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Canadian power plant is buying up Detroit’s pile of tar-sands waste, burning it

Detroit's ugly petcoke pile
Detroit Coalition Against Tar Sands
Detroit's ugly petcoke pile

Residents of Detroit who've railed against the recent mushrooming of a three-story-high pile of petrochemical waste on their riverfront may be pleased to know that the petcoke is gradually being shipped back to Canada.

But while the news might be good for Detroiters, it's not so good for Canadians -- or anyone who cares about a livable climate. A Nova Scotia power plant is now burning the cheap, filthy fuel to produce electricity.

The petcoke is a byproduct of refining tar-sands oil, which began recently at a Detroit refinery. The pile's growth over the past six months has disgusted residents and their elected leaders. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced legislation in Congress that would direct the federal government to investigate the health and environmental impacts of the uncovered waste. A state lawmaker introduced a bill that would require such waste to be stored inside enclosed structures. And the Detroit City Council is mulling options [PDF] for dealing with the blight.

It's difficult to legally burn petcoke for energy in the U.S. because of the pollution it creates, but power plants in other countries -- like Canada, apparently -- are happy to buy it up and burn it.


Keystone XL isn’t even built yet and already it’s faulty

A section of faulty pipeline.
David Whitley via Public Citizen Texas
A section of faulty pipeline.

Property owners who watched with disgust and fear as TransCanada contractors ripped up their land to lay the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline are being treated to a repeat performance.

The pipeline isn't even in service yet, but already TransCanada is digging up stretches of faulty piping and replacing them, raising fresh safety fears. The pipeline is intended to link up with the Keystone XL northern leg -- which is still waiting for approval from the Obama administration -- and then carry tar-sands oil down to refineries in Texas.

From a Public Citizen press release:

Dozens of anomalies, including dents and welds, reportedly have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas.

In the past two weeks, landowners have observed TransCanada and its vendor, Michels, digging up the buried southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline on their properties and those of neighbors in the vicinity of Winnsboro, Texas. Some of the new pipeline has been in the ground on some owners’ land for almost six months. It is believed that problems identified on this section of the Keystone XL route must have triggered the current digging, raising questions from landowners about the safety of the pipeline and the risk to personal property and water supplies.


California’s San Onofre nuclear plant gets final death blow

San Onofre nuclear plant
San Onofre nuclear plant -- now just a blight on the seashore.

Southern California Edison is officially giving up on the San Onofre nuclear power plant -- and it's about time. When workers have to resort to masking tape and broomsticks to patch up a leaky pipe, you know things are bad. And that's just one of many reasons why the name of the plant is usually preceded by the word "troubled."

Speaking of which, from CBS News:

The troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant on the California coast is closing after an epic 16-month battle over whether the twin reactors could be safely restarted with millions of people living nearby, officials announced Friday.


France looks at America, says non to fracking

France's vineyards are safe from frackers.
France's vineyards are safe from frackers.

France's energy minister looked at the destruction being wrought on America's environment by hydraulic fracturing and said "non, merci" to the latest push by her country's business lobby to make fracking legal.

Fracking was banned in France in 2011, and it looks like it's going to stay banned. From Bloomberg:

France’s ban on hydraulic fracturing should not be eased because the oil and gas drilling technique is causing “considerable” environmental damage in the U.S., according to a government minister.


Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris partied at Sean Parker’s eco-wrecking wedding

Perfect for elves.
California Coastal Commission
Just your average Game of Thrones-style wedding backdrop.

We told you about billionaire Sean Parker's obnoxious wedding romp in a Big Sur redwood grove. The Napster cofounder and former Facebook president will pay $2.5 million to the California Coastal Commission to help heal damages caused when a temporary wonderland backdrop was illegally built in the forest for his nuptial vows.

Well, it turns out that two of California's most senior elected officials attended the wedding, living the kind of high life that only comes with an assault on threatened fish species and the trashing of a forest. Those officials were Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Newsom's attendance at the anti-eco bash was interesting, given that the former San Francisco mayor has spent his political career yapping about how much he loves the environment.

Harris' was interesting because she is the state's top law enforcer, and Parker's penalties stemmed from violations of state law.


Whole Foods opens in Detroit, threatening stereotypes everywhere

Laura Taylor

Because any positive economic activity that happens in Detroit is apparently national news, the opening of a Whole Foods Wednesday in the city’s Midtown neighborhood has caused more fanfare than possibly any grocery-store debut in history. Hundreds reportedly waited in line to enter the store, and Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb was present for the occasion, accompanied by “a marching band, speeches by civic leaders, specialty food vendors handing out samples of pickles, granola and other products, and a festive air of celebration,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

Why all the hoopla? After all, as Aaron Foley at Jalopnik Detroit points out in a level-headed post, the city, despite being labeled a “food desert,” already has its share of real grocery stores, including independent chains like Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe, not to mention its famous Eastern Market, the largest permanent farmers market in the U.S. So it’s not like Whole Foods is suddenly swooping in to deliver fresh vegetables where only Twinkies and Top Ramen existed before.

