Category Archives: Environment

Coal poisoned your food?

RICH GELFOND KEEPS HIS OSCAR statue in a black cloth sack in the bottom drawer of his desk. He received it as CEO of the film-technology company Imax, for “the method of filming and exhibiting high fidelity, large-format, wide angle format, motion pictures,” although when I read the inscription aloud, he feigns surprise, as if he’s forgotten how he came to own it. “Is that what it’s for?” he muses. “An Oscar’s kind of like potato chips—when you have one, you need more. Kind of like tuna sushi.”

via This Much Mercury… – November/December 2011 – Sierra Magazine – Sierra Club.


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Captain of boat in NZ oil spill arrested

The captain of a badly listing ship stuck on a reef has been arrested, Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said, adding that about 70 containers had fallen into the rough seas.

Oil from the vessel Rena has gushed into the environmentally sensitive Bay of Plenty and washed up onto beaches, where the containers were also likely to end up, MNZ said.

Wildlife has been found dead or contaminated.

The captain has been charged with operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk and will appear in court on Wednesday morning over what the government has declared New Zealand’s worst maritime pollution disaster.

It was highly likely that more containers will come off the ship because of the severe weather conditions and the vessels heavy list, MNZ said, despite tying them down tightly to prevent them falling in.

“There are 1,368 containers on board. Eleven containers containing hazardous substances are still on the vessel and are not among the 70 estimated overboard,” an MNZ statement said, adding major shipping had been re-routed.

MNZ said an aerial survey, likely to go ahead later in the day when the weather improves, would give a clearer indication of exactly how many containers had toppled into the increasingly choppy waters.

The maritime body, which has issued an emergency telephone number for the public to call if they see any of the containers on the beaches, warned people they would be prosecuted if they tried to take what was inside them.

The Liberian-flagged Rena, which hit the reef 22km off the North Island coast last Wednesday, has leaked up to 300 tonnes of heavy fuel after being further damaged in a storm.

“I’d like to acknowledge this event has come to a stage where it is New Zealand’s most significant maritime environmental disaster,” Environment Minister Nick Smith told reporters at Tauranga on Tuesday.

Smith said there was little authorities could have done to prevent the disaster.

They have warned coastal residents to stay away from the viscous sludge, describing it as toxic, but many have ignored the advice and formed their own clean-up teams.

MNZ has said one of the Rena’s four fuel tanks had ruptured but was unable to say whether it was in the stern, where most of the oil is stored, or the largely empty tanks in the front, which has sustained the most damage.

Officials have warned that New Zealand faces a major disaster if the Rena breaks up on the reef and releases all 1,700 tonnes of oil on board, describing fuel offloading as the “top priority”.

Compared to some of the world’s worst oil spills, the Rena disaster remains small – the Exxon Valdez running aground in 1989 in Alaska dumped 37,000 tonnes of oil into Prince William Sound.

But it is significant due to the pristine nature of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, which teems with wildlife including whales, dolphins, penguins, seals and rare sea birds.

via Captain of boat in NZ oil spill arrested – RTÉ News.

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It’s official: Australia’s Carbon tax bill passes lower house

Labor managed to pass its carbon tax legislation through the lower house this morning, in a move it argues puts to bed years of fiery debate about how Australia should tackle climate change.

With the bills expected to pass through the upper house, Australia is now on its way to having a fixed price on carbon starting July next year.

The price, starting at $23 per tonne from July 2012, will rise to $24.15 the year after, and $25.40 from July 2014, before changing into an emissions trading scheme with a flexible price.

The passing of the bills, including a $300 million compensation package for the steel industry, was met by applause from the Government, sole Greens MP Adam Bandt and independents MPs.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong says while the Government has flagged that average household compensation of $10.10 per week will exceed the expected price increase of $9.90 per week, there’s still no clarity about how much it will cost individual small businesses.

“Small business wants to know, what will it cost me as a truck driver, as an accountant, as a real estate agent?” Strong says.

“At the moment, we’ve got a general figure coming out from the Government. That’s easy to say, but we need more information.”

The Government says under its plan, nine out of 10 households will receive assistance through tax cuts, extra payments or both. It also says assistance for two out of three households will cover the entire average price impact.

But even if the law passes the Senate and kicks in next July, there is still some confusion over how long it will stay in place should the Coalition win the next election in two years.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott this morning delivered a “pledge in blood” to “repeal this tax” and “dismantle the bureaucracy associated with it.”

“I am giving you the most definite commitment any politician can give that this tax will go. This is a pledge in blood this tax will go.”

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard has dismissed Abbott’s promise to remove the tax, pointing out doing so would require stripping compensation payments attached to it.

A recent report prepared for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry by Castalia Research said that while SMEs will not be subject to the carbon price for their direct emissions, they will “face a substantial increase in costs through the effects of the price on the costs of their inputs.”

“The starting level of the carbon price is irrelevant: what matters is where the price will increase to, and how the fixed price transitions to an ETS,” the report says.

“Our empirical research shows that a carbon price will have a material impact on the profitability of SMEs, with consequent flow-on effects for investment and employment.”

