May 29, 2015

Fossil industry faces a perfect political and technological storm - Telegraph

Ironically, people think "politics" will clean up " fossil fuel industry"... brilliant deduction.  This would be like having a crack head as a AA sponsor - Haase

Telegraph -The political noose is tightening on the global fossil fuel industry. It is a fair bet that world leaders will agree this year to impose a draconian “tax” on carbon emissions that entirely changes the financial calculus for coal, oil, and gas, and may ultimately devalue much of their asset base to zero.

The International Monetary Fund has let off the first thunder-clap. An astonishing report - blandly titled "How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies" - alleges that the fossil nexus enjoys hidden support worth 6.5pc of world GDP.

This will amount to $5.7 trillion in 2015, mostly due to environmental costs and damage to health, and mostly stemming from coal. The World Health Organisation - also on cue - has sharply revised up its estimates of early deaths from fine particulates and sulphur dioxide from coal plants.

The killer point is that this architecture of subsidy is a "drag on economic growth" as well as being a transfer from poor to rich. It pushes up tax rates and crowds out more productive investment. The world would be richer - and more dynamic - if the burning of fossils was priced properly.

This is a deeply-threatening line of attack for those accustomed to arguing that solar or wind are a prohibitive luxury, while coal, oil, and gas remain the only realistic way to power the world economy. The annual subsidy bill for renewables is just $77bn, trivial by comparison.

The British electricity group SSE (ex Scottish and Southern Energy) is already adapting to the new mood. It will close its Ferrybridge coal-powered plant next year, citing the emerging political consensus that coal "has a limited role in the future".

The IMF bases its analysis on the work Arthur Pigou, the early 20th Century economist who advocated taxes to stop investors keeping all the profit while dumping the costs on the rest of society.

The Fund has set off a storm of protest. Subsidies are not quite the same as costs. Oil veterans retort that they have been paying 'social' taxes for a long time.

But whether or not you agree with the IMF’s forensic accounting the publication of such claims by the world's premier financial body is itself a striking fact. The IMF is political to its fingertips. It rarely deviates far from the thinking of the US Treasury.

It is becoming clearer that last year's sweeping deal on climate change between the US and China was an historical inflexion point, the beginning of the end for a century of fossil dominance. At a single stroke it defused the 'North-South' conflict that has bedevilled climate policy and that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009.

Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, said the chemistry is radically different today as sherpas prepare for the COPS 21 summit in Paris this December. "The two 800-pound gorillas are working together," he said.

Mr Stern claims that a constellation of states responsible for 60pc of global CO2 emissions are "already on board" for a binding deal, aimed at limiting the rise in carbon to 450 particles per million (ppm) and capping the rise in temperature to 2C degrees above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Climate scientists warn that we are currently on course for 4C degrees.

EPA announces $1.6 billion in Clean Water Act funds to upgrade Sacramento’s regional wastewater treatment plant

EchoWater project aims to improve water quality in the San Francisco Bay Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta EstuarySAN FRANCISCO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld announced a record $1.6 billion in Clean Water Act State Revolving Funds ... Please continue reading from: EPA News

Wisconsin's frac sand industry booms, with a value of about $4 billion NewsWatchWisconsin was the leading producer of frac sand in 2014, accounting for nearly half of the nation's production of the white sand coveted by the hydraulic fracturing industry, new statistics released this week show.

The United States Geological Survey's preliminary estimates for 2014 show Wisconsin's production at 24 million metric tons, compared with 8 million for Illinois, 8 million for Texas and 5 million for Minnesota.

Wisconsin, which has been dubbed the Saudi Arabia of sand, has seen a significant expansion of sand mines and sand processors in recent years as the oil and gas industry has expanded production of oil and gas through horizontal drilling techniques such as "fracking."

In a report, the USGS estimated that frac sand sales totaled 31 metric tons in 2012.

The agency cautioned that the report came from data voluntarily supplied by sand companies. Figures for 2013 weren't available.

A big question for the industry: Whether a dramatic drop in the price of crude oil — which has slowed well drilling activity — will lead to a long-term drop in production or a scaling back in sand mining companies' aggressive expansion plans?

In Wisconsin, some expansion has slowed. Emerge Energy Services last month canceled a project in Independence, in Trempealeau County, saying it was "no longer economically viable."

But competitor Hi-Crush Partners is moving ahead with permitting for another mine in Wisconsin.

In response to dropping oil prices, Emerge said this month that demand for sand is down at least 30% from late last year, with sand prices off 20% to 25%.

Industry analysts say that unless oil prices remain low over the long term, demand for frac sand remains strong, even with the decline, in part because of drilling techniques adopted in the last few years that require much more sand to be used per well than was the case even five years ago.

The USGS report says a typical fracking well used 900 tons of sand seven years ago but that had grown to 4,100 to 5,000 tons last year.

That means an average of 40 to 50 train carloads of sand were needed for each well, the USGS report said.

U.S. production of 54 metric tons is expected by 2017 to reach 70 million metric tons, with a value of about $4 billion by 2017, according to the report.

The Great Lakes region and Texas "will likely continue to represent the largest production shares through the end of the decade as expansions at existing mines occur and new mines are developed," the agency says.

The rapid growth of the industry has caused complaints, with concerns including truck traffic, air pollution and the effects on waterways.

