Energy and Global Warming News for August 30th: Coal-ash dump sites contaminate drinking water; Biofuels companies buy African land, cause food-output loss, deforestation; A Kindle equals 22 books

Study: Drinking water polluted by coal-ash dump sites

A new study identifies 39 additional coal-ash dump sites in 21 states that pollute drinking water with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The analysis comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins regional hearings on whether to regulate coal ash waste from coal-fired power plants. It will hold the first of seven hearings Monday in Arlington, Va. A public comment period ends Nov. 19.

“This is a huge and very real public health issue for Americans. Coal ash is putting drinking water around these sites at risk,” says Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan group that co-wrote the report with the Sierra Club and Earthjustice. The heavy metals exceeded federal drinking water standards at every site equipped with monitoring wells.

The newly identified sites are in addition to 31 documented in a Feb. report and 67 identified before then, bringing the total of known toxic contamination sites from coal ash pollution to 137 in 34 states.

The electric power industry is lobbying to keep regulation up to individual states, but environmental groups argue states have failed to protect the public and EPA should set and enforce a national standard, according to the McClatchy story.

The 21 states with 39 newly identified coal-ash dump sites are:

Arkansas (2 sites, Independence and Flint Creek)

Connecticut (1 site, Montville)

Florida (1 site, McIntosh)

Illinois (3 sites, Joliet 9, Venice, and Marion)

Iowa (3 sites, Lansing, Neal North, and Neal South)

Kentucky (3 sites, Spurlock, Mill Creek, and TVA Shawnee)

Louisiana (3 sites, Dolet Hills, Big Cajun, and Rodemacher)

Michigan (1 site, Whiting)

Nebraska (1 site, Sheldon)

New York (1 site, Cayuga)

North Carolina (1 site, Dan River)

North Dakota (2 sites, Leland Olds, and Antelope Valley)

Ohio (4 sites, Uniontown aka Industrial Excess Landfill, Cardinal, Gavin, and Muskingum)

Oklahoma (1 site, Northeastern)

Oregon (1 site, Boardman)

Pennsylvania (2 sites, Hatfield’s Ferry and Bruce Mansfield aka Little Blue)

South Dakota (1 site, Big Stone)

Tennessee (3 sites, TVA Johnsonville, TVA Cumberland, and TVA Gallatin)

Texas (1 site, LCRA Fayette Power Project)

Virginia (2 sites, Glen Lyn and Clinch River)

Wisconsin (2 sites, Oak Creek aka Caledonia and Columbia).

From outer space, a new dilemma for old-growth forests

WASHINGTON “” A new study using laser pulses shot from satellites has found that the world’s tallest forests are those along the Pacific Northwest coast.

Though the findings shouldn’t shock anyone who grew up in the region, they offer another indication of how important these ancient trees eventually could become.

The temperate forests of Douglas fir, Western hemlock, redwoods and sequoias that stretch from northern California into British Columbia easily reach an average height of more than 131 feet. That’s taller than the boreal forests of northern Canada and Eurasia, tropical rainforests and the broadleaf forests common in much of the United States and Europe. The only forests that come close are in Southeast Asia, along the southern rim of the Himalayas and in Indonesia, Malaysia and Laos.

As scientists try to unravel the mystery of missing carbon, increasing attention is focused on these forests.

From 15 percent to 30 percent of the 7 billion tons of carbon that are released globally every year is unaccounted for, government scientists say. About 3 billions tons remain in the atmosphere, and the oceans absorb 2 billion tons. Vegetation, including the forests, probably absorbs the remaining 1 billion to 2 billion tons, but no one knows for sure how much and where.

Scientists suspect that the forests with the biggest trees store the most carbon, and the Northwest forests are probably among the largest carbon sinks in the world. However, they also say that while slower-growing older trees store more carbon, younger trees also absorb more carbon as they grow rapidly.

Biofuels companies buy African land, cause deforestation, food-output loss

Biofuels companies from the U.K. to Brazil and China are buying up large swaths of Africa, causing deforestation and diverting land from food to fuel production, the environmental group Friends of the Earth said.

Across the continent almost 5 million hectares of land, an area bigger than the Netherlands, have been sold to cultivate crops for biofuels since 2006, Friends of the Earth’s Brussels- based European division said today in a 36-page study.

European companies including Portugal’s Galp Energia SGPS SA, the U.K.’s D1 Oils Plc and Sun Biofuels Ltd. and Agroils Srl of Italy joined firms from Canada and Israel in buying acreage to plant jatropha to make biofuels, the study said. The 27- nation European Union has set a goal of getting 10 percent of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020.