“This impact is caused by the fact that the sector’s businesses are largely price takers subject to a greater degree of trade exposure than is commonly understood. SMEs have almost no ability to pass on the additional costs of electricity and transport from the carbon price to their customers.”

via It’s official: Carbon tax bill passes lower house, but small business still unsure of sector-by-sector effect.

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A container ship stuck on a reef off New Zealand is now spilling “significant” new amounts of oil, according to officials.

A container ship stuck on a reef off New Zealand is now spilling “significant” new amounts of oil, according to officials.

More than 30 salvage experts who were on cargo ship Rena have now been taken off after the vessel moved position in heavy seas.

The ship was evacuated with the help of nearby boats, including navy ships.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) said the Rena had spewed an additional 140 to 385 tons of oil into the Bay of Plenty.

This was far more than the initial spill of more than 20 tons, which has already started appearing on beaches in the environmentally sensitive area.

“The ship has sustained some damage from current movements and there is a significant amount of oil leaking from the vessel,” said a spokesperson.

Officials have warned New Zealand faces its worst maritime pollution disaster in decades if the Rena breaks up on the reef and releases all of its nearly 1,900 tons of heavy fuel oil into the bay.

Covers have now been installed on fuel tanks to limit leakage

Catherine Taylor, MNZ director, said the Liberian-flagged vessel appeared stable but added: “The weather forecast is not good.

“Things are changing all the time, the weather has not worked for us, it’s worked against us and we’re being precautionary and ensuring we keep people safe first.”

Covers have been installed on the ship’s fuel tanks in an attempt to limit leakage if the Rena ends up on the sea bed.

Blobs of toxic oil began to wash up on beaches on Monday. The clean-up process has now begun along the coastline, but people are being warned more pollution along beaches is inevitable.

The spill has already killed a number of sea birds, with seven Little Blue penguins and two shags receiving treatment at wildlife rescue centres after being found covered in oil.

Authorities have urged residents to stay away from the oil, but many have ignored the advice and formed their own clean-up teams, donning rubber gloves and shovelling the oil into plastic bags.

Some 250 people, including specialists from Australia, Britain, Holland and Singapore, have joined the oil slick response team, with 300 defence personnel on standby and expected to help with the shoreline clean-up.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said on Monday that oil could wash up on the coast for weeks to come.

via New Zealand Salvage Crews Forced Off Oil Ship Rena As Officials Warn Of New Spill In Bay Of Plenty | World News | Sky News.

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Occupy the EPA

Concerned citizens gathered outside an EPA hearing in Denver to demand a change in the EPA’s ‘Haliburton’ loophole.

Testifying with them, was former EPA official Wes Wilson who filed a Whistleblower lawsuit against the EPA.

Mr. Wilson was there specifically to testify about the EPA allowing Oil and Gas companies to inject toxic chemicals into the ground for the purpose of Hydraulic Fracturing, without disclosing those chemicals for public review as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is known as the ‘Haliburton loophole’ passed in 2005.

Wes Wilson, who was featured in Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland’, had a lot of community groups with him including What the Frack and Food and Watch as well as families – many of whom have suffered directly from fracking fluid contamination on their land.

via Daily Kos: Occupy the EPA.

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Global warming spurs debate over whether U.S. should build new icebreakers to keep pace with china.

WASHINGTON — Climate change is melting parts of the ice-locked Northwest Passage. China is building its first modern icebreaker in hopes of staking claims to Arctic waters. Frigid polar regions are opening up to increased shipping traffic, scientific exploration and tourism.
Yet the United States is so short of icebreakers capable of navigating those still unpredictable waters that since 2007, it has made the annual supply run to McMurdo Station, the American research outpost in Antarctica, with a ship leased from Sweden.
The nation’s two heavy-duty U.S. icebreakers sit sidelined in Seattle, home of the Coast Guard’s three-ship icebreaker fleet. The Polar Sea and its twin, the Polar Star, are 1970s-era cutters that have been patched up to keep going past their original life span.
The only working icebreaker is the 12-year-old Healy, which boasts elaborate scientific labs but can break through only thinner ice.
This week, after years of hand wringing over the nation’s diminished Arctic ambitions, Congress will receive what is meant to be the definitive independent analysis on whether it should build new icebreakers or eke even more service out of the two aged vessels.
Paradoxically, experts say, the thinning ice will increase demand for icebreakers as more people flock to the hazardous polar environs.
A National Research Council panel in 2006 concluded the nation’s icebreaking capabilities were inadequate to support its polar missions and urged immediate construction of two ships. Another independent study by ABS Consulting in 2010 said the Coast Guard would need three each of heavy and medium icebreakers — double its current fleet.
Regardless of the latest recommendations, Sen. Maria Cantwell is trying to block the service from carrying out a plan she believes would put the United States even further behind — mothballing the 33-year-old Polar Sea and raiding it for parts.
The Washington Democrat has co-sponsored a bill authored by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to prevent the service from decommissioning the Polar Sea before the Polar Star returns to service in 2013. The latter ship is undergoing a four-year, $57 million overhaul at Vigor Industrial on Harbor Island in Seattle. The work will add seven to 10 years to the ship’s life.
Cantwell argues that with a fleet containing only one currently working icebreaker, the Coast Guard can’t afford to junk the Polar Sea, as decrepit as it may be. Constructing a new icebreaker could take a decade and as much as $1 billion, money that Congress is unlikely to approve anytime soon.
Until that happens, Cantwell said, yanking the Polar Sea from service would leave the Coast Guard with no backup heavy icebreaker.
“What happens if something happens to the Polar Star?” she said.
The 60,000-horsepower Polar Sea was refurbished in 2006, but its engines failed in June 2010. The Coast Guard hasn’t fixed the engines because it would cost $22 million and wouldn’t extend the Polar Sea’s current service-end date of 2014, said Commander Christopher O’Neil, a Coast Guard spokesman in Washington, D.C.
The Coast Guard, which is part of Department of Homeland Security, has asked for $39 million in fiscal 2012 for its polar icebreaking program.
Icebreakers use their thick steel hulls and overhanging curved bows to bust through ice. The Polar Sea and Polar Star can easily break 6 feet of ice at 3 knots, and 21 feet or more by backing and ramming. They carry a crew of 146 and have room for 32 scientists and a year’s supply of food.
The Healy, which has half the horse power and needs about half the crew, can break 4 { feet of ice going forward.
The state of American capacity to ply frozen waterways has long caused alarm.
Thanks to warming polar climates, what was ice now is sometimes water. Some scientists believe that the Northwest Passage, which links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans via Canada’s Arctic archipelago, could become ice-free in the summer in this century. That would open a shipping lane that would be days or even weeks shorter than traversing through the Panama Canal.
The result is more traffic — and more potential trouble, said Jeffrey Garrett, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral who has served on all three icebreakers, including as commanding officer of Polar Sea.
For instance, more than 325 vessels crossed the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska in 2010, a third more than just two years before. In 2007, a Canadian cruise ship became the first to sink in Antarctica after puncturing its hull on submerged ice.
Garrett traveled through the Northwest Passage last month. He saw hardly any ice, unusual for this time of the year. Now a maritime consultant, Garrett expects to see more oil drilling, tourism and scientific and shipping activity in the Arctic.
Garrett fears the United States is underequipped to navigate that less-ice-covered world. Earlier this year, Sweden decided to keep its loaner icebreaker Oden closer to home in the frozen Baltic. The National Science Foundation scurried to secure a Russian ship for the upcoming summer restocking voyage to McMurdo in December or January. Polar Star and Polar Sea have made those trips in past years.
“You’re putting yourself at the mercy of other people’s priorities,” Garrett said.
Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, which runs the McMurdo Station and is the main user of the three Coast Guard icebreakers, agrees. Colwell believes the United States has long ceded its dominance in the Arctic to Russia and other nations.
Like Garrett, Colwell served on the National Research Council panel that recommended building two replacement icebreakers. She called it an urgent military, economic and scientific issue.
But Garrett and Colwell are both resigned to the likelihood that it may be a long while before a modern icebreaker gets built. So it would make sense, they say, to rescue the Polar Sea and squeeze more life out of it.
Garrett acknowledges that could be akin to pouring money into fixing a beat-up gas guzzler. Still, he said, absent any foreseeable money for new vessels, that “is the only tool we have in the short term.”

via Global warming spurs debate over whether U.S. should build new icebreakers – National News | Tri-City Herald : Mid-Columbia news.

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Large majority opposes fracking in Sullivan; 500 county residents polled |

October 10, 2011 —

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY – A new poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research shows that a large majority of residents in Sullivan County oppose hydraulic fracturing and favor the enactment of zoning regulations that would restrict it.

The two questions on the poll and the answer are:

Do you support natural gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing in your town?

Yes, 27%; No 69%; Not sure 4%;

Would you support your town enacting zoning ordinances to restrict natural gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing?

Yes 69%; No 24%; Not sure 7%

The poll was commissioned by the not-for-profit Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy (CCSE), which is well-known for it’s activism against gas drilling and fracking. But an Internet search reveals that Pulse is engaged in numerous polls at the national, state and local levels. The Pulse website,, says, “Over the period from 2003 to 2009, Pulse generated 18% of its revenue from Republican sources, 20% from Democrats and 61% from sources not affiliated with either major party.”

According to a press release from CCSE, the poll of 500 county residents was conducted between October 1st and October 3rd. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5% and a 95% level of confidence. Residents who said they did not know enough about hydraulic fracturing to form an opinion were not included in the poll.

Bruce Ferguson, a member of CCSE, who is also running for supervisor in the Town of Calliccon, said, “Previous statewide polls have shown that most New Yorkers don’t think the rewards justify the risks; now we know that the great majority of people who will be directly affected by fracking want nothing to do with it. Sullivan County residents emphatically say ‘No!’ to fracking.”

According to information on the Pulse website, the cost of the least expensive poll for a local political race is $1,500.

via Large majority opposes fracking in Sullivan;500 county residents polled |

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