Dec 29, 2015

Quashing Consumers' Right-To-Know, Congress Repeals Country-Of-Origin-Labeling For Beef And Pork - Forbes

That next steak or pork chop you buy at the grocery store could be from Mexico and beyond, but you'll never know it.

On Friday, Congress repealed the country-of-origin-labeling rule (COOL) on beef and pork after the World Trade Organization (WTO) imposed $1 billion in retaliatory import tariffs against United States if the rule was not overturned. The repeal was part of the omnibusspending bill signed by President Obama on Friday.

COOL mandates labels on packaging that reveal the country (or countries) where the meat animal was born, raised and slaughtered. While beef and pork will no longer have to comply with COOL rules, chicken and lamb must still be labeled.

Canada and Mexico had argued that the mandatory U.S. labeling program discriminated against meat imports and violated WTO limits on what sorts of product-related "technical regulations" WTO signatory countries are permitted to enact. Meatpackers also complained that the cost of complying with the COOL program was too burdensome. The United States has lost two rulings and two appeals with the WTO regarding COOL since 2011. The import tariffs were authorized by the WTO on December 7th.

After the repeal, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement: "Effective immediately, USDA is not enforcing the COOL requirements for muscle cut and ground beef and pork." He reassured consumers that "all imported and domestic meat will continue to be subject to rigorous inspections by USDA to ensure food safety."

Critics of the repeal said that the WTO overturned a common sense label supported by a majority of Americans. 90% of thosesurveyed in 2013 favored country-of-origin-labeling for fresh meat sold in stores.

Dec 28, 2015

Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say

The Guardian has an article on soil depletion - Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say.

The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned. New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world's adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil.

The University of Sheffield's Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analysing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was "catastrophic" and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices. The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes.

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A Dust Pile the Size of Arizona is Slowly Moving Across China

In China, west and slightly south of Beijing, lies the Ordos Basin. It resembles a teenager's messy room—one corner is flat and clear, and the other is a giant pile of debris. And when we say, "giant," we mean "the size of a state"—nd it's on the move.

Up at the northwest end, the Ordos Basin has the Mu Us Desert, a small offshoot of the giant Gobi desert. Wind sweeps across the Mu Us Desert, taking with it sheets of debris and dust. In some areas, this dust would sprinkle over the land nearby, covering it with fine layers that eventually sink or blend into the soil. However, the dust from the Mu Us does something a little different, and it forms the other prominent feature of the Ordos Basin.

The Loess Plateau is made entirely of this dust, and the wind is slowly driving this massive plateau across the continent. The dust is currently forming a rough crescent around the Mu Us Desert, but that shape may change. According to the paper on the subject, "Our observations suggest that the Loess Plateau previously extended farther to the north and west of its modern windward escarpment margin and has been partially reworked by eolian processes."A Dust Pile the Size of Arizona is Slowly Moving Across China
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Dec 22, 2015

African Lions Are Now Considered An Endangered Species

Today, lions joined tigers, a few species of bears, and a host of other endangered species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
Subspecies Panthera leo leo, which has a range covering parts of India and western and central Africa, will be listed as endangered. Another subspecies that lives mostly in eastern and southern Africa, Panthera leo melanochaita will be listed as threatened.
"The lion is one of the planet's most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. "If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action."
The New York Times reported that one impetus for the addition was the killing of Cecil, a famous and much-beloved lion in July. Cecil was killed for sport by an American dentist on a hunting trip to Africa. Since then, there has been a huge public backlash against trophy hunting. But the petition to include lions under the protection of the Endangered Species Act dates back to 2011, when the Fish and Wildlife Service began considering whether to list Panthera leo leo as endangered. A study by the Fish and Wildlife Service in October found enough evidence to list them as threatened, not endangered, but in the year since, the Service changed their mind.
One of the reasons was a shift in taxonomic thinking. The African lion used to be thought of as a distinct subspecies, separate from the Asiatic lions living in India. Now, genetic testing shows that they are essentially the same. That group, Panthera leo leo has only 1,400 individuals remaining in India and parts of Africa. Panthera leo melanochaita is doing marginally better with about 18,000 individuals.
The protection means that it will soon become much harder to bring lions into the United States, dead or alive. Bringing Panthera leo leo trophies will become next to impossible in the United States, and while trophy hunting of Panthera leo melanochaita may still be allowed, the any hunters wishing to bring trophies back to the United States will have to go through a new, extensive permitting process.
A statement released by the Fish and Wildlife Service said "The process will ensure that imported specimens are legally obtained in range countries as part of a scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild,"
Lions aren't listed as endangered everywhere. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List lists lions as a vulnerable population, one step above the endangered classification. But it notes that lion populations are declining, with an estimated 43 percent decline between 1993 and 2014.

