Archive | environment

CA hearing: climate change requires a paramilitary response

green-police

Can your home be taken to “save the planet”? Absolutely, if nascent California Green Police get their way. Huge calamities are surely about to befall us, so the only logical thing to do, they say, is to create paramilitaries to enforce green edicts. This will be done solely for the greater good of course, so no worries, even if democracy, property rights, and freedom of expression get demolished in the process. Sorry granny, your house is on a flood plain so you’ll have to live in your car.

To paraphrase The Doors, cancel my subscription to your resurrection.

Paramilitary tactics may be necessary in California to prepare for, or head off, an apocalyptic future with flooded coastal communities, scorched central valleys and rampant wildfires in the Sierras. That was the advice and prediction from one of the experts at a recent hearing on climate change adaptation by the state watchdog agency the Little Hoover Commission

Said Robert Verchick, an environmental law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans:

“The way that you build resilience and robustness is to think about everything at once and then move forward in some kind of regimented, maybe paramilitary, way.

Resilience is the ability to act quickly and effectively to changing situations without needing Big Brother. It is the opposite of a blundering, thuggish paramilitary response. To suggest that paramilitary action should be a primary response to climate change borders on derangement.

Posted in Climate change, environment0 Comments

Gov. Jerry Brown hearts fracking, hates environmental regulations

Not only is California Governor Jerry Brown, along with the federal government, intent on paving over the Mojave Desert with photovoltaic solar farms, Brown is also deliberately ignoring laws protectING  the environment so more fracking can occur.

Did I say “paving over the Mojave”? Why, yes I did. The feds have offered incentives on 285,000 acres of Mojave desert for solar energy plants and opened up 19 million more acres. That’s not a typo, it really is 19 million acres. The desert tortoise, the habitat, concerns about increased water usage by concentrated solar power plants, dust from the hundreds of roads that will be built with heavy trucks on them, well, all that can take a hike says the federal government and Jerry Brown.

Not only is Brown encouraging fracking, he’s outspokenly ignoring existing law by granting exemptions so fracking can occur.

Despite major complaints by farmers and environmentalists in Kern County, state regulators have waived environmental review for dozens of controversial new gas and oil drilling operations. The drilling permit issue has highlighted Gov. Jerry Brown’s open hostility to the California Environmental Quality Act. “I have never seen a CEQA exemption I didn’t like,” the governor said last summer.

That came after Brown fired two officials of the Department of Conservation who had been slow to grant waivers. Their replacements have since handed out more than two dozen drilling permits with scarcely any environmental review.

Posted in environment

Vermont Yankee nuclear plant snared in legal, regulatory morass

Credit: facebook.com/shutdownvermontyankee

Despite such protests as last weekend’s demonstration against thermal pollution of the Connecticut River, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has recently come to stand for the proposition that, when a nuclear plant reaches the end of its 40 year design life, it can still get a federal permit to keep on running for another 20 years.

This proposition is currently being litigated in the federal courts, argued in the Vermont legislature, and challenged by protesters on land and water, most recently on September 15 when a flotilla of canoes, kayaks, and other small boats with more than 100 opponents of nuclear power took to the water on a sunny fall day to object to Vermont Yankee’s hot water discharge that overheats the river that runs between Vermont and New Hampshire.

The event received scant media coverage beyond the local newspaper, which noted that a recent report found that the river temperature “exceeded Vermont Yankee’s permit limit 58 percent of the time between May and October of 2006 through 2010.”  Water temperature is a chronic concern for water-cooled nuclear plants like Yankee.  Last summer, the Millstone nuclear power plant in Connecticut had to shut down when the Long Island Sound got too warm to cool the plant.Protesters did not approach the discharge pipe or otherwise challenge the perimeter of the plant.   There were no arrests and Vermont Yankee did not publicly respond to the protest.

Vermont Yankee has been on a legal and regulatory winning streak this year and the final disposition of the 40-year-old plant is expected to have national impact on the nuclear industry in the U.S., according to observers at the Vermont Law School. Most recently, the Wednesday preceding the flotilla, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ruled that the frequently troubled plant didn’t have enough problems to require additional oversight, as requested by the State of Vermont in mid-August.  Among the problems cited by the state was an accidental drop in the water level of the spent fuel pool that was caught and reversed before a more serious accident could develop.

