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Years of Bush administration policies pushing commerce over conservation have sapped much of the US national park system, reports Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the country’s most scenic views remain threatened by the industrial roads and drilling platforms of looming energy projects placed near or within the borders of supposedly protected public lands.
Using the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, administration officials bullied through project after project, such as an approved uranium mine two miles from a Grand Canyon visitors center, or the auctioning off of oil and gas leases on 360,000 acres of public land in Utah.
Some of the Bush policies are easily reversible, like the controversial last-minute environmental rule changes immediately suspended by President Barack Obama upon entering office. Others are not (see: exploration and drilling leases).
Some park service veterans have said it could take decades undo the damage that has been done.
“The agency has been demoralized; the employees of the National Park Service have been beaten down,” said Bill Wade, former superintendent at Shenandoah National Park and co-founder of a park service retirees group that has been critical of the Bush administration.
Former park service director Roger Kennedy is more hopeful.
“If we get lucky and we have a good strong National Park Service director, a lot of this can be reversed quite quickly,” said Kennedy, currently director emeritus of the National Museum of American History.
In related news, Obama appointee and new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar promised Friday to bring back “high ethical standards” to the scandal-plagued department, which oversees both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, reports Environment News Service.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday temporarily pulled the plug on a planned South Dakota coal-fired power plant, citing conflicts with the Clean Air Act, Minnesota Public Radio’s Mark Steil reports.
The agency has filed several objections, via letter, to an air quality permit granted last November by the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment for the proposed plant, known as Big Stone II.
Estimated to cost $1.6 billion, the new facility would supply between 500 and 580 megawatts of electricity to 400,000 homes throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Iowa.
"We identified three key issues of the state's title five permit that we determined were not consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act," said the EPA’s Carl Daly, regional air permitting unit chief for the agency’s Denver office.
The EPA’s objections include the output limits the permit allows for the chemicals sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide – both contribute to acid rain – and whether proper controls exist to monitor the plant’s overall emissions.
South Dakota regulators and plant officials have 90 days make the required changes. Daly said he doesn’t expect that to be a problem.
Environmental groups opposed to Big Stone II applauded the EPA’s decision, and said they intend to keep fighting the proposed coal plant, which they argue will each year emit as much carbon dioxide as hundreds of thousands of cars.
Coal’s environmental impact has been under increased scrutiny recently; particularly after an accident last month at an eastern Tennessee plant dumped 500 million gallons of toxic coal-ash across hundreds of acres of surrounding river valley.
More than 1,300 similar dumps – each filled with hazardous heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury – exist across the country, unregulated and unmonitored, writes Shaila Dewan of The New York Times.
In Minnesota, the Tennessee disaster prompted the promise of renewed inspections by state engineers of three prominent coal-ash dikes, each 18 to 50 feet high, according to the Star Tribune’s David Shaffer.
Welcome to the GreenNews RoundUp, a quick recap of some of the week’s top environmental stories.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation soaks EPA with Clean Water Citizens’ suit
After years of failed efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, along with several local politicians, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, claiming the agency has violated the Clean Water Act.
The Washington Post reports that for years the administrators responsible for the bay failed to clean it up, all the while submitting false reports overstating their progress.
China plans to build world’s largest solar power plant
Two Chinese companies announced plans Friday to construct the largest solar project on the planet. Once completed, the plant is expected to be able to generate 1 gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of electricity, nearly twice the amount of the next largest project, a proposed 550-megawatt facility in California. One megawatt of energy is enough to power roughly 1,000 homes.
Scientists say they expect global temperature to rise in 2009
British climate researchers are predicting this year to be one of the top-five warmest years on record, with the average global temperature expected to be more than 0.4 degrees Celsius higher than the planet’s long-term average.
In other climate news, the BBC reports that global warming has reduced the growth of the Australian Great Barrier Reef to its slowest rate in 400 years.
On a brighter note, British scientists have discovered huge algae blooms off the coast of Antarctica that could be capable of absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide, according to the Daily Mail. Ironically, the blooms are created as a result of iron released into the southern Ocean by melting icebergs.
Bush administration pushes two more last-minute environmental law changes
The Bush administration has proposed two new eleventh-hour environmental policy changes before leaving office: The Interior Department has decided to double the rate of logging in Oregon’s federal forests, while the U.S. Forest Service plans to ease restrictions currently blocking developers from converting mountain forests into housing subdivisions.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management stops issuing fines
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has stopped imposing fines on state agencies that violate their environmental permits, to the ire of local environmentalists. The department has replaced the fines with toothless legal settlements, which carry no threat of penalties of any kind should an agency fail to comply.
It appears automakers aren’t the only ones interested in flex-fuel vehicles these days.
A Boeing 747 partly powered by vegetable oil performed a successful two-hour test flight on Tuesday, the BBC reports.