Please read full and follow at: Popular Science - 

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One-third of wells in Kewaunee County Wisconsin unsafe for drinking water

The findings of the latest study are significant because the dairy intensive county — where cows far outnumber people — has become the center of a growing controversy in Wisconsin over manure's role in polluting ground and surface water. 
Please read full and follow at: NewsWatch

Dec 19, 2015

California Has a Huge Gas Leak, and Crews Can't Stop It Yet | WIRED

WIRED...Methane, a greenhouse gas 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide, has been leaking out of a natural gas storage site in southern California for nearly two months, and a fix won't arrive until spring.

The site is leaking up to 145,000 pounds per hour, according to the California Air Resources Board. In just the first month, that's added up to 80,000 tons, or about a quarter of the state's ordinary methane emissions over the same period. The Federal Aviation Administration recently banned low-flying planes from flying over the site, since engines plus combustible gas equals kaboom.

Steve Bohlen, who until recently was state oil and gas supervisor, can't remember the last time California had to deal with a gas leak this big. "I asked this question of our staff of 30 years," says Bohlen. "This is unique in the last three or four decades. This is an unusual event, period."

Families living downwind of the site have also noticed the leak—boy, have they noticed. Methane itself is odorless, but the mercaptan added to natural gas gives it a characteristic sulfurous smell. Over 700 households have at least temporarily relocated, and one family has filed a lawsuit against the Southern California Gas Company alleging health problems from the gas. The gas levels are too low for long-term health effects, according to health officials, but the odor is hard to ignore.

Given both the local and global effects of the gas leak, why is it taking so long to stop? The answer has to do with the site at Aliso Canyon, an abandoned oil field. Yes, that's right, natural gas is stored underground in old oil fields. It's common practice in the US, but largely unique to this country. The idea goes that geological sites that were good at keeping in oil for millions of years would also be good at keeping in gas.

Across the US, over 300 depleted oil fields, of which a dozen are in California, are now natural gas storage sites. "We have the largest natural gas storage system in the world," says Chris McGill, a vice president of the American Gas Association. And the site at Aliso Canyon is one of the largest in the country, with a capacity of 86 billion cubic feet. Aliso became a natural gas storage site in the 1970s. Each summer, SoCalGas pumps natural gas into the field, and each winter, it pumps it out. The sites are basically giant underground reserves for winter heating.

On October 23, workers noticed the leak at a 40-year-old well in Aliso Canyon. Small leaks are routine, says Bohlen, and SoCalGas did what it routinely does: put fluid down the well to stop the leak and tinker with the well head. It didn't work. The company tried it five more times, and the gas kept leaking. At this point, it was clear the leak was far from routine, and the problem was deeper underground.....

Plutonium exposure prompts investigation into inactive nuclear arms plant - LA Times @RVartabedian

Continued from @RVartabedian

The worker, an employee of CH2M Hill, was exposed when he removed his hazmat suit, but a subsequent investigation found contamination on the ventilation unit's hose.

The suspect ventilation devices had been previously transported to a fire department station, a personal residence and two factories in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, triggering state and federal response teams to inspect the plants and monitor individuals. Energy Department officials found that two of the three units transported to a salesman's home had minor contamination, but it fell below federal safety standards, Olds said.

But Tom Carpenter, executive director of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge, said Energy officials were trying to minimize the seriousness of the incident.

"They are trying to quibble about the amount of plutonium, but no amount should have ever left the facility," he said.

Meanwhile, high-risk cleanup work at the plutonium finishing plant, which is slated for demolition next year, has been suspended.

The inspections were conducted with health officials from Washington, Ohio and Pittsburgh.

"The Ohio Department of Health received notification from the U.S. Department of Energy that there was a possibility that some contaminated personal protective equipment parts had been shipped to a manufacturer in the Cincinnati area," said Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health. "A State Health Department team was sent to the location and conducted extensive testing but all results were negative. Subsequently, a U.S. Department of Energy team arrived at the location and tested with the same results."

Any plutonium exposure or release is considered a serious breach of safety and security rules in the Energy Department. The incident is part of a series of mishaps that include a major radiological accident at a nuclear dump in New Mexico last year that resulted in a two-year shutdown. The accident caused low-level radioactive exposure to 21 workers after the contaminated exhaust from the underground dump was blown to the surface.

The plutonium finishing plant is among the most badly contaminated buildings in the nation. It was the site of a notorious accident during the Cold War when a worker was exposed to a massive dose of radiation after an explosion and became known as the "Atomic Man." He was so radioactive that his family could not approach him for weeks. The room where the accident had occurred remained sealed for decades until this year when workers entered it for the first time.