Much has been made of Whole Foods’ potential to attract further economic development, “a magnet for retail, in particular, and for development more generally,” as Free Press editor Stephen Henderson puts it. “A grocery store as a creator of density.” But would a concentration of high-end retail and condos in one neighborhood do anything to address this troubled city’s structural problems? Local investors and government officials seem to be betting so; the store was financed with the help of $5.8 million in state and local grants and tax credits.

But really, what seems to be causing the freakout over Whole Foods’ unlikely new location is just that: its unlikeliness, and the racist and classist assumptions underlying that assessment. Just listen to Kai Ryssdal of public radio's Marketplace question CEO Robb at the opening. Ryssdal calls Whole Foods “a place that does not have the reputation of perhaps being a place where people would shop in Detroit,” and even asks, “Did you have to teach people how to shop here?” -- as if navigating a Whole Foods requires some special sixth sense not innate to black and low-income people.


Oklahoma’s cyclones were all kinds of freaky

A scene from Oklahoma last Friday
Brian Khoury
A scene from Oklahoma last Friday.

Not only did Friday's tornado outburst in Oklahoma lead to at least 20 deaths, but analysis by NOAA has revealed that it included the widest tornado ever recorded in the U.S. and one twister that spun the wrong way.

The diameter of the El Reno tornado, which on Friday killed three famous weather chasers, reached a mind-boggling and record-breaking 2.6 miles. Both the El Reno cyclone and the Moore tornado, which struck nearby a week earlier, were rated EF5, the most damaging type of cyclone on the Enhanced Fujita scale. From LiveScience:

"To have two EF5s within less than two weeks in the same general area — that's highly unusual," [University Corporation for Atmospheric Research scientist Jeff] Weber told LiveScience. "Off the top of my head, I haven't heard of it happening before."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Gulf oil wells have been leaking since 2004 hurricane

Taylor Energy's unchecked oil slick.
On Wings of Care
Taylor Energy's unchecked oil slick.

Oil has been gushing from a group of wells south of New Orleans since a platform at the site was wiped out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and it appears that nothing is being done to staunch or control the leaking.

Efforts to cap the ruptures seem to have been abandoned in 2011. Instead of working to clean up or stop the spill, driller Taylor Energy Company is now providing the government with daily updates about the resultant slick.

Even those updates appear to be half-baked. A long ribbon of oil can clearly be seen spilling out from the site, but Taylor Energy claims it's much smaller than does NOAA.

On June 1, NOAA reported to the Coast Guard that the slick was 20.2 miles long and a mile wide.

That same day, a routine report filed by someone whom activists assume to be a Taylor Energy consultant stated that the slick was 6.5 miles long.

Even if the lower estimate were correct, it should be bad enough to set off alarm bells somewhere in the federal government. But this is the environmentally battered Gulf of Mexico, where petrochemical accidents are an everyday occurrence.


Monsanto says opponents may be to blame for GMO wheat escape

bread and wheat

A week after word got out that unapproved GMO wheat was found growing on an Oregon farm, Monsanto has announced the results of an internal investigation into the mysterious outbreak. The results can be summarized thusly: “Nothing is wrong at our end and everybody's crops are safe. Maybe our opponents planted our freak wheat to try to hurt us.”

From the Associated Press:

A genetically modified test strain of wheat that emerged to the surprise of an Oregon farmer last month was likely the result of an accident or deliberate mixing of seeds, the company that developed it said Wednesday.

Representatives for Monsanto Co. said during a conference call Wednesday that the emergence of the genetically modified strain was an isolated occurrence. It has tested the original wheat stock and found it clean, the company said.

Sabotage is a possibility, said Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer.

“We’re considering all options and that’s certainly one of the options,” Fraley said.


Arctic summers could be nearly ice-free in seven years

Say goodbye to this stuff.
Say goodbye to this stuff.

Everybody get ready to grab your swimsuit and head north. The latest melting projections by government scientists suggest that the Arctic could be nearly ice-free during summer in seven years -- or maybe even sooner.

But before you get all excited about the novelty of taking a dive into waters that once harbored year-round ice, we should warn you that the seven-year thing is a worst-case scenario. But even the best-case scenario published in a recent scientific paper projects that the summer ice will virtually disappear during the first half of this century.

(Also, we should warn you that the water will still be pretty damned cold, if not quite as cold as before. Also, you might get run over by a container ship. Or coated by an oil spill.)

Read more: Climate & Energy