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August 26 2011


Impact of Gulf Spill's Underwater Dispersants Is Examined

Earthjustice and Toxipedia have published a review of all scientific literature concerning the potential health impacts of the 57 chemicals used to combat the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

May 12 2011


House Passes Third Drilling Bill

May 12, 2011 Washington, D.C. — By a vote of 243-179 the House of Representatives passed a third drilling bill that aims to increase oil production in the Outer Continental Shelf, leaving southern California, all of the Atlantic Coast, Bristol Bay in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean vulnerable to a BP oil spill disaster. Sponsored [...]
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April 22 2011


An Earth Day Look at the BP Oil Spill, One Year On

What has changed since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy?The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger (reposted with permission)

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasons why we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

“Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.”

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?
According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

“Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year. What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.”

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.

The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.

Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.


A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication sheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.

Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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April 21 2011


March 21 2011


January 14 2011


The Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

The Alberta Tar sands - a BP scale oil spill in slow motionThe Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

The National Oil Spill Commission released its report on last year’s BP oil spill this week. The report laid out the blame for the spill, tagging each of the three companies working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time, Halliburton, Transocean and BP, and also offered prescriptions for avoiding similar disasters in the future.

As Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes, it’s unlikely the recommendations will impact policy going forward.

“I think the recommendations are pretty tepid given the severity of the crisis,” Jackie Savitz, director of pollution campaigns at the advocacy group Oceana, told Sheppard. “Even the small things they’re suggesting, I think it’s going to be hard to convince Congress to make those changes.”

No transparency for you!

Last summer, after the spill, the Obama administration tried hard to look like it was pushing back against the oil industry, even though just weeks before the spill, the president had promised to open new areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

This week brought new evidence that, despite some posturing to the contrary, the administration is not exactly unfriendly to the energy industry. One of the key decisions the administration faces about the country’s energy future is whether to support the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would pump oil from tar sands in Canada down to Texas refineries. And one of the key lobbyists for TransCanada, the company intending to build the pipeline, is a former staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, filed a Freedom of Information requesting correspondence between the lobbyist, Paul Elliott, and his former boss, but the State Department denied the request.

“We do not believe that the State Department has legitimate legal grounds to deny our FOIA request, and assert that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information,” said Marcie Keever, the group’s legal director, The Michigan Messenger’s Ed Brayton reports. “This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Tar sands’ black mark

What are the consequences if the government approves the pipeline? As Care2′s Beth Buczynski writes, “Communities along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path would face increased risk of spills, and, at the pipeline’s end, the health of those living near Texas refineries would suffer, as tar sands oil spews higher levels of dangerous pollutants into the air when processed.”

What’s more, the tar sands extraction process has already brought environmental devastation to the areas like Alberta, Canada, where tar sands mining occurs. Earth Island Journal‘s Jason Mark recently visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, which he calls “impressively forthright” in its discussion of the environmental issues brought on by oil sands. (The museum is run by Alberta’s provincial government.) Mark reports:

The section on habitat fragmentation was especially good. As one panel put it, “Increasingly, Alberta’s remaining forested areas resemble islands of trees in a larger network of cut lines, well sites, mine, pipeline corridors, plant sites, and human settlements. … Forest disturbances can also encourage increased predation and put some plants and animals at risk.”

Not renewable, just new

The museum that Mark visited also made clear that extracting and refining oil from tar sands is a labor-intensive practice. He writes:

Mining, we learn, is just the start. Then the tar has to be “upgraded” into synthetic petroleum via a process that involves “conditioning,” “separation” into a bitumen froth, then “deaeration” to take out gases, and finally injection into a dual-system centrifuge that removes the last of the solids. Next comes distillation, thermal conversion, catalytic conversion, and hydrotreating. At that point the recombined petroleum is ready to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It all felt like a flashback to high school chemistry.

Why bother with this at all? In short, because with easily accessible sources of oil largely tapped out, techniques like tar sands mining and deepwater drilling are the only fonts of oil available. This problem is going to get worse, as The Nation is explaining over the next few weeks in its video series on peak oil.

Energy and the economy

Traditional ideas about energy dictate that even as the world uses up limited resources like oil, technology will create access to new sources, find ways to use limited resources more efficiently, or find ways to consume new sources of energy. These advances will head off any problems with consumption rates. The peak oil theory, on the contrary, argues that it is possible to use up a resource like oil, that there’s a peak in supply.

Once the peak has been passed, the consequences, particularly the economic consequences, become dire, as Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute explains. “If the amount of energy we can use is declining, we may be seeing the end of economic growth as we define it right now,” he told The Nation. Watch more below:

Light green

Part of the problem is that the energy resources that could replace fossil fuels like oil—wind and solar energy, for instance—likely won’t be in place before the oil wells run dry. And as Monica Potts reports at The American Prospect, our new green economy is getting off to a slow start.

