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Posts tagged with 'wind power'

Weekly Mulch: One Year After the BP Oil Spill, None the Wiser

Posted Apr 22, 2011 @ 11:51 am by
Filed under: Sustain, Uncategorized     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, tsandBy Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger

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.

Green-Ed

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.

Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

Posted Feb 18, 2011 @ 11:53 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador's Amazon

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.'”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

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: Nuclear Plants will go up in Georgia

Posted Feb 19, 2010 @ 11:39 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Image courtesty of Flickr user flokru via Creative Commons LicenseIf you were to look out to the horizon of the clean energy field right now, you would see the hazy outlines of nuclear reactors.  President Barack Obama announced this week that two new nuclear plants will go up in Georgia, built on the promise that the federal government will guarantee $8.3 billion in loans—nearly the entire estimated cost of the project.

“It is a slap in the face to environmentalists,” says Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive. “Though these will be the first nuclear reactors constructed in more than three decades, Obama still labeled them, somehow, as part of the “technologies of tomorrow.””

The president’s announcement wasn’t the only environmental downer this week. Expectations for the next international climate negotiations, to be held in Mexico at the end of 2010, are already low, and yesterday Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ top climate negotiator, said he would step down this summer and join the private sector. To top it all off, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now faces sixteen lawsuits that would block its ability to decrease carbon emissions, including one backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

A nuclear error

Although the Georgia reactors would be the first new nuclear construction in the country in decades, they mark the beginning of what the Obama administration hopes will be a shift towards nuclear energy. In the 2011 budget, President Obama proposed an expansion of the loan guarantee program that funds projects like these from $18.5 billion to $54.5 billion.

These nuclear projects deserve close scrutiny. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman details the problems with the Georgia reactors. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) already rejected the initial designs for the plant. That means the estimated cost could well exceed the projected $8.5 billion, which Wasserman says, was low at the start.

“Over the past several years the estimated price tag for proposed new reactors has jumped from $2-3 billion each, in some cases to more than $12 billion today,” he explains.

Risky business

In the past, energy firms like The Southern Company, the Atlanta-based group that is building the plants, could only imagine securing funding for new nuclear projects. These projects have a high risk of failure, and private investors do not dream of touching them.

Inter Press Service’s Julio Godoy reviewed several European studies on the feasibility of financing nuclear plants. One study from Citibank concluded that “the risks faced by developers … are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially,” Godoy reports. These risks include uncontrollable construction costs, long delays, and the possibility of low power prices that would not support that plants’ operation.

That’s one reason that green advocates disapprove of nuclear energy: The money could be better spent elsewhere. “People tend to think that environmentalists have some sort of allergic reaction to nuclear because they’re scared of radioactive waste and unsecured nuclear materials,” writes Aaron Wiener at The Washington Independent. “But when it comes down to it…It’s simply a bad investment to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into a nuclear sinkhole when proven technologies such as wind and solar would provide guaranteed benefits.”

Wind to fly on

While the administration lavishes attention on nuclear, other clean energy industries are trying to move forward. In Wisconsin, a Spanish company is opening up a plant to build wind turbine components, which will bring much-needed jobs to the Milwaukee area, as Kari Lydersen reports for Working In These Times.

There’s always the threat, however, that gains like this will be rolled back by competition from China. Clean energy jobs can still be sent overseas, Lydersen points out. She argues that the United State could be providing a boost to the solar and wind industry in order to keep jobs here.

“Manufacturing in the United States could be driven both with incentives to the actual producers – like the tax break to Ingeteam [the Spanish company building the Wisconsin plant] and support for renewable energy through renewable energy portfolio (RPS) standards and other incentives,” she writes.

China as competition

From a purely environmental perspective, China’s headway into green technology is not a problem. Mother JonesKevin Drum reminds us that the whole world can benefit from advances in clean energy, wherever they happen. Climate change is, after all, a global crisis. But Drum concedes that fear of Chinese competition does serve some purpose:

“I’ve lately become more receptive to the idea that, for better or worse, the only way to get Americans to take this stuff seriously is to kick it old school and start hauling out that old time Cold War evangelism,” he says. “Frame green tech as a matter of vital economic and national security superiority over the Reds and quit worrying overmuch about whether that’s really technically accurate. Just figure that it’s close enough, it’s language everyone understands, and it’ll do a better job of motivating development than a couple hundred more PowerPoints about receding glaciers.”

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: What’s Missing from the New Clean Energy Agenda?

Posted Feb 5, 2010 @ 11:46 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Photo courtest of Flickr user Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden via Creative CommonsNuclear power, biofuels, clean coal: These are the Obama administration’s answers to climate change. The 2011 budget, released this week, promised new loans for the construction of nuclear power plants, and on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), White House, and other departments detailed steps to encourage ethanol and clean coal production.

These initiatives may garner support from conservatives, but their ascendancy comes at a price. Support for renewable fuel sources, like wind and solar, has dwindled. President Barack Obama did encourage Senate Democrats to pass a climate change bill, but some moderates are bucking the cap-and-trade provisions that could tamp down carbon emissions. Those moderates are pushing for legislation that leaves carbon caps out entirely. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: Climate Change On Obama’s Back Burner

Posted Jan 29, 2010 @ 12:04 pm by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall. (more…)