Posts tagged with 'environment'

Weekly Mulch: How to Avoid Fracking and Oil Spills in 2011

Posted Dec 30, 2010 @ 3:07 pm by
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Editor’s Note: We’re posting the Weekly Mulch on Thursday this week because of the holidays. It’ll return to its regular Friday morning posting next week. Until then, Happy New Year!

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

2010 was a disappointing year for environmentalists.

This was the year Congress was supposed to pass climate change legislation, but each and every time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed on the verge of pushing the bill forward, the effort fell short. In April, off the coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon explosion led to one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history, and in the aftermath, neither President Barack Obama nor Congress has pushed for the sort of strong regulations that would rein in the oil industry and the risk it poses to coastal ecosystems.

Meanwhile, a newly invigorated natural gas industry has been plowing forward with a controversial drilling technique called hydrofracking. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to studying the environmental impacts of the practice, it’s unclear at this point how much leeway the industry will be given to use techniques that have contaminated water and air across the country. Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben had trouble convincing the president to take the small symbolic act of reinstalling a solar panel on the White House roof. And in November, the country elected a group of lawmakers who are skeptical that climate change even exists. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Oil Spill Could Bring Mass Extinction to the Gulf Coast

Posted Jun 4, 2010 @ 9:52 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user USFWS/Southeast, via Creative Commons licenseA cap placed over a severed pipe is siphoning some oil from the broken BP well in the Gulf Coast, the company said today. The company’s CEO said this morning on CBS that it was possible that this fix could capture up to 90% of the oil, but that it will take 24 to 48 hours to understand how well this solution is working. Adm. Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief and oil spill incident commander, called the cap “only a temporary and partial fix.”

Despite the capping procedure, it became clear this week that the onrush of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig will not cease any time soon. Even in the best case scenario, thousands of barrels of oil will still flow into the ocean. Destruction is already spreading along the Gulf Coast, and before the oil stops leaking, species might be extinct and industries destroyed. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Slick of Oil Industry Cash Gummed up Regulatory Works

Posted May 7, 2010 @ 10:52 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill  in the Gulf of Mexico is worse than anyone thought, and the crisis will likely go on for months. British Petroleum (BP) is tripping over itself to say it’ll cover the costs of the clean-up, yet before the spill, the company spent its time and money pushing back against government regulation and safety measures.

Care2 reports, “A piece of machinery costing .004% of BP’s 2009 profits might have prevented the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is currently threatening the U.S. gulf coast. An acoustic valve designed as a final failsafe to prevent oil spills costs $500,000; the Wall Street Journal writes that the valve, while not proven effective, is required on oil rigs in Norway and Brazil, but not in the U.S.”

Oil is drifting towards the southeastern coastline as clean-up crews and politicians scramble to respond. BP has not staunched the leaks that are pouring more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

Beach communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are bracing for the oil’s arrival and waiting to see what the damage to their businesses and their natural resources will be. And in Washington, members of Congress, who just a couple of weeks ago were willing to compromise on off-shore drilling expansion are rallying against the practice.

As Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said this week, “accidents happen,” but in this case, it’s becoming clear that the oil industry and government regulators did not do all they could to minimize the risks of a spill.

The slick

Over the past week, reporters trying to describe the size of the spill have compared it to Jamaica or Puerto Rico. Public News Service talked to Steve Bousquet, Tallahassee bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, who saw the slick in flight.

“It’s really a horrifying thing to see because of the magnitude of it,” Bousquet said. “They use these chemicals to break up the oil and it takes on a kind of rust-colored look to it. And we saw these long streaks, miles and miles long of oil, and just oil as far as the eye can see.”

The visual stretch of the spill hardly represents the scope of its impact, either. As Dr. Riki Ott, a Chelsea Green author, explained to CNN:

“This is Louisiana sweet crude, and it’s got a lot of what’s called “light ends,” which evaporate very quickly into the air and also dissolve very readily into the water column. So what you see on the surface is like the tip of the iceberg…Imagine a big cumulus cloud of dissolved and dispersed oil under the slick, wherever it is. And that cloud is extremely toxic to everything in the water column — shellfish, eggs and embryos — so shrimp eggs and young life forms that are in the water column, young fish.”