“The EU’s mandatory target for increasing agrofuels is a clear driver to the land grabbing in Africa,” Friends of the Earth said. “There is a risk that agrofuels, and with them, Africa’s agricultural land and natural resources, will be exported abroad with minimal benefit for local communities and national economies.”

PACE leaves homeowners in lurch

LOS ANGELES “” A popular program that allows homeowners to tap low-interest government financing to install energy-efficient solar panels, windows and insulation has stalled, leaving tens of thousands of green improvement projects across the country in limbo.

Most local and state governments stopped providing the funds after federal regulators warned that the so-called Property Assessed Clean Energy program, or PACE, posed “unusual and difficult” financial risk and that homeowners who participate in the program might by violating their mortgage terms and face foreclosure.

The quagmire has left many green-oriented home improvement companies in a lurch, causing them to scrap projects they say could have created thousands of jobs and helped draw investors. Some have simply given up on the program altogether.

“The way it shut down was really painful for us because we lost a lot of business we had been counting on,” said Matt Golden, president of Recurve Inc. of San Francisco.

“We don’t have the jobs to put these people to work, and that’s a calamity in the long run,” he said.

Our dying corals “” and how to save them

The water is blue and warm, the visibility is perfect. There might be no better place in the world to learn to scuba dive than the glassy seas around Key West, at the southernmost tip of the U.S. As I gradually master my buoyancy and hover 15 feet below the surface, I can see schools of small yellow groupers gathered beneath the dive boat, giving wide berth to a blade of a barracuda. A spiny lobster shyly crawls across the seafloor. This colorful diversity of life “” like swimming through a tropical aquarium “” is all thanks to the shallow coral reefs that exist west of Key West. The world’s reefs are the bases for sea life “” home to a quarter of all the fish on the planet.

But even though this was my first time diving in the Florida Keys, I could tell something was wrong. Most of the fish were small, and there wasn’t much evidence of the larger predators whose presence is the mark of a healthy marine environment. Worst of all were the corals themselves “” broken bits of white coral littered the ground like bones at a half-finished burial, their lack of color proof that they were dead. “Diving in the Florida Keys was incredibly depressing,” says John Hocevar, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, who just finished a trip to the Keys and the nearby Dry Tortugas. “I could see how rapidly things had declined over the past 20 years.” (See the world’s top 10 environmental disasters.)

Florida isn’t the only place where coral reefs are in trouble. Everywhere, reefs are under pressure from rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, coastal pollution and physical damage. There has already been a major coral bleaching event in Indonesia this summer, in which more than 60% of the coral off the coast of Aceh province have been affected. (Bleaching occurs when heat drives out algae living inside coral tissue; it’s an indicator of stress that can eventually kill coral populations outright.) Thanks to the El Nino phenomenon, which often leads to higher than normal sea temperatures in parts of the world, this could be one of the worst years ever for coral death “” and the gradual warming caused by climate change could only make things worse in the future.

“Coral reefs are incredibly important to ocean health,” says Stephanie Wear, the Nature Conservancy’s coral expert. “But if we don’t act we could lose 70% of reefs worldwide by the middle of the century.”

Japan plans to bind large firms to CO2 caps: draft

Japan‘s compulsory emissions trading scheme is set to start in April 2013 and cover large CO2 emitting companies, a draft of the government’s proposals showed on Monday, but several issues are still open to debate.

The draft, obtained by Reuters, will be presented on Tuesday to an expert committee at the Environment Ministry, which aims to finalize its proposal for Japan’s cap-and-trade scheme by the end of this year.

Issues to be discussed later include how CO2 emission quotas should be allocated and how big they should be, who should be responsible for CO2 emissions from electric power generation, and whether to link the scheme with similar ones abroad, the draft showed.

It also showed compliance companies would be able to emit more by using carbon offsets at home and from abroad.

Similar grants can be given to companies facing international competition, those whose CO2 emissions per unit of product are relatively high, and those whose products help cut CO2 emissions globally, such as solar panels and hybrid cars, the draft said.

Pacific hot spells shifting as predicted in human-heated world

Federal researchers have published work concluding that a particular variant of the periodic El Ni±o warmups of the tropical Pacific Ocean is becoming more frequent and stronger. The pattern appears to fit what is expected from human-driven warming of the global climate, said the researchers, Tong Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Michael McPhaden of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The news release from NASA describes the work in detail. I asked Lee and McPhaden how a connection to greenhouse-driven warming could be made, given the possibility that the Pacific shift could be the result of long-term oscillations in conditions in the ocean unrelated to the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the air.