On September 11, Entergy Corporation of Louisiana, the owner of Vermont Yankee, was sued for more than $1.5 billion, equivalent to about two years’ profit, for allegedly lax security at its Indian Point nuclear plant about 35 miles from New York City.  The plaintiff, a current security guard at the plant, alleged numerous shortcomings at the plant, including improper nuclear waste storage.  Entergy denied the charges and pointed out that the NRC has inspected the plant and judged it secure.  The NRC declined to comment.

Also on September 11, Entergy Corporation filed a federal suit against the state, seeking to prevent the state from collecting taxes under a law passed by the Vermont Legislature in early 2012.  Acting through two subsidiaries, Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee and Entergy Nuclear Operations, the Louisiana corporation filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to block the state from collecting $9.5 million a year in taxes that are assessed on all power generating companies in the state.

Under prior statutes and agreements between Entergy and the state, Entergy paid about $6 million a year to the state.  This revenue ceased with the expiration of Vermont Yankee’s 40 year operating permit and was not renewed with the 20 year extension.  The state legislature was trying to make up for this loss through the new law, under which the first payment would have been due on October 25, 2012.

The mechanism of the new law is a so-called “generation tax.”  Under earlier legislation with a generation tax, Entergy was paying about $5 million a year.  Entergy has proposed paying this amount while the litigation is pending. The proposed generation tax for Vermont Yankee’s nuclear power is $0.0025 per kilowatt hour (kWh), which is the same rate Connecticut charges its nuclear plants.   The proposed rate for Entergy is lower than the $0.0030 rate Vermont charges on electricity generated by wind farms. One of Entergy’s arguments in this suit is that it is being singled out and treated unfairly.  State Rep. Dave Sharpe of Bristol has already suggested the legislature remedy this by taxing nuclear power generation at the same, higher rate applied to wind power generation.

Entergy and the state are already entangled in another federal lawsuitEntergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee, LLC et. al. v. Shumlin et. al., in which the first round went to Entergy last January, when Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled, in effect, that Vermont could not supersede the NRC when it came to regulating the safety of Vermont Yankee.  In June, after considerable public debate, the state filed its appeal of Murtha’s decision (having filed notice of appeal in February), joined by eight other states.  In September, Entergy filed its answer and that appeal is still pending.   Entergy has also cross-appealed in this case.

Also in June, in a separate case, the federal D.C. Court of Appeals rejected Vermont’s arguments and ruled that Vermont Yankee could stay in operation under its 20 year extension license until the litigation was completed.

Meanwhile, the NRC voted 5-0 in early August to freeze all nuclear licensing – whether for a new plant of a license renewal, like the one granted in 2011 to Vermont Yankee.  The NRC freeze was based on another D.C. Court of Appeals decision voiding the NRC’s rule on radioactive waste.  The freeze will remain in effect until that rule is resolved.  Conditions have not improved since 2011, and had the court ruling come earlier, Vermont Yankee would now be shut down.

In Vermont, the state’s lone nuclear power plant continues to be controversial.  In the race for governor, incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin has long favored shutting Vermont Yankee down, while Republican challenger, State Sen. Randy Brock has voted to close Vermont Yankee and has supported building a new nuclear power plant on the same site.

Posted in environment, News

Pacific Northwest: Sending coal to China?

Long coal train, South Dakota, 1946. Carol M Highsmith, American (Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

SSA Marine, which is 51% owned by Goldman Sachs, has applied for federal and state permits  to build facilities at Cherry Point to ship coal from the Rocky Mountains to China, thereby making the Pacific Northwest the largest coal exporting region in the country. (As many as half a dozen future sites have been proposed along the Oregon and Washington coast. If all of them were built and operated to planned capacity, those ports would ship 50% more coal than the entire country did in 2011.)

Most of the coal would come from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana; the coal would arrive on the coast either by train or river barges. What could possibly go wrong?

Physicians fret about an explosion of locomotive exhaust, while mayors grumble about the potential for long traffic-snarling trains. Washington state fears 1,200 new barge trips on the Columbia River could spark more accidents and marine-vessel groundings. Tribes worry that spilled coal could poison aquatic food webs.

But as the federal government begins its first lengthy review of plans to ship coal through Northwest ports, it’s not clear how — or if — the feds will weigh in on perhaps the most far-reaching issue: the potential effect new markets for coal could have on greenhouse-gas emissions.

There’s more information about the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Ferndale, Washington, here and here. SSA has provided some more details to its proposal which the Bellingham Herald explains here.

Posted in environment, News

Lawns: Do you still have one?

I killed my lawn. Ask me how. (bumper sticker from Tree of Life Nursery, San Juan Capistrano, California)

My good friend Bonnie (who has since moved to France where she doesn’t have a lawn to kill) had this on her bumper for years. She transformed her front yard and as soon as you got out of your car, you could smell the sages and other aromatic native plants. Suddenly there were more birds and butterflies around. And the people who live there now have kept her planting scheme.

I don’t have a lawn at my place either. There was a tiny bit of one on the lowest terrace when I arrived here 12 years ago, but I neglected it to death as soon as possible. Other than the potted plants outside my door, the only things on my property that get supplementary irrigation are my three orange trees which get deep-watered 2 or 3 times a year. The rest of my plants, including some established rose bushes, do just fine and when the Matilija poppy in my front yard blooms every year, it stops traffic.

So this post by Lisa Cahill at Good, resonates with me.

Why do we love our lawns when they don’t love us back? We pay a gardener or mow every week. We weed, edge, and blow. We aerate and add chemicals that pollute our waterways. And still, our lawns need more—often a lot more.

If you’re interested in going the native plant route like Bonnie, there are lots of resources in California and a good place to start is the California Native Plant Society. There’s also a lot of information to be found on sites like those of Tree of Life and Las Pilitas nurseries.

In Texas, there’s the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center which maintains an information network that covers the whole country.

Posted in drought, environment, Water

Santa Cruz coastline will be protected

A beautiful sunset sky reflects golds and pinks on the cliffs along the Pacific Ocean near Santa Cruz, CA. (The Trust for Public Land, Photo Credit: Frank S. Balthis)

The Coastal Commission has approved a landmark deal that will preserve 10 square miles of land in northern California.

The 6,800 acres of undeveloped shoreline, wooded areas and farmland in northern Santa Cruz County–known as Coast Dairies ranch–will be transferred to the state and federal government, which will operate it as open space and preserve portions for agriculture.

Much of the land will be opened to the public.

The coastal panel’s unanimous vote at a meeting Thursday [April 12, 2012] in Ventura protects 7 ½ miles of coastline that had been one of the three largest pieces of private coastal property between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Mexican border, according to the agency.

The Trust for Public Land acquired the property, a former Spanish land grant, in 1998 and will retain 700 acres of dedicated farmland.

It took more than ten years for all the details to be worked out.

“This is a major culmination of lots of good faith and hard work for everyone,” Commissioner Steve Blank said. “We all win here. The people of California win here.”

Posted in environment, News

Why you might not want to move to North Dakota after all

Despite offering a wealth of job opportunities and a better-than-living wage, there are very few places to live. Most workers strive to get into one of the many "Man Camps." (Photo: Robert Johnson, Business Insider)

Yes, there are a lot of jobs there, the majority of them requiring no more than a high school education.

North Dakota is now the fourth-largest oil-producing state in the U.S., recently passing Louisiana. At the present rate of growth, it will knock California from third place later this year. The unemployment rate in the state has dropped to 3.3 percent, the lowest in the nation. The unemployment rate in the Williston area, in the heart of oil country, is less than one percent. Business growth in the western counties continues. The average salary in the five northwest counties is at an all-time high of almost $60,000, a 79 percent increase since 2007, but the cost of living has also rocketed.

But there are associated problems with this situation, especially for long-time residents.

