Mon, 2014-08-11 12:50Chris Rose
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Fossil Fuels Raising Mercury Levels in Oceans: Study

An alarming new study has found that human activities mostly associated with burning fossil fuels has resulted in a massive increase in the levels of toxic mercury in the world’s oceans.

Published last week in the prestigious international journal Nature, the study, A global ocean inventory of anthropogenic mercury based on water column measurements, revealed that levels of the environmental poison in marine waters less than 100 metres deep have more than tripled since the Industrial Revolution.

Using water samples collected during research trips in the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern and Arctic oceans from 2006 until 2011, scientists analyzed mineral mercury levels attributed to fossil fuels, mining and sewage in both shallow and deep seawater.

While they found that mercury levels in ocean waters less than 100 metres deep had increased by a factor of 3.4 since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, concentrations of mercury throughout the entire ocean had only jumped about 10 percent.

The scientists were affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Wright State University, Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France, and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.

With the increases we’ve seen in the recent past, the next 50 years could very well add the same amount we’ve seen in the past 150,” said Woods Hole marine chemist Carl Lamborg, who led the study.

The trouble is, we don’t know what it all means for fish and marine mammals. It likely means some fish also contain at least three times more mercury than 150 years ago, but it could be more. The key is now we have some solid numbers on which to base continued work.”

Fri, 2014-08-08 15:31Carol Linnitt
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Evangeline Lilly: It’s My Job To Stand Up For Canadian Scientists

evangeline lilly desmog canada, war on science

You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.

Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.

Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.

I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”

Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”

Fri, 2014-08-08 11:09Justin Mikulka
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Regulators Ignore One Proven Way to Eliminate Bakken Bomb Trains: Oil Stabilization

On the same day that the Obama administration released long-awaited new safety regulations for the oil-by-rail industry, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released another report with their testing results for Bakken crude oil. The conclusion reached by PHMSA is that Bakken crude oil “is more volatile than most other types of crude.” 

These results don’t come as a surprise since the five oil trains that have crashed and exploded in the last year all were carrying Bakken crude.  

Of course, the new regulations released imultaneously do not require the oil industry to do the one thing that would eliminate this problem: oil stabilization. A well known and proven method for removing the natural gas liquids from crude oil that makes the oil “stable” and non-explosive.

While the new regulations do not offer any proposals to require the oil industry to remove the volatile components of Bakken crude, on page 144 of the proposal they do acknowledge that this is possible. They request comments on the following question:

Is the current exception for combustible liquids sufficient to incentivize producers to reduce the volatility of crude oil for continued use of existing tank cars?

Essentially they are acknowledging that if the industry stabilized the oil it wouldn’t be explosive and thus they would be able to continue to use the existing DOT-111 rail cars to transport it. Just like those tank cars will be able to transport Alberta tar sands oil because it is not explosive.

The week before the release of the new regulations, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Association of Railroads released a joint statement stating that they were in agreement on two things that shouldn’t be part of the finalized new regulations — lower train speeds and mandatory stabilization. And while the proposed regulations do offer some requirements for lower trains speeds, they include nothing about mandatory stabilization.

Fri, 2014-08-08 05:00Steve Horn
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Green Billionaires Club? David Vitter Owns Stock in Coal Utilities Fighting EPA Carbon Rules

On July 30, the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, headed by Sen. David Vitter, released a report titled “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Critics of the report say it is propaganda designed to skewer the Obama EPA and environmental philanthropists for “conspiring to help the environment.”

Vitter's chief source of campaign cash is the oil and gas industry and he recently called the billionaire Koch Brothers “two of the most patriotic Americans in the history of the Earth.” 

What the 92-page report leaves out is that Vitter — an esteemed member of the Senate “Millionaires Club” — owns tens of thousands of dollars in stocks of the electric utility Wisconsin Energy Corporation (We Energies), which owns major coal-fired power plants in both Oak Creek, Wisc. and Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

We Energies says it stands to lose economically if the proposed Obama EPA carbon rules are implemented, citing the potential risks related to legislation and regulation in its most recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-Q.

“Any legislation or regulation that may ultimately be adopted, either at the federal or state level, designed to reduce GHG emissions could have a material adverse impact on our electric generation and natural gas distribution operations,” We Energies stated on the form.

“Such regulation could make some of our electric generating units uneconomic to maintain or operate, and could adversely affect our future results of operations.”

We Energies CEO Gale Klappa also voiced dissatisfaction with the proposed rule during his company's most recent earnings call, saying the company will submit comment to the EPA as part of the public comment period.

Thu, 2014-08-07 10:56Mike G
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Four Years Later, Systemic Failures That Led To Gas Pipeline Explosion Revealed

Last Monday, the mayor of San Bruno stood on the steps of the California Public Utilities Commission offices in San Francisco and called for a complete overhaul of the state agency, including the firing of key CPUC officials.

The next day, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on charges related to its handling of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people.

Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.

PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”

Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.

City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”

Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.

Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”

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