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Why Alaska is doing salmon right

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:24

Kirk and Heather Hardcastle
Taku River Reds
Juneau, Alaska

This salmon wholesaler abides by strict standards to ensure that the local fish populations remain intact. After all, 95 percent of the United States’ domestic salmon supply comes from Alaska. For the Hardcastles, maintaining healthy fish populations is a must.

Why we chose this salmon:

“We fish for the future,” says Kirk. Which means that, during salmon runs, Taku River sends out its boat only three to four days a week to ensure that plenty of salmon can swim upstream and reproduce. The Hardcastles also encourage their staff to engage in salmon-related research and political advocacy — they recently wrapped up a project exploring salmon oil’s potential to be used for biodiesel. “We’re still scientists and nature nerds at heart,” says Kirk. “We’re trying to use the whole fish in every capacity that we can, and every year we try something new.”

Healthy salmon make for a healthy local economy:

“In Alaska, our economics are 100 percent tied into the health of our environment,” says Kirk. “Anything we do … should look through the lens of salmon.”

Click to check out the full map.
Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why Alaska is doing salmon right

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:24

Kirk and Heather Hardcastle
Taku River Reds
Juneau, Alaska

This salmon wholesaler abides by strict standards to ensure that the local fish populations remain intact. After all, 95 percent of the United States’ domestic salmon supply comes from Alaska. For the Hardcastles, maintaining healthy fish populations is a must.

Why we chose this salmon:

“We fish for the future,” says Kirk. Which means that, during salmon runs, Taku River sends out its boat only three to four days a week to ensure that plenty of salmon can swim upstream and reproduce. The Hardcastles also encourage their staff to engage in salmon-related research and political advocacy — they recently wrapped up a project exploring salmon oil’s potential to be used for biodiesel. “We’re still scientists and nature nerds at heart,” says Kirk. “We’re trying to use the whole fish in every capacity that we can, and every year we try something new.”

Healthy salmon make for a healthy local economy:

“In Alaska, our economics are 100 percent tied into the health of our environment,” says Kirk. “Anything we do … should look through the lens of salmon.”

Click to check out the full map.
Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Give up, bike thieves, you can’t steal these wheels

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:23

Bolt cutters are a nightmare for bike owners. Thieves can slice through cables and padlocks in seconds. And forget about only locking the front wheel, too (rookie mistake). Good news for bicyclists who resent carting around heavy U-locks or chains: A new bike design incorporates the lock into the bike itself. And its creators claim it’s unstealable.

Here’s how locking up the bike works: The down tube — the part of the frame that connects the head tube (up by your handlebars) to the crankset (next to your pedals) folds open. By connecting the two ends of the down tube using your seat post (and a lock with a key), you can effectively wrap your bike around the nearest lamp post or tree. Stealing the bike would have to involve either uprooting said lamp post or tree — or breaking crucial parts of the bike frame, rendering the bicycle useless.

The prototype is called The Yerka Project and it was designed by college students Andrés Roi, Cristóbal Cabello, and Juan José Monsalve from the University of Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile.

The students claim they didn’t design the Yerka with dollar-signs in mind — they came up with the idea after Roi had his bike stolen twice. They hope to turn the Yerka into a full-time business after graduation. They are also in the process of designing other models, Monsalve tells Esquire:

We only have one fully functional prototype at the time, but we want to make various bike models, with speeds, girl models, etc. Currently the frame is made out of steel and our intervention of aluminum. We are raising funds right now make more prototypes and to make a small volume of bikes, which are going to be the first ones to go out to the market. We still don’t have a date, but we think our first small volume will be ready in six to eight months, tops.

Whether the Yerka really is, as its website touts, the world’s first unstealable bike remains to be seen. But considering that bike theft is so common because it’s easy to pull off, a little deterrent could go a long way. In heavily biked cities like San Francisco, where bike thefts have increased nearly 70 percent from 2006 to 2012 — this new model could be a game changer.


Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Give up, bike thieves, you can’t steal these wheels

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:23

Bolt cutters are a nightmare for bike owners. Thieves can slice through cables and padlocks in seconds. And forget about only locking the front wheel, too (rookie mistake). Good news for bicyclists who resent carting around heavy U-locks or chains: A new bike design incorporates the lock into the bike itself. And its creators claim it’s unstealable.

Here’s how locking up the bike works: The down tube — the part of the frame that connects the head tube (up by your handlebars) to the crankset (next to your pedals) folds open. By connecting the two ends of the down tube using your seat post (and a lock with a key), you can effectively wrap your bike around the nearest lamp post or tree. Stealing the bike would have to involve either uprooting said lamp post or tree — or breaking crucial parts of the bike frame, rendering the bicycle useless.

The prototype is called The Yerka Project and it was designed by college students Andrés Roi, Cristóbal Cabello, and Juan José Monsalve from the University of Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile.

The students claim they didn’t design the Yerka with dollar-signs in mind — they came up with the idea after Roi had his bike stolen twice. They hope to turn the Yerka into a full-time business after graduation. They are also in the process of designing other models, Monsalve tells Esquire:

We only have one fully functional prototype at the time, but we want to make various bike models, with speeds, girl models, etc. Currently the frame is made out of steel and our intervention of aluminum. We are raising funds right now make more prototypes and to make a small volume of bikes, which are going to be the first ones to go out to the market. We still don’t have a date, but we think our first small volume will be ready in six to eight months, tops.

Whether the Yerka really is, as its website touts, the world’s first unstealable bike remains to be seen. But considering that bike theft is so common because it’s easy to pull off, a little deterrent could go a long way. In heavily biked cities like San Francisco, where bike thefts have increased nearly 70 percent from 2006 to 2012 — this new model could be a game changer.


Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Everyone’s talking about the Ferguson looters. Let’s shame the polluters, too

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:09

A lot has been made of the damage done as the result of riots and looting following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It’s fair to call it “looting” — cameras have captured people busting out of Target with TVs in hand, and there’s no way to intellectualize that. Economists are estimating millions of dollars in damages to businesses. But they’re also saying that most businesses will get that back through insurance.

As for the people of Ferguson, they will continue living with a different kind of damage for which there is no insurance. That is, the air pollution that’s been clouding the St. Louis metro region for decades. And really, we can include Missouri and the Midwest, given the way wind carries toxic air emissions beyond city and state boundaries.