Although the administration has talked incessantly about supporting green jobs, Potts writes that the federal government hasn’t even finalized what count as a “green job” yet. The working definition, which is currently under review, asserts that green jobs are in industries that “benefit the environment or conserve national resources” or entails work to green a company’s “production process.” But what does that actually mean?

“That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad,” Potts writes. She continues:

While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) … Another problem comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn’t count as green workers even if they’re transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the country is moving swiftly toward a bright green future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.


What Was Missing From the Oil Spill Commission's Report

Earlier this week, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released their final report on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. For those of us who had been following the story, there was nothing new in the report – BP, Halliburton, and Transocean cut corners on safety measures; They received warnings from crew that there were numerous problems, and that the whole disaster should make us take a good hard look at offshore drilling. I’m a little sensitive about this subject because I am a lifelong Gulf Coast resident. While most people only read about the disaster or saw clips on the news, I was living through it, watching tar balls roll up on the beaches I’ve played on since I was an infant.

The report does point some fingers, but the pointing ends with companies like BP, Halliburton, and Transocean. That is the equivalent of blaming Ford if a drunk driver gets into a wreck. In that situation, you have a driver at fault, a bartender who didn’t take away someone’s keys – a collective group making poor decisions. In the Gulf oil disaster, the driver was Dick Cheney, and the bartender was Chris Oynes. Yet strangely enough, neither one of those people were mentioned once in the Oil Spill Commission's 382-page report. <!--break-->

To understand the full story, you have to understand the involvement of both Oynes and Cheney. Chris Oynes oversaw all oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) for twelve years, meaning he personally oversaw the lease given to the Deepwater Horizon rig. It was during this time that Oynes made a name for himself in Republican politics by allowing oil companies to buy cheap leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without paying any taxes on their revenues. According to the resulting Congressional hearings on the matter, the oil companies claim that they repeatedly told Oynes that he needed to be charging taxes, but he refused. When asked by the Congressional committee about this, Oynes told them that he simply forgot to charge taxes. But his gifts to the oil industry didn’t end with the estimated $10 billion tax break. He also allowed the oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports in pencil. Oynes would then have his staff trace over in ink, giving the impression that they were actually doing their jobs.

In a normal scenario, this should have gotten Oynes booted out of the agency. But in 2007, Dick Cheney personally saw to it that Oynes receive a promotion to become the associate director for Offshore Energy and Minerals Management at MMS. Oynes was the perfect fit for Cheney, as Cheney himself had been working for years to dismantle regulations on the oil industry and allow them to write their own rules.

And this is where the plot thickens. During Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force meetings in 2001, he allowed oil industry executives to help draft legislation that would allow them to operate with almost no oversight (and the oversight that did occur came from cronies like Chris Oynes.) One of the most important rules that they wrote for themselves was that they didn’t have to include an acoustic switch on offshore oil rigs – a device that blows up and seals off a well permanently in the event of a blowout. According to attorney Mike Papantonio:

“An 'acoustic switch' would have prevented this catastrophe - it's a failsafe that shuts the flow of oil off at the source - they cost only about half a million dollars each, and are required in off-shore drilling platforms in most of the world...except for the United States. This was one of the new deregulations devised by Dick Cheney ..”

So here we have two of the biggest culprits in the BP oil spill saga, and yet neither one of them was mentioned in the commission’s final report. This isn’t to say that the report won’t have a positive impact – it makes a very strong and compelling argument about the need for greater regulation and inspections of oil rigs in order to prevent future catastrophes. But it also claims that the oil industry is too important to the Gulf region (which really only means Louisiana and Texas) to shut down completely.

Overall, I’m unhappy with the report for omitting the underlying cause of the disaster, which would be 8 years of government deregulation and industry self-regulation permitted by an Executive Branch that was so deeply embedded in the oil industry that the two were indistinguishable.

October 07 2010


EarthTalk: Oil Lingering on the Sea Floor in the Gulf – the Aftermath of the BP Oil Spill

Does oil linger on the Gulf's sea floor in the aftermath of the BP oil spill?EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: A friend of mine working on the Gulf Coast oil cleanup says that at least 50 percent of the loose oil is laying on the sea floor. What’s the long-term prognosis of this? - Chris H., Darien, CT

It’s true that oil from BPs Deepwater Horizon fiasco is still sticking to and covering parts of the sea floor for some 80 miles or more around the site of the now-capped well. In early September, researchers from the University of Georgia found oil some two inches thick on the sea floor as far as 80 miles away from the source of the leak, with a layer of dead shrimp and other small animals under it.

“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Samantha Joye, lead researcher for the University of Georgia’s team of scientists studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill, told reporters. “I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick. It’s kind of like having a blizzard where the snow comes in and covers everything,” Joye said.

