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
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).
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 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.”
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.
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‘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.
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.
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.
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 Amazon.com 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.
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.