Check the lung damage report: The St. Louis metro ranks No. 13 in the nation for ozone, which amplifies asthma, especially in kids — and No. 8 for year-round particulate matter, which can lead to cancer, according to the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” survey. Summer heat only makes these problems worse (as does tear gas), and St. Louis summers are bound to only get hotter. How much hotter? Check out this graphic from Climate Central — just click on St. Louis:

The reason for this is Missouri’s fossil fuel dependency, particularly coal, which makes up close to 80 percent of the state’s energy mix. Its other two major energy sources are natural gas and nuclear, which are less harmful to the air and lungs, but both of which come with their own toxic waste risks.

According to a state pollution profile from the White House, Missouri power plants and major industrial facilities pumped out over 87 million tons of carbon pollution in 2012  — the equivalent of 18 million cars. By mid-century, as climate change impacts begin to sink in, “increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration state rankings

The companies responsible for this pollution in the St. Louis metro region are among the worst in the nation. The largest coal plants in the state are mostly run by three companies: Union Electric, Kansas City Power and Light, and the Associated Electric Coop. Kansas City Power and Light is owned by Great Plains Energy Inc., which is ranked number 25 among the top 100 greenhouse gas emitters in the nation by the Political Economy Research Institute.

Union Electric is a subsidiary of Ameren Corp., which ranks number six among the top 100 greenhouse gas polluters in the nation. Four of its largest plants for carbon pollution are in or near St. Louis. Its Sioux facility, a coal-fired power plant, in West Alton, 20 miles north of Ferguson, sits among a community that consists of 41.5 percent minority residents and 11.1 percent poor.

There are many more smaller polluters in the St. Louis region, and these jokers ain’t playing fair. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online report (ECHO) for St. Louis reports 39 facilities in violation of environmental codes and 122 facilities with violations in the past three years. By comparison, Bakersfield, Calif., one of the roughest pollution patches in the nation, has 17 current violations and 37 issued in the last three years. Port Arthur, Texas? 29 current violations, 36 in past three years.

The Home Depot in Ferguson hired extra security guards to protect it from looters. But what’s protecting Ferguson from the fact that Home Depot has been out of compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (regulating hazardous waste handling) since 2009?

None of this is new to St. Louis. In 1991, Kevin L. Brown did a study while at Washington University School of Law where he found that toxic waste facilities were disproportionately located in African-American communities, and that, naturally, exposure to toxic air releases were higher in these areas.

We can talk about looters in Ferguson, but when the lungs of these residents — 67 percent of whom are black, 22 percent of whom live below the poverty line — empty of tear gas, they will go back to their diet of ozone, particulate matter, and all the other toxic emissions in their environment. Where is their insurance? Where are their security guards? When tensions cool down, who will protect them from the extreme sun of upcoming summers, from the heat trapped by the air emissions companies are spewing now?


Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Everyone’s talking about the Ferguson looters. Let’s shame the polluters, too

Fri, 2014-08-22 23:09

A lot has been made of the damage done as the result of riots and looting following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It’s fair to call it “looting” — cameras have captured people busting out of Target with TVs in hand, and there’s no way to intellectualize that. Economists are estimating millions of dollars in damages to businesses. But they’re also saying that most businesses will get that back through insurance.

As for the people of Ferguson, they will continue living with a different kind of damage for which there is no insurance. That is, the air pollution that’s been clouding the St. Louis metro region for decades. And really, we can include Missouri and the Midwest, given the way wind carries toxic air emissions beyond city and state boundaries.

Check the lung damage report: The St. Louis metro ranks No. 13 in the nation for ozone, which amplifies asthma, especially in kids — and No. 8 for year-round particulate matter, which can lead to cancer, according to the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” survey. Summer heat only makes these problems worse (as does tear gas), and St. Louis summers are bound to only get hotter. How much hotter? Check out this graphic from Climate Central — just click on St. Louis:

The reason for this is Missouri’s fossil fuel dependency, particularly coal, which makes up close to 80 percent of the state’s energy mix. Its other two major energy sources are natural gas and nuclear, which are less harmful to the air and lungs, but both of which come with their own toxic waste risks.

According to a state pollution profile from the White House, Missouri power plants and major industrial facilities pumped out over 87 million tons of carbon pollution in 2012  — the equivalent of 18 million cars. By mid-century, as climate change impacts begin to sink in, “increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.”

U.S. Energy Information Administration state rankings

The companies responsible for this pollution in the St. Louis metro region are among the worst in the nation. The largest coal plants in the state are mostly run by three companies: Union Electric, Kansas City Power and Light, and the Associated Electric Coop. Kansas City Power and Light is owned by Great Plains Energy Inc., which is ranked number 25 among the top 100 greenhouse gas emitters in the nation by the Political Economy Research Institute.

Union Electric is a subsidiary of Ameren Corp., which ranks number six among the top 100 greenhouse gas polluters in the nation. Four of its largest plants for carbon pollution are in or near St. Louis. Its Sioux facility, a coal-fired power plant, in West Alton, 20 miles north of Ferguson, sits among a community that consists of 41.5 percent minority residents and 11.1 percent poor.

There are many more smaller polluters in the St. Louis region, and these jokers ain’t playing fair. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online report (ECHO) for St. Louis reports 39 facilities in violation of environmental codes and 122 facilities with violations in the past three years. By comparison, Bakersfield, Calif., one of the roughest pollution patches in the nation, has 17 current violations and 37 issued in the last three years. Port Arthur, Texas? 29 current violations, 36 in past three years.

The Home Depot in Ferguson hired extra security guards to protect it from looters. But what’s protecting Ferguson from the fact that Home Depot has been out of compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (regulating hazardous waste handling) since 2009?

None of this is new to St. Louis. In 1991, Kevin L. Brown did a study while at Washington University School of Law where he found that toxic waste facilities were disproportionately located in African-American communities, and that, naturally, exposure to toxic air releases were higher in these areas.

We can talk about looters in Ferguson, but when the lungs of these residents — 67 percent of whom are black, 22 percent of whom live below the poverty line — empty of tear gas, they will go back to their diet of ozone, particulate matter, and all the other toxic emissions in their environment. Where is their insurance? Where are their security guards? When tensions cool down, who will protect them from the extreme sun of upcoming summers, from the heat trapped by the air emissions companies are spewing now?


Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why ignoring global warming is like driving across a rickety bridge

Fri, 2014-08-22 18:14

Earlier this week, the nonprofit group WWF-UK sent out this twitpic:

Would you keep driving? #climatechange http://t.co/4D5XyTVsNU


WWF UK (@wwf_uk) August 18, 2014

Like the excellent medical analogy (which compares ignoring global warming to ignoring the risk of smoking; or not listening to your doctor when you’re told to eat healthier and exercise), this image makes perfectly clear just how irresponsible it is to ignore the overwhelming consensus of experts.

The message also relies on the highly influential “97 percent” study, which found that of scientific papers taking a position on global warming, 97 percent agreed that humans are causing it. There is still some scholarly debate over whether this message is the best one to use to convince those who are in doubt about climate change.

But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the message can be viral. Not only does this WWF-UK tweet show that; President Obama himself tweeted out the original “97 percent” study.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.


Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why ignoring global warming is like driving across a rickety bridge

Fri, 2014-08-22 18:14

Earlier this week, the nonprofit group WWF-UK sent out this twitpic:

Would you keep driving? #climatechange http://t.co/4D5XyTVsNU


WWF UK (@wwf_uk) August 18, 2014

Like the excellent medical analogy (which compares ignoring global warming to ignoring the risk of smoking; or not listening to your doctor when you’re told to eat healthier and exercise), this image makes perfectly clear just how irresponsible it is to ignore the overwhelming consensus of experts.

The message also relies on the highly influential “97 percent” study, which found that of scientific papers taking a position on global warming, 97 percent agreed that humans are causing it. There is still some scholarly debate over whether this message is the best one to use to convince those who are in doubt about climate change.

But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the message can be viral. Not only does this WWF-UK tweet show that; President Obama himself tweeted out the original “97 percent” study.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.


Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

350.org challenges climate activists to stand up for Ferguson

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:45

For Deirdre Smith, the strategic partnership coordinator of the climate activist group 350.org, “the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive.” Smith wrote this in her blog about the unrest over the killing of Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, Mo. It’s probably tougher to connect these dots if you’ve been wedded to climate change as a single issue. I spend much of my time writing about the intersections of climate and social justice, but I have struggled to frame the Ferguson tragedy in ways that don’t take it out of context.

Brown was not killed by greenhouse gas emissions; he was killed by a cop. Bloggers and pundits will conjecture all night about whether Brown was under the influence of marijuana, or the cop under the influence of racism. But the most salient fact here is that a young man who had a promising future is no longer alive to fulfill the promise. A mother and a father have lost their child. We need to take that seriously before branching off into whatever ideology or worldview we hope to highlight with his death and the aftermath.

Still, this disaster tests an idea I wrote about two years ago for Bridge the Gulf:

I’ve seen groups like NAACP, Urban League, League of Young Voters, Color of Change take on climate justice, Keystone XL justice and other environmental campaigns. But I’ve not see much reciprocity — that is, I’ve yet to see a groundswell of environmental advocates take up the cause of Stand Your Ground, juvenile justice, felony disenfranchisement, economic inequality, and other justice programs that primarily target people of color.

Which is a shame, because those movements could use some of environmentalists’ passion around conservation and the preservation of life. The same people who are concerned about the life of dolphins, bluefin tuna, blue crabs, white sharks, red drum, brown shrimp, and brown pelicans, should also be concerned about the lives of black and brown people, like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin — or the thousands of people of color trapped in Louisiana’s prison system.

And then yesterday I received an email from 350.org that shows that the group gets this. The message, from Executive Director May Boeve, states that her movement stands in solidarity with Ferguson protesters, and calls on the larger climate movement to do the same. Best of all, Boeve wrote, “We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.”

This is powerful because there are too many people in the climate movement who believe racial justice and climate justice are inequivalent. A lot of those who share this belief likely have the resources, wealth, and racial privilege to do so. When climate-enraged storms and floods start coming, they have the wheels, boats, homes on higher ground, and friends in even higher places to weather them. Those of meager resources and less access to power can’t afford to segregate so easily. Boeve seems to understand that:

Communities of color and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of a climate system spiraling out of control. From those impacted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, to the New York neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, to whole towns in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just last year — these communities are on the front lines of our fight in a very real way. If their voices are not part of this movement, then this movement will not succeed.

Movements for justice in the U.S. are often fractured, and powerful interests — like the fossil fuel industry — try their hardest to make those divisions wider. Choosing to stand together is one of the most important choices we can make. In this moment, that means being frank about the ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our country.”

I’d make just one edit to this otherwise on-point statement: Being frank about ongoing racism and including all voices is not just crucial to the climate change movement — it’s crucial to any movement. It’s crucial just for living.

Bringing Deirdre Smith back, she writes:

This is difficult work. Some of it requires listening and working with racial justice organizations, and some of it requires introspection, questioning what we have been taught, and healing from internal oppression. Part of that work involves climate organizers acknowledging and understanding that our fight is not simply with the carbon in the sky, but with the powers on the ground.

That difficulty is not an overstatement. It’s mainly because of that difficulty that people choose to self-segregate or silo off to issues a la carte. Smith says she believes “the climate movement is up to this necessary challenge.” I’m, frankly, a skeptic. But 350 gives me hope.


Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

350.org challenges climate activists to stand up for Ferguson

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:45

For Deirdre Smith, the strategic partnership coordinator of the climate activist group 350.org, “the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive.” Smith wrote this in her blog about the unrest over the killing of Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, Mo. It’s probably tougher to connect these dots if you’ve been wedded to climate change as a single issue. I spend much of my time writing about the intersections of climate and social justice, but I have struggled to frame the Ferguson tragedy in ways that don’t take it out of context.

Brown was not killed by greenhouse gas emissions; he was killed by a cop. Bloggers and pundits will conjecture all night about whether Brown was under the influence of marijuana, or the cop under the influence of racism. But the most salient fact here is that a young man who had a promising future is no longer alive to fulfill the promise. A mother and a father have lost their child. We need to take that seriously before branching off into whatever ideology or worldview we hope to highlight with his death and the aftermath.