But as recently as three months ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported finding no evidence of oil accumulating on the sea floor in the Gulf. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters then that the oil from the massive spill that never made it to the surface was dispersed naturally or chemically. She added that only about a quarter of the 200 million gallons of spilled oil remained in the Gulf, the rest having “disappeared” or been contained or cleaned up.

But some researchers say NOAA misled the public by saying that much of the oil simply disappeared. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, says that initial reports from NOAA about how much oil remains in the Gulf were too optimistic. The oil “did not disappear,” he says. “It sank.”

One of the reasons why so much oil may have sunk was because it was broken up into tiny droplets by chemical dispersants, making the oil so small that it wasn’t buoyant enough to rise as would otherwise be expected. Also, as oil still in the water column ages it becomes more tar-like in a process called weathering, and as such becomes more likely to sink. And to make matters worse, oil on the sea floor takes longer to degrade than it would on the surface because of the colder temperatures down deep.

The new findings are particularly troubling because of the potential ripple effects the remaining oil could have on the wider ecosystem and industries that rely on a healthy marine environment. Marine biologists and environmentalists worry that the oil is doing significant harm to populations of tube worms, tiny crustaceans and mollusks, single-cell organisms and other underwater life forms that shape the building blocks of the marine food chain.

“Deep-sea animals, in general, tend to produce fewer offspring than shallower water animals, so if they are going to have a population impact, it may be more sensitive in deep water,” reports Louisiana State University oceanographer Robert Carney. “There is also some evidence that deep-sea animals live longer than shallower water species, so the impact may stay around longer.”

University of Georgia Department of Marine Sciences Gulf Oil Blog
Louisiana State University


SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial

Image credit: James Davidson, courtesy Flickr

September 03 2010


Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: Another Rig Catches Fire and Reignites Offshore Drilling Fears

The Vermilion oil rig aflame in the Gulf of MexicoBy Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

On Thursday, a manageable explosion on a Gulf Coast oil rig reignited fears founded by the BP spill and revived calls for a reassessment of the country’s drilling policies.

Just before 9 a.m. Thursday morning, the Vermilion Oil Rig 380 exploded. Unlike the Deepwater Horizon rig, this one was located in shallow waters. By late afternoon, a sheen of oil had been spotted, spreading a mile long from the burning rig; but by Friday morning the Coast Guard was saying the that was a mistake—there was no sheen.

Mariner Energy, the company that owns the well, said the fire burned off the oil used to power the well and was out by 3 p.m. The rig had seven actively producing oil wells, but they were quickly shut off after the fire began.

Media coverage and the spill

After more than four months of worry over the BP oil spill, the entire political apparatus—politicians and journalists, activists and lobbyists—shot into action at the news of the fire.

In April, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the media was slow to realize how serious a disaster the explosion represented. (The Mulch was as guilty as anyone else: the rig exploded April 20, but on April 23, this column featured the Cochabamba climate conference.) BP’s initial estimates of the spill’s volume, later increased by thousands of barrels per day, encouraged this impression.

On Thursday, however, the Vermilion story topped the agenda. Groups like the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity blasted out reactions, and as Andrew Restuccia reported at The Washington Independent, drilling opponents like Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) seized on the incident to push their legislative agenda.

As the U.S. Coast Guard responds to this latest incident, we must redouble our efforts to accelerate the push for clean, renewable energy and end our nation’s dependence on oil,” Lautenberg said, in a statement.

Ticking time bombs in the Gulf

It looks like this explosion, unlike the one at BP’s Macondo well, will not extract a lasting price from the Gulf. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Like the BP explosion, the Mariner incident shows the systemic risk that drilling requires. The system would benefit from better regulation and oversight.

Consider this image, from Mother Jones, that shows 33,000 miles of pipeline, 50,000 wells, and thousands of abandoned rigs.

At Earth Island Journal, Jason Marks puts Thursday’s explosion into perspective. “Sure, this incident is frightening, and in that sense it’s newsworthy,” he writes. “But the fact is that fires, explosions, spills, and blowouts aren’t all that uncommon in the Gulf’s industrial archipelago…accidents happen all the time in the ocean oil fields.”

Oil on the mainland

The ocean isn’t the only place where the industry presents a danger, either. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes flags a recent spill in North Dakota totaling more than 1,000 barrels of oil. And the Michigan Messenger has been reporting for more than a month on the fall-out from a significant pipeline spill in that state.

It’s notable, however, that incidents like these aren’t getting as much attention as Thursday’s non-spill. They represent real environmental disasters for the communities affected, but because they’re more than 100 miles from BP’s well, their problems don’t raise the same fears.

Follow through

Politicians like Lautenberg who want to clamp down on drilling would do well to keep playing off of those fears, however. By the time Congress was ready to respond to the BP incident, stories about the spill had become so routine as to be easily tuned out. Even if the Mariner explosion has a minimal environmental impact, the specter of Deepwater Horizon could breath new life into legislative efforts to limit drilling.

The best outcome would be that the only lasting impact is political,” writes Change.org’s Jess Leber. “Let this incident— “accident” already seems too light —be more than just a reminder that the existing deep water moratorium needs to be in place longer….It should tell our elected officials they need to stop listening to inflated claims by the oil industry, and start looking at the evidence right before their eyes. All offshore drilling, in all its forms, needs to be re-examined at minimum.”

Should Obama lift the drilling moratorium?

The Obama administration has been making noise about lifting the drilling moratorium early, but perhaps this new incident will push the White House to reconsider. Over the past few months, president Obmam has had terrible timing vis-à-vis drilling: as soon as he made it a keystone of a compromise on the Senate’s energy bill, the BP spill happened. Now, just as his team has started making noise about lifting the ban, this explosion triggers memories about how bad the BP spill really was.

What if this explosion had triggered another oil spill? A temporary moratorium on new deep water drilling is not enough to make the entire endeavors of oil extraction a safe one. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard puts a fine point on it:

The moratorium was put in place so regulators could evaluate whether offshore drilling can be done safely. And despite the outcry from the industry, the moratorium is only temporary (six months), and it’s only on new exploratory operations. It doesn’t even touch the existing deep water platforms, or drilling in shallow waters. If anything, today’s news should be an indicator that we need to take the time to evaluate all offshore operations.”


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Image credit: Sustainabilityninja.com

August 22 2010


August 06 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: BP Spill Plugged but the Damage is Not Done – and Next Up is the Kalamazoo River

Sing warming of contamination of the Kalamazoo RiverBy Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

BP is on the verge of escaping headlines, and if you're ready to forget about the oil spill, fine. But disasters just like the Gulf spill are playing out across the country.

Yesterday, BP cemented the well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico shut. The Obama administration is saying that the majority of the oil released is no longer a problem (ed. note: oh, really?). The spill was supposed to drive the Senate to finally pass a bill touching on energy issues and taking the oil industry to task, but this week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pushed back work on his minimalist energy bill until the fall.

But in states like Michigan and New York, similar stories are developing on smaller scales. For-profit companies, unburdened by strong regulations, are taking what they want, regardless of the consequences for the environment or for communities that depend on having clean soil, air, and water.

The last of the BP oil spill?

One hundred and eight days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, it looks like oil will finally stop flowing into the Gulf. On Wednesday, the Obama administration released a report showing that much of the 5 million barrels of the spilled oil — three-fourths, even — had been collected, dispersed or evaporated.

By Thursday morning, those claims were already on thin ice, with some scientists saying the administration had rested its analysis on assumptions that would help them paint a rosy picture.

At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard was skeptical from the get-go: “There's still a lot of oil out there—about nine and a half Exxon Valdez spills in total,” she wrote. And much less than from three-quarters of the oil has disappeared. According to Sheppard’s reporting, “It's actually closer to half. And, most importantly, the impacts of dispersing so much of that oil throughout the water column are still not well understood.”

Where did it all go?

In at least one case, it is painfully clear where the leftover oil has gone: Into communities populated by people of color. Michelle Chen reports at Colorlines:

We do know the destination of around 40,000 tons of the spill waste: it's headed for the families that have been getting dumped on for years. In what may be yet another calm before the storm, BP's colorfully advertised waste management plan appears to follow a haunting pattern of environmental racism.”

Chen gets her information from an analysis conducted by the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. In essence, the study says, the dumping grounds to which BP is sending 61% of disposable oil spill waste are located in places where people of color make up the majority of the surrounding community.

Hullabaloo on the Kalamazoo

The repercussions of the BP spill may linger, but similar stories are playing out all the time. The clearest example right now comes from Michigan, where a faulty pipeline let almost one million gallons of oil spill into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River.

The spill may be the biggest in Midwest history, and at the Michigan Messenger, Eartha Jane Melzer is reporting that the company at fault, Enbridge Energy, has offered to buy houses along the affected stretch of river.

In Washington, a couple of Congressmen have begun sniffing around Enbridge's practices. The Washington Independent's Andrew Restuccia found that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is charged with overseeing the integrity of the pipelines carrying oil from place to place, is riddled with familiar rot. According to his report, the agency boasts both leaders who've been through the revolving door and a willingness to grant safety waivers that could put normal people in harm’s way.

The Kalamazoo spill has garnered additional attention due to the larger BP spill. But so far it looks like the company at fault will not have to face major consequences for its errors.

Frack that

Another example: The push for natural gas drilling is creeping eastward from Colorado and Wyoming to Pennsylvania and New York. As National Radio Project’s Making Contact explains, “While the BP oil spill has increased calls to use natural gas as a so-called ‘clean energy’ alternative, activists are sounding the alarm bell about this controversial gas drilling technique – hydraulic fracturing.”

In some places, “local groups aren’t waiting for federal regulation,” host Andrew Stelzer reports. “New York in particular is a hotbed of opposition.”

And indeed, AlterNet writes, the state senate in New York voted this week to wait on natural gas drilling. The state’s assembly must approve it, too, however. Like the oil spill in Michigan, like the BP oil spill, natural gas drilling is one more case where big energy companies are more concerned with profit than people—or the planet on which we live.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

August 02 2010


Environmental News Wrap July 27-August 2: Congressional Inaction, the Sound of Wind Turbines, Record Heat Waves, and more…

Environmental News WrapGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • Congressional inaction: Apparently the worst environmental disaster in the history of the USA (BP oil spill), an environmentalist President, a full congress majority for Democrats, clear science supporting the theory of climate change and its negative affects and a public at least 51% in support of action to address climate change is not enough to pass any federal law to comprehensively address the negative effects of our dirty economy.
    The Guardian reports, “Where next for the wrecked US climate bill?
    National Geographic reports, “How Prospects Cooled for U.S. Global Warming Bill
  • Some Oregonians are being paid $5,000 to sign a contract to never complain about the noise from wind turbines. Some complain that they cannot sleep because of the noise from the turbines, many others don’t even notice.
  • The recent oil spill in China is in the clean up phase, check out this picture of how the Chinese clean up their oil spills.
  • 2010 is another record hot year. National Geographic reports, “Heat Wave: 2010 to Be One of Hottest Years on Record.”
  • A charging station has been developed that works through magnetism that is being applied to electric vehicles. Imagine driving to work and then while your car sits in the parking lot it is being charged by a charging station installed in the ground.
  • Oil prices have reached up to $80 a barrel. Oil exporting countries want the price between $40 and $70, about. If oil gets too high people will use a substitute and reduce use, if oil prices get too low then countries end up making less overall profit from their reserves. The higher the price, the better it is for environmentalism, but no one wants people to suffer from increased prices for necessities. Environmentalism is truly a difficult cause to navigate.
  • Environmental Justice (EJ) is a movement to make better environmental decisions in low income communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution. The EPA is making a revived effort to support EJ. The opposition to EJ believes that EJ kills economies and jobs, while many EJ advocates just want a more favorable process for placing polluting facilities, which statistically are found more in low income communities in the US.

July 19 2010


Environmental News Wrap: July12-19: New Electricity Generation, Oil Spills, Building an Electric Car Market, and More…

GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Article of the Week:
Scientific American reports that
half of the new electricity generation in the US and Europe in the last year has come from green energy. This is very important because the decisions we make today about new energy generation will be the realities we face 20, 50 and 100 years from now.

Non-environmental commentary of the BP oil spill may lead you to believe that oil spills are rare. Chevron just spilled 33,000 gallons into a river in Utah due to an accident. No matter the cause of an oil spill, a spill is a spill and the damage is done.

The US Clean Air Act has a “good neighbor” policy to help states regulate emissions that originate in other states. This policy is being invoked by the EPA to help protect people in the Eastern US.

NY City has decided to build electric car charging stations to be ready for the new market. For this effort to work out affordable and reliable electric cars need to make it to the market in the next 5 years. Sometimes, for environmentalism, you have to lose money to later make money in this skewed market of subsidies, externalities, cartels and monopolies.

Tesla is one company that wants in on the electric car market, and big names like Toyota are teaming up with them to do so.

The Guardian reports from a British perspective on China’s march into the green economy. Western news may paint China as an enemy of environmentalism, but they are the ones positioning themselves to control large parts of the future green economy. For example, with companies like Suntech and Yingli, China is already a huge producer of PV solar panels.

Biodiversity is not a word that is heard much in the boardrooms of large companies. But that is changing; already two of the 100 largest companies in the world officially state that biodiversity loss is a serious concern for future business.

July 16 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: AC/DC – Kicking the Unsustainable Energy Habit

Making the transition to sustainable energyBy Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

This summer, Americans are cranking up their air conditioning. At the same time, Senators are letting climate legislation cool its heels in Washington. Ultimately, both of these summer trends are contributing to climate change. Air conditioning dumps greenhouse gases into the environment, and without climate legislation that caps the country's carbon emissions, America's share of global carbon levels will only continue to grow.

But if it’s hard for individuals to give up air conditioning on some of the hottest days in decades, it’s even harder for the country to give up fossil fuels altogether. Just yesterday, BP finally capped the well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf—it took the company almost three months. Yet even in Louisiana, the state hardest hit by the BP oil spill, workers are supporting the oil industry and pushing back against the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.

How can the country give up the controlled climate it has become accustomed to? We depend on fossil fuels to keep us cool and to keep our economy pumping. In both cases, the answer is not to go cold turkey, but to come up with an innovative solution.