The ventilation units that caused the latest exposure are about the size of a shoe box and worn on a belt inside the isolation suit, so it is unclear why the exhaust hose had any contamination. They provide cooling air to the workers, while other devices filter breathing air.

The worker exposed to the plutonium had particles on his elbow, but apparently did not inhale the material. Inhalation of plutonium is among the most serious radiological exposures, because the substance can become embedded in lung tissue and deliver a long-term dose of radiation.....

Please read full and follow  @RVartabedian at: 

Dec 18, 2015

U.S. Senate TSCA bill that just passed the Senate last night.

WASHINGTON (December 17, 2015) – The Senate late today passed a flawed bill to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a 1976 law that has failed to adequately protect the public from toxic chemicals and has never been updated.  The House passed its own bill on TSCA in June.

The following is a statement by Daniel Rosenberg, senior attorney in the Health and Environment Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council:

 "Although the Senate bill has improved over time, it still has significant flaws that must be fixed in conference. As the bill moves forward, Congress should ensure that the final legislation marries the best aspects of the Senate and House bills and drops the worst. 

 "We particularly appreciate the efforts of Senator Whitehouse to ensure that last-minute provisions on mercury will protect, and not harm, public health."

 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) added language that would strengthen the 2008 Mercury Export Ban Act, and require a national inventory of mercury production and use, which will facilitate further domestic mercury reductions.


 Among the changes that are needed, Congress should eliminate language in the Senate bill (that is not in the House measure) that:

·         prevents states from protecting their citizens before the federal government has taken action on a chemical;

·         makes it harder for the Environmental Protection Agency to protect citizens from – or to even know about – potentially dangerous chemicals contained in imported products;

·         weakens the ability of citizens to appeal EPA's rejection of a petition for action under TSCA; and

·         creates a "prioritization" loophole that allows EPA to effectively declare chemicals safe without an adequate review. 

In the House bill, Congress should eliminate language (that is not in the Senate measure) that:

·         allows industry to set the agenda for which chemicals to assess;

·         prevents enforcement of the requirement that EPA select chemicals to evaluate;

·         could make it difficult for EPA to successfully defend regulation of chemicals in court; and,

·         obscures limitations on state authority.

DOE REGULATION the "Largest Energy-Saving Standard in History" and saying that it will "save more energy than any other standard issued by the Energy Department to date."

The U.S. Department of Energy frequently releases new rules that govern the energy efficiency of various household and commercial product. Just since 2009, they have issued 34 new or updated appliance standards across more than 40 products. But the DOE seems really excited about its latest piece of regulation which came out today, calling it the "Largest Energy-Saving Standard in History" and saying that it will "save more energy than any other standard issued by the Energy Department to date."

It is a biggie, covering commercial air conditioners and furnaces, a major energy user in the United States.

Lawrence Livermore Labs energy flow chart 2014LLNL/Public Domain

These new commercial air conditioning and furnace standards will take effect in two phases. The first phase will begin in 2018 and will deliver a 13% efficiency improvement. Five years later, an additional 15% increase in efficiency is required for new commercial units.

Over the lifetime of the products affected by the new rules, the DOE estimates that U.S. businesses will save $167 billion on their utility bills and carbon pollution will be reduced by 885 million metric tons.

What makes the rule the biggest ever, according to the Energy Department, is the total amount of energy that it saves over the lifetime of the standard, which would be 15 quads — short for a quadrillion (a one with fifteen zeros after it) British thermal units, or BTUs. A BTU is defined as "the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit." (source)

When you put it all together, during the Obama administration, the DOE's new efficiency standards, including for commercial refrigeration equipment, electric motors, and fluorescent lamps, should save nearly $535 billion and cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 2 billion metric tons through 2030. Today's announcement brings the Energy Department more than two-thirds of the way to achieving the goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons through standards set in the President's first and second terms.

If you're technically inclined and work in the HVAC industry, you can see the text of the new standard here, all 417 pages of it.

Please read full and follow at:
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EPS: Waste More, Warm More via @EPAregion6

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages everyone to think about a product's entire lifecycle when it comes to waste. We all know how important it is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But did you also know those actions are listed in that order for a reason? Reducing what we use—and using stuff carefully—are the most effective ways to save natural resources and help create a more sustainable future for our planet.

Making smart choices about what we buy, how we use it, and how we dispose of it can make a big difference in the amount of waste we produce and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with our consumption. The manufacture, distribution and use of the goods and food we rely on in our daily lives—as well as management of the resulting waste—all require energy. This energy mostly comes from fossil fuels, which are the largest global source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

Everything we use goes through a life cycle, and each stage of the life cycle has environmental impacts, including climate change. However, reducing the use of materials in every stage of the life cycle minimizes the environmental impact associated with the stuff we use. EPA's feature the Life Cycle of Stuff helps show the effects of our stuff at each stage of its existence, from materials extraction to end-of-life management:

Reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money. Reduction prevents pollution caused by processing raw materials, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and saves money.

