the oil and gas industry. Here is a photograph shot Wednesday of the latest such debacle. An old natural gas well off Louisiana's coastline was being sealed shut Monday when it began leaking, 144 feet beneath the water's surface. This photo is one of a series taken during a flight over the site by On Wings of Care, an environmental nonprofit.

An oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico
On Wings of Care

From On Wings of Care's blog post:

A badly leaking natural gas well in the Ship Shoal Lease Block #225 of the Gulf of Mexico has spread an ugly, toxic mass of oily rainbow sheen over several square miles not far from the top of Ewing Bank -- an area once rich with marine life, especially large plankton feeders and many other species of marine life. We have flown that area in eight different five-to-six-hour wildlife survey flights just within the past three weeks, helping scientists find and study whale sharks. Today, despite mirror-calm seas, excellent water and air visibility, and clear blue water, we saw barely a trace of marine life in this area.


Tar balls from wildfires worsening global warming

Las Conchas Fire
Tar ball central.

We've discussed at length how global warming can make wildfires worse. But here's some more bad news: New research suggests that the fires themselves could be worsening global warming.

Forest fires release carbon from burned trees and leaves into the atmosphere. Some of that carbon is released as carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. But a lot of it is spewed into the air as soot and clumps of black carbon known as tar balls.

Soot doesn't necessarily warm the globe -- some if it can actually reflect heat from the sun back out to space. But tar balls warm the planet because they act like tiny heat traps, absorbing the sun's rays.

Most climate models have assumed that the climate-warming and climate-cooling effects of soot and tar balls produced from wildfires more or less cancel each other out. But a new study published in the journal Nature Communications finds flaws with that assumption.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Obama likes broccoli, and thanks to science, soon you will too

Brainwashed by broccoli.
Brainwashed by broccoli.

I’ve figured it out, guys. Here is the crux of Obama’s socialist agenda: He’s going to take away our guns and replace them with biotech broccoli.

Obviously the liberal media is in on this plot. Why else would The New York Times have published this story about a scientific research project attempting to create the perfect broccoli on the same day Obama suddenly announced -- despite evidence to the contrary -- that broccoli is his favorite food? Come on, Obama. We didn’t take that shit from our parents when we were 5 years old, and we’re not falling for it now just because you’re the “president.”

In what is obviously a heretofore unrevealed component of Obamacare -- a broccoli mandate, if you will -- scientists at Cornell University are tinkering with broccoli through genetic breeding, trying to make it tastier and better-looking in an insidious ploy to get us to eat more of it. (I smell hints of Bloomberg’s nanny state.) The liberal rag of record explains:

Broccoli hates too much heat, which is why 90 percent of it sold in the United States comes from temperate California, which is often bathed by fog. …

But [plant scientist Thomas Bjorkman] and a team of fellow researchers are out to change all that. They’ve created a new version of the plant that can thrive in hot, steamy summers like those in New York, South Carolina or Iowa, and that is easy and inexpensive enough to grow in large volumes. …

“If you’ve had really fresh broccoli, you know it’s an entirely different thing,” [Bjorkman] said. “And if the health-policy goal is to vastly increase the consumption of broccoli, then we need a ready supply, at an attractive price.”

You catch that? If the health-policy goal is to vastly increase the consumption of broccoli. Yep, folks, pretty soon they’ll be shoving it down our throats, and sending anyone who objects straight to the death panels.


Meat industry doesn’t want to tell you where your meat comes from

Packaged meat
Where did it come from?

Multinational meat medley, anybody?

Industry groups are suing the U.S. government because they don't want to have to tell you the origins of your meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented new rules in May that require packages of meat to be sold with labels that identify the country in which the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. The rules also outlaw the mixing of cuts of meat from different countries in the same package. That pleased food-safety advocates, environmentalists, and some farmers.