Still, this disaster tests an idea I wrote about two years ago for Bridge the Gulf:

I’ve seen groups like NAACP, Urban League, League of Young Voters, Color of Change take on climate justice, Keystone XL justice and other environmental campaigns. But I’ve not see much reciprocity — that is, I’ve yet to see a groundswell of environmental advocates take up the cause of Stand Your Ground, juvenile justice, felony disenfranchisement, economic inequality, and other justice programs that primarily target people of color.

Which is a shame, because those movements could use some of environmentalists’ passion around conservation and the preservation of life. The same people who are concerned about the life of dolphins, bluefin tuna, blue crabs, white sharks, red drum, brown shrimp, and brown pelicans, should also be concerned about the lives of black and brown people, like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin — or the thousands of people of color trapped in Louisiana’s prison system.

And then yesterday I received an email from 350.org that shows that the group gets this. The message, from Executive Director May Boeve, states that her movement stands in solidarity with Ferguson protesters, and calls on the larger climate movement to do the same. Best of all, Boeve wrote, “We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.”

This is powerful because there are too many people in the climate movement who believe racial justice and climate justice are inequivalent. A lot of those who share this belief likely have the resources, wealth, and racial privilege to do so. When climate-enraged storms and floods start coming, they have the wheels, boats, homes on higher ground, and friends in even higher places to weather them. Those of meager resources and less access to power can’t afford to segregate so easily. Boeve seems to understand that:

Communities of color and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of a climate system spiraling out of control. From those impacted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, to the New York neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, to whole towns in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just last year — these communities are on the front lines of our fight in a very real way. If their voices are not part of this movement, then this movement will not succeed.

Movements for justice in the U.S. are often fractured, and powerful interests — like the fossil fuel industry — try their hardest to make those divisions wider. Choosing to stand together is one of the most important choices we can make. In this moment, that means being frank about the ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our country.”

I’d make just one edit to this otherwise on-point statement: Being frank about ongoing racism and including all voices is not just crucial to the climate change movement — it’s crucial to any movement. It’s crucial just for living.

Bringing Deirdre Smith back, she writes:

This is difficult work. Some of it requires listening and working with racial justice organizations, and some of it requires introspection, questioning what we have been taught, and healing from internal oppression. Part of that work involves climate organizers acknowledging and understanding that our fight is not simply with the carbon in the sky, but with the powers on the ground.

That difficulty is not an overstatement. It’s mainly because of that difficulty that people choose to self-segregate or silo off to issues a la carte. Smith says she believes “the climate movement is up to this necessary challenge.” I’m, frankly, a skeptic. But 350 gives me hope.


Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why Alabama is doing baby back ribs right

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:38

Nick Pihakis
Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q
Birmingham, Ala.

In the words of poet Jake Adam York: “It’s no wonder that you can find, in Alabama, almost any kind of barbecue. Whether the influence is Cherokee, Appalachian, Georgian, Mississippian, Floridian, Tennessean, Texan, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue springs up everywhere, with significant variation.” Pihakis, founder of Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q restaurants, is on a mission to see that all Alabama barbecue is made from responsibly-raised meat.

Why we chose this barbecue:

After traveling across the Southeast with California rancher Bill Niman (of Niman Ranch fame) eight years ago, Pihakis realized there was an incredible dearth of farmers raising pigs in humane, environmentally friendly ways. Now, through his Fatback Pig Project, Pihakis incentivizes local farmers to raise healthy, happy hogs for Jim ’N Nick’s — and other restaurants in his hospitality group. “We’ve started a processing plant for these farmers, and put a distribution system and end user in place,” says Pihakis.

Better meat means better business:

Pihakis thinks a regional economy for sustainable swine is well within reach. “There’s got to be a breaking point in there where the farmers can make a good living, and we can sell good product [that’s] local, and we know how it’s raised,” he says.

Click to check out the full map.
Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why Alabama is doing baby back ribs right

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:38

Nick Pihakis
Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q
Birmingham, Ala.

In the words of poet Jake Adam York: “It’s no wonder that you can find, in Alabama, almost any kind of barbecue. Whether the influence is Cherokee, Appalachian, Georgian, Mississippian, Floridian, Tennessean, Texan, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue springs up everywhere, with significant variation.” Pihakis, founder of Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q restaurants, is on a mission to see that all Alabama barbecue is made from responsibly-raised meat.

Why we chose this barbecue:

After traveling across the Southeast with California rancher Bill Niman (of Niman Ranch fame) eight years ago, Pihakis realized there was an incredible dearth of farmers raising pigs in humane, environmentally friendly ways. Now, through his Fatback Pig Project, Pihakis incentivizes local farmers to raise healthy, happy hogs for Jim ’N Nick’s — and other restaurants in his hospitality group. “We’ve started a processing plant for these farmers, and put a distribution system and end user in place,” says Pihakis.

Better meat means better business:

Pihakis thinks a regional economy for sustainable swine is well within reach. “There’s got to be a breaking point in there where the farmers can make a good living, and we can sell good product [that’s] local, and we know how it’s raised,” he says.

Click to check out the full map.
Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Could a copy-editing error undermine Obama’s climate rule?

Fri, 2014-08-22 11:17

If you can’t beat ’em, point out their typos.

That seems to be the lesson of the D.C. Circuit Court’s recent decision in Halbig v. Sebelius, which could render millions of Americans ineligible for health insurance subsidies on the basis of some sloppy syntax in the Affordable Care Act. After surviving more than 50 repeal votes in the House, a Supreme Court challenge to its constitutionality, and a famously rocky online rollout, health-care reform may end up hobbled by a mere drafting error. And the anti-regulatory crowd wasted no time in launching its next AutoCorrect attack: A new suit asks the D.C. Circuit to nix the president’s biggest climate-change initiative—EPA’s “Clean Power Plan”—due to a 25-year-old mistake in the text of the Clean Air Act.

But don’t panic just yet. As others have pointed out, Halbig is far from a done deal. A different federal appeals court, the Fourth Circuit, upheld the insurance subsidies on the same day the Halbig court invalidated them. If the full D.C. Circuit doesn’t end up reversing its three-judge panel’s initial decision (through a sort of mini-appeal known as en banc review), the Supreme Court will almost certainly step in to resolve the circuit split. In the meantime, no one loses her insurance.