Heralded as a technological and ecological “milestone,” the Air New Zealand flight was reportedly the first time a second-generation biofuel – in this case jatropha plant oil – was used in a passenger plane.
Second-generation biofuels can be created using a wide variety of plants, and are generally considered cleaner than traditional biofuels, such as ethanol.
In February 2008, British airline Virgin Atlantic tested fuel in one of its jets that was derived from a blend of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts. Continental plans to try out its own biofuel blend in a Boeing 737 on Jan. 7 in Houston.
The International Air Transport Association has set a goal for one-tenth of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.
Some scientists are concerned, however, that widespread adoption of biofuels could cause environmental and economic harm via increased deforestation and diversion of crops from food to energy use, according to The New York Times.
Jatropha is particularly problematic, Reuters reports, because it can be toxic and yields are unreliable.
If you’ve picked up you’re local newspaper any time this past week, chances are you’ve seen it. The year-end review.
Every year, without fail, news organizations across the country do it. Like many people do, they look back at the days gone by and reflect on big happenings and important events.
And then they rank them, in “Best Of” and “Top 10” lists. The environmental news sector is no exception. So, as a farewell to the year 2008, here is a list of the best of this year’s green news year-end reviews.
10. We kick off our countdown with a trio of “Top Green Stories of 2008” topic reviews from GreenBiz.com, starting with Jonathan Bardelline’s take on the year’s best design articles.
9. Leslie Guevarra follows that up with some of the best green building stories of ’08.
8. Tilde Herrera then taps into the year’s top themes in business and climate change.
7. Next, green-tech trends take the stage as InfoWorld’s Ted Samson comments on which new 2008 ideas he thinks will stick around for 2009.
6. Even though in many ways 2008 was the year of blending business and sustainability, it can sometimes be a tough sell convincing others of how well the two concepts complement one other. To help, John Marshall Roberts, strategic communications consultant at Evenson Design Group, a sustainable brand and design firm, has offered six simple principles how sustainability is good for business.
5. A new study by Edmunds.com enlightens on the 10 cheapest vehicles to drive in ’09 (and not one is a hybrid).
4.C-NET’s Martin LaMonica assesses how the green-tech industry fared this past year – it’s ups, and it’s downs. Not to be remiss, he also prognosticates on what is yet to come.
3. A smattering of favorite 2008 environmental articles from the Gristmill’s David Roberts.
2. Jennifer Runyon, of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, touches on some of the most-read energy and tech stories to break last year.
1. And the top spot unquestionably goes to Plenty Magazine’s Ben Whitford, whose exhaustive month-by-month review of all things green in 2008 is frankly the most complete year-end review we’ve ever seen.
Introducing the GreenNews RoundUp, a quick recap of some of the week’s top environmentally themed stories.
Tennessee homes, waterways flooded by coal plant’s deluge of toxic sludge
The debate over coal energy’s environmental costs continues after an estimated 500 million gallons of toxic coal-ash burst through an earthen dam Monday at a plant in eastern Tennessee, flooding hundreds of acres and swamping a dozen nearby homes in up to six feet of poisonous sludge. Federal authorities say cleanup could take weeks, or even years. See video of the massive spill here, as well as articles by the Associated Press and the Knoxville Sentinel News.
Beverly Hills doctor fueled SUV with fat from patients
Before falling under investigation by California’s public health department, a Los Angeles plastic surgeon turned the extra blubber taken off his clients into biodiesel for his vehicle, writes Peter Beller of Forbes magazine.
Ford previews spring debut of fuel-efficient Fusion hybrid
Still battling with possible bankruptcy, a not-yet-bailed-out Ford Motor Company hopes to earn favorable "street cred" as it announced the planned spring arrival of the Fusion hybrid, which once in production will be the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan on the market and the second stingiest gas-sipper on the road (behind the Toyota Prius).
Scientists suggest reflecting sun’s rays to help stave off climate change
Skeptical that current efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions will be substantial enough soon enough to significantly curb climate change, a pair of international scientists are proposing a radical plan to quickly and cheaply reverse global warming: deflect some of the sun’s heat by covering parts of the world’s deserts with reflective sheeting.
Winter season slows down renewable energy production
Yet another reason to complain about the winter season – as a time of year, it’s not too friendly to renewable energy. Lack of sunlight stymies solar power, while cold temps can cause biodiesel to congeal and wind turbine blades to ice up.
U.S EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has issued a memorandum declaring carbon dioxide off limits to agency officials reviewing new coal-fired power plant applications, report Matthew L. Wald and Felicity Barringer of The New York Times.
In the 19-page memo, released Thursday, Johnson said:
As of the date of this memorandum, EPA will … exclude pollutants for which EPA regulations only require monitoring or reporting … Since 1993, EPA has had regulations in place requiring monitoring and reporting of carbon dioxide emissions.