For starters, the region is a case study in an inflationary economy. As residents’ earnings soar, so too do the costs of goods and services. “Anything you can think of that a person would consume is also being consumed by folks in the oil industry,” says Dennis Lindahl, a city councilman in Stanley. “Merchants are able to charge an increased rate. Folks in town sometimes get a little upset from supporting the industry while not receiving benefits.”

The biggest struggle in the region, though, is the shortage of housing. When people in other parts of the country talk about a “housing shortage,” they don’t mean it literally. There are usually still plenty of available places for residents making decent money. But when people in western North Dakota discuss the housing shortage, they’re serious. There’s literally no place to sleep.

The current oil boom, the third North Dakota has experienced since 1951, is possible now because of two things: the fracking that now makes it possible to extract oil from otherwise unproductive deposits and the high oil prices that make it cost effective to do so. And booms never seem to last long.

If you want pictures, here you are.

Posted in environment, News

On The Future of Food. By HRH The Prince of Wales

On May 4, 2001 Prince Charles gave a quite brilliant keynote speech at The Future of Food Conference at Georgetown. This 45 pg. book ($6.99) is the text of the speech, along with introduction and afterword.

What you may not know (I didn’t), is that Prince Charles for decades has spoken strongly against industrial agriculture. And he practices what he says in his own farming and in the charities he supports.

I highly recommend this book, it is a jewel. Here’s a few quotes. Read the whole thing.

Why is it that an industrialized system, deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatments, is promoted as viable, while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as unfit for purpose?

The extreme destructiveness – and therefore the fragility – of industrial agriculture is not a secret.

Soils are being depleted, demand for water is growing ever more voracious, and the entire system is at the mercy of an increasingly flucuating price of oil.

Over a billion people in the world are hungry and, on the reverse side of the coin, over a billion people are now considered overweight or obese. It is an increasingly insane picture.

Genuinely sustainable farming maintains the resilence of the entire ecosystem by encouraging a rich level of biodiversity in the soil., in its water supply, and in the wildlife that maintain the health of the whole system.

Posted in corporatism, drought, environment

Wilderness land to remain roadless (at least for now)

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire, 1943. John Collier, American (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.) 16% (122,000 acres) of this national forest is designated roadless area.

Denying a request for a rehearing made by the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association, the 10th U.S. Circuit of Appeals upheld its unanimous decision in favor of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule last week.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was issued in 2001 to protect nearly 60 million acres, or roughly one-third of undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands. It was the result of the largest public lands review process in U.S. history, with more than 1.2 million comments and 600 public hearings. The Bush administration attempted to replace the national rule with a discretionary state-based petition process, and Colorado became one of two states to pursue a separate rule for its 4.4 million acres of roadless areas.

The Forest Service has national and state maps of the inventoried roadless areas here, including a list of forests and grasslands by state here.

And of course, the friends of mining interests are active in Washington and there’s some talk that the issue may be taken to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Republicans in the House led by California Congressman Kevin McCarthy are promoting the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, which would essentially invalidate the 2001 Clinton rule. Dozens of GOP congressmen, including Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman in Colorado, are co-sponsoring the bill. Many Colorado businesses oppose the legislation, saying it poses “a serious threat” to the state’s outdoor-recreation-based economy.

It’s an election year after all.

Posted in environment, News

New NASA map measures trees in the forest

Global map of forest height produced from NASA's ICESAT/GLAS, MODIS and TRMM sensors. The map will advance our understanding of Earth's forest habitats and their role in Earth's carbon cycle. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new high-resolution map created by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the University of Maryland, College Park and Woods Hole Research Center shows an accurate picture of the height of trees in forests all over the world.

“Knowing the height of Earth’s forests is critical to estimating their biomass, or the amount of carbon they contain,” said lead researcher Marc Simard of JPL. “Our map can be used to improve global efforts to monitor carbon. In addition, forest height is an integral characteristic of Earth’s habitats, yet is poorly measured globally, so our results will also benefit studies of the varieties of life that are found in particular parts of the forest or habitats.”

Scientists are still working on understanding how forests react to climate change and how the size of a forest canopy affects biodiversity.

Posted in Climate change, environment, News

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