More on reducing and reusing:

Please read by Joe Hubbard and Jennah Durant and full and follow at:

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Dec 17, 2015

Spotlight on U.S. EPA Region 5's Food Manufacturing and Processing Industry

In 2015, GLRPPR ( began a project to analyze public data sets to determine the impact of manufacturing on the economy and environment of the six states in U.S. EPA Region 5. The goal of this project was to use the analyzed results to assist pollution prevention technical assistance programs (P2 TAPs) with targeting their assistance efforts. 

Spotlight on U.S. EPA Region 5's Food Manufacturing and Processing Industry, available at, summarizes preliminary findings relating to this important industry sector.

Full document link:

Dec 16, 2015

Please give a little to a group that gives a lot of vital Occupational & Environmental Health inofrmation

​Please consider a donation this year (see how below)
What is more important than the gift of health and knowledge?

-Chirstopher Haase

OccHealthNews forum continues to attract hundreds (actually, still more than 3,000!) of international professionals engaged in Occupational & Environmental Health.

OccHealthNews subscribers have found one-another to be a wonderful resource, for practical, timely and thoughtful advice (ok, and for occasionally outrageously misguided opinions!). 

OccHealthNews forum and "knowledge co-op" began in October 1993... and continues to find support from so many of you.

Please recollect that they are hosted at the University of N.Carolina and supported administratively by the Association for Occupational & Environmental Clinics, providing sound financial & IT infrastructure for our discussions, archives and occasional moderation

Here's the unchanged plea.

OccHealthNews counts on subscribers to contribute voluntarily, once-annually and with a limited but determined generosity.

Last year's supporters were reliably present, and the 124 donors are listed online. 

Our suggested contribution is still $50 annually, but at least 25 were able to support with even more generosity. 

Please recollect that there is opportunity for this to be considered either a business/professional-development investment *OR* a charitable contribution (AOEC is a non-profit, non-partisan donor-supported professional association).

How to actually contribute:

1) Checks payable to (and sent to) : 

    Association of Occupational & Environmental Clinics (AOEC) "Supporting OEM-L"

    c/o Ingrid Denis (click for email)

    Sent to:
    1010 Vermont Ave., NW #513
    Washington, DC 20005

    AOEC is a licensed non-profit, who can acknowledge your support as a charitable donation. 

    For supporters paying from institutional accounts, we can generate an invoice from the University for your contribution. Please email   us with this request.

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Thanks to our forum's participants for stepping up to help maintain the viability of this resource.

- Gary Greenberg
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

EPA Modernizes the Audit Policy

By Patrick D. Joyce, Jeryl L. Olson, and Craig B. Simonsen

EPA SignThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is modernizing its self-disclosure policy, commonly known as the Audit Policy, through a centralized "eDisclosure Portal" to receive and automatically process self-disclosed civil violations of environmental laws. 80 Fed. Reg. 76476 (December 9, 2015).

The new Portal will serve as an alternative to traditional paper or telephone disclosures, with the EPA encouraging users to use the eDisclosure Portal to make the disclosure process faster and more efficient.  EPA hopes that the eDisclosure Portal will encourage more violators to self-disclose in a timely manner.

The eDisclosure portal will accept new disclosures involving almost all types of civil violations, which will be placed into two categories:

  • Category 1 Disclosures: all EPCRA violations except CERCLA 103/EPCRA 304 chemical release reporting violations and EPCRA violations with significant economic benefit.
  • Category 2 Disclosures: all non-EPCRA violations, EPCRA violations where the violator cannot meet the Audit Policy "systematic discovery" (audit) requirement, and all EPCRA/CERCLA violations excluded from Category 1.

Pre-existing unresolved EPCRA disclosures may be resubmitted through the eDisclosure system within 120 days after launch of the portal, or by April 7, 2016.

In its eDisclosure Information Sheet, EPA notes that it is retaining the incentives outlined in its "New Owner Policy," but that it will continue to "accept and process new owner disclosures outside the eDisclosure system."

The requirements for the voluntary disclosure process, including the twenty-one (21) day disclosure period, will remain the same.  An online Compliance Certification will be due within sixty (60) days of submitting the initial online disclosures (or within ninety (90) days for Small Businesses Compliance Policy disclosures), but violators may request an extension for Category 2 disclosures.

EPA will spot check Category 1 disclosures to ensure accuracy and all Category 1 electronic Notices of Determination are conditional upon the accuracy of the representations made by the violator.  EPA will screen Category 2 violations for criminal violations and other serious issues.