The prospects for EPA’s climate rule aren’t so bleak either. First of all, the 12 state attorneys general who filed suit were a bit too quick on the spell-check trigger. Federal courts generally limit review of agency decisions to “final actions,” and the Clean Power Plan is still in draft form. As a result, the current case will probably be dismissed as premature. That won’t stop the state AGs from re-filing as soon as EPA does publish a final rule, but even then, their victory will hardly be assured. Here’s why.

The “Clean Power Plan” is the administration’s catchy(ish) nickname for a set of restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which generate a full third of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. EPA’s authority to regulate these emissions derives from a little-used Clean Air Act provision called Section 111(d). The section has been around since 1970, but when a bipartisan majority of Congress overhauled the Clean Air Act back in 1990, it amended 111(d). Twice. The details are complicated (you can read more about them here), but the upshot is simple: Under the language of an amendment that originated in the Senate, regulating power plants’ carbon emissions is perfectly kosher; under the House’s amendment, not so much.

Competing House and Senate amendments—doesn’t Congress have an app for that? Yep, even back in the digital dark ages of 1990, there was software designed to identify overlapping or incompatible changes to statutory text. But the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate bills didn’t have time to run it. As a result, both 111(d) amendments ended up in the compromise bill that was passed by both chambers and signed by the first President Bush. Meaning that both versions are, in some sense, the law of the land.

A self-contradicting statute—doesn’t the judiciary have an app for that? Sort of. Federal courts certainly have an established rule for dealing with vague or ambiguous laws. Under the Chevron doctrine, if a statute does not “speak clearly” with respect to a particular issue, courts will defer to any reasonable interpretation offered by the executive agency charged with implementing the law. In this case, the EPA maintains that the Senate amendment is more consistent with the Clean Air Act’s overall structure and purpose. If Chevron applies, that justification should pass muster.

The tough question is whether Chevron will apply. It’s hard to see how a court could find that the competing amendments to Section 111(d) “speak clearly.” But are the amendments “ambiguous” in the Chevron sense, or are they something else altogether—say, nonsensical?

Plenty of legal experts have shared their views, but at the end of the day, the opinions that really matter will be those of nine black-robed individuals in Washington, D.C. Handily enough, five of the Big Nine previewed their positions in a recent, fractured decision about an immigration rule. In Scialabba v. Cuellar De Osorio, the Supreme Court was confronted not with two contradictory versions of a single statutory section, but with a single statutory section that contained two seemingly contradictory instructions. (Cut Congress some slack, you guys. Drafting laws is really hard.) Justice Kagan, writing for herself and Justices Ginsburg and Kennedy, called the statute “Janus-faced,” concluded that its “internal tension ma[de] possible alternative reasonable constructions,” and deferred to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ interpretive choice. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for himself and Justice Scalia, disagreed that the two clauses were truly in conflict but, even more importantly, rejected the idea that Chevron was “a license for an agency to repair a statute that does not make sense.” In Roberts’ view, “Direct conflict is not ambiguity, and the resolution of such a conflict is not statutory construction but legislative choice.

The other four justices didn’t weigh in on this particular question in Scialabba, so it’s not clear whether Kagan’s or Roberts’ camp will carry a majority if and when litigation over the Clean Power Plan reaches the high court. But it’s also not clear that the vote count will matter, because either way EPA should retain authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

Come again? First, consider Justice Kagan’s view. If her logic controls, the court will apply Chevron, defer to EPA’s interpretation of Section 111(d), and affirm the agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. A win for EPA and the president.

Alternatively, assume that Chief Justice Roberts gets the majority. The two amendments to Section 111(d) are almost undoubtedly in “direct conflict,” so, in Roberts’ view, EPA’s interpretation doesn’t warrant deference. Now what? Roberts’ Scialabba opinion doesn’t say what the court should substitute for Chevron in the case of a provision that’s truly at war with itself. But if the chief justice believes that giving effect to only one of the two amendments represents a “legislative choice,” the judicial branch has no more business picking a winner than EPA. (In fact, courts are even less suited than executive agencies to this sort of policy decision. Agencies are, at least, indirectly accountable to the people, because agency leaders serve at the pleasure of a democratically elected president.) If it’s not possible to honor the House and Senate amendments simultaneously, the only remaining option is to throw out both as invalid, in which case Section 111(d) would revert to its pre-1990 form.

That’s the reason backers of the climate rule shouldn’t panic: Under the earlier version of Section 111(d), EPA would still have authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The agency still wins.

Oh, and if the current Congress doesn’t like that result? Well, it remains free to share its preferred method for addressing climate change at any time. There’s an app for that, too. It’s called new legislation.


Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

One woman’s odyssey to find Michigan’s anti-fracking movement

Fri, 2014-08-22 10:55

Until a year ago, Kate Levin was feeling pretty calm. Her friends back in her home state, Pennsylvania, kept talking about this thing called fracking. It was, they said, not great. But Levin lived far away, in Michigan. “I tried not to pay attention to it,” says Levin.

There wasn’t an obvious tipping point between paying attention and not paying attention — just a gradual and eventually overwhelming sense that not paying attention was, in Levin’s words, stupid. “I am going to find out about this,” she told herself. “I am going to find out if this is happening locally.”

It was. Michigan was a fairly typical state in that people had been drilling it for oil and gas since the 1880s. But the pickings were slim. it wasn’t that there wasn’t anything there; natural gas in particular was all over the Collingwood/Utica and Antrim shale formations. But it was at least 10,000 feet underground, which meant that getting it out was more expensive than taking it out of, say, an easy peasy rock formation like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, which maxes out at 9,000 feet deep.

Expensive or not, though, claims were being staked. In 2010, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources auctioned off oil and gas leases for 118,000 acres of state land for a record $178 million. The previous record had been $23.6 million, back in the ’80s. Fracking wells began to appear in residential neighborhoods. Two big energy players in the state, Encana and Chesapeake Energy, were found guilty of colluding with one another so that they could underbid on lease prices.

Levin began to look around for environmental groups in Michigan that were responding to fracking. She didn’t find much. Prices for natural gas were still so low that Michigan wasn’t exactly becoming a boomtown. Environmental groups in the area weren’t sure how to approach the issue.

