Jan 31, 2012

Florida food stamp bill is latest attempt to restrict junk food.

Florida legislation is the latest to prohibit shoppers from buying 'nonstaple, unhealthy foods' with federal aid. It's a trend driven by health concerns but also by tight budgets.

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Company seeks asbestos liability limit in Idaho.

A national bottle-top maker that's grown weary of some $700 million in asbestos claims it's paid out to victims of lung disease has arrived in the Idaho Legislature as part of its years-long, state-by-state trudge to shield itself from forking over more cash.

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Sunscreen concern reaches into the school grounds.

As they prepare for a new batch of students, teachers will be receiving 50,000 leaflets from environmental group Friends of the Earth, thanks to a resolution passed by the Australian Education Union last year. The leaflets encourage use of sunscreens that don't include nanoparticles - an ingredient the Theraputic Goods Administration has deemed to be acceptable in sunscreens.
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Nissan unveils energy-efficient Nichio Maru car carrier - GizMag

The Nichio Maru achieves a fuel reduction of up to nearly 1,400 tons annually, which trans...

With large cargo freighters being a major source of CO2 emissions worldwide it's been encouraging to see various efforts to make such vessels more efficient. In recent years we've seen the development of the world's biggest container ship to cut CO2 emissions per container moved, air bubbles used to cut the friction between a ship's hull and the ocean, and even plans to return to the use of sails to cut fuel use. Now Nissan has launched an energy efficient coastal car carrier called the Nichio Maru that employs solar panels, LED lighting, a low friction hull coating hull and an electronically controlled diesel engine to cut fuel consumption... Continue Reading Nissan unveils energy-efficient Nichio Maru car carrie

Invasive Species: Groups Propose Spending $9.5 Billion To Protect Lakes, Rivers

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Groups representing states and cities in the Great Lakes region on Tuesday proposed spending up to $9.5 billion on a massive engineering project to separate the lakes from the Mississippi River watershed in the Chicago area, describing it as the only sure way to protect both aquatic systems from invasions by destructive species such as Asian carp.

The organizations issued a report suggesting three alternatives for severing an artificial link between the two drainage basins that was constructed more than a century ago. Scientists say it has already provided a pathway for exotic species and is the likeliest route through which menacing carp could reach the lakes, where they could destabilize food webs and threaten a valuable fishing industry.

"We simply can't afford to risk that," said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, which sponsored the study with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. "The Great Lakes have suffered immensely because of invasive species. We have to put a stop to this."

The report's release is sure to ramp up pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting its own study of how to close off 18 potential pathways between the two systems, including the Chicago waterways. The corps plans to release its findings in late 2015, a timetable it says is necessary because of the job's complexity and regulatory requirements. A pending federal lawsuit by five states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania – demands quicker action.

"This study shows that hydrological separation is both technically and economically feasible," said Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.

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India’s Largest Solar Program Cuts Power Rates by Up to 33% - Bloomberg

India’s largest solar program cut the preferential rate it pays utilities for sun power as much as 33 percent as global prices of panels declined by more than half.

Photovoltaic plants commissioned after the Jan. 28 deadline will be paid a rate of 9.98 rupees (20 cents) per kilowatt-hour for the first 12 years, compared with 15 rupees for those finished on time, the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission said in a tariff order on its website. The rate will be reduced to 7 rupees per kilowatt-hour for the next 13 years.

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Green Car Congress: AT&T orders 1,200 CNG-powered Chevrolet Express vans

AT&T has ordered 1,200 Chevrolet Express dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) cargo vans for deployment to AT&T service centers nationwide. It is the largest-ever order of CNG vehicles from General Motors.

AT&T, which has announced its intention to invest up to $565 million to deploy approximately 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles over a 10-year period through 2018, will use the vans to provide and maintain communications, high-speed Internet and television services for AT&T customers. Last week, the company announced the milestone deployment of its 5,000th alternative-fuel vehicle, a Chevrolet Express van, as part of the commitment. (Earlier post.)

Chevrolet Express CNG vans are powered by a Vortec 6.0L V8 engine equipped with hardened exhaust valves, and intake and exhaust valve seats for improved wear resistance and durability with gaseous fuel systems. The vans are factory-ordered and delivered to customers with their factory-engineered and fully integrated gaseous fuel system in place...

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Jan 30, 2012

Oh, the Irony: “Made in U.S.A” Goods Gain Popularity in China - inhabitat

American flag, US flag, USA, made in USA, world trade, textiles, men's fashion, workwear, menswear, China, Chinese trade, fashion,

Pick a product sold in the US, and chances are it’s made in China. But now in an ironic twist of fate, American-made goods are becoming more popular in China. According to a report by Jing Daily, workwear labels like Red Wing, Woolrich, Billy Reid, and Gitman Brothers are all gaining popularity in China, and just last month high-end shoemaker Allen Edmonds announced plans to expand to China. “Suddenly ‘Made in America’ has a value to the Chinese customer in almost the same way that ‘Made in France’ or ‘Made in Italy’ once had for Americans,” NYC designer Patrik Ervell recently told Bloomberg News. READ MORE at inhabitat

Nuclear Waste Panel Urges ‘Consent Based’ Approach - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — A commission appointed to find alternatives to a failed plan to store nuclear waste in the Nevada desert declared on Thursday that the United States would have to develop a “consent-based approach” for choosing a site because leaving the decision to Congress had failed.

By securing local consent, the panel said, the government might avoid the kind of conflicts that led to the cancellation of plans to create a repository at Yucca Mountain, a site 100 miles from Las Vegas, in 2010. It noted that local willingness had been crucial to decision-making on sites for nuclear waste depots in Finland, France, Spain and Sweden.

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In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

Source: The New York Times, 

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers -- as well as dozens of other American industries -- have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history. However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious -- sometimes deadly -- safety problems.


1000 times less energy to produce the microbubbles which can be used in Algae Biofuel Production

Spain Halts Renewable Subsidies to Curb $31 Billion of Debts - Bloomberg

Spain halted subsidies for renewable energy projects to help curb its budget deficit and rein in power-system borrowings backed by the state that reached 24 billion euros ($31 billion) at the end of 2011.

“What is today an energy problem could become a financial problem,” Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria said in Madrid. The government passed a decree today stopping subsidies for new wind, solar, co-generation or waste incineration plants.

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EPA Rejects Palm-Oil Based Biodiesel for Renewable Fuels Program - Bloomberg

The Environmental Protection Agency said that biodiesel made from palm oil doesn’t meet the requirements to be added to its renewable fuels program because its greenhouse-gas emissions are too high.

In a regulatory filing today, the EPA said that palm-oil biodiesel, which is primarily produced in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, provides reductions of as much as 17 percent in greenhouse-gas emissions compared to traditional diesel fuel, falling short of a 20 percent reduction necessary to qualify under the law.

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Chugoku Electric shuts Shimane No. 2 reactor, leaving Japan with only 3 reactors online ‹ Japan Today: Japan News and Discussion

TOKYO — Chugoku Electric Power Co on Friday took its 820-megawatt No. 2 reactor at its Shimane nuclear plant offline for planned maintenance.

The shutdown leaves only three reactors operating in Japan out of a total of 54, as public concerns about safety in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster have prevented the restart of reactors shut down last year for maintenance.

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Refinery closings could push gasoline prices back to $4 – USATODAY.com

Gasoline prices could be edge higher this spring, thanks to the bankruptcy of a European refiner, the industry's latest casualty.

The U.S. east coast already sees the threat of a temporary spike in gasoline to $4 or more per gallon for the summer driving season and could pay some of the highest prices in the nation, due to the shutdown of refining capacity in that market.

Jan 29, 2012

What Obama Won't Mention Today in Michigan: Campus Has 53% More Administrators Than Faculty

From an open letter to President Obama on December 16, 2011 from University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman:

"Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support. There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support."

According to the Washington Post, "President Barack Obama will announce a plan to shift some federal dollars away from colleges and universities that don’t control tuition costs and new competitions in higher education to encourage efficiency as part of an effort to contain soaring college costs. Obama will spell out his plans Friday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor."

One issue that will probably not receive a lot of attention today from either President Obama or President Coleman is the contribution of rising administrative positions and salaries to the rising cost of college tuition..."Michigan public universities increased their spending on administrative positions by nearly 30% on average in the last five years, even as university leaders say they've slashed expenses to keep college affordable for families. The number of administrative jobs grew 19% over that period at the state's public universities, according to data submitted by the schools to the state budget office.

The increases took place from the 2005-06 school year through 2009-10 -- a period in which both student enrollment and state funding of universities remained about the same, state data show. The higher administrative costs were slightly exceeded by tuition hikes over this period."

...Update: According to IPEDS data from the U.S. Department of Education, here are the headcounts for the Univeristy of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2010 (most recent year available):

Full Time Faculty: 5,693
Full Time Executive/Managerial: 1,711
Full Time Professionals: 6,772
Total Executive/Managerial/Professional: 8,483

Therefore, in 2010, there were 49% more full-time administrative/professional staff than full-time faculty.  