While the benefits of the eDisclosures process for the Agency are apparent, companies considering disclosures should carefully consider the pros and cons of disclosure, the timing requirements, and the risks associated with disclosures.

For any self-disclosure questions, and for assistance with any of your disclosures, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth Shaw attorney, or any member of the Environmental, Safety & Toxic Torts Team.


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Biogas Unit for the Home

Jetson GreenJetson Green


An Israeli startup has designed a biogas unit, which is small enough for personal use. It is capable of converting organic waste into gas and organic liquid fertilizer. The unit is called HomeBiogas device and looks pretty awesome.


The HomeBiogas unit can produce 5 to 8 liters of fertilizers and sufficient gas for 2-4 hours of cooking per day. What's more, the unit can also accept and convert dairy and meat, which is generally not recommended to be composted in the home. It can also take in 15 liters per day of animal manure, including pet waste, another substance not recommended for home composting.


This unit is primarily aimed at the suburban homeowners market as well as small home, off-grid, and eco-living enthusiasts. According to the developers 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of food waste can on average yield roughly 7 cubic feet (200 liters) of gas. To put it in perspective, this is enough for cooking on a high flame for one hour. So a daily input of 13.2 lbs (6 kg) of organic waste yields enough gas for meal preparation, while it also allows the household to get rid of a ton of organic waste per year, which offsets about 6 tons of CO2 annually, which would have been generated otherwise.

A HomeBiogas unit measures 48"x65"x39.4" (123cm/165cm/100cm) and can easily fit in most backyards or greenhouses. It weighs about 88lbs (44kg) so it can be moved around without much trouble. According to the company, they are easy to operate, and require very little maintenance. Though, to use the biogas the units produce on a normal stove at least one of the burners needs to be converted to accept it.

The company is currently raising funds though a crowdfunding campaign, so that they can begin full scale production. Backers can get a unit for a pledge of $890, while the full retail price will be $1500.


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Flint, Michigan Declares State of Emergency Over Lead In Children's Blood

The Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan released a study in September that confirmed what many Flint parents had feared for over a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source, in 2014. "City officials have also said the use of corrosive Flint River water also damaged Flint's water infrastructure after state regulators never required the river water be treated to make it less corrosive." FEMA is now supplying bottled water to the city.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Solar power from hydrogen filled balloons could gather cloudless solar power and provide hydrogen fuel cell power at night

Next Big Future

Electro-chemist Jean-Fran├žois Guillemoles is developing solar energy from balloons that will float above the clouds for uninterrupted energy production during the day.

The main problem with photovoltaic energy is that sunlight can be obscured by clouds, which makes electrical production intermittent and uncertain. But above the cloud cover, the sun shines all day, every day. Anywhere above the planet, there are very few clouds at an altitude of 6 km—and none at all at 20 km. 

Solar energy is five times more abundant at 20 kilometers than on the ground

Read more »

California Has a Huge Gas Leak, and Crews Can't Stop It Yet | via @WIRED

WHILE THE WORLD was hammering out a historic agreement to curb carbon emissions—urged along by California, no less—the state was dealing with an embarrassing belch of its own. Methane, a greenhouse gas 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide, has been leaking out of a natural gas storage site in southern California for nearly two months, and a fix won't arrive until spring.

The site is leaking up to 145,000 pounds per hour, according to the California Air Resources Board. In just the first month, that's added up to 80,000 tons, or about a quarter of the state's ordinary methane emissions over the same period. The Federal Aviation Administration recently banned low-flying planes from flying over the site, since engines plus combustible gas equals kaboom.

Steve Bohlen, who until recently was state oil and gas supervisor, can't remember the last time California had to deal with a gas leak this big. "I asked this question of our staff of 30 years," says Bohlen. "This is unique in the last three or four decades. This is an unusual event, period."

Dec 15, 2015

More Than 190 Countries Agree on Climate Change Pact

Client Alert from Todd E. Palmer of Michael Best
On December 12, 2015, more than 190 countries reached consensus on The Paris Agreement (the "Agreement" or "Pact"), a climate change pact that will serve as the framework for reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This consensus was reached at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris. The Agreement will be formally signed at a ceremony to be held at the United Nations in April 2016 and will take effect in 2020. Participating countries have until April 2017 to take whatever steps each jurisdiction must to ratify the accord.

The Agreement "aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty." Its objective is to hold the average global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The Agreement also sets a more ambitious target of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Advocates for climate change regulation have expressed disappointment over the magnitude of the GHG reduction targets in the Pact. However, many acknowledged that the Agreement is merely a starting point and forms the framework from which to advocate for more aggressive reductions in the future.

