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July 5 News: Yellowstone River Oil Spill Cleanup Slow; Fox News “Doctor” Suggests No Link Between Burning Coal and Asthma

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.Debris and Heavy Flow of Water Hamper Cleanup of Oil in Yellowstone River

Specially trained crews streaming into this refinery town to clean up tens of thousands of gallons of oil that spilled into the Yellowstone River from a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline over the weekend have found their efforts hampered by a muddy, raging river filled with debris.

The Yellowstone River has its origins in the famous park and normally peaks in mid-June but is not expected to crest until the middle of July because of the heavy snows and late runoff. Crews that continue to arrive have had difficulty sopping up oil and putting oil booms around slicks because the river is so active.

“The situation is very challenging,” said Gary Pruessing, president of the Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company, a division of Exxon Mobil, who added that the river was four times its usual flow for this time of year. “Because the river is outside its banks, it’s flowing into areas that don’t normally flood. Yesterday, we saw the tops of fence posts in the river, and we just can’t wade into there and start working.”

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River banks are unstable, and there are snags, or large dead trees in the water. So cleanup workers, wearing orange life vests and hard hats, are working the mosquito-infested shoreline.

Investigators trying to determine the cause of the spill have not been able to get on boats or get close to where the leak occurred late Friday night.

Plastic solar cells in 5–10 years, new step forward

Plastic solar cells may be commercially available in five to 10 years, said a British scientist whose group announced on Monday a new understanding of how to produce the cheaper alternative to silicon solar panels.

Installed global solar power is rising rapidly in response to government incentives to find low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels.

But that increase is from a low base, accounting for only 1–2 percent of the world’s electricity now.

Most solar panels currently comprise cells made from sliced, ultra-pure silicon.

The attractiveness of a plastic alternative is to make panels more quickly and cheaply using a printing or coating process.

China oil spill to have long-term impact: report

An oil spill off China’s eastern coast kept hidden from the public for weeks has caused long-term environmental damage that will hurt the area’s fishing industry, state media reported Tuesday.

Dead seaweed and rotting fish could be seen in waters around Nanhuangcheng Island in Shandong province, near the site of an oil spill that began “in early or mid-June”, but was only made public on Friday, the China Daily said.

“The environmental impact caused by the oil leak is long-term,” the newspaper quoted an local fisheries association official surnamed Xiao as saying.

Nanhuangcheng Island is about 75 kilometers (45 miles) from the offshore oil field in Bohai Bay where the leak happened.

“The oil leak will definitely influence the fishing industry nearby,” Xiao said, adding the extent of the impact was still being assessed.

Oil-spill aftermath hampers rig research

More than a year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists say that they have been struggling to gain access to the region’s rigs and drill ships, hampering their research.

Marine scientists have long been allowed to install instruments on offshore structures. The equipment can deliver vital data that would not be practical to gather in any other way. However, the six-month moratorium on drilling that ended last October has significantly reduced the number of structures available for scientists to work on in the gulf. The oil spill also seems to have created a more cautious climate that has placed a greater bureaucratic burden on scientists trying to access these sites.

Paul Sammarco is part of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in Chauvin and studies corals in the gulf, particularly those that live on and around oil platforms. When he began planning a research cruise in late 2010, he says that owners of some structures where he had previously worked turned down his requests for access. “It is affecting our ability to do science,” he says.

Drought in east Africa the result of climate change and conflict

Aid agencies say that weather in the region has become more erratic and years of war leave populations especially vulnerable.

Prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa is the immediate cause of the severe food crisis already affecting around 10 million people in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Rains have failed over two seasons, with a strong La Niña event having a dramatic impact across the east coast of Africa. Now this year’s wet season has officially ended, there is little prospect of rain or relief before September.

How far the current conditions, classified by the UN as “pre-famine” — one step down from “catastrophe” — can be attributed to climate change is not clear. The last intergovernment panel on climate change report suggested that the Horn of Africa would get wetter with climate change, while more recent academic research has concluded that global warming will increase drought in the region. However, according to aid agencies, the weather has become more erratic and extreme in recent years. The same area suffered a drought in 2006 as well as flash floods.

The structural causes of the crisis go deeper. The Horn of Africa has long been one of the most conflict-riven areas of the world and a focus of geopolitical struggles from the days of the British empire, through the cold war, to today’s the “war on terror”.

Fox’s “Doctor” Ablow Dismisses Threat From Coal Plants

Fox News contributor and psychiatrist Keith Ablow misinformed viewers by dismissing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s statement that limits on air pollution from coal-fired power plants benefit those who suffer from asthma. Indeed, it is widely accepted among public health professionals that pollution from these plants exacerbates asthma symptoms.

Identifying Himself As “A Doctor,” Ablow Claims Tying Coal Plants To Asthma Is “Pseudo-Science.” From Fox Business’ Follow The Money:

Amid criticism from GOP, environmental groups see opportunity

Shortly after announcing her intention to run for president earlier this month, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for passage of the “mother of all repeal bills” to eliminate “job-killing regulations.”

Her first target? The Environmental Protection Agency.

“I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA,” Bachmann said at a Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H. “It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

Bachmann is not the only Republican candidate calling for measures to reel in the EPA. To varying degrees, bashing President Obama’s environmental policies has become a mainstay for any Republican White House contender.

“The right, led by Karl Rove and Crossroads GPS, are going to try to turn Obama’s middle name into ‘job-killing energy tax,’” said Dan Weiss, senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

But environmental groups are betting that the GOP strategy backfires.

France First country to Ban Fracking, New Jersey First US State

Last week the French government was the first to enact a law forbidding hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking”

This technology enables to recover shale gas via the use of massive amounts of water and chemicals. The former remaining afterward polluted, hence the controversy.

The law had been discussed by both the lower and upper chambers since March before being finally enacted on June 30th by the Senate with 176 votes in favor and 151 against.

It is noteworthy that the senators who voted against the law believed it wasn’t going far enough. Indeed, as Scientific American notes, the vote doesn’t not ban other methods to recover shale gas.

As you can surely imagine, large energy companies like the French oil giant Total are “deploring” this. Indeed, as the website Natural Gas for Europe notes :

Japan opposition sets conditions for energy bill

Japan’s main opposition party will support a bill promoting renewable energy on the condition that the government will clarify its impact on electricity costs, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker in charge of energy policy said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under fire over his response to the March 11 earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis, has said he would resign but would stay in his post until the renewable energy law and two other bills are passed.

“We’re prepared for a debate to make certain amendments on the bill, so that we can pass it as early as possible,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, LDP’s shadow energy and trade minister told Reuters in an interview.

“Unless the government answers the question how much companies’ and households’ electricity bills will rise in the immediate future, I don’t think we can make a meaningful debate on the bill.”