Brrr, it’s cold in here!

Americans are as addicted to A/C as they are to oil. “Just since the mid-1990s, as the U.S. population was growing by less than 15 percent, consumption of electricity to cool the residential, retail and automotive sectors doubled,” writes Stan Cox at AlterNet. That cool breeze creates greenhouse gas pollution—the equivalent of 400 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Cox talks to several admirable people who live without air conditioning. They offer advice like consuming pitchers of ice water, opening your windows at strategic times, and canny use of fans.

At Care2, however, GinaMarie Cheeseman rebels. “My response to the…premise that we just have to learn to live without air conditioning is a definite, 'Hell, no!'” she writes. Her solution? Not to give up a modern technology that improves many days, but to turn to an atmosphere-friendly product—a new-fangled A/C unit called DEVap, which is “50 to 90 percent more energy efficient than traditional air conditions,” she reports.

Highway to "Hell, no!"

Across the country, the response to an offshore drilling moratorium has echoed Cheeseman: “Hell, no!” After a federal judge (with a financial interest in the oil industry, of course) shut down the initial ban, the administration came back this week with a new version that “is based more on specific safety concerns and less on the simple depth of the well,” as Public News Service reports.

In The Nation, Mark Hertsgaard talked to Louisianans who disapproved of the ban altogether.

“When a airplane crashes, do you ground every plane in the country? No. You find out what caused the problem and fix it. You don't punish the entire industry,” one fisherman told him. Hertsgaard came away with a surprising conclusion:

It may be shocking to read in The Nation, but a blanket moratorium on new deepwater drilling may not be the best policy to pursue in the wake of the BP disaster. No state in the union is more addicted to oil than Louisiana; the oil and gas industry is responsible for roughly 25 percent of the state's economic activity. If you abruptly cut off a hardened heroin addict, you can kill him; there is a reason physicians prescribe methadone rather than cold turkey.”

At GritTV, Hertsgaard and I discussed the problem of how to move forward, if a ban on oil drilling won’t fly. The country needs to adopt new solutions—like Cheeseman’s A/C unit—before throwing out the old. Hertsgaard learned, for instance, that Louisiana has the strongest program for solar energy in the country.

Louisiana has by far the strongest solar tax credit—50% off of your solar installation," Hertsgaard said. "And if you add onto that the 30% credit that Obama administration passed earlier in his presidency, Louisiana homeowners can go solar for 80% off."

PACE-ing ourselves

Why doesn’t every state have such a strong solar program, though? Even a disaster like the BP oil spill could not budge federal leaders to move the country towards a safer, cleaner energy future via strong policies. The version of energy legislation that now looks most likely to come to a vote in the Senate drops a carbon cap altogether. It could require renewable electricity standards which mandate that a certain amount of electricity production comes from renewable energy sources, but many states already have similar, if not better standards.

One way to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels is to improve the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. There are huge gains to be made here. Better efficiency across the economy could reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030, according to the Center for American Progress. The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans encouraged homeowners to build houses that met federal efficiency standards. But a decision last week by the Federal Housing Finance Agency essentially killed this type of assistance.

Cities can continue to offer PACE, but then Fannie and Freddie must impose stricter lending standards on all local borrowers—even those who never intend to take out PACE loans,” Alyssa Katz explains at The American Prospect. “In effect, the new guidelines force mayors and city councils to choose between promoting energy efficiency and improving the health of their already battered real-estate markets.”

Two cities that were using the loans—San Francisco and Boulder—have stopped issuing them, Katz reports. Yesterday, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) did introduced the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2010, which requires the FHFA to support PACE, but there's no guarantee that legislation will pass through Congress, Grist reports.

Policy trumps innovation

That chilling effect is exactly the opposite of the sort of policies the country needs from Washington. As Christian Parenti writes in The Nation, fancy devices (like Cheeseman’s DEVap) cannot fix the climate crisis on their own:

An overemphasis on breakthrough inventions can obscure the fact that most of the energy technologies we need already exist. You know what they are: wind farms, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal and tidal power, all feeding an efficient smart grid that, in turn, powers electric vehicles and radically more energy-efficient buildings.”

“According to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid large-scale implementation,” Parenti explains. “In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but rather about new policies.”