Environmental groups have sought more aggressive regulation of the sand mines, and this year the state Department of Natural Resources board voted unanimously to have the agency conduct a strategic analysisof industrial sand mining and whether changes should be made to how sand mining is regulated. Please continue reading from: Wisconsin's frac sand industry booms

EPA awards $400,000 brownfields cleanup grant for public park in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that the City and County of San Francisco will receive $400,000 in federal funds to clean up the site of a future public park in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. San Francisco is among 147 communities nationwide receivin... Please continue reading from: EPA News

There Are Over 200 Million Fewer Hungry People Now Than 25 Years Ago: U.N.

ROME (AP) — The number of hungry people around the world has dropped to 795 million from over a billion a quarter-century ago despite natural disasters, ongoing conflicts and poverty, the three U.N. food agencies said Wednesday.

Countries in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean showed the most progress in reducing hunger, thanks in part to economic growth that didn't exclude the poor, investments in agriculture and political stability, the agencies said in their annual State of Food Insecurity report.

The report found that a majority of the countries monitored — 72 out of 129 — have met the U.N.'s ambitious Millennium Development Goals to halve undernourishment by 2015.

"The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime," said U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's chief, Jose Graziano da Silva.

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US daily Crude oil production over 9.5 million barrels per day for the first time since 1972

Next Big FutureUS daily Crude oil production is at 9.566 million barrels per day. Part of the 300K gain from the prior reported week was 95K per day from Alaska oil production as some problems were resolved. 

US daily crude oil production history from 1920 to today. The peak was in 1970 and was just short of 10 million barrels per day. Todays production level is the highest since May of 1972.

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Renewable share of U.S. energy mix highest since Great Depression (1930s)

So in other words we have gone no where since the 30's?
TreeHuggerNot all renewable energy is created equal
There are good and bad news in a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). First, a nice milestone: Renewables are now as big a part of the mix as they were back in the 1930s, during the depression years when wood was a much bigger player than it is now, compared to the other sources at the time. In 2014, Renewable energy accounted for 9.8% of total domestic energy consumption. You can see that in the graph below by looking at the black line.

U.S. E.I.A./Public Domain

The other lines show how much of the energy consumption is renewable by sector. That's when the bad news start to appear...

"Renewable" is a very nice-sounding word, and all else being equal, you'd rather something be renewable than a one-time-use and then it's gone (like fossil fuels). But something being renewable isn't enough by itself to make it green. If I clear cut a beautiful old growth forest and burn the wood for heat, technically that wood is renewable, but it's still not a green practice.

U.S. E.I.A./Public Domain

That's the problem with a lot of renewable energy in the US. As you can see in the other graphs above, one of the fastest-growing sources in the past few years is biofuels, and right now most biofuels in the US aren't very green. They're mostly made with food crops like corn, raising the price of that commodity and everything made with it, and they require a lot of energy inputs to make, making the final results barely carbon neutral if we're lucky.

So that nice bump in the graph for the transportation sector might be renewable, but it's not so green.

A similar thing applies to one of the oldest sources of energy in the world, wood. It represents about 2% of U.S. energy use, and it's renewable, but in practice, some of it is green and some isn't. Sadly, sustainably harvested forests are still not as widespread as they should be.

Back to good news: Most of the rest of the recent growth in renewables comes from wind and solar power, which have been growing rapidly and are just getting started (Worldwide solar power capacity is 53X higher than 9 years ago! Wind power 6.6X higher!).

Of course, the best chart to visualize U.S. energy sources and uses (and waste) is the classic from Lawrence Livermore Labs:

LLNL/Public Domain

Via U.S. EIA

May 28, 2015

Heat Wave Kills More Than 1,100 In India

Slashdot... a week-long heat wave in India hasresulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 people. Temperatures reached 47C (117F) on Monday and are expected to stay dangerously high throughout the week. The heat and extreme dryness are being accompanied by strong westerly winds. "About one-third of the country's 1.2 billion people have access to electricity, meaning millions are enduring the blistering heat without relief." The local power grid has been struggling under high demand from fans and air conditioning. In some states, citizens are being advised to stay indoors during the middle of the day, when the sun is at its peak. Many hope the upcoming monsoons will return temperatues to less dangerous levels.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Power Plant Emissions to Drop to 1980s Levels Under U.S. Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency's plan to regulate power plant emissions will cut carbon pollution to its lowest level since the 1980s, reducing CO2 emissions from power plants by 1.6 billion tons per year, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The Clean Power Plan, which was proposed last June, sets goals for reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030. Under the plan, power sector CO2 emissions are projected to fall 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 34 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the EIA analysis found. That would bring CO2 emissions from the power sector down to levels not seen since the early 1980s, the report notes. Please continue reading from: Yale Environment 360

EPA awards nearly $200,000 for environmental job training in Richmond, Calif.

EPA News – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $192,300 environmental workforce development grant to RichmondBUILD, an environmental job training program in Richmond, Calif. RichmondBUILD will use the federal grant to train 51 students and place at least 45 graduates in e... 

Graphene sponge can absorb light and emit energetic electrons for breakthrough solar sail propulsion

Next Big FutureThe direct light propulsion of matter was observed on a macroscopic scale for the first time using a bulk graphene [graphene sponge] based material. The unique structure and properties of graphene and the morphology of the bulk graphene material make it capable of not only absorbing light at various wavelengths but also emitting energetic electrons efficiently enough to drive the bulk material following Newtonian mechanics. Thus, the unique photonic and electronic properties of individual graphene sheets are manifested in the response of the bulk state. These results offer an exciting opportunity to bring about bulk scale light manipulation with the potential to realize long-sought proposals in areas such as the solar sail and space transportation driven directly by sunlight.

Two working mechanisms have been well documented for beam-powered propulsion: either an external laser beam ablates/burns off propellant to provide propulsion similar to conventional chemical rockets or the direct radiation pressure generates the propulsion force governed by the Maxwell electromagnetism theory as has been proposed for the solar sail. The light intensities (irradiance) of Watt level laser and simulated sunlight in our tests were at 10^5 and 10^4 W m-2 level respectively. Based on the radiation pressure theory, the propulsion forces produced by the radiation pressure of such laser and simulated sunlight should be both at ~10^-9 N and they are orders of magnitude smaller than the force required to move and propel the bulk graphene object

So the direct radiation pressure induced mechanism can be excluded. Another possibility for explaining our laser-induced propulsion and rotation is the conventional laser beam ablating or burning off of graphene material to generate a plasma plume or carbon particles and molecules for propulsion. But such a mechanism normally needs extremely high laser power supply, so pulsed laser sources (ms/ns level pulse width and gigawatt level peak power) or ultrahigh power continuous wave laser (up to megawatt level) were used. This is contrary to our light-induced motion which can even be observed with sun light which has a much lower power. Note that the continuous wave lasers that we used were only at the Watt level.

No ablation could be detected.

These results prompt them to search for other possible mechanisms for macroscopic direct light manipulation. It is well known that graphene sheet shows unique optoelectronic properties due to its Dirac conical and gapless band structure, which allows graphene to: 1) absorb all wavelength of light efficiently, 2) achieve population inversion state easily as a result of the excitation of hot electrons and the relaxation bottleneck at the Dirac point and then 3) eject the hot electrons following the Auger-like mechanism. Many studies of this effect have been reported not only for individual suspended graphene sheets but also for reduced graphene oxide sheets. In the competition of different relaxation pathways of carriers at the reverse saturated state of the optically excited graphene, due to the weak electron-phonon coupling, the Auger-like recombination is proved to be the dominant process and plays an unusually strong role in the relaxation dynamics process of the hot carriers (electrons).

Graphene sponge

They believe Auger-like recombination is probably also the dominant path for the relaxation of the hot electrons for their photoexcited graphene

The average current was measured at about 3.0 × 10^-8 to 9.0 × 10^-7 A under the laser power 1.3-3.0 W (450 nm, power density 3.71× 10^4 -8.57 × 10^4 mW cm-2 for 3.5 mm2 laser spot, which means that the electron ejection rate should be about 2.0 × 10^11 to 5.7 × 10^12 s-1, so a power of 2.2 × 10^-6 to 6.4 × 10^-5
J s-1 (Watt) could be obtained based the average kinetic energy of 70 eV for the ejected electrons. This is larger than the energy necessary (more than 10^-6 Watt) to vertically propel the sample.

Note the actual propulsion force/energy should be significantly larger than the values estimated above, since clearly not all the electrons were collected in the measurement. Thus, this propulsion by Light-Induced Ejected Electrons (LIEE) is actually an energy transfer process, where the photon energy is absorbed by graphene bulk materials and converted into the kinetic energy of ejected electrons, rather than a direct momentum transfer process like in the earlier proposed propulsion by light pressure. 

While the propulsion energy/force is still smaller compared with conventional chemical rockets, it is already several orders larger than that from light pressure. Assuming the area of a typical solar-cell panel structure on the satellite is ~50 m2 and because a laser-graphene sponge-based rocket does not need other moving parts, with a payload of 500 kg, the acceleration rate would be 0.09 meter per sec squared . Since the density of graphene sponge is very low and no other onboard propellant is needed (the required vacuum and light are naturally available in space), the theoretical specific impulse of our laser propulsion could be much higher

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May 27, 2015

Scientists, conservationists say they have successfully treated bats with white-nose syndrome

Scientists and conservationists say they have successfully treated and cured bats afflicted with white-nose syndrome, reports The Nature Conservancy. The disease, which is a white fungus that appears on the noses of hibernating bats, has killed an estimated 5.7 million bats in the eastern U.S. and Canada. It also forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened(A bat that was released after being treated for white-nose syndrome)

Last week 150 bats successfully treated for white-nose syndrome were released into the Mark Twain Cave Complex in Hannibal, Mo., according to The Nature Conservancy. "In 2012, Dr. Christopher Cornelison and several colleagues at Georgia State University found that a common North America bacterium, Rhodococcus rhodochrous, had the ability to inhibit the growth of some fungi. They found in the lab that R. rhodochrous, without directly touching the Pd, could nonetheless strongly inhibit its growth." Scientists said they are cautiously optimistic that the treatment is an effective cure for white-nose syndrome. (Read more

Why PowerPoint Should Be Banned

SlashdotAn editorial at the Washington Post argues that Microsoft PowerPoint is being relied upon by too many to do too much, and we should start working to get rid of it. "Its slides are oversimplified, and bullet points omit the complexities of nearly any issue. The slides are designed to skip the learning process, which — when it works — involves dialogue, eye-to-eye contact and discussions. Of course PowerPoint has merits — it can help businesses with their sales pitches or let teachers introduce technology into the classroom. But instead of being used as a means for a dynamic engagement, it has become a poor substitute for longer, well-thought-out briefings and technical reports. It has become a crutch."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Air2Nitrous device claimed to cut vehicle exhaust emissions by 90 percent

GizmagDriving an electric car that gives off no emissions is one of the best ways to reduce your personal transport carbon footprint. But if an EV is out of reach, the next best thing could be a simple retrofittable, scalable device called Air2Nitrous (A2N). Its creators claim it can reduce engine emissions by 90 percent, while cutting fuel consumption by 20 percent.

.. Continue Reading Air2Nitrous device claimed to cut vehicle exhaust emissions by 90 percent 

Herpes virus genetically engineered to destroy skin cancer cells

GizmagA new study has pointed to a chink in the armor of skin cancer cells, suggesting that they can be overpowered by the body's own system with help from a pioneering approach known as viral therapy. A clinical trial has demonstrated that a genetically engineered herpes virus can not only plant itself in the cancer cells and kill them off, but activate the body's own immune system to stave off harmful tumors.

.. Continue Reading Herpes virus genetically engineered to destroy skin cancer cells 

May 26, 2015

Audi claims first synthetic gasoline made from plants

GizmagJust weeks after producing its first batch of synthetic diesel fuel made from carbon dioxide and water, Audi has laid claim to another synthetic, clean-burning and petroleum-free fuel called "e-benzin." The fuel was created by Audi's project partner Global Bioenergies, in France.. Continue Reading Audi claims first synthetic gasoline made from plants 

May 22, 2015

New research leads to FDA approval of first drug to treat radiation sickness

As a result of research performed by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a drug to treat the deleterious effects of radiation exposure following a nuclear incident. The drug, Neupogen®, is the first ever approved for the treatment of acute radiation injury.

The research was done by Thomas J. MacVittie, PhD, professor, and Ann M. Farese, MA, MS, assistant professor, both in the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) Department of Radiation Oncology's Division of Translational Radiation Sciences. The investigators did their research in a non-human clinical model of high-dose radiation.

"Our research shows that this drug works to increase survival by protecting blood cells," said Dr. MacVittie, who is considered one of the nation's leading experts on radiation research. "That is a significant advancement, because the drug can now be used as a safe and effective treatment for the blood cell effects of severe radiation poisoning."

Radiation damages the bone marrow, and as a result decreases production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Neupogen® counteracts these effects. The drug, which is made by Amgen, Inc., was first approved in 1991 to treat cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Although doctors may use it "off label" for other indications, the research and the resulting approval would speed up access to and use of the drug in the event of a nuclear incident.

This planning is already under way. In 2013, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, bought $157 million worth of Neupogen® for stockpiles around the country in case of nuclear accident or attack.

Neupogen® is one of several "dual-use" drugs that are being examined for their potential use as countermeasures in nuclear incidents. These drugs have everyday medical uses, but also may be helpful in treating radiation-related illness in nuclear events. Dr. MacVittie and Ms. Farese are continuing their research on other dual-use countermeasures to radiation. They are now focusing on remedies for other aspects of radiation injury, including problems with the gastrointestinal tract and the lungs.

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105,000 gallons of oil may have spilled in Santa Barbara County.

The operator of an underground pipeline that ruptured and released up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil in Santa Barbara County - and tens of thousands of gallons into the ocean - said Wednesday that the spill happened after a series of mechanical problems caused the line to be shut down.  Please continue reading from: Environmental Health News

May 21, 2015

Work-Related Asthma Affects Millions of U.S. Adults: CDC If you can't give up the job, try to minimize contact with irritants, expert says

The Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program (WRAPP) of the California Department of Public Health is releasing new fact sheets on fragrances and work-related asthma for May, Asthma Awareness Month.

Perfumes and fragrances used in personal care products, cleaning products, and air fresheners in the workplace can cause or trigger asthma. They are made up of many different chemicals, including several known to cause asthma, even in people who have never had asthma before.

WRAPP has found over 250 people reporting work-related asthma from fragrance exposures in many indoor work settings – including schools, hospitals, offices, and manufacturing.

New fact sheets for workers and employers explain work-related asthma, how it can be prevented from fragrance and perfume exposures, and what to do if a worker experiences symptoms. They include a model fragrance-free policy that can be customized for any workplace.

THURSDAY, (HealthDay News) -- Wheezing and coughing on the job from work-related asthma is more common than you might think, according to a new U.S. health report.

Almost 16 percent of American adults with asthma either developed the condition on the job or have asthma symptoms made worse by conditions in their workplace, said Dr. Jacek Mazurek, lead author of a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That adds up to an estimated 1.9 million cases of work-related asthma in the 22 states that were part of the CDC study.

"Work-related asthma is associated with increased disability, mortality, and adverse social and economic outcomes," said Mazurek, a lead research epidemiologist with the division of respiratory disease studies at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Many people who have asthma flare-ups at work experience poor quality of life, loss of income and unemployment, he added.

The new findings are published in the April 10 edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Overall, about one in 10 Americans has asthma, researchers found.

Rates of work-related asthma for on-the-job adults range from 23 percent in Missouri and 21 percent in Wisconsin down to 9 percent in Hawaii, according to CDC poll data gathered from 22 states in 2012. Twenty-one of those states had rates higher than 13 percent.

Asthma attacks occur when the airways constrict in response to some sort of environmental irritant, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Triggers can include allergens, dust, smoke, fragrances and chemicals.

There are two main types of work-related asthma, said Dr. Susan Tarlo, a respiratory physician and a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Asthma that has been caused by work conditions is called occupational asthma, while existing asthma that is triggered by conditions at work is called work-exacerbated asthma, Tarlo said.

"Work-exacerbated asthma is much more common," she said. "We've seen a decline in occupational asthma over time, but work-exacerbated asthma has continued to be common."

Transocean pay only $212M settlement of $40 billion of Deepwater Horizon oil spill

NEW ORLEANS, May 20 (UPI) -- Transocean, the owner of the
Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in 2010, dumping some 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, agreed to a $212 million settlement.

The Switzerland-based company said it reached settlements with two classes of plaintiffs -- one comprised of private plaintiffs and local governments, and another including BP.

"The Macondo Well incident resulted from a complex series of causes and events," a statement from Transocean said. "These included mistakes made by multiple parties, including Transocean, from which the entire industry can learn and continue to improve safety in the drilling industry. These important agreements, which Transocean believes to be in the best interest of its shareholders and employees, remove substantially all of the remaining uncertainty associated with the incident."

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Obama Administration unveils plan to save ailing honeybee and monarch butterfly populations

The Rural Blog
The Obama Administration on Tuesday detailed a plan to save the honeybee and monarch butterfly populations, mainly by adding or improving seven million acres of land "devoted to the wildflowers and milkweed that are crucial to their survival," Michael Wines reports for The New York Times. Honeybee populations lost 42.1 percent of colonies last year, while the monarch butterfly population has fallen by 90 percent in recent years.

The plan "aims to cut annual honeybee losses to 15 percent of colonies—roughly the average in earlier decades—by 2025," Wines writes. "For monarchs, the goal is to build by 2020 a migration large enough to cover 15 acres—or about 20 football fields—of the Mexico forest where the butterflies spend the winter. Last winter the monarchs occupied about 2.8 acres of forest."

Efforts would focus on the central U.S., "where about two-thirds of the nation's managed honeybee colonies spend the summer and where monarchs conduct their annual migrations to and from Mexico," Wines writes. "It would include encouraging schools to plant pollinator gardens and turning land around Interstate 35, which runs from Duluth, Minn., to the Mexico border at Laredo, Tex., into a continuous wildflower buffet for migrating monarchs and other pollinating creatures."

Also, "federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the Defense Department would include pollinator habitats in their management of government property, whether in restoring fire-damaged forests or landscaping a new office building," Wines writes. "Federal officials would encourage state highway and utility offices to plant wildflowers and milkweed along rights of way instead of planting and mowing grass. Among other initiatives, the strategy will modestly increase funding for research into bees and other pollinators, expand public education and study ways to minimize pollinators' exposure to pesticides." 

Environmental groups said the plan doesn't go far enough to address pesticides, which have been partially blamed for the declines, Wines writes

May 20, 2015

Smoke (still) gets in your eyes at many job sites.

Despite the flood of state and local laws since the 1990s to ban indoor smoking, millions of Americans still are exposed to secondhand smoke on the job.

Please continue reading from: 

Energy Dept. Wants Big Wind Energy Technology In All 50 US States

Bigger wind turbines and towers are just part of what the U.S. needs in order to more effectively use wind energy in all 50 states.That was the thrust of a wind energy call-to-arms report called "Enabling Wind Power nationwide" issued this week by the Department of Energy. They detail new technology that can reach higher into the sky to capture more energy and more powerful turbines to generate more gigawatts. These new turbines are 110-140 meters tall, with blades 60 meters long. The Energy Department forecasts strong, steady growth of wind power across the country, both on land and off shore.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Granlund Host Finland’s First Ever Behaviour Change Hackathon: 5 Tips to Reduce Building User Energy Consumption

User energy consumption analysis of buildings concerns the interaction between the installed energy consuming systems (for example: lighting), the related control systems (for example: light switches) and the people that occupy the building. At the hackathon Outi Kuittinen of Demos Helsinki explained that "Our behaviour can indeed have a major impact on energy consumption. One study (see image below) found that being wasteful with our energy use could lead up to a 33% increase in the default energy consumption of a building. Correspondingly, being conservative with our energy use could lead up to 32% less consumption from the baseline amount. Hence, by acting smart, we can actively cut down our energy consumption by over a half"


With this in mind there are two opposing views as to how to minimise user energy consumption in buildings.

    Please continue reading from: 

    May 19, 2015

    Highly contagious, antibiotic-resistant food poisoning establishes US presence.

    In April the CDC reported an outbreak of Shigella sonnei that is resistant to ciprofloxacin—one of the last remaining medications in pill form that can kill the germ. The worrisome strain is still circulating in the U.S. a year after it first emerged.
    Please continue reading from: Environmental Health News

    May 15, 2015

    Fast Blood Test For Radiation Exposure Could Save Lives | Popular Science

    In the aftermath of a nuclear event like the Fukushima disaster, medical professionals have to quickly determine which victims they should treat for radiation poisoning, and which are beyond help. Right now, the only way doctors can figure it out is to estimate how much medication to give a patient based on her estimated distance from the center of the radiation leak, or to look at how many white blood cells had died in a patient's blood sample. But at the moment it's nearly impossible to be more exact within the 24 hours after the initial exposure, according to Popular Mechanics. Now, a team of researchers has found a tiny genetic indicator that reflects how much radiation the patient has been exposed to and the amount of damage it has done in the body.

    The hematopoietic system--blood and the organs that produce it--are a great place to look for the first signs of radiation damage because it's the most vulnerable. In thestudy, published yesterday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers exposed mice to low, medium, and lethal amounts of radiation. When they checked the rodents' blood, they found that genes floating in the blood, called microRNA, were excellent indicators for the level of radiation to which the mice had been exposed. For one kind of microRNA--there are more than 60 that have been used as biomarkers for various diseases--the code is almost identical in everyone, but radiation scrambles the code. Higher levels of radiation lead to more mutations.

    When researchers tried the same thing on "humanized" mice that had received transplants of human blood stem cells, they found that the microRNA changed the same way when exposed to radiation.

    Please continue reading from | Popular Science

    EPA requires Southern California metal finishers to stop illegal hazardous waste releases, wastewater discharges

    LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today the resolution of a series of enforcement actions at five Southern California metal finishing companies which will collectively pay more than $223,700 in civil penalties for hazardous waste and Clean Water Act violations. ... 
    Please continue reading from:  U.S. EPA News

    Duke will plead guilty in federal court for environmental crimes, pay $102 million fine

    As Duke Energy prepares to plead guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act, it has started delivering bottled water to people with tainted wells close to its North Carolina coal ash pits.

    Duke has long denied its 32 dumps in the state have contaminated the drinking water of its neighbors. But recent state-mandated tests found that more than 150 residential wells tested near Duke's dumps have failed to meet state groundwater standards.

    Company spokeswoman Erin Culbert says any homeowner who gets a letter warning of a tainted well will get safe bottled water from Duke, if they request it.

    Duke is scheduled to plead guilty Thursday to nine environmental crimes as part of a negotiated settlement with federal prosecutors requiring it to pay $102 million in fines and restitution.

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    Bees Are Dying and We'll All Pay for It

    Bee colonies are still dying, and food may get more expensive as a result.

    Beekeepers in the U.S. lost 42.1 percent of their bee colonies between April 2014 and April 2015, according to a recent annual survey. Those losses continue a trend of die offs among bee colonies, which beekeepers say could drastically affect our food supply.

    Without bees to pollinate crops, we stand to lose many staple foods that we eat every day, from apples and tomatoes, to onions and berries.

    It's normal to lose some colonies. Beekeepers say it's acceptable to lose about 18.9 percent of colonies during a winter season. At that rate, it's still economically feasible to keep bees without charging higher prices to rent them out for pollination. But winter losses have been much higher than that for at least a decade. Last winter, U.S. beekeepers lost 23.1 percent of their colonies, just a slight improvement from the winter of 2013-2014. Those numbers look like a huge improvement over previous years, though; from 2006-2013, winter losses averaged about 30 percent.

    Winter losses tell only part of the story. In fact, U.S. beekeepers lost enough colonies during the last two summers to make up for the improvements in winter losses. Last summer, about 27.4 percent of colonies died out. Large-scale commercial beekeepers, those with more than 50 colonies, seem to be especially prone to losing bee colonies during the summer.

    Why are bee colonies dying? Several reasons: sometimes they succumb to winter cold, and sometimes a colony falls prey to mites, viruses, or fungi. Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is one of the biggest problems, and it's actually pretty creepy. Colonies that have succumbed to CCD are eerily deserted. The adult bees are gone, but there aren't any bodies. It's likely that the workers died elsewhere, but they left with unhatched young in the brood chamber, ample supplies of food in the hive, and the queen all alone in the hive.

    Researchers think CCD is the product of an unfortunate combination of pesticides, parasites, pathogens, and nutritional problems caused by less diversity and availability of sources of pollen and nectar. Any of those causes could also contribute to more ordinary kinds of colony loss.

    We're not in danger of losing bees altogether, but if these losses continue, produce could get more expensive. Most commercial beehives don't make their money on honey; they earn their living by renting out their bee colonies to pollinate farmers' crops. Often, this involves actually loading the beehives onto a truck (at night, when the bees are asleep in the hive) and driving to a farm.

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    Nestle refuses to stop seizing California water

    Guardian - The boss of Nestlé Waters has said the company wants to increase the amount of water it bottles in California despite a devastating drought across the state that has triggered demonstrations at the corporation's bottling plant.

    Tim Brown, chief executive of Nestlé Waters North America, said the company would "absolutely not" stop bottling in California and would actually like to "increase" the amount of ground source water it uses.

    Asked in a local radio interview if Nestlé would consider following Starbucks' lead and stop bottling water in California during the drought, Brown said: "Absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would. Advertisement

    "The fact is, if I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water," Brown said in a discussion with a NASA hydrologist on 89.3 KPCC radio. "People need to hydrate. As the second largest bottler in the state, we're filling a role many others are filling. It's driven by consumer demand, it's driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate. Frankly, we're very happy they are doing it in a healthier way."

    Brown admitted that Nestlé currently wastes about 30% of the 700m gallons of water a year it draws from the ground in California. On Tuesday, the company announced plans to reduce water waste at its bottling plants in Bakersfield and Tulare by 12%. 
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    Subaru of America is a leader in green manufacturing, with 10 years of experience building its cars in zero landfill plants.

    Sure, everyone's doing it nowadays, but Subaru's been building cars in zero landfill plants for a decade, and now teaches other companies how to do it as well.

    Subaru doesn't make electric cars, and it only has a single entry in the hybrid market, so it's a stretch to say that the company is a green car maker. However, thanks to its long-time sustainability initiatives, and its willingness to teach other companies how to clean up their operations, Subaru of America is a leader in green manufacturing, with 10 years of experience building its cars in zero landfill plants.

    In the quest to build more sustainability into businesses, many companies are taking a long hard look at their waste streams these days, and the idea of a manufacturer going "zero landfill" at its plants isn't something that only applies to outliers and early adopters. But it wasn't very long ago that car makers and other large industrial manufacturers considered waste to be just another cost of doing business, and while it might be better overall to produce less waste, that wasn't enough to spend the time and money to design and implement plant-wide waste reduction initiatives.

    Today, however, many big car companies are actively pursuing zero landfill policies at their plants, and along with a number of other businesses, are following the lead of Subaru, which was the first auto assembly plant in North America to throw the full weight of its organization behind the push to go zero landfill.

    Since 2004, Subaru's plant in Lafayette, Indiana (Subaru of Indiana), has been turning out hundreds of thousands of cars each year with only a minimal amount of waste.

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    May 14, 2015

    Honeybee population lost 42.1% of colonies during the last year, up from 34.2% the previous year

    The Rural BlogThousands of beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies from May 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015, well above the 34.2 percent losses from the previous year, says a survey released today by the Bee Informed Partnership, Michael Wines reports for The New York Times. "The bees are not in danger of extinction, but their health is of major concern to agriculture, where their pollination services are estimated to be worth $10 billion to $15 billion a year." 

    The survey consisted of 6,128 beekeepers, who represent 14.5 percent of the nation's 2.74 million managed honeybee colonies, says the Bee Informed Partnership. Of those surveyed, 67.2 percent "experienced winter colony loss rates greater than the average self-reported acceptable winter mortality rate of 18.7 percent."

    The number of bees lost during the winter of 2014-15 was actually lower than in the winter of 2013-14, but an increase of summer losses led to higher overall losses, the survey said. Beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of colonies in the summer of 2014, compared to 19.8 percent in 2013.

    "Nobody knows with certainty why. Beekeepers once expected to lose perhaps 10 percent of their bees in an average year," Wines writes. "But deaths began to spike in the middle of the past decade, when a phenomenon in which bees deserted their hives and died en masse—later named colony collapse disorder—began sweeping hives worldwide." Losses also have been partly blamed on pesticides. (Bee Informed graphic)

    May 13, 2015

    American Coatings Association Submits Comments to EPA in Response to Proposed Significant New Use Rule for Consumer Uses of TDIs

    On April 30, ACA submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the agency’s proposed significant new use rule (SNUR) for 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, 2,6-toluene diisocyanate, toluene diisocyanate unspecified isomers (TDI), and related compounds. The proposed SNUR applies to any use in a consumer product, with a proposed exception for use of certain chemical substances in coatings, elastomers, adhesives, binders, and sealants that results in less than or equal to 0.1 percent by weight of TDI in a consumer product. EPA states this proposed SNUR would apply to the uses it has identified as not ongoing at the time of this proposed rule. To the extent that additional ongoing uses are found in the course of rulemaking (i.e., in the public comments), EPA would exclude those specific chemical substances for those specific uses from the final SNUR. EPA is also proposing to exclude from application the general SNUR article exemption for persons who import or process these chemical substances as part of an article.

    According to EPA, diisocyanates are well known dermal and inhalation sensitizers in the workplace and have been documented to cause asthma, lung damage, and in severe cases, death. Worker exposures are already subject to protective controls in occupational settings, but EPA is concerned about potential health effects that may result from exposures to the consumer or self-employed worker while using products containing uncured TDI, such as spray-applied sealants and coatings.
    ACA expressed concern that EPA based its perception of the usage of TDI on the agency’s most recent Chemical Data Reporting Rule (CDR) results. ACA underscored that chemical manufacturers, importers, and formulators are not required to report usage of chemicals below 25,000 pounds; as such, EPA’s data on usage of TDI is not complete because there are products on the market that contain very low concentrations of the listed TDI chemicals, or the substance qualifies for the polymer exemption and therefore does not trigger CDR reporting. ACA encouraged the agency to carefully review the data gathered during the comment period to ensure that it is not limiting current usage of the listed TDI and related compounds.

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    Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Approves TSCA Reform Bill with Amendments

    On April 28, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a
    full-committee markup and passed Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) and Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) legislation, S. 697, “The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.” The legislation seeks to update the 39-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and is a product of months of bipartisan negotiations. The legislation passed with broad support with a vote of 15-5.

    TSCA was enacted in 1976 to protect the public by regulating chemicals that may be harmful to human health and the environment. Given that the core provisions of the law have not been updated since its passage, stakeholders and Congress alike have advocated for reform in order to address the inefficiencies of the current regulations. The Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act builds on and bolsters the progress made with the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S.1009) introduced last year by making a number of improvements to the current law, including:

    • Ensuring the safety standard is purely risk-based so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot consider costs when determining the safety of a chemical;
    • Requiring the protection of vulnerable subpopulations;
    • Strengthening deadlines for the EPA to evaluate existing chemicals;
    • Adding new structure and requirements for confidential business information claims;
    • Creating a system to prioritize chemicals so that EPA’s resources are devoted to evaluating potentially dangerous, active chemicals in commerce;
    • Giving EPA more authority to request health and safety testing of chemicals;
    • Creating federal preemption provisions that balance the interests of states and EPA; and
    • Giving EPA the resources it needs to carry out the TSCA program by giving EPA the authority to impose narrowly tailored user fees.

    The bill secured 22 cosponsors (11 Democrat and 11 Republican) before the Senate EPW Committee markup. In an effort to bring on more bipartisan support, Senator Vitter introduced a Manager’s Amendment that would amend S.697 to address several concerns from other members of the EPW Committee. This Manager’s Amendment passed and the changes will be incorporated into the bill when it is reported out of committee. No other amendments offered by members of the Committee passed.