But it angered large meat importers and producers and grocery chains. On Tuesday, some of those groups announced they were suing to have the rules overturned. From the AP:

The American Meat Institute, a trade group for packers, processors, and suppliers, and seven other groups said segregating the meat is not part of the law Congress passed and the USDA is overstepping its authority. They also claim the rule will be costly to implement and that it offers no food safety or public health benefit.


EPA chief nominee clears one hurdle, but more lie ahead

Sen. David Vitter
Derek Bridges
Sen. David Vitter says he's now OK with the EPA having a leader.

Gina McCarthy is one step closer to being confirmed as administrator of the EPA, after a key Republican senator dropped his filibuster threat. But other GOP senators are still opposed, so the absurdly long wait to fill the spot -- a record-breaking 146 days and counting -- isn't over yet.

McCarthy, currently assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was nominated by President Obama for the country’s top environmental job in early March. But Republicans have blocked her confirmation, taking the opportunity to accuse the EPA of insufficient transparency, among other transgressions.

One of those obstructionists has been Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but on Tuesday he relented, announcing on his website that he would support allowing a Senate vote on the nomination, which is expected next week:


Government doesn’t know exact route of Keystone XL

State doesn't know the Keystone XL route

You might think that one would need to know the precise route of a huge planned pipeline in order to assess its environmental impacts. But the State Department apparently disagrees.

Thomas Bachand has been trying to find out the precise route of Keystone XL for his Keystone Mapping Project. When he submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the State Department, which is responsible for assessing Keystone, it responded with a big shrug of the shoulders. From the department's June 24 letter to Bachand:


As more urbanites shun cars, some cities shun parking-space requirements

expired parking meter
Parking-space requirements have reached their expiration date.

In Washington, D.C., almost four in 10 households don’t own a car, making it one of the most car-free cities in the country (nationally, an average 9 percent of households lack car access). So why are new buildings along the city's Metro transit lines required to include parking spaces -- four for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space?

D.C. city planners, watching the town’s car-ownership rate fall year after year, are finally asking that question themselves. At the end of this month, they plan to propose to the city’s Zoning Commission that parking requirements for buildings near transit stops be eliminated, following the lead of other cities like Denver, Philadelphia, L.A., and Brooklyn that have reduced or eliminated mandatory parking quotas.

In addition to making urban parking scarcer and more expensive, thus encouraging alternative forms of transportation, getting rid of parking requirements can save a lot of money, as Jared Green explained in Grist last year:

To grasp the magnitude of the problem, consider that there are 500 million surface parking lots in the U.S. alone. In some cities, parking lots take up one-third of all land area …

All of those parking lots are not only expensive but represent an opportunity lost. The average parking lot cost is $4,000 per space, with a space in an above-grade structure costing $20,000, and a space in an underground garage $30,000-$40,000. To give us some sense of the opportunity lost, [author Elan Ben-Joseph] says 1,713 square miles (the estimated size of all surface parking lots in the U.S. put together) could instead be used for spaces that generate 1 billion kilowatt-hours of solar power. With just 50 percent of that space covered with trees, this space could handle 2 billion cubic meters of stormwater runoff, generate 822,264 tons of oxygen, and remove 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Mandatory parking spaces are costly not just for city governments and developers but for citizens and businesses, too. By driving up the cost of construction, they increase rents, discourage foot traffic that neighborhood businesses depend on, and make traffic worse. And, as this photo essay from Sightline shows, they make cityscapes uglier.


Climate change could bring more hurricanes

NASA Satellite Captures Hurricane Danielle, Hurricane Earl and Developing Tropical Depression 8, 2010
NASA Goddard

Climate scientists have long predicted that cyclones and hurricanes would become more destructive as the climate changes, but that the number of such storms each year would decrease, or perhaps remain constant.

That notion was challenged Monday by Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Emanuel’s computer models foresee stronger cyclones and hurricanes, in line with previous research, but they also foresee a growing number of the storms each year as warming continues.

The Carbon Brief explained Emanuel’s research:

Read more: Climate & Energy