May 27 news: Brazil offers up rainforests to chopping block; Mislabeled fish in your supermarket

BlueGreen and Apollo Alliances merge to strengthen green economy

Brazil does away with laws to protect large swathes of rainforest

Brazil’s powerful agricultural sector has scored a major victory, with the approval by the lower house of Congress of a reform that would open up some protected forests to cropland and ranchers.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, was initially intended as a measure to rein in unfettered logging, and increase protections of Brazil’s forested areas, which play an important role in reducing greenhouse gases.

But farm-based economic interests prevailed against environmentalists in reshaping the bill to ease restrictions that have been in place since 1965 and are credited with curbing deforestation.

Tests Reveal Mislabeling of Fish

Scientists aiming their gene sequencers at commercial seafood are discovering rampant labeling fraud in supermarket coolers and restaurant tables: cheap fish is often substituted for expensive fillets, and overfished species are passed off as fish whose numbers are plentiful.

Yellowtail stands in for mahi-mahi. Nile perch is labeled as shark, and tilapia may be the Meryl Streep of seafood, capable of playing almost any role.

Recent studies by researchers in North America and Europe harnessing the new techniques have consistently found that 20 to 25 percent of the seafood products they check are fraudulently identified, fish geneticists say.

BlueGreen Alliance and Apollo Alliance Merge to Strengthen Green Economy

Two coalitions focused on creating good green jobs – each having labor unions and environmental organizations as members – today joined forces “to build a stronger movement to create good jobs and produce clean energy in the 21st century economy,” the two groups said in a joint statement.

While the formal merger will take place on July 1, The BlueGreen Alliance and the Apollo Alliance said, “Starting right now, we speak with one voice. We will merge to become the BlueGreen Alliance, which will be home to the Apollo Alliance project.”

“Together, the BlueGreen Alliance and the Apollo Alliance project will engage with labor, environmental, business and community leaders across the country to advance a bold vision of how to transform our energy future and, at the same time, create good jobs and rebuild our economy,” the organizations proclaimed.

China faces summer energy shortage

Soaring prices for coal, which fuels most Chinese electricity plants, have caused power producers to cut output. Power shortages this year could exceed those of 2004 and threaten to slow the nation’s manufacturing sector.

Chinese electricity plants are cutting output in the face of soaring coal prices, setting up what could be the worst summer energy crunch in years and threatening to slow the nation’s manufacturing sector.

State Grid Corp., China’s biggest power distributor, has warned that shortages this year could exceed those of 2004, when dry weather cut hydroelectric production, prompting rolling blackouts through much of the country.

The current crisis is linked to coal, which fuels most of the nation’s electricity plants. Coal prices have exploded. But the government, nervous over rising inflation, has prevented power producers from passing those higher fuel costs on to businesses and consumers.

The Three Rs, plus coal

The coal lobby gained access to fourth-grader learners through Scholastic Inc., the venerable educational publisher.

Anyone who as a child looked forward to ordering new books from a colorful brochure handed out in school, or who eagerly thumbed through the “Harry Potter” series, has a soft spot for Scholastic Inc., the venerable educational publisher and purveyor of children’s titles. Sad to say, the company has of late been abusing the trust it built over decades as a beloved presence in U.S. schools.

A division of Scholastic partnered with a coal industry trade group to produce an energy curriculum for fourth-graders “” a poster and related materials “” that extols the virtues of coal but neglects to mention the strip mining that degrades the landscape and removes entire mountaintops, the pollution of air and water associated with coal, or its role in global warming. The American Coal Foundation posted an online announcement about its joint project with Scholastic, which sent the “United States of Energy” package, free and unsolicited, to 66,000 teachers on its mailing list, including many in California, and emailed it to 82,000 more.

U.S. Environment Agency May Scrap Unneeded Rules Through Regulatory Review

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans 31 regulatory reviews, including how to improve estimates of industry costs, after scrapping a definition of milk as oil that forced farmers to meet petroleum-spill rules.

The EPA’s April decision to exclude the dairy industry from rules on oil spills is an example of the kinds of changes the agency seeks, Cass Sunstein, director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in an interview. The exemption will save farms and milk factories $146 million a year, according to a White House fact sheet.

President Barack Obama has ordered agencies to eliminate regulations that stifle job creation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest U.S. business lobby, said the EPA effort falls short because the agency failed to re-examine the rules considered most onerous for companies.

By Barcoding Trees, Liberia Looks to Save its Rainforests

A decade after a brutal civil war, the West African nation of Liberia has partnered with the European Union on a novel system for protecting its remaining forests “” marking every harvestable tree so it can be traced to its final destination. But given Liberia’s history of conflict and corruption, will it work?

Nearly two-thirds of West Africa’s remaining rainforests are in the small but troubled nation of Liberia. That is a small miracle. A decade ago, Liberia’s forests were being stripped bare by warlords to fund a vicious 14-year civil war that left 150,000 dead. In 2003, the United Nations belatedly imposed an embargo on Liberian “logs of war.” Revenues crashed and, coincidentally or not, the war swiftly came to an end.

Now the elected government of Harvard-trained President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has signed a deal with the European Union to place timber sales on a permanently legal footing. The deal, agreed to this month, makes use of a unique national timber-tracking system that requires every legally harvestable tree and every cut log to carry a barcode that will enable it to be tracked from its origin to its final destination.

U.S. Environment Agency May Scrap Unneeded Rules Through Regulatory Review

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