10 Things to know about the Nissan LEAF

Nissan is reportedly taking its first official orders on Tuesday for the all-electric LEAF, which will basically be the first mass-produced mainstream-targeted electric vehicle on the market. GM’s Volt, which is an extended range electric vehicle (has a small gas engine to extend its range) will come out later this year and Coda’s all-electric sedan will be delivered to customers in December. So finally starts the rebirth of competition and innovation around the electric car “” this week history is made.

But now comes the hard part for consumers “” figuring out which, if any, of the electric vehicles are good options for you. Here’s what you need to know about the LEAF:

1). Low Cost: It’s pretty much the lowest cost mass-produced, highway legal, 4-wheel, mainstream all electric vehicle that will hit that market in the next two years. At $32,000 before federal and state subsidies, and with subsidies a potential price of $25,000, the LEAF has undercut most of its competitors, including the Volt, and likely the Coda sedan (thought that pricing will be announced soon).

2). Limited Availability for Awhile: If you don’t have a reservation already, fuggedaboutit “” at least for the next six to nine months. There’s been some speculative reports that Nissan shifted thousands of its available LEAFs to sell in Japan, and will only make several thousand LEAFs available for the U.S. market until the end of the first quarter of 2011. Whatever the numbers, though, expect to wait out of the gate for this car.

3). Range Issues?: At least two CEOs of electric vehicle competitors “” Tesla and Coda “” have said that the Nissan LEAF has an unsophisticated battery thermal management system, which means the LEAF’s range could fluctuate dramatically over its published 100 miles. Extreme hot and cold weather could cut its range under certain conditions to 40 miles, said Coda CEO Kevin Czinger, and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said that the battery could just flat out stop working under extreme enough temperatures.

The Kindle and the Environment

Here at EcoGeek we’ve been long-time supporters of e-book readers. The publishing industry (including books, newspapers and magazines) is a serious environmental threat with a huge carbon footprint and raw materials that result in the harvesting of some 125 million tress per year.

So we were excited. But as the realities of ebooks set in, and they actually began to explode in popularity (with now selling more Kindle books than hard-covers) we got apprehensive. Would this new trend really be good for the environment? The answer…thankfully, is a resounding “Yes.”

The Kindle device itself, of course, has a carbon footrprint caused by manufacturing and shipping all of its parts around. And it does use electricity (though, really, a very small amount compared with devices like laptops or even some cell phones.) But while I still love real books for a lot of reasons, I’ve got to give it to the Kindle. Authors are getting paid more, consumers are paying less, and (according to a study from The Cleantech Group) as long as the devices replace the purchase of more than 22.5 NEW (not used) books in the lifetime of the device, it will be a positive force for the environment. This seems to be roughly one year’s use of the Kindle. Of course, if you’re replacing newspapers and magazines with your Kindle chances are you’ll go carbon negative faster than that.

But if you’re thinking about getting a Kindle for green reasons, make sure you know you’ll be replacing more than 20 new books on the thing before you upgrade, otherwise you’re not just wasting your money, you’re hurting the environment.

Bald Eagle nestlings contaminated by chemicals

Ever since the banning of the pesticide DDT, which weakened eggshells, bald eagles have been making a comeback in the Great Lakes region. In Michigan, however, that recovery has been lackluster, and researchers have found one potential reason why: flame retardants and pesticides in the blood of eagle nestlings.

“(Eagles) have recovered mostly, but not to what was expected,” said Marta Venier of Indiana University. Venier is the lead author of a paper in the August issue of the journal Chemosphere, which describes a “snapshot” of what is in eagle nestlings’ blood in near lakes around Michigan.

Venier and her colleagues were able to collect blood samples of bald eagle nestlings in the Great Lakes region by arduously climbing trees, bagging the large nestlings and carrying them carefully to the ground to draw a small sample of blood. The birds were then returned to their nests angry, but unharmed.

Tests on the blood show that the national symbol of the United States is ingesting flame retardants and pesticides via its food. The chemicals are originally from pesticides or foam padding for furniture and mattresses, which contain a variety of flame retardants.

26 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for August 30th: Coal-ash dump sites contaminate drinking water; Biofuels companies buy African land, cause food-output loss, deforestation; A Kindle equals 22 books

  1. _Flin_ says:

    Weather from Germany: Wettest August ever (well, lets make that since 1881).
    157 Liter per squaremeter, average is 77 Liter. Last record was in 1960 with 134 liters.
    Top10 Summer Temperatures, warmest July ever.