The outgoing EPA chief, appointed by President George W. Bush, published the memo in response to a November decision by the EPA Environmental Appeals Board denying the permit for a 110-megawatt coal plant in eastern Utah.
In its verdict, the three-judge panel accepted the argument that because federal law requires that carbon dioxide be monitored, and monitoring is de facto regulation, the impact of a plant’s CO2 output must be measured prior to any permit approval.
Johnson overruled the board with his memo, and directly contradicted the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide.
“It’s a marvel to behold an EPA action that so utterly disdains global warming responsibility and disdains the law at the same time,” said John Walke, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. “EPA’s administrator is defying the agency’s own judges, the Clean Air Act, and the course of history that recognizes the urgency in tackling global warming.”
Faced with a slowing global economy, individuals and industries in countries worldwide are cutting back. On their spending. On their expectations. Not on their greenhouse gas emissions.
Even with more economic doom and gloom forecast for 2009, the annual 3 percent growth of global emissions is likely to ease only slightly next year, and could increase over the long term because of the downturn’s negative impact on international climate change talks and funding for renewable energy projects, the Guardian’s Adam Vaughan reports.
While Deutsche Bank analysts said this month that Europe and the United States could see emissions in 2009 drop by as much as 10 percent compared to 2007 levels, they don’t expect the cuts to last, with emissions back on the rise by 2010.
And any short-term declines in the U.S. or Europe are also likely to be offset by emission increases from developing world economies, said Abyd Karmali, Merrill Lynch's global head of carbon emissions.
“I don't think we'll see a reduction in emissions,” Karmali said. “We talk about global recession but the truth is economies in places like China and India are still growing.”
The sustained buzz surrounding plug-in hybrid technology remains one of the few bright spots for the auto industry these days, and while way greener than your average gas guzzler, plug-ins aren’t pollution free.
To recharge their batteries, they hook up to the nation’s overwhelmingly coal-powered electrical grid. But what if our cars could produce energy too?
They can, according to Israeli engineering firm Innowattech, developer of technology it claims can harness the energy expelled by any moving vehicle – cars, trains, airplanes – as they ride across any surface, and convert that energy to electricity, writes Daniel A. Begun at HotHardware.com.
Innowattech’s system uses piezoelectric generators, which when stuck under a surface, be it road, rail line or runway, get pressed down by the weight of the vehicles moving over them.
Piezoelectric material converts the energy from that pressure to electricity. The heavier and faster moving the vehicle, the more energy gets transferred to the generator, and the more electricity gets produced.
Innowattech says a 1-mile stretch of piezoelectric roadway could generate 0.5 megawatts (1 megawatt is enough energy to power about 1,000 homes).
Not everyone’s buying in just yet, though. Lloyd Alter of the environmental blog TreeHugger – published by the Discovery Company – calls the technology “highway robbery.”
Here is another great resource for free information
Green Technology by BusinessWeek
The rumors first sprouted last week.
President-elect Barack Obama confirmed them Monday when he officially introduced his green team of top energy and environment officials at a press conference in Chicago, CNET’s Martin LaMonica reports.
– Steven Chu, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was named Secretary of Energy.
– Lisa P. Jackson, former head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, who has drawn praise and criticism for her time there, has been tapped to serve as the new administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
– Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor for energy and environment for Los Angeles, was appointed as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
– Carol M. Browner, EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton, has been nominated for a new position: assistant to the president for energy and climate change (aka “energy czar”).
– Still to be formally announced is Obama’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, though unnamed sources say Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) will get the nod, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Obama said his picks show how serious his administration is about supporting clean energy technologies, which will benefit the economy and the environment.
"One of the key points that I want to make at this press conference and I will repeat again and again during the course of my presidency is there is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental practices," the president-elect said.
"I think that the future of innovation and technology is going to be what drives our economy into the future. And the energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of jobs we need," he said.
Placing the U.S. economy at the head of the green-tech revolution will be no easy feat, however. And plenty of challenges remain.
To start, the renewable energy industry has been hit hard in recent months by falling oil prices and the growing financial crisis.
Worse, many scientists say time is running out to act on global warming, and tackling climate change today is going to be much tougher than it would have been years ago.
Taking a page from the FBI’s playbook, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday debuted its own online most-wanted list for the world’s worst alleged environmental offenders, even as the agency is catching fewer criminals, reports Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press.
Published on the agency’s Web site, the list names the U.S. government’s 23 most sought-after eco-fugitives – complete with mug shots – charged with crimes against nature ranging from smuggling ozone-depleting chemicals to illegal dumping or storing of hazardous waste.
If caught, many people on the list face years in prison and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
“They are charged with environmental crimes and they should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court,” said Pete Rosenberg, EPA’s criminal enforcement division director.