According to Dr. Ott, the extent of the damage won’t be clear for a few years. Oyster fisherman, for instance, would usually be seeding oysters now, as the crops take two years to mature. That work needs to be done within the next few months to avoid economic losses two years in the future, but the precautionary measures shutting off access to waters east of the Mississippi are keeping that from happening.

Oiling the machine

It’s no accident that oil interests work under looser rules. As Lindsay Beyerstein reported last week for Working In These Times, BP wrote to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) saying that tighter regulation of the oil industry was unnecessary. MMS doesn’t have a stellar history of oversight, and if you’re not familiar with its sordid past, TPM’s Justin Elliott put together a tour through the agency’s history with sex and drugs.

The industry hasn’t just been selling snake oil to MMS, though. Oil companies have been greasing the palms of politicians with campaign donations for years. Democracy Now! spoke to Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil, about the oil industry’s influence.

“The entire oil industry, will continue to use its vast wealth – unequaled by any global industry – to escape regulation, restriction, oversight and enforcement,” Juhasz says. “BP, now the source of the last two great deadly US oil industry explosions, has shown us that this simply cannot be permitted.”

The new politics of climate

To see the oil industry’s influence in action, look no further than the ongoing work on the Senate’s climate legislation. Two weeks ago, before the spill, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) announced that the oil industry would back the tri-partisan legislation that he was working on with Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Since then, Graham has stepped away from the bill, and off-shore drilling, a keystone of the negotiations over the legislation, has become much less politically palatable.

But this Wednesday, Kerry had nothing but nice things to say about the oil industry, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

“While he acknowledged that “we can’t drill and burn our way out of danger,” Kerry also spoke highly of the oil companies backing the draft legislation, which was supposed to be released last week,” Sheppard writes. “BP, operator of the rig currently spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to be among the supporters.”

“Ironically we’ve been working very closely with some of these oil companies in the last months,” Kerry said. “I took them in good faith. They have worked hard with us to find a solution that meets all of our needs.”

Kerry still seems confident that the climate and energy bill will move forward, but, Steve Benen writes at the Washington Monthly, that’s things are far from certain.

“The legislation was predicated on something of a grand bargain — the left would get cap-and-trade and investment in renewables; the right would get nuclear plants and offshore drilling,” Benen explains. “But in the wake of the catastrophe in the Gulf, there is no deal. Key Dems now insist drilling be taken off the table, while Republicans and Democratic industry allies (Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, for example) now insist they won’t even consider a bill unless it includes plenty of drilling.”

While the White House is saying that the oil spill may spur interest in and support for clean energy legislation from Congress, that hasn’t happened yet. Congressional leaders might have to wait for the noise from the Hill to die down before they can re-start serious discussions about how to pass a climate bill.

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.

Weekly Mulch: Oil Rig Sinks, as Does Senate Climate Bill

Posted Apr 30, 2010 @ 9:58 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video, via Creative Commons LicenseTwo disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Bad News Bill

Posted Mar 19, 2010 @ 11:13 am by
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By Alison Hamm, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user **Mary**, via creative commons license.Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) met with industry groups Wednesday evening to discuss their much anticipated tripartisan climate legislation. Based on leaks from the meeting, it sounds like the climate bill will be incredibly industry friendly, which may mean that the bill does little to help the environment.

A syncing feeling

According to reports from sources in the meeting room, the bill calls for greenhouse gas curbs across multiple economic sectors, with a 2020 target of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Power plant emissions would be regulated in 2012, other major industrial sources will be phased in during 2016. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Getting it Right in 2010

Posted Jan 5, 2010 @ 8:21 am by
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By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

The new decade offers a great opportunity to not only look back on the policies that led to our current economic malaise, but consider other ways of building stability that won’t wreak economic and ecological destruction.