Each signatory country agrees to prepare and maintain successive nationally determined GHG reduction contributions that it intends to achieve under the Pact. These countries must also pursue domestic mitigation measures to achieve these contributions. Successive iterations of these commitments are anticipated every five years and must reflect the "highest possible ambition." Developed countries, such as the United States, also commit to undertake "economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets." Importantly, the Agreement does not make any nation's GHG reduction targets a binding, international commitment. This was done, in large measure, at the insistence of the United States negotiation team which took great pains to avoid making commitments that might require Congressional approval.
The Agreement expresses the need for equity and to eradicate poverty. To this end, the signatory developed nations agree to provide financial support to developing countries to help them implement the Agreement and build generation capacity. This effort must be guided by country driven processes that are "cross-cutting and gender-responsive." To fund this effort, the Agreement "strongly urges" developed nations to scale up their level of financial support to jointly provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation, adaptation and capacity-building support. Here again, this is not a binding commitment and therefore is unlikely to be subject to Congressional approval....

GREEN$...G.E. Ecomagination campaign has made $200 billion, and is driving the future of the company.

In 2005, when GE's CEO Jeff Immelt announced that the industrial giant was putting significant resources into a program called Ecomagination, designed to emphasize energy efficiency and ecologically friendly products, you wouldn't have been wrong in scoffing. GE was considered one of the most notorious polluters in American corporate history, infamous for ruining large sections of the Hudson River with run-off from its factories. And a decade ago, revamping an enormous business in the quest to produce less carbon wasn't a mainstream proposition. At best, you might have said Ecomagination was a PR ploy, designed to gloss over GE's environmental record and continuing production of industrial machinery.

Ten years later, Ecomagination has proved the skeptics wrong. It has become the lynch pin of a remarkably successful reinvention of GE, the foundation of the company's future, and the vanguard of the global movement towards corporate environmentalism. It's a slogan that seems perfect for a moment when corporate customers are investing heavily in the products the program is building, when governments seem to be on the verge of major environmental agreements that will funnel government dollars toward clean energy, and when the idea that businesses can do good for the planet has been widely accepted. GE expects that corporate purchases of eco-friendly machinery will drive enormous changes over the next five years. It predicts that fuel cell installations will grow by 400%, that two-thirds of all new electric power added to the grid will be from renewables, that shipments of LEDs will quadruple, that global transportation will become 10% more efficient, and that one in every four new jobs in the energy sector will be focused on clean technology. To be an environmental leader at a moment like this seems like a significant business edge.

But the program—which GE says has generated over $200 billion in sales, while also serving as the spur for cutting its own water usage and greenhouse gas emissions by 42% and 31%—didn't succeed because of great slogans or radical new ideas. It succeeded because of the painstaking way GE delivered on some of the most basic tenets of business management. Ecomagination is a great reminder of the fact that innovation means nothing without consistent, thorough execution.

Read on at

Environmental Group Launches Initiative for Pharmaceutical Producer Responsibility

The environmental group As You Sow has launched a waste initiative aimed at making major pharmaceutical companies take responsibility for the collection and disposal of unused and expired drugs and accessories.

(Allan Gerlat-Waste360) The Oakland-based group said it has filed shareholder resolutions at AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co., asking the companies to develop policy options for working with industry peers to take primary responsibility for developing a national network of local take-back programs, according to a news release.

"Only about 1 percent of U.S. pharmacies offer a drug take-back program," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. "Many people hold on to unneeded drugs because they lack easily accessible collection and disposal options, which can have tragic consequences."

Improper disposal of prescription drugs can exacerbate issues like drug abuse and water pollution, according to research. Many drugs are flushed down the toilet, and they are increasingly appearing in America's waterways.

"We believe the companies that put medications on the market and profit from them should be primarily responsible for financing take-back systems," MacKerron said. Countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, Portugal and Spain have pharmaceutical-financed collection programs in place. A French program gathered 30 million pounds of drugs in 2013.

Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council, said, "We heartily endorse As You Sow's efforts to encourage pharmaceutical companies to be leaders in protecting public health and offer U.S. consumers the same convenient drug take back programs they operate in many other countries."

The pharmaceutical industry sued California's Alameda County and Washington's King County, which passed ordinances requiring companies to pay for take back programs. The Supreme Court let stand a lower ruling rejected the notion that making pharmaceutical companies pay for take back was unconstitutional.

In September the EPA proposed two new hazardous waste rules, one involving pharmaceutical waste disposal and the other hazardous waste mismanagement.

The proposed pharmaceutical rule would ban healthcare facilities from flushing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals down the sink and toilet. The agency projects the rule could prevent the dumping of more than 6,400 tons of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals annually.

The proposed generator rule aims to improve labeling of hazardous waste, and emergency planning and preparedness. The agency said the rule would improve the safety of facilities, employees and the general public. It also would provide greater flexibility in how facilities and employees manage their hazardous waste while making the regulations easier to understand.

Event: Sustainable Seminar Series: What is Forty Billion Gallons of Sewage Plant Effluent Worth?

​Presented by Rick Manner - Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District

In 2013, Cronus Fertilizer approached the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District about a potential 20 year contract for 4,400 gallons per minute of the District's effluent. This talk will review the issues associated with what is expected be the largest water reuse project in Illinois and the largest private sector investment in central Illinois in 30 years. In addition to the title's subject, there will be discussion about why wastewater reuse is so uncommon in Illinois, Mahomet Aquifer issues, surface water and aquatic life needs, as well as other environmental aspects that are involved in this sale.

This webinar will be broadcast live and also archived on ISTC's website,, for later viewing. If you cannot attend the event at ISTC, you may view the webinar live by registering at: ISTC is a part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

View more information on this Event: Sustainable Seminar Series: What is Forty Billion Gallons of Sewage Plant Effluent Worth?

Biodegradable Plastics & Marine Litter: Misconceptions, Concerns, and Impacts on Marine Environments

​The development and use of synthetic polymers, and plastics has conferred widespread benefits on society. One of the most notable properties of these materials is their durability which, combined with their accidental loss, deliberate release and poor waste management has resulted in the ubiquitous presence of plastic in oceans. As most plastics in common use are very resistant to biodegradation, the quantity of plastic in the ocean is increasing, together with the risk of significant physical or chemical impacts on the marine environment. The nature of the risk will depend on: the size and physical characteristics of the objects; the chemical composition of the polymer; and, the time taken for complete biodegradation to occur.

Synthetic polymers can be manufactured from fossil fuels or recently-grown biomass. Both sources can be used to produce either non-biodegradable or biodegradable plastics. Many plastics will weather and fragment in response to UV radiation -- a process that can be slowed down by the inclusion of specific additives. Complete biodegradation of plastic occurs when none of the original polymer remains, a process involving microbial action; i.e. it has been broken down to carbon dioxide, methane and water. The process is temperature dependent and some plastics labelled as "biodegradable" require the conditions that typically occur in industrial compositing units, with prolonged temperatures of above 50 degrees C, to be completely broken down. Such conditions are rarely if ever met in the marine environment.

Some common non-biodegradable polymers, such as polyethylene, are manufactured with a metal-based additive that results in more rapid fragmentation (oxo-degradable). This will increase the rate of microplastic formation but there is a lack of independent scientific evidence that biodegradation will occur any more rapidly than unmodified polyethylene. Other more specialised polymers will break down more readily in seawater, and they may have useful applications, for example, to reduce the impact of lost or discarded fishing gear. However, there is the potential that such polymers may compromise the operational requirement of the product. In addition, they are much more expensive to produce and financial incentives may be required to encourage uptake.

A further disadvantage of the more widespread adoption of "biodegradable" plastics is the need to separate them from the non-biodegradable waste streams for plastic recycling to avoid compromising the quality of the final product. In addition, there is some albeit limited evidence to suggest that labelling a product as "biodegradable" will result in a greater inclination to litter on the part of the public.

In conclusion, the adoption of plastic products labelled as "biodegradable" will not bring about a significant decrease either in the quantity of plastic entering the ocean or the risk of physical and chemical impacts on the marine environment, on the balance of current scientific evidence.

View more information on this resource

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Trojan Reportedly Infects 500,000 Macs with malware can give hackers control of users' computers

​Russian software firm says the malware can give hackers control of users' computers
​A Russian anti-virus company, Doctor Web, has issued a report saying its research shows the Trojan BackDoor.Flashback is now infecting more than a half-million computers running Apple's Mac OS X.

It says most of the infected machines are in the U.S. and Canada. While Apple users have long thought their machines were virtually invulnerable to virus and worm threats, the harsh truth is that most threats were aimed at Windows machines simply because there are so many more of them. With Apple taking a bigger market share, it becomes a more attractive target.

"Systems get infected with BackDoor.Flashback.39 after a user is redirected to a bogus site from a compromised resource or via a traffic distribution system," the company said in a press release. "JavaScript code is used to load a Java-applet containing an exploit. Doctor Web's virus analysts discovered a large number of web-sites containing the code."​

What do Ted Cruz' and Obama campaigns have in common? Using Your #SocialMedia #MetaData Psychographic voter profiling.

What do you think of the presidential candidates and the issues they've been raising? They may have a better idea of your thoughts than you do thanks to research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their knowledge or permission.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been closing in on front-runner Donald Trump in recent weeks and a big part of the reason may be the research commissioned for him by a billionaire benefactor, according to The Guardian and an earlier report by Politico.

Trump's presidential campaign is using psychological data assembled, sliced, and diced by paid researchers at Cambridge University. These professionals have been gathering detailed psychological profiles of the U.S. electorate using a massive pool of mainly unwitting Facebook users. 

The Cambridge researchers are affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, which claims to collect "up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans, and use more than 100 data variables to model target audience groups and predict the behavior of like-minded people."

The firm — owned in part by reclusive hedge fund magnate and leading Republican donor Robert Mercer — is using so-called "psychographic profiles" of U.S. citizens to help Cruz win votes, despite concerns about the ethical implications of the practice. 

Cruz is not the first candidate to benefit from this relatively new stealth weapon. The Obama presidential campaigns used similar research techniques and other candidates may be doing the same this year. Republican Ben Carson is also said to be a client of the firm, though on a much smaller scale than Cruz.

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Webinar Sponsor: Vehicle Technologies Office

The Energy Department will present a live webinar titled "Workplace Charging Challenge Mid-Program Review," on Thursday, December 17, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The Energy Department's EV Everywhere Workplace Charging Challenge aims to have 500 U.S. employers offering workplace charging by 2018, and this webinar will summarize the findings of the Workplace Charging Challenge Mid-Program Review. Speakers will report progress and lessons learned of the Challenge, discuss employers' opinions on the value of workplace charging, recognize partners, and highlight recent "ambassador" achievements. The Mid-Program Review reports the results of the 2015 Workplace Charging Challenge annual survey in which more than 140 employers described their progress and identified trends in workplace charging.

Register for the webinar.



Webinar Sponsor: SBIR Program

The Energy Department will present a live webinar titled "EERE Cleantech SBIR," on Tuesday, December 15, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This webinar discusses topics in the newest Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs' FY 2016 Phase I Release 2 Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). The one-hour webinar will cover FOA Topics 9–16, with opportunities for attendees and participants to ask representatives from each of the participating technology offices questions.

Register for the webinar.


Happy Bill of Rights Day December 15th!

December 15th is Bill of Rights Day. (The Bill of Rights became law on this day in 1791, following ratification by the state of Virginia.) We encourage all to read the Bill of Rights 

Never Mind $35, The World's Cheapest Oil Is Already Close to $20 - via @Bloomberg

As oil crashed through $35 a barrel in New York, some producers were already living with the reality of much lower prices.

A mix of Mexican crudes is already valued at less than $28, an 11-year low, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Iraq is offering its heaviest variety of oil to buyers in Asia for about $25. In western Canada, some producers are selling for less than $22 a barrel.

"More than one-third of the global oil production is not economical at these prices," Ehsan Ul-Haq, senior consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies Plc, said by e-mail. "Canadian oil producers could have difficulty in covering their operational costs."

Oil has slumped to levels last seen in the global financial crisis in 2009 amid a global supply glut. While the prices of benchmarks West Texas Intermediate and Brent hover in the $30s, they represent a category of crude -- light and low in sulfur -- that is more highly valued because it's easier to refine. Some producers of thicker, blacker and more sulfurous varieties have suffered heavier losses and are already living in the $20s.

A blend of Mexican crude has plunged 73 percent in 18 months to $27.74 on Dec. 11, its lowest level since 2004, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Venezuela is experiencing similar lows. Western Canada Select, which is heavy and sulfurous, has slumped 75 percent to $21.37, the least in almost eight years. Other varieties including Ecuador's Oriente, Saudi Arabia's Arab Heavy and Iraq's Basrah Heavy were selling below $30, the data show.

Bitumen -- which technically isn't crude but a heavy black viscous oil that constitutes the so-called tar sands along with clay, sand and water -- is trading at around $13 a barrel, suffering a drop of more than 80 percent since June 2014.

Crudes of this type trade at a discount to lighter varieties because to process them "refiners have to invest in upgrading facilities such as coking plants, which are very expensive," KBC's Ul-Haq said.

"Most places in the world, a lot of the producers they don't really get the Brent price, and they don't get the WTI price," Torbjoern Kjus, an analyst at DNB ASA in Oslo, said by phone. "It's really a dramatic situation that really cannot continue for a very long time for many producers."

Global benchmark Brent slid 5 cents to $37.87 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange at 11:38 a.m. Singapore time. WTI was unchanged at $36.31.

Mexico's government insulated itself from the oil slump after it managed to hedge 212 million barrels of planned exports for 2016, using options contracts to secure an average price of $49 a barrel. The nation's 2015 oil hedge provided it with a bonus of $6.3 billion.

Not all oil producing nations are as well protected. OPEC member Venezuela's national budget for next year assumes a price of $40 when its own crude is trading at just above $30. The nation's dollar reserves have fallen by 32 percent this year to $14.6 billion.

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