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Sugar Tariffs Cost Americans $3.86 Billion in 2011

I'm reminded of the recent Quote of the Day from Bastiat: "Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race."

The chart displays annual refined sugar prices (cents per pound) using data from the USDA (Tables 2 and 5) between 1982 and 2011 for: a) the U.S. wholesale refined sugar price at Midwest markets, and b) the world refined sugar price. Due to import quota restrictions that strictly limit the amount of imported sugar coming into the U.S. at the world price, the domestic producers are protected from more efficient foreign sugar growers who can produce cane sugar in Central America, Africa and the Caribbean at half the cost of beet sugar in Minnesota and Michigan.

Of course, there's no free lunch, and this sweet trade protection comes at the expense of American consumers and U.S. sugar-using businesses, who have been forced to pay more than twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982 (28.6 cents for domestic sugar vs. 14 cents for world sugar, see chart). How much does this trade protection cost Americans? .... If sugar quotas were eliminated, and American consumers and business had been able to purchase 100% their sugar in 2011 at the world price (average of 31.68 cents per pound) instead of the average U.S. price of 56.22 cents, they would have saved about $3.86 billion. In other words, by forcing Americans to pay 56.22 cents for inefficiently produced domestic sugar instead of 31.68 cents for more efficiently produced world sugar, Americans pay an additional 24.54 cents per pound for the 15.76 billion pounds of American sugar produced annually, which translates to $3.86 billion in higher costs for American consumers and businesses.

Bottom Line: The cost of most trade protection is largely invisible and hard to calculate, but the cost of sugar protection is directly visible and measurable, since the USDA and the futures markets regularly report prices for both high-cost domestic sugar and low-cost world sugar. Like all protection, sugar tariffs exist to protect an inefficient domestic industry (sugar beet farmers) from more efficient foreign producers (cane sugar farmers), and come at the expense of the U.S. consumers and the American companies using sugar as an input, and make our country worse off, on net.

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US Plummets On World Press Freedom Ranking - Slashdot

"Reporters Without Borders released its 2011-2012 global Press Freedom Index. The indicators for press freedom in the U.S. are dramatic, with a downward movement from 27th to 47th in the global ranking, from the previous year. Much of this is correlated directly to thearrest and incarceration of American journalists covering the 'Occupy' protest movements in New York and across the country. 'This is especially troubling as we head into an election year which is sure to spark new conflicts between police and press covering rallies, protests and political events.' Only Chile, who dropped from 33 to 80, joined the U.S. in falling over 100% of their previous ranking. Similarly, Chile was downgraded for 'freedom of information violations committed by the security forces during student protests.'"
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Bill Gates Injects $750 Million Into Troubled AIDS Fund - International Business Times

(REUTERS) -- Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates pledged a further $750 million to the troubled global AIDS fund on Thursday and urged governments to continue their support to save lives.

"These are tough economic times, but that is no excuse for cutting aid to the world's poorest," he said in Davos at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The public-private organization, which has the backing of celebrities like rock star Bono, accounts for around a quarter of international financing to fight HIV and AIDS, as well as the majority of funds to fight TB and malaria.

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UC Davis News & Information :: How sea water could corrode nuclear fuel

Japan used seawater to cool nuclear fuel at the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant after the tsunami in March 2011 -- and that was probably the best action to take at the time, says Professor Alexandra Navrotsky of the University of California, Davis.

But Navrotsky and others have since discovered a new way in which seawater can corrode nuclear fuel, forming uranium compounds that could potentially travel long distances, either in solution or as very small particles. The research team published its work Jan. 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a phenomenon that has not been considered before,” said Alexandra Navrotsky, distinguished professor of ceramic, earth and environmental materials chemistry. “We don’t know how much this will increase the rate of corrosion, but it is something that will have to be considered in future.”

Japan used seawater to avoid a much more serious accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, and Navrotsky said, to her knowledge, there is no evidence of long-distance uranium contamination from the plant.

Uranium in nuclear fuel rods is in a chemical form that is “pretty insoluble” in water, Navrotsky said, unless the uranium is oxidized to uranium-VI — a process that can be facilitated when radiation converts water into peroxide, a powerful oxidizing agent....

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Study: Multitasking hinders youth social skills - CNN.com

Sorry, a little "dahh factor" here for CNN.
Gadget multitasking can cause children to develop social problems, according to a new study.
Gadget multitasking can cause children to develop social problems, according to a new study.
  • Children who frequently multitask are less likely to develop social skills, study says
  • The study from Stanford University included nearly 3,500 girls aged 8 to 12
  • Face-to-face chats can improve kids' social devleopment

(CNN) -- FaceTime, the Apple video-chat application, is not a replacement for real human interaction, especially for children, according to a new study.