Fewer are getting there, however. EPA officials this year opened 319 criminal enforcement cases, compared with 425 in 2004. And the agency charged 176 defendants with environmental crimes in 2008, the fewest in five years.
Once thought to be a drain on a company’s bank account, businesses – even small ones – across the U.S. are proving that in fact it pays to be green, writes Forbes magazine’s Melanie Lindner.
Sure, investing in eco-friendly infrastructure still requires some substantial deposits upfront, but it also yields serious savings and profits long-term.
“The perception is that going green is for rich guys, but it's actually all about saving money and resources,” says Charlie Szoradi, a longtime architect and CEO of the sustainable building Web site GreenandSave.com.
Take Joe Nelesen. Last summer, the Appleton, Wis., Culver’s restaurant franchise owner and businessman dropped $8,000 on a machine that could convert his eatery’s excess vegetable oil into fuel for his SUV and tractors. Nelesen figures he saves a combined $500 a week in diesel fuel and grease-removal costs at the restaurant.
Or there’s New World Stoneworks owner Ken Jackman, who built a pollution-free heating system for his 10,000 square-foot warehouse by capturing steam generated from his water-jet stone-cutting machine, which uses super-heated H2O to carve custom stone chimneys, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and more.
Jackman said the whole system cost about $8,000, which he recouped in less than a year.
And for businesses that want to condense their carbon footprint but just don’t know how, call your local public utility.
Christine Saunders did, and with some help from her city’s economic development director the Anaheim, Calif., flower shop owner was able to install more energy efficient lighting, air conditioning and a programmable thermostat almost completely on the city’s dime.
Her shop’s new greener profile has bumped up her bottom line roughly $27,000 so far this year.
Coal industry bigwigs are criticizing a new ad campaign calling out clean coal technology as a farce, the Charleston Daily Mail’s George Hohmann reports.
The recently debuted environmentalist-sponsored TV spot (seen here) shows a man standing in front of a supposed state-of-the-art zero-emission coal processing plant while talking about the wonders of clean coal.
When he opens the door to the facility, however, there is nothing but a barren desert. The commercial ends with the line: “In reality, there’s no such thing as clean coal.”
The ad is the first in a campaign directly targeted at assertions made in past pro-industry commercials, such as this one.
Currently, clean coal, as defined by burning coal without releasing greenhouse gas emissions, does not exist.
The attacks on the country’s most prolific fossil fuel have some coal executives fired up.
"People are cowering away from being criticized by people that are our enemies," said Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship of coal's opponents. "Would we be upset if Osama Bin Laden was critical of us?"
Said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association: “My concern about it is, first of all I think it's so typical - what they do is throw stones but they don't offer any alternatives whatsoever for achieving energy security for America. It's as though they want us to continue to rely and depend on the Middle East for all of our energy needs.”
Greening the U.S. economy could grow millions of new manufacturing jobs, according to a recently released study by Duke University.
In their report, “Manufacturing Climate Solutions,” Duke researchers provide an in-depth analysis of the country’s current manufacturing landscape and what America must do to build up so-called “green collar” jobs while keeping down its greenhouse gas emissions.
“Until now, there was no tangible evidence of what the jobs are, how they are created and what it means for U.S. workers. We are providing that here,” said Gary Gereffi, a Duke professor of sociology and lead author of the study. “We don’t guess where the jobs are; we name them.”
Gereffi and his colleagues at Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness identify five eco-friendly technologies with serious growth potential. They include:
- LED lighting
- Concentrated solar power
- High-performance windows
- Back-up generators for long-haul trucks
- “Super Soil Systems” (a new way to treat hog waste)
States most likely to benefit are Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and North Carolina.
Harnessing wind power is relatively easy (see: windmill). It’s storing that energy that’s the hard part.
Enter Xcel Energy’s “Wind-to-Battery” project.
Brought online last month, the experiment in southwest Minnesota is the first in the country to use a sodium-sulfur battery to try and store energy generated by wind farms, reports ABC news affiliate KAAL TV.
If successful, the technology could prove a windfall for the renewable energy sector. One of wind power’s greatest weaknesses has long been reliability because if the wind didn’t blow, no energy could be created.
“Energy storage is key to expanding the use of renewable energy,” said Richard Kelly, Xcel Energy Chairman, President and CEO. “This technology has the potential to reduce the impact caused by the variability and limited predictability of wind energy generation.”
The project is being tested in Luverne, Minn., about 30 miles east of Sioux Falls, S.D., and uses an 80-ton battery that Xcel says could power 500 homes for more than 7 hours when fully charged.
"This, of course, is a small test by utility standards, but it should be able to provide us the seed information that would help us determine what the impact might be," said Xcel Energy spokesman Frank Novachek.