    The key changes to the bill made in the Manager’s Amendment include the following:

    Pre-emption: Before the markup, S. 697 would have “grandfathered in” existing state regulations on chemicals that are in effect on or before Jan. 1, 2015 (to the extent that a state has taken a specific action on a chemical such as a ban). During the markup, that date was moved back to Aug. 1, 2015.

    Additionally, while the bill preserves the “high priority pause” (meaning that once EPA has designated a chemical as high priority and determined the scope of its safety assessment, states cannot take new actions on that chemical), the amendments shorten the preemption period from 5-7 years to 3-5 years, the amount of time in which EPA must complete a safety assessment. Once EPA completes a safety assessment and determination that the chemical does or does not meet the safety standard, both new and existing state regulations are preempted by EPA’s decision. The amendments also clarify that state air and water laws and information collection and disclosure laws are not pre-empted.

    Also, the amendments allow for state waivers of a chemical to be automatically granted if EPA fails to meet its deadline for the safety determination for that chemical, or if EPA does not make a decision on a state waiver within 90 days. Also, the changes would require EPA to approve state waivers if they meet the following criteria: the state requirement does not violate federal law, the state requirement does not unduly burden interstate commerce, and the state’s concern about the chemical is based on peer-reviewed science.

    Safety Standard: In order to be more consistent with the language of the current TSCA statute, the safety standard language was amended from requiring EPA to assess whether a chemical presents an “unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment” to “unreasonable risk of injury…”

    Co-enforcement: Based on a number of concerns from Senate EPW Committee members, these amendments allow states to have the ability to co-enforce identical federal regulations promulgated by EPA under TSCA. However, states would not be permitted to collect penalties if EPA has already done so for a particular violation, and state penalties cannot be greater than penalties levied under federal EPA.

    Low priority chemicals: the amendments allow for EPA designations of low priority chemicals to be subject to judicial review.

    PBTs: the amendments require EPA to give preference to TSCA Work Plan Chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumulative toxic chemicals (PBTs), and PBTs are now added as a criteria for EPA to consider when making prioritization determinations.

    Animal testing: the amendments require that, for the purposes of TSCA submissions to EPA, industry look at available alternatives to animal testing.

    Deadlines: the amendments say that compliance deadlines for risk management rules are to be “as soon as practicable,” and bans and phase-outs are to be implemented “in as short a period as is practicable.”

    Industry-requested safety assessments: the amendments increase the amount of chemical safety assessments that industry can request to a maximum of 30 percent of the total number of high priority chemicals. Industry still must pay 100 percent of the costs for these assessments. Also, for chemicals that EPA has already identified as high risk chemicals on the TSCA Work Plan, manufacturers can petition for those chemicals to move to a safety assessment and determination, and pay 50 percent of the cost. EPA has full discretion to approve or deny these industry petitions.

    ACA believes that S. 697 is a pragmatic compromise that balances the interests of multiple stakeholders while making significant improvements to chemicals management and facilitating a more cohesive federal approach to chemical regulation. ACA is hopeful that members of Congress will continue to recognize the importance of TSCA reform and work in a bipartisan manner for passage. Toward that end, ACA staff continues to participate in Hill visits to urge Congress to progress TSCA reform. The bill may potentially receive floor time as early as June 2015, and ACA will continue to supports its passage.

    ACA members are encouraged to send letters to their senators urging passage of the TSCA bill, and may do so through ACA’s CoatingsConnect grassroots advocacy website at, under the “Take Action” tab.

    In the meantime, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy is expected to amend and mark up its draft TSCA legislation, the “TSCA Modernization Act,” on May 14. Of note, during the Senate EPW hearing, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) offered an amendment to have the S.697 adopt the pre-emption language in the House discussion draft. That amendment was defeated in committee.


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    EPA Finalizes Cleanup Plan for Removal of PCBs From Bound Brook in South Plainfield, NJ; $422 million dollar cleanup underway at site of defunct electronics facility (NJ)

    (New York, N.Y.) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its 
    plan to clean up a nine mile stretch of Bound Brook as the final phase of the 
    cleanup of the Cornell-Dubilier Electronics Superfund site in South Plainfield, 
    New Jersey. Cornell-Dubilier Electronics, Inc. manufacture... 
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    Emergency responders criticize oil tank car rules, say employees lack training to respond to accidents

    Emergency responders have expressed opposition to new rules for crude-oil trains, criticizing the information-sharing requirements, while saying many employees lack the training opportunities to respond to accidents involving hazardous materials, Curtis Tate reports for McClathchy Newspapers. A 2010 survey by the National Fire Protection Association said that "65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area." 

    Elizabeth Harman, an assistant to the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told Tate, "The training that's needed has been developed. This is the first step that needs to be funded and expanded for all first responders . . . We need to be prepared for it, and we're willing to be prepared for it."

    Harman said the new regulations "didn't go far enough with respect to information that railroads provided to communities," Tate writes. "Under an emergency order the department issued last May, railroads were required to report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to state emergency-response commissions, which then disseminated that information to local fire departments."

    "But under the department's new rules, starting next year, railroads will no longer report the information to the states, and fire departments that want the information will have to go directly to the railroads," Tate writes. "It also will be shielded from public disclosure." Harman told Tate, "These new rules fall short of requiring rail operators to provide the information fire departments need to respond effectively when the call arrives." A Department of Transportation spokesperson said the agency was reviewing feedback from emergency responders. (Read more