Tween girls who spend much of their waking hours switching frantically between YouTube, Facebook, television and text messaging are more likely to develop social problems, says a Stanford University study published in a scientific journal on Wednesday.

Young girls who spend the most time multitasking between various digital devices, communicating online or watching video are the least likely to develop normal social tendencies...

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Don't Worry About Global Warming, Say 16 Scientists in the WSJ - Slashdot

"According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, there's 'no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy'. From the article: 'The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2. The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle.'"
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Gates Paying Murdoch For System To Track U.S. Kids' School Progress - Slashdot

"Discussing U.S. education in his 2012 Annual Letter, Bill Gates notes the importance of 'tools and services [that] have the added benefit ofproviding amazing visibility into how each individual student is progressing, and generating lots of useful data that teachers can use to improve their own effectiveness.' Well, Bill is certainly putting his millions where his mouth is. The Gates Foundation has ponied up $76.5 million for a controversial student data tracking initiative that's engaged Rupert Murdoch's Wireless Generation to 'build the open software that will allow states to access a shared, performance-driven marketplace of free and premium tools and content.' If you live in CO, IL, NC, NY, MA, LA, GA, or DE, it's coming soon to a public school near you."
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Romney Collects More in Donations From the Five Biggest Banks Than All Other Candidates Combined | Truthout

Truth Out - Mitt Romney has been leading the way in the 2012 presidential race when it comes to donations from Wall Street, pulling in millions from the financial sector since he launched his campaign. And the industry’s favor for Romney comes across even more when looking at just the five biggest banks in the U.S.: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs

In fact, as McClatchy News noted, Romney has received more in donations from employees of the nation’s five biggest banks than all of the other presidential candidates combined:

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Here is the full break down:

Ron Paul

US Army$24,503
US Air Force$23,335
US Navy$17,432
Mason Capital Management$14,000
Microsoft Corp$13,398
Microsoft Corp$171,573
Comcast Corp$113,800
University of California$107,501
Harvard University$99,975
Google Inc$95,066

Mitt Romney

Goldman Sachs$367,200
Credit Suisse Group$203,750
Morgan Stanley$199,800
HIG Capital$186,500

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The Massive Debt Bomb: $7,600,000,000,000 Dollars Of Debt Must Be Rolled Over In 2012 (NYSEArca:TZA, NYSEArca:SDS, NYSEArca:SPXU, NYSEArca:SH, NYSEArca:EWZ, NYSEArca:UUP, NYSEArca:UDN, NYSEArca:RSX) | ETF DAILY NEWS

In 2012, a total of 7,600,000,000,000 dollars of debt must be rolled over by the G-7 nations, Brazil (NYSEArca:EWZ), Russia (NYSEArca:RSX), India (NYSEArca:EPI) and China (NYSEArca:FXI).  When you add in interest payments, that number rises to over $8 trillion.  And that does not even include any new borrowing that all of those nations will do in 2012.  This is a debt bomb that could devastate the entire global economy at any time.  Everything will be fine as long as global lenders are willing to lend these countries gigantic mountains of very cheap money.  But if that changes, and there are already a multitude of signs that a massive global credit crunch has begun, it will mean a complete and total financial nightmare for the entire world.

The following list compiled by Bloomberg shows the amount of debt that these various nations must roll over in 2012….

Japan: 3,000 billion
U.S.: 2,783 billion
Italy: 428 billion
France: 367 billion
Germany: 285 billion
Canada: 221 billion
Brazil: 169 billion
U.K.: 165 billion
China: 121 billion
India: 57 billion
Russia: 13 billion

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U.S. gov't security site hacked & TSA claimed railway suffered cyberattack

computerworld...Another day, another hack. All aboard the crazy cyber-attacked train? The TSA claimed that hackers launched a cyberattack that manipulated a railway company's computers. Then, last night, AntiSec hacktivists set sail and hacked OnGuardOnline.gov, a U.S. government online security website. The FTC managed site was rooted and a pastebin statement threatens to dump the looted booty if SOPA or PIPA legislation passes. read more

Bill Gates -- taxing the rich more will help close the budget deficit

computerworld...Since Bill Gates left Microsoft, he has become the world's premier philanthropist, but has largely stayed away from politics. But now, in an aside in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph, he lightly weighs into U.S. politics, saying that increasing taxes on the rich would be a good way to close the budget deficit. read more

Geothermal Could Become California's Baseload Power: Commissioner | EarthTechling

Geothermal resources could become California’s “bread and butter” baseload power as nuclear and gas-fired plants are retired, a state commissioner said this week.