It would be nice if those new policies pushed the country to decrease energy use, instead of mimicking programs states already have in place, or worse, undoing good work that’s going forward on the local level.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

July 06 2010


Environmental News Wrap: June 29-July 5

GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Solar Power:

June 28 2010


Environmental News Wrap: June 22-27

GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Environmental News Pick of the Week:

June 21 2010


Environmental News Wrap – June 16-21

Environmental News Wrap - Covering a dynamic EarthGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Must Read of the Week:

  • Biomass energy has been touted as a smart way to deal with bio-refuse. The idea is being reexamined though because the act of burning bio-refuse is more damaging than any alternative. Also, the pay off for making biomass burning carbon neutral is 50-100 years away, and we need to address climate conditions now, not later.
  • A website called seesouthernforests.org has a great interactive map for learning about the composition of Southern Forests in the US and how they have been changed by humans. Check It Out!
  • Making tires more green has always been focused on performance and longevity. Now companies are starting to incorporate alternative materials. The greatest gains in decreasing the environmental impact of tires still lie with the original focus of performance and longevity. If we want tires we have to accept some environmental impact, humans will never be impact neutral or positive with needs like cars.
  • Oil spills do not stop oil lobbyists. The Washington Post covers the obvious and awkward.
  • The four-year-long drought in California is over, but politicians are wary of lifting restrictions. California is looking long term and wants to conserve this valuable resource that will become more valuable as we shape our climate and environment.
  • Amid the BP oil spill Obama calls for a focus on energy policy. Using this disaster as a diving board Obama is seizing the moment and doing what has been needed for a long time. Also, the $20 billion account that BP has created to compensate economic losers from the spill is unprecedented. In the Exxon Valdez spill Exxon lost the court case but continued on to appeal the punitive penalty and got it reduced from $5 billion to $500 million. Exxon spent about $5 billion on clean up and settlements. For BP to just put up $20 billion for grabs is an astonishing advance in the powers of the environmental movement.
  • Battery technology is always advancing. Technology Review explains how nanotechnology is changing the lithium-ion battery, the battery used in your cell phone and hopefully in the future, your car.
  • Afghanistan has received attention for something besides war for once. Apparently $1 trillion worth of minerals are extractable in Afghanistan. The Week calls this new media focus a sham. Whether or not it is a sham, encouraging a country devastated by war to also become a country exploited by the global demand for minerals is terrible. Do not ruin the people and then ruin their land.

June 12 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: The BP Spill, the Climate Bill, and the Possibility of Real Change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

"There's a dead dolphin on this beach," Mother Jones' Mac McClelland, wrote yesterday in Louisiana. It's one snapshot of the harm visited on the Gulf Coast by the BP oil spill. Back in Washington, the Senate climate bill, which would put the country on a path to cleaner energy consumption, is on its last legs.

You’d think that after a seemingly unstoppable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (official estimates are up to 50,000 barrels a day, as of yesterday) and the hottest spring on record (hello, climate change!), U.S. citizens and elected representatives would recognize that our country's thirst for resources has consequences.

It’s not just that oil is spilling into the Gulf, even after BP hit on a fix. Besides the blow-out that has dominated headlines, another, more routine spill showed up near the Louisiana coast. The Deepwater Horizon spill is now the larger of two spills in the Gulf Coast, according to Care2. A week ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well owned by EOG Resources (formerly Enron) shot a geyser of chemical-laced water 75 feet into the air; and on Monday, in West Virginia, another natural gas well, this one owned by Chief Oil and Natural Gas, also exploded, as AlterNet reports.

Yet BP is still supplying the Pentagon with oil and gas, as Jeremy Scahill writes at The Nation. Senators are still supporting natural gas exploration and offshore oil drilling. The White House has also abandoned any intention of pushing for strong legislation that would push for better, cleaner energy.

Lifestyle vs. lives

Americans aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle, so wild animals are giving up their lives. One casualty of the BP spill in the Gulf might be bluefin tuna. Their population is 20% of what it was 40 years ago, Inter Press Service reports. Although the effects of the oil spill won't be entirely clear for a few years, scientists are worried.

“Biologically, bluefin are already unlucky,” IPS writes. “The fish – which can be as long as and faster than a sports car – only spawn once a year and only in certain locations.”

Schools of the tuna, IPS reports, are headed now towards the Gulf of Mexico.

The spill has been going on during their peak spawning period in the only place the western population spawns, so in timing and location it's probably the worst place you could have it and during the worst time," Lee Crocket, director of federal fisheries policy at Pew Environment, told IPS.

All the creatures of the sea

It's not just tuna that are at risk, either. Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty has been documenting the fate of birds, fish, and other sea creatures that come into contact with the oil in the Gulf. She visited Elmer’s Island, LA, and snapped a shot of one of the dead jelly fish that had washed up on the shore:

There were dead Portuguese man o'war jellies—one of the few species that weather the travails of the dead zone that afflicts these waters each summer. The dead zone is an area around the outflow of the Mississippi River made hypoxic by too many nutrients flowing downstream, mostly from farms and ranches. If you're a jellyfish, a dead zone is survivable. Apparently an oiled zone is not.”

BP's shroud of secrecy

BP has been remarkably cagey with the public about what’s going on in the Gulf. In addition to keeping reporters away from soiled area, the company hasn't shown much interest in understanding exactly how much oil it’s spilling into the ocean. Initial estimates of 1,000 barrels per day have blossomed into estimates, on the low end, of 25,000 barrels. On Democracy Now!, scientist Ira Leifer said that the company is being more forthcoming with information now than it was originally. But he’d like a fuller picture:

What there really should be at these kind of sites is some acoustic methods, whether it’s sonar or passive listening devices, or other approaches that continuously are monitoring and waiting for something to happen and then would provide a nonstop, steady data stream, so we could actually learn from what happens….These things, they’re not steady states. They belch. They have large eruptions.”

What that means, Leifer said, is that it’s not necessarily accurate to talk about a definitive rate at which the oil is pouring out. In his words, “the flow today is not necessarily the flow tomorrow.” What’s more, the attempts to stop the spill can make it worse. One concern is that the rock surrounding the pipe could “give out,” Leifer says. In that scenario, the oil would not just come from the pipe but from many sites in the surrounding sea bed.

“This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended,” Leifer said. “So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable.”

Spin, BP, spin

Given that sort of doomsday scenario, it’s not surprising that BP has plans to promise as little as possible to the spill's victims. As Justin Elliott reports at TPMMuckraker, the company’s plan for oil spills instructs its spokespeople not to promise anything.

BP’s June 2009 Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan reads: "No statement shall be made containing … Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal,” Elliott writes.


How to move beyond these horror stories? This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) completely disowned the climate legislation he was working on before, and both Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen bemoaned the climate bill’s fate.

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Although the amendment failed, support from Democrats like Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln signals that the support isn't there for even unambitious climate legislation. And at this juncture, it seems like the U.S. has done more harm than good in the international arena.

Coping with Copenhagen

International leaders are at Bonn this week, trying to pick up the pieces from last December’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen was a pretty horrible conference," conceded Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as IPS reports. "This year it’s about restoring trust.”

For the U.S., passing climate legislation would help.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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June 11 2010


BP Apologies: Too LIttle, Too Late

Courtesy of the Center for American Progress and the Cartoonist Group

The time to have known how to stop the gushing oil from the hobbled wellhead one mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico was before the leak happened. Everything else is too little, too late.

June 09 2010


Sen. Lindsey Graham, Former Friend of Climate Legislation, Now Foe, and Acting Denier-ish

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has told reporters that he will vote against the climate bill that he helped to craft along with remaining co-sponsors Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).  According to CongressDaily (sub. req'd), Graham says he doesn’t like “new changes [to the bill] that further restrict offshore oil and gas drilling and the bill's impact on the transportation sector.”

As David Roberts at Grist writes:
“Yes, you read that right: He says he's bailing from the bill because, in the wake of one of the greatest offshore oil drilling disasters of all time, a bill devoted to reducing climate pollution does not expand offshore oil drilling enough. Such is the Bizarro World of the U.S. Senate.”

Graham previously yanked his name off the bill out of anger surrounding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision to prioritize immigration reform over climate and energy.  While some still hoped that Graham would suck it up and vote for whatever eventually became of the bill he helped create, he dashed all hopes of that happening today.

Instead, Graham says he now will only support a bill that allows polluting utilities more time to meet their emission reduction targets and completely exempts energy-intensive manufacturers and other industries from a carbon control plan.

He said Congress should “start over and scale down your ambitions.”

Actually, ambitions had already been scaled down to the point where the climate will not be saved under any current Congressional plan, by a long shot.

Senator Graham says he’ll work to cobble together a “hodgepodge of ideas out there that I think form a potential pathway forward.”

Not right now, of course.  That would demonstrate that he and other Republicans understand the urgency of addressing our oil addiction and solving climate change.

(So much for President Obama’s optimism that the oil spill would help remind all Americans of the need to work together to kick our oil addiction and to pass a science-based climate protection bill.  Graham’s move seems to indicate the exact opposite – any effort to limit further dangerous offshore drilling is simply too much for the Right.)

Sometime later in the future down the road a bit, maybe a single Republican (or gasp, more than one) might emerge to take up the mantle and remind the Right that they need a safe climate to pass on to their grandkids too.

That person is no longer Sen. Graham, who today even sounded like he had a couple cups of climate denier Kool-Aid for breakfast:
“I'm in the wing of the Republican Party that has no problem with trying to find ways to clean up our air. We can have a debate about global warming, and I'm not in the camp that believes man-made emissions are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change, but I do believe the planet is heating up. But I am in the camp of believing that clean air is a noble purpose for every Republican to pursue. The key is to make it business friendly.”

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones comments:
“So, he now says he doesn't think that man-made emissions are causing the planet to warm—but that the planet is warming. And that emissions are bad for us, just not bad in the way that most people who care about emissions think they're bad. Right? I give up.”

Last week the President boldly pledged that, "The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century."

But as long as the Republicans can find a way to block action on climate and clean energy (and everything else), the next generation will surely remain hostage to dirty polluting fuels.

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