    Drought from June to mid-July, then flooding.
    Now where have I read that before? But then, it’s just weather.

    In case you want to Google Translate it:
    German Weather Service

  2. The New Yorker runs a piece on Koch:


    In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

    ‘…the Standard Oil of our times…’ indeed.

    Beware of philanthropists bearing gifts but not baring their souls.

    I picked up on this at Deltoid’a ‘Open thread 53’.

  3. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    “From 15 percent to 30 percent of the 7 billion tons of carbon that are released globally every year is unaccounted for, government scientists say. About 3 billions tons remain in the atmosphere, and the oceans absorb 2 billion tons. Vegetation, including the forests, probably absorbs the remaining 1 billion to 2 billion tons, but no one knows for sure how much and where.

    Scientists suspect that the forests with the biggest trees store the most carbon, and the Northwest forests are probably among the largest carbon sinks in the world. However, they also say that while slower-growing older trees store more carbon, younger trees also absorb more carbon as they grow rapidly.”

    While the age of old-growth boreal and temperate forests varies with their areas’ glaciation history, some tropical forests such as the Amazon are over 60 million years old. They form a standing bank of carbon of around 50% of the wood’s dry weight, with old trees dying and being replaced by new growth. Notably the Amazon supports an average of just one foot of soil despite its age.

    Thus to propose that many billions of tonnes of additional carbon have been sequestered in forests, despite the massive clearances over the last century, is to assume that the average tree is now significantly larger than is natural, and/or that forest soils have deepened significantly.

    Given the recent evidence of how increased CO2 ppmv is not a predictor of increased plant growth,
    as well as the worldwide examples of the suppression of tree growth by both acidification and by oxone and/or other pollutants,
    and by unprecedented insect depradations,
    and by drought and other climate destabilization constraints,
    it seems highly unlikely that increased tree volume is a significant factor in sequestering the missing carbon. And if it is not, then there are no additional carbon flows to their soils either.

    Rather than looking to the complex and delicate forest ecologies as benefitting from raised CO2 despite the suppression factors, I’d suggest that the humble Sphagnum Moss would be a more likely candidate as the unseen recipient of ~1.5GTC/yr.

    Sphagnum and its relatives not only occupy vast areas of bog around the world, they can also benefit from longer growing seasons, and are unrestricted by all but the most extreme droughts, and thrive in acidic conditions. As the plants’ older growth dies off it is immediately entered into the process of becoming carbon-rich peat, often raising the soil surface as a mound well above the water table and maintaining moisture supply by capillary action. In addition, while the annual production of peat may well have been increased by anthro CO2 inputs, it is still so slow as to be hard to discern without very widespread painstaking field research.

    If the increase of peat is the destination of the missing carbon, then hunting it with satellites seems likely to require many years of data collection for confidence in any conclusions.



  4. “as long as the devices replace the purchase of more than 22.5 NEW (not used) books in the lifetime of the device, it will be a positive force for the environment.”

    I am sure this calculation makes the error of not considering how many times a book is reused.

    The calculation applies to books like the latest thriller, which people read and then throw away.

    By contrast, textbooks are generally reused several times. There are now stores that rent text books rather than selling them.

    I buy 80% to 90% of my books used. I am sure that in some cases, I am the fourth or fifth owner.

    You have to replace far more than 22 of these used books with Kindle versions before you become carbon positive.

  5. Will Koroluk says:

    Speaking of contaminated water, a study released today shows toxic levels of some substances in the waters of the Athabasca River, which runs through Alberta’s tar sands. It’s getting a lot of media play up here, and stirring a lot of anger.

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    Leaf range – reported to be from mid 60 miles in worst conditions/worst driving style to mid 130 miles is best conditions/driving styles.

    If you live in a terrible climate, drive like a fool, and have a 30 mile or less one-way commute the Leaf will work even for you….

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    Oh, yeah. Leaf price – $20,000 in California. $5k state subsidy here.

    Check your state. Perhaps make some noise….

  8. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Prokaryote at 6 –

    Since these profiteers are culpable for capital crimes on a scale to dwarf both serial killers and the 9/11 culprits, some exceptional justice is required, specifically as a deterrent to other criminally minded so-called ‘investors’.

    Seeing as the death penalty debases the society imposing it,
    I wonder if you’d maybe agree that justice demands that those found guilty of food price profiteering should be gaoled for life, and serve their sentences in Niger,
    and be left to face the future they’ve helped generate ?