The licence for the San Onofre nuclear power plant is due to expire in 2022, and the Diablo Canyon plant will not be permitted to continue generating after 2024, unless it applies for a 20-year extension. The facilities have a combined nameplate capacity of around 4,300 MW.

California’s once-through cooling policy which will prevent power stations from releasing hot water into the sea will result in the retirement or modification of 16 power plants from as early as 2015. In addition to these retirements, California also has to meet its AB32 goals to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, said Karen Douglas, commissioner at the Californian Energy Commission.

Douglas told media at the Geothermal Energy Finance and Development Forum in San Francisco that CEC regulators were preparing plans to maintain grid capacity of 31,000 MW of peak load electricity...

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NOTE: this article credit goes to Felicity Carus.

Chevy Volt Battery Issue The Next Solyndra? | EarthTechling


Is a new Solyndra brewing in the halls of power in Washington? One might think so with word today of a new report released by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to Bloomberg, this report basically accuses the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a cover up of sorts over the battery fire issue the NHTSA just closed its investigation on last week.

From the 16-page report’s executive summary:

The delayed public notification of serious safety concerns relating to the Chevy Volt raises significant concerns regarding the unnatural relationship between General Motors (GM), Chrysler and the Obama Administration. Rather than allowing GM and Chrysler to enter into a traditional bankruptcy process, the Obama Administration intervened and forced the companies to participate in a politically orchestrated process.  The result was that GM and Chrysler emerged as quasi-private entities, partially owned by the United States government.

President Obama has used this unusual blurring of public and private sector boundaries to openly tout the results of this partnership as a top accomplishment of his Administration –creating a dynamic where the President is politically reliant on the success of GM and Chrysler.Moreover, in the case of GM, the Administration has offered substantial taxpayer funded subsidies to encourage production of the Volt, such as $151.4 million in stimulus funds for a Michigan-based company that produces lithium-ion polymer battery cells for the Volt as well as $105 million directly to GM. It has also extended a significant subsidy to encourage consumers to purchase the vehicle, offering buyers of the Volt a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 per vehicle.

In the face of that political dependency, it is deeply troubling that public notification of the safety concerns related to the Volt was inexplicably delayed for six months – a period of time that also coincides with the negotiation over the 2017-2025 fuel economy standards. The necessity of a full explanation for NHTSA’s silence concerning the Volt’s safety risk has been compounded by its lack of cooperation with the Committee...

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U.S. Navy's Largest Solar Project Going Up | EarthTechling


SunPower broke ground this month on a big solar installation at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. Though it’s not a utility scale system of the magnitude being developed elsewhere in the desert – like the 392-megawatt (MW) Ivanpah concentrating solar plant, for instance – at 13.78 MW it is large enough to hint at the kind of solar development the military would like to see take place on its bases in the California desert.

“This is the largest solar project in the Navy,” the assistant Navy secretary for Energy, Installation and Environment, Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, said in a statement. “It demonstrates tangible progress toward national energy independence and reaching the Department of the Navy’s energy goals.”

You might recall our recent story about the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) study that promoted the concept of developing at least 50,000 acres at four Southern California military bases for solar power production. The study said the department could reap up to $100 million annually in lower power costs and rental-fee income with such a program. All told, the study said, some 7,000 megawatts could be mined in the desert by private developers using 6,777 acres at China Lake, 24,327 acres at Edwards Air Force Base, 18,728 acres at Fort Irwin and 553 acres at Twentynine Palms...

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Is Your Doctor Overweight? It Could Influence Your Obesity Diagnosis

Whether or not you get a diagnosis of obesity may come down to more than numbers on the scale -- it may actually be about what your doctor's weight is.

A new study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that when a doctor had a normal body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) they are more likely to talk to their patients who are obese about weight loss (30 percent of normal-weight doctors, compared with 18 percent of obese or overweight doctors).

In addition, 93 percent of normal-weight doctors are likely to diagnose a patient with obesity if the patient's BMI is the same or greater as their own, while just 7 percent of overweight and obese doctors were likely to do this, researchers said.

"Our findings indicate that physicians with normal BMI more frequently reported discussing weight loss with patients than overweight or obese physicians," study researcher Sara Bleich, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins, said in a statement. "Physicians with normal BMI also have greater confidence in their ability to provide diet and exercise counseling and perceive their weight loss advice as trustworthy when compared to overweight or obese physicians."

On the other hand, researchers found that obese doctors were more likely to prescribe and report success with prescribing medications for obesity to their patients.