Here’s a quick round up of some smart articles that address how economic policy changes could shift the way we work and live in the next decade. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Obama’s Nobel Prize

Posted Oct 9, 2009 @ 12:24 pm by
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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today for his accomplishments in international diplomacy, climate change and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation. The Nobel Committee praised Obama for his “constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting,” but, Richard Kim of The Nation wonders if the award comes too soon, as Obama has not yet committed to attending the international climate summit at Copenhagen. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Companies Ditch Chamber for Climate Bill

Posted Oct 2, 2009 @ 10:03 am by
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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

Major utility corporations, like Exelon, California’s Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E)  and New Mexico’s PNM have announced that they are leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the organization’s controversial stance toward climate change and opposition to a clean energy bill. The Chamber represents business interests, and according to a New York Times editorial, “no organization has done more to undermine [climate change] legislation.” (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Where is the Climate Change Bill?

Posted Sep 18, 2009 @ 6:51 am by
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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

Hopes of passing climate change legislation before the climate summit in Copenhagen are quickly dissipating, as Rachel Morris reports in Mother Jones. It seems unlikely that any major action will be taken before the December meeting. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) originally expected all six Senate committees to allocate cap-and-trade pollution permits by September 10, and later extended the deadline to September 28. But on Wednesday, Reid signaled that the legislation might be delayed until next year. Why is climate change taking the backseat? Simply, passing a health care bill and wrestling the economy back into shape have sapped lawmakers’ energy for climate change.

Even if the U.S. doesn’t pass climate change legislation, there is hope. Grist’s Geoffrey Lean is optimistic that a significant global climate negotiation can be reached at Copenhagen. Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, doubted that we would “make it” after the last international climate meetings. But on Friday, de Boer announced that he was now “confident we can reach a significant agreement in December.”

So what changed? Three important things: First, Japan elected a new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, who pledged to cut his country’s emissions by 25% by 2020. Japan’s commitment to carbon reductions may pressure the European Union (EU) to raise its targets from 20%to 30%. Second, the EU finally agreed to finance from some of the money developing nations need to reduce their own emissions. While the amount is far short of the total amount that developing countries will need, it is still a major step. And third, de Boer attributes his optimism to China’s new attitude. The large country has privately promised U.S. officials that they will be “a constructive and positive force at Copenhagen,”  with hopes of continued cooperation and development when President Obama visits in November.

Others are less hopeful. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has voiced his concern that international talks might fail at Copenhagen. He points out that negotiators traditionally keep to themselves until the last minute, a strategy that could sabotage the chances that a substantial plan will emerge in December.

Maria Margaronis of The Nation argues that every little bit helps. Even if the Waxman-Markey bill is largely watered down, Margaronis hopes that Copenhagen will serve as a global wake up call that climate change is a serious issue:

“It matters because climate change is already devastating lives in the global south, and because time is running out for the rest of us as well. It matters because the coincidence of a U.S. president who takes science seriously and a leadership in Beijing alert for the first time to the dangers of warming and flooding is too good a chance to waste. It matters because the recession is a once-in-a-generation chance to push for a sustainable economy and fairer distribution. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It’s about resources and global justice, about the future direction of capitalism, about where the next wars will be.”

In Mother Jones, Tony Kreindler notes that the cap-and-trade delay is encouraging: It shows that senators are taking time to work out the details. Kreindler recalls how the bill faced similar criticism when it was in the House: “Back then everyone was yelling and screaming about the stimulus and you didn’t hear a whole lot about climate change. But that whole time Waxman and Markey were quite busy under the radar. Then all of a sudden the bill was out of committee.”

In the midst of an economic recession, Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) will have a hard time proving that we can afford cap-and-trade legislation. Kate Sheppard writes for The Washington Independent that Waxman-Markey has to incorporate a variety of interests that don’t often work hand-in-hand. Environmental advocates are calling for stronger carbon emission reduction targets by 2020, which would make the bill more expensive, and therefore harder to sell to the American public and swing-vote Senators. The Senate needs to produce a bill that helps Americans transition to a clean energy economy, protects jobs and addresses environmental concerns. At the same time, we must remember that the bill won’t pass without 60 votes.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment and is free to reprint. Visit for a complete list of articles on the environment and sustainability, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health, and immigration issues, check out, and

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Mulch: Solar Power Flares Up

Posted Sep 4, 2009 @ 10:48 am by
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By Raquel Brown, TMC Mediawire Blogger

For a long time, only the economic elite could afford the hefty cost of solar energy. But in recent years, creative and affordable solar power technologies have been developed, creating a truly viable fossil fuel alternative.

Arla Shephard of High Country News reports that timber companies in Washington’s Kittitas County are looking to renewable energy to keep their companies out of debt. American Forest Land Company is planning to create the largest solar power plant in the Northwest. The Teanaway Solar Reserve would use 400,000 photovoltaic panels and produce 76 megawatts. That’s enough energy to power 45,000 homes.

There are economic benefits as well. “In economically depressed Kittitas County (where the unemployment rate hovers at 8.1 percent), Teanaway’s project will mean a couple hundred temporary construction jobs and around 35 permanent jobs at the power plant, and potentially hundreds more long-term jobs at the manufacturing plant,” says Shephard.

Similar plans are also underway in New Mexico. Matthew Reichbach of the New Mexico Independent notes that a solar plant will be built in the Elephant Butte area and will hopefully bring clean energy and jobs to the community, while also saving water.

What if we replaced paved asphalt surfaces with solar panels? Solar Road Panels are an avant-garde clean-energy idea that could provide three times the electricity the U.S. consumes without emitting any carbon. Grist’s David Roberts explains that the Solar Road Panels would also contain LED lighting to help communicate with drivers, heating units to prevent icing and other weather conditions, electric vehicle recharging stations and high-voltage power transmission lines. The Department of Transportation has warmed up to the idea, and given Solar Roadways a $100,000 contract to build a prototype. According to the Solar Roadways website,

The Solar Road Panels will contain embedded LEDs which “paint” the road lines from beneath to provide safer nighttime driving, as well as to give up to the minute instructions (via the road) to drivers (i.e.) ‘detour ahead’). The road will be able to sense wildlife on the road and can warn drivers to ‘slow down.’ There will also be embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice buildup, providing for safer winter driving. This feature packed system will become an intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing power grid which will enable a gradual weaning from fossil fuels.”

While there are many costs to solarizing the roads, Roberts points out that the cost of manufacturing Solar Road Panels matches our current costs to maintain power plants, asphalt roads and grid infrastructure.

Going solar is becoming less expensive and more convenient. Forget the traditional, bulky, hard-to-install panels made out of crystalline silicon. Instead, solar energy companies have developed thin-film technology to create photovoltaic (PV) cells. The process, which uses non-silicon alternatives like copper, selenium, indium and gallium, has been compared to how the Federal Reserve prints money. Scott Thill of Alternet notes that this new solar technology will revolutionize the clean energy market and can be used on everything from a house to a car.

Finally, this past Sunday, Grind for the Green hosted the second annual solar-powered hip-hop show in San Francisco. Kristia Castrillo of WireTap Magazine explains that while the event is highly innovative, “We cannot meekly nod our heads to the folks who are already doing this work.” Solar power is just one part of the equation. We must continue to develop a relevant dialogue, explore new ideas and work to engage the public in creating a sustainable environment.

“In truth, the task of sustaining human life on this planet does not rely on our physical strength or the numbers in our bank balance, rather it depends on our ability to step out of our comfort zone,” says Castrillo.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment and is free to reprint. Visit for a complete list of articles on the environment and sustainability, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health, and immigration issues, check out, and

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder

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