    To help advance society’s shift toward criminalizing their conduct,
    wallposters across New York with named images of leading food speculators above images of dying African children, would seem a good start.



  9. Sasparilla says:

    Just wanted to add this one seemed to have been missed Friday.

    Chinese build base to tap deep sea energy (i.e. Methane Clathrates)

    Good to see they aren’t going to wait for the oceans to warm to get that methane/CO2 out and into our atmosphere. We definitely need people to be messing with these things.

    Of course they are also going full speed ahead on coal to liquids implementations (to turn coal into diesel/gasoline) with associated dreadful CO2 emissions. Contrary to the government talk (of just green energy investments), it seems the Chinese are going full speed on not just green technologies but on all power technologies (CO2 limiting or not) – it appears they’re doing this to cover the expected demand increases they’re facing in the decades ahead.

    Sometimes I have to wonder if we’re going to slow down our global CO2 emissions much at all before we go through the tipping points that are just waiting for us…

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    Lewis why do you ask me such abstract questions?

    The question is if these food speculations happend before or after this
    atm busy to research :)

  11. Edward says:

    Coal ash dump sites: Remember that coal ash contains URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, Thorium, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores. We should be able to get all the uranium and thorium we need to fuel nuclear power plants for centuries by using coal ash as ore. See:
    Since coal ash contains uranium and thorium, it also contains everything in the decay chains of uranium and thorium. Coal ash should not be used as a building material.

  12. Prokaryotes says:

    Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium
    If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.

  13. paulm says:

    One gets a sneaky feeling the the opening of the Northern passages will unleash chaos like we have not seen, probably due to the effects on the ocean currents.

    Dramatic climate change is unpredictable

    The most pronounced climate shifts besides the end of the ice age is a series of climate changes during the ice age where the temperature suddenly rose 10-15 degrees in less than 10 years. The climate change lasted perhaps 1000 years, then – bang – the temperature fell drastically and the climate changed again. This happened several times during the ice age and these climate shifts are called the Dansgaard-Oeschger events after the researchers who discovered and described them. Such a sudden, dramatic shift in climate from one state to another is called a tipping point. However, the cause of the rapid climate change is not known and researchers have been unable to reproduce them in modern climate models.
    In the second scenario the climate is like a ball in a trench, which represents one climate state. The ball will be continuously pushed by chaos-dynamical fluctuations such as storms, heat waves, heavy rainfall and the melting of ice sheets, which affect ocean currents and so on. The turmoil in the climate system may finally push the ball over into the other trench, which represents a different climate state.

  14. says:

    I’ve been reading this book by Derrick Jensen– “Alot like War” about trees. He says that about 97% of the original forests in the U.S. are gone. yep! Only about 3% of original forests left in the U.S. The book broke my heart; could barely read it. Even the Redwood forests have been ransacked. There are “beauty strips” along interstates to give the illusion of lots of forests still around but if you look behind them, you’ll see the forests are mostly gone. Really sucks!

  15. catman306 says:

    If the methane is already leaking out of the ground, capture and use it for fuel if possible. Mining methane hydrates for gas is insane. Stupid extractors.

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    Bjorn Lomborg Now Says Climate Change “Chief Concern,” Calls for Carbon Tax

    The Guardian reports today that long-time global warming contrarian Bjorn Lomborg has changed his tune a bit, and now acknowledges that climate change is “a challenge humanity must confront.” In an interview with the paper, Lomborg calls for a carbon tax and a $100 billion annual investment in clean technologies and other solutions to climate disruption.

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    CBI to host climate change ‘clash of the titans’ debate

    Former government chief scientist Sir David King, in the green corner, to take on arch-sceptic Lord Lawson in public showdown

  18. paulm says:

    Prok #18 …. not sure whats happening…

    Six Volcanoes Erupt Simultaneously in Russia

    Experts say that volcanic and earthquake activity is increasing worldwide.

  19. nextags says:

    The heavy metals exceeded federal drinking water standards at every site equipped with monitoring wells.

  20. pricescard says:

    The electric power industry is lobbying to keep regulation up to individual states, but environmental groups argue states have failed to protect the public and EPA should set and enforce a national standard.

  21. JeandeBegles says:

    Can we get the Clean tech report about Kindle carbon footprint, to check the assumption used for this calculation? (I am trying with the Clean Tech web site, but there is an unclear subscription system, and I am not sure to get the report for free).

  22. Chris Winter says:

    Also from Ecogeek:

    EPA’s New Fuel Economy Labels Open For Public Comment