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Chronic conditions key for slowing growth of healthcare costs - thepumphandle

thepumphandle...Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released some disappointing news: several demonstration projects aiming to contain growth in healthcare spending are not showing cost savings. Specifically, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have been focusing on programs involving either disease management and care coordination or value-based payment systems for the fee-for-service Medicare population. A CBO issue brief reviews programs in both these categories that have been conducted over the past two decades, and I'm particularly interested in what it says about the disease management/care coordination projects.

CBO reports on six major demonstration projects involving 34 disease-management programs that focused on the management of chronic conditions -- mainly diabetes, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease -- among Medicare beneficiaries. All of the programs relied on nurses functioning as case managers "to educate patients about their chronic illnesses, encourage them to follow self-care regimens, monitor their health, and track whether they received recommended tests and treatments."

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Scientists urge White House to intervene in stalled worker safety rule

A group of 300 scientists, physicians and public health experts are urging President Obama to direct his Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to complete its review of a proposed Labor Department health standard on the carcinogen crystallline silica. OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has been reviewing the proposed rule for nearly a year, although the Executive Order (EO) giving OIRA authority for such review sets a four-month maximum time limit.

The signatories on the letter to President Obama, many of whom are members of the Union of Concerned Scientists or the American Public Health Association call the delay extraordinary and "with no indication as to when the review will be concluded and the proposed rule issued." I signed the letter, too. My records indicate that a year-long "review" by the White House of an OSHA proposed health standard is unprecedented since EO 12866 took affect in 1993. Not a distinction the Obama Administration should be proud of, given their predecessor's pitiful record on new protective worker safety regulations.

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Effort to ban three chemicals used on Long Island.

With three million Long Islanders dependent on a single underground aquifer for drinking water, and the annual use of millions of pounds of pesticides, local environmental groups have asked for an immediate ban of the three most frequently found chemicals, atrazine, metalaxyl, and imidacloprid, from use on the Island.

Antibiotics prove powerless as super-germs spread.

Antibiotics were once the wonder drug. Now, however, an increasing number of highly resistant – and deadly – bacteria are spreading around the world. The killer bugs often originate in factory farms, where animals are treated whether they are sick or not.

FDA seizes nearly 14% of imported orange juice over fungicide.

Nearly 14% of orange juice imported to the U.S. since early this month has been seized by the Food and Drug Administration because it contained trace amounts of a fungicide, carbendazim, according to the agency.

California vision green cars requires huge new sources of electricity.

Here come the fleets of coal powered cars...
California is taking a bold step toward transforming the automobile industry with its highly ambitious new rules mandating a steady increase in the sales of ultralow and zero-emission vehicles...would require huge new sources of electricity.

New report by agency lowers estimates of natural gas in US.

The uncertainty in predicting natural gas resources was underscored last week when the Energy Information Administration released a report containing sharply lower estimates — a drop of more than 40 percent.

Pesticides blamed for bee decline.

Compelling new evidence from the US government's top bee expert that modern pesticides called neonicotinoids may be a major cause of collapsing bee populations led to calls yesterday for the chemicals to be banned.

Asbestos: New blow to victims of a shameful legacy.

The Government has deliberately excluded asbestos from an unprecedented review of the condition of the country's schools because it knows that tackling the risks to schoolchildren and teachers could cost hundreds of millions, critics claim.

New Report Details Why Existing Buildings Are Greener Than New Ones

Preservation Green Lab, adaptive reuse, green buildings, renovation, national trust for historic preservation, green architecture, green cities, global warming, green retrofit,

Every year, roughly one billion square feet of buildings are demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States, according to a new report from Preservation Green Lab, and that number is likely to escalate. That’s a lot of CO2 emissions and materials that could easily be saved. Since new buildings are generally more shiny and exciting though, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the greenest building is almost always the one that’s already standing. It seems like common sense, but now we have the hard data to back it up. According to the highly-anticipated report, it can take up to 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome the environmental impact of the construction process.

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Ecotricity’s SeaRaser Tidal Power Generator Could be the World’s Cheapest Method Of Producing Electr

tidal power, tidal energy, searaser ecotricity, cheap clean electricity, searaser, ecotricity, tidal ecotricity, searaser project

Over the years, scientists have come up with numerous ways to produce renewable energy, however cost has always been a huge barrier to the widespread adoption of clean tech – the economics are still in favor of fossil fuels. However UK-based alternative energy company Ecotricity believe all that is about to change – their new project, the SeaRaser, could solve two of the biggest challenges facing renewable energy by providing a steady source of energy at low-cost. Invented by Devon Energy engineer Alvin Smith, the SeaRaser harnesses the constant power of ocean swells to create electricity on demand. 

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Jan 28, 2012

New Energy-Efficient Battery Charging Standards in California Will Save 1 Million Tons of Carbon Emi

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We have all heard the phrases “phantom power” and “vampire energy” about a million times, and yet the problem still exists – many people forget to unplug battery chargers and other electronics when they are done with them. The State of California has decided that instead of trying to change the stubborn behavior of humans, they’re going to change the behavior of the chargers. In 2013 the state will introduce new battery charger standards that will reduce overall consumption by up to 40%, save enough energy to power 350,000 homes, save Californians $300 million in energy bills, and reduce carbon emissions by one million metric tons.

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California's Lead in Solar Is Slowly Eroding - NYTimes.com

Green: Living

The growth of California’s local solar-power systems, not only on rooftops but in parking lotsfarmers’ fields and vineyard irrigation ponds, has kept the state well ahead of others in the total power generated from photovoltaic systems.

In 2011, according to a new report by Environment California, California’s total capacity exceeded 1,000 megawatts — up from less than 10 megawatts in 2000.

But according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the state’s lead — California was home to two-thirds of all photovoltaic solar capacity in the country in 2008 — is shrinking slowly as other states, particularly New Jersey, provide incentives that are leading to a burst of new installations (andnew complaints.

Data was available nationally through 2010, when California had 869 megawatts of installed capacity, as reflected in the chart above.

report released on Tuesday by Environment California pinpoints the areas of California that are are home to the most rapid growth of solar power. Cities including Los Angeles have tripled their solar capacity since 2009, but San Diego leads the state in the number of installations on residential, commercial and government buildings (4,500) and overall capacity (37 megawatts)...

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Clean Energy Projects Face Waning Subsidies - NYTimes.com

...The wind and solar companies argue that the tax breaks they are seeking are different. The tax credits can be taken only by businesses that are already up and running, so taxpayers are less likely to be stuck subsidizing a failing company, proponents say.

“This is a program that doesn’t pick winners or losers,” said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “It’s hard to argue against a program like this that is creating jobs.”

Without the new breaks, industry executives warn, they will be forced to scale back production and eliminate jobs in a still-weak economy....

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Is Spent Nuclear Fuel Really Waste? - NYTimes.com

A pool of spent nuclear fuel at the LaSalle County Generating Station in LaSalle, Ill.Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York TimesA pool of spent nuclear fuel at the LaSalle County Generating Station in LaSalle, Ill.
Green: Politics

When the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was established two years ago, after the Obama administration killed a proposed repository for nuclear waste atYucca Mountain in Nevada, one of the items on its agenda was to determine whether spent nuclear fuel was in fact waste.

Among advocates of nuclear power, considerable disagreement exists about whether the spent fuel can be considered waste, given that it contains unused uranium as well as plutonium, which is created in nuclear reactors and can be used as fuel.

France and Japan have factories that chop up the fuel and chemically remove the uranium and plutonium for reuse. And on paper, there are designs for reactors that could take some of the most long-lived, troublesome materials in the spent fuel and transmute them into elements that would be easier to handle because they break down in centuries rather than millenniums.

But such reprocessing is also a path to making materials for nuclear weapons, so the United States discourages it abroad. Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter banned the technology here; President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban, but so far it has not mattered, because it is commercially unattractive to American utilities.

On Thursday, the special commission on nuclear waste released its final report. It was not encouraging to advocates of reprocessing.

The report did not rule out reprocessing or a new class of reactors. But it said that “no currently available or reasonably foreseeable reactor and fuel cycle technology developments — including advances in reprocessing and recycling technologies — have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenge this nation confronts over at least the next several decades.’’

Among other problems, it said, if there were some reprocessing, the country would still need a waste repository....

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Solar panels are the next space race - China produces more than 10,000 MW of solar cells annually. United States, 1,000 MW

...As a portend of things to come for the solar industry, solar power is now cheaper to acquire and use than diesel fuel in India. As a result, Indian manufacturers are exchanging diesel fuel for solar panels to power their operations. That’s a big deal for the environment, as well as the solar industry at large. However, this presents a serious problem – and opportunity – for the United States.

“But wait, you just said solar is cheaper than diesel! That’s great!”

I urge you to hold your enthusiasm and ask an important question: Why is solar power now cheaper than diesel in India?

“That’s easy, solar panel prices have dropped over 50% since last year”

Good, now tell me why solar panel prices have dropped that much.

“Uhh, because… I don’t know. They’re just less expensive.”

Panel prices have come down so much because of Hu Jintao’s decision to massively subsidize the cost of producing solar panels in China.

Those subsidies allow Chinese manufacturers to produce panels at a net cost much lower than American companies can. There is now a huge amount of solar panels produced in China, as those solar subsidies were the equivalent to throwing gasoline on an already stoked flame:

china solar production Solar panels are the next space race

China now has an extreme global advantage in an industry where panels on roofs are sure to become as ubiquitous as handles on doors.

Their low cost of labor and subsidized production have already tightened the vice on several American manufacturers. Last year, Evergreen Solar had to shutter one of its plants because it could not continue to compete with Chinese imports.

solar factory china Solar panels are the next space race

A solar panel manufacturing plant in Wuxi, China

On the other hand, solar installers love the decreased panel prices from China, as they are able to present much more financially compelling reasons why homeowners should go solar with a lower net cost of installation.

Meanwhile, American solar installers and manufacturers are at odds with one another as talks of tariffs on Chinese panel imports bubble up in congressional hearings.

American manufacturers are seeking protection from panel prices they cannot compete with, and installers want to protect their rosy sales and installation forecasts by being able to offer the most affordable solar solutions to their clients.

In the end, not much is happening to help domestic manufacturers and we’re starting to see a prosperous window of American opportunity start to close.

There’s plenty to find issue with regarding the philosophy of the Chinese government on many accounts over the course of human history. Though, I simply can’t help but admire China for their ability to take action instead of quibble and be locked in stalemate as is commonplace in Washington...

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Cellulosic Biomass Could Meet California's Transport Fuel Needs - The Bioenergy Site

...Both President Barack Obama and his predecessor in the White House have identified production of ethanol from cellulosic materials such as switchgrass and wood as vital to overcoming the U.S. “addiction” to oil. In recent years, California also adopted several bold new initiatives, including: (1) AB32, The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which caps greenhouse-gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020, (2) an executive order establishing the first Low Carbon Fuel Standard and calling for a reduction in the carbon intensity of passenger-vehicle fuels by at least 10% by 2020, and (3) an historic agreement with Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through a market-based approach. Meeting these targets will be challenging for a state with a transportation fuels market that dwarfs that of other states. Transportation fuels account for about 40% of California's total energy use; the state is the largest transportation fuels market in the country. Additionally, about 40% of California's greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation, a higher fraction than the country as a whole.

Fig. 1. Lignocellulose, the most abundant organic substance on Earth, is composed of three major constituents — cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin — that combine to protect energy-storing sugars and give the plant cell wall strength and structure. Source: Genome Management Information System, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

At present, cellulosic biomass is the only environmentally sustainable resource for producing liquid transportation fuels to meet these goals. California has large quantities of agricultural residues, forest thinnings and residues, and municipal waste. The California Biomass Collaborative estimates that the state produces about 24.2 million dry tons of cellulosic biomass annually, with enough of this available for the sustainable production of fuels displacing about 1.1 billion gallons of gasoline each year ( http://biomass.ucdavis.edu ).

Cellulosic biomass composition

Cellulosic biomass has three major components: hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. Hemicellulose is an amorphous, branched polymer that is usually composed primarily of five sugars (arabinose, galactose, glucose, mannose and xylose); it typically comprises about 15% to 30% of cellulosic biomass. Cellulose is a large, linear polymer of glucose molecules typically joined together in a highly crystalline structure due to hydrogen bonding between parallel chains; it typically comprises about 35% to 50% of cellulosic biomass. Lignin is a complex phenyl-propane polymer that often comprises about 15% to 30% of cellulosic biomass. Although lignin cannot be converted into fermentable sugars, this component has high value as a boiler fuel and could also be useful as a raw material for making aromatic compounds such as benzene and toluene.

Turning biomass into fuel

The biological processing of cellulosic biomass involves first using enzymes as catalysts to release sugars, as in from hemicellulose and cellulose by hydrolysis (in which water reacts with these fractions to release simple sugars), and then using microorganisms to ferment the sugars into ethanol (fig. 1). In laboratory studies, the enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of cellulose into glucose is promising for making fuel or other commodities because high glucose yields, considered vital to economic success, are possible (US DOE 1993).

The costs of processing cellulosic biomass have already been reduced by about a factor of four in the last 25 years, making them competitive with costs for producing ethanol from corn (Wyman 2001). Many of the advances needed to lower costs further are achievable through the application of powerful, evolving tools of biotechnology (Lynd et al. 2008). In addition, the high selectivity of biological processing, particularly of enzymes that catalyze reactions, minimizes waste generation and related disposal problems....

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