There was time to tighten up environmental regulations around the state, but how would that be done? Because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, fracking was exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Michigan’s own environmental regulations around oil and gas drilling dated back to the 1930s, and appeared to endorse extracting as much of it as possible:

It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its citizens and landowners from unwarranted waste of gas and oil and to foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products.

Levin was not interested in the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products. She was interested in water — the state is home to over 20 percent of the world’s aboveground freshwater supply, and the Collingwood/Utica Shale lies under the headwaters of the Manistee and Au Sable rivers.

She met up with several groups and ultimately settled on one called The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a political campaign group with several hundred volunteers whose views are pretty much summed up by their name.

Banning fracking is a tricky issue in Michigan. While several cities have passed resolutions supporting a ban, none of them appear to have actually banned it. Some argue that state law supersedes any effort to ban it at the township level, the way that New York has managed to do very successfully. Others argue that it could totally happen, and that precedent has been misread. In any case, it hasn’t been tested in court yet.

Instead, the group is focused on another political tool — the ballot initiative. A ballot measure could be used not only to change the language of the state’s oil and gas regulations, but to make it extremely difficult to modify further.

Ballot initiatives date back to the Progressive Era a century ago and play a complex role in modern politics. Intended as a tool to help regular citizens override the cronyism and compromises of state government, they’ve come to be used — like most political tools — by a variety of people for a variety of purposes. In Michigan, in particular, they’ve been very popular with anti-abortion groups.

Getting an initiative on the ballot isn’t easy. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan will have to find 258,088 people across the state, get them to fill out forms, collect those forms, verify that the people who filled out those forms are real humans, and turn them in to the state. The last time they tried it, they set up tables at events like farmer’s markets and the Mackinac Bridge Walk. They got about 30,000 the first time, and 70,000 the next. They’re trying again in 2015.

Trying to gather 258,088 signatures is a “huge process,” says LuAnne Kozma, who co-founded a related organization, Ban Michigan Fracking. But it’s still less daunting than going from town to town helping to pass local legislation, which is what New York and Pennsylvania had to do. If those states had access to ballot initiatives, they might have done things differently. You use the tools you have.

And the process has other benefits. Michigan is a state of cars and suburbs. There aren’t many opportunities to mingle and share ideas with other people in a public space.  So trying to get something on the ballot is like entering the Olympics of sociability. As a folklorist, Kozma has the advantage of having traveled all over Michigan in search of local history. “I know every part of the state,” she says. “I know how to pronounce all the county names. And the great thing is — you’re out there, talking to people.”

For Levin, it has also meant a lot of interesting moments — like going on a jaunt with her husband to stake out a local dump that is taking deliveries of radioactive fracking waste from out of state. It looked surprisingly nice, she said. Landscaped, even, with a nice grassy hill. Though the hill, she adds, was probably landfill.

Even if Michigan never has its fracking boom, there’s still work to be done making sure fracking’s effects don’t reach the state in other ways. A few Michiganders are big fans of fracking, says Levin. They’ll tell you right away. But most people in the state aren’t even aware of it yet. When they learn about it though, she says, they get the risks immediately. “We have so much water here. That’s our pride.”


Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Grow your own California mountain. Just add drought

Thu, 2014-08-21 23:07

Well here’s something we didn’t see coming: Extreme drought can cause mountains to behave like grow-your-own dinosaurs. But instead of expanding in water, the mountains swell when they dry out, according to a new study published in Science.

Parts of California’s mountains have risen as much as 15 millimeters in the past 18 months as a result of the state’s ongoing drought, according to the researchers. Land without water causes it to “rise a bit like an uncoiled spring,” explains Bobby Magill of Climate Central. Here’s more:

The drought that is devastating California and much of the West has dried the region so much that 240 gigatons worth of surface and groundwater have been lost, roughly the equivalent to a 3.9-inch layer of water over the entire West, or the annual loss of mass from the Greenland Ice Sheet, according to the study.

While some of California’s mountains have risen by about 0.6 inches since early 2013, the West overall has risen by an average of about 0.157 inches.

“Groundwater is a load on the Earth’s crust,” said Klaus Jacob, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., who is unaffiliated with the study. “A load compresses the crust elastically, hence it subsides. When you take that load away (by the drought) the crust decompresses and the surface rises.”

With the drought still ravaging farmland and cities, let’s hope Californians use only recycled water for their disappointing expanding kitsch.


Filed under: Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Are you there, God? It’s me, climate scientist

Thu, 2014-08-21 21:18

Hey climate scientists, how’re you feeling? Pretty lousy, it seems: This blog collects handwritten letters from scientists who share their heartfelt woes, then juxtaposes them with everyone else’s (#isthishowyoufeel). It’s kind of like public therapy, it’s kind of like reading homesick letters from camp, and — naturally — it’s kind of heartbreaking.

Click to embiggen.

“I feel a maelstrom of emotions

I am exasperated. Exasperated no one is listening.
I am frustrated. Frustrated we are not solving the problem.
I am anxious. Anxious that we start acting now.
I am perplexed. Perplexed that the urgency is not appreciated …”

“I get frustrated a lot; by the knowns, the unknowns, and the lack of action. … I often feel like shouting… But would that really help? I feel like they don’t listen anyway. After all, we’ve been shouting for years.”

“It makes me feel sad. And it scares me. It scares me more than anything else. I see a group of people sitting in a boat, happily waving, taking pictures on the way, not knowing that this boat is floating right into a powerful and deadly waterfall.”

Click to embiggen.

We wish we had something more encouraging to say, but in the meantime:

Dear Climate Scientists,

We’re sorry you feel that way! Don’t worry, it’s not you; it’s us. We haven’t been very good listeners or constructive communicators. In fact, we’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding this conversation altogether for a long, long time. We’ll try to make it up to you. Can we send you guys a care package? It’ll have a bunch of throat lozenges for all the shouting, and a big parachute for that nasty fall off a precipice. It’ll have a flash drive full of cute videos of marmots and ducklings and baby echidnas. And some chocolate, because, well — that might be gone soon, too. 

In the meantime, make sure to do a lot of deep breathing, as long as you’ve got good air to breathe, and drink plenty of water, as long as there’s still some around. And don’t forget to get good rest, if you can sleep through all these fracking-induced earthquakes

Sorry again, and thanks for everything,

The World

If you want to share how you feel, you can do that here, too. Or you can tell us. We’ll try our best to make it better (…gulp).


Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

How a Koch brother is combating climate change at a coal mine

Thu, 2014-08-21 19:17

What do Bill Koch, the Aspen Skiing Company, and environmentalists all have in common? Nothing, right? Actually, they’re all supporting the deployment of technology that cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and produces some cheap, relatively clean energy.

Koch owns Oxbow, a coal mining company that operates Elk Creek Mine in Somerset, Colo. SkiCo, as the Aspen Skiing Company is locally known, is an investor in a fossil fuel–burning project at Elk Creek. And here’s the kicker: SkiCo is doing this because it is worried about climate change.

Natural gas tends to escape from coal mines, and most mines just worry about the health and safety risks it poses. Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is highly combustible. The phrase “canary in a coal mine” refers to the bird’s susceptibility to methane poisoning and its usefulness in warning miners of methane leakage. (Methane is odorless in nature. That rotten egg smell is chemically added to alert you to the danger of leaks.) Methane isn’t just dangerous at ground level; it’s also a highly potent greenhouse gas when it escapes into the atmosphere. When burned, though, it’s less of a climate threat, generating just half as much CO2 as burning coal. Coal mining is never good for the environment, but there’s an easy way to make it less bad: capture the natural gas and burn it.

That’s an idea hatched by Tom Vessels, a veteran of the Colorado oil and gas industry. So he partnered with SkiCo, which was looking for ways of investing in cleaner energy, and they brought the proposal to local coal mines. (SkiCo sees climate change as a threat to its business, and so it has a company-wide commitment to help build a clean-energy future.) Most mines were totally uninterested.

Elk Creek Mine, located on a mountain of coal towering over a bend in the North Fork of the Gunnison River, was the first one to bite. Its owner, Bill Koch, is sometimes called the “third Koch brother.” The most politically active Koch brothers are his siblings David and Charles, but Bill is also right-wing. (For a full rundown of the family’s fascinating history, check out Sons of Wichita, the new book by Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones.)

Elk Creek isn’t even currently producing coal. Due to a spontaneous fire last year, it had to shut down mining operations, at least temporarily. But it continues to ship out the coal that’s already been mined, moving it via long conveyer belts from the mountain to the open containers of freight trains on the tracks along the river. From there it goes to Long Beach, Calif., and on to ships bound for Japan and Mexico. Meanwhile, the methane is still seeping up from 1,200 feet below the earth’s surface and will likely continue to for another 15 years, says Auden Schendler, SkiCo’s vice president of sustainability.

For safety reasons, the mine was already capturing the methane in pipes. But then it was just releasing it out into the air. Now, ever since the methane-capture project got off the ground in October 2013, there is machinery attached to the pipes to direct roughly one-sixth of the methane over to a combustor that converts it into electricity — enough to power the adjacent town of 60 homes — and sells it to the grid. It’s essentially a mini power station. The rest of the methane is flared off, so it has no economic value, but at least it causes a lot less climate damage.

The technology here isn’t specialized, unproven, or terribly expensive. The flaring operation just requires a pipe, literally patched with fiberglass in places, leading to a burner that is basically like an oversized version of the base of the gas grill you use to cook hot dogs in the backyard. The electricity generation is only marginally more complicated. Another set of pipes carries gas to a series of turbines in sheds. The turbines suck in air from outside, mix it with the gas, and generate heat, which is turned into electricity and delivered to power lines that were already there to serve the mine. The machinery basically runs itself, just needing one employee to check on it periodically.

Elk Creek Mine is not doing this because it cares about climate change. Jim Kiger, the beefy, goateed mine employee who gave me a tour, sported a political sign on the front of his hard hat: “Stop the War on Coal: FIRE OBAMA.” Kiger shared, unprompted, his skepticism that burning coal contributes to climate change. But he was happy to show off the methane-capturing technology.

That’s because capturing stray methane isn’t just good for the environment. Turning methane into electricity that can be sold to the local power utility is good business. There’s no reason to think Bill Koch cares about climate change any more than his employees do, but he approved the project.

So why doesn’t every coal mine do this? Unfortunately, there isn’t that much money to be made. Elk Creek, for example, was generating $1 million per day from coal, versus a mere $1 million annually from the electric generation of burning methane. And for that $1 million it has to run the risk of violating one of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s myriad rules. Even Oxbow itself initially rejected the idea of collecting and flaring methane at its mines, citing MSHA rules and the risk of forest fires. And, of course, many mine owners don’t like to do anything that would implicitly admit the reality of climate science.

The federal government should be requiring methane capture at mines, either through legislation or rule-making, but getting any action out of Washington is an enormous challenge. This project, at least, is a good first step, demonstrating that the technology is effective and easy to implement.


Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Vegas tops the list of the country’s worst heat islands

Thu, 2014-08-21 19:15

Las Vegas is toast. Seriously. Thanks to the urban heat island effect, Sin City is 7.3 degrees hotter on average than the surrounding hinterlands. Considering that the hinterlands are the Mojave Desert, where summer temperatures regularly clear 100 degrees, well, I’m sweating just thinking about it. On a real scorcher of a day, the mercury downtown can roar 24 degrees above the temps in the surrounding desert.

These numbers come from the good people at Climate Central, who dug through the temperature records and found that, on average, U.S. cities were 2.4 degrees hotter than the surrounding rural areas during the past 10 summers. Vegas topped the list of the most extreme heat islands, but other cities are feeling the heat, too. Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Las Vegas (7.3°F)
  2. Albuquerque (5.9°F)
  3. Denver (4.9°F)
  4. Portland (4.8°F)
  5. Louisville (4.8°F)
  6. Washington, D.C. (4.7°F)
  7. Kansas City (4.6°F)
  8. Columbus (4.4°F)
  9. Minneapolis (4.3°F)
  10. Seattle (4.1°F)

The urban heat island effect is a totally separate deal from climate change — it’s the result of replacing woods and fields and streams with blacktop and rooftops — but climate change makes it worse by raising summer highs and creating more severe heat waves. The Climate Central study found that three quarters of cities are warming faster than adjacent rural areas.

Here’s a cool (no…) infographic you can use to get the gory details about your hometown:

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Higher temperatures also exacerbate ground-level air pollution, so heat islands are a double whammy “which could undermine the hard-won improvements in air quality and public health made over the past few decades,” the study found. Almost no city the study examined was immune.

Happily, there are some things we can do to minimize urban heat island effect — installing reflective cool roofs, for example, and planting trees. But for a city like Las Vegas, the latter just presents another conundrum: Because of its limited water supply, Vegas already has to make tough choices between greenery and human consumption. Las Vegans may have to plant robot trees instead.

The one place Climate Central tripped up was in the statement, “more than 80 percent of Americans live in cities.” That stat actually refers to “urban areas,” which include suburbs that tend to be significantly cooler than the hearts of our concrete jungles. Nitpicking, perhaps, but it’s worth noting, because with urban heat islands, as with so many other environmental ills, it’s the people with the fewest options — that is, residents of our inner cities — who feel the most pain.

Finally, a note to the bartenders in Vegas: Make the next round on the house. Those folks are gonna need another cool one before they venture back out into the heat.


Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Dear Blue Apron, you’re just making it worse

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:46

So the other night we got a Blue Apron box. Blue Apron is this business that delivers all the ingredients for meals in their own, pre-measured packages so you can just dump and mix like the cooks on TV. Cool idea for low-functioning, sleep-deprived people like me, but I was horrified by the amount of packaging.

To give the company credit, these exact portions virtually eliminate food waste from cooking. But, I mean, we are talking about individually bagged celery stalks here. We are talking multiple pounds of frozen gel cooler thingies.

Fortunately, this was printed on the box to ease my green guilt:

OK! But then, when I try to check that out, (A) there’s no obvious links from the website, so you have to remember and type out the URL (which is the modern-day equivalent of putting it in a basement with no lights or stairs and a sign that says “beware of the leopard” over the door). And (B) actually, that web page doesn’t exist. Oh no wait, here it is! It’s “/recycling,” not “/recycle.” Duh, got it.

OK great, so now I’m here and I’m ready to take directions and recycle the whole mess.

“Recycling your Blue Apron box’s packing materials takes under five minutes.”

Yes! I’m psyched. Let’s do this.

“To recycle, first consolidate all the little plastic bags and cups and consolidate them into one big bag, then recycle the whole shebang. Most cities do recycle these, but be sure to check the specific listings where you live.”

OK, hold up. I’m confused about the two consolidations. And the big bag. Can I just skip to the part where I recycle the whole shebang? Wait, how are you even helping?

“Melt our nontoxic ice packs, cut them open, and pour the gel into a plastic bag, which you can then dispose. Recycle the package.”

Let me get this clear: You want me to melt these puppies, cut open the plastic bags, transfer the oobleck therein to another plastic bag, and then “dispose?” OK, sure, that’s reasonable — but how do I do that in under five minutes? Are lasers involved?

“You could also consider keeping the ice packs for future picnics or donating them to local boy scout troops or meal delivery charities.”

That sounds plausible for all the people who are ordering Blue Apron because they can’t figure out how to go to the grocery store. They could also consider molding all that non-toxic gel into a majestic frozen wizard fortress or a trendy ice-box gnome.

“We’ve selected insulated liners that are biodegradable, so you can dispose of them in your trash with minimal environmental impact.”

Oh I get it, dispose of it in the trash! Why didn’t I think of that? To the landfill! Excelsior!


Filed under: Article, Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

EPA, community activists put toxic oil refineries in a headlock

Thu, 2014-08-21 17:35

It’s not just coal that’s been getting the wind kicked out of it. Oil refineries will soon be feeling it as well, thanks to new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to scale back air pollution.

That’s good news for the climate, and for the people who live next door to these plants. African Americans are roughly twice as likely as the average American to feel the impacts of these refineries’ emissions, according to preliminary analysis from the EPA. Latino Americans and people who earn below the poverty line are also more likely to be exposed to oil pollution than the average American. Plenty of people represented in these groups came out to voice their support for the new rules, if not stronger ones, in recent public hearings.

“Numerous studies, including some of my own, have documented that poor people and people of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and workplace,” Robert Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, said at one of the hearings last week (h/t Houston Defender). “Refinery pollution poses special health threats to community residents that generally have higher concentrations of uninsured – heightening their vulnerability.”

The EPA reports that its refined refinery regulations will reduce the toxic stew of  benzene, toluene, and xylene released into the air by 1,800 tons annually. That’s on top of a 19,000-ton annual reduction of volatile organic compounds. It’s also clamping down on “startup-shutdown malfunctions,” or SSM, a decades-old loophole that allows companies to get away with saying, Hey, we can’t do anything about pollution from powering up or breaking down.

The proposed rules also reduce carbon dioxide emissions at these plants by 700,000 metric tons. (More on this in this EPA fact sheet.)

This all comes courtesy of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice and the grassroots group Community In-Power Development Association, in Port Arthur, Texas, whose, leader, Hilton Kelley, has seen his share of refinery blasts and flare-ups lately. Their lawsuit demanded that EPA firm up its clean air rules to give oil companies less opportunities to wiggle out of compliance with emission standards.

“To its credit, the EPA realized it had a responsibility to people,” said Emma Cheuse, senior associate attorney at Earthjustice. “Some communities are bearing the brunt of pollution more than others, and that burden is falling too much on communities of color, and low-income communities.”

Fossil fuel industry groups such as the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, are enraged. Tell ‘em why you’re mad, son:

“Unfortunately, we are faced with a rule with significant costs but with little or no health or environmental benefits,” wrote AFPM’s regulatory affairs veep, David Friedman. “EPA estimates that this rule will cost $240 million, but our members estimate that it will cost in excess of a billion dollars. Of even greater concern is that the health benefit gains are insignificant by any measure.”

Insignificant, that is, unless you’re unlucky enough to live near an oil refinery. Residents of fenceline communities will have less risk of developing respiratory problems and cancer thanks to the controlled emissions, according to EPA.

“The industry doesn’t get it,” said Juan Parras, director of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “All they’re looking at is the cost factor, and they don’t consider the cost factor on health issues related to their exposure to the community. Clean up, that’s all we’re asking.”

The EPA just extended the public comment period on the new air quality regulations for another 60 days. Next after that is finalizing the rules so these communities can finally start